Fifteen minutes of fame - wingless flight

Named after New Zealand’s answer to the nightingale, Tui briefly made beautiful music in the early 1970s. Nick Phillips remembers the day it almost came home to roost

A chassis that was competitive at international level five years after it first appeared seems a strange choice for a piece entitled 15 Minutes of Fame. However, the glory days in Europe were few for a remarkable car that arose

from an informal partnership between two New Zealanders bent on making their way in Motorsport It was Allan McCall’s Tui and it played a crucial role in establishing the career of one of Britain’s most successful Grand Prix drivers.

Pinning down the event most suited to this piece was tricky. Leading candidate seemed to be Dave Morgan’s Formula Two pole position at Albi in 1972; McCall himself, though, remembers another race as that year’s highlight Imola with John Watson.

“John crashed it early in the first heat, dinged a wheel and wiped the rear wing off,” remembers McCall. “In the pits we put a new wheel on, took the front wings off to balance it, and he went faster than he’d ever been to qualify for the final on his lap time. Then he came right up through the field to finish second in the second heat 18 inches behind Bob Wollek’s Brabham.”

The bad news was that the result that weekend was on aggregate: John Surtees’ TS10 won with a fourth and a third place, and Watson, thanks to his Heat One dramas, was nowhere. It’s certainly not a meeting that grips Watson’s memory: “I don’t remember much about that I do remember John Surtees was there and that he was quite impressed with the performance of the Tui, and my performance in it. I loved Imola, liked the flow of it, though sadly it’s not the same now. And that’s about it”

The Tui, though, certainly left its mark on the Watson career. “Really, it was the car that got me back onto the treadmill of international motor racing,” says Watson who, before he got the call from McCall, was without a seat for 1972. “It was very important to me.”

McCall came over to Europe to get involved in international Motorsport and mechanic for Team Lotus, initially on Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina. After working in Formula One, the Tasman series and Can-Am for Lotus and McLaren, he started to make his own cars. Working out of the old WWII bomber base at Membury (a name now linked inexorably to an M4 motorway service station) he built up his first car in the pilots’ briefing room and tested it round the perimeter roads. This was a Formula Three car, driven first in this guise, and then in its US Formula B spec, by Bert Hawthorne.

Hawthorne played a major part in the Tui story. Another Kiwi, his determination to succeed behind the wheel complemented McCall’s technical expertise. “Bert and I were sort of partners, but it was never formal,” says McCall. “We never got round to discussing it It would have ended up that way for sure, but neither Bert nor I had a penny to scratch ourselves with. We slept on everybody else’s couch and everything we got we spent on the car. In the end, Bert found the money and I built the cars.”

The Tui AM1 was a big success in Formula B, winning three of its five races and leading the other two. Soon McCall was designing another car for 1972. Initially schemed out as a Formula Atlantic (the successor to Formula B), bizarrely it first competed in Formula SuperVee.

McCall and Hawthorne had reached a deal with Leda Cars to productionise the Tui, the idea being to sell a stack of FAtlantics to the US, via agent Fred Opert. He also sold Chevrons, though, and decided not to take the Tui Atlantics. What he did need was a SuperVee to sell.

“Bert was still running Fred’s driving school for him at Bridgehampton and told a little porky, saying we had a SuperVee,” explains McCall. “In just over a week, we took the first completed Atlantic car, converted it, and put it on that ‘ferry boat’ [the ‘Showboat’ racing car show held on a ferry moored on the Thames].

Hawthorne drove the FSV in an international race at Daytona, finishing second to Helmut Ktinigg and ahead of Jochen Mass. That was really the last that McCall and Hawthorne had to do with the FSV; Leda built plenty, Opert sold them, and they proved very successful. As part of the Leda deal, though, McCall had kept the elements of four Atlantics. Hawthorne, meanwhile, had located sufficient wedge to go F2 racing (not Atlantic, though), so the first of McCall’s cars AM 29/1 made its debut at Thruxton. It went there untested, yet Hawthorne qualified midfield and got up to fifth before it was sidelined by fuel pump failure.

They then went to Hockenheim and suffered a dreadful day. In practice, after a clash with another car, the Tui got airborne, hit the barrier and Bert was killed. “Bert was one of the class acts,” says McCall. “He would have gone on to great things, I’m absolutely certain of that”

McCall kept going. AM29/1 had been destroyed, but the next chassis was built up and renumbered as BH2-1. Watson took over until funds got too tight, and then Dave Morgan arrived with better backing. It was always run on a shoestring but, as Watson recalls, it was a nice bit of kit: “It really was an F2 car buik as an F1 would have been built Allan was one of those highly gifted people who could make anything. He had a great pair of hands.”

At the end of the year, McCall moved to Italy to show Tecno how to build a monocoque for its new F1 project. He and the team produced one in 10 weeks, and although this had originally been meant just a practical demonstration, this chassis wound up as Chris Amon’s race car.

Tui BH2-1 and BH2-2 met with success in US Formula Atlantic, a very competitive era in which McCall ran Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Brett Lunger, Damien Magee and Tom Gloy from 1975-77, but BH2-3 was never built and the Tins were put away.

McCall stayed in the business, though, before moving back to New Zealand, where he’s building himself a house. But plans are still fermenting, and he is looking at getting involved in the 2003 Indy 500 or maybe the new IRL feeder formula.