James Garner as Pete Aron, determined Formula One driver
Clermont-Ferrand, France, Summer 1966
Film: Grand Prix
Release Date: December 21, 1966
Director: John Frankenheimer
Costume Supervisor: Sydney Guilaroff
#CarWeek continues with Grand Prix, the action-packed, globe-trotting racing epic that director John Frankenheimer made in the tradition of Grand Hotel with a talented international cast including James Garner, Eva Marie Saint (who celebrated her 95th birthday yesterday), Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune, Jessica Walter, Brian Bedford, and Thunderball villain Adolfo Celi. As a talented driver in his own right, Garner looks natural behind the wheel as Pete Aron, the Formula One driver hoping to salvage his career after gaining a reckless reputation, and the unique racing cinematography—in part credited to “visual consultant” Saul Bass—make the film a must for fans of the racing genre and earned the film its well-deserved Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects (Gordon Daniel), Best Film Editing, and Best Sound (Franklin Milton).
Indeed, Garner—who would later show off his automotive prowess on The Rockford Files—trained extensively for the role with Bob Bondurant, who also appeared as one of the drivers, and the actor emerged from the experience with a firm, lifelong passion for motorsports. Bondurant and Frankenheimer both noted that Garner’s talent was on par with many professional Grand Prix drivers, and his dedication to the role and passion for driving meant that Garner himself performed much of the stuntwork himself, including the dangerous scene where a fuel leak at Brands Hatch during the British Grand Prix sets his car aflame.
Unable to find work as a driver due to his reputation for recklessness, Pete Aron takes a gig with the Federal Broadcasting Company (FBC) covering F1 races, beginning with the French Grand Prix at the Circuit de Charade in Puy-de-Dôme. As he and the other FBC correspondents step out of their station wagon, one of his co-workers assures him, “don’t look so glum, it’s an honorable profession… You’d rather be a dogcatcher or something?” “Or somethin’,” affirms Pete.
At the race, Pete confronts Scott Stoddard’s wife Pat (Jessica Walter), seeking the spotlight to “represent the Stoddard name” despite having not spoken to her injured husband in weeks. Fashion journalist Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint) insists that Pete was too hard on her, but his debonair fellow driver Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) suggests that Pete’s aggression was not unwarranted. All the same, Pete finds Pat in the stands and apologies for his “bad manners,” though the effects of his apology don’t last long:
Pat: What does it matter to you what I do or don’t do? Girl has to make a living.
Pete: Last time a girl said that to me, she was stepping out of her skirt and asking for a hundred-dollar bill.
Implications of prostitution aside, Pat ends their conversation on a flirtatious note by telling Pete to “speak for yourself” after he suggests the two don’t like each other. She picks things up without missing a beat the following day, asking for a truce over a drink at the race track bar.
Pat: You know, I’ve known you for—what—two and a half years? And all I know about you is that you drive cars. That’s all anyone knows, as far as I can tell.
Pete: You’ve just written my biography.
Pat then engages Pete’s sole known hobby by asking for a ride back to her hotel, cutting to his Shelby Mustang GT350H screaming around a mountainous bend and nearly blowing a sluggish Citroën 2CV off the road. “You know, I’ll never understand why none of you get this sort of thing out of your system on the track!” observes Pat. “You all drive like maniacs!”
Pat could be talking about Pete, or the line could be addressing James Garner himself, who—with his mentor Bondurant—attracted attention all through Europe in their black-and-gold GT350H, one of the approximately 1,000 “Rent-a-Racer” Mustangs developed by Carroll Shelby exclusively for Hertz.
At the door to Pat’s hotel room, Pete declines her invitation to enter but instead asks her to join him for dinner that night. Upon returning to his room, he finds a note from the powerful Izo Yamura (Toshiro Mifune), the film’s Soichiro Honda surrogate who offers Pete the opportunity to join his team and rejoin the F1 world as a driver rather than a journalist, ending their interview by assuring him: “By the way, you are a terrible broadcaster.” With Yamura’s job opportunity, Pete hangs up his burgundy FBC blazer and gets fitted for a new white fireproof driving suit.
What’d He Wear?
When Pete Aron alights from the “Federal Broadcasting Company” Citroën station wagon, we immediately sense from Pete’s glum expression and the burgundy blazer that matches his fellow passengers that the disgraced driver has taken a new job covering Grand Prix races. These melange flannel jackets are emblazoned with the gold shield-shaped crest of “FBC TV” stitched onto the breast pocket. The hip pockets are also patch pockets, both covered with a flap.
The blazer has three gold crested shank buttons on the front, flattering for James Garner’s 6’2″ height, with two smaller ornamental gilt buttons on the cuffs. Edge swelling is present from the slim notch lapels and all three pockets to a seam down the center of the back to the single vent.
As burgundy menswear enjoys a gentle renaissance a half-century after Grand Prix, many retailers offer sport jackets and blazers in the spirit of Garner’s FBC uniform jacket, though the current trend toward two-button jackets adds a layer of difficultly to channeling his three-button look:
- Edwards polyester two-button blazer with flapped patch hip pockets (Amazon, up to $78.27)
- Gioberti polyester/rayon two-button blazer (Amazon, $54.99)
- Hardwick “Classic Fit” polyester/wool hopsack two-button blazer (Amazon, $295)
- Z Zegna melange wool/silk two-button sport jacket (Nordstrom Rack, $499.97)
Pete wears a white cotton shirt with a slim button-down collar, consistent with the narrowing fashions of the mid-1960s. The shirt has a front placket, breast pocket, and single-button rounded cuffs. The FBC correspondent uniform also includes a bright crimson red tie, a skinny and straight piece of neckwear that coordinates with the shirt’s narrow collar and the blazer’s slim lapels.
For Pete and Pat’s drive back to the hotel and their subsequent flirtation in the hallway, Pete has removed his red tie, wearing it tucked into his breast pocket like a display kerchief or pocket square.
Pete’s charcoal gray wool slacks are worn beltless, though his keeping the blazer on throughout the sequence prevents the audience from being able to easily ascertain if they are fitted around the waistband or detailed with side-adjuster tabs like Sean Connery’s celebrated “DAKS tops” included on his Anthony Sinclair-tailored trousers for his contemporary portrayal of James Bond.
Pete balances the vibrancy of his upper half with a sober-toned lower half, keeping his footwear simple with a pair of black leather loafers with black socks. This was the decade that casual moc-toe driving shoes gained popularity, particularly among those speeding through Europe in elegant roadsters, but the new shoe would still likely be considered too informal—at least by FBC’s company standards—for wearing with a blazer, white shirt, and tie. (Read more about the history of drivers in Jake Gallagher’s August 2013 “Dropping Knowledge” article for GQ.)
If you’re in the market for a subtle black leather driving shoe—sans any contrast stitching, horsebit detailing, or even a “penny” strap—Amazon offers well-reviewed and relatively affordable drivers from Polo Ralph Lauren and Sperry that could suit your needs…and probably make a professional like Pete Aron green with shoe envy.
While most of Pete’s outfit is informed by his role as an FBC broadcaster, the stainless ID bracelet on his right wrist still unifies him with his fellow F1 drivers. Before the final Italian Grand Prix at Monza, we get a look at each driver’s bracelet, etched with his respective name and blood type, should an accident happen during the race.
While it was around this time that James Garner began wearing the Heuer Carrera 3647N racing watch with its black dial that would prominently appear on The Rockford Files, he wears a different watch as Pete Aron. (Read more about Garner’s real-life Carrera 3647N in this well-researched Calibre 11 article from August 2017.)
Based on the fact that Pete’s steel-cased wristwatch has only a crown without additional pushers, we can deduce that he’s not wearing a chronograph and thus not a different version of the Heuer Carrera as the Calibre 11 article suggests that he also had a Carrera with a white dial. Pete’s watch is strapped to his left wrist on a black leather band with a steel single-prong buckle.
Pete isn’t much to comment on style, but—walking Pat back to her hotel room—he has to ask her: “Why do you all do that…wear your sunglasses on top of your head? It looks ridiculous.”
What to Imbibe
“I’ll have one of those,” Pat Stoddard requests when she joins Pete Aron at the bar. Pete indicates to the bartender that he’s ordering a second drink for his companion. The drink itself—which sounds something like “la-mem-shows“—remains unidentified due to the lack of subtitles for that particular line on my DVD copy as well as the fact that we never see the bottle used by the bartender to fill the bottom of Pete and Pat’s highball glasses with this respective brown liquid.
A far easier spirit to identify—and one more traditionally associated with Formula One—comes at the end of the film as a victorious Pete is given a bottle of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge to commemorate winning the world championship following the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Not surprisingly, the long association of champagne and F1 racing began with the French Grand Prix, specifically the July 2, 1950, race at Reims-Gueux when winner Juan Manuel Fangio, a fascinating individual in his own right, was gifted a bottle of Moët & Chandon. However, it wasn’t until 1966—the same year that Grand Prix was set—that the now-famous “champagne spray” was born, albeit by accident, when Jo Siffert’s bubbly sprayed all over his well-wishers upon his opening the sun-pressurized bottle. (Read more about the history of champagne and F1 racing at The Wine Lifestyle.)
Although Garner’s Pete Aron toasts his victory with a bottle of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, it wasn’t until 2000 that G.H. Mumm became the official F1 sponsor, providing bottles for podium celebrations for the next 15 years of their sponsorship.
Throughout my lifelong fascination with muscle cars, I’ve long been intrigued by the brief but legendary history of the Shelby GT350H, the modified “Rent-a-Racer” fastbacks offered by Hertz in the late ’60s. Painted to promote Hertz’s corporate color scheme with gold LeMans racing stripes and rocker stripes on a black body, the GT350H was the result of a collaboration between Ford, Shelby, and the Hertz Corporation.
The car’s association with Grand Prix emerged when champion race car driver Bob Bondurant agreed to train James Garner, who he described as a “natural” behind the wheel of a fast car. Bondurant was a member of the Shelby American racing team, bringing the team a victory piloting a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964. The following year, Bondurant’s work with Garner found the two sharing a 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350H for training on the track and motoring through Europe during the making of John Frankenheimer’s landmark racing film.
Within a year of Ford debuting its now-legendary Mustang for the “1964½” model year, Carroll Shelby embraced the powerful pony car’s potential and adopted its design for his own performance-based marque, introducing the Shelby Mustang GT350 later in 1965. Unlike the Ford Mustang, which balanced performance with relative luxury, Shelby’s GT350 was initially designed solely to be a street machine, though subsequent model years would see the addition of options that increased driver comfort and ease of driving. The GT350 was produced only with the highest performing Mustang engine, the 289 cubic-inch “Windsor” V8 with a larger 4-barrel Holley carburetor, glasspack dual exhaust, and high-riser aluminum intake manifold contributing to the increased power output of 306 horsepower.
By 1966, Shelby’s popular Mustang was being marketed solely as the “Shelby GT350” with “Mustang” dropped from the name. The company entered into a partnership with the Hertz Corporation to offer 1,000 GT350s—with another 800 pushed by Ford—to the company for rental use that would be returned, refurbished, and resold after their rental use… though legend has it that many of these Mustangs were returned to Hertz by weekend racers often with a lesser engine swapped in for the Shelby-modified HiPo 289 and even evidence that roll bars had been welded inside the car.
While most of the GT350H Mustangs were fitted with Ford’s “Cruise-o-Matic” three-speed automatic transmission, the first 85—including the one driven by James Garner in Grand Prix—had the four-speed Borg Warner T-10 manual transmission. These original “Rent-a-Racers” remain particularly desirable for collectors. (Check out full specs for the ’66 GT350H with four-speed manual here.)
1966 Shelby Mustang GT350H
Body Style: 2-door fastback
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 289 cu. in. (4.7 L) Ford “Windsor” K-code V8 with 4-barrel Holley 715 CFM carburetor
Power: 306 bhp (228 kW; 310 PS) @ 6000 RPM
Torque: 329 lb·ft (446 N·m) @ 4200 RPM
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Wheelbase: 108 inches (2743 mm)
Length: 181.6 inches (4613 mm)
Width: 68.2 inches (1732 mm)
Height: 51.2 inches (1300 mm)
Thanks to Carroll Shelby’s role as Grand Prix‘s “technical consultant”, a 1966 Shelby GT350H with chassis #6S611 was loaned to the production for James Garner to drive both on- and off-screen.
Bondurant recalled that “the car drew a crowd everywhere Jim and I drove it. Every time we parked, there were more people around it than any Ferrari.” You can read more about Bondurant and Garner’s experience training for the film and see photos of the actual GT350H, recently restored to show quality, in Matt Stone’s 2015 article for Mustang 360°.
We get our final look at Garner’s GT350H as Pete arrives at the Monza race course before the fateful Italian Grand Prix later that summer, the final race of the film and the one that drives home the high stakes of his dangerous but thrilling sport.
During the 2006 New York Auto Show, Ford revived the original Hertz concept with the updated Shelby GT-H, only available through the Hertz car rental agency. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of hte original GT350H, this limited run of 500 Mustangs echoed the original fastbacks of the ’60s with gold-on-black paint and performance upgrades that included the FR1 Power Pack and the FR3 Handling Pack, both from Ford Racing Performance Group.
How to Get the Look
While the crested blazer, bright tie, and slacks may be part of Pete Aron’s new uniform as a race-day broadcaster, James Garner wears the outfit well…even if his character wears it with considerable disdain.
- Burgundy melange flannel single-breasted 3-button blazer with slim notch lapels, patch breast pocket (with gold “FBC TV” crest), patch hip pockets with flaps, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- White cotton shirt with slim button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Crimson red straight tie
- Charcoal wool flat front trousers with beltless waistband, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black calf leather loafers
- Black socks
- Stainless steel identity bracelet (with name and blood type: “Pete Aron | Blood Type B.”)
- Stainless steel wristwatch with white dial on black leather strap (with steel single-prong buckle)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You should also visit the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, located in Chandler, Arizona, outside of Phoenix. The 50-year-old school was just rescued from bankruptcy earlier this year, thanks to three former graduates. At a previous job, I had the privilege of hosting a classic car cruise at the Bondurant school, and it was thrilling to be at the track.
I guess I’m just an old-fashioned boy at heart.