Silverstone Festival pays tribute to harbinger of the US muscle car era
The big-hearted beast which ended Jaguar’s long reign
Legendary trail-blazer to lead Ford 120th anniversary track parade
Transatlantic Trophy race revives classic sixties’ tin-top tussles
Record ticket pre-sales for epic Bank Holiday weekend
It was at Silverstone in May 1963 – exactly 60 years ago – that a revolution started in touring car racing.
Ever since the British Championship was first introduced at the start of the 1958 season, Jaguars had enjoyed five phenomenal years of uninterrupted success with ace drivers such as Graham Hill, Mike Parkes and Roy Salvadori sweeping all before them.
But that supremacy came to a sudden, thunderous end when past champion Jack Sears rolled up at Silverstone’s 15th International Trophy Meeting in the spring of 1963 with a mighty, game-changing 7-litre Ford Galaxie 500 Lightweight. In an instant, the previously uncatchable Jaguars were confined to history and an exciting new era of mighty American muscle cars was born. They ruled the roost until being outlawed at the start of 1976 when the smaller-hearted Capris took over at the front.
Though Sears sadly passed away in 2016, his memories of that momentous first weekend with the car at Silverstone are well recounted.
“The car only arrived straight from New York on the Thursday just in time for first practice ahead of Saturday’s race – we all were amazed at its size,” he admitted. “Nobody thought it would handle, nobody thought it would stop. They all poo-pooed this big old Galaxie.”
Although the Ford came from the States on standard road tyres, Sears needed to get a feel for the new car so he ventured out onto the track in Thursday’s free practice session.
“After three laps a rear tyre burst and I pulled up along the Hangar Straight. The Jags went by, Graham Hill giving me a friendly finger sign,” recalled Sears. “The car was retrieved but, in all honesty, it was a bit of a disaster. All those who thought they knew best were saying ‘there you are, that’s what happens when you bring American cars to England’”.
The next day, however, the proper racing tyres arrived. These were fitted to the wheels and Sears took pole position ‘without trying terribly hard’ by his own admission.
The race, though, had its own challenges not least as the Holman & Moody prepared Galaxie 500 was built for NASCAR-style rolling starts rather than the rubber-burning standing starts found in Europe.
“I was told to ease the car off the line very carefully to save the clutch,” Sears commented. “So, I made a slow start and was fourth into Copse corner. Entering the Hangar Straight for the first time I was still fourth behind the three Jaguar 3.8 Mk2s of Hill, Roy Salvadori and Mike Salmon. I thought ‘this car has so much power that I can get by the lot of them’. So, I did!
“As I then braked for Stowe, I thought they’d all rush back past me as they had disc brakes and the Galaxie hadn’t. But incredibly they were still behind. So, we went off down to Club corner and I gained a bit more. As I went across the start/finish line for the first time I was at least 100 yards ahead. With such a lead, I just put the car in fourth gear to save the clutch, went very steadily and won the race. No one could quite believe it.
“Is this the end of the Jaguars? ‘Oh no’ said the clever ones ‘you wait until we get to the short circuits like Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch’. Anyhow when we went to the short circuit at Brands I won again and then again at Crystal Palace’.
“The Jaguars never, ever beat that car and that day at Silverstone marked the end of their domination in the British Touring Car Championship.”
Indeed, ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears won every race that he finished in the fearsome red and white Galaxie 500, adding a second touring car crown to the first title he took in 1958.
The momentous milestone in motorsport history, marking the start of the transatlantic movement, will be celebrated both on- and off-track at this summer’s Silverstone Festival.
Sears’ trailblazing Galaxie will be back on display at the circuit where it made its dramatic debut 60 years ago and, on the Friday of the Festival, the behemoth will lead a special track parade honouring the 120th anniversary of the Ford Motor Company founded in Dearborn, US in 1903.
The arrival of these ground-breaking V8-powered US beasts will be spectacularly showcased in the Adrian Flux Trophy for Transatlantic Pre ’66 Touring Cars – a crowd-pleasing race which pits European tin-top icons against their period American adversaries.
Recreating the legendary David v Goliath contests of the sixties which followed the Galaxie’s introduction, a vast 50+ car line-up sees packs of nimble Lotus Cortinas and Mini Coopers harassing huge hordes of monstrous Mustangs and Falcons. Sights and sounds not to be missed.
Proving great value for money, tickets to Silverstone Festival not only include access to incredible track action, both paddocks and displays featuring many celebrated cars, but also entry to Foodie Fest, three nights of live music and the majority of the entertainment, including the fun fair rides. What’s more, accompanied kids aged under 16 go free.