In 1968, Jo Siffert became the first Swiss driver to secure pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and win a Formula 1 Grand Prix. The legendary driver even inspired a comic book published by Paquet. This is a look back at some of the remarkable moments in his career, from sports-prototypes to Formula 1, during the 1960s and 1970s.
At the height of his career, Jo Siffert (1936-1971) was a tireless globetrotter, like many drivers of that era, but he didn't have an easy time of it early on, often sleeping in his car for lack of money. Eventually fame came, late but deserved, particularly when he was named a factory Porsche driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and thanks to his first big wins in endurance and Formula 1. Sadly, he passed away in 1971, at the apex of his art.
1960 - After debuting in competition on two wheels, then dabbling in sidecar as a passanger, he moved to four wheels in Formula Junior driving a Stanguellini single-seater.
1962 - Jo Siffert debuted in Formula 1 at the Belgian Grand Prix at the wheel of a Lotus fielded by Ecurie Filipinetti before sporting his own colors in 1963 and 1964. In that first race he finished 10th shortly after failing to qualify at Monaco.
1964 - He claimed his first podium finish in Formula 1 at the United States Grand Prix (third).
1965 - Along with driver-journalist Jochen Neerpasch with Maserati, Jo Siffert participated in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans (retirement).
1966/1967 - Having been named a factory Porsche driver, he made it into the top 5 twice at the 24 Hours of Le Mans: fourth in 1966 (with Colin Davis) and fifth in 1967 (with Hans Herrmann). In seven participations from 1965 to 1971, these would be his only successful results at the 24 Hours.
1968 - An extraordinary year for Jo Siffert: in endurance, he won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and gave Porsche its first pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in September. On 20 July, he won his first victory in the Formula 1 World Championship at the British Grand Prix at the wheel of a private Lotus fielded by Rob Walker after a fierce battle with the Ferraris driven by two other major players in the history of the 24 Hours: Chris Amon (second) and Jacky Ickx (third).
1969 - Along with Kurt Ahrens, he gave the Porsche 917 its first victory at the Zeltweg circuit in Austria and drove the 917 (called the 917 PA) in North America in the Challenge Can-Am, finishing in fourth place overall that year.
1970 - In Sicily, Jo Siffert added another major endurance race to his track record: the Targa Florio along with Brian Redman. Driving a Porsche 917 Gulf, he delivered fantastic battles with his teammate Pedro Rodriguez. The Swiss and Mexican drivers secured three and four wins in the World Marques Championship respectively that year. With his right-hand man Paul Blancpain, Jo Siffert lent a dozen racing cars to Solar, Steve McQueen's production company, for the film "Le Mans."
1971 - At the Austrian Grand Prix, Jo Siffert won his second and final Formula 1 win, with BRM. He passed away on 24 October during a non-championship F1 race at the Brands Hatch circuit where he had won his first Grand Prix just three years earlier.
2017 - Sold to a French collector after Jo Siffert's death - who had it on display in his garage in Fribourg - the Porsche 917 Gulf lent by the Swiss driver to Steve McQueen for the film "Le Mans" was put up at auction in 2017 in Pebble Beach, California, selling for 14 million dollars. The car had been discovered in a warehouse in the Paris region in 2001!
In 1995, Philippe Siffert (Jo's son) raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a Porsche 911. With his sister Véronique, he provided invaluable assistance in the creation of the comic book about their father, as explained by illustrator Michel Janvier and writer Olivier Marin in the next installment in this series.
Illustration (Michel Janvier & Olivier Marin/Editions Paquet): In 1966, Jo Siffert (second from right) finishes his first 24 Hours of Le Mans in fourth place, with teammate Colin Davis.
Photos (Copyright ACO Archives): Jo Sifferet drove three generations of Porsches at Le Mans: (left to right) the 906 with which he finished in the top 5 for the first time in 1966, the 908 with which he claimed pole position in 1968 and the 917 of 1970, which earned him a place in the history books as one of the great endurance drivers.