Vic Elford, 1935-2022

15th March 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

It is with great sadness that I report on the life of Vic Elford, who has died at the age of 86 after a long illness. It was at Goodwood two years ago that I last saw him, as we sat down to talk about his life and times with cars. And what a life it was.


It has always saddened me that, when I think of Vic’s achievements, it is always with a sense of how much more he could have done had he had the breaks and resources his many less talented rivals took for granted. For while Vic made his name as a rally driver, most famously the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally both in Porsche 911s, he only rallied because he could not afford to race. And when he started rallying, he couldn’t even afford to drive, so started his career in motorsport in the co-driver’s seat.

Because unlike so many for whom talent was the only limit to their aspirations at the time, Vic had nothing. His parents ran a cafe in Peckham, South London, and he had to claw his way, bit by bit up the ladder of achievement.


As a result, by the time he became a ‘name’ in motor racing in 1968, he was already 32, with perhaps the best years of his racing life already behind him. Not that it stopped him racking up win after win in some of the world’s most famous, difficult and gruelling races. Among the great events of sportscar racing, Le Mans alone eluded him. Elsewhere he won the Daytona 24 Hours, the Sebring 12 Hours, the Targa Florio and the Nürburgring 1,000km no fewer than three times. This would have a record of which to be proud for any racing driver with a career perhaps 15 seasons long. In fact, Elford achieved all of the above between 1968-71. When you think about it and the fact that so few people have even heard of him today, that really is a quite extraordinary record.

But there was so much more to Vic than simply being rapid in sportscars. He is remembered chiefly for his extraordinary versatility. For outside the world of sportscars he won the 1967 European Rally Championship, the first ever Rallycross event, the British Saloon Car Championship, he raced in Formula 1 (of which more in a minute), Can-Am and even in NASCAR.


And for all his undoubted speed, it is his extraordinary courage for which he should be remembered. I always wished he’d been called David rather than Victor because today he’d be known as Brave Dave, a far more appropriate nickname even than Quick Vic.

Examples of his fearlessness include taking part in the 1967 Marathon De La Route on 1967 which took place over, wait for it, 84 hours at the Nürburgring. He shared a Porsche 911R with Jochen Neerpasch and Hans Herrmann, neither of whom much fancied driving around the ‘Ring in the fog, rain and darkness of night. Vic, by contrast, revelled in such conditions, so did four consecutive 7.5-hour night stints as he helped guide the car to victory.


He alone professed to enjoy driving the Porsche 917 in its earliest iteration. While some drivers literally refused to get behind the wheel of the aerodynamically suspect and under-developed car, Vic lapped it up. ‘Of course I loved it,’ he told me, ‘it was so much faster than anything else…’ He should have won Le Mans in it two, as he and Richard Attwood were leading by over two laps with less than three hours to go when the car broke. Richard was unashamedly delighted not to have to drive the deafening, malicious beast any more, Vic merely rued the loss of a race that appeared to be in the bag.

In the same race three years later he found a burning Ferrari Daytona at the side of the track. Fearing for the life of its driver, he stopped his Alfa 33, leapt out and walked into the flames only to discover the driver was already out of the car. Unbeknown to him, it was the same accident that had claimed the life of his friend Jo Bonnier who’s Lola had hit the Ferrari and taken off into the trees.


But perhaps the greatest example of Elford speed and bravery came at the 1968 French Grand Prix. Held on the evil old circuit at Rouen, whose downhill swerves past the pits made drivers fear it even more than Spa and the Nürburgring, he came forth in an uncompetitive Cooper-BRM. He qualified dead last, yet by the finish he’d dragged the car up to one place short of a podium, beaten only by Jacky Ickx, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart. Not bad, you might think. Now consider this: the circuit was wet, it had claimed the life of Jo Schlesser on its very first lap and it was his very first Grand Prix. I find that almost impossible to imagine.

His F1 career struggled on for a few seasons after that, but never in a car worthy of his talents. Back in sportscars and after a miserable 1972 season with Alfa Romeo yielded but one podium place finish, Vic retired from the sport, no longer prepared to take the risks that were always present for the rewards which were increasingly notable only for their absence. It was not death he feared, but the life-changing injuries suffered by too many friends.


He did come back, briefly, in 1973, to race a Porsche 917/30 in an Interserie event at Hockenheim. It had 1,100PS (809kW), the fastest car he’d raced to date perhaps 600PS (441kW). He was a retired racing driver. What could he do in it? Pole position, and win the race three minutes clear of the second-placed car in a race featuring no fewer than eight 917s.

I’ll miss Vic very much because, in an era that attracted the bravest of the brave, he still stood out among them. We will not see his like again.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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