Flamin' deflation

Peter bryant reminds us why finishing a Grand Prix is only half the battle

Erstwhile Shadow designer Peter Bryant is a fount of fascinating tales, and fondly recalls his days as a Taylor & Crawley Lotus mechanic at the Nürburgring 1000km in 1960, a race won by Stirling Moss and Dan Gurney in a Camoradi Birdcage Maserati.

“On the journey home we didn’t make very good speed up the mountain road towards Blankenburg and, as we came down the other side considerably faster, I had the brakes on almost continuously. My first warning of impending doom was frantic banging on the bulkhead behind from ‘Mahogany Boots’ Malone (so called when he repaired a hole in his shoe by cutting and shaping a piece of plywood). The bus was filling up with choking smoke – to my horror, I saw the left rear wheel arch on fire!

“We jumped out and I saw a little stream alongside the road. There seemed to be a sort of well, where someone had put a 55-gallon barrel into the ground as a catch basin. We grabbed a bucket each and ran to the well. I pushed mine under the water and Mahogany pushed his past mine – and let it sink. I threw my water over the fire, expecting Mahogany to be right with me, then ran to refill my bucket.

“As I got there, Mahogany surfaced from beneath the water! It turned out there were three 55-gallon drums with the ends removed. Mahogany had jumped in to retrieve the bucket and had sunk several feet before he hit the bottom and could push himself up again. I told him not to go swimming while we were working.

“The outside tyre had gone flat and caught fire from the overheated brakes, and that had set fire to the wooden frame of the wheel arch. We could have lost three cars and the bus.

“After we had calmed down, we fitted the spare wheel but noticed that the inner wheel and tyre of the dual rear wheels were severely damaged. Between us, we barely had enough for the fuel to get home. I figured we had to stay well below 30mph to avoid tyre problems, and we set out again.

“We eventually got to the Jabbeke highway that ran from Brussels to Ostende when Mahogany was banging on the bulkhead again. We had two flat tyres on the right rear. We sawed off both tyres, removed the outer left rear, put it on the outer right rear, and used the two empty rims as spacers. It took three hours to get rolling again.

“We crept exhausted into Ostende at about 4am. I parked outside an all-night cafe and went in for coffee and a large cognac. Mahogany went to sleep in the bus. Some guy decided to see what he could steal from the bus. Mahogany was 6ft 2in tall and now looked like a madman, with a dirty face and clothes, dark rings around his eyes and wild hair. The guy screamed at the sight of him and ran away.

“We drove off at Dover as slowly as we could but as we started up the London road at 8mph, the right front tyre blew. That was it! I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I found a phone box and left a message for the senior Mr Taylor [team owner Mike was in Monaco].

“My message said, ‘We’ve had to park the bus in a layby on the side of the Dover-London road about 10 miles from the port. We have no money, and the bus has blown right front and two blown rear tyres. The keys are hidden in the left rear tyre well. Please have your people take care of the bus.’ We hitched a lift to London on a Guinness delivery truck.”

Peter Bryant cut his F1 teeth as a fabricator for Lotus before becoming one of the sport’s top mechanics. He later moved to the US where he made a name for himself as a designer of Can-Am cars. This story, and many more, feature in ‘Can-Am Challenger’, reviewed on page 119.