Letter of the month

Cars, beer and girls

I enjoyed Gordon Cruickshank’s article on the Tasman Series, which was almost a second World Championship at its peak between 1966-69. The ’66 and ’67 series ere match races between Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark probably the most even contests between the two masters from the Scottish lowlands. Stewart scored a great win in the ’67 New Zealand GP, holding on against Clark. I listened thrilled on my transistor to this duel, which in many ways sparked my interest in racing.

Jochen Rindt getting to grips with the Lotus 49 was the most exciting single-seater driving seen here since Stirling Moss, but probably didn’t move the average spectator, who went to the big meets for saloons, booze and, if they were very lucky, women. New Zealand then, as it still is, was a land of rigid lower middle-class Presbyterian values, and the further south you went, motor racing was one of the few opportunities for life and excess.

I can remember attending a National Formula 1.5 meet at Timaru in 1969: wind-assisted by a 60mph Canterbury northwester, Ken Smith’s blue Lotus 41 rocketed down the straight at 140mph, but the more arresting sight was the yahooing youths smashing each bottle of beer as they finished it. They were mounted on a back seat removed from an Anglia, simultaneously pleasuring their girlfriends! My father was having a heart attack, but I caught 17 laps of the blue 41 before he shuffled me away. It would take an hour of intimidation by mother to get him to attend the next meeting.

There was some good 2.5-litre racing among the Formula 5000s in the 1970-71 series. In 1970 Graeme Lawrence won the series in the ex-Amon Ferrari, and in ’71 he was quicker in every race than the March-Cosworth 701 raced by Amon at Levin and Wigram and by David Oxton at Pukekohe and Teretonga.

The greatest 2.5 Kiwi hero was probably the ultimate shoestring pilot. Bryan Faloon. Also, the well-financed Jim Palmer deserves more praise. At Longford one year Palmer was catching the Brabham-Repco of Jack Brabham. In an interview he says he still dreams of the Longford trees flashing past as he went down the straight in ’66. Clark told him he’d go faster if he gripped the Lotus steering wheel less tightly.
Robert Miles, New Zealand

Beta and better

Thank you for the super article on Vittorio Brambilla (MotorSport, February 2006). Vittorio was always one of my heroes, and I always felt he was the epitome of everything an Italian racer should be — brave (fearless?), fast and spectacular. Whatever he was in, Vittorio always looked fast — plumes of smoke from locked wheels, lurid oversteer, flailing hands. When you watched Vittorio in action you knew he was trying.

I had a treasured opportunity to meet him at Monza in 1999, when he came along at the invitation of TGP racer James King to demonstrate James’s Beta-liveried March 761. He arrived with his wife and a tribe of grandchildren, who were obviously seeing their grandad in a completely new light.

Resplendent in his original Beta overalls (which were just a little snug), Vittorio in his limited English proclaimed of the car: “Ees much better prepared than when I race it!” With the pits grandstand crowd on their feet and cheering, Vitt’ was strapped in to the car and about to leave the pits when James’s mechanics came out of the garage carrying a new nosecone, which they then set in full view on two supports. Vittorio’s eyes twinkled and he laughed, wagging an admonishing finger at James: “No, no, today I go very slow!” Needless to say, on the first lap past the pits he was on the limiter in every gear, each shift as crisp and quick as if he’d never been away.

The three laps passed all too quickly and Vittorio cruised in to a standing ovation from the crowd, who had clearly appreciated his efforts. The lap times? Irrelevant, but I think most of the TGP drivers were glad that Brambilla wasn’t racing that afternoon.

A true star and sadly missed—his antics with brother Tino at an Easter Thruxton F2 meeting are a story for another day.
Steve Lydon, Pioussay, France

Keane competitor

I was very pleased to read my name attached to the ‘Mystery Car’ competition in the January issue.

That Lotus 18 was indeed my car. I bought it in 1962 from the late Edmund Gill (for £435, including trailer!). He had bought it from its original owner, Reg Armstrong, in ’61. Reg had purchased it new in 1960. It had a most wonderful little 997cc Cosworth-Ford engine fitted and I used it in 1962-63 for hillclimbing and racing with considerable success, achieving the honour of winning the Sexton Trophy Speed Championship in ’63.

Despite my thrashing the little engine over the two seasons, it never gave me any bother. Because I got sponsorship (the first such benefit to a driver in Ireland) for 1964 I foolishly put the 1570cc Alfa Romeo engine into the chassis, which was superbly modified by John Crossle to take the extra weight and power. It was 1966 before I won another trophy because of huge reliability problems with that new engine. I finally sold the car when I was given a Brabham BT19 by the late Kevin Murphy — this car is also featured on page 29 of the same MotorSport edition!

It is a strange coincidence that my sponsor Kevin also bought me Graham Hill’s Lotus 49B, which you also show on page 29… We had a 1.8-litre Ford FVA engine fitted to the car. With these two latter cars I made quite a few new hillclimb records and had great enjoyment. I marvel these days at young men being paid lots of millions to do what I would love to be doing, racing.
Frank Keane, Dublin. Ireland

Fuels rush in

In your Herbie Blash/Charlie Whiting article (January issue), Mr Blash states: “We were the first people to freeze fuel”, speaking of the 1983 Formula One season.

I believe this racing innovation actually resides with Roger Penske circa 1969, as far as road racing is concerned. It was a US drag racing ‘secret’ in the 1960s as well. Perhaps the quote was meant to say “…in F1 “?

By the way, I enjoyed the headlines in the Wheel To Wheel section in the January issue: ‘Mercer splashes on the old Spice’; ‘Piper at the dates of brawn’ (Syd Barrett would be proud); ‘Walker is the fastest runner’; and my favourite, ‘Spitfire wins dogfight’!
Norman Gaines, New York, USA

Thanks! Does anyone have any photos of Nick Mason doing slight damage to a tyre barrier, so that we can run the caption: ‘Another Nick in the wall? – Ed

Earl grey area

Your article about Johnny Dumfries (March issue) brought back memories of the early Eighties, when my now ex-wife and myself knew Johnny when he was racing in Formula Ford 1600, mainly at Brands Hatch.

Racing for Bert Ray in a two-car team with the late Paul Gerrish, the two yellow Ray chassis were usually at the front of the field. At the time John was known to us as a painter and decorator from Fulham, but there was a certain amount of gossip as to his real background. So, one race morning over breakfast in the Kentagon, my ex-wife asked the question, and we then didn’t know what to say!

We always found John to be a great bloke who wanted his background kept reasonably quiet so that his on-track performances would be the talking point. We kept in touch during his F3 years, only losing contact as his career progressed onwards and upwards.
David Webster, by e-mail

Niles per hour

Your ‘Model of the Month’ reviewed in the February issue brought back memories of a time I was installed in Qasr-el-Nil barracks in Cairo. My window looked onto the bridge over the Nile and I remember one day staring in disbelief at the sight of single-seater racing cars threading their way at high speed through the Cairo traffic.

I later learned that the cars were Cisitalias, but an immediate move to the Canal Zone prevented me ever finding out whether there was a race meeting and if so where on earth it could have been held. The year must have been about 1946, and they were probably the fastest things on wheels that I had seen since days at Prescott before the war, when a friend and myself used to cycle out from Cheltenham and make our way to the course through a hedge!
Sidney Millard. Cheltenham

Teeth into plaque

I read with great interest Simon Taylor’s Notebook last month on Henry Segrave. He once occupied a magnificent house in St John’s Wood, a few hundred yards from the council house where I lived less than 40 years later, with our first Sunbeam parked outside.

Disappointed to find no recognition of the distinguished sporting ambassador who once resided there, I gave the ‘Blue Plaque’ idea a try. I told the current resident of 25 Elm Tree Grove of the significance of its earlier occupier, and she had no objections to my approaching English Heritage on the matter. This was some four years ago. English Heritage warned me it was a very slow process, and this it has proved to be, although I keep in touch with them every six months or so. I am told that we may get some sort of answer during the next month or two. A blue plaque is certainly the least that this great man deserves.
Bruce Dowell. Somerset