Historic scene with Gordon Cruickshank

Mission very possible

The Goodwood paddock is always interesting, but this time there are no onlookers: everyone participates

I knew about the Dakar Rally entries and the Defender Challenge rally team, enterprises that pitch injured ex-servicemen into the high-pressure world of motor sport. What I didn’t know about was Mission Motorsport’s invitation days, so I breezed down to Goodwood for the September one. There’s no competition, it’s not a race, yet the paddock was packed with brilliant machinery from Alfa 8C 2300 to McLaren P1. It could be a quality race meeting – but they were all here to give white-knuckle circuit rides to injured soldiers.

The driver briefing and the photo marshalling came from James Cameron, instigator and CEO of the whole thing, and as he stood on the pit barrier, cheerful, firm and highly audible, it wasn’t hard to picture him addressing his tank squadron in Afghanistan. It was on returning from there in 2011, he tells me later, that he realised more could be done for injured soldiers. “I saw some of my own injured guys on Top Gear in the Paris-Dakar and it sparked something. There are guys who after their army life is cut short, can’t find their way and get going again and this could give them a direction.”

That spark has seen Mission Motorsport burgeon to a company with 15 staff, and more importantly a record of getting injured soldiers out of their homes and into jobs or education – 57 in the last two years. Yes, some injured service personnel do get into racing but Cameron is clear that it’s not all about competing. “It’s a pyramid; the racing is the elite level at the top. That’s the Everest; it’s for the gladiators and is not paid for by the charity. It brings good PR and shines a spotlight on our work but it’s not the main thing. The middle layer is those who become really engaged: it might be motor sport, and that includes mechanics, managers, the whole crew as well as driving, but it may also be industry.” One of today’s sponsors is Jaguar Land Rover which has embraced the idea wholeheartedly – its stated aim is to get 1000 service people into jobs by 2020.

Men like Mike Burton, a sergeant in the Royal Lancers, who tells me he’d always been keen on cars and motor sport but never imagined being involved. Then he came to an MM day, volunteered as a helper, joined one of its courses, obtaining a diploma, and has just had his first work placement.

Or Mark Bartlett, ex-Fleet Air Arm, who says he was in “a bit of a state” until MM refocused him. Now he’s building a mad Nissan 200SX and aiming for his ARDS test. 

Rolls-Royce, too, comes here to scout for talent – it has brought along the brand-new ‘Black Series’ Wraith (complete with matt-black Spirit of Ecstasy!) – as do Bentley and Nissan. Why? “Forces people have qualities we look for,” says JLR’s Ed Tilston, in between lapping in a mean-looking F-type R. “Discipline, organisation, perhaps engineering skills.” 

“We know our men and women have these abilities,” adds Cameron as a Carrera GT wails out of the pits followed by a thumping Invicta. “I spend very little time persuading companies of their qualities. The hard part is to convince the injured soldiers of it when their heads are down.” Many injured personnel struggle with readjusting, whether to disability or the ‘hidden injuries’ that make the future look tough.

Which brings us back to today, Experience Day, the base of Cameron’s pyramid. “Sometimes a guy needs shaking up, an excuse to get out of the house, meet a few faces. That alone is valuable for someone in a dark place.” Considering few people get even to sit in a McLaren F1, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari 458 or GT3 Porsche, the chance to jump in a supercar, a race saloon or a classic GT and have a lap of Goodwood is something special, whether or not it leads further. The charity even runs buses to collect invitees. “We’re spreading the net as wide as possible, meeting new faces we want to engage with. The detail work comes after,” says Cameron.

Peter Swete, helming a lovely TR3, is the chap who has gathered the historics in this impressive selection. “All the classics are actively raced,” he tells me. “And I only invite people with an international race licence, people I can trust to drive at eight-tenths – enough to be exciting but not risky. And they have to have passenger belts. In fact some of them fit them just to be here.”

Just turning round I can see an ex-Mike Hawthorn works Aston DB2, four vintage Bentleys, William Medcalf’s racing Mini, five McLarens, Mustangs, E-types… A young dad playing with his race suit-clad son turns to say hello. “I’m just here to support the wife,” he grins. Le Mans driver Marino Franchitti, doing the domestic while Mrs F, Holly Mason, amazes her passenger with just how fast a pink A35 can corner.

I’m impressed that all these folk have given up their time for this, but the grins and whoops from the returning passengers have got to be a pretty good reward. For some of those it’s a day’s excitement; for others, a much-needed hint of a possible future. MM runs, or feeds, a huge range of vocational training (including classic vehicle restoration) as well as the competition angles, and today the Goodwood paddock is network central. 

Cameron is keen to point out that they work alongside many other military charities and agencies, including Help for Heroes and the MoD’s various care and resettlement organisations. “We’re one of many cogs. We have a lifetime duty of care to these young men and women. Motor sport can provide that team framework injured soldiers miss, but it’s not sport for sport’s sake. I’ve turned down some very shiny sponsorship offers if they’re not meeting the recovery goals of the guys.”

Race, Retrain, Recover. That’s Mission Motorsport’s mantra. Cameron himself is a certified petrolhead – “when stationed in Germany I instructed at the Nürburgring” – so his direction choice makes sense. Yet he and his team, many of them veterans, do all this without any government funds, which is remarkable. It’s up to James to lead the fund-raising, and at Goodwood he’s cheerfully frank about it: his briefing ends, “For those of you who are fabulously rich – and you know who you are – there’s a shopping list of things we need for our work…” The list runs from £1000 for software to £50,000 for a funded scholarship. I shouldn’t be surprised if someone ticked off one of those boxes before driving away in their supercar.


The case of the 'hot' cylinder

How a well-meant crime has kept a favourite old car up and running for 60 years

I’d like to report a theft. It happened in the 1950s and no one has missed the goods yet, so keep it quiet…

If you saw Brian Moore in the Metallurgique-Maybach storming the hill at Château Impney then you were the unwitting beneficiary of some light-fingered work by a trio of students back in the days when old car owners were merely eccentrics. The massive device, built in 1907 as a 10-litre 60/80 record contender by Metallurgique and after WWI  fitted with a six-cylinder Maybach airship engine, had in the early 1950s been rescued from dereliction by Douglas Fitzpatrick, the flamboyant inhabitant of Sheringham Hall in Norfolk. Fitzpatrick raced and toured extensively in the huge machine, including appearing in the opening sequences of the film Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. There’s footage of him and his mechanic firing the car up on the fascinating britishpathe.com website. (Careful – you’ll be there for hours.)

In 1957 when he took the car to Silverstone, those three students got talking to him. Lamenting that one of the complex four-valve integral-head cylinders had a crack in it, he was amazed when the students told him they knew of a new, unused one. 

Tom Boulton was one of the three, studying mechanical engineering at Imperial College in London. “We’d recognised it because we’d had to study the Maybach cylinder head as it was such a sophisticated piece of casting,” he recalls. “There was a sectioned one and a perfect, apparently unused one in a cabinet which was neither use nor ornament to anyone else. So we told Fitzpatrick we’d liberate it for him.”

A very happy Fitzpatrick invited them to one of the motoring weekends he sometimes hosted, so the three, having decided it was a poor idea to ask permission first, snitched the ancient casting and drove to the Hall in Tom’s MG. After a drive in the vast car there was dinner with well-known collector ‘Sam’ Clutton and motoring writer ‘Bunny’ Tubbs, attended by the butler. Then they piled into Clutton’s Type 46 Bugatti saloon and went to the pub, before a leisurely Sunday with champagne on hand. Fitzpatrick was a generous host.

He was also an avid collector. Before Tom Boulton’s visit, Bill Boddy explored Fitzpatrick’s coachhouse and reported a 1906 Wolseley-Siddeley and 1902 Achilles in the stables before they too went to the pub, in a Phantom III Rolls. Being a devotee of aero-engined machinery like the MM, WB was thrilled to ride in it, touching 97mph and recording an astonishing 0-60mph time of 11.7sec. That was during the Suez crisis and he feared petrol would soon be in short supply. He’d be delighted to know that 59 years on, helped by the mildly nefarious actions of Tom Boulton and his mates, the massive beast is still active. As long as Imperial College doesn’t ask for its cylinder back.