Former F1 driver and team principal Guy Ligier is celebrating his 80th birthday today!
Determined to continue making a success of himself after he retired from the sport, Guy pooled all of his funds into buying a bulldozer and ventured into the construction industry, also dabbling in motorsport on the side, first in motorbikes, and then single-seater racing in Formula Junior Elva.
By the 1960s, Guy was competing in sports cars with Porsche, and even contested a handful of Grands Prix in privately-entered Cooper Maserati and Brabham Repco machinery. The venture wasn’t particularly successful, and he picked up a single championship point at the 1967 German Grand Prix in his twelve race starts.
In 1968, Ligier decided to enter into a partnership with Jo Schlesser, and the duo bought a pair of McLaren F2 cars. Tragically, Schlesser would be killed in the 1968 French Grand Prix at wheel of a Honda, and Guy decided he’d had enough and retired from competition.
Ligier instead decided that team ownership was his thing, and hired Michel Tetu to design a production sports car, dubbed the JS1 (the JS moniker was used on every chassis model produced for Ligier, as a tribute to his friend Schlesser).
With the company being built up in sports car racing, Ligier purchased the assets of Matra Sports and ventured to Formula 1.
The team’s debut occurred in 1976 with the irrepressible Jacques Laffite at the wheel. Over the following years, the team’s profile grew as the likes of Laffite, Patrick Depallier and Didier Pironi (pictured) achieving race-winning success.
The election of Ligier’s good mate Francois Mitterand into the role of the nation’s president became something of a blessing when, in 1983, the team’s finances were looking shaky, and so Francois ordered that government-owned consortiums like Gitanes, Loto and Elf would sponsor the team.
Indeed, Mitterand’s influence certainly didn’t end there, with Renault coerced into supplying engines to the team between 1984-6 and 1992-4.
The construction of the Magny Cours circuit was also done to Ligier’s benefit, as not only did it become the home of the French Grand Prix for nearly the next twenty years, it also became the home of the team’s headquarters.
The problem with Magny Cours’ billiard table smooth and temperature sensitive nature meant that, as a test track, the track was utterly hopeless in helping the team being able to set up the car, with the general result being that the team went brilliantly at Magny Cours and was hopeless elsewhere!
Realising that Mitterand’s socialist government would eventually run its term, Ligier sold his team to Cyril de Rouvre, which in turn would continue its terminal decline when sold to Alain Prost, before collapsing completely in 2001.
[Original images via The Cahier Archive]
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