Eighty Four Hours of Endurance by Michael Keyser

Book Review by Dom Miliano, of Michael Keyser Eighty Four Hours of Endurance

MMR Book Review

By Brooks Smith

It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. In 1960, the Le Mans 24hrs was won by a front engine Ferrari, with a live axle, and around 300 horsepower. The Porsches in the race were running for position a class below. The next decade saw arguably more intense innovation in sports car racing than any period before or since. By 1970, Porsche and Ferrari were running together in Group-6, the premier class, with cars using five-liter engines mounted amidships, where they put out between 550-630 horsepower. The class, and the cars, would last a mere three years, but they would put on a show like few others.

With his new book, Eighty Four Hours of Endurance, former car owner and racer Michael Keyser attempts to open the door on this heady end to an unprecedented era. It’s well traveled ground in many respects, but Keyser mostly succeeds in giving us his more personal view. The sense of place and time is captured better than in many works I’ve read on the subject. The feel of a race weekend is conveyed well. And while creating an atmosphere of suspense is a difficult task when it involves events more than forty years out of date, Keyser shows an ability with narrative, allowing the races to progress at their natural pace as we watch from the pits.

The photography plays its expected role in this. It is both beautiful and evocative, and the layout of the book allows it to serve as an endnote to chapters, giving visual life to what we’ve just read. The quality of photo reproduction is also excellent given the modest cost of the book.

Only one factual error stood out, and while it’s one that is commonly made, it detracts slightly from the sense of personal experience. A Ferrari 512S/M does not in fact feature a flat-12 engine taken from Ferrari’s then current Formula One car, but a 60° V12. The flat-12 powered 312B itself wouldn’t make its Formula One debut until 1971, a year after the 512S hit the track. The confusion stems mostly from the existence of the production 512 Berlinetta Boxer, which was powered by an evolution of the 180˚ engine.

If the book leaves me wanting for anything, it’s a greater sense of involvement. As I mentioned, this is hardly an era that historians have passed over. While Keyser does a good job of getting us to the races, one never really feels they’ve been transported to the driver’s seat of his Porsche 911, on the Daytona banking at midnight, as Donohue, Rodriguez, Siffert, and Andretti scream past in their 917s and 512s. This is admittedly a tall order, but Keyser’s historical perspective as a driver, and his ability as a writer, give him an unusual platform from which to attempt such a feat, and I find myself wishing he’d taken the shot. It could have been an elevating moment for the book.

Group-6 was the apogee of a huge swell in the rise and fall of sports car racing’s fortunes and focus, a rush which left a hangover from which sport arguably didn’t recover until the advent of Group-C in 1982. That cycle continues through history, creating many special moments along the way, from Group-C 3.5, to GT-1, to today’s 1000-plus horsepower hybrid prototypes. The intensity of the era, and Keyser’s ability at retelling it from experience, allow reading about it to remain interesting and compelling.

It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Quite beyond finishing on top, the drivers, cars, and engineers who made the Five-Liter Group-6 category possible established a high-water mark for a generation; one that remains a privilege to revisit.