Roy Salvadori Comments on Le Mans
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(Ed. Note. Roy Salvadori was a member of the Cunningham Team in 1963. He was teamed with Richards in the No. 16 Lightweight. What follows is extracted from our correspondence.)


Salvadori In the Pack: 1963

March 22, 2000

Thank you for your letter and enclosures concerning the Jaguar Lightweight E Type, and because of my fond memories of the Briggs Cunningham Team and also the various Jaguars I raced in the course of my career I would be delighted to assist you in any way I can.....

I have photostated a couple of races (ed. note: reproduced below) concerning the E Type and Briggs Cunningham and enclose them herewith. I have had considerable experience with the E Type, having raced it in it's first race in England, and then on to the various models, including the Lightweight cars, and they were the most comfortable and dependable GT cars I have ever driven. The great mistake was the 5 speed ZF gearbox which had a very slow gear change, and was very very heavy, causing block failures because of its weight. From memory, after one race in England, we discarded the ZF 5 speed, and went back to a 4 speed British gearbox. With regards to Briggs Cunningham's cars, the coupe I drove with Briggs to 4th position at Le Mans (ed note: 1962) had a 4 speed gearbox and the 5 speed boxes we used in the team cars for '63 were, I believe, the ZF gearbox, but I am not absolutely sure. Certainly the lower gears were seizing up and we were using only 4th and 5th speeds.....

I look forward to hearing from you.....

Yours Sincerely,






(ed note: the following excerpt from Mr. Salvadori's autobiography was included with this letter)

I also drove a Cunningham-entered E-Type at Le Mans for the second year in succession, but it proved a far less happy outing than in 1962. I was delighted to drive for Briggs Cunningham. This American millionaire was a really great enthusiast, charming, easy-going, but very professional and with a superb organization. Cunningham had entered a team of three E-Types and I was the fastest driver by quite a margin. Walt Hansgen, who was Cunningham's number one driver, was a little disconcerted about this, so the team manager, Alfred Momo, suggested that I try the other team cars. I was still faster with both these cars than with my own and fastest of all with Hansgens's car, partly because of a 'tow' down the Mulsanne straight behind Sears' Ferrari Prototype. The last thing that I wanted was a dice with Hansgen in the opening laps and at my suggestion my co-driver Richards started the race. Richards drove very sensibly and when he handed the car over to me after three hours we were reasonably placed, but the Jaguar was already experiencing gearbox trouble which was plaguing all the Cunningham E-Types. After a couple of pit stops to sort out the problem, I settled for lapping in fourth and fifth gears-and I was still matching my earlier lap times.


1962: Salvadori Drives Number 10 to Fourth Place

After my last pit stop I had been unable to get my seat harness done up as the shoulder strap would not clip into place. I was reluctant to make yet another pit stop and so I was driving with the harness loose round my waist because I had been unable to tighten it. Shortly afterwards, at the kink in the end of the Mulsanne straight which I normally 'straightened out" and took at about 165 mph, I saw a massive pool of oil on the road and a spinning car.

I knew that I could not avoid the oil and I thought that this was the end. I lifted my foot almost off the accelerator, leaving on just enough power to control the car, hit the oil, felt the car slide sideways, then the wheels bit again as I mounted the grass. I was sure that I had held the car and for a moment I felt immensely relieved. Then the Jaguar suddenly spun right round, I ducked, protecting my chest by keeping my hand over the gear lever and my bottom slipped out of the seat harness which was not tight unless the shoulder strap was done up. Then there was the most enormous bang as the car hit the opposite bank. It bounced back on the road and I was thrown through the perspex rear window on to the track, saturated in fuel from the ruptured fuel tank. My Jaguar careered forward into the bank again and caught fire.

I lay on the road, still very clear-headed, and could see just a few yards from me another driver, Jean-Pierre Manzon (the son of Robert Manzon), stretched out unconscious and obviously badly injured. I was petrified that the stream of fuel trailed by the Jaguar would burn its way back to me. I could not move my body because of the severe bruising (although, thankfully, I could feel no pain at this stage), so I stretched my fingers into the grass at the edge of the track and hauled myself up the bank. The marshalls quickly doused the burning Jaguar.

Manzon's Rene Bonnet had been the first to go off the road, Dewez's Aston Martin had ended up in the ditch, but, worst of all, Bino Heinz' Alpine crashed on the other side of the circuit rolling end over end and bursting into flames. Poor Heinz was incinerated in the wreckage of his car without any of the marshalls crossing the road to try to get him out of the wreck. The incident had been caused by McLaren's works Aston Martin which had blown up in the biggest possible way, depositing the entire contents of its sump on the track. Although 1963 was the first year when electric illuminated warning signals were used, the marshalls had displayed no signals at all.

After a long delay I was taken to hospital, by then very shaken and racked with pain. I was supposed to stay in France because I was a witness to Heinz' fatal accident, but all I wanted to do was to go home. At 5:00AM on the Sunday morning a friend collected me from the hospital and drove me to Le Touquet in her Morris Minor convertible. Silver City would not allow me to stay in the car during the flight, and, as I could not bend, I had to be carried into the aircraft like a stiff, dead body.

Although I had not broken any bones, I think that it was the worst shunt that I ever had; I was conscious throughout and remember every moment very vividly. My bruising was agonizing and I could barely move for a fortnight. Later theAutomobile Club de l'Ouest (ed note: the organization that sponsors Le Mans) issued a statement to the effect that the warning lights were on, that there was no oil on the circuit, and implying that the accident had been caused by drivers not taking enough care. I felt so badly about the mishandling of this accident and the white-washing by the organisers that in future Le Mans was a race that I could take or leave.
 

Copyright©2000 Michael Frank, all rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
Photos are Copyright © their original holders. "Jaguar" is the property of Jaguar Cars, Ltd, Coventry, England
Extracts from Roy Salvadori, Race Driver are Copyright © Roy Salvadori