And Then The Rains Came – The 1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance
Story by Louis Galanos. Black and white photos by Dave Nicholas and color photos by Walker Fricks, Jr.
A record crowd of over 50,000 race fans came expecting a race to remember, and the foremost sports car race in this country didn’t disappoint them. The drama that ensued both on the track and off became the stuff of legends and is still talked about and written about today.
This was the era known at the Golden Age of Sports Car Endurance Racing where it was customary that the majority of the cars on the grid would be owned and piloted by what was referred to as “privateers” or gentlemen (and sometimes lady) racers.
These privateers and their cars were very different from today’s drivers and race cars because what you saw on the track and in the pits back then were entrants without the ubiquitous patches, logos and graphics that make today’s race cars and drivers look like moving billboards. It was a simpler time, and perhaps, a better time.
The 1965 Sebring race was not without a bit of controversy even before the starting flag fell. The previous year the U.S. representatives to the sanctioning body for sports car endurance racing (FIA) had convinced that body to repeal its engine size limit of 3000cc’s on prototype cars and allow the creation of an unrestricted sports car category.
Alec Ulmann, the creator and promoter of the 12-hour race, also worked a little magic and got the competition arm of FIA, known as CSI, to allow both prototype cars and large-displacement sports cars to race in the same event (Sebring in particular) even though their own regulations prohibited this. These changes went into effect in January of 1965.
Knowing that these rules changes would allow the popular big-block American sports cars to compete against the best that Europe had to offer, Mr. Ulmann decided to invite Texas oilman Jim Hall to enter his race-winning, Chevrolet powered Chaparral cars to the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Ulmann’s decision to invite the Chaparral team was predicated on the belief that American sports car fans, as well as the media, would flock to Sebring to see Chevy, Ford, and Ferrari duke it out to see who was top dog in the world of endurance racing. He wanted those extra gate receipts and prestige that such a match up would bring and as history shows us he got what he was asking for and then some.
The Chaparrals (Spanish for road runner), were equipped with a 5.4-liter aluminum-block Chevrolet engines and an unorthodox “secret” automatic transmission. In 1964 Chaparrals won the Sports Car Club of America’s United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC). USRRC events were much shorter events (usually 2 hours) than Sebring and there was some question if the Chaparrals could last 12 hours. To find out for himself Jim Hall shipped a car and crew to Sebring in late February and after several days of rigorous testing there and at Rattlesnake Raceway in Texas he was satisfied that the car could take anything that Sebring could throw at it.
Both Ford and Ferrari knew that they were at a weight disadvantage with the much lighter (by 600 pounds) Chaparrals and if they expected to come in first overall at Sebring the “Dark Horse” Chaparrals had to fail. In 1964 the Ford program to beat Ferrari was run out of England. However their attempt to develop a prototype car that would be a Ferrari beater was a miserable failure. At the end of that year Henry Ford II turned over the GT program to Carroll Shelby who had shown great success in 1964 with his Cobra cars. Shelby had five Cobras finish in the top ten at Sebring that year. Ford believed that Shelby knew how to win.
Right out of the starting gate in 1965 a Ford powered Shelby GT40 came in first at the 2000-kilometer Daytona Continental. This was remarkable since the Shelby American organization had only two months to prepare for Daytona after Ford dumped the GT program in their lap.
1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Pre-race Photos
In 1965 the Sebring 12-Hour Race was the only sports car race in America contributing points to the FIA world manufacturer’s title which was perennially won by Ferrari. Ford was determined to win that much coveted title and dethrone Ferrari. This determination was a direct result of Ford’s failure to buy Ferrari from Enzo Ferrari two years earlier when negotiations collapsed at a very late date and after much money was spent by Ford.
Henry Ford II then embarked on a multimillion dollar program to build a car that could beat Ferrari on its own turf. This much written about battle is today referred to as The Ford – Ferrari Wars and in this war, Ford was determined to win at Sebring.
At the 12-hour event in Florida Shelby had no less than six cars entered and they hoped to repeat the success they had at Daytona a month earlier. At Sebring their stable of cars included two Ford GT40’s and four of the six (Pete Brock designed) Cobra Daytona Coupes in existence at that time. In addition there were 12 drivers, more than 20 pit crew and mechanics plus a cadre of specialists whose sole job was to assist anyone else in the race who was driving a Ford or Cobra product. Ford wanted this win and they were willing to dig deep to pay for it.
The Cobra Daytona Coupes were in the all important Grand Touring Class and this group was the only one eligible for points in the pursuit of the world manufacturer crown. The GT’s were in the prototype class and not eligible for points. However, if they came in first overall they would receive the lion’s share of publicity and some prize money. The total prize purse for Sebring was a modest $40,000 and when the race finally ended the overall winning drivers walked away with the princely sum of $2,000. Obviously the folks back then were not in this game for the prize money.
In a huff over the new rules for 1965 and Ulmann’s decision to allow sports cars to compete for the overall win, Enzo Ferrari did what he had been threatening for months. He “officially” withdrew his factory cars from the Sebring event despite the fact that his cars had won there the previous four years. His displeasure was compounded by the fact that race officials had determined that his new 3.3 liter machines had a ground clearance too low for the prototype class and instead were placed in the new unrestricted sports car class against the much lighter and faster Chaparrals. Ferrari also forbid his U.S. representative Luigi Chinetti and the North American Racing Team to field any cars under the NART or Ferrari banner at Sebring. Even world champion John Surtees was told he couldn’t drive at Sebring because he was under exclusive contract to Ferrari. Hell hath no fury like an Italian scorned.
Ferrari later relented and turned over a couple of his fastest machines, plus factory drivers and mechanics to run at Sebring under the guise of being private entries. Even John Surtees was allowed to attend the race but only as a “consultant.” One of Enzo’s best cars at Sebring was the #30 blue-and-white 330P with a 4-liter Super America engine. It was “loaned” to wealthy oilman John Mecom, Jr. of Houston, Texas to race as a “private entry” with Graham Hill and Pedro Rodriguez driving.
In addition to the 330P, Mecom Racing had two other cars entered at Sebring that year. The #22 Lola T70 Mk.1-Ford driven by John Cannon and Jack Saunders. The Lola was making its international debut at Sebring. They also fielded the #29 Ferrari 250 LM co-driven by Mark Donohue (in his first professional race) and Walt Hansgen. It must be noted that Mecom mechanics serviced the Lola and 250 LM but factory Ferrari mechanics worked on the 330P. A bit obvious don’t you think?
Another Ferrari from Modena at Sebring was the #33 Ferrari 275P. It was conveniently loaned to Kleiner Racing Enterprises of Austin, Texas along with Ferrari factory drivers Umberto Maglioli and Giancarlo Baghetti. Both of these so-called “private entry” teams were also allowed to use the factory mechanics and several vans full of spare parts. Enzo Ferrari knew that his cars might not be as fast or as powerful as the American machines but they had a reputation for durability and more than once had outlasted the competition.
In another fruitless attempt to say that both the Mecom and Kleiner organizations were privateers they became part of the hastily created Ferrari Owners Racing Association or FORA. Under this association all Ferrari entrants, not just Mecom and Kleiner, would be allowed to help each other.
As expected the ultra-light (1450 lbs.) Chaparrals from Midland, Texas were fastest in qualifying but their speed astounded everyone. The Jim Hall/ Hap Sharp Chaparral set a record time of 2 minutes, 57.6 seconds or 105.9 mph. This was almost 9 seconds faster than the record set by John Surtees driving a Ferrari the previous year and for the first time in the history of Sebring the three-minute barrier had been broken.
The other Chaparral driven by Bruce Jennings and Ronnie Hisson qualified second, the Shelby Ford GT40 of Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren was third, the Phil Hill/Richie Ginther Shelby Ford GT40 was fourth, then came the All American Lotus-Ford 19J of Dan Gurney and Jeremy Grant. The Lola T70 of John Cannon and Jack Saunders was in 6th place and the rest of the first ten qualifiers were all Ferraris.
Author’s Note: Jim Hall, Hap Sharp and their Chaparrals were from Midland, Texas. Carroll Shelby of Shelby American was born in Leesburg, Texas. John Mecom, Jr. was from Houston, Texas. The Kleiner Enterprises of Austin, Texas were running Ferrari factory cars for Enzo Ferrari. If Texas mothers were feeding their children something different back then I would like to know what it was and if it is still available today.
The morning of Saturday, March 27 dawned with some ground fog blanketing the nearby orange groves but the hot Florida sun soon burned through and temperatures began to rise. The weather predictions for race day were for temperatures in the 70-to-80 range and clearing. However, by 8:30 a.m. the temperature was approaching an uncomfortable 90 degrees with high humidity.
Fortune smiled on the race fans who had arrived either Thursday or Friday and were spared the misery of being stuck in the boiling heat and a twelve-mile-long traffic jam that defied description. In that long line outside the front gate, cars were overheating in the slow moving traffic and disabled vehicles littered the landscape. Some fans didn’t get into the track until three hours after the 10 a.m. start.
This Sebring was turning out to be an endurance test for spectators as well as race cars. Under normal conditions the amenities for the ordinary spectator at Sebring were seriously lacking when compared to race venues like Le Mans and some referred to the facilities at Sebring as “racetrack primitive.” The record crowd flowing through the track entrance was only going to make things worse with longer than usual lines for everything.
Jorge Cristobal of Woodbury, Tenn. was only 12 years old when he went to Sebring for the first time in 1965 but remembers it well. “The toilets were like circular fountains and everyone stood there facing each other. Not a pleasant experience for a 12-year old. The (spectator) crowd was full of crazy drunks and half-naked girls. I liked that part. The stench was weird and I later found out from my older brother that it was marijuana smoke.”
In 1965, as well as today, Sebring was a popular destination for college kids on Spring Break looking for fun. A bacchanalian attitude prevailed in their spectator area, known as the “Zoo”, with little supervision from authorities. Drunk or stoned college kids in all manner of dress or undress were common and became part of the experience and legend of Sebring.
Race promoter Alec Ulmann and his wife tried their best to bring an air of civility to the event with a hospitality tent situated along Midway Drive in the paddock. Set up by the Automobile Racing Club of Florida (ARCF) the striped tent offered well dressed patrons (many from Palm Beach) a place to meet and eat such delicacies as frog’s legs, king crab legs, roast beef, apple pie, watermelon and English tarts. There was also an open bar where one could get a cold libation anytime during the 12 hours of the race and while you were quaffing a cool brew you might rub elbows with the Governor of Florida or astronauts Gus Grissom or Gordon Cooper. To gain entry to this oasis all one had to do is pay $100 per couple, not a small amount in 1965. So you were not bothered by the common folk, a guard was placed at the entrance to the tent. Most agreed later that it was a vain attempt at trying to recreate the international glamour found at Le Mans and Nurburgring.
By 9:30 a.m. almost all of the cars were in place on the grid in preparation for the start. Temperatures were now 94 degrees in the spectator area and a blistering 130 degrees on the track. The governor of Florida, under close supervision, was given the privilege of dropping the starting flag at 10 a.m. and when that happened the 67 drivers sprinted 25 feet across the track to their cars in what was referred to in those days as the Le Mans-style start.
To get their cars prepped for the start Shelby’s mechanics had warmed up the engines on the Cobra Daytona Coupes. Unfortunately the cars sat in the boiling sun waiting for the start and when the drivers got in the cars two of the four failed to turn over. The problem was vapor lock caused by the warm engines and the extreme heat of the day. Driving what was later to be Carroll Shelby’s personal Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ed Leslie stalled the #12 Daytona just 50 feet from the start and was rear ended by the #51 Volvo P1800 of Art Riley. After some quick repairs in the pits, both cars would continue but the damage to the Cobra would later cause it to pit for repairs on the tail lights and they would eventually finish in 13th position but third in class. When he returned to the track after those first hasty repairs, Leslie also found that the driver’s door had been sprung and for the rest of the race he and co-driver Allen Grant had to hold onto the door whenever making a right turn.
First away from the pack was the “Lightweight” Corvette Grand Sport of Delmo Johnson. He had raced the previous year at Sebring in the Corvette but this year the car was sporting a new 396-c.u. engine with what was called a “porcupine head.” This was the first big block racing engine to leave the Chevrolet factory and came courtesy of Chevy’s chief engineer, Zora Duntov. Even though General Motors and Chevrolet had “officially’ withdrawn from racing they (mostly Duntov’s engineers) were assisting Delmo Johnson and Jim Hall’s Chaparrals with some “back door” help.
The main reason why the Corvette Grand Sport was the first away from the starting grid was that Johnson had the car already in gear when he punched the starter. Also, while the Chaparral drivers and everyone else were buckling up, he did not. Nor did he even close the car’s door. Delmo didn’t buckle up until lap two and until then had to grip the steering wheel tightly to stay in his seat and not be thrown around the interior of the Corvette.
Richie Ginther, in the #10 Shelby American Ford GT40, quickly caught up to and passed the Corvette after the Webster Turns but had to immediately pit because a faulty magnesium wheel was making contact with the car’s brake caliper and causing an ungodly noise. They replaced the wheels with aluminum ones.
Dan Gurney in the #23 All American Lotus 19J-Ford then led for several laps until passed by Jim Hall in the Chaparral. When Hall pitted around noon for the first driver change, Gurney regained the lead only to lose it when the chain drive on the car’s oil pump failed on lap 43. Unfortunately his co-driver Jerry Grant never got a chance to drive. There was much speculation in the press about Dan Gurney’s entry at Sebring. Since Gurney was running a Ford powered car and since he and Carroll Shelby had formed All American Racers it was concluded that the Gurney Lotus was a “rabbit” expected to set a blistering pace and force the Chevy powered Chaparrals to keep up. This pace would eventually be too much for the Chaparrals and Ford and the Shelby cars would end up winning the day.
During the early hours of the race emergency workers were kept busier than usual. Two drivers had to be treated for heat prostration but both later returned. Two race fans were slightly injured when the Rainville/Gammino Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3C lost its brakes and plunged into the crowd hitting a spectator vehicle. A Cobra mechanic was temporarily paralyzed when he managed to make contact with a live electrical wire. It was already turning out to be a long and interesting day.
The record heat and notoriously rough Sebring track were taking an early toll on the cars. One by one cars pulled into the pits with radiators shooting geysers of steam into the air. Just after 1 p.m. the #4 Jennings/Hissom Chaparral, in third place, had to pit with battery problems probably caused by the extreme heat. This would take 45 minutes to resolve. More problems would ensue later and they would finish the race in 22nd position.
After completing 37 laps the Phil Hill/Richie Ginther #10 Shelby Ford GT40 was sidelined by suspension failure caused by heat of another kind. It seems that a suspension mounting bracket cracked due to heat embrittlement as a result of a chassis fire at the 1964 Le Mans race. Phil Hill would later step into the #16 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe when Lew Spencer collapsed due to the heat.
A crash just after 3 p.m. took out three cars in spectacular fashion. Nick Cone, driving the #51 Volvo P1800 that shunted the Ed Leslie Cobra at the start, blew the Volvo’s engine in a big way on the big bend approaching the Hairpin turn and proceeded to pull over on the grass to check out the problem. While inspecting the underside of the car, George Reed in the #20 Shelby Cobra roadster hit the oil slick laid down by the Volvo’s ruptured engine and plowed into the Volvo, narrowly missing Nick Cone and his outstretched legs. The car continued spinning and clipped the Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Chuck Stoddard destroying the car. Miraculously no one sustained serious injuries.
Nick Cone was interviewed by automotive historian Rick Hayden about the crash and he said: “One minute I’m under the car looking for damage and the car disappears before my eyes. Four hours later I wake up in the back of Dave Davis’ blue Cadillac with his pretty girlfriend looking at me!” According to Hayden, Cone was knocked cold by the impact, but was still wearing his helmet and didn’t have a mark on him.
The Hall/Sharp Chaparral continued to lead the race at 4 p.m. with the Hill/ Rodriguez Ferrari 330P second and the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40 third. Positions had not changed for the top three by 5 p.m. but very dark clouds were approaching from the north and a storm was imminent. It became so dark that a few racers found it necessary to turn on their driving lights.
Some spectators went to their cars to turn on the AM radios looking for a local weather update. Unfortunately all that many could find on their radios was static or very distant stations. It seems that the cold war was still in full force in south Florida with both Communist Cuba and the U.S. Government doing their best to jam radio signals from each other.
At 5:25 p.m. the storm hit with surprising force. The initial winds exceeded 50 mph and caused the Good Year blimp, Mayflower, to stand straight up on its nose. The ground crew rushed to secure the air ship lest it break free from its mooring. A few of the tents and temporary structures in the spectator area were either blown away or blown over. One tent ended up in the branches of a nearby tree with its tie-down ropes and tent stakes still attached.
Then the rains descended like a gray wall of water on the track cutting visibility almost to zero. By most accounts at least 5 inches of rain fell during the first 30 minutes totally overwhelming the track’s drainage system.
Under these conditions race cars lap times began to double, then triple as the cars plowed through standing water on the track. Water levels reached 8 inches or more in some areas. More than one car stopped on the track or sputtered into the pits with soaked ignitions and didn’t get going until their distributor and electrics were dried out.
Low slung cars like the Chaparral, Lola, Ford GT and Ferrari prototypes had a particular problem. Their air intakes were so low that the standing water was being scooped up and force fed by the forward movement of the car into all parts of the car including the cockpit. The force of the water being funneled throughout some cars caused gauges and switches to pop out of the dash. When they pitted mechanics were seen stuffing rags and towels into those air intake vents.
Because of the newly constructed protective pit wall the pit lane was awash and looked like a canal to everyone. Spare tires and other items were seen floating around in the pit enclosures and tools disappeared in the water. Drivers, crew and race officials waded in water approaching eight or more inches. Some will always remember the comical sight of Carroll Shelby with the brim of his soaked black Stetson down around his ears standing in water up to his ankles.
As the waters continued to rise in the pit area Bizzarrini team owner, Giotto Bizzarrini, decided to save his expensive Italian leather shoes by placing them in the corner of the pit stall. He then rolled up his pants legs and went back to managing the two Bizzarrini Iso Grifos in his bare feet. In the meantime the waters rose to the point where they flooded the pit stalls and his shoes floated out in the maelstrom never to be seen again. The next day when Bizzarrini boarded the plane for Italy he did so in his stocking feet.
On the race course the cars with wide race tires began to aquaplane and lose traction and handling. Some drivers and crew said later they were waiting for the race officials to red flag the race because conditions were too dangerous. That decision was never made and the rains continued unabated.
As Paul Rainville tells it, his father Charlie brought in the Bizzarrini Iso Grifo he was driving for a scheduled pit stop and driver change. The rain was still pounding down when co-driver Mike Gammino got into the car. He didn’t bother to fasten his safety belt before reentering the race.
Two or three laps later the car hydroplaned on the start/finish straight and struck the Mercedes-Benz Bridge abutment broadside cutting the car in two.
When the corner workers arrived to render assistance they found Gammino in his seat in the front half of the car. His hands were still on the steering wheel. The driver’s seat was still firmly affixed to the floor. His firmly affixed seat belts were with the back half of the car which was now twenty-plus feet distant. It was a lucky day for Mike Gammino.
When the corner workers initially assisted Gammino from the car it was still raining heavily and he really didn’t take note of the condition of the car. After determining that he didn’t suffer any serious injuries he was allowed to walk back to the pits. When he got there Charlie Rainville asked, “how bad’s the car?” He replied, “don’t know.” Charlie said, “Well, let’s go see.”
When they arrived at the accident scene Gammino took one look at the car cut in two with the pieces over twenty feet apart and promptly fainted.
Lap times for most of the prototypes and big-bore sports cars were now approaching 10 minutes. The Miles/McLaren GT40 actually did one lap in the rain that took 16 minutes. Race lap averages went from just over 100 mph before the storm to an incredible 28 mph. Visibility was so poor that one Cobra Daytona driver, seeing what he thought was a turn, found himself in one of the aircraft parking areas. Looking behind him he saw that several other racers had followed him into the lot thinking he knew where he was going. The blind were leading the blind and the fact that the torrential rain had washed away many of the course pylons didn’t help things. The race continued and so did the monsoon rains.
Phil Hill in the #16 Cobra Daytona Coupe had to stop twice in one lap to open his door and let the water drain out. According to him it would get up to his waist and slosh around back and forth in waves. Several drivers pitted so their crews could punch holes in the floor of the car and let water drain out.
Running second before the deluge the Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari got drowned, got dried out, got drowned a second time and was finally left with two gears in the transmission. In all fairness to Graham Hill, it was Pedro Rodriguez who blew second gear early in the race. At the first driver change around noon Hill found much to his consternation that second gear was gone. It looked like Rodriguez was living up to his well deserved reputation of being tough on cars. There was a rumor among the mechanics that Rodriguez didn’t like using the clutch when he shifted.
Not all racers were hampered by the torrential rains. The small displacement sedans and sports cars running on narrow tires knifed their way through the standing water. The #61 Sebring Sprite of Clive Baker and Rauno Aaltonen passed a Ford GT40 three times in a short period of time while the #62 Sebring Sprite of Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen passed the leading Chaparral four times in the rain. The #62 Sprite finished fairly high up in the standing at 15th while the #62 car finished in 18th position. It was all due to the rains.
The lightweight Chaparrals were running on very wide tires and found the conditions next to impossible. The new Firestone rain tires were of little use in the standing water. With 7 laps on the field, and track conditions less than ideal, the leading #3 Chaparral decided to pit at 5:50 p.m. and wait out the storm. This lasted for approximately 15 minutes according to the official time charts.
The other Chaparral had a hairy spin on the track during the storm and decided to pit until conditions improved. Later in the race they had a problem with a faulty voltage regulator and it took a 40-minute pit stop to correct it.
With three hours left in the race the rains began to diminish and then stop. The standing water on the course was quickly absorbed by the soft porous sands of south Florida and high-speed racing resumed with the Hall/Sharp Chaparral still in the lead and the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40 in second.
As far as some spectators were concerned the race was already over. Not because the Chaparral was in the lead but because many race fans were soaked to the skin and tired of wet clothes, the heat, and the mud. They just wanted to get to their hotel or home, take a shower and change into some dry clothes. At 7 p.m. the tail lights of many spectator cars could be seen exiting the track.
In those days some race fans going to Sebring for just race day dressed for the event. Men in sports jackets and ties and women in dresses and heels were not uncommon. But, for most of the in-crowd the dress code was casual dressy. Men in sports shirts and dress slacks while women wore stretch pants and silk blouses. A reporter from Women’s Wear Daily was present to report on the latest trends in racing fashion. People, especially the Palm Beach crowd, wanted to look good for an international event where the foreign press might be present. Race promoter, Alec Ulmann, and team owner, John Mecom, Jr., were classic examples of what a proper gentleman should wear on race day.
If you were not close to your car or shelter when the storm hit you got thoroughly soaked. Those who found shelter near concession stands or in some of the paddock tents discovered water rising around their feet, then up to their ankles, then above their ankles. Shoes, pants and dresses were ruined.
Very few of those folks came prepared for the deluge. Umbrellas were of no use in the high winds and if you wore a poncho or rain suit it didn’t take long for you and your clothes to get drenched in perspiration in the Florida heat and humidity. Even if you had a change of clothes and shoes there wasn’t a proper place to get dressed unless it was the back seat of your car and remember they didn’t have tinted windows in those days.
In the 9th hour of the race and after completing 133 laps the Graham Hill – Pedro Rodriguez Ferrari 330P finally succumbed to clutch problems. When they retired they were running in third place and with only two gears left in the transmission. Moving up to replace this car was an authentic private entry the #31 Ferrari 250 LM of David Piper and Tony Maggs.
And that is the way it stayed until the checker flag at 10 p.m.. The Jim Hall/Hap Sharp Chaparral 1st with 197 laps completed and 1,019.2 miles covered with an average speed of 84.723 mph. Not a record and you can blame the deluge for that.
In second place and four laps down was the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40. As the race wound down Miles and McLaren wanted to make a run at the leading Chaparral but Carroll Shelby vetoed that request. Later when reporters asked why he said, “We’d rather finish second than not finish.” The British racing green colored Ferrari 250 LM of David Piper and Tony Maggs finished third but first in class. Fourth but first in GT was the #15 Daytona Coupe of Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser.
Obviously this finish made many folks happy. First were Jim Hall and Hap Sharp. They proved that regardless of heat, flooding rains and a notoriously rough track their revolutionary cars could go the distance. Despite the fact that Chaparral won, Carroll Shelby was happy. His Shelby American GT40 came in second and first in the prototype class. Also, Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes came in 1-2-3 in the GT class, a clean sweep.
Porsche fans were happy because there were four Porsches (three 904’s) in the top ten. Despite their smaller engines the well-engineered cars proved they had staying power. Sports writers were already predicting that Porsche was another “dark horse” with which Ford, Ferrari and now Chaparral must contend.
American race car fans were no doubt very happy. An American-built car driven by American drivers beat the best Europe had to offer and did it on American soil at America’s most difficult track and under terrible weather conditions. The last time an American car with an American driver won a major international sports car race was at the 1921 French Grand Prix when Duesenberg came in first.
Chaparral went on to have its most successful year ever in 1965 with 16 wins in 22 starts. Ford picked up valuable experience at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans that year and it paid off big in 1966 when Ford finished 1-2-3 at what Dearborn considered the Holy Grail of racing, The 24-Hours of Le Mans. Ford would repeat its victory at Le Mans in 67, 68 and 1969.
For Carroll Shelby and his Shelby American organization 1965 was a great year. His cars went on to win eight of eleven races entered and the Cobra Daytona Coupe is the only American made car to win the World Manufacturer’s Championship for Grand Touring Racecars. At the end of 1965 the FIA revised the rules again making the Cobra Daytona Coupe obsolete in international competition.
The Chaparrals would race again at Sebring but in a different configuration. The winning 1965 car would be transformed into a coupe and race as a prototype at Sebring in 1966 and 67 but the biggest contribution Chaparral made back then was to the creation of the Can-AM series which was probably one of the most popular racing series ever run by Sports Car Club of America.
For decades European machinery dominated the world of sports cars and endurance racing. For a brief moment in time in the 1960’s that domination was interrupted.
For Further Reading:
The Sebring Story by Alec Ulmann Chilton Book company 1969
12-Hours of Sebring 1965 by Dave Friedman and Harry Hurst Hurst Communications 2006
Automobile Magazine Sept. 2009 “Henry Ford II vs Enzo Ferrari by Joe Lorio p.” 56
[Source: Louis Galanos; photo credit: B/W by Dave Nicholas and Color by Walker Fricks, Jr.]
About the Author: Louis Galanos is a retired teacher, Vietnam vet and graduate of the University of Florida. While a college student he worked as a race official for Sports Car Club of America during the late 60's and early 70's covering race events at Sebring and Daytona and taking many photographs during what some call The Golden Age of Sports Car Racing. To see more pictures from Louis, visit his Flickr photo page at http://flickr.com/photos/smuckatelli.