Sad news of actor James Garner’s passing at the age of 86 brings with it some fond memories. He will doubtless be remembered by car enthusiasts the world-over both for the TV series The Rockford Files, in which he was often seen hurling a Pontiac Firebird around the streets of Los Angeles, and for the 1966 John Frankenheimer film Grand Prix.
It was during filming for the latter, which follows the fortunes of a group of drivers as they contest a fictional Grand Prix season, that Garner’s driving ability was noticed. Phil Hill, Graham Hill and Sir Jack Brabham were involved in the making of the film, and were all sufficiently impressed to remark that Garner had the potential makings of a professional driver.
Amongst his filming commitments, Garner did indeed take up racing as a hobby, and even owned a racing team (AIR) for a short while; entering cars at Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring amongst others. As a driver he visited many circuits and off-road courses, and also had the honour of driving the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 on three occasions.
For us, he’ll always be remembered as Pete Aron in Grand Prix; dicing with Yves Montand and Brian Bedford and eventually prevailing at Monza, which gave way to that wonderful final shot of him walking back down the abandoned start-finish straight and reflecting on his triumph.