The Riverside record company, in addition to a large catalog of musical acts, also put out a number of LPs of auto racing field recordings. Perhaps the most well known from their discography are the “Sounds of Sebring” series from 1956—1962.
For the 1957 outing, most of the pre-race interview chatter centered around Corvette’s effort for the race, which brought a huge unknown into pit lane. The concensus among the drivers and teams interviewed (including de Portago, Phil Hill, Briggs Cunningham, Huschke von Hanstein, Shelby, and others) was one of excitement that a huge manufacturer like General Motors was starting to enter European-style sportscar racing. Perhaps it’s just the American-centricity of the production and interviewer, but the interviewees really seemed impressed by the power and speed of the new Vettes. There were doubts (correctly so, as it turns out) as to whether they could go the full 12 hours, but it’s fantastic to see an as-it-happened impression that Chevy was making with people around the circuit.
Despite the gossip and chatter, Maserati was heavily favored and with Moss and Fangio in different cars, the only question was would the smaller 300 of Moss/Schell or the bigger 450 of Fangio/Behra take the checkers. I won’t spoil here, but it’s all there in the audio above.
I’ve started to track down the original LPs of these Riverside releases and when I sit in front of the turntable with the headphones on I imagine what it must have felt like for racing fans around the world—and particularly the United States (who had limited access to racing media)—for whom these recordings were the most visceral way to experience the race without actually venturing to the track. What a thrill it must have been to lie of the floor of a dimly lit room with stack of racing reports and magazine clippings spread out, hearing these astonishing engine notes for the first time.
You can almost hear the footfalls as the drivers run across the street and leap into their cars for the famous LeMans-style start. Glorious.
This video of a Porsche 917 lapping is great in a way that most videos I’ve seen of 917s—or any other racing machine, really—usually aren’t. It’s because of what isn’t in it. There’s no damned royalty-free terrible music. There’s no barely understandable commentator over the barely audible track loudspeakers. There’s no clapping or “oohing” and “aahing” from a crowd. There is only that miraculous engine note.
It’s why Victory By Design was so great and why most AutoWeek segments aren’t. Cars—particularly racing cars—particularly Porsche 917s—are visceral things. They live in all of our senses. There is a sight, a smell, and my goodness there is a sound. We can feel the air move as they pass. When they pass by quickly, all is a blur. We can rarely capture it in our mind in perfect clarity. The lines of the bodywork are lost in the shake of a car under hard braking or acceleration or turning. We can just make out barely discernible graphic details as they blur by in an instant; often little more than a flash of color.
Usually I don’t categorize something under Video AND Audio, but I’m going to make an exception for this ridiculously lovely sounding clip from the Gstaad Classic 2011 rally. Check out Sports Car Digest’s event report and marvelous gallery of Julien Mahiels’ shots from the event.
There is something beautiful about an imageless audio recording such as this. I don’t know that I’d want to sacrifice the immediacy of the live video from the track, but there’s something about simply hearing the audio that is lost in the satellite feed. Maybe, by leaving something to the imagination, we’re a more active participant; taking the information we have, and filling in the gaps with our mind. I’m surprised that in the age of the podcast this type of field recording hasn’t made a resurgence.
As you know, I’m a huge fan of old racing film. Often they’re homemade 8mm film canisters with no accompanying audio. They’re lovely. Audio recordings such as this LP from the Sound Stories series are much the same. For me, these audio recordings are every bit as precious as the film canisters. Often, I think they communicate more than the film does.
But enough media philosophy—let’s get on with the 17th Monaco Grand Prix. In this first recording, it’s the run-up to the race, with recordings from the pits and brief interviews with the drivers. Stirling Moss tests and discusses the BRM. Von Tripps whips the new Porsche F1 effort around the bends. Phil Hill gives us his impressions of the track—amazing that 50+ years ago, there was still this notion of ‘only in Monaco’. It was already considered by some drivers an outdated racing course even then, but the romance of Monaco continues to win out half a century later.
Nevil Lloyd’s narration of the qualifying is excellent, noting the pieces of audio where we hear gear changes or hard braking. Listening along, it’s amazing how much easily you can imagine yourself sitting behind the giant steering wheel of a ’59 BRM.
Ok then, let’s get down to business: it’s race day, and I won’t spoil the drama by telling you too much. Throw on your headphones and give a listen.
Throw on your headphones and close your eyes. You’re about to be transported to 1964 to follow along with the highlights of the 24 Heures du Mans.
I can imagine the fun it would have been in the era before modern sports television coverage to lie down on the living room floor, throw this on the turntable and listen to Pedro Rodriguez, Graham Hill, and Dan Gurney turning the keys and pushing the start buttons of their Ferrari 330Ps, 275Ps, Porsche 904s, and Shelby Cobra Daytonas. This race was also the 24 Hours’ debut of the GT40.
I won’t spoil the fun of the audio here by telling you the race results. Enjoy.
It’s finally time for the final cut from the Exciting Racing Sounds of Grand Prix album. In this final track, Phil Hill visits Brands Hatch, and while I’d like to say that this final cut is the climax of the lp, it’s a bit more like ‘in with a bang, out with a whimper’. The visit to Brands is precious short on racing action, starting with audio from the Red Arrows fighter jet squadron flyover and finishing with the military band. It is nice to hear the podium celebration for Jack Brabham as the band plays “Waltzing Mathilda”. There you have it friends, your Exciting Racing Sounds of Grand Prix album is complete… now just flip back side A and enjoy.
Let’s take another long-overdue listen to the fantastic Exciting Racing Sounds of Grand Prix album. This time our host, Phil Hill, takes us on an audio tour of the Spa circuit. You’ll remember that this album was created as part of the research process for John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Grand Prix. Ah—magic.
This cut from the LP takes off where Monaco left off and demonstrates the contrasts between the tight, narrow street circuit of Monte Carlo and the open expanses of the high-speed Spa circuit. Phil points out that the drivers spend an awful lot of their time in Belgium in top gear. The engine screams in this cut seem to indicate the truth in that. We’ll hear massive whines from BRM, Cooper-Maserati, Ferrari, Brabham, and McLaren-Ford; and none of them sound like they’re just poking through the frequently-wet countryside.
We also take the Burnenville Corner with Jochen Rindt in his Cooper-Maserati. You’ll hear that there’s not a whole lot of shifting happening here as the corner is a sweeping high-speed expanse. Rindt finished 11th at Spa that year, but 4th in the Drivers’ Championship for the year. 1965 was also the year he won Le Mans as part of the N.A.R.T. team in a Ferrari 250LM.
Hear the complete archive of cuts from this tremendous album.
I must admit to giving up a week of my life to Tom Yang’s Ferrari restoration journal. A wonderful story of a sound engineer who undertook the daunting task of restoring a Ferrari 330 America purchased in boxes. We often throw the term “basket case” around when discussing cars that require a huge amount of effort — but when the project literally comes in baskets; well, that’s something else.
Something that should be applauded.
Having brought myself up to date on Tom’s site — and the remarkably victorious restoration of his beautiful, driven, Ferrari 330 — i dug a bit deeper into his site and came upon Tom’s collection of audio conversations with other vintage Ferrari owners telling their own rescue stories. I love stories like this, and even if these were videos, they wouldn’t capture the twinkle in the eyes of these proud rescuers any better than hearing them tell their stories does.
One story stood out in particular, of a very early rescue. Admiral Robert Phillips was a humble Lieutenant in 1960 when a series of happy circumstances brought him in contact with a broken down and neglected Ferrari 500 Mondial racer. In an era when people paid cash for their cars, he took out a loan of most of a years’ salary to purchase the wreck, and slowly brought it back to life on his own. No workshop manual, no reliable parts supplies, no local aluminum body shop.