1960 Sebring 12-Hours Grand Prix – Porsche Racks Up Their First Overall Win at Sebring
By Louis Galanos | Photos as credited
From 1954 to 1959 Porsche of Germany had managed to have one or more of it 1.5 or 1.6 liter race cars finish in the top ten at the Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance, which many considered the premier sports car race in North America.
However, during those years as also-rans, the coveted first overall trophy eluded Porsche consistently despite their proven reliability on the track. Larger displacement cars like the 3.4 liter Jaguar D-type, Ferrari 860 Monza, the 4.4 liter Maserati 450S and the 3.0 liter Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa would finish ahead of the German cars.
Many at Sebring in 1960 referred to the Porsche racers derisively as those “pygmy” cars and could hardly imagine them winning the first place trophy despite the fact that they took 3rd, 4th and 5th position in RSK’s in the 1959 race. Unfortunately, they missed the top two spots to a pair of 3-liter Ferrari 250 TRs that year.
Speculation prior to the 1960 Sebring race held that British ace Stirling Moss had the odds-on chance of winning in his Camoradi USA 2.9 liter “Birdcage” Maserati Tipo 61. Wasn’t Moss the best in the world since the retirement of Fangio? Wasn’t Moss’s picture in just about every newspaper? The only thing that could jinx predictions of a potential Moss victory at Sebring in 1960 was Moss himself. He had a reputation for thrashing any car he drove and if the Tipo 61 could survive Moss then it would surely win.
Without doubt there were few Sebring 12-Hour races during this period in motorsports history that didn’t have some controversy attached to them and 1960 was no exception. Two problems arose. First, Sebring founder, race director and promoter Alec Ulmann had entered into an agreement with the American Oil Company (Amoco) that in exchange for sponsorship money Amoco would be the exclusive provider of race fuels at the Sebring race. Entrants would be prohibited from using any other fuels.
This created immediate problems for both Ferrari and Porsche. Ferrari had its own exclusive fuel arrangement with Shell Oil and Porsche had a similar agreement with British Petroleum (BP). Both Porsche and Ferrari notified Alec Ulmann that his agreement with Amoco was not acceptable and unless they could use their own race fuels they would not send a factory race team to Sebring.
Ulmann knew that a boycott by factory teams, especially Ferrari, would seriously damage the status and spectator drawing power of the race. Ulmann traveled to Modena, Italy to talk to Enzo Ferrari but they were not able to come to any kind of agreement. Later Ferrari as well as Porsche issued press releases announcing a factory boycott of the race.
According to an Associated Press (AP) wire story the rhubarb over the gasoline issue and then the announcement of a boycott by Ferrari and Porsche came as a surprise to Sebring promoter Alec Ulmann. He was surprised because Ferrari had raced under the same conditions the previous year (1959) and won the race. What Ferrari had done was sneak into the paddock a truck load of gasoline cans containing Shell gasoline. However each can had an Amoco sticker on the can. After the race when news of this was made public Sebring officials would counter that they had “…seized and impounded” those cans of gasoline and Ferrari was forced to run on the race sponsors product.
No sooner than the boycotts were announced to the automotive press both Ferrari and Porsche began to develop a way to get their cars to Sebring for the race. For Ferrari it was easy. All they had to do was ship their cars to Luigi Chinetti who at one time was the only Ferrari factory agent in the United States. Chinetti created the North American Racing Team (NART) and could function as a private entry in the race. Private entries were not bound by the arrangements between the factory and their fuel suppliers.
Wondering if he had a ride and a paycheck for Sebring in 1960 was two-time Sebring winner Phil Hill. The popular Californian had won the two previous years at Sebring as a Ferrari works driver but Enzo Ferrari notified him, team mate Wolfgang von Tripps of Germany and Englishman Cliff Allison they couldn’t drive at Sebring. Also absent from Sebring were the UK’s Tony Brooks and current world driving champion Jack Brabham of Australia.