Thursday, April 19, 2018

Remembering Jim Clark

Originally Written by - Gerald Donaldson

Jim Celebrates his win at Watkins Glen
He never intended to make racing a way of life, let alone become the best in the world in a sport that for him began as farm boy's hobby. And when the sport took Jim Clark's life the racing world mourned the loss of one of its best-loved champions, the unassuming Scottish driving genius whose personal integrity and admirable human qualities endeared him to fans and rivals alike. Nearly invincible in the car, he seemed vulnerable out of it and was always a reluctant hero. Few champions were as dominant. Fewer still are remembered so fondly.

James Clark, junior, was born on March 4, 1936, and brought up with his four sisters on the family farm in Scotland's Berwickshire hills near the border with England. There was plenty of room to roam around the Clark's large acreage where flocks of pedigree sheep grazed peacefully and where Jim Clark would always feel most at home. It was worlds away from international motorsport, a subject he first read about in books and magazines when, at 13, he went to a private school in Edinburgh, where he also played cricket and was quite good at hockey. When it came to using vehicles for sporting pursuits Jim had to overcome parental opposition to using them for anything other than utilitarian purposes. Having first driven the family car around the fields in secret, and then been allowed to drive farm tractors alone, Jim got his driver's license on his 17th birthday, by which time he had left school and was working full time on the farm. For personal transport he bought a Sunbeam Talbot and in 1956 began using it to compete in local rallies and driving skill tests. He soon graduated to winning club races in a variety of sportscars entered for him by wealthy enthusiast friends, without whose encouragement he might have progressed no further. When he won he found being the focus of attention embarrassing. He also felt guilty about racing against his family's wishes. Goaded on by his friends, the reluctant racer began to take it more seriously, demonstrating an outstanding natural talent that amazed everyone, and certainly surprised the man himself.

Jim Clark in the cockpit of his Lotus 49 with the Ford DFV V8 engine behind him; Clark won the 1967 Grand Prix of Holland at Zandvoort with this engine in its debut race
In 1958 Clark was given a sleek little Lotus Elite coupe to race at Brands Hatch, where he immediately impressed the winner in an identical car, Lotus founder Colin Chapman. Invited by Chapman to race a Lotus Formula Junior, Clark immediately excelled and was promoted to Team Lotus for the latter part of the 1960 Formula One season. In Belgium that year he suffered through one of the worst weekends in Formula One history. Early in the race at Spa Chris Bristow crashed fatally in a Cooper. Clark just managed to avoid the terribly mutilated body as it lay on the track but his Lotus was spattered with blood. A few laps later Clark's friend and Lotus team mate Alan Stacey lost control when he was hit in the face by a bird and he was killed. Clark admitted that the gruesome disasters nearly put him off racing forever. Thereafter he hated Spa with a vengeance and yet he would win there four times in succession.

In 1961 his first complete Grand Prix season was blighted by his involvement in a collision at Monza with the Ferrari of Wolfgang von Trips. Though Clark was innocent and unhurt, the death of von Trips and 14 spectators left him devastated and again he seriously considered retiring. But he was persuaded to stay by Colin Chapman, whose brilliance as a designer was developing along with the emerging genius of his star driver.

Jim, Airborne in his Lotus at the Nurbergring
Over the next four seasons the Clark-driven Lotus was mostly only ever beaten when the mechanical side of the equation failed to deliver. Chapman's innovative Lotus chassis powered by Climax V8 engines were exceptionally fast but notoriously unreliable. Clark only lost the 1962 championship because of an oil leak in the last race. In 1963 everything held together and he stormed to victory in seven of the championship races and easily won his first driving title. In 1964 he was again deprived of the championship in the last race by an oil leak. In 1965 he won six of the 10 races and his second World Championship.

By now Clark and Chapman were as close as brothers. Chapman greatly admired his sincerity, humility and personal integrity and said Clark was as impressive as a human being as he was driver. Clark was not technically-minded and relied on Chapman to translate his comments into engineering solutions. Even when the car was not right Clark's natural talent enabled him to drive around problems, though he often said he had no idea where his speed came from.

Jim was reserved in public, but invincible in the car.
The public warmed to the shy champion who shunned the limelight, which now extended to America where he became a star after winning the 1965 Indianapolis 500. He hated press conferences and was visibly uncomfortable making public appearances. Though admired and well-liked by his peers, none of them knew him well. Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart, both self-confident extroverts, found Clark to be just the opposite. In the car he was the epitome of calm and controlled aggression. Out of it he constantly chewed his fingernails and was surprisingly indecisive, and had trouble choosing which restaurant to eat in.

His championships brought him wealth and he became a tax exile in Paris. He drove to the races in a Lotus Elan (and later flew a Piper Twin Commanche he bought from Chapman), often with a female companion. He never married but confided to a girlfriend that his ambition was to settle down and have a family of his own on the farm in Scotland. He deliberately kept his contracts to a year at a time so he could be free to leave when he wanted.

Jim Clark, Back in the Cockpit.  
He nearly left after Lotus was less competitive in 1966, though his patience was rewarded with a return to form the next season. A victory in the first Grand Prix of 1968 brought his total to 25, eclipsing the previous record set by the great Fangio. Like Fangio, Jim Clark seldom ever made a mistake and had very few accidents - which made his sudden death all the more difficult to comprehend. On April 7, 1968, his Lotus had a tyre failure in a F2 race at Hockenheim in Germany and he was killed. The racing world was in shock and many felt the heart had gone out of the sport. Colin Chapman said he lost his best friend. Graham Hill said what he would miss most was Jim Clark's smile.

We here at l’art et l’automobile remember all the great heroes of the Track, in particular when we lose them, like we did this great champion. Jim Clark will live on in our hearts and minds. In that vein of remembrance, we have gathered several Jim Clark artifacts as well as Formula 1 and 2 memorabilia into one place, and present them to you. Feel free to Peruse the collection here and take a piece of history everyday.

Jacques Vaucher
l’art et l’automobile

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ford renews search for the punch bowl won in the race that helped kickstart the company

Daniel Strohl on Jan 31st, 2018

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.

We’ve all lost things of value to us. Class ring overboard on a fishing trip. Fifty bucks in a poker game. Air-cleaner wingnut down the carburetor. Those hardly compare to the punchbowl Henry Ford won in the race that essentially gave birth to the Ford Motor Company, which the Ford family lost more than 65 years ago. Now, once again, the company has put the call out for the prized prize.

As Automotive News reported, the recent re-emergence of the Bullitt Mustang–once considered the holy grail of missing Ford automobiles–has renewed Edsel Ford II’s push to locate the unmarked cut-glass punchbowl.

“In a way, the trophy means a great deal,” he said.

Henry Ford wasn’t exactly an unknown quantity in 1901 when he entered the exhibition race at the Detroit Driving Club; rather, he was known as a failed carmaker. A couple years prior, after testing out his Quadricycle, he had attracted some investors (among them Detroit’s mayor) and, under the name Detroit Automobile Company, built a dozen or two vehicles.

But by January of 1901, the company collapsed. Ford, then 38, moved back in with his parents and concocted a scheme to return to the automobile business that was full of wishful thinking: He’d build a racecar! And enter it in a race the Detroit Driving Club would host in October! And his success there would bring all sorts of investors knocking on his door!

The improbability of the scheme became readily apparent the day of the race. While most of the competition didn’t show or didn’t make it to the starting line, Alexander Winton did. Winton, who had been successfully producing automobiles since 1897, also believed in racing his cars. The organizers of the race were Winton dealers and, anticipating that Winton would handily win the $1,000 race, had either Winton or his publicity manager choose the trophy to be granted to the winner: a cut-glass punchbowl set. Reportedly, it would perfectly capture the light in a bay window of his Cleveland home.

Ford arrived atop a 26-hp twin-cylinder-powered contraption he optimistically named the Sweepstakes. And from the start of the race, it appeared all would go as anticipated. Winton took the lead and held it. Until the seventh lap, that is, when Winton’s heavier car began to misfire, allowing Ford the opportunity to pass and take the win three laps later.

Henry Ford (4) about to pass Alexander Winton in the famous 1901 race. Photo courtesy Smithsonian.

While lore has it (and Automotive News repeated) that the $1,000 winnings (as much as $828,000 in today’s dollars, depending on your measure) helped Ford start Ford Motor Company, the path from race to Model A isn’t nearly that direct.

Rather, with some of the same backers, Ford reorganized the Detroit Automobile Company into the Henry Ford Company a month later. Immediately, Ford and his backers clashed over whether race cars were a worthy pursuit: Ford, fresh off his first (and only) race win, wanted to continue developing competition vehicles while his backers, interested in a return on their investments, pushed to jump right back into production.

Ford left the company not long after with $900 and a promise that his backers wouldn’t use his name. William Murphy, one of Ford’s backers, turned to Henry Leland, and, in 1902, proceeded to reorganize the Henry Ford Company into the Cadillac Automobile Company. Ford, for his part, built a couple more race cars, the Arrow and the 999, and got coal baron Alexander Young Malcolmson to back his next venture,  Ford Motor Company.

The punchbowl, in the meantime, remained with Henry and Clara Ford through Henry’s death in 1947 and Clara’s death in 1950. Yet, for whatever importance Ford historians now attach to the punchbowl, it went to auction through Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York a year later along with many more of the couple’s possessions. According to research done in 2011, when The Henry Ford last made its big push to find it, the punchbowl sold for $70 (about $1,000 in today’s dollars) to The Garden Shop, a New York business that has long since closed.

Researchers haven’t turned up any trace of the punchbowl, and Edsel Ford II told Automotive News that he fears it may be gone forever. However, on the off chance it still exists, he–and many others, including The Henry Ford’s Curator of Transportation, Matt Anderson, who described the punchbowl as a “holy grail artifact”–hopes it does and that it makes its way back to Dearborn.

They’ll probably have to pay a little more than $1,000 for it, though.

Henry Ford driving "Sweepstakes"
We here at l'art et l'automobile obviously have a keen interest in Lost or Hidden Treasures, or more importantly finding and preserving them.  In Fact, we make a point of doing so at every occasion.  And to that end we have gathered a collection of trophies and ford artifacts and presented the collection to you.  Come tour the Gallery Here, and perhaps you can take home a piece that becomes a priceless family heirloom to you.

Jacques Vaucher
l’art et l’automobile

Thursday, March 29, 2018

70 years of sports cars at Porsche



Fast. Puristic. Emotive. For the past 70 years, the Porsche brand has been synonymous with sports car construction at the very highest level. The company begins its anniversary year with a New Year Reception.

The Type 356 (on the left) turned Ferry Porsche’s dream of a sports car into a reality
The first vehicle to bear the Porsche name was registered on June 8, 1948: It was the 356 “No.1” Roadster. This is the day on which the Porsche brand was born. The Type 356 turned Ferry Porsche’s dream of a sports car into a reality. “His vision at that time embodied all of the values that still define the brand to this day”, said Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG, at the New Year Reception at the Porsche Museum. Representatives from the state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg as well as from the city of Stuttgart and the worlds of politics, economics and society, joined Porsche to celebrate the beginning of its anniversary year with the slogan “70 years of the Porsche sports car”.

“Tradition is a commitment. Without our tradition and without our core values, we would not be where we are today”, explained Blume. “We plan to uphold the standard of technical excellence set by Ferry Porsche well into the future. Intelligent dynamic mobility has a great future ahead of it. And we have the solid technological expertise, creative employees and unique team spirit to be involved. We have what it takes to ensure that the Porsche brand continues to fascinate – even in another 70 years.”

The Mission E (on the right) is already coming up to the starting line

The history of the Porsche brand begins in 1948. Yet the foundation of the sports car manufacturer is built upon the life’s work of Professor Ferdinand Porsche – work which his son Ferry then continued. Ferdinand Porsche had already designed pioneering innovations for the automotive industry as early as the start of the last century. In 1900, he built an electric car with a wheel hub drive known as the Lohner-Porsche, a vehicle on which he would then base the world’s first all-wheel-drive passenger car. In the same year, he created a template for hybrid vehicles with the development of a mixed petrol-electric powertrain. In 1931, Ferdinand Porsche founded his own engineering office. The “Berlin-Rome Car” showcased in 1939 was the beginning of his idea for a sports car bearing the Porsche name, although this dream was only realized by his son Ferry in 1948 with the Type 356.

The successor model to the 356, the Porsche 911 designed by Ferry Porsche’s son Ferdinand Alexander, finally gave the company its breakthrough as one of the leading manufacturers of sports cars in the world, both from a technical and a design perspective. The Porsche 911, presented to the global public for the first time in 1963, has now been built over a million times. “Although the 911 has been consistently developed in the intervening decades and enhanced many times over with new, innovative technologies, no other vehicle has managed to retain its original essence in the same way as the 911”, says Blume. “All Porsche models to be developed now and in the future are based on this sports car. As the centrepiece of the brand, the 911 has become the sports car of dreams, winning the collective heart of enthusiasts all over the world.”

Porsche celebrates the jubilee all over the world

The future of Porsche sports cars is already coming up to the starting line in the form of the Mission E, the first purely electrically driven technology champion from Zuffenhausen. This concept vehicle combines the distinctive emotional design of a Porsche, exceptional driving performance and forward-thinking everyday functionality. The four-door model with four individual seats delivers a system performance of over 440 kW (600 hp) and a range of more than 500 km, acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 3.5 seconds and a charging time of around 15 minutes for 80 per cent of the electrical energy required. Porsche has invested around one billion euro in this futuristic project, creating more than 1,200 additional jobs just at the headquarters in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, where the Mission E will be built. “Porsche will always be Porsche – the leading brand for exclusive, sporty mobility”, reinforces Blume.

Porsche is celebrating this year’s anniversary with numerous activities around the world. On February 3 “The Porsche Effect” opened at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. In Germany, the first “70 years of the Porsche sports car” exhibition will open from March 20–31, at “DRIVE, the Volkswagen Group Forum” in Berlin. The Porsche Museum will also be holding its own anniversary celebrations with a comprehensive special exhibition opening on June 9. On the same day, Porsche will be inviting sports car fans to its “Sports Car Together Day” at all of its sites around the world.

For the weekend of June 16–17, the sports car manufacturer will host employees, residents of the Zuffenhausen district and prospective customers to a public celebration in and around the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. The “Festival of Speed” held from July 12–15, at the Goodwood race track in the UK will also celebrate the anniversary, as will the “Rennsport Reunion” in California from September 27–30. The celebrations will conclude with the “Sound Night” event to be held for the first time in the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart on October 13. Further information is available at

We here at l’art et l’automobile are virtual connoisseurs of Porsche artwork and automobilia, having collected and curated hundreds if not thousands of items and artifacts celebrating the Porsche name and legacy over the years.  We even have two very fine examples of Ferry and company’s work in the Gallery and we love them.  In fact, we have just managed to obtain a large and highly valuable collection of original Porche Factory Posters that we are making available to you. Come read about them here, and of course we encourage you to tour the gallery.

Bravo Porsche, here's to the next 70 years!

Jacques Vaucher
Owner and Curator
l'art et l'automobile

Steve McQueen tried to buy the '68 Mustang from Bullitt – Twice!

By Telegraph Reporters 16 JANUARY 2018 • 12:26PM

Steve McQueen in Bullitt CREDIT: REX
It is one of the most famous cars in cinema history, up there with Michael Caine's Mini Cooper from The Italian Job and Michael J Fox's DeLorean from Back to the Future.

Steve McQueen may have had top billing in the 1968 thriller Bullitt, but the real star of the film was the green Ford Mustang GT fastbacks he drove in the movie's famous chase scene.

That Mustang was displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, alongside a letter from the actor himself which reveals his unsuccessful battle to buy the famous car.

In 1977, three years before his death at the age of 50, McQueen wrote to the car's owner Robert Kiernan, a New Jersey resident who had bought it for $6,000 in 1974, after seeing it advertised in a magazine.

McQueen had tried to buy the car from its previous owner, but it slipped through his grasp. His curt four-sentence letter to Kiernan begins "Again, I would like to appeal to you", suggesting it wasn't the first time the actor had been in touch.
In full, the letter reads:

Dear Mr Keirnan,

Again, I would like to appeal to you to get back my '68 Mustang. I would like very much to keep it in the family in its original condition as it was used in the film, rather than have it restored; which is simply personal with me.

I would be happy to try to find you another Mustang similar to the one you have, if there is not too much monies involved in it. Otherwise, we had better forget it.

With kindest regards, I remain

Very truly yours,

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen, with the Highland Green Ford Mustang CREDIT: REX 
Kiernan was evidently not won over by this approach: he never replied. Instead, he kept the car, which his schoolteacher wife used to drive to work. In 1980, the car's clutch broke, and for the next three decades it mouldered unused in a garage. He had attempted to repair the car with his son Sean, but died in 2014 with the work still incomplete.

Robert Kiernan and his family shied away from publicity, and over the years the car's ownership became the subject of rumour and uncertainty; Chad McQueen, the actor's son, last year launched a website called calling for information about the whereabouts of the cars used in the film. The car has been described by Ford as the "holy grail" of Mustangs.

Now Sean Kiernan, working with Ford, has repaired the iconic car and put it back in the limelight once more, alongside the company's new third-generation Bullitt Edition Mustang.

"You know, it was never our intention to keep this car a secret from everybody," Kiernan said at a press conference for the Detroit auto show. "It just kind of happened with life. I’m just completely buzzing to join with Ford and the new Bullitt and show this car to the world on one of the biggest stages there is."

Classic car expert Kevin Marti has described it as "an incredible artifact", telling car insurers Hagerty that "98 per cent of the original car is there."

Remarkably, it is not the only Bullitt Mustang to have emerged in the last year. Kiernan's car was one of two Mustangs used in the film's climactic chase; the other, which bore the brunt of damage from the stunt scenes, was written off as scrap – but was rediscovered last year in a Mexican junkyard.

Italian Version of Bullit Movie Poster, just one item in our Steve McQueen Collection
Here at l’art et l’automobile we are avid movie buffs, especially when those movies feature Green 1968 Ford Mustang GTs or the venerable Steve McQueen. But even more so, we appreciate the fine art and nostalgic memorabilia these films create and celebrate. That’s why we make it a point to collect and curate Iconic Film Artifacts and deliver them to you, so that maybe you can add that perfect Steve McQueen Piece to your Collection. Here is our collection of Steve McQueen memorabilia, and please feel free to browse the gallery and take a piece home with you.

Here's to all our Green Mustangs (real or otherwise)

Jacques Vaucher
Owner and Curator
l'art et l'automobile 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Historic photos celebrate Enzo Ferrari's 120th birthday

Enzo Ferrari joined the Alfa Romea factory team as a works driver in 1920, aged just 20.

Maranello, Italy - The Ferrari museum is celebrating the 120th birthday of Enzo Ferrari, who was born on either 18 or 20 February 1898 in Modena, with an exhibition of rarely seen photos detailing the life of the man who to this day casts a giant shadow over Formula One racing and the company he founded.

It seems the controversy around the second son of cabinetry engineer Alfredo Ferrari and Adalgisa Bisbini started the day he was born. His birth was registered on the 20th but his father later claimed that his younger son was in fact born two days earlier. A huge snowstorm, he said, prevented him from visiting the local municipal office until the 20th.

The Ferrari family in 1906, from left Enzo, his older brother Dino, his father Alfredo and mother Adalgisa.
Young Enzo Anselmo Ferrari decided that he was going to be a racing driver at the age of 10, after watching Felice Nazzaro win the 1908 Circuito di Bologna, but the First World War intervened, and he was called up to serve in the 3rd Mountain Artillery Regiment of the Italian Army. Shortly before his discharge in 1918 his friend, fighter pilot Francesco Baracca, whose personal emblem was a prancing horse, gave Ferrari a pendant with a prancing horse “for safekeeping” before take-off on the day he was shot down by an Austrian pilot.

Enzo Ferrari's first job was as a test and race driver for Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali.  He drives a 15-20 Hp CMN in the 1919 Targa Florio with riding mechanic Nino Baretta.

Ferrari lost his father and brother in the great flu pandemic, and nearly died of it himself in 1918. When he was medically discharged from the army he started looking for a job in motorsport and, after a short stint as a test and racing driver for Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali (CMN) he joined Alfa Romeo’s racing team in 1920, where he rattled more than a few cages by finishing second in that year’s Targa Florio.

While still under restraint of trade to Alfa Romeo, Ferrari built two cars for the 1940 Brescia Grand Prix under the name Auto-Avio Costruzioni, one of which is still in the Righini Collection. Ferrari is at the rear right in this picture.
But the death of Antonio Ascari in 1925 and the birth of his son Dino in 1932 convinced Ferrari to become a team manager instead. He ran the huge Alfa Romeo racing division (at one stage it had more than 40 drivers on its payroll) until 1939, when the last of a series of arguments with Alfa Romeo management led him to go out on his own.

Enzo Ferrari, in the grey suit to the right of the cockpit, with the very first car to bear his name, the 125 S racing car, in the courtyard of the factory in May 1947. At the wheel is Ferdinando 'Nando' Righetti.
Once again war intervened, however, and it wasn’t until 1947 that the first Ferrari racing car appeared, wearing the now-iconic prancing horse emblem with the blessing of the Baracca family. Ferrari was one of the first to sign up when Formula One was invented in 1950, and won his first Grand Prix at Silverstone with Argentinian driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Legend has it Ferrari cried like a baby the first time one of his cars beat the hitherto all-conquering works Alfetta 159s.

Testing the first Ferrari 246 F1 car at Modena in 1958.  In the car is factory test driver Martino Severi.  Ferrari is third
from right; the big man next to him is legendary engine designer Carlo Chiti.  

The following year Alberto Ascari, son of the great Antonio, gave Ferrari the first of many world titles, but not enough wealthy ‘gentleman racers’ were lining up to buy replicas of his championship-winning machines, and Ferrari realised he would have to start selling street-legal versions of his sports-racing cars to finance his motorsport stable.

Impromptu trackside conference in 1965.  Il Commendetore is on the right; second from left, holding his crash helmet,
is works driver John Surtees.  On the transport behind them are a P3, left and a 250 GTO.

And the rest, as they say, is history; Ferrari sold 50 percent of his road car operation to Fiat in the 1960s but retained full control of the competition division until his death in 1988 - which, at his request, was not made public for 48 hours to make up for his father’s tardiness 90 years earlier!

He left a legacy of champions and championships, of autocratic leadership and some of the world’s finest racing and performance cars, that will never be equalled.

We here at l'art et l'automobile are proud to help celebrate the 120th birthday of il commendatore, the illustrious Enzo Ferrari, as well as the 70th anniversary of the Ferrari Brand. I in fact had the pleasure of working with him and was even in the process of writing a book of Ferrari based artwork with him shortly before he died. Obviously, without his knowledge and vision, said book could not be continued, but the art which he so gracefully wrought, in the form of his amazing machines, continues to fascinate and excite to this day.

Original Photo, contained in the l'art et l'automobile
collection, depicting Jose Froilan Gonzalez winning
the Grand Prix at Siverstone, autographed by the driver.
I will always remember and cherish our time together, and will always curate his legacy.

Jacques Vaucher
Owner and Curator
l'art et l'automobile

Be sure to visit our website at to view our collection of Ferrari Artwork and Memorabilia.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

John Fitch's Wild Rides

John Fitch and his Cunningham C-4R

John Fitch, Racer, Engineer, Inventor, Friend

John Cooper Fitch was born in Indianapolis in August of 1917. He was a descendent of the inventor of the steamboat, John Fitch, and his stepfather was an executive with the Stutz Motor Company, which introduced him to cars and racing at an early age.

In 1939, he travelled to Europe and saw the last car race at Brooklands before the outbreak of World War II. During the war he flew fighter planes for the Allies, including the A-20 Havoc and the P-51 Mustang, becoming one of the only pilots to shoot down the deadly Messerschmidt ME 262 Jet Fighter.

When John returned to the U.S., he was among the many young pilots who'd developed the need for speed during the war and turned to auto racing. But unlike many of his contemporaries, Fitch was good. So good, in fact, that he caught the eye of Briggs Cunningham, the wealthy racing enthusiast who encouraged Fitch to enter and win the 1951 Grand Prix of Argentina, in a car John prepared himself. This win clinched the support of Cunningham, who accepted him onto his racing team, for which John scored a number of impressive victories in the early '50s, at then-fledgling road courses like Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen. But Cunningham had bigger plans: His goal was to win Le Mans, the world's most demanding endurance race, with an American car and driver, and Fitch was to play a leading role in that quest. In 1952, he came close to making Cunningham's dream come true. After setting fastest lap in his C-4R roadster, he was forced to retire late in the race because of ‘bad fuel.’

This event gave John a chance at something bigger. John convinced Mercedes team chief engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut to allow him to take several Mercedes 300 SLs to the upcoming Carrera Panamericana, a race that wasn't even on Neubauer's radar. His performance during the race secured him a spot on the Mercedes team, driving with the likes of Juan Manuel Faigio and Stirling Moss. John proceeded to compete successfully in many notable races for these teams, including several seasons of both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring, and other races like the Mille Miglia in 1953 and 1955, and the RAC Tourists Trophy in 1955, as well as the ’53 and ’55 Seasons of Formula One.

But John’s racing career didn't end there, because at the end of 1955, Chevrolet's Chief Engineer, Ed Cole suggested that he help develop the Corvette into a world-class race car and manage a team of Corvettes he planned to enter at Sebring, just six weeks away. Many thought that it would be impossible to make the slow, overweight production two-seaters competitive in such a short amount of time, but in typical fashion, John rose to the occasion. Four cars were entered in two different classes but against overwhelming odds, the team won both classes, earning them the team prize and setting the foundation for the Corvette Racing Team that still performs to this day.

John Fitch at the Italian Grand Prix

John Fitch racing at Monza in the Italian
Grand Prix in 1955

After a horrific accident during Le Mans, that led to the death of his team mate Pierre Levegh, as well as over 80 spectators, John devoted a great deal of effort to the task of increasing the safety of motorsports and driving in general, resulting in the foundation of his company, Impact Attenuation Inc. He became a pioneer in improving race car and street driving safety, and went on to make several racing and highway safety innovations, most notable including the Fitch Barrier System, those yellow barrels you see everywhere on the highway. In typical fashion, John insisted on testing the system himself, and since first being introduced in the late 1960s, it is estimated that they have saved as many as 17,000 lives. John also personally designed five different cars during his life, including the Chevrolet Corvair Sprint and the Fitch Pheonix, a Corvair-based two-seat sports car resembling a Corvette.

John retired from racing in 1964 to his home in Connecticut, where he lived with his wife Elizabeth and their three sons, John, Christopher (Kip) and Stephen. John continued to drive in vintage racing events, particularly at Lime Rock Park, and even returned to racing at 87 years of age, trying to set a land speed record in a 50-year-old Mercedes-Benz 300 SL owned by Bob Sirna at the Bonneville Salt Flats. 

John was the definition of an Auto Enthusiast and I was Lucky enough to spend time with him, both professionally and as friends. Unfortunately we lost this shining star to Cancer in 2012, but his spirit will live on in the hearts and memories of those who new him and followed his career with fondness. On numerous occasions he displayed his great admiration of Cars and Motorsports and always maintained a jubilant attitude with family and friends, and towards life in general. I am sure that he influenced many people who looked up to him and I will always remember him fondly.

Adieu John,

Jacques Vaucher
l’art de l’automobile

Make sure to head to our site at or check out a newly acquired collection from John's personal Library