1963 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile

1963 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile Page Fourteen

Coming into the pits for a look at his battery was the Ferrari 250P of Ludovico Scarfiotti. It seems that the battery casing had expanded and forced the contacts off the leads. Scarfiotti was in second position at the time and he also had other complaints, to which, exhaust fumes in the cockpit, from their rear-engined car, that made him nauseous. When his co-driver, John Surtees, took the car out for the final time few seemed to notice that Scarfiotti seemed a bit flush. It was the beginning of carbon monoxide poisoning. In the pits an incident happened that for the quick action of the pit stewards could have been tragic. The Simca-Abarth of Hans Herrmann was in for gas and tires and the jack slipped causing the car to fall on a mechanic. Stewards rushed to the rescue lifting the car high enough for him to be removed. His injuries were only minor.

1963 Sebring 12 Hours winning Ferrari 250 P
The winning Ferrari 250 P was one of nine of eleven Ferraris to finish the race. (Bill Stowe photo)

Out on the course the Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari 330 TRI/LM that had led for seven of the past eight hours was in big trouble. The generator had failed and the battery was quickly being drained and headlights and driving lights began to dim. To conserve battery power and to help find his way in the pitch dark Hill would turn off his lights and tuck in behind another car and allow them to light the way.

Pedro Rodriguez in the NART Ferrari 330 TRI/LM
Pedro Rodriguez in the NART Ferrari 330 TRI/LM that led for most of the race. The factory Ferrari team didn’t like this because they wanted their new 250P cars to win. (Tom Bigelow photo)

This didn’t go unnoticed by the corner workers and when the stewards were notified that a car was running without lights they prepared a black flag for Graham Hill. The wily Hill, knowing what was coming, would get to the last turn before the start/finish and then turn on what was left of his lights. It also seems that the factory Ferrari people had a word with the stewards about the lights on the NART Ferrari. That American entered car had embarrassed them all day long and they would have preferred that one of their new factory cars win. However, as Hill passed the stewards they determined he had enough light showing to let him continue racing.

The inability to see properly in the dark at high speed forced Hill to slow the car and he would eventually finish in third position. Moving into first and second overall were the factory Surtees/Scarfiotti 250P and the Mariesse/Vaccarella 250P.

At 10 p.m. starter Jesse Coleman dropped the checkered flag with the Ferrari of John Surtees and Ludovico Scarfiotti taking overall first place honors in their #30 Ferrari 250P. It was the first win at Sebring for a rear-engined race car. Coming in second overall were Willy Mairesse and Nino Vaccarella in another Ferrari 250P. In third place was the Ferrari 330 TRI/LM of Pedro Rodriguez and Graham Hill. In fourth, fifth and sixth place were a trio of Ferrari 250 GTOs. It was an incredible clean sweep for Ferrari and as further proof of Ferrari reliability nine of their eleven cars entered finished.

In seventh and eighth places were two Jaguar E-types and in ninth and tenth position were the two factory Porsche Abarth 356B Carrera GTLs mentioned earlier. They had exhibited remarkable discipline hour after hour by staying within twenty feet of each other for almost twelve hours. That is, until the last pit stop. In his own words #44 Porsche driver Don Wester explains:

“Here is what happened at our last pit stop toward end of the race. The German Team pitted first; when I saw them head into pit lane I began to drive as quickly as possible to gain some time on them. When it was our time to make a pit stop for gas and Bob’s (Holbert) turn to finish the race, the mechanics did a quick gas fill, Bob got in to re-enter the race. As he re-entered, our car was leading by a good distance ahead, #44 went on to win the class and 9th overall.”


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factory Porsche-Abarth 356B
Edgar Barth – Herbert Linge factory Porsche-Abarth 356B that finished 10th. (Bill Stowe photo)
Don Wester – Bob Holbert factory Porsche-Abarth 356B
Don Wester – Bob Holbert factory Porsche-Abarth 356B that came in 9th and first in class. (Bill Stowe photo)
American drivers Don Wester and Bob Holbert
American drivers Don Wester and Bob Holbert finished in the top ten for factory Porsche. (Kas Kastner – BARC Boys photo)

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Show Comments (37)

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  1. What a fantastic article and pictures. Brings back lots of memories of racing in the 60’s and how different it was from today.

  2. Well written as usual, Lou. Terrific photos, too. One of my best memories of going to Sebring from the late ’60s to the mid ’80s was not at the track but the early morning hours en route to the race driving through the orange groves with the nearly-intoxicating aroma of the orange blossoms filling the air. I saw a few good races, too.

  3. Gosh, Lou. This is staggeringly good work. I’ve always been a fan of your work at Sports Car Digest, but you’ve out-done yourself this time.

  4. Thank you Louis, once again you have captured perfectly the spirit and feeling of Sebring. Great to read your text, and also see some photographs of some of the “back markers”. Cars like the Morgan, Osca, Sabra, MG, Sunbeam Alpine, Lotus, plus more. It is not always about the “BIG Boys ” running at the front, rather about everyone that faced the starters orders… Can you top this one? looking forward to seeing if you can…Cheers Graham.

  5. Always learn more, nobody tells early Sebring better than Louis. Has a real passion. Also great collection of photos. Material for a book to complement Harry Hurst’s. Wonder if Ken Bresslaur would like to post in Sebring archives. Very very enjoyable. Jan Hyde, Registry of Corvette Race Cars.

  6. It is a really fascinating story Louis…It couldn’t be more detailed. 1963, it’s a long way off but thanks to your report it is very close! A true pleasure indeed… (and not “olesue”?). Sorry for the keyboard error!

  7. Another fine first-hand account by Lou, accompanied by some priceless period photos. These stories are pure gold for a sports car/endurance fan! I hope Mr. Galanos is working on more material.

  8. Thanks again Lou for the contributions you continue to make to those of us who wish they could have been there. An amazing collection of pics and writing that makes me feel I was in the corner station with Roger! Nice work, yet again.

  9. It’s always a pleasure to read Lou’s racing stories and looking at the relative photos. Lou provides details/facts that I never knew and revives memories that had faded. I do remember that at the time of Ferrari’s rejection of the Ford offer, some press reports suggested that the real problem was when Enzo Ferrari discovered that any major decisions that involved capital expenditures had to be authorized at corporate level – this was , for him – totally unacceptable. And, Lou, I see that you’re a very busy guy ! I see tha April issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Cars photo essay story using your photos from the 1970 Sebring race !

  10. What a marvellous account of a fantastic event. So good to see Morgans taking part too. Louis Galanos is a mine of interesting information which he coveys with infectious enthusiasm.

  11. Lou, thank you for the descriptive commentary. It really brought back memories from years gone by. Actually every time I read one of your articles it reminds me of my regrets of not having attended one of the Sebring 12 hour races when I was in college. So much insightful detail!

  12. Great story and incredible photos Louis! As usual, the insight and background you bring to your stories is truly amazing! I also enjoyed your photo story in the April issue of Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car on the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours. Keep up your excellent work!
    Harry Kennison

  13. I was there for every race from 61 through 67, and can honestly say that it was the most exciting thing a young guy could experience except sex. The cars were beautiful and real. The competition was fierce, fierce, fierce. The track was rough. And it was “practically perfect in every way”. The next year, I think it was, Shelby put 427s in the Cobra roadsters and they were the absolute bomb. I will never forget watching Dan Gurney, I think it was, fighting the monster torque as he came out of the old Webster turn and onto the back straight. Amazing!

  14. Definitely a nice article with lots of great photos. I was however valiantly & fruitlessly looking for a photo of the #49 Art Riley/Nick Cone Volvo P1800. Twenty-third overall & Third place in GT3 – Not too shabby.

    1. @ Dave F. re: No Art Riley photo: They’re out there, Dave; see Bill Stowe’s shot, going down to the hairpin, I believe, @ http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/1963/Sebring-1963-03-23-049.jpg That’s Arthur at the wheel, characteristically head tilted up to better see over the right fender crown to the apex for a crisp turn-in. We had the great fun to re-live this event, albeit at Coronado (North Island Naval Air Station) in 2003, on the concrete runways chasing down the (ex-factory) Porsche Abarth Carrera which finished 2nd in class on the Sebring runways in 1963, with the ex-Art Riley VIN #14 P1800 which, as you note, finished 3rd. Rick Hayden

  15. Lou Galanos does it again, bringing Sebring’s early days back in sharp focus in both narrative and photos. Speaking of which, I love Sir Stirling homing in on the chick, and note that his personal choice in cameras is Canon… And would someone explain the Ferrari badge on the #55 Sunbeam Alpine?

  16. I finally had the time to read this. Lou, this is great story telling.. Not just with your well crafted writing, but also with the awesome selection of photos. Thank you.

  17. carNo 40 was NOT the TRIUMPH TR3 CONRERO it was an ex LeMans Triumph TRS –the TRIUMPH CONRERO was photographed sitting on a
    trailer at the 1963 Sebring but although the records show it should have raced ,for some reason it was substituted in the actual race .T conrero was a fixed head coupe with a lightweight aluminium body and a much more powerful version of the twin overhead cam engine than in the TRS ,so it should have been much faster !
    Does anybody have any photographs of the Conrero or know the reason why it did not race
    Both cars were owned by Charlie Kolb and entered by KEYMO MOTORS
    I would like to hear from anybody with any imformation .
    Kelvin Smith–kelvin [email protected]

  18. In the early 60s when I was in elementary school, my Dad was part of the volunteer medical staff at Sebring. He used to pull me and my brother out of school and we would head down to Sebring a couple of weeks early. Dad did a lot of the pre-race physicals and a LOT of partying with the people he knew. Dad always had a Porsche or a 289 Cobra. We would drive down with one of us riding with Dad and the other riding in Mom’s station wagon. A fort of mini convoy. So I was at this race in 1963.

    I wish I had paid better attention to some things. That year we stayed at a motel on the edge of town. Also staying there was a team from Italy racing the Alfa Romeos that looked a lot like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfa_Romeo_Giulia_TZ

    They were fun guys. The physicals were on the second floor of the old Sebring fire station. It was pretty fascinating to watch Dad interact with all these race drivers; many of whom were highly temperamental.

    One story: Dad’s Cobra wasn’t running right so he dropped by the Cobra team’s facilities one day during the week before the race (Dad knew somebody who knew somebody). They diagnosed the problem (someone had given it the same timing as you would for a 225 hp 289) and one of the drivers offered to drive it around the track with Dad as a passenger. Dad used to claim it was Ken Miles, but I can’t vouch for that. Anyway, off they went leaving me with a coke and huge candy bar (I was about 7 or 8). After a while Dad’s car came back with the team driver driving it. He got out of the car laughing and told me Dad was walking back. What happened is that the driver proceeded to flog Dad’s Cobra around the track at near racing speed. Dad begged him to stop. Dad got out and walked back. It scared him that badly. He told me years later that he finally understood from that drive exactly what it means to drive on the very edge of control at very high speeds. He said the prospect of instant death was palpable. During that drive at those speeds Dad said he truly didn’t understand how anyone could possibly survive. Dad’s Walter Mitty dreams of being an amateur gentleman racer were thoroughly destroyed that day.

    Another thing that used to fascinate me at the track were those huge old airplanes that Ulmann was parting out as a business venture. There was a long line of those old Flying Boxcars in various states of disassembly. Near those was a truly massive airplane. It was a four-engine transport and it was extremely ratty looking but intact. I remember my Dad and his friends laughing about it, and wondering how such a huge thing had even landed at that small airport. Somebody said that had heard that it had landed some years before and then they discovered that the runway was too short for it to take off. I don’t know. After seeing some really bad, distant pictures of the thing and looking at pictures of air transports from that era and earlier I’d venture to say that that plane might have been one of these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_R6V_Constitution

    There were only two of those made, so I don’t know. I know one of them ended up in Florida. The stories conflict. My memories of those races are great though. I was already a huge gearhead and it was fascinating. It was the first place too that I had ever seen so many “adults” in full bore party mode.

  19. As usual, pictures are incredible ! fantastic !
    Thanks a lot for this article !
    Congratulations from Paris !!

  20. Does anyone have any photographs of the CONRERO TRIUMPH which Mike Cook took a picture of sitting on a trailer in the carpark at 1963 Sebring
    Car No 40 mentioned in the caption for Tom BIGELOW s photograph is not the Conrero but one of the ex Triumph factory TRS cars that won the team prize at LeMans 24hr race–both cars were owned by CHARLIE KOLB and were entered in the name of KEMO MOTORS
    All the Best
    Kelvin Smith

  21. Fantastic photos and article! This was the first car race I attended when I was 10 years old and I’ve been a sports car racing and Formula One fan ever since. Sports Car Digest is a great magazine, wish I was aware of it sooner.

  22. Great re-reading this ; thanks Sports Car Digest for the reminder that Lou’s stories are classics and are meant to be read and re-read over and over.

  23. Great story and photos, Louis . I went to the 64 race and am hoping to see a similar story on that one.

  24. Found very late, but it’s never too late for a good story and great photos!You brought back that 60’s racing feeling, well done Louis!