Richard Attwood: “We weren’t meant to win Le Mans”

After rising quickly through the junior single seater ranks in the early Sixties – including a win in the prestigious Formula Junior race at Monaco – by the end of the decade, Richard ‘Dickie’ Attwood found his Formula One career stalling at the once-great BRM team.

A full-time switch to sports cars in 1967 saw Attwood turn his back on the Grand Prix dream, with his performances quickly attracting the attention of Porsche. He narrowly missed out winning the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans but made amends (and Weissach history) the following year.

Now, Total 911 sits down with the modest yet charming Brit to discuss that Le Mans triumph, the Porsche 911’s legacy and working with Hollywood legend, Steve McQueen:

Richard Attwood Silverstone Experience Centre

How did the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans pan out for you?
We weren’t meant to win it. We basically had a slow car: the 4.5-litre engine, not the 5.0-litre. The 5.0-litre was new at that time but, by the time we got to June, it was a stonker!

Having qualified, I realised we didn’t have a chance. If everybody else had done the job that we did, we would never have won. But, it was just the most amazing race, because there were lots of driver errors.

There was one incident where three Ferrari 512s went out in the same accident. Three! Bang, bang, bang. All sorts of things like that happened. After only ten hours, unbelievably we were in the lead!

1970 Porsche 917K Salzburg

Were you aware of the significance of your 1970 Le Mans victory at the time?
No. It was another race at the World Sportscar Championship. Le Mans has become more prominent and more prestigious now; it’s the greatest sports car race in the world.

What was it like working on the set of ‘Le Mans’?
Boring. Any film work is really boring, because you’ve got directors, the light man, the cameras and the sound. Something is always wrong. It’s meant to be a sunny scene but it’s not; it’s pissing with rain.

Steve [McQueen] was a great guy to work with though. He was a great athlete, he rode bikes, and I always describe him as a ‘man’s man’. Obviously, he was also a girl’s man as well!

Richard Attwood

What do you think has made the 911 so popular?
Evolution. We know that the silhouette of the 911 is still there. The way Porsche have done that, I don’t think any other manufacturer has done that.

They’ve taken basically the same layout – mechanically it’s the same – but evolved it, and today it handles like a normal car. The electronics help the situation as well. Getting into trouble in a modern 911 is very difficult.

To read the full interview with Richard Attwood, including his tales of driving the mighty Porsche 917 (and how he bought one as a “pension”), download your copy of Total 911 issue 117 now.

Richard Attwood Porsche 917

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