Celebrating the life of ‘Quick’ Vic Elford
The world of motorsports has lost another one of its heroes.
Earlier this week, news broke of the passing of ‘Quick Vic’ Victor Henry Elford, at the age of 86. Vic Elford was one of those drivers that pretty much raced anything that had four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel. With a career starting in a Triumph TR3A, he is most known for his successes at the wheel of various Porsche cars, both on and off-road. Basically, if you would have put Vic Elford into a racing car, chances would have been he’d be competing for the win. And with that in mind, I feel it is fitting to pay the man a little tribute in today’s Petrolhead Corner.
Victor Henry Elford started racing at the age of 26, which was considered rather late at the time. During his career, which spanned more than two decades, he raced in everything from Mini to Triumph, Ford, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Ferrari, Lola, Cooper, Chaparral and more. He was a Porsche-works driver for 5 years, which saw him achieve his biggest successes.
Among his accolades are winning the 1968 Rally de Monte Carlo, and winning the 24 Hours of Daytona only a week later and on his first-ever attempt. This would also mark Porsche’s first overall victory in a 24-hour endurance race. The first of many, as we now know. Vic Elford also competed in Formula 1, CanAm, Rallycross and NASCAR, with varying results. His best “work” was in endurance racing, as his records show. He won the 1971 Sebring 12 Hours and multiple long-distance racing at the Nürburgring.
The following video covers a lot of his career, including many of his race wins and achievements.
What’s also fascinating is the fact he was asked by Steve McQueen to do the high-speed scenes in the 1970 cult-classic movie “Le Mans”. During his career he managed to set multiple lap records at almost every circuit he raced on. This included records at Sebring, the Targa Florio, the Nürburgring, Le Mans, Monza, Laguna Seca and more. Some of those records stood for multiple years even,
The Green Hell
The Nordschleife layout of the Nürburgring was dubbed “The Green Hell” by Sir Jackie Stewart, as it is located in the German Eiffel forests, and considered one of the most challenging (and dangerous) race tracks on the planet. It’s here where numerous drivers (almost) lost their lives in accidents, in a period of time where safety measures meant putting on a basic helmet and that’s it.
The undulating track runs through thick woods and has a length of around 23km and consists of 174 corners, kinks and bends mixed with a number of long straits. It’s extremely tricky to master as there’s a lot to take in on such long tracks.
It is also the venue where Vic Elford rose to greatness, really, as he won here multiple times in various classes and racing different cars. He won the 1,000km of the Nürburgring, which combined the Nordschleife and an extra south-loop finish-straight into one long track, three times in a Porsche 908/3. With a total of 6 wins under his belt at the famous Eiffel-venue, Vic Elford is only bested by Rudolf Caracciola and Sir Stirling Moss.
Here’s footage of the ADAC 1,000km Nürburgring of 1971, with a heated rivalry between Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, ending in a win by Vic Elford.
The Targa Florio is one of the greatest road racing events ever conceived. It is right up there with the Mille Miglia in terms of reputation, and it attracted all sorts of prolific racing drivers and some of the fastest prototype sports cars and racing cars in the day. It was held on the Italian island of Sicily, between 1906 and 1977. At first, it was basically a single 148km long lap of the island, but through its years it has seen a number of configurations run in one or multiple concessive laps. Through towns and villages, on dusty, bumpy public roads lined with people and the occasional livestock getting in the way.
There are plenty of Targa Florio stories to be told, but one year, in particular, comes to mind when Vic Elford is concerned. It was 1968 and Vic Elford was at the height of his career, mostly running in various Porsche race cars. At this time, the Targa Florio was a 10-lap race of the 72km long “Piccolo” circuit. Quick Vic was competing in a new Porsche 907, with co-driver Umberto Maglioli, against cars like the Ford GT40 and Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2.
On the opening lap, Vic lost a wheel and lost 18 minutes against the other competitors. Not deterred, and using his experience as a rally and racing driver, he soldiered on and hunted down the leading Alfa Romeo car lap after lap. After 7 out of the 10 laps, he handed over the wheel to Maglioli, who continued the pursuit, took the lead on the 9th lap and eventually won with a margin of 3 minutes. It’s a sign of the sheer talent of Elford, and to an extent, Maglioli, to overcome an 18-minute gap and still be able to take the victory. And setting lap record after lap record in the process, by the way, something to talk about in a bit.
While there’s very little footage of the 1968 edition of the Targa Florio, I did come across this gem of a video of the 1971 race (see above). This includes footage of Vic Elford behind the wheel of the No.8 Porsche 908/3 in Martini-sponsoring (the silver/grey car), teamed with Gérard Larousse. This year he was up against the Alfa Romeo boys yet again but sadly, Elford and Larousse crashed out in the 3rd lap.
There’s also this short clip, where Vic is interviewed about the event, dubbed over on-board footage of the 1972 venue.
Based purely on statistics, it doesn’t seem his run-ins with le Mans have been all that successful. Out of 8 starts in the gruelling endurance race, he finished only twice. Nevertheless, the times he did come across the finish line at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans he managed to win in his specific category.
He raced at Le Mans from 1967 to 1974, and immediately came in first in class (7th overall) with a Porsche 906K Carrera 6 race car, with Dutchman Ben Pon as a co-driver. What followed were five consecutive DNFs, all with Porsche cars, before making the switch to Alfa Romeo in 1972. A year later he came in first in class again (and 6th overall), driving the Ferrari 365 GTB/4. He was back in a Porsche again for his final outing but failed to reach the finish line.
Two remarkable stories revolving around Vic Elford at Le Mans are not shown by pure statistics as I said. During the practice runs of the 1971 race, he was clocked doing a monstrous 380kp/h on the long Mulsanne straight (remember, no chicanes back then!) in his Porsche 917LH, the longtail version of the car he drove in 1969 and 1970.
And then there’s the tragedy of 1972, the year his colleague Jo Bonnier lost his life in a horrific crash. Behind the wheel of his Alfa Romeo Tipo 33TT3, he came across the burning wreckage of a Ferrari 365 GBT/4, a similar car he would drive a year later. He immediately stopped, fearing the driver was trapped inside the car. He opened the door, discovered there was no one there, and went on to find the crashed Lola of Bonnier. This was all caught on camera, and Vic Elford was awarded the National Order of Merit by French president Georges Pompidou.
The Sucker Car
Despite this tragic chapter in Elford’s immensely impressive career, we’re ending it on a high note. One of the most unusual cars he’s ever had the chance to drive is the Chaparral 2J a.k.a the Sucker Car. This radical concept used ground effects aerodynamics and an engine from a snow-blower to suck air from underneath the car and create a vacuum. This would result in incredible cornering speeds, and an unusual, rather boxy shaped car. Powered by a monstrous 7.6 litre Chevrolet V8 pumping out 650bhp.
It ran in the bonkers Canadian-American Challenge Cup Series (or CanAm in short) in 1970, was initially plagued by reliability issues but proved mightily fast when it worked. It was outlawed as rival teams feared it would dominate the championship and force other teams out of competing. It can be seen here in a montage of the 1970 CanAm race at Road Atlanta, alongside other beasts from McLaren, Porsche, Lola and Ferrari.
I had the privilege to drive with Vic Elford at Sears Point raceway. Together with Derrick Bell they led the Porsche driving school….you drove your own Porsche and Vic and Derrick would ride along, switch seats, and then we would switch back. What a hoot! Vic was a real gentleman! Same can be said about Derrick. I learned a lot! At the end of the day, we got a lap in the then Porsche Turbo (the generation that was truly evil and difficult). Vic was throwing in full lock on the steering multiple times during that lap. An eye opener!