1963 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile

1963 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile Page Three

Then there was the infamous FIA suitcase. At some races it brought fear and loathing to the competitors because all sports cars had to have a luggage compartment of certain minimum dimensions. If the mock up suitcase, sometimes a box made of plywood and about the size of suitcase, didn’t fit in your car’s luggage compartment your car was rejected.

A three-car TVR team had to remove all or part of their roll bars because either the roll bar or supporting members extended into the luggage compartment and the suitcase wouldn’t fit. It might have been better if the entire team had just packed up their cars and gone home because all three cars retired within the first 45 minutes of the start of the race.

Everything a competitor could do, legal and otherwise, was done to get through tech inspection. Some had skinny tires on their cars during inspection to avoid being forced to fabricate fender flares for the wider tires they would later mount for the race.

Ground clearance was an issue for some cars and mechanics could be seen wedging the car’s springs in order to get the right height for approval.

Like most race events of this nature it was common to provide several supporting races to keep the early arriving spectators happy and entertained. Plus it made money for the Sebring promoters since they charged two dollars for the Formula Junior race on Thursday and three dollars for the two sedan races on Friday. However, in all three cases the supporting races were from “dullsville” due to the very slim number of entries in all three events.

The Formula Junior race on Thursday could have benefitted from a shortened track. With a ridiculously slim entry list of only five cars running on the long 5.2 mile road course a spectator, once the last car passed his position, could wash and wax his car (only kidding) before the race cars made a complete circuit.

On Friday there were two sedan races scheduled with eight cars in the morning “Touring Class Two-Hour Race” and ten entrants in the afternoon “Three-Hour Race For 1,000 cc GT cars.”

1963 Sebring 2-Hour Sedan Race
Start of the 2-hour sedan race on Friday. Charlie Rainville’s red Volvo would finish first. (Tom Bigelow photo)

The two-hour morning race was an easy victory for Charlie Rainville in his B-18 Volvo 122-S averaging 72.70 m.p.h. with a Morris-Cooper coming in second and a BMW 700 third. From the start of the three-hour afternoon race the cars began dropping like flies with two never making it off the starting grid. Graham Hill driving a MG Midget and the Austin-Healey Sprite of Pedro Rodriguez lost their drive trains just minutes after the green flag fell. This was a major embarrassment for the British Motor Corporation (BMC) because they made much to do in the press about 1962 World Formula One Champion Hill driving their car in the race. At the end of the race there were only five cars still running to take the checkered flag with Hans Herrmann and Mauro Bianchi coming in first and second in Fiat Abarths with the winning car completing 47 laps at an average speed of 80.42 m.p.h.

Abarth-Fiat, 1963 Sebring
In the 3-hour supporting race these red Fiat-Abarths would come in first and second. (Tom Bigelow photo)

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Fiat Abarth, 1963 Sebring 12 Hours
The winning Fiat-Abarths on their way through the “esses.” (Tom Bigelow photo)

This is not to say that Friday’s events were totally dull because, according to the June 1963 issue of Today’s Motor Sports:


“The only excitement of the otherwise dull day was a three-lap demonstration race put on by the BMC people, using five of their small sedans. The cars were lined up abreast on the line with drivers Graham Hill, Pedro Rodriguez, Christabel Carlisle, Innes Ireland, and Denise McCluggage behind the wheels. As the flag dropped, Hill, Carlisle, and Rodriguez shot forward fishtailing the little cars and going for all they were worth. Ireland and McCluggage shot backwards in reverse about 100 feet going equally fast. The three leaders staged their own race going quite rapidly in a manner not necessarily subscribed to by drivers for serious competition, and the second two were now moving forward with haste. At the end of the first lap Ireland and McCluggage came by next to each other, with Innes beating on Denise’s car with his fist. On the end of the second lap the pair pulled their cars to a halt, jumped out, and began walloping each other, and then made up with hugs and kisses. Ireland then spun going into the esses, but made up for lost time by cutting across the infield and rejoining the others where he had left off. At the finish Carlisle pulled her midget out a radiator badge in front of Hill and Rodriguez, and Innes and Denise crossed the line holding hands. It was the best show of the entire week.”

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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!