Richie Ginther, a retired race car driver, died Wednesday in France, apparently of a heart attack. He was 59.
Ginther was stricken while on vacation in Touzac, a village near Bordeaux.
After beginning his career in Southern California sports car racing in 1951, Ginther eventually moved to the international Formula One circuit, where he drove for Ferrari, BRM and Honda.
A mechanic for a Southern California Ferrari importer, Ginther got into Formula One racing almost by accident. While visiting the Ferrari plant, he was asked to test-drive a car because the driver who usually did it was ill. He was so impressive that he later was asked to join the Ferrari team.
“He was on the Ferrari team at the same time I was and he did a tremendous job of helping to develop the new Formula One cars,” said Phil Hill, who became the first American Formula One champion in 1961.
Ginther won his first and only Grand Prix race in 1965 at Mexico City. Driving a Honda, he edged Dan Gurney. His highest finish in the season standings was second in 1963.
A pint-sized man with a trademark grin, Ginther was seriously injured in 1966, when he broke his collarbone, several ribs and cracked his pelvis when he slammed into a tree in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Expected to be sidelined for at least six weeks, Ginther was racing three weeks later.
He moved into Indy car racing in 1967 but retired later that year after failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Ginther was also recognized as one of the top developmental mechanics in racing. He helped develop the aerodynamic tail spoiler.
While testing a Ferrari, Ginther noticed that handling problems were caused by aerodynamic lift. He solved the problem by adding a tail to spoil the air flow across the rear of the car, reducing lift.
He formed Richie Ginther Racing after retiring, then, after selling the business, toured the country in a motor home before building a house in Rosarita Beach, Mexico.
Ginther told friends that the time he spent in the motor home was the most freedom he’d ever had.
Born in Hollywood on Aug. 5, 1930, Ginther lived in Granada Hills before moving to Mexico.
Ginther is survived by his wife, Cleo, and a son, Greg, from a previous marriage. No funeral services are planned. A family spokesman asked that donations be made to the World Wildlife Foundation.