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Sunday, December 14, 2014

December 11: John Wyer, the man who made Gulf a racing legend, was born on this date in 1909


Porsche 917 racing

They called him "Death Ray." That should tell you what kind of boss John Wyer was — but whatever his management style, the man with the slick hair parted with a bullet knew how to race.

 Wyer, born on this date in 1909, oversaw Aston Martin's only LeMans win in 1959 before joining Ford's first Le Mans efforts with the GT40s in 1963. Wyer's GT40 MK1s didn't win due to reliability problems, but Wyer kept tinkering even after Ford won Le Mans, then pulled out of racing.

In 1967, Wyer brought forth a heavily modified GT40 called the Mirage, and with it, a new sponsorship from Gulf Oil, a Pennsylvania company which had just bought a smaller firm that featured a powder blue and orange color scheme.

 Wyer convinced Gulf to sponsor the cars, but Gulf picked the colors that became famous on tracks around the world. While the Mirages had some success, Wyer would take over Porsche's factory racing two years later with a car Porsche engineers had slaved over for years — the 917, perhaps the most fearful machines to ever take a track.

 It was Wyer who solved the cars' extreme handling problems that gave Porsche world championships in 1970 and 1971 and made the 917 a star in the Steve McQueen movie "Le Mans." Gulf Oil marked the 1970 season with the film below, a little-known gem that demonstrates the intensity that Wyer brought to every race: