Photos courtesy Porsche Museum Archives

 
 

Ever Quick: Vic Elford’s Porsche Years           
by David Soares

As you walk amidst the concentric circles of Porsches at this gathering called Luftgekühlt, we hope that you’re inspired to look for the patterns formed by the passionate stewardship of each air-cooled Porsche spread before you.  We anticipate that you’ll be able identify every type and model of the air-cooled Porsche among those on display, but you will begin to notice one model in abundance: the 911.  Among those 911’s, we think that you’ll begin to see another theme: personalization and customization. Within that motif, these modifications both large and small emerge as yet another ethos: sports purpose.  But this was not so at the birth of the Porsche 911.  The 911 was a steel-bodied touring car introduced at a time when Porsche was developing astounding air-cooled racing cars out of fiberglass and aluminum: the 904, the 906, the 907, the 908, and the mighty 917.  In many respects, the humble 911 owes its vaunted sports-purpose image to the efforts of one man, a chain-smoking Englishman born in 1935 who now lives in America. His name is Vic Elford.

Vic Elford began his motorsport career as a rally driver.  He competed in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, where factory engineer Peter Falk and test driver Herbert Linge managed to finish fifth overall in a 911 used as a support vehicle for the second-place 904 GTS.  Elford made a call to Porsche competition manager Fritz Huschke Baron von Hanstein. Vic met with the Baron and asked if Porsche might be willing to lend him one of their 911’s for the 1966 Tour de Corse Rally.  Hanstein protested that Porsche had no plans to rally the 911, but a couple of weeks later he called Elford to inform him that the factory would lend him a car for Corsica with three provisos: no pay; no expense money; and no practice car.  

Elford managed to cadge a demonstrator from the English importer to get a feel for the 911 and then went to Corsica with his co-driver David Stone.  He met von Hanstein at the quay in Bastia, where he finally saw his red 911 festooned with the now-familiar hood- and bumper-mounted rally lights. However, when he looked inside the service van, there were only a couple sets of spare wheels, a jack, and a few tools.  Vic asked the Baron when the spare parts would be arriving. His reply: “Vicky, my boy, there are no spares. Porsches don’t break.”

Elford and Stone went on to finish a strong third in Corsica, and the Porsche factory agreed to support a single-car race-by-race program that netted Elford and Stone the 1967 European Rally Championship.  Porsche also asked Vic to help them out at the Nurburgring, where an 84-hour race called the Marathon de la Route was being held. The 1967 Marathon was a regularity trial contested over a 17.6-mile course encompassing both north and south loops, and Porsche had enlisted Hans Hermann and Jochen Neerpasch to drive a 911R Sportomatic with Elford. In his autobiography, Elford describes being cornered by his co-drivers and told, “OK, Vic, you’re the rally driver, so you drive at night when it’s raining and foggy, and we’ll do the rest!”  Thus began four consecutive seven-and-a-half hour nights of driving, after which Vic felt that he knew every blade of grass along the Nurburgring — by name. Despite the deplorable weather that descended on the Eifel Mountains mid-race, Elford’s 911R won convincingly, completing 323 laps and covering 5652 miles.

Even greater things came in 1968, when Elford’s red sports purpose 911 delivered Porsche’s first win at the snow-covered Monte Carlo Rally.  After the Monaco victory party, Porsche asked Elford to board a plane bound for the Daytona 24 Hours. Vic had never even seen Porsche’s eight cylinder powered 907 langheck — let alone driven one — but he and co-driver Rolf Stommelen won the race.  More strong finishes led to what many agree was the greatest Porsche drive of all time, when Elford recovered from not just one, but two flat tires on the opening lap to win the 1968 Targa Florio in a 907 with co-driver Umberto Maglioli.  Porsche’s victory poster depicts Elford, not his car — the only time that the car has been left out. Dr. Helmuth Bott said that this was the one time that a victory was solely attributable to the driver, and not to his Porsche!  

A win in a 908 with Jo Siffert at the 1968 Nurburgring 1000km cemented the association of  Elford, Porsche, and the ‘Ring begun during those long nights in the 911R. Vic won the 1000km for Porsche two more times, in 1970 with Kurt Ahrens, and in 1971 with Gerard Larrousse, both years driving the lightweight 908/03 that Ferdinand Piech had ordered constructed specially to contest the ‘Ring and the Targa.  To this day Piech considers Elford to be, “one of the most impressive and multitalented personalities ever to drive for the Porsche works team.”

“Quick Vic” went on to be the only driver to race every version of the 12-cylinder 917 long-tail at Le Mans — leading by 50 miles at the 21-hour mark in 1969, taking pole position in 1970, and wheeling the flowing Martini-liveried car in 1971 — although Le Mans was one of the few sports car classics that Elford failed to win.  After stints in Formula 1, in Jim Hall’s Can-Am “sucker” car, and with Carlo Chiti’s Alfa Romeo team (narrated by Vic in Michael Keyser’s classic film The Speed Merchants, still available on DVD), Elford became tired of the danger and retired in 1973.  However, Vic still serves as a brand ambassador for Porsche, and he recently drove with his wife Anita to Daytona for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his victory.