Only a few British drivers ever really made the grade in the rough and tumble of European rallying. Of their performances, Vic Elford's were all the more remarkable when you consider that his early rallying was done from the co-driver's chair. Elford is today considered one of the greatest all-rounders in motorsport history, alongside such noteable racing greats as Jacky Ickx, Stirling Moss and others.
Elford's reputation grew immensely when he tied up the 1967
Grand Touring Rally Championship in his factory Porsche 911S, in the process making the young Elford a hot favourite for any "tarmac" rally he entered. His first time out in the Targa Florio
, he took third place overall - typical of the application to detail racing enthusiasts around the world were getting used to.
Elford started out driving for David Seigle-Morris in a Triumph TR3A, and later in a factory TR3A followed by works Minis and big Healeys
. When Vic became convinced that he could drive better than some other team members in 1961
, Marcus Chambers disagreed; predictably Elford and BMC parted company, though he bought a race-tuned Mini and gained some success later in the year.
The following year began quietly, with the Mini sold and no prospect of works drives in rallies. Auto Union DKW
in England came to the rescue with a sponsored Junior with which Vic and Mike Butler succeeded in several British rallies. In the autumn, Standard-Triumph interest had been roused, and a much-modified Vitesse was offered for the RAC Rally. Before the transmission wilted under the strain, Vic had "urged" the Vitesse well into the top ten; Triumph and Elford, it seemed, were off to a good start.
The usually reliable Triumph TR4's
had an unhappy year in 1963
, not helped by Elford crashing when in fourth place on the Alpine Rally. There was engine trouble on the RAC Rally, but third fastest times on the Tulip, and a meteoric performmance on the Liege in that very special 2-litre Vitesse made it clear that Vic Elford was very fast indeed. Too good, it seemed, for Standard-Triumph, who could not match the offers made in a fight that developed between Ford
. Though Elford also talked to BMC, Ford UK
won the day, and Elford started an association with the Cortina's
that was to last three seasons.
Cortina GTs were used, and with David Stone as co-driver, the combination prospered. Two fine drives were the outright Alpine Rally win, and a Touring car success on the Tour de France when (partnered by David SeigleeMorris) he piloted a Cortina-Lotus
into the best handicap award. Though he was in the Safari-winning team, he had an off-and-on RAC Rally, finishing third overall. For 1965
, with Cortina-Lotuses
promised, the prospects looked bright. In fact, the twin-cam cars did not appear until the Alpine, when Vic was robbed of a second victory by distributor trouble only an hour from the finish. Another unsettled RAC drive in that very snowy rally did the Elford reputation no good at all. Unjustly, people started calling him a car breaker.
should have been fully developed, so Vic took on John Davenport as co-driver in an extensive programme. Elford should have had four outright wins - on the Flowers, Tulip, Acropolis and Alpine, but anything from engine troubles through faulty paperwork to disqualification gave him a frustrating time. The cars were anything but reliable, and cost him a lot of confidence. Ford and Vic Elford, it seemed, no longer mated together, so it was time for a move.
The question was - where to go? There were talks with BMC and Renault before Huschke von Hanstein offered Porsches for the Tour de Corse, Monte and Alpine, with Lancia promising a Fulvia HF on the Flowers. At that time, it seemed reasonable to live "on the spot," as it were, and Elford almost moved himself and family irrevoccably to Geneva. But his ties to the UK were strong, and Elford was enjoying his other work in his home town of Clophill, Bedfordshire, where he was, among other things, the sub-postmaster.
It seemed the minute Elford had something reliable to pilot, success would follow. Elford-plus-Porsche 911S would take out the German, Tulip and Geneva rallies, and took third on the Monte after leading until the final hours. Porsche were so delighted by the Monte showing that they gave appproval, more or less, for a full rallying programme. In racing Porsches, Elford came third in the Targa and the Nurburgring
1,000km, sixth at Rheims (with Bill Bradley) and seventh at Le Mans.
In the 1967
BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, his car (shared with Lucien Blanchi) was a rousing fourth when the engine blew up. It was obvious to even the casual observer that Elford was a dedicated professional. Once the rally was under way, everything seemed to have an ordered place in its progress, and frivolity was not normally seen until it was all over. At controls, and before speed hill climbs, it was possible for a pressman to talk with him, but a few seconds before the flag fell his mind excluded the world around and switched to the immediate task of reaching the end of the stage in the shortest time possible.
There was almost a detached, faraway look in his dark eyes which widened and focused far up the road the instant the car moved. From then on his driving instincts took over; only the calm recital of pace-notes over the intercom by David Stone managed to get through. At the end of a fast run, Elford would take some time to "switch-off" again, instinctively reaching for a soothing cigarette.
Practice sessions were when a driver's true intellect emerged. A Makinen or a Roger Clark was deceptively casual about the whole thing, but the rigid discipline of learning your way through the twisty stuff was all-important to Elford. Pace notes differed from day to night, so at least one run (usually at reduced speed) was made at the correct time by the rally timetable. To the professionals, practising could be boring work. Elford spent the majority of August 1967 to practise for the Alpine, and pace notes were dictated into a recorder for later transcription. As was often the case, co-driver David Stone would see the car and notes only at the start - Elford having practised much of the route alone.
Originally Porsche suppplied the 911S to Elford to their specification, but Elford soon commanded such respect that he was given sheafs of data, optional equipment and charts, so that he can almost design his own car for a particular event. The Geneva Rally car had probbably the lowest 5-speed cluster ever fitted to a 911S - Vic knew that he didn't need more than 100 m.p.h. anywhere, so the car was geared to do just that - at 7,500 r.p.m. in top gear!
In Australia we think of Peter Brock
as King Of The Mountain, but
a decade earlier that title belonged to Vic Elford. His knowledge of some regions, like the French Alps where so many events were held, was amazing. Hills such as Mont Ventoux and the Col du Granier did not require repetitive practice - only one run was enough to tell him where the road had been re-surfaced, a corner eased, or a landmark removed.
In unknown forests he was not so happy, preferring a command performance after many rehersals to a virtuoso exhibition at which the Scandinavians (and Roger Clark
) excel. One of his greated victories was in the 1968 Rally Monte Carlo, again driving a Porsche 911. Only a week later Elford took out the 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche 907, Porsche's first ever overall win in a 24 hour race.
Later that year, he also won the Targa Florio
by veteran Umberto Maglioli in a famous come-from-behind race after he lost 18 minutes in the first lap due to a tyre
failure. Elford then entered the French Grand Prix
and finished fourth in his first F1 race – a wet one, too. By finishing the 1969
Monaco Grand Prix
despite troubles, he became the only race driver to do well in both famous events in Monte Carlo.
Racing in the World Sportscar Championship for Martini against the mighty JWA Gulf team, he was clocked at over 380km/h in the Porsche 917LH in practise for the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1971
. He went on to win the 1971 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 917K, as well as several 1000km Nürburgring races. His last race was at the 1971 German Grand Prix