After landing a test in a Maserati 250F at the young age of 17, driver Chris Amon went to the highest levels of open-wheel and sports car racing. And together with fellow New Zealander Bruce McLaren, he drove the Ford GT40 to its first 24 Hours of Le Mans win in 1966. He died today at age 73.
Amon started racing young for his era in a humble Austin A40. Amon later went on to drive in New Zealand and Australia’s Tasman Series, which functioned as a sort of winter F1 round, notes Racer. English driver Reg Parnell noticed him there, and invited him to start racing in Europe in 1963.
From there, Amon flourished as a racing driver—although without a single Formula One win. He won in Formula 2, at Le Mans, and in Can-Am, but could never pull off an F1 win.
Amon later realized that being known as the most successful driver never to win an F1 race wasn’t a bad place to be, telling Sportscar365:
At the time I was probably more interested in F1 than sports car racing.
It’s been said that I was an unlucky F1 driver because I should have won a lot of races but the fact is many of my contemporaries were killed in F1 so I think I’m lucky to still be around.
There’s no question that winning Le Mans with Ford was a very special moment in my career.
After being at the top of the podium for Ford’s historic 1966 1-2-3 Le Mans win, Amon was hired away by Enzo Ferrari to run with that team. This meant parting with longtime friend Bruce McLaren, but driving for Ferrari was one of Amon’s longtime dreams.
Amon’s performance in the Ferrari 330 P4 gave the team wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Monza 1000 kms, and convinced Ferrari to give him a Formula One drive in 1967, writes Racer. Once again, Amon showed excellent speed, but ran into a series of reliability issues with his car that prevented him from winning.
After moving to March in 1970, Matra in 1971, and later Tecno, Tyrell and even his own Amon AF101 car in 1974, he still only had one win in an F1-car race, albeit not one that was part of the F1 championship: the International Trophy at Silverstone, in 1970. Amon retired from F1 in 1976, after starting 96 grands prix and winning exactly zero of them.
Meanwhile, he remained active in sportscars, winning the Nürburgring 6 Hours in 1973 alongside teammate Hans-Joachim Stuck and driving successfully in Can-Am, per Racer. He retired from racing altogether after one Cam-Am race in 1977, but remained active in the community at home in New Zealand, taking a major role in redesigning Taupo Motorsports Park, supporting Toyota’s TRS single-seater championship and occasionally popping up at historic races.
Amon battled cancer in recent years, according to a family statement quoted by Racer.