Doug Nye

Heroes of the Revival
The Goodwood meeting was packed with stars, but this trio’s presence was particularly appreciated

As far as I’m concerned there were three real heroes of the recent Goodwood Revival Meeting: Sir Jack and Lady Brabham, and dear old Win Percy. ‘Black Jack’ at 81 has been in kidney failure for some time now. He requires dialysis three times per week, yet he – so ably cossetted (when he cooperates…) by the formidable Margaret – travelled some 22,000 miles specially for the Revival’s Tony Brooks tribute. With Aston Martin in 1958, Jack drove as a team-mate of Tony’s in the TT. He raced against him in his Coopers while Tony shone so brilliantly in Rob Walker’s Coopers, then Vanwall and Ferrari, and as friends and rivals there has always been immense respect between them.

The Brabhams planned their Goodwood flights to coincide with dialysis ‘windows’. It was risky, but ‘Blackie’ was determined to make the trip. The wheels came off almost immediately as gales closed one of Sydney’s runways and they missed their initial flight. Arriving late in England, Jack was in some difficulty, terribly dehydrated for his big day, Saturday’s Brooks tribute. Again I found myself doing my usual amateur-night presentation on the grid, and I’d been told Jack was poorly and wouldn’t be available. But in the assembly paddock I noticed Moss in the glorious Aston Martin DBR1, and clambering into its passenger seat was another of my heroes – ‘Blackie’ himself. I whizzed over to ask the inevitable but he saw me first and growled “D’you think this bloke’s got enough experience to drive me round?”. I told him if he wasn’t satisfied he shouldn’t pay the fare. My erstwhile Editor at Motor Racing magazine, John Blunsden – an old friend of them both – leaned in and told Stirling, “Now’s your chance to put a wheel on the verge and throw some stones, just like he…” – accusing finger – “…used to!”

They rumbled away. I was then told on my headphones that Sir Jack wouldn’t be available for interview, so once they’d all formed up on the tribute grid I nattered to Tony himself, seated in a ‘Syracuse’ Connaught, then the splendid Mike Oliver – not only Connaught development engineer and team manager but also chief test pilot of Folland Aircraft and one of the men responsible for the superb little Folland Gnat (of past Red Arrows fame).

As an inexperienced presenter I was fazed by various things. My own voice was being recycled back into my headphones after a few seconds delay – very discomfiting when the wits are working double-time to compose the next bit of blether. Then for dessert the floor manager’s voice chimed in, “Doug, Sir Jack’s to your left, ready to talk – Sir Jack’s to your left…”

Stirling had parked the Aston several rows down-grid, and had walked up for the presentation, leaving Jack – feeling just terrible – sitting ashen in the car under his past mechanic Nick Goozee’s attentive parasol. I’m told the old warrior suddenly said, “Who’s he talkin’ to? What’s goin’ on? I’m havin’ some o’ that”, and before Nick and the hovering doc could prevail upon him to rest quiet, he had from somewhere summoned up the energy and intent to launch himself from the car and march up the grid.

Unaware of this minor drama, but having received that tip-off, I turned to my left and – aah! – here was the triple World Champion, beaming at me about three inches from my face. So I introduced him and that wonderful Revival crowd erupted in thunderous, welcoming applause. He heard my questions, and paid his tribute to Tony with typical grace, wisdom and wit. You’d never have guessed how ill he was.

It was a brilliant effort on his behalf – and I mean EFFORT! And as I wrapped up, behind my back he was assisted straight into an ambulance and off to hospital, so missing the rest of the meeting – which burned him no end. My missis and I dropped in to see him and Margaret a couple of days later, and found him after another dialysis session restored to sparkling form. He’s simply the bionic man these days; “Here, feel just here – that’s a stainless-steel union in there – isn’t modern medicine fantastic! Look here, see the wires? Feel here, that’s a pipeline!”. I’ve always been squeamish, but I hope I made suitably approving noises. “I was not goin’ to miss Tony’s bit after comin’ all this way…”, he declared before confiding, “That bloke Moss, y’know, he nearly lost it halfway round. Yes, he did. He put one wheel on the grass and the whole lot went sideways. I thought, oh great – I feel like s***, and now we’re going to crash!”.

Stirling of course caught it, and all ended well – including Jack and Margaret’s long flight (on time) back home. Respect!

Meanwhile, spending the entire weekend incarcerated in a TV cabin by the back of the corporate ablutions, Win Percy performed just superbly as Goodwood’s expert judge of fact, glued to a battery of TV monitors throughout the action. His wise words at the driver briefings were simply invaluable. Win and his wife live in Spain these days, having sold up in Weymouth, and to see him – the multiple title-winning racing driver rendered paraplegic by diabolical medical negligence – now getting about on sticks and standing tall with the help of leg splints was truly humbling. He was Goodwood’s Dickie Bird – the hugely experienced umpire who’d seen it all, knew all the excuses, and what few he hadn’t learned from ‘Whizzo’ Williams he’d made up himself. Believe me – the commitment of this trio’s presence was simply immense.

How Violette met with a violent end

Motor sporting history is, of course, jam-packed with interesting characters, aces, no-hopers, good, bad, the weird, the wonderful. Few of them I would describe as evil – but the 1920s French driver Violette Morris must, I submit, come pretty close. I’m not convinced I believe all her bad press, but even allowing some margin this extraordinary brute comes straight from movie script – Rosa Klebb with attitude…

She was a once-married, profoundly masculine, lesbian French sportswoman. Built like a dump truck she excelled at shot put, discus and rowing, and played soccer for Femina Sports (1917-19) and Olympique de Paris (1920-26). She allegedly became a French international. Water polo was another of her sports, as was boxing. She frequently fought and beat men. She tried Graeco-Roman wrestling, weightlifting, tennis, archery, equestrianism and diving, and also raced bicycles, motorcycles and cars. In order to pursue her sports more comfortably she had a voluntary double mastectomy. Her masculine dress, habitually foul mouth, openly promiscuous lesbian lifestyle and above all her body modification led to her being barred from representing France in the 1928 Olympics.

Thereafter she ran a car components business in Paris. She competed regularly in the 24-Hour Bol d’Or race for solo drivers, and in 1927, at Fontainebleau, she actually won it, driving a BNC. Race regulations permitted a passenger, but not a co-driver, though a four-hour rest period was allowed. La Morris competed in several editions of this annual peculiarity, in Benjamin, BNC – rather piquantly Bollack, Netter & Cie – and her own Morris-Ruby cars.

But from 1935 she is said to have fed military intelligence to the German Nazi security services. Upon the occupation of France in 1940 she became an ardent collaborator. She lived in a houseboat on the Seine in Paris, and reputedly became a leading interrogator and sadistic torturer engaged in breaking suspects believed to be British-briefed SOE agents. Her name soared ever higher on the French Resistance’s hit list, and on April 26, 1944, aged 51, they ambushed her while out driving with like-minded collaborators. The entire group died, riddled with bullets and shrapnel – to be buried in unmarked graves.

A lesson in left foot braking

Successive weekends in July 1955 saw two firsts for Stirling Moss – his first World Championship Grand Prix win (for Mercedes-Benz at Aintree) and his debut for Porsche in one of the more obscure Internationals, the 1955 Civil Governor’s Cup race on Lisbon’s Monsanto Park circuit in Portugal (below). In the race Stirling muffed his start, sitting on the line with the rear tyres alight, spinning uselessly, but he subsequently caught the field – including local star José Nogueira Pinto in a sister Porsche 550 Spyder – and he won and set fastest lap, with the Portuguese driver second.

During practice Stirl and Jenks had been intrigued by Pinto’s driving in the sister Porsche – balancing the car through ess bends with the throttle wide open, yet the brake lights flaring. “Hey – that bloke’s braking with his left foot…” At the time it seemed a real novelty. Being brought up driving on largely dirt roads made more than only just Fangio and the Flying Finns…

Distracted from the racing…

In 1978 John Fitzpatrick was driving a Porsche 935 for Georg Loos’s factory-supported Gelo team, contesting all the German and World Championship races, including Le Mans. Fitz recalls how, “Georg actually owned the cars and the transporters, but the cars were maintained in Stuttgart and were looked after at the races by Porsche works mechanics. The cars were always well prepared and if there were any new bits available we would be at the front of the queue alongside Kremer, Joest and Peter Gregg. Porsche was always very fair, tending not to make anything available until they had enough parts to go around. At their prices, they couldn’t afford to upset anyone!”

Two outstanding points in his Gelo career became very apparent at the season-ending Watkins Glen Six Hours. “For some strange reason, Georg Loos never travelled to America but was represented by his girlfriend Ingrid, who also did the timing. We ran just the one car for me, Toine Hezemans and guest Peter Gregg. The only real opposition came from Dick Barbour’s identical 935 for Rolf Stommelen and Manfred Schurti. We knew we’d have our hands full. The cars only ran for about an hour on the 100 litres of fuel so there would be six separate stints, two for each driver. But Peter was either not feeling well or just having a bad day and he lost a lot of time to Manfred and Rolf. Toine then took over from me and we clawed most of the time back, when Ingrid – who was sitting on an open timing stand in front of our pit wearing a white T-shirt with little underneath – called Peter over and told him most diplomatically “You vill not drive again, you are too zlow. John vill end ze race”. This went down like a lead balloon, but in the circumstances Peter took it very well.

“Toine was due in after another lap or two, so I was starting to suit up and put on my helmet. Our pit was getting very busy as all the journalists and photographers gathered around to see an exciting pitstop which could decide the race – or so I thought. In fact, Ingrid was a very well developed girl and as the rain came down her T-shirt was becoming progressively transparent, and word had gone around. Never mind the racing, they were all crowding round gawping in admiration at Ingrid’s magnificent chest…

“Just then, Toine came in at full speed, just as a photographer was walking backwards across the pitlane, absolutely focused upon Ingrid’s attributes. Toine had to brake suddenly, and the driver’s door, which he had been holding open to make a quick exit, slammed open, snapped its hinges and retaining strap, and flew off down the pitlane! While the car was serviced, he jumped out, I jumped in and the mechanics retrieved the door and tank-taped it into place.

“This drama was completely lost on 99 per cent of the photographers, pressmen and assorted mechanics crowded around, who were all mesmerised instead by Ingrid’s moving parts beneath her sodden T-shirt as she gesticulated wildly to the team…”

As it happened the rain stopped, and the track – and Ingrid’s T-shirt – dried out. Two or three laps was all it took for air pressure to overcome the tank-tape and Fitz’s door blew off. He pressed on al fresco, and gradually caught Stommelen who had troubles of his own. “With two laps to go I finally caught him at the end of the straight and slipped down the inside as he closed the door. His front wheel was level with my seat and just brushed against the door-sill, about six inches from my arm. I managed to slip ahead and win. We seemed to be very popular with everybody after the finish, but I’m not entirely sure if it was meant solely for our win or for the show that Ingrid had put on…”