It is with sadness that we learned of the death of Hollywood actor James Garner over last weekend’s German Grand Prix; he passed away at the age of 86 at his Brentwood home.
The American earned much acclaim for his on-screen performances in both film and TV, but his talent in front of the cameras was matched by a less-recognised skill of being a very accomplished pilot of a racing car.
Garner was cemented in the hearts of many motorsport fans with his work in the iconic 1966 film, Grand Prix, directed by John Frankenheimer. Garner was cast as the film’s lead in its fictional account of a Formula 1 World Championship season, playing American racer Pete Aron.
Aron was blamed for the serious injuries suffered by his close friend and fellow racer, Scott Stoddard (played by Brian Bedford), in a fiery accident at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Disgraced and sacked in the aftermath of the accident, Aron teams up with the Japanese Yamura Motors team and starts a comeback to win back his reputation and try to claim the World Championship title.
The film included real-life racing footage and cameo appearances from a number of Formula 1 drivers from the 1966 season, while also calling upon its stars to pilot Formula 3 racing cars mocked up to resemble their Formula 1 counterparts at a number of Grand Prix circuits.
While most of his co-stars were either unable – or in some cases, too scared – to show much skill behind the wheel, Garner took to it like a proverbial duck to water. After filming, he even entered cars as a racing driver as a direct result of his involvement in the film. Reportedly, he so impressed the full-time F1 drivers that a number of them even suggested that he could have made a successful career in Formula 1 if he hadn’t taken up acting to begin with.
Despite its limited theatrical release, Grand Prix earned a cult following and a number of technical awards, particularly for its sound editing and incredible cinematography. Until the likes of Senna and Rush came along over forty years later, it held the mantle of the greatest motorsport movie ever made – some might argue it is still yet to be toppled.
The RichardsF1.com team extends its sympathies to Garner’s family and friends.
Image via Victor Varela
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