Oldtimer's Corner - 1973 24 hr. du Mans

By: Ed Niles

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Having flunked hand-eye coordination 101, I was never a serious racer, if one discounts straight-line drag racing. But I was always a hard-core enthusiast for automobile racing in all its forms, and so it was that I graduated from the dry lake beds of Southern California to Gilmore Stadium and eventually to the various sportscar tracks of Southern California, where I served as a Turn Marshal for many years. I became quite adept at performing a slow minuet around the fringes of the racers, leaving the risk of life, limb and pricey automobiles to my wealthier and better-coordinated friends.

So when Francisco Mir, who then owned the world's smallest Ferrari dealership in Santa Monica, California, announced that he was going to be racing a car at the 24-hours of Le Mans in 1973, I raised my hand to be among those who would go along as gofers. I had to pay all my own expenses, but I did get into the race free, in exchange for my promise to keep my eyes open for more than 24 hours at a stretch (something I had never done before).

When we got to France, Frank's car was just being delivered, having been driven out from Maranello on the public highways. It was a factory-modified competition "Daytona" or 365 GTB/4. The description and history of these cars has been well-covered in other articles, so suffice it to say that the factory (actually the customer service facility in Modena) made 15 of these cars, in 3 series of 5 each, and Frank's was one of the 5 cars in the third series, and 1 of 4 built with what the factory records call a "motore speciale". The car received a very special paint job designed by westside designer and Ferrari enthusiast Robert Miles Runyan, red on the left side and yellow on the right side, the colors separated by stripes of white and green. The important crew members received matching jackets; that I did not receive a jacket is testimony to my standing (or lack of standing) on the team.

The paint job was one of several "political" problems encountered by the team. The scrutineers decided that the car, being red on one side and yellow on the other, would confuse the score keepers, and decided that the car could not run.

However, Frank Mir was not a dummy, and he had already learned how political things are at Le Mans. He had therefore entered the car under the aegis of NART, the racing organization of Luigi Chinetti. Frank had a reason for this. Luigi Chinetti, although Italian by birth and American by choice, had lived in France for a number of years, and spoke French fluently. Also, he was a multiple winner at Le Mans himself, his most famous win being that of 1949, when he drove a 166MM Ferrari 23 1/2 hours of the 24 hour race, to take an over-all win. So it was that Luigi Chinetti carried a little clout at Le Mans.

Chinetti was able to force the organizers to reverse their position. It probably helped that Frank Mir had engaged two drivers with Le Mans experience, di Palma and Veiga, as his drivers.

Once the car was accepted as part of the NART entry, Frank and his crew had a chance to go over the car carefully. Surprisingly, these competition Daytonas are not that far removed from the stock Daytonas that you and I can drive on the street. In fact, my old friend, Ken Starbird, and his wife, Rosi, used to drive their competition Daytona on the street as an every-day driver for many years.

Visible changes included small fins on the tops of the front fenders, removal of the bumpers, blue cloth interior instead of leather, and small spoilers underneath the car, front and rear.

Daytona at Le Mans Francisco Mir?s Comp Daytona s/n 16367 before the start of the 24 hrs du Mans. Our pal Ed holds down the left rear. (Chuck Queener photo)

Once the car had been accepted by the organizers, Frank set a