From the archives with Doug Nye

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Cadging for cash

The GP giant that refused to race for peanuts – and the way F1 finances have soared…

On March 1, 1956, John Morgan – who was both General Secretary of the British Automobile Racing Club and proprietor of The Steering Wheel Club in London, wrote to ‘David York’ [sic – actually Yorke] at Vandervell Products, Acton – David being industrialist Tony Vandervell’s manager of what would become the Vanwall racing team.

Morgan was concerned about potential Vanwall entries for the BARC’s forthcoming race meetings at Goodwood on Easter Monday and 19 days later at Aintree. He wrote: “Confirming my telephone call I am anxious to have things definitely fixed up for these two meetings, which are rapidly approaching. We need to make early announcements of entries in order to derive some small benefit of the publicity attached thereto, this being the most important part of the proceedings.

“As I said, we are counting upon having two of your cars at each of these meetings, which, by the way, are on the full international list. I am enclosing Goodwood regulations and will send on the forms for Aintree later on. Meantime, I would much appreciate some definite news…”.

Marion Moore, Vandervell’s long-serving (and long-suffering) secretary (who would eventually become his wife) responded on March 2 – next day, demonstrating how well the Post Office mail system used to work. “Dear Mr Morgan, I have been asked by Mr Yorke to thank you for your letter of the 1st instant regarding the Goodwood and Aintree Meetings, and to point out that the Goodwood Regulations you enclosed were in connection with the Members’ Meeting. Would you, therefore, kindly send us the correct regulations…”

On March 5 John Morgan’s secretary – and wife – Hayesie replied to Miss Moore: “What with spelling Mr Yorke’s name incorrectly and sending the wrong set of regulations I excelled myself on Friday. I hope you will put it down to being the end of a busy week, and I enclose the regulations and entry forms for Easter Monday”.

That same afternoon, ‘The Old Man’ himself – Tony Vandervell – dictated to Miss Moore a longer letter for John Morgan. He said: “I understand David Yorke has been talking to you about starting money and that you would be prepared to offer us £350 a car. You also mentioned you were paying the foreigners travelling money, and according to their arrangements this does not come into the main figure but is quite a separate matter.

“Now you will appreciate that both my drivers (Schell and Trintignant) drive for Ferrari and Maserati in sports cars, and if you offer those firms more money than you offer these drivers when driving for me there is going to be plenty of trouble in store for me.

“When we make arrangements with foreign clubs we have never been able to sell the story of travelling money, and frankly I think it is very bad policy to start paying the foreigners in a different way from how they pay our people. There is enough ‘argy-bargy’ going on regarding the starting money business anyway, without making further loopholes easy.

“I wish you would consider this matter very carefully as I think a lot of friction could be avoided if we work together. It is just no use my telling the drivers they are getting one figure when they have means of finding out what is actually paid to other foreign competitors… Yours Sincerely, G A Vandervell.”

That same day, Vandervell dictated another letter to Miss Moore – this one addressed to Omer Orsi at Maserati in Italy: “Dear Sig Orsi, We understand that you are having negotiations with the British Automobile Racing Club regarding sending some of your cars to their Goodwood and Aintree meetings on the 2nd and 21st of April respectively.

“We hear that apart from starting money some transportation expenses are being paid by the Club. I would appreciate it if you could let me know in confidence if you are negotiating to send some cars to these two meetings, how much starting money and transportation expenses are you being offered? Kind regards…”

Two days later, both John Morgan and Omer Orsi replied to Vandervell – the BARC secretary writing: “Dear Mr Vandervell – I can assure you that the vexed question of starting money is already causing me anxiety…we expect to pay a bit more for people coming over from the continent when they have to bring lorries, personnel and equipment long distances. We pay the entrant in all cases an inclusive figure and we have no idea how it is allocated. That is to say we have no direct dealings with the drivers.

“Our problems in the Club are these:

(i) We have no outside sponsorship

(ii) We have to work on a limited budget allowed by the track proprietors

(ii) We have to look after as many British competitors as we can apart from the leading teams, such as
your own.

(iii) In order to provide the best possible spectacle from the public point of view we have to provide, if we possibly can, the spice of foreign competition.

“When I was speaking to Mr Yorke I believe I said you would presumably not come for less than £300. I would be pleased if you could come for £300 per car, but on the other hand to save a lot of bartering and as we want your entries I hope you will agree to £700 for two machines at Goodwood on Easter Monday. It is possible that I could squeeze just a bit more for Aintree. Naturally in order to have some benefit from the publicity I would much like to have the entries confirmed in a day or two.” He added, rather pathetically: “At the time of writing I have not been able to fix anyone from Italy at all, but have completed arrangements with BRM and Connaught, two cars each…”.

Simultaneously, Omer Orsi’s response to Vandervell’s request for some background intelligence was despatched from Modena. It read: “Replying to yours of the 5th inst, we are informing you in confidence that we have received an offer for our participation at Goodwood and Aintree of £750 per racing car, this being inclusive of all transport costs. Distinti saluti – Maserati”.

March 12 – Vandervell to Morgan: “Thank you for your letter of the 7th Instant and for the Goodwood entry forms.

“Having taken all the things into consideration, we think it would be far better if we do not come to Goodwood but reserve our efforts for Aintree – Yours sincerely – G A Vandervell”.

John Morgan did not abandon the chase: “Dear Mr Vandervell – Your letter of March 12th is rather a shock and I do urge you to change your mind about Goodwood.

“Quite honestly we are absolutely depending upon your entry in order to provide some spice for the main race and if you are sticking at the question of money I will do all I can to meet your reasonable demands.

“At the moment we have entries for: 2 BRMs, 2 Connaughts, Sidney Greene’s Maserati – and I am working hard on the job of getting over at least one works Maserati.

“A great deal of interest in this 75-mile race is going to melt away if we cannot have at least one Vanwall and I am hoping you are going to agree that we do owe it to the Goodwood public to have your represented [sic]. You will remember we unfortunately had to disappoint them with your entry last year.

“My Club Committee would, I know, ask me to use all persuasive efforts to get you along, so I do hope you will not disappoint us on this occasion and send at least one car. Upon receipt of your telephone call I will be happy to come along and discuss matters with you…”.

Tough old Vandervell did not relent. Two days after Easter Monday Goodwood had run – without Vanwall – John Morgan sent him a telegram: “Urgently require to know definitely whether we may receive your entry Aintree International 200 miles race Formula 1 April 21st STOP invite two cars Schell and Trintignant STOP Please state terms and send reply by return if possible – Morgan – British Automobile Racing Club.” Next day Vandervell matched the drama by telegramming back “Entry of one Vanwall Aintree Schell driving dependent on your best offer as he is negotiating for Mille Miglia Trintignant already committed Mille Miglia – Vandervell.” 

It appears that John Morgan subsequently agreed terms in a telephone call with David Yorke, and two entries were made for Aintree, one Vanwall for Schell, the other driver ‘To Be Nominated’. But in fact no Vanwalls would be forthcoming for the BARC’s early-season non-championship Formula 1 races. The Glover Trophy was run with only 12 starters, but Maserati sent its latest fuel-injected 250F for Moss and he duly won from Roy Salvadori in Syd Greene’s Gilbey Engineering-entered sister car, the two 250Fs leading home three Connaughts, Robert Manzon’s voluptuously-bodied straight-eight works Gordini Type 32 and French veteran Louis Rosier’s private 250F. Mike Hawthorn had an almighty accident, rolling his BRM Type 25 but miraculously escaping almost unhurt, while his team-mate Tony Brooks and Ken Wharton in a Ferrari both retired early. Overall, John Morgan and the BARC had managed to salvage a decent F1 race from what looked like a looming shipwreck.

At Aintree, the following ‘200’ featured 13 cars on the starting grid – Moss winning again – this time in his private Maserati – with Tony Brooks a heartening second for BRM – ahead of the private 250Fs of Australian newcomer Jack Brabham, and the veteran Rosier.

Comparing start money offers then with 2017 sterling values – Morgan’s offer of £350 per car in 1956 would represent just under £8300 per car today. In contrast 2016’s highest-earning British-based Formula 1 team – Mercedes-Benz – was expected to gross £171 million through the season. Divided by 21 races, two-cars each time, 42 starts – that’s £4,071,428 per start – admittedly with all sponsorship, prize and bonus monies presumably factored-in. Still – a very, very long way from eight grand per start, take it or leave it.

Indeed, it is barely believable that we are talking here of a corresponding professional sports activity 1956–2016. Poor old Tony Vandervell was plainly yet another of our great pioneers who simply paid for having been born too early… He did not live long enough for it to trouble him, but there is no doubt that his motor racing obsession – which would finally win the inaugural Formula 1 world championship for constructors for his country in 1958 – never returned a profit. Times do change…

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