From the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, a number of racing car teams based in Slough became very successful in world motorsport especially at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hour.
Le Mans takes place on the Circuit de la Sarthe, a mixture of closed public roads and some specially designed track roads.
The first event took place in 1923 through the public roads around Le Mans. In 1928 it established itself as a yearly 24 hour endurance race, the winner being the team that covered the furthest distance in 24 hours. In the late 1960s the track was 8·37 miles (13·47km) long.
The Slough story actually began in 1958 when two Peerless GTs were entered into the Le Mans 24 hour race. One of the cars finished 16th and won its class.
In the early 1960s Ford were determined to build car that would beat Ferrari at Le Mans. In order to achieve this they approached Eric Broadley of Slough-based Lola Cars to design a new car for them and John Wyer of Slough-based JW Automotive Engineering (JWAE) to head the project. Ford’s own engineer, British born and educated Roy Lunn, worked on the engine design.
The Ford GT40 took four consecutive victories at Le Mans in the late 1960s.
Cars built by Eric Broadley’s Lola were most successful at the 1966 CanAm Championships with the T70 spyder-configuration. The T70 coupé was a commercial success proving to be popular with privateers.
Also desperate to win at Le Mans, Porsche designed the 917LH which was so aerodynamic that it wanted to fly and often did. Like Ford, Porsche also approached Slough-based JWAE to fix the handling problems of this otherwise potentially excellent racing car.
The result was the wedge-shaped 917K and the new design brought immediate results. JWAE 917Ks won 7 of 10 races during the 1970 World Sportscar Championship with Porsche winning Le Mans with their own 917K.
Porsche 917K Le Mans 1970 winner
Having helped Ford and Porsche achieve their Le Mans ambitions, John Wyer’s team got their reward at the event winning with their spyder-configured Gulf-Mirage GR8 in 1975.
Team Surtees were based in Slough for some time. Suffering delays to the development of their TS5 Formula One car hampered the team’s progress as a constructor. John Surtees achieved personal success by winning the 1964 Formula One Drivers Championship.
New Zealander Bruce McLaren came to Britain in the mid-1950s to race for Cooper for a number of years. He set up his own team in 1964 which he moved to Poyle in 1965. Sadly McLaren died in 1970 but his team continued and achieved their greatest success during the Poyle years in the 1976 Formula One Championship with driver James Hunt taking the driver’s championship. McLaren are now based in Surrey.
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