Chris Amon: Very Fast and Very Unlucky
The book: 1967: Chris Amon, Scuderia Ferrari and a Year of Living Dangerously
Author: John Julian
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Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll are just a few of the things that indelibly define the ’60s. But while that decade was experiencing profound social and political change, it was also a very memorable time for motorsports as another leap forward was made in car design—and speed. Against this backdrop, racing driver Chris Amon, who was recruited by the il Commendatore to drive for Ferrari, found himself squarely in the middle of the action. Author John Julian’s 1967: Chris Amon, Scuderia Ferrari and a Year of Living Dangerously is a look at this momentous and particular year in a racing life from Amon’s point-of-view.
Amon, the son of a New Zealand Sheep farmer, was 23 years old, but already a veteran of several different racing series when in 1966 he and Bruce McLaren would drive for Shelby-American in a Ford GT40 Mark II at Le Mans and spearhead a 1-2-3 finish for the GT40 contingent. This performance would lead to an invitation from Enzo Ferrari to drive for his team the next year alongside drivers Lorenzo Bandini, Mike Parkes, and Ludovico Scarfiotti.
By the end of the season, only Amon would still be competing for the team. Driving in both sports and grand prix cars—as drivers then competed in a wide swath of racing series, not like the singularly-focused, Monaco-domiciled megastar athletes of today—1967 would start off auspiciously enough for the young Kiwi, with Amon partnering with Bandini in a Ferrari 330-P4, winning both the Daytona 24-Hours, and Monza 1000KM races.
Lurking in the background is ever present danger: drivers stood a real chance of dying in a race, as safety was not yet given a priority, and soon enough, the season would turn tragic with the death of Bandini at the Monaco Grand Prix. Amon would finish the year partnered with Jackie Stewart, clinching the SWorld Sportscar Championship for Ferrari by a single point over Porsche.
On the Formula 1 side, another accident was responsible for breaking two of Mike Parkes’ legs at Spa, prompting Ludovico Scarfiotti to exit from the team. This would leave Amon as the sole Ferrari Grand Prix driver until almost the end of the season, scoring four third place finishes and a fourth in the Drivers’ Championship.
Bad luck would continue to follow Amon, however, and despite great promise, his cars never quite delivered what the driver was capable of—and he would leave Ferrari in 1969, never to win a race in a Ferrari, or any other Formula 1 car for that matter. Through it all, an especially dangerous year when some of his fellow drivers were not as lucky, Amon’s character shines through: resilient, talented, but also humble—and with a sense of humor. From where I stand, those are the qualities of a “driver’s driver”.
Ferrari’s Technical Director at the time, Mauro Forghieri, once stated that Amon was “…by far the best test driver I have ever worked with. He had all the qualities to be a World Champion but bad luck just wouldn’t let him be”.
Indeed, one gets the feeling if things had gone just slightly differently, it would have led to Amon being mentioned in the same breath as his esteemed contemporaries as Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, and John Surtees. Julian leaves almost no stone uncovered, and the book is well researched, and includes many photographs, technical details, interviews, and reminiscences from other racing insiders and drivers like Surtees, and Dan Gurney, as well as other famous personalities of the time.
The author bookends Amon’s story with both his earlier years with the Cooper and Parnell racing teams, and his career after Ferrari with the March and Matra teams. Life was very different in 1967, on and off the track, and 1967: Chris Amon, Scuderia Ferrari and a Year of Living Dangerously is a book that transports you there.