A career that starts with a Lotus Seven on the 13th of March, 1964 and continues with unabated enthusiasm in 1979 will obviously encompass a variety of racing machinery and a disregard for superstition. In 37-year-old Derek Bell’s case substitute for “variety” the word “plethora” and, forgetting our usual conservative use of the English language, see if we can slip in the generally over-used “amazing” as an apt adjective.
Rather than give a résumé of Bell’s driving life in the usual racing season manner, we thought it would be more interesting to hear Bell’s opinions of some of the cars he has driven in that time, the good, the bad and the others. Since the fair-haired Sussex driver has conducted cars from Ferrari, Porsche, Renault, Brabham, McLaren, Lotus, Aston Martin, Jaguar, BMW, Surtees, Alfa Romeo, Lola, March, Chevron, and the many permutations on the Mirage theme, we had no shortage of conversational material! In fact the real trouble was leaving things out, so there are plenty of other cars that Bell has driven, but that we did not have space for, preferring to concentrate on this articulate man’s impressions of the more noteworthy machinery.
Bell’s reputation, rather like that of David Hobbs and Brian Redman, is solidly based on his sports car achievements. To the national press his win at Le Mans is the most important result from those racing miles, but to Derek single-seater racing was the over-riding passion, and one is constantly reminded how near he was to that final breakthrough in Formula One. When the chance came, it never all quite came together, and one is left with an enigmatic career that comes so close, yet finally misses Bell’s aim. So one initially looks for bitterness. Then it is apparent that Bell’s real passion is racing as a sport. His enthusiasm is still undimmed today: who also would go lawnmower racing with such infectious joy – “You can always stop off for a drink and join in later,” he laughs. A remark that may cause consternation to Stirling Moss who apparently regards these grass-cutting forays as the most prestigious events of his now full racing season!
Our interview was conducted partly at Goodwood, where Bell took time off from his ambassadorial BMW role to take us out lapping in one of the County Championship 323i saloons. Always nice to see the subject at work, though when we got on the straight I did not have to remind Bell that the power was not quite the same as Porsche’s 917, which he first drove under wet conditions at that same track. From Goodwood we trundled the writer’s faithful Ford along in the awesome wake of Bell’s wide-wheeled BMW 633 CSi, wondering if admittance would be granted to the private estate beside the sea that is Bell’s home.
No need to worry. The place positively bounds with odd wildlife, akin to motoring writers. Every so often Derek’s modern home was ravaged by their small pet monkey. Then we had to look out for four kittens and two dogs, including a large St. Bernard. Taking a sun-lounger some 50 yards from the beach I reflected on the arduous assignments that Motor Sport provides.
To business: some idea of the cars we discussed can be had from the fact that the evening was well advanced by the time we had ranged from Clubmans racing in Britain through Formula Three, Two, One and international sports car racing, plus a resume of the main protagonists in the Jaguar-BMW saloon car battles of 1976-77.
Speaking the weekend after Le Mans, where this year’s Mirage-DFV failed to make the finish, despite gallant efforts in the pits, Bell looked back to his first racing car. “I had a little experience because I had been to the Jim Russell school and had a few racing lessons while I was studying at agricultural college. Russell had said that I could be guaranteed a future driving for a factory, but I didn’t think a lot of that; I was guaranteed a future managing the family farm.
“When I was back at the farm a bloke came around trying to flog me some machinery. We got on really well and I ended up going into partnership with him to buy the Seven from a chap in Selsey. It had the 1500 Cortina engine, two twin-choke Webers, a Cosworth type camshaft and was balanced: all the usual mods. For my first race, a handicap, the rain was hammering down and everyone kept falling off. I started off about halfway down but I was ahead at the end.” Suitably braced with the knowledge that selling his Healey 3000 road car had been a worthwhile sacrifice, Bell raced the Lotus as often as he could afford to. Looking back at that car and comparing it with more recent Clubmans formula cars that he had been invited to test Bell laughingly said, “I can’t believe the cars were that bad! It was all pretty basic stuff, but much the same as today’s Clubmans cars in feel – it’s just that current Clubmans cars have wings and tyres that allow them to do the same things at higher speeds. Lots of good practice at opposite lock motoring!”
Bell was primarily occupied with working on the farm still. Although he led the Clubmans Championship that year he was destined not to take the title owing to some characteristic Bell twist of fate: what he does remember clearly is going to Aintree. “The tyres were pumped up to about 40 lb. each for some reason and I spun on every lap of practice. They had to black flag me!”
Former Chrysler competition mechanic John Upton helped with the maintenance of the Seven and it was he who recommended to Derek’s step-father that further encouragement be given to Bell’s racing. Derek thought they would buy a saloon, but it turned out to be a Lotus 22/31 Formula Three car! Again he won his first race with that machine but commented: “It was BMC 1-litre powered following Stewart’s success in the Coopers, and now times had changed, the Cosworth Ford was the thing to have. I reckon we were 15 b.h.p. down.” During the season a Ford engine was acquired and Bell “raced it every weekend I could, doing ‘clubbies’ all over Britain. The car was sturdy and reliable and we had a lot of success for the £1,300 that it cost! My best memory of it was beating Jackie Stewart’s F3 record from the previous year at Goodwood.
“My downfall was Lotus though. At the end of 1965 I sold the car well and, after a test session at Goodwood, I committed us to having a new Lotus F3 for 1966. It was the most awful car I have ever had! It blew up wholesale and kept seizing its cheap shock-absorbers . . but we did build up our own engines using a Ford head and iron crank purchased from the local dealers. I used over 9,000 r.p.m. trying to keep up with the others and the whole engine used to fly apart! Using that sort of revs gave me a smell of’ the aces, but at the time I thought I would never be able to drive like Gethin and Courage . . .”
Untypical cunning saw Bell do a lot of races in Britain that year to scoop up a Grovewood Award, so despite his unhappy memories of the Lotus 41, he had attracted some attention.
In 1967 Bell was back in Formula Three European style with a Brabham BT21 which he remembers as, “a good middle of the road car, it was not bad at anything, whereas the Lotus was hopeless on slow corners. The Brabham was easier to drive and to look after, a typical Tauranac design. The engines Westbury built were super, but I am sure he kept the real flyers for himself. I ran the tweaky downdraught manifolds, with the chopped-up Weber twin-choke carburetter, only toward the end. It was quite a job keeping those engines on 10,000 r.p.m. all the time with four-speed gearboxes – it taught me a lot more about gear ratio selection, I can tell you.”
Bell has a fond faraway look in his eyes when he describes participating in some of the races – “Regga always chose me to have his accidents with!” Then there were the six-car dices with demon out-fumbling manoeuvres to recall, such as “Regga” flying over Jaussaud and Jabouille and competitors finishing with no external bodywork at all . . . those were the days! In fact Bell recalls one international based on team performances from nations like France, Britain and Holland where the winners were there solely because the team survived the inevitable warfare out on the track.
“At the end of the year my step-father reasonably said he had had enough. He let me have the car, truck and spares, but I must sell them, attract enough sponsorship to do Formula Two. I ordered a brand new Brabham BT28-FVA. We were committed to about £10,000 with a spare FVA motor, and I started to write . . . and write . . . and write. Must have been 100 companies I contacted trying to get sponsorship. The best result I had was from Avis: they sent me a ‘we try harder’ badge!”
The first team Brabham was sold for £2,500 and Bell’s family stepped in to fill the breach so that Derek could enjoy “the best-balanced car I have ever driven. The power right, the chassis matched it, and so did the brakes. Superb – that model still says to me all that was best about Formula Two. Straight away the 220 b.h.p. felt right, and that was stepping out of a Formula Three which had 119 b.h.p. at best.
Naturally Bell recalls his first race with the car, but then so do many with a knowledge of motorsport because Bell was appearing at Hockenheim, April 7th, 1968. Bell recalled, “I had breakfast with Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill on race morning at our Spyer hotel. I did not know them well, just a new boy listening eagerly, but a mechanic had told me they had been having trouble with Jimmy’s car: they had even tried to sort out an engine misfire on the road!
“I had been faster than Clark in practice – but I knew there must be a reason. At breakfast Clark told me to watch out when I came up to lap him . . . to give the car a wide berth, because the engine was cutting out in mid-corner and the back kept kicking out of line. At first I thought he was just joking with me, there could be no way that I would lap Jim Clark. Well, we did the race and I noticed toward the end that there was a road car parked at the edge of the track. I did not know it, but Jim Clark had been killed. I still think the engine must have cut: it was wet and the car was sliding around even in the dry, so it must have been a handful even for Clark . . .”
Bell subsequently finished third at Thruxton and the Nurburgring and became a sought-after driver. Through Keith Ballasat at Shell Ferrari approached and even Colin Chapman commented on his progress. In fact Bell was sitting in a Lotus turbine waiting to go out at Silverstone, after having tried Colin’s automatic road car, absolutely ready to go and put in some practice laps, when Graham Hill had to commandeer the car following a failure. So near . . . the story of Bell’s progress.
The much-publicised link with Ferrari is still minutely remembered by Bell. “At Maranello they showed me all round the place, then presented me with a drawing of a racing seat. I had to indicate where I wanted the padding to go. I did so and that was filed away as ‘my seat’. They even asked me what sort of gear lever knob I wanted . . . I could only recall ever driving with one like the Brabham had!
“The V6 Dino Formula Two car I drove at Monza in testing to get a Ferrari contract against eight others (including the Brambillas) was a really interesting car. The engine was smooth, very smooth, with no ‘kick-in-the-back’ performance at all, not much better than a Cosworth. The car itself felt stiffer altogether and the gearbox was adequate rather than sensational; the engine had not got a lot of bottom end power so you had to use the box.
“I had three outings in the Formula One car of 1968 as well, but I really remember the first one where the Old Man was watching me at Modena. It was pouring with rain and it was bound to be interesting since Forghieri only told me when I arrived that there were no wets – just intermediate tyres! Mauro Forghieri also said that, if I crashed, ‘you will never drive a red car again: maybe you will drive a green one, but never red!’.”
Bell recalled the same smooth flow of power from the Ferrari V12 as from its small V6 cousin in Formula Two guise but commented, “The engine was really progressive, a lovely unit, but not really powerful, the brakes and the chassis were the strong points.
“Another thing I remember about it is the gearbox: it jammed as I had also had in Formula Two while leading for Ferrari at Zandvoort. Apparently I changed gears too quickly for the box – they said it was a problem they had not had since the days when Phil Hill used to drive for them. The gearchange was sequential with a gate to prevent you accidentally getting first. When the box jammed in F1 I was jammed in a Cooper-Maserati sandwich with Pedro in front – who was not famous for using his mirrors – and Jochen Rindt behind at the Oulton Park Gold Cup.”
It was with irony that Bell recalled that race for he had driven the Cooper-Maserati V12 himself when pondering between an offer from that company and Ferrari earlier in the season. “The Cooper-Maserati was the first F1 I drove, and that was at Silverstone. Quite honestly it was a big brute, reminiscent of the Jaguar XJ! It did nothing really badly, it was just big and heavy.
“They offered me £5 for a three-year contract to drive that car! It sounds ridiculous, but on reflection I could have done it and somebody might have picked me up from there, just like Jochen managed.
“Just after that test was my first meeting with Enzo Ferrari. I went to Maranello one evening. Nobody was in the workshops, the production road cars were sitting still with no workers on them either. About 100 yards away the silence was broken with the footfalls of Ferrari himself. He wore a white jacket, gloves, and had a raincoat over his arm. To see this silver-haired man surrounded by his cars in the silence was impressive. We spoke some French together, but he also had an interpreter. I got the impression that he really had a high opinion of Jochen Rindt, but could not get hold of him, so he was asking me to say that Jochen was not a very good driver anyway . . .”
As we now know the Ferrari contract was to do little more than put Bell in the limelight. He remembers testing a GT40 that year for John Wyer: “It had no side windows and a huge steering wheel, but I thought it was a lovely car, easy to drive and predictable.”
“In 1969 Enzo said I was not experienced enough to drive the sports car at Le Mans, but would not release me from my contract. By 1970 I was in a Ferrari 512S at Spa Francorchamps doing my first sports car race for Ecurie Francorchamps. I should have been frightened out of my brain, but I liked the track. There was no real impression of speed though the car would be getting on around 200 m.p.h. The thing about it was that dreadful heavy steering, but it was stable through those fast corners. The car was no match for the 917 though: it was slower and heavier to drive as well, with an incredibly noisy engine compared to the Porsche.”
Naturally Bell remembers being co-opted into the factory team at Le Mans in 1970 too. “I was paired with Ronnie Peterson. We could really have done with some advice as to how we should pace ourselves on lap time, but nothing was said and we all went out and drove our own way until that monumental shunt. I remember Reine Wisell was groping along at about 180 m.p.h. in the middle of the road and seeing Regga’s car up on the guardrail showering out sparks: we lost four Ferrari 512s in that pile up! Even with the long tails the Ferrari was not as quick as the Porsche in a straight line at Le Mans, but you got the impression of sheer speed all right! I noticed that when we went for the record-breaking run with Horne’s Ferrari 512 at 201 m.p.h., or something, for you had to work quite hard to keep it all lined up – at Spa it had not been a problem because the body was different.”
Conversation then naturally moved to the Porsche 917s Bell had driven for JW-Gulf in 1971. He started as number 2 to Siffert, but by the end of that tragic season both Rodriguez and Siffert were dead and Bell was a lead driver. “It was not an easy car to drive, but it was better than the Ferrari. The Porsche was more flexible, all round better, though I did not like having my feet up under the headlamps!
“The engine made a lower `vroommy’ type of noise rather than shrieking like the Ferrari. I did a test programme with different types of tail on the car and, even at lap speeds of around 160 m.p.h. at Spa, there was just no feeling of acceleration: you just poured on more and more power with that 5-litre engine and the car kept wanting to go faster at the top end. It was a sophisticated sports car that was much less tiring than the Ferrari to drive and gave less impression of speed.
“The other major difference was in the synchromesh gearbox. This used to get a bit tatty around the edges when Seppi had been racing Pedro for a couple of hours, but Porsche always blamed me . . . until we got to a round where Gijs van Lennep had to share the car (Watkins Glen) and the box was still in the same state.” Talking to former JW Automotive mechanic and the man who currently looks after Lauda’s Brabham in Formula One, Ermanno Cuoghi, I was told that the Porsche’s slightly slower change, because of the synchronising delay, did intrude a bit on Siffert’s Formula car/motorcycle racing gearchanging style.
Bell’s memories of the various Mirages are often hilarious and encompass one test outing before he had signed his JW contract. “I had been doing my best to impress Wyer himself, who was sitting in his Mustang on one of the corners at Silverstone watching. Suddenly I lost the whole plot, spun around and started sliding straight for Wyer’s Mustang. I sat there thinking, please God, wake-up! Move yourself! Then JW found Drive and scrabbled off. Imagine wiping out your boss, and his road car; not many drivers get my opportunities. . . !”
The Mirage, whether V8 by Cosworth, V12 by Gurney-Weslake, open or closed, seemed to Derek, “Awful, awful. First thing every morning I would take it out and plunge into the Silverstone fields. I just kept spinning it everywhere. That V12 engine was smooth, but not competitive enough, but the chassis was a bastard.
“Once I tied it down on the dampers and springs like a kart at a Silverstone test day. Went out and did a time faster than Rollinson’s F5000. Feeling quite pleased and then went straight into a bank.” Again John Wyer was watching and Bell chuckled as he recalled his own next action, “I got out into the road and started to clear the mess up. Put all the bits in one pile . . hid some of the damage with a wheel that had survived. Wyer came towards me and said very softly in that voice of quiet authority, ‘Don’t worry dear boy . . . we saw it all,’ and nothing further was said!”
Bell’s experience of sports cars and Formula One could fairly be described as wide by the time he drove the Mirage-Cosworth V8s in 1972 and 1973 as team leader. In years dominated by first Ferrari’s 312P and then the Matra 660 series, Bell did win at Spa, but said: “In general the chassis could not compare with a Matra or a Ferrari. The engine was all right, of course, and there was little difference in feel between them and Formula One, though we used 500 r.p.m. or so less for long races.
“The Mirages compared to a Formula One feel a little heavier and less agile, but that’s always the case in sports cars where you have softer springs, so the car is bound not to feel as taut as a Grand Prix machine with a Cosworth at the back. The car was, and still is, comfortable: I know that because the car I used at this year’s Le Mans was the same one that I raced at the 24 hours, when I won, in 1975. Best thing about the cars is that they never, ever, break chassis parts.”
Alfa Romeo did not contest Le Mans in 1975, but Derek was part of the team that pulled off a no-opposition World Championship for the Milanese concern. “That flat-12 is one ‘helluva’ engine,” he enthused, “it never had a failure and I used to rev it like crazy to 13,000 r.p.m.! I won at Spa in that car against Ickx in the rain: in fact it was a good year for me because the Alfa also won in Austria and Watkins Glen, and then there was Le Mans in the Mirage too.” At one of the races Bell got his race car and the spare around faster than anyone else: “In the race Pesca (Henri Pescarolo) had to hand out boards showing me how I was doing. Chiti would not tell us if there was an Italian closing in! I did the same thing for Henri when I was in the pits. . .”
Of the Renault-Alpine V6s with their turbocharged 2-litre engines Bell simply says, “an absolute delight. The car was so easy and light to drive. The team really thought about what they had to do and I have more respect for Renault as an outfit than anyone I have worked for . . they think of everything. Perhaps the most difficult problem was getting the turbo engine to stay together for 1 1/4 minutes on the Mulsanne, especially when you took your foot off at the end. I was just sorry I was never able to win for them, though the car was harder to drive fast in 1978 because the leading one had properly ventilated discs and we did not, so I thought Jarier and I did well until it broke.
“Looking back at the testing they did I am not surprised they won Le Mans and are doing well in GPs now. Once we ran 22 hours at Ricard, loaded up the car and took it off by air to a research centre at Ohio. There we did another 18 hours around an enormous eight-mile oval with a layout to simulate the corners at Le Mans so far as gear ratios went. On the banking we were going through from first gear to a terminal speed of 212 m.p.h.!
“There was not much feeling of acceleration. I suppose it is like a Porsche 936 versus a 935: the 935 with 3-litres or so does give you a feeling of acceleration, but with only 2-litres and quite a heavy, sturdy car the Renault felt smoothly together. The 935? I can honestly say I regard them as outstanding experiences. With up to 740 b.h.p. I found that it didn’t make any difference whether they were single or twin turbo cars – they were the competition cars I have had least control of! They are so fast in a straight line, just incredible.
“For six months after the Renault effort, when I knew they would not be going back to Le Mans, I was depressed. I just could not face going back with another team, there would just never be a team like that again. From pit layout to the comfort and feeding of the team, they were the best.”
Back in the Formula car world, Bell remembers the 1970 season and the Tom Wheatcroft Brabham BT30 with special affection. “We ran the car in association with Tom under Church Farm Racing Team colours and it was superbly managed by Mick Earle. I have always been lucky with the people who have worked with me on the racing side, in fact I still think I have had some of the best mechanics in the business.
“The car was super, but what I really remember about the year was the opposition! Regazzoni and Cevert were in Tecnos, and their engines really shrieked away: in the end Regga beat me by three points in the European title, but we fought for it all the way to the Hockenheim final.
“The other thing I remember about that and other seasons in Formula Two is that, for me, there were two drivers I really admired. At the time the king was Jochen Rindt and I never saw anyone with such fantastic car control. My proudest moment came at the Nurburgring when I was chasing Jochen and thinking what a hopeless task it all was. At the end of the race he came up and told me not to push him so hard. ‘You are going too fast,’ he laughed at me,” recalled Bell.
At the close of a good season Bell also appeared in the Surtees TS7-Cosworth V8 at Watkins Glen for the US Grand Prix. He liked the car a lot – “It was magnificent to drive, like a Formula Two with a Formula One engine.” In the race Bell finished sixth, determined to record a finish in a GP car to “make myself credible,” as he says somewhat sadly today, feeling that he was letting people through but hating to make excuses.
Bell looks back with wry amusement on the fact that he said he would never drive a Formula 5000 car, “but I had to eat my words in the end,” he says cheerfully enough. Were the American V8-engined single-seaters as bad as he feared, I asked. “Nearly ,” he said adding amiably, “They went like mad in a straight line with a Chevrolet in the back, but you could certainly feel what a great lump of iron was in there . . . and the engines were so `thumpy’ in feeling compared with a pure Formula One or Two racing car. You gain on flexibility compared to a Formula One, but most of the ones I drove overheated and none of them went really well at the top end.”
In his Formula One forays Bell certainly tackled an enormous variety of machinery, some of it of technical rather than winning interest. Prime amongst this category was the 1969 outing in the British GP with the factory 4-WD McLaren. Bell commented, “The car had no real development behind it. The theory was that 4-WD would make us quicker into corners, as well as offering the obvious traction advantages. It didn’t work out that way of course, and they stuck massive wings on it. I did not want such big wings, but who was I to argue? The result was it understeered like hell and was not very quick in a straight line either.
“There was a fair amount of tug through the steering wheel, but the big problem was trying to balance the braking split front to rear and match it with the power bias front to rear. At the end of the Hangar straight the idea was to go in deeper, but we couldn’t: however, the car did come out of there quite well.
“From the driver’s point of view I found it was impossible to get along with the handling. With your foot off the throttle it would slowly understeer: bang the power on again and the tail would not come out. If you did get the tail out it was after being really brutal with the car, and that was no way to get a good lap time.
“Bruce said to me afterwards, ‘will it work?’ I said it would not and it was a museum piece.” The other technical novelty was the 1972 Tecno flat-12 Grand Prix machine. “It was, without question, the worst Formula One car I ever had to drive,” said Derek. “The chassis was just heavy and the preparation was not up to scratch. David Yorke actually stopped me racing it once at Clermont Ferrand when he saw the mechanics welding up around the 7/8 in. bolts that located the engine and chassis together!
“That programme was really my downfall, I should have been driving with Reutemann at Brabham if Martini had not decided they must back an Italian company. Funnily enough the basic engine was quite good . . . one of the Italian journalists told me that Mauro Forghieri of Ferrari actually did the design, but nobody knows the truth. For me, it was just a disaster and ended any real hopes of doing well in Formula One.”
Bell did drive a Surtees TS16 in 1974 but reflected he should not have done it. “The car felt quite nice in testing but the chassis just was not good enough. John had a lot of problems at the time, and the brakes failed once. We just could not go testing to sort the troubles out, though God knows I asked often enough for testing time.” It was a miserable time indeed, for the car could not qualify for the races Bell was entered in and Carlos Pace showed what he thought of the situation by leaving during the season.
Once again Bell resolved not to get further involved with Formula One, but that did not stop him driving the cars. He commented of the Penske driven in the British series: “It was better than the Surtees, at least!” Even this season has seen him out in the latest generation of ground-effect GP machinery, for Wolf “rang me up at 11.30 one night and asked me to go to Donington the next day to shake down James Hunt’s car. I was terribly excited about it all. The car was so smooth to drive in the corners and so well-braked with the latest twin-caliper layout. The ground-effect just seems to stick the car on the road: if it does break away everything happens a bit quickly though, I can tell you!”
Aside from winning in the British Formula One series with that Penske, Bell’s Formula One performance came at the wheel of Robin Herd’s original March Formula One design, the 701, which he drove in 1971 for Wheatcroft. “The car was just not good enough by then as Stewart and company had discovered the previous year,” Bell felt, before adding: “It was interesting to drive because the monocoque made the feel so much stiffer than the Formula Two March I had also driven for Frank Williams. The 701 was better at Ontario, because it was smoother there.” In neither case did the drive do Bell’s career much good.
I asked about the Brabham BT26 that Bell drove in the Tasman series for Wheatcroft: “Funny that, because it used a 2 1/2-litre version of a DFV that had been bought from JW-Gulf. I did try in 1969/70 with that car and even had Chris Amon try it: he said it was awful, all over the road. When I got home we swapped it over to Goodyears, instead of the Dunlops we had used in the series, and it went 2 1/2 sec. a lap taster! However we had a lot of engine troubles on that Tasman effort, so it really turned out very badly.
“The previous year I had been ‘down under’ to do the Tasman with the Formula Dino Ferrari equipped with the 2.4-litre version of the V6. That car was a honey, about 270 b.h.p, and all of them delightful to use! Chris Amon actually won the series in the other factory Dino and we had some good races against the high-wing Lotuses. It must have been a good car, I even managed to beat Jochen with it once!”
In recent seasons Bell has been seen in a number of saloon cars, including the 24-valve BMW CSL “Batmobile” in which he won the 1973 Tourist Trophy with Harald Ertl. He talked of that successful machine in comparative terms with the Jaguar 5.3 coupe run by Broadspeed for Leyland in an attempt to break BMW’s domination of the European Touring Car Championship.
“Ah, the proverbial chalk and cheese! The Jaguar was quick, not as fast as was said at the time of course, but certainly able to run over 150 m.p.h. which, in 3,300 lb. of car, took some stopping. We had the power steering taken off, and it was pretty heavy to drive and it also lost wheels in race and test trim! It did not lose a wheel on me, but I don’t think I ever drove it flat-out, except the first few laps of the 1976 TT when Gunnar Nilsson was chasing me in the BMW. Whenever we came to a corner Gunnar was all over me, it was a smashing few laps.
“The BMW was a properly developed car. I think Leyland were short-sighted in stopping the development of the Jaguar. They got keyed-up about winning, but just running the car all over Europe was a tremendous fillip to the morale of the dealers and the public loved it: I still get letters asking for pictures and stickers from that 1977 season now.
“Saloon car racing in general is very difficult. The style is completely different to formula cars, I just cannot get used to rolling through about 90 degrees before it slides: I always think it’s going to tip over.” With a wicked gleam in his eye Bell says he knew when he had arrived in touring car racing – “It was at the 1973 TT when I was quicker than anyone in my first session with a saloon. Barrie Gill wanted to talk to me, and he does not talk to losers!”
From his beautiful seaside home with the BMW nestling comfortably within the garage and a Range Rover looking rugged outside, Bell can comfortably laugh at the ups and downs of a sport that has provided him with such varied driving experience. When I left he was still mulling over the ingredients needed to make a forthcoming lawnmower race, promoter D. Bell, a thundering success. That is enthusiasm . . .— J.W.