For half a century motoring artist Michael Turner has welcomed Christmas with a special set of paintings you can send to your friends
For the past 50 years, motor racing fans have enjoyed a particular Christmas tradition of their own – the publication each year by Michael Turner of his greetings card sets. It goes without saying that these do not feature snowmen, robins, Father Christmas or holly, but instead depict scenes from the year’s motor racing season.
The original idea for the cards came from the man who dreamed up many good motor racing-related innovations – John Webb, boss of Brands Hatch’s former controlling company Motor Circuit Developments. “I remember thinking, ‘What a silly idea, who wants Christmas cards with racing cars?’” Michael says. “John seemed to think it was a good idea. Of course, he was quite perceptive and obviously knew there were lots of enthusiasts who would buy a card that reflected their interests.”
Webb remembers that the idea proved popular. “In 1960 motor racing Christmas cards were fairly rare and mainly the province of clubs and individuals,” he says. “The announcement in November 1960 was well received and even featured in The Sunday Times.”
The joint venture was repeated for the next couple of years, but in 1963 Michael decided to go it alone, establishing his own company, Studio 88 – named after his parent’s house number in North Harrow, Middlesex.
That first solo set featured Richie Ginther in a Rover-BRM, Bruce McLaren in a Cooper-Climax, Dan Gurney’s Brabham-Climax, Graham Hill’s BRM, Jim Clark in his Lotus-Climax and John Surtees in his Ferrari. In subsequent years the cards not only depicted Grands Prix, but also included events such as Le Mans, the Indy 500 and various rallies. Perhaps what sets Michael’s work apart and makes it so collectable is his attention to detail and accuracy. “I’m a bit obsessed with it, I think,” he says. “It’s important to me because I’m creating an historical record. I rarely leave things out, sometimes adjust the composition a bit so that everything makes sense.”
Not everybody was a fan, however. “Bill Boddy hated paintings. He wouldn’t have them anywhere near Motor Sport, and neither would Denis Jenkinson,” Michael says.
Nevertheless, Michael’s work is highly regarded and the cards have continued to be produced annually. They proved so popular that his wife Helen established a collectors’ club in 1992, which only ceased last year after 20 years, but Studio 88 marked its 50th anniversary this year with a special exhibition in early October.
The subjects this year are Nico Rosberg (Monaco), Lewis Hamilton (Hungary), Fernando Alonso (Spain), Sebastian Vettel (Malaysia) and Kimi Räikkönen (Germany).
I first purchased a set 40 years ago and will be adding to my own collection once again.
Here, we present a selection of Michael’s own Christmas card favourites over the years.
More details about the cards and Michael’s work can be found at www.studio88.co.uk
Graham Hill, Red Ball Lola-Ford
1966 Indy 500
“When I went to Indy in ’66 the whole atmosphere was vibrant. We had a big British contingent with Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and Jimmy Clark, and I was very friendly with Graham. When he won and they played the national anthem I had tears in my eyes. That was the year they had a big accident at the start. There’s a press stand at the end of the pitlane so people can photograph the start as the pace car pulls in, and suddenly there were cars going in different directions and wheels coming off. I thought, ‘I’ve come all this way and haven’t even got a race’. I spent a lot of time on the grid while they were reassembling the whole thing and then worked my way around to Turn Two, where there was a photography tower. You could see the cars going into the back straight.”
Jim Clark, Lotus-Climax 25
1964 Dutch GP, Zandvoort
“It was probably my second visit to Zandvoort, which quickly became one of my favourite circuits. There was a great tussle with Clark, Hill, Gurney and Surtees and this is the back of the circuit, which never gets photographed. I set off up the main straight in the opposite direction and this is where they came down between some trees and burst out onto the big, long curve that led them onto the finishing straight. I found that spot interesting with people sitting on the sand dunes having picnics, the odd photographer and the marshals, who didn’t dress up specially in those days. It features four of my favourite drivers, and Jimmy’s eyes were very focused. It was the same with Hill, but Jimmy was relaxed about his racing whereas Graham was always concentrating very hard. If you were at the apex of a corner and Jimmy was coming towards you, chances are he would see you and wave. Graham never would.”
Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes MP4/26
2011 Canadian GP, Montréal
“Jenson, who was last at one point in the race, worked his way through the entire field and took the lead on the last lap when he pressurised Vettel into making a mistake. I thought that was brilliant. I’d been to Canada three or four times but I wasn’t there in 2011 because I can no longer get the working credentials I need, but I know the circuit. I went there a week after a Grand Prix a few years ago because Helen and I were visiting a friend in Montréal. While we were there I went to the island and hired a bike to ride around and update my reference photographs. I can pick up relevant details like the crane, advertising, marshalling posts and any other incidentals from the TV race coverage.”
Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312B3
1974 Spanish GP, Jarama
“I didn’t actually like the look of that Ferrari at the time and I wasn’t a particular fan of Niki Lauda, but I always admired Clay Regazzoni, in the other Ferrari. Jacky Ickx in the Lotus was very talented and is a good bloke – he commissioned quite a lot of paintings from me over the years. From a painting point of view, I have to compose a picture from whatever conditions are available – on a wet, miserable day you have to make what you can of it. So you notice some Spanish police and a chap in an orange hooded cape, and all the detail in the background made it an interesting challenge.”
Jackie Stewart, Matra-Ford MS80
1969 Spanish GP, Montjuich
“Montjuich was a lovely place, a little bit like Monaco without the houses, but the high wings were awful, especially the bi-plane Brabhams. The front wing was mounted on the inner suspension pick-ups and the back one was mounted outboard by the wheel, so they assumed different angles when cornering. Thankfully they soon banned them. That was my first visit there and it was fascinating, but these wings worried a few of us working trackside, because we could imagine how vulnerable we were if one of them broke away. This was one of the several interesting corners, with the monastery building and old city wall, and if there are objects such as the marker board and street lights, I try to compose the picture so that they’re in the right places. I note also that the trees had obviously been pollarded and were rather stunted that year.”
David Coulthard, Williams-Renault FW17
1995 Portuguese GP, Estoril
“Estoril was a nice track to paint compared to modern tracks, most of which have got no redeeming features you could call attractive. I have to work really quite hard sometimes to compose a picture of a modern Grand Prix at the often clinically designed circuits, because there aren’t the same opportunities artistically. This was Coulthard’s first F1 win and I always enjoyed going to Estoril because it was an interesting track with striking backgrounds – an artistic bonus.”
Ronnie Peterson, JPS Lotus-Ford 78
1978 South African GP, Kyalami
“It was the last lap, Ronnie Peterson passed Patrick Depailler to take the lead and I was there on the banking. The reason I go to all these places is to understand their character and pick up the atmosphere. I know where the cars have come from and where they are going – so knowing what happened and what is about to happen, you know that the cars need to be positioned on a particular bit of track. Peterson has deviated from the obvious line to get past Depailler, but he’s about to go into a fast left-hander, so you have to relate the objects to the composition of the picture. I felt sorry for Depailler, losing his victory right at the very end.”