Ferrari fascination

A look at David Clarke and his Graypaul Motors Ltd.

David Clarke is one of those fortunate motoring enthusiasts who has successfully moulded his hobby into a commercial enterprise with an enviable, world-wide reputation. What started off as a little bit of self-indulgence with the purchase of a 1951 Ferrari 212 Export in 1960 led to a consuming passion for Ferraris, the assembly of his own outstanding Ferrari collection and, ultimately, the formation of Graypaul Motors Ltd., certainly Britain’s and possibly the world’s leading Ferrari restoration, spares and service centre.

Although Clarke is Deputy Chairman of the family company, Clarke’s Boxes Ltd., in Leicester, the largest manufacturers of cardboard boxes in Europe, Graypaul Motors is far front an amusing sideline for him. With most routine responsibilities in Clarke’s Boxes delegated to two able Managing Directors (though a “bleeper” keeps him in constant touch) he is able to devote much of his considerable energy, expertise and a mind packed with Ferrari knowledge into controlling and advancing Graypaul’s activities.

If success can be measured in numbers of this and that, then a total of 41 Ferraris, from all over the world, scattered impressively around Graypaul’s newly acquired 20,000 sq. ft. premises on Clarke’s Boxes territory at Halstead Road, Mountsorrel, near Loughborough (Leicester 374051) when I last visited Clarke must be some indication of customer confidence. The service is backed up by the finest stock of spares for out-of-production Ferraris: £200,000 worth of them dating back to the first Ferraris of 1947, with particular concentration on that halcyon decade of the ’60s, when the Commendatore came up with models like the 250s, 330s and 275s.

Looking back with David Clarke

Ex-racing driver, ex-film producer, Clarke’s own career is well-worth exploration before I look more closely at Graypaul’s activities.

Weaned on sports cars by a father who ran Brooklands Delages and early Jaguars, David Clarke learned to drive at 13 and avoided university specifically to earn enough money to buy a racing car. It came when he was twenty: a JAP-engibed Cooper 500 in which he had his first race in the Goodwood International Trophy for Formula Three cars at Whitsun, 1950. In his second race, at Blandford on Whit Monday, he crashed when the modified brake pedal broke off.

After some success with the Mk IV Cooper he changed it for a Mk V the following season. Clarke recalls his acquisition of a Norton 500 motorcycle from Leeds, which promply found itself less engine and gearbox. These were modified by Maurice Cann of Leicester before installation in the Cooper. In spite of Cann insisting on a low-compression ratio for reliability, Clarke broke the 500 lap record at Goodwood first time out. Ruefully Clarke admits the record didn’t stand for long: in the final, in which Clarke finished third, it fell to Stirling Moss in his new Kieft. A string of seconds and thirds followed, the Cann engine’s reliability scoring where the faster, fragile engines exploded – frequently.

But those 500s were pretty abominable things to drive, he remembers, temperamental and with peculiar handling characteristics which demanded an equally peculiar driving style, too much indulgence in which could upset one’s driving style in other cats. So in common with most of the prominent 500 drivers, he packed it in.

His new plans were to run his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, acquired from his friend Bob Gerard in mid ’51, in Goodwood “5 lappers” and Silverstone sports car races; just for fun. Instead he found himself co-driving in long distance sports car racing with Gerard in the latter’s famous Le Mans Replica, HBC 1. The Goodwood Nine Hours, Le Mans, the Tourist Trophy, the British Empire Trophy and other long distance races at home and abroad with Gerard in the Frazer Nash were found to be much more rewarding and successful than driving the temperamental 500s. Variety came for Clarke in the 1953 season when, from his base at Gerard’s garage, he raced Gerard’s ERAs, Cooper-Bristol, “occasionally his wretched son thing,” and both his (registered GUT 497) and Gerard’s Le Mans Replicas.

Clarke had shown well enough to be asked to have a test drive by “Lofty” England, who was choosing works drivers for the 1954 Le Mans D-types. Instead, he chose to retire from racing because of business commitments which would have prevented him being a full-time racing driver, “and I don’t like doing things by halves I didn’t want to mess around as an amateur.”

The miserable 1953 Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, in which he and Gerard took the Frazer Nash to seventh overall and second in class behind the similar car of Wharton and Robb, is remembered as the worst and most gruelling race he ever drove. “Because of the appalling Dundrod bumps Gerard’s Frazer Nash felt about the hardest suspended car I had ever driven, I had ‘stitch’ after two laps, the steering was diabolically heavy, We burst an oil pipe, had terrible tyre troubles on the new granite chipped surface, as did everybody else, and the start was delayed by fog, which never cleared properly.”

The 1952 Prix de Monaco wins the accolade as his most rewarding race, which he contested with his own Frazer Nash as a member of the works team. Stiff opposition, came from three works Ferraris, three works Lancias, several Gordinis, Oscas and others. After running like a dream for 25 laps, severe oil surge began to deprive Clarke’s Bristol engine of all pressure whenever he lifted the throttle, an old Nash fault which was never really solved. “We must have over-baffled the sump so that oil couldn’t return to it. I spent a very hectic race feathering the car round corners, accelerating when the pressure came back, which was no joke with Ferraris all around.” Sensible driving against such adversity gained him the satisfaction of fifth overall and an engine which remained in perfect condition.

With his racing career finished, Clarke decided on something more adventurous than a nine to five job in the family business. He chose film making, worked his way through all the essential jobs up to that of producer and then set up his own company making motor racing, industrial, public relations, staff training and advertising films, coupled with responsibility for BBC and ITV newsreel coverage throughout the Midlands. He graduated to 35 mm. cinema feature filming, which included shooting all the action at Le Mans in 1960 for the film The Green Helmet, on an MGM commission. Almost coincidentally, the death of his uncle obliged him to rejoin the family business, the end of his film making.

To commiserate with himself for a return to a more ordered life, Clarke invested in the Ferrari 212 Export, with Vignale drophead coupe body, in late 1960 (“sold to me misleadingly as a 1954 car, but it turned out to be a 1951 car and worth more money!”). Helped by his old racing mechanic, Charles Jayes still Clarke’s Boxes Chief Engineer on cars and transport Clarke rebuilt the 212 in two years’ spare time: “We had a lot of aggravation, but persevered and kept repeating jobs until we got it right. A marvellous basis for Graypaul Motors, because we found everything out the hard way.” He has the 212 in his six-car Ferrari collection to this day.

In the meantime Clarke had struck up a friendship with Col. Ronnie Hoare, who had started Maranello Concessionaires to take over the Ferrari concession from the late Mike Hawthorn. A ride with Hoare in 1961 in his demonstration 250GT SWB Berlinetta sold him on the car, which he bought with 5,000 miles on the clock and traded 15,000 miles later in 1963 for a beautiful, new 250 Lusso. Again the Lusso has remained in Clarke’s hands and is one of the finest extant, with very few miles on the odometer.

A 275 LM which was coveted and almost bought from Ron Fry in 1966 turned out to be a disappointment, because it did not make the ideal road car he had expected. Instead, that same year came one of his most exciting acquisitions, another racing car which sounds even more unlikely a candidate for road use, but has turned out to be one of the world’s ultimate: a 365 P2/3, the Maranello Concessionaires car run unsuccessfully at Le Mans in ’66 by Piper/Attwood. This 4.4-litre, mid-engined car had been completely rebuilt at the Ferrari factory after Le Mans. Talking about its purchase, Clarke says, “I went to Modena with Ronnie Hoare, tried it on the the Autodrome, fell in love and bought it.

“In those days you could buy any sort of Ferrari, particularly racing ones, for next to nothing – nobody wanted them. I had many arguments with people, including Ronnie Hoare, who told me I was mad to buy older racing Ferraris because they would never be worth any money. I think Ronnie would agree with me now that we should have bought more!”

Registered 4PH, fitted with “mufflers”, a speedometer, softer plugs and suspension modifications to eradicate some of the steering kick-back, the 85 m.p.h. P2/3 transpired to be a wonderful road car, quite well mannered. Needless to say, it remains in the collection and indeed Clarke had driven this open car on the winter roads just a few days before my last visit.

Originally built as a 3.3-litre, 4-cam P2 factory team car in 1965, it was converted to a 4.4-litre 2-cam in time for Graham Hill/Jackie Stewart to drive it under the Maranello Concessionaires banner in the Nurburgring 1000 Kms. They retired. At Le Mans in 1965 Piper/Bonnier retired it from second place with a burnt exhaust manifold. Surtees/Parkes put it in the lead of the Rheims 12 hour race, but lost 45 minutes when a rocker broke and finished second after breaking the lap record. Parkes placed it second again in the Austrian GP for sports cars and ran it in short screen form in the Brands Hatch Guards Trophy race. In 1966 it ran only at Le Mans with P3 modifications, before Clarke bought it.

Meanwhile Clarke had acquired a 250 GTE 2 +2 in shocking condition and learnt a lot more rebuilding it to the immaculate state in which he owns it still. As if that wasn’t enough to work on, he found a 1962 25oGTO gathering muck and corrosion in a shed on an Essex farm. That too was rebuilt and retained. The 1962 Earls Court Show car, later raced and hill climbed by Ron Fry, it has no International history, but Clarke considers it an excellent car for road and track.

Just one more Ferrari was to be added to the permanent collection, “the ultimate in Ferraris anybody could have,” the one which will make most readers reach deepest into their pits of envy. At the suggestion of Mike Parkes, following Enzo Ferrari’s personal request to make sure it went to a good home, Clarke “went into hock for a few years” in 1969 to buy the only 330 P4 out of the three built to remain in original trim. The first P4 built, in late ’66, its credits during its one season of racing in 1967 are a legend: first at Daytona with Amon and Bandini; first at Monza, again with Amon and Bandini; third at Le Mans with Mairesse and ‘Beurlys’, fifth in the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch with Scarfiotti and Sutcliffe. It was instrumental too in winning the World Championship for Ferrari. At the end of the season Clarke’s car was pensioned off, while the other two were converted for Can-Am with 4.2-litre engines and special lightweight bodies. Clarke’s remains absolutely original and immaculate, complete with its Daytona competition number, 23.

With 450 b.h.p. and a potential 198 m.p.h. on tap from the mid-mounted 4-litre, 4-cant, three-valves-per-cylinder, fuel-injected V12, the P4 is hardly suitable for the road. Every now and again Clarke gives it an outing on private test days at Silverstone to keep the cobwebs out of him and it.

Graypaul Motors Ltd.

Graypaul Motors Ltd. wasn’t so much planned as forced into being by demand of the Ferrari-owning public. Clarke’s infatuation with the marque had led him to write several magazine articles on various models, which resulted in readers inundating him with requests for advice. From asking and getting advice, owners turned to asking for physical assistance with their cars. There was only one answer: Clarke rented a four-car garage next to Clarke’s Boxes head office at Mountsorrel and employed a mechanic, Robert Houghton, who left Clarke only recently to go into partnership with Vic Norman, whose Ferrari 250GT the first car restored by Graypaul I described in last November’s issue of Motor Sport.

Around this time, Clarke began to amass a collection of spare parts, realising that they were becoming rarer and that the value of early Ferraris would be enhanced if parts were available. A lucky break came when Maranello Concessionaires offered him the chance to purchase their entire stock of 250 and 330 spares: he now has Maranello’s entire pre-1971 spares stock, so Graypaul Motors is inarguably the place to go to for spares for earlier Ferraris.

Soon after Graypaul Motors Ltd. (the name of an existing company taken for convenience of registration) was founded in 1971, its scope spread from servicing to rebuilding engines, gearboxes, axles and finally full restorations. To cover the probability that he would have to go into the business of manufacturing parts, Clarke employed Geoff Hales, a skilled engineer, as parts manager, which he is still. So the business expanded, moved to 7,000 sq. ft. premises on the Clarke’s Boxes factory site at Shepshed in ’73, which Clarke expected to be adequate for five years, but by the end of last year he had been forced to seek the extra space of the new Mountsorrel site.

My first introduction to Graypaul came at the Shepshed premises, where I was taken in his Porsche by David Mills, of the London-based Planners International Ltd. PR company who act for Graypaul. Porsche or not, Mills too is something of a Ferrari fanatic, hence the association, and currently has a 365GTC. Ferrari allure is contagious, as I found from that first visit: surrounded then in a confined space by 30 Ferraris, including 512s, P3s, the P4, GTOs, and other rarities and overwhelmed by Clarke’s knowledge of, and devotion to, the marque. I was reminded that the world didn’t end with Jaguars. I wonder how many Jaguar collectors like myself, would transfer or extend allegiance to the Prancing Horse if prices weren’t so prohibitive?

And those current prices really are prohibitive to all but the fortunate few: a really good 250GTO commands round about the £40,000 mark and goodness knows the value of P cars. It is probably fair to say that Graypaul’s comprehensive spares service has helped to boost values to such unfortunately dizzy heights: without such a service the cars would be liabilities. Clarke supplies spares to 21 countries across the world on virtually a mail order business. Only one other company, in the States, comes near as a competitor, and some of its parts are bought from Graypaul in any cast.

Lights and instruments are two of the most difficult things to match on early Ferraris, no two of which seem to be identical. Early zsos, for example, used several different kindS of rear lights, and lenses for them have been unavailable for years. When exact matches are impossible, the nearest equivalent is substituted. Most k.p.h, and m.p.h. standard speedometers and other instruments are stocked, but racing instruments are like gold. With luck, most can be renovated. Fortunately a large stock of Carello head and sidelamps has been acquired and recently a batch ‘Of the rare, original Marchal auxiliary lamps was found in Scandinavia.

One way to overcome unavailability of parts is to have new ones made to original specification, a costly business which demands quantity production and layout of capital. Of necessity, Clarke has done this in respect of early crown wheels and pinions (later ones are available off the shelf at the price of five years ago), ZF inner and outer star wheels, road and competition exhausts in mild or stainless steel, coil springs, two-eared wheel “spinners” (sold to Maserati owners too, in a version without the Prancing Horse insignia, of course), valves, coil and hairpin valve springs, gaskets, even exact replica tool bags and rubber extrusions for seals and trim.

Windscreens have been made for most models and sell for less than the original Maranello articles. Graypaul make their own mouldings for Perspex fairings and rear screens. Pistons come from Cosworth, from a Birmingham firm or even from Argentina. Vandervell supply bearings in standard and undersize; interestingly, and conveniently, some models from 1950 to 1966 share the same big end shells. Exhaust manifolds and fuel tanks are stocked, original wheels for models as far back as the mid ’50s are available and Graypaul boast the last remaining batch of ZF steering boxes in high, medium or low ratio varieties. “Never throw anything away” is a sensible Clarke motto, for even if it can’t be used again it might be useful as a pattern in the future.

Clarke finds membership of the Production Engineering Research Association to be beneficial. Its research facilities, particularly in metallurgy, are invaluable and the organisation is even prepared to make one-off parts.

Ferrari disc brakes are a well-known Achilles heel and cause a lot of headaches, particularly on 250s. Graypaul have liaised with Lockheed to develop a servo and master cylinder kit to improve the braking.

Examples of Graypaul’s restoration work I have seen have been simply magnificent. Norman’s 250GT, which I have driven, is a prime example. On my Shepshed visit, JCB’s 1962 GTO and a P3 were other superb tributes. The GTO, which had been crashed and chopped around, was rebodied from scratch by Graypaul in a year’s long rebuild, which involved the manufacture of 85 body parts. A Testa Rossa, which had been just a shell in the paint shop at Shepshed, had matured into a lovely, complete car, about to go home to Italy, when I was at Mountsorrel. The manufacture of new front pontoon wings and reshaping of the non-original nose had been part of the total restoration; filling and painting alone had taken three weeks, which is an indication of the quality that justifies Graypaul Ferrari repainting charges of anything up to £2,000: Jim Mason is in charge of the paint shop.

By far the most comprehensive rebuild carried out by Graypaul when completed will be that of Robs Lamplough’s 1962 250GTO. One-time owner Ulf Norindcr commissioned a special Bizzarini-like body on the car from Drogo of Modena in 1964. After Lamplough acquired it, it suffered a massive “shunt” on the road, which severely damaged the chassis and wrecked the body. Graypaul are reconstructing a standard GTO body on the chassis, which is being straightened on the jig at Maranello Concessionaires, where Graypaul send all bent chassis.

With my Alfa Spider tucked away for the winter I travelled up to Mountsorrel in the little Mazda Hatchback, in convoy with Nick Mason’s splendid 250GTO (registered 250 GTO, too), David Mills in its passenger seat. The little Mazda strove to keep the glorious sight and sound (and navigation) of the GTO in sight, indeed an almost unique sight in Britain, we thought. A walk around Graypaul shattered the effect: no less than four GTOs were there before Mason’s (not including the bits of Lamplough’s car), out of the 38 built. Two of them were in the body shop, run by Ron Barker, their aluminium, slightly non-original bodies stripped ready for restoration. One of them was found recently in a barn in Germany; when Graypaul stripped the engine, they found that a squirrel had contrived to pack it full of acorns!

As a great fan of 250GTs since driving Norman’s car, one of the saddest sights I have seen. On both visits to Graypaul has been Moss’s 1960 TT-winning car, the right-hand-drive Rob Walker car which was crashed by Kerrison in the ’61 TT (against Surtces’ GTO and Clarke’s DB4 Zagato, already crashed) and subsequently clothed in what I consider a hideous Drogo body. Properly rebodied this famous car could be the most desirable 250GT of all.

Since Houghton left Graypaul, engine and gearbox building has been carried out by Geoff Smith, in a pristine new engine shop at Mountsorrel which boasts £2,000-worth of special Ferrari tools pegged to one wall. Smith showed me a 4.1 Lampredi-designed V12, probably from a 340 MM sports car. This engine is destined for Gonzales’ 1951 4 1/2-litre unblown GP car, now owned by a Dutchman. Most of the bits were missing when it arrived at Graypaul; a water pump was traced abroad and an oil pump made from scratch. This engine’s crankshaft was all right, but all is not lost even when these complicated V12 cranks are scrapped: Clarke has new ones made by the skilful Gordon Allen in Slough. Allen made the replacement crankshaft for Robert Horne’s Ferrari 512; with which Horne and Derek Bell challenged for the British Land Speed Record last year. Incidentally, the battle for the Record for conventionally-driven cars is hotting up, with both Horne and the owner of a Porsche 917 intending to make attempts this year. Barrie Bowles has already broken the outright record with a rocketpowered dragster. Servicing of both old and modern Ferraris is becoming a greater part of Graypaul’s work since the move to Mountsorrel’s better facilities,

Servicing of both old and modern Ferraris is becoming a greater part of Graypauls work since the move to Mountsorrel’s better facilities where car’s are arranged conveniently in echelon fashion either side of a long, central work bench and staff has been increased from 12 to 19. Graypaul servicing, commanded by Dick Clarson, is not cheap: Clarke reckons his services take twice as long as a conventional Ferrari service because of the thoroughness and the concentration on preventive maintenance, a money-saver in the long run. It is a service designed by a fastidious man for fastidious customers, who don’t mind paying. Customers are encouraged to talk over their problems with the man who will do the work. Clarke claims that a customer’s first Graypaul service might be very expensive indeed, “because 50 per cent of the account might have gone correcting other people’s mistakes before we can start moving on to the specialised stuff. If customers will be guided by us and bring the cars back regularly for preventive maintenance, then servicing won’t be such an expensive feature.”

The most disastrous problem which regular preventive maintenance can avoid is worn out tappet adjusting pads, which should be checked frequently for wear. Eventually the pads will scuff, the nose of the cam go through the hardening on the pad and within 50 to 60 miles of high revs the nose will have been taken of the cam. A Ferrari camshaft costs on average £120 plus £80 labour and VAT to replace and many Ferraris have four cams… Clarke has had cars come in with two out of four cams worn out for this reason.

Clutches are a sensitive item on later midengined Ferrari road cars and Clarke advises that they should be treated with respect and regularly adjusted. If neglect allows a worn clutch to damage the flywheel the repair will be very expensive. That oil should he changed regularly in these complex engines is another piece of advice.

Race preparation of Ferraris is another Graypaul speciality and this can be extended into a full racing service, as part of which Graypaul mechanics take the car to the circuit.

Clarke keeps full records of every car Graypaul work upon, retaining them even if his customer sells the car. This can be invaluable to subsequent or prospective owners, for production of the chassis number to Clarke will elicit all details of previous work carried out by Graypaul. This can Protect a prospective customer from the type of seller who advertises his Ferrari as “serviced by Graypaul”, when he merely had new bumpers fitted fours years ago or, since the last proper Service, has covered 100,000 miles and rolled the car.

It seems ironic that, surrounded by all these Ferraris and with so many of his own, Clarke uses an Alfetta 1.8 as normal transport: “With current speed limits I’m not too keen on running a Ferrari on the road regularly. They entice me to gamble my licence every time I take one out,” —C.R.