Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori won the 1959 Le Mans twenty-four-hour race in an Aston Martin DBR1. Paul Frre-who still drives awfully well and still writes for Road & Track magazine-finished second in a similar car, co-driving with Maurice Trintignant. Stirling Moss and Jack Fairman completed the Aston Martin factory team that year, and Moss’s assignment was to go as fast as he could, which was very fast indeed, to tempt the Ferraris into wearing themselves out during the night. The strategy worked. Moss was fastest most of the night. The Ferraris did begin to come apart, and Shelby and Salvadori, driving conservatively, to team orders, came through with the victory. Shelby recalls that he and Salvadori probably made about $8000 each from that victory, plus some endorsement money, and they felt well rewarded.Shelby was already well known in the United States. He’d won a lot of races and enjoyed the benefits of highly favorable national publicity. Le Mans, for him, was the icing on the cake. What he didn’t realize fully in the summer of 1959 was the degree to which the Le Mans victory would enhance his credibility a few years later, when he would an-nounce his plans to campaign American-built, Ford-powered cars in the major leagues of international sports-car racing. I was sitting across the table from him at Ford’s New York City PR office when he proclaimed, “Next year, Ferrari’s ass is mine.”
Many people today know Shelby only as the man who brought us Cobras and GT350s, but some of us still see him as the raffish young Texan with the easy manner and the striped bib overalls who won race after race in everything from Allards to Ferraris to Birdcage Maseratis. My wife was a young bride in 1959, seeing her first Le Mans race. She was with her then-husband and his French family, who lived nearby and always made a great holiday of the Le Mans weekend. An American living abroad, she was totally charmed by Shelby. He became her hero that weekend and has remained so to this day. When he joined us for dinner in Detroit about a month before she and I were to be married in 1976, she was over the moon.
About six months ago, Jacques Grelley sent me a poster and a set of photographs related to the 1959 Le Mans twenty-four-hour race. The poster has been signed by both Shelby and Salvadori, and there is a photograph of each driver, well into his sunset years, signing the poster. There is also a photograph of each driver in the DBR1 during the race, also signed.
I already had another, similar framed set from Grelley. It is a signed poster with a photograph from the Grand Prix of Cuba in 1958-the year Juan Manuel Fangio was kidnapped from his Havana hotel by the Fidelistas. Although he was being moved from house to house by his kidnappers on race day, and the race was black-flagged when an accident in the early laps killed seven spectators and injured thirty others, Fangio, the world’s fastest kidnap victim, was very much the man of the hour.
I treasure the signed poster and the accompanying black-and-white image of him putting marker pen to paper.
Grelley has a personal collection of 3400 historic automobile racing posters, which he describes as the largest collection of its kind in the world. His oldest poster promotes the first authentic automobile race ever held-from Paris to Bordeaux to Paris in 1895. It was won by Emile Levassor driving a Panhard-Levassor, finishing six hours ahead of his nearest competitor. Grelley also sells posters, tapestries in racing motifs, and other kinds of automotive memorabilia. His collection of historic rally plates, which numbers 319, is currently on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and goes back to the rally of Dieppe in 1912, which was won by Ren Thomas. It all comes together when we recall that Thomas won the Indianapolis 500 two years later.
If you visit Rtromobile in Paris this winter, you’ll find Grelley there, offering his wares. I joined him on the Speed Channel the other night, discoursing on Delahaye racing cars and on our mutual friend, the late Ren Dreyfus, who achieved great things at the wheel of a Delahaye. Also, being French and old enough to have been a regular at Le Mans all those years ago, he owns what is probably the world’s best collection of DB-Panhard racing cars. Nine of them! These were the noisy little blue cars that always seemed to win the Index of Performance at Le Mans. Incredibly loud, with a painfully percussive exhaust note, often in the way of the faster cars, but Grelley loves them. (He can be contacted at 817-261-3175 in Arlington, Texas.)