Four years before John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, Roger Corman shot The Young Racers. Unfortunately, the latter film remains all but unknown among most enthusiasts. I believe it is time to give the movie its due.
As soon as the opening credits end, viewers are transported directly to Monte-Carlo to observe the running of the 20ème Grand Prix de Monaco.
This is not all Hollywood make-believe. The film, like Grand Prix, is filled with actual colour footage of real Grand Prix races, in this case from the 1962 season. That means viewers are treated to scenes of classic machinery like the iconic Ferrari 156 Sharknose and Lotus 24s in the distinctive Stirling Moss Green of the UDT Laystall Racing team in action, in period.
Viewing the film makes it was clear how much changed in four short years between the 1962 season of The Young Racers and the 1966 of Grand Prix. In 1962 the entire field still had full bodywork covering their 1.5-litre engines and gearboxes. By 1966, there was very little bodywork aft of the cockpit, leaving much of the new 3.0-litre engines and transaxles fully exposed. The 1962 cars are far sleeker in appearance, but both vintages are aesthetically attractive in their own way.
Very unlike today, both seasons sported a variety of engine configurations; for 1962 this included BRM and Coventry-Climax V8s, Ferrari’s 120-degree V6 and Porsche’s air-cooled flat eight. I must also note that it becomes obvious to the viewer that the sport was much more of a delightfully grassroots endeavour with unpaved paddock areas, minimal crowd control and a generally more relaxed atmosphere.
The Young Racers was shot in 1962 and released in January of 1963. Actual Grandes Épreuves filmed include the championship Grands Prix of Monaco, Belgium, France (at circuit Rouen-Les-Essarts) and Britain (Aintree) as well a non-championship round in France at circuit Reims-Gueux. While Racers lacks the plethora of on-track and in-car footage that makes Grand Prix so special, there are a few on-track scenes captured by a camera mounted to the back of a Cooper T51.
Porsche fans will enjoy a brief close-up scene in the paddock at Reims that takes place alongside Jo Bonnier’s red Scuderia Serenissima 718 F1.
Besides the priceless archival footage of Formula One circa 1962, the writing and acting are surprising good for the genre, easily eclipsing that of Le Mans and giving Grand Prix a run for its money. Only at the very end does the story fizzle to a rather predictable and abrupt ending. Since the script also ends only halfway through the season, I suspect funds may have run out sooner than planned. The budget has been estimated to be in the neighbourhood of $150,000; a far cry from the $9 million allegedly spent on Grand Prix.
As would be expected given the cost constraints, there are no marquee names on the cast and crew list, but there was a couple of up-and-comers. The Sound Supervisor was a young Francis Ford Coppola, and the voice of the main character was overdubbed by the future Captain of the Starship Enterprise himself, William Shatner.
The Young Racers also captures the sophisticated bygone elegance of the 1960s with track officials, team principals and drivers (off-track) respondent in stylish suits and sport coats, fashionably dressed women and glamorous watering holes, including two scenes on the terrace of the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo that bookend the story.