He was called Carlos, and some said he was from Brazil, others Spain. All I know about him is that his bidding number was 712 and his presence rather dominated the auction of motor racing memorabilia held by Sotheby’s on February 26. His spending for the clay must have been into six figures, and anyone bidding against him had about as much hope as a boiled egg taking on a steamroller. As soon as the auctioneer’s head inclined to the left of the front row, it was as well to withdraw. Whatever Carlos wanted, Carlos was going to have. It didn’t surprise me that anything to do with Ayrton Senna was at the top of his agenda. That much was logical; he was also deeply into memorabilia connected with other stars of the recent past. The second half of the auction, though, was given over to the late Innes Ireland’s personal collection, and I hoped devoutly that at that point Carlos would take his leave.
No such luck. He continued to bid like a semaphore man on speed, buying items such as trophies won by Ireland in his club racing days. While I rejoiced for Innes’s family that his memorabilia raised such a handsome sum, for those of us of more conventional financial means, the afternoon was rendered a touch frustrating.
For all that, I was determined not to leave empty-handed, for Innes had been a good friend for a long time, and I wanted a memento of him, however trivial. Fortunately, when Lot 288 “A collection of Ireland ephemera from the late 1960s” came up, our Latin friend showed no interest, and I managed to acquire it.
A mixed bag is the best way to describe Lot 288, but I was very well pleased with my buy, for it included Innes’s last FIA competition licence, as well as several programmes, one of which was for the 1967 Daytona 500, the final race of his career.
Ireland was feisty and tough, yet essentially a gentleman and as kind an individual as I have known. A character is what lnnes was. Ye gods, yes. As a driver, he was among the very fastest of his generation. I have never forgotten the Oulton Park Gold Cup of 1960, for example, in which his Lotus 18 simply left the rest behind, ‘the rest’ including Rob Walker’s similar car, driven by one Stirling Moss. In the right mood, Innes could hack it with anyone, but invariably his luck was poor, and that day was typical in that the car eventually broke.
There was always a strong element of fatalism in Ireland, and it is fact that his career was signposted by huge accidents. He had no illusions about the Lotuses of the time, accepting, if unwillingly, that if Colin Chapman’s radical cars were blindingly fast, they were also fragile. “Setting off on a lap of Spa in one of those things, lad, it was best to put your imagination on a very low light. Something would break, and you’d come in, and they’d Sellotape it together, or whatever, and send you out again…”
Lot 296 was a harsh reminder of those perilous days, being a pair of his overalls. The catalogue described them thus: “The blue cotton twopiece racing suit worn by lnnes Ireland during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix of 1961, both trousers and top with accident damage and cuts made by first-aiders.”
Ireland told it this way: “We had this new wrongway-round gearbox on the Lotus, and in the heat of the moment I got second instead of fourth, locked the back wheels solid, and that was that. Came out of the tunnel without the car…”
Compounding the problems of his shunts was Innes’s medical inability to tolerate any analgesics. His silver identity bracelet, another lot in the Sotheby’s catalogue, bears the legend, “Innes Ireland A Rh Pos – Allergic to morphia”. To whisky, however, Innes had no such adverse reaction, and he always asserted that “Scottish wine” was a killer beyond compare.
To see his overalls, and pair of Stirling Moss’s, in auction room, was a experience. Nearby other race suits from the modern era, all festooned with patches. The light blue cotton suits of Innes’s era were supplied by Dunlop, and carried the company’s logo, but the only other badge displayed by Ireland and Moss was that of the BRDC. The suit of Mr Rubens Barrichello, whose first Formula One victory awaits, bore no fewer than 14 patches.
Even in the late ’60s, Innes had come to hate the growing commercialism of a sport he considered a romantic vocation. “The decision to give up racing,” he wrote in his memorable autobiography, All Arms And Elbows, “has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. Perhaps, if I had not lived with the belief that motor racing was the ‘Sport of Gentlemen’, the decision would have been easier. The political intrigues make it impossible for me to continue in racing with my outlook on life. I have never been able to equate money to motor racing.”
His book, one of the classics of motor racing literature, contains all manner of anecdotes from an immensely colouful career, but Innes often told me that it was very much a pasteurised version of his original manuscript. “Would have ruffled too many feathers, I suppose,” he said “Anyway, that’s what the sodding libel lawyers thought…”
Having spent many a boozy evening with him, I probably know most of the scurrilous stuff which was struck out, but I was still intrigued to note that Lot 263 promised the final manuscript, and with “Corrections, letters relating to the publication of the book, original handwritten ideas, and legal notes”. That, I thought, be worth going after, but it was withdrawn at the last minute.
In an era in which Michael Schumacher’s ‘manager’ has a private jet, it is hard to take in that once drivers, at rather greater risk then than now, Formula One cars for and thought them fortunate to be paid at for doing something they “Even so,” Innes would murmur, “I must be one of few Grand Prix drivers who left the sport with less money than when I arrived…”
He had absolute contempt for the avarice of contemporary Formula One. In the autumn of 1992, after the Italian Grand Prix, I was fortunate to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the Club International des Anciens Pilotes de Grand Prix in Venice. About 40 ex-drivers were present, including I Ireland, and all had all been to Monza, where the story of the weekend was of Mansell’s near hysterical announcement that he would not be at Williams for 1993.
“To say that I’ve been badly treated is a gross understatement,” Mansell had said, commenting on Frank’s refusal to go the extra million. Innes, like most of his buddies on the Venice trip, already had his enthusiasm for Nigel fairly well under control, but this exhibition of public moaning and raw greed made him first apoplectic, then quietly sad about his beloved `sport’. “Always thought he was a twerp,” he muttered, “but how can anyone walk out on the best team for the sake of money? How many millions can one man spend, for Christ’s sake?”
Innes was on fine form on that trip. A few of us knew of the cancer which would eventually claim him, but he never complained. For all his sundry undignified scrapes in the course of a wondefully colourful life, his innate dignity was never threatened.
Many of the Ireland’s accoutrements came under the hammer at Sotheby’s, and while it saddened me that a lot of them were leaving the country, so also I was pleased by the absence of what dealers would call, ‘The good stuff’, which has presumably been retained by his family. Many trophies were on offer, but, for example, there was nothing commemorating his victory in the 1961 American Grand Prix, the first ever for Team Lotus.
Within weeks of this success, Innes had been brusquely dropped from the team by Chapman, and a part of him, believe, never quite got over that. He saw it as a betrayal of his loyalty, and his subsequent correspondence with the hard-nosed Lotus chief amply reflected his disappointment. That, too, did not appear in the auction.
The last time I saw Innes was at the Memorial Service to James Hunt, another charmingly anarchic character of the kind for which Formula One cries out in this politically correct age. It was a moving occasion but most poignant of all was that the Lesson was read by Ireland, whose own time was near. The afternoon at Sotheby’s revived memories of a man of whom I was extremely fond. Those, at least, were beyond Carlos’s reach.