James Garner as Pete Aron, determined Formula One driver
Monaco, Spring 1966
Film: Grand Prix
Release Date: December 21, 1966
Director: John Frankenheimer
Costume Supervisor: Sydney Guilaroff
The 2020 Monaco Grand Prix was to begin today, which also commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Monaco Grand Prix’s first inclusion in the inaugural FIA World Championship. Unfortunately, the spread of the dangerous coronavirus pandemic resulted in the race being cancelled for the first time since the 1954 Formula One season.
“In my opinion, still the best picture ever made about auto racing,” wrote James Garner in his memoir, The Garner Files, an opinion into which I put a lot of stock given the actor’s real-life passion for racing and his characteristic modest regarding his own cinematic career.
Grand Prix features an all-star international cast against the backdrop of the 1966 F1 season, beginning with an accident during the Monaco Grand Prix that lands English driver Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) in the hospital and reckless American driver Pete Aron (Garner) in the Mediterranean. Following a brief moment of introspection with tired French champion Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), Aron debuts his Shelby Mustang GT-350H when he drives to the hospital where he observes Stoddard’s wife Pat (Jessica Walter) hassled by journalists as she leaves her injured husband’s bedside.
While his co-stars—particularly Bedford—struggled with the driving scenes, Garner proved to be a natural talent behind the wheel, aided by two months of tutelage of the celebrated Bob Bondurant, and performed many of the driving stunts himself, including the dangerous sequence during the British Grand Prix when a fuel leak sets his car aflame while flying through Brands Hatch at nearly 130 miles per hour.
“Making Grand Prix was the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie,” wrote Garner. “Hell, it was the most fun I’ve ever had, period! Six months with the best cars and the best drivers on the best circuits in the world… for a guy who’d always loved cars and racing, it was a fantasy come true… It was an honor to be on the same track [as the Grand Prix drivers], and those guys went out of their way to help me. They pointed out the correct line through corners, briefed me on what to do in a spinout, and generally showed me the ropes. Between shots, we did some impromptu racing. We’d do a choreographed shot with five or six cars passing and jockeying, and when we cut we’d all turn around and race back.”
Winner of three Academy Awards—including Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects—Grand Prix inspired Garner’s lifelong passion for motor-sports, which he would celebrate in the 1969 documentary The Racing Scene that chronicled the last of his three years of ownership of the American International Racers team.
What’d He Wear?
Pete Aron’s sporty smart casual outfit is perfectly suitable for a stylish young race car driver in the golden age of F1, anchored by a stone-colored nylon jacket. With its ribbed-knit cotton collar and cuffs, Aron’s zip-front jacket is among the multitude of men’s outerwear inspired by the classic military bomber jacket. The fly fastens to a button at the neck and on the waist hem, similar to the iconic Derby of San Francisco jackets first marketed in 1963 (and recently revived by Victor Suarez), but it lacks the Derby’s signature horizontal yoke, second waist button, and flashy lining. Aron’s jacket has an “umbrella” storm flap across the back and straight side hand pockets.
Aron wears the subdued shirt-and-sweater combination of a white cotton oxford shirt with a narrow button-down collar under a black merino wool long-sleeved sweater with a ribbed V-shaped neckline.
Aron’s charcoal gray flat front slacks are likely the same beltless trousers that he later wears with his burgundy broadcaster’s blazer, styled with slanted front pockets, no back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. He wears black leather loafers and black socks.
The stone blouson jacket appears again during a brief split-screen vignette following the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, where Stoddard made his winning comeback. A disgruntled Aron, clad in a black polo shirt (with “popped” collar) and taupe trousers, pops a bottle of Veuve Clicquot before handing it off to his mechanics.
Aron wears the jacket again while reviewing racing footage with his new racing chief Izo Yamura (Toshiro Mifune) prior to the British Grand Prix, wearing it semi-zipped over a cream button-down shirt.
Aron’s stone jacket makes its final appearance as he pulls his GT350H into the paddock before the climactic Italian Grand Prix at Monza later that summer, worn over his white racing suit.
The scene also provides a glimpse of Aron’s steel-cased watch, worn over his left wrist on a black leather strap. The white dial and single crown tell us that this isn’t the black-dialed Heuer Carrera 3647N he would wear for much of The Rockford Files a decade later, despite receiving it as a 38th birthday gift around the time Grand Prix was in production. (Read more about Garner’s real-life Carrera 3647N in this well-researched Calibre 11 article from August 2017.)
The potential perils of F1 racing is underscored by checking in with each racer prior to the Italian Grand Prix by introducing them with a close-up of their ID bracelet, followed by a vignette of their pre-race preparations. Aron wears his stainless ID bracelet on his right wrist, etched with the black-filled text “PETE ARON / BLOOD TYPE B.”
I wrote more extensively about these famous “Rent-a-Racers” in my first Grand Prix post, but my fascination with this fruitful collaboration between Ford, Shelby, and Hertz compelled me to include it again, particularly as Pete Aron’s 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350H is most prominently seen when he’s at the wheel wearing the outfit featured in this post. Hertz offered these fastback Mustangs during the late 1960s, painted to promote the rental company’s corporate color scheme with gold LeMans racing stripes and rocker stripes on a black body.
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)
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, Carroll Shelby’s service as Grand Prix‘s “technical consultant” including loaning a 1966 Shelby GT350H (chassis #6S611) to the production for Garner and Bondurant to share while 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°.
Ford revived the original Hertz concept with an updated Shelby GT-H, introduced during the 2006 New York Auto Show to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the original GT350H. This limited run of 500 Mustangs, only available through the Hertz car rental agency, maintained the spirit of the original with its gold-on-black paint scheme and performance upgrades.
How to Get the Look
Casual attire is often the most susceptible to dating poorly, but James Garner’s dressed-down layers in Grand Prix remain tasteful and timeless more than a half-century later.
- Stone nylon waist-length bomber-style jacket with ribbed-knit cotton collar and cuffs, zip-front fly with neck and hem buttons, straight side hand pockets, and “umbrella”-style rear storm flap
- White cotton long-sleeved shirt with narrow button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Black wool long-sleeved V-neck sweater
- 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 Heuer Carrera 3647N wristwatch with white dial on black leather strap (with steel single-prong buckle)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.