Former tin-top hero, Le Mans ace and later specialist car manufacturer Chris Craft passed away on 20 February following a lengthy illness.
Having started his career in the automotive industry with an apprenticeship at Ford, Craft soon found his way into the competition department and began racing in 1961 in John Young’s Superspeed Anglia.
His decision to quit Ford coincided with being spotted by the firm’s PR supremo Walter, who offered him Blue Oval support in a Willment-prepared Cortina.
Although perhaps best known for his exploits in touring cars – he narrowly missed out on the 1969 British Saloon Car Championship title – Craft drove some 44 different makes and models in a wide variety of formulae across his 20-plus years on track.
He achieved huge success in sports cars, with 14 appearances at Le Mans and victory in the 1973 European Sports Car Championship, but his Formula One record was rather shorter, with just a sole outing in 1971 aboard Alain de Cadenet’s Ecurie Evergreen Brabham BT33 at Watkins Glen.
“I never really liked single-seaters,” Craft told Richard Heseltine in an interview for C&SC in 2010, having watched too many of his friends perish in open-wheelers. “I did Formula Three and F5000, but I preferred saloons and sports cars.”
The redundant F1 Brabham would form the basis of the Duckhams Special that Craft raced at La Sarthe in 1972, introducing him to a young South African designer by the name of Gordon Murray.
Some years after his final race – Le Mans in 1984, sharing a Porsche 956 with de Cadenet and Allan Grice – Craft and Murray were reunited for a road car project, the sensational Light Car Company Rocket.
“For years I’d wanted to do a road car with him, but he was always too busy,” said Craft. “We eventually – finally – did the Rocket… Gordon wanted to do a single-seater, but I’m no fan of those so we compromised on the tandem layout.”
From designing furniture to F1 to commercial fishing, Craft was always busy, and a great character who will be much missed.