Racer, pioneer and inventor John Fitch RIP

| 31 Oct 2012

American racing great and war hero John Fitch has died aged 95.

The Indianapolis-born ace was one of the first US drivers to successfully ply his trade in Europe, achieving a class win (and fifth overall) in the 1955 Mille Miglia.

It was far from his only major success, however, and the roster of sports car victories included Sebring, the TT and the Argentine Grand Prix, many of his most famous moments coming with Briggs Cunningham's team.

Car-mad from childhood, he built his own specials as a kid and friends said his racing career was inevitable from the outset, not least when he opened an MG dealership after the war.

When his track career came to a close in the mid-'60s, far from slow down, he stepped up his activities.

Latterly he became equally famous as an inventor and innovator, including many safety features for road and track and his own car, the Corvair-based Fitch Phoenix (which he is driving, below).

The lightweight (850kg), supposedly Corvette-influencing design was well regarded, but doomed by new legislation and GM's decision to halt production of the Corvair.

A decade ago, while well into his 80s, the intrepid Fitch drove a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR at Bonneville Salt Flats in an ultimately thwarted bid to set a new class Land Speed Record.

See the February 2003 issue of C&SC for a full feature on – and interview with – this remarkable and fascinating man.