The greatest race transporters from F1 and sports car racing
From Cunningham's over-the-top Fageol-Twin Coach to the fantastic creations used by Ecurie Ecosse, Ferrari, Shelby and Steve McQueen, here are our favourite transporters
The strange appeal of race transporters
We know we should prefer the race cars... but sometimes, even the cars are eclipsed by the vehicles that delivered them to the paddock in the first place. Sometimes, the transporters are the stars.
Before World War 2, most race cars were delivered on the backs of lorries but some teams took it further than others. Enzo Ferrari, running the team of Alfa Romeos in the early 1930s, was one of the first to have purpose-built transporters created, complete with team livery.
Then, during the late-1930s, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union started to up the ante with fleets of purpose-built transporters, just as they upped the ante of the racing cars and race driver discipline.
After the war, most teams continued to adapt lorries, some ex-military, and coaches and buses, but a few took things further with more elaborate and stylish conversions. It was all about appearances, intimidating the competition, impressing the sponsors and potential backers, and creating a buzz in the paddock.
And some, looking back, were really quite special. A handful still turn up today in the paddocks of historic race meetings. Here are some of the best in race history.
7. Porsche-Gulf Mercedes 0317
The styling might not have been as ornate as that of some of the transporters here, but anything in Gulf’s famous Powder Blue and Marigold livery has a headstart.
Porsche had three of these transporters built, based on Mercedes 0317 lorries. Only two are known to survive; the example pictured was delivered to the Gulf-Wyer team, run by John Wyer. It was used to transport the team 917s to Le Mans.
The Wyer transporter is now part of the ROFGO Collection, a superb line-up of Gulf-liveried racers that is exhibited at many current shows and race meetings.
6. BRM Leyland Royal Tiger
BRM never did things by half. You only have to look at the famous V16 race cars to know that. The team’s first transporters were donated by Leonard Lord, of the Austin Motor Company, in the form of three Lodestar 3-tonne lorries, accompanied by a Commer mobile workshop.
The Lodestars weren’t the easiest to drive though, and for 1959 BRM had this Leyland transporter built by Marshall Motor Bodies of Cambridge to their own design. It was based on a left-hand-drive Royal Tiger Worldmaster chassis, with aluminium-over-hardwood bodywork.
By angling the vehicle beds, three race cars could be squeezed into the Royal Tiger. The transporter made quite a statement in the paddock, one of the first custom-built units, and great-looking with it.
5. Mercedes-Benz Blue Wonder
Back in the early 1950s, the Mercedes-Benz team manager Alfred Neubauer commissioned a new race transporter – and the 1955 ‘Blue Wonder’ was the result.
It was based around a significantly lengthened Mercedes 300S car chassis, but powered by none other than the 3-litre, six-cylinder fuel-injected engine from the 300SL Gullwing. Doors, wings and certain interior parts came from a 180 saloon.
With 192bhp it could reach 106mph, despite being 6.75m long and 2m wide. The Mercedes-Benz team used it in 1955 but, following the Le Mans tragedy of that year, the team pulled out of racing, and Blue Wonder went on to be used for exhibitions and by the test department.
Sadly it was destroyed in 1967 by order of engineer Rudolph Uhlenhaut, so the vehicle you see here is a painstaking replica constructed by Mercedes-Benz Classic.
4. Cunningham Fageol-Twin Coach
All-American sportsman Briggs Cunningham went for maximum impact when he brought his racing team to Europe in 1953, dominating the paddocks at Le Mans, Reims and Silverstone with an imposing Fageol-Twin Coach conversion.
The Twin Coach company had been formed in 1927 by brothers Frank and William Fageol in Ohio, USA. The brothers had previously been part of the Fageol Motor Company, an early bus and coachmaker. The name came from the use of twin engines in their vehicles, the extra power allowing even larger, heavier coaches to be built.
The Cunningham conversion was certainly distinctive, and the team’s successes in the period backed up the chutzpah.
3. Ferrari Fiat-Bartoletti
Scuderia Ferrari chose Carrozzeria Bartoletti to convert two Fiat lorries to race transporters. These Bartoletti transporters, also used by Maserati, left the race cars exposed to the elements – but they do look stunning!
The conversions included a small workshop and sleeping quarters. One of the two Ferrari Fiat-Bartoletti vehicles was sold by Gooding and Company in 2011 for almost $1m, though it’s miraculous the vehicle in question had survived at all.
The transporter, powered by a 10.7-litre 175bhp diesel six-cylinder engine, served the Ferrari team from late 1959. It was used to carry not just Formula 1 cars but also sports racers for Le Mans and customer cars to dealerships around Europe.
It was sold in 1970 to a Venetian circus owner, who used it for a few years before storing it away. It finally emerged in 1990 and was restored in the mid-1990s to correct Ferrari specification.
2. Ecurie Ecosse Commer
It’s probably now the best known of all the race transporters, a regular at concours and historic race meetings – most notably Goodwood Revival. Loaded with Ecurie Ecosse race cars, it’s an arresting sight.
Ecurie Ecosse was a relatively small privateer team, formed in Edinburgh in 1951, but it certainly punched above its weight – its Jaguar D-types famously finished first and second in the 1957 Le Mans 24 Hours. And it eventually punched above its weight in its choice of transporter too, thanks to the generosity of benefactors and the Ecurie Ecosse supporters club following the Le Mans success.
Enough was raised to commission a purpose-made transporter based on a 1959 two-stroke diesel Commer TS3 to replace the tired lorries previously used, and many British companies donated parts and services. The bodywork was designed and built by Walter Alexander and Company of Falkirk, and British Aluminium, Dunlop, Joseph Lucas and Wilmot Breeden all helped.
It was finished in 1960 and used until 1971 when the team was disbanded. It then went to historic racer Neil Corner but later fell into disrepair. It was rescued by Ecurie Ecosse enthusiast (and car owner) Dick Skipworth, who had it completely restored during the 1990s. He used it to transport his Ecurie Ecosse cars – 1952 XK120 Roadster, 1953 C-type, 1956 D-type, 1959 Tojeiro-Jaguar, 1960 Cooper T49 Monaco, 1961 Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite and 1962 Tojeiro-Buick Coupe.
Skipworth sold the collection in 2013, and the transporter has since changed hands a couple of times – but still makes regular appearances.
1. Scarab/Shelby/Le Mans Fiat-Bartoletti
We’ll call it the Shelby transporter… but actually it started out with Maserati, used for Fangio’s 250F in its World Championship-winning 1957 season. It then went to US racer Lance Reventlow to transport the Scarabs of his Team America European campaign in 1960-61.
Next up was Carroll Shelby, carrying Cobras as they went up against (and beat) the Ferraris in 1964-65. Then Alan Mann Racing’s Ford GT team, before moving onto David Piper, who painted it his trademark BP green to transport his privateer Ferraris.
And it gets better, because it was then bought by Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions film company and used extensively in the Le Mans film, in several different liveries.
Since then it’s been through JCB company owner Sir Anthony Bamford, Cobra historian and collector Michael Shoen and then collector Don Orosco, who had it extensively restored. It was sold at Goodwood Revival 2018 by Bonhams to German-based specialist ChromeCars.
For this incredible history, it’s number one in our list of the greatest transporters.
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