"I always knew that my late father, Colin Westbury, worked for Alan Mann Racing and crewed for Graham Hill’s XGT-2 #7 at the 1966 Le Mans. But, as is so often the case, you always leave it too late to find out the full story. He passed away a number of years before #7 resurfaced in the wonderful condition it is now.
And so much has been made of the GT40s in recent years, what with races at events such as the Revival and the Members’ Meetings. I really wish he was still around to take to these events. He never took a camera to Le Mans or to the 84 hours Marathon de La route at the Nürburgring; I suppose to him then it was just ‘another day at the office’. But in recent years I have discovered a number of photos in books and online that show dad at work.
He’s leaning over the wall next to #8 in the book The Ford That Beat Ferrari, and my favourite is a picture I discovered only recently in the Haynes GT40 book (p33) where he’s pictured centre stage holding what looks like a lighting wiring harness in his hand as a colleague behind preps the new nose for #7, I’m guessing after its crash in practice. After his passing I was sorting out his effects and happened upon this short account of his time with AMR, which I hope you will find interesting. It’s not just for the racing and the atmosphere that I’m attending the LMC 2016, I’ll also be carrying some of dad’s ashes and hope to find somewhere fitting to sprinkle them.” Gary Westbury
It was at the end of 1965 that I answered an advertisement placed in a local newspaper by Alan Mann Racing, for an auto-electrician - and I was successful. Electrician was my trade, as I had served a five year apprenticeship with HWM where I worked for fourteen years after leaving school.
To start with, I worked on Ford Cortina and Ford Galaxie saloon racing cars, and then I was on to the two Ford GT40 MkIIs being built for the 1966 Le Mans 24 hour race. I was thrown in at the deep end, working on such sophisticated machinery, although I had been working on Aston Martins, Jaguars and Facel Vegas. Ford was determined to win in 1966, and entered eight cars, shared between three teams. Three cars were prepared by Shelby American, three by Holman and Moody, and two by Alan Mann Racing.
Our cars were to be driven by Graham Hill/Jackie Stewart, car number 7, and by Sir John Whitmore/Frank Gardner, car number 8. Jackie Stewart had to drop out because he broke his wrist in a race just before Le Mans, his place being taken by Dick Thompson. Time was short to build the cars, and many all-night sessions took place.
When we arrived in France for the race, we found that Ford had taken over a large Peugeot garage near the circuit. The two American teams arrived with a fleet of articulated transporters. One was fitted out as a machine shop; there was an engine workshop, a transmission workshop etc. Among the first pieces of machinery to be unloaded were some Coca Cola- filled refrigerators. Ford brought with them an army of men, separate persons being in charge of the engines, transmissions, brakes, tyres, windscreens and so on, and so on, and so on. The Americans don't do things by half!
In practice, as Dick Thompson, in No.7, came over the brow of a hill, the Scuderia Bear GT40, driven by Dick Holquist, moved across in front of him. Holquist's car was shunted off the track and destroyed. The Le Mans organisers disqualified Thompson and his car for “unsportsman-like conduct", removing his car from the scene of the accident, and not reporting to a marshal (which he did as soon as he arrived in the pits). Henry Ford II threatened to remove all the Ford GT40s from the race if No.7 were disqualified. The organisers stepped down, and allowed the car to race, but said that Thompson himself could not take part, so Ford flew over, from England, the Australian driver Brian Muir to replace Thompson. As Muir had never driven on the Le Mans circuit he was allowed two laps of the circuit on the morning of the race day!
As I was the auto-electrician I was on the 'night shift'. I was also the refueller for Hill's car. The race was started by Henry Ford at 4pm. After the first lap Hill (No.7) was in the lead followed by Gurney (No.3) and Bucknum (No.5). Fords dominated most of the race, although they had their fair share of retirements - No.3 overheating, No.4 failed differential, No.6 blown head gasket, No.7 broken front suspension (maybe a result of the shunt in practice) and No.8 clutch problems. Many accounts of the race have been published so I will skip to the end. On the last lap the Miles/Hulme car, No.1, was in the lead, with the Amon/McLaren (No.2) in second place and on the same lap.
Ford wanted to put on a show at the end of the race, so the Miles/Hulme duo was told to wait for the Amon/McLaren car to catch up so that both could cross the finish line together, with the third placed car of Bucknum/Hutcherson (No.5) close behind on the road, although actually seven laps behind. Ford expected the Miles/Hulme car to be declared the winner, which would have been an enormously popular victory as Miles would have been the first driver to win Daytona - Sebring - Le Mans in the same year. But, as the Amon/McLaren car started further down the 'grid' it meant that they had travelled a greater distance, if only by a few yards! The rules state that the winner of the race is the car which travels the greatest distance in the 24 hours. The Hill/Muir car retired after nine hours and the Whitmore/Gardner car retired after five hours.
That evening there were great celebrations in the hotel, as you can imagine. I was looking forward to a big bonus in my wage packet when I got back to England. All the prize money was shared equally between all three teams. Before setting off to catch the ferry home both GT40s and all spare petrol containers were filled with fuel, supplied free by Shell; this was shared with all at the Alan Mann works. What with the bonus, the petrol and the ‘souvenirs’ picked up(!) it was an interesting trip to France.
Where are the Alan Mann GT40s now? Both cars were shipped back to America and sent on dealer tours. Last known, both cars were in private hands.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 1966 racing season Ford decided that all their future racing would be organised by teams in America, so most of the workers at Alan Mann Racing were laid off, including me. Needing to earn a living I paid a visit to HWM's to see if there were any jobs on offer. My luck was in; Works Director Fred Hobbs, who took me on when I left school, was leaving the firm and starting up his own garage business. He invited me to join him to manage the workshop. I ended up as a director of the company and ran his garage which he purchased on the Isle of Wight. I retired in 2001 but still retain an interest in motors by running a 1969 Wolseley Hornet and being President of the Vectis Historic Vehicle Club on the Isle of Wight.
Over the years many models and kits of the 1966 MkII GT40s have been available from many different manufacturers. I have been a collector of model vehicles for many years and have a collection of over 250 models. Amongst the ones I treasure most are a plastic 1/24 model of the'66 car driven by Whitmore/Gardner, a Dinky Toy of a GT40, an Exoto 1/18 model of the Hill/Muir Le Mans GT40, and a 1/18 Jouef Evolution model of the 1969 Le Mans-winning Gulf GT40. The best model of a Ford GT40 MkII I have seen is the Exoto 1/10 scale 1966 GT40 in the black and silver colours of the No.2 Le Mans winner. I could not fault the detail of this model; it will be top of my Christmas list this year!