Downhill Racer: Redford’s Blue Skiwear and Yellow Porsche
Robert Redford as Dave Chappellet, U.S. Olympic ski team star
Wengen, Switzerland, Winter 1967
Film: Downhill Racer
Release Date: November 6, 1969
Director: Michael Ritchie
Costume Designer: Edith Head (uncredited!)
Wardrobe Credit: Cynthia May
Let’s kick off a winter #CarWeek with an Alpine vibe, specifically the yellow Porsche that Robert Redford motors through the Alps after a day on the slopes with Camilla Sparv in Michael Ritchie’s directorial debut, Downhill Racer.
Loosely based on Oakley Hall’s 1963 novel The Downhill Racers, the movie became a pet project for Redford once he was attached to star, and he managed to persuade James Salter to pen the adaptation without the famous novelist having read Hall’s source material. Redford and Salter worked closely together, accompanying the U.S. ski team in the winter of 1968 and co-developing the lead character of David Chappellet as a composite of real-life skiers like Billy Kidd and Spider Sabich as well as Buddy Werner from Colorado, who had died four years earlier of suffocation when he was trapped in an avalanche.
What’d He Wear?
As skiing grew in popularity across the 20th century, clothing manufacturers continued innovating in search of the ideal attire for this athletic Alpine activity, evolving away from thick wools to waterproofed and synthetic fabrics that were lean and light enough for a more aerodynamic profile that also kept its wearer surprisingly warm in the snowy environment. By the 1960s, skiing had officially arrived among the haut monde and fashion designers had to be conscious of not only how to make skiwear waterproofed and comfortable but also stylish.
“I am sure that this sport owes something of its popularity to the attractiveness of the costume,” wrote Sir Hardy Amies in ABCs of Men’s Fashion, five years before the release of Downhill Racer. “It has been admitted that the best outfits come from abroad, where the mountains are. And it is from there that the fashions come. We must not be too proud to learn from them.”
Given his authority of the overall subject of menswear and the contemporary relevance of his scripture, it will be Sir Hardy’s words that guide this analysis of David Chappellet’s recreational skiwear when not participating in an official competition.
Chappellet’s go-to casual winter jacket in this sequence and other scenes is a waist-length shell jacket made from navy blue water-resistant nylon with a lighter construction than the heavier quilted “puffer jackets” often associated with down jackets. The jacket has a double closure with five squared snaps up from the waist to the neck plus one more on the tab of the standing collar, which is lined in a soft dark navy felt.
A straight yoke runs across both shoulders, and each of the set-in sleeves closes with a snap on the cuff, and the side pockets are each covered with a double-snap flap. The “action back” panel is pleated on the upper sides to provide more freedom of movement when skiing, though Chappellet takes the coat off when skiing with Carole Stahl (Camilla Sparv).
As a shirt, there is nothing smarter than a polo-necked sweatshirt in cotton or wool. White is never wrong; pale blue more than pleasant; and scarlet possible when you’ve got beyond the scarlet stage yourself. Conversely you might try a white sweater (Acrilan) with a navy blue shirt. Some ski-pants have appeared with bands down the sides in a contrasting color like scarlet. They are very smart indeed, but only if you have good legs and know how to control them.
— Sir Hardy Amies
Over the course of Downhill Racer, Chappellet finds occasion to sport all three turtleneck colors suggested by Sir Hardy, wearing white for his competition scenes, scarlet red in more casual settings under a light brown herringbone sports coat, and often a navy blue jumper as well. In this instance, he appears to be wearing a black thinly ribbed lightweight turtleneck (or “polo-neck”, which you may have deduced to be synonymous) under his anorak.
Such things as Anoraks are tricky. One is grateful for the nylon and like substances in which they are made, as they are so light in weight. But such materials don’t always dye well into dark colors; navy blue, in particular, often has a gray tinge. If you’re in trouble I would go for black, to match your gloves; or if you find this funeral, a light khaki, like a raincoat.
While not opting for khaki as Sir Hardy suggests, Chappellet wears a nylon waterproof anorak in a cool sky blue that flatters Redford’s complexion and coordinates with the other darker blue elements of his ski outfit. This lightweight pullover garment has a half-zip opening with a long silver-toned zip pull, a zippered breast pocket on the left side, side vents, and set-in sleeves that fasten for an adjustable fit on one of two snaps. It lacks a hood like the traditional anorak, lending Chappellet a sleeker and more aerodynamic silhouette as he glides down the hills.
The key is, of course, set by the trousers. Aided by stretch-clothes these must be skintight and smooth everywhere. Refinements of cut and fit can only be achieved by specialized bespoke tailors (the best are int he more elegant resorts, such as St. Moritz and Davos; but some excellent ones come from London, too); but the stretch-cloth is a great help to the off-the-peg trade. All such trousers are correctly made in dark colors, as pale ones soil at the first fall. It follows, therefore, that black and dark blue are greatly used and nothing looks better against the white snow. I cannot admire alternatives, such as dark green or dark red.
— Sir Hardy Amies
The 1950s were a trailblazing decade for ski pants, beginning with Maria Bogner—mother of the legendary Willy Bogner—marketing Helanca pants made from a stretchy blend of wool and coiled nylon that were being exported to the U.S. in 42 colors by mid-decade. DuPont’s introduction of spandex in 1959 revolutionized the ability for skiers to don a tight costume that would stretch with them while retaining its shape.
Following Sir Hardy’s advice, Chappellet wears tight navy ski pants with the waistband covered by his untucked anorak and the bottoms tucked into his boots, first a pair of black ski boots while on the slopes and followed by a pair of taupe suede cowboy-style boots.
Chappellet wears black leather lined gloves with ribbed padding on the dorsal sides and elasticized knitting at the wrists. Visible atop the right glove are thin multi-colored stripes between the thick padded ribs with red, yellow, and blue among the colors visible, though his gloves are hardly as boldly designed as these KOMBI rainbow-striped ski gloves from the 1970s. Each of Chappellet’s gloves has a small silver carabiner clip to fasten them together.
With his gloves off, Redford reveals that he’s wearing his trademark silver ring, making its sophomore film appearance after he first sported it in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, released just a month earlier. “It’s a very small silver ring that was given to me by Hopi Indians in 1966,” Redford told The Hollywood Reporter. “Every film I have done since 1968, I’ve had that ring on my right-hand ring finger.”
Chappellet also wears a steel wristwatch with a round silver dial on a steel bracelet, tucked away under the right sleeve of his anorak.
Although Dr. Bob Smith, an orthodontist and avid skier, had developed the first fog-free snow goggles with his innovative double lens design in 1965 (according to Smith Optics), Chappellet sticks to his tortoise Cébé round-framed sunglasses with reflective lenses, identifiable by the shape of the frame and lens as well as the two vertical silver pins on each side of the frame. (For more competitive skiing, he would indeed wear white Carrera ski goggles.)
To read more about this iconic Cébé frame, check out this listing from French Part of Sweden.
You can read more about the history and evolution of ski clothing for both men and women at Love to Know (by Lucy Johnson), Shrimpton Couture (Parts 1 and 2), and The Vintage Traveler.
Dave Chappellet and a fellow ripper are preparing to ski when the sound of squealing tires diverts their attention to Carole’s “Bahama yellow” 1968 Porsche 911 T Sportomatic coming toward them. Daredevil driver Dave is particularly captivated by the gorgeous blonde and her gorgeous blonde sports car, asking her “Is this yours?” She smiles: “Yes… like it?” and he really does.
After a seductive day on the slopes together, Carole is driving Dave home when she agrees to stop the car mid-drive and let Dave have some time behind the wheel.
There was some debate on IMCDB regarding the exact year and model of the car with theories ranging from a slightly older Porsche 912 to a then-new Porsche 911 S, though the site’s index recognizes it as a ’68 Porsche 911 T with a four-speed “Sportomatic”, a semi-automatic four-speed transmission with a torque converter and automatic clutch.
Porsche introduced its now-legendary 911 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963, beginning production the following autumn when it became an almost instant favorite for competitive drivers. The Porsche 911 was distinctive for its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine with a flat-6 “boxer” cylinder configuration, though a nimble entry-level variant with a four-cylinder engine—the aforementioned Porsche 912—was produced for the 1965 to 1969 model years. The 912 would be phased out by the introduction of the 911 T, which was powered by a 110-horsepower “boxer-6” as a downscaled complement to the standard 130-horsepower engine now designated for the 911 L.
1968 Porsche 911 T Sportomatic
Body Style: 2-door fastback coupe
Layout: rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 121.6 cu. in. (2.0 L) Porsche “boxer” flat-6 with six Weber 40 IDA 3C carburetors
Power: 146 hp (109 kW; 148 PS) @ 6100 RPM
Torque: 145 lb·ft (197 N·m) @ 4200 RPM
Transmission: 4-speed “Sportomatic” automatic
Wheelbase: 87 inches (2211 mm)
Length: 163.9 inches (4163 mm)
Width: 63.4 inches (1610 mm)
Height: 52 inches (1320 mm)
I’m far from an expert on the Porsche 911, especially when compared to the knowledge of many Porsche enthusiasts out there, so the best I can do is present the evidence suggested by the IMCDB contributors who generally seem to agree that this is a Porsche 911 variant from the late 1960s with the “Sportomatic” semi-automatic transmission. Beyond that, there is debate regarding the model year (1968 vs. 1969), the exact model (911 S vs. 911 T), and whether or not it is a long wheelbase model.
Some of the commentary seems contradictory to me (if it is a long wheelbase model, which everyone seems to agree upon, it seems like it would have to be a 1969 Porsche, when the B series elongated the wheelbase to 89.3 inches), so I welcome any Porsche experts or fans to weigh in with their theories about the Downhill Racer 911!
How to Get the Look
“The tight trousers and the sweaters are very much part of the picture of modern dress,” wrote Sir Hardy Amies of skiwear in 1964, and David Chappellet (Robert Redford) pays heed to both its aerodynamic and aesthetic benefits as he dresses in various shades of waterproofed blue while romancing Carole Stahl (Camilla Sparv) on the slopes in Downhill Racer.
- Navy nylon waist-length winter shell jacket with standing collar, zip/snap front, hip pockets (with double-snap flaps), set-in sleeves (with single-snap cuffs), and pleated “action back”
- Sky blue lightweight waterproof nylon hoodless anorak with half-zip opening, zippered breast pocket, and side vents
- Black thinly ribbed knit turtleneck jumper
- Navy spandex ski pants
- Taupe suede cowboy boots
- Black leather lined rainbow-ribbed ski gloves
- Cébé tortoise round-framed sport sunglasses
- Silver tribal ring
- Steel wristwatch with round silver dial on steel expanding bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Thank you to my friend Wendi who sent me a DVD of Downhill Racer and thus made it possible for me to write about Redford’s style as David Chappellet!
Great article! Thank you for a very nice site.
Hi, It’s a 1969 911T , Sportomatic , 1998cc 6 cylinder, 14 inch steel wheels with hubcaps , crested. This was the first of the LWB , which ran until 1989 . I wonder where it is now ? Also what was the chassis number ? Thanks MP911