1963 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile

1963 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile Page Fifteen

Of the six Shelby Cobras entered only three finished with the Phil Hill, Lew Spencer, Ken Miles roadster finishing 11th and first in the GT+4 class. The two other Cobras ended in 29th and 41st place. Of the seven Corvettes entered three finished, 16th, 17th and 42nd.

In order to get as many Corvettes as possible there for the finish a decision was made by the crew of the ailing Jerry Grant – Don Campbell Sting Ray to fake doing repairs for four hours and fifteen minutes by placing a mechanic under the car for all that time. Officially this prevented the stewards from withdrawing the car.

The car could still run but no one knew for how long so they waited until there was ten minutes left in the race and sent it out to finish in 42nd position (the very last finisher) completing a total of 46 laps (the winner completed 209) with an average speed of 19.9 m.p.h. No doubt the seven independently entered Corvette Sting Rays could have benefitted from the kind of factory support, organization and team work that Ferrari provided its people at Sebring in ’63. If they had, a better showing for GM would have been the result.

Paddy Hopkirk’s Austin-Healey 3000
Paddy Hopkirk’s Austin-Healey 3000 tried to avoid the hapless Don Campbell who seemed to have trouble negotiating the Hairpin in his Alan Green Chevrolet Corvette. (Gerry Johannson photo)
Jerry Grant – Don Campbell Corvette
The Jerry Grant – Don Campbell Corvette spent most of the night in the pits but entered the race with ten minutes to go to finish dead last with only 46 laps completed. (Gerry Johannson photo)

When John Surtees drove into the winner’s enclosure he was in bad shape due to exposure to exhaust fumes. Scarfiotti was a little bit better but still unsteady on his pins. There to greet them was the usual crush of reporters, photographers, radio and television people. Surtees and Scarfiotti smiled and exchanged handshakes and hugs from well wishers. When a person from the radio station broadcasting the race stuck a microphone in Surtees face and asked him to comment he said, “It was a very nice race indeed.” He then promptly passed out cold in front of everyone but was quickly revived by medical personnel.

Winning Ferrari 250 P of John Surtees and Ludovico Scarfiotti
Winning Ferrari 250 P of John Surtees and Ludovico Scarfiotti coming down Big Bend at Sebring. (Gerry Johannson photo)

For Ferrari it was as clean a sweep as any race car constructor could hope for. They took the first three places in the Prototype 3000 class as well as the first three places in GT 3000. In addition this was the sixth overall win for Ferrari at Sebring in the last eight years. They also took the Index of Performance and set a new lap record for Sebring. It was a great day for Ferrari but a disappointing one for Ford and Chevrolet.


Back in Dearborn, Michigan Henry Ford II was not a happy man. The results from Daytona and Sebring in 1963 showed that the Cobras were not yet the sports cars he wanted associated with the Ford name.

Under the guise of “If you can’t beat them, buy them”, in May of 1963, at the suggestion of Lee Iacocca, Ford made an offer to buy the financially troubled Ferrari S.p.A. If Enzo Ferrari agreed to the purchase then two companies would be created. A Ford-Ferrari Company dedicated to making the luxury sports and GT passenger cars that Ferrari was best known for and a Ferrari-Ford Company dedicated to sponsoring drivers, entering races and making racing cars. Ford would be the majority stock holder in the first company and Ferrari the majority stock holder in the second. In the event of Enzo Ferrari’s demise Ford insisted they have the option of purchasing the controlling stock he had in the second company.

Ford got permission to audit Ferrari assets for a possible purchase offer and sent over a team to Maranello that included an assets-determination specialist, manufacturing expert plus a cadre of lawyers to determine the value of the company and work out the legal details. The eventual cost of this exercise would run into the millions of dollars for Ford.

Ford eventually offered to buy Ferrari for what some said at the time was the ridiculously low price of $10 million. It was reported at the time that Enzo Ferrari felt this low offer was an insult and there was much indignation in the European press when word of the offer leaked. On top of that the insistence by Ford that Ferrari would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500 turned out to be too much for the Commendatore. As a result Enzo Ferrari abruptly ceased negotiations.

Ferrari’s rejection of Ford’s offer, the termination of negotiations and the vilification of Ford in the European press did not sit well with Henry Ford II. Enraged, he directed his racing division to negotiate with Lotus, Lola and Cooper to build a car capable of beating Ferrari on the world endurance circuit. By 1964 Eric Broadley of Lola began construction on what would be the Ford GT40 and subsequent versions of this model, in the hands of Shelby American and then Ford, would beat Ferrari at Daytona, Sebring and four years in a row at the Holy Grail of endurance racing, The 24-hours of Le Mans. Ford-powered Shelby cars would also win the International Championship for GT Manufacturers in 1965, Ford would win the Sports-Prototypes and Sports Car championship in 1966, repeat the Sports Car Championship in 1967 and the Championship for Makes in 1968.

For many in America in the late ‘60s The Ford – Ferrari War was over and Ford had won. However, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of that war few today would regard Ford as the epitome of exotic sports cars and racing. Ferrari may have lost those early battles in the 1960’s but in the hearts and minds of many sports car fans it never lost the war.

For Further Reading:

Autosport: Britian’s Motor Sporting Weekly, March 29, 1963 pages 424-429
Car and Driver, June 1963 pages 27-34
Ocala Star Banner, March 17, 1963
Palm Beach Daily News, March 1 and April 27, 1963
Road and Track, June 1963, pages 61-66
Sebring: The Official History of America’s Great Sports Car Race, Ken Breslauer, pages 76-79
Sports Car Graphic, June 1963, pages 18-25, 74-75
St. Petersburg Times, January 19, 1963
Today’s Motorsports, June 1963, pages 40-46

[Source: Louis Galanos]

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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!