Looking Back with Bruce Halford
WHEN CONSIDERING the astronomic sums of money which several current Grand Prix teams state is necessary to maintain and operate their cars throughout a full Formula One season it becomes quickly evident just why there are very few privateers around trying to race in this exalted category. If they do try to compete, it is frequently with outdated and uncompetitive cars. The odds are that they will become discouraged easily and give the whole project up as they are unlikely to qualify, to gain places on the Grand Prix starting grids with the current qualifying restrictions and limits on the numbers of cars allowed onto various circuits. These days the privateer who wishes to go professional racing will probably end up in Formula Two, 2-litre sports cars or perhaps Formula Three, these categories at least still offering him a wide variety of races on some fascinating European circuits which Formula One competitors have long forsaken.
Bearing this in mind it is hard to believe that only twenty years ago there were more non-Championship Formula One events than there were Grandes Epreuves dotted all over the Continent. A private entrant, running a Maserati 250F, could just about make ends meet on a frugal budget roaming round from Albi„ Caen and Bordeaux to Pescara, Naples and Siracusa, for there was decent starting money at many of these events and Officine Maserati maintained a “customer” department which would maintain private owners’ cars throughout the year. One such enthusiastic operator was Bruce Halford who raced his own Maserati 250F in Europe from 1956 to 1958, staying on the Continent for much of the year, and we recently paid a visit to his Torquay home to talk with him about those “nomadic” years and the rest of his career which included driving a Formula Two Lotus 16 and a place in the works Lister-Jaguar team between 1958 and his retirement in 1962.
The Halfords have owned an hotel business in Torquay since the immediate post-war years and Bruce was already a director of this family concern by the time he made his debut on the circuits during 1954. His first car was a Riley TT Sprite, very similar to that in which Mike Hawthorn used to make his name in Goodwood Club races a few seasons earlier— “I’m assured it was the ex-Percy McClure works car which later passed on to Reg Parnell and Nancy Binns before I took it over, but I’ve never had any documented proof. Its greatest feat was lapping Castle Combe in 1 min. 28.6 sec., 3.4 sec. faster than Mike Hawthorn’s best in his Riley.” Much of Halford’s early racing experience was gained on such defunct circuits as Goodwood and Davidstowe, the latter being a disused RAF airfield deep into Cornwall. It wasn’t long before Halford made the acquaintance of local enthusiast Tommy Kyffin who bought a variety of Cooper-Bristol sports cars and single-seaters with which the Torquay driver “cut his teeth” during the 1954 and 1955 seasons.
But Bruce Halford’s great ambition was to compete in Formula One and, at the start of 1956, he and his father took the ambitious step of purchasing the Maserati 250F (the car which “Dire had driven) from Horace Gould, this being chassis 2504. “I came into Formula One quite quickly,” Bruce Halford told us, “and I must admit that I was given a great deal of assistance from my father. But I paid back every penny of anything he lent me—and that took a long time!” Halford emphasises that he tended to be very independent in his views, something of a “loner” and, while he appreciated the help and encouragement which he received from his family he remained keen to get on with the business of motor racing very much alone and unaided. He recruited Tony Robinson, who’d formerly worked with Stirling Moss and Alf Francis on Moss’ 250F the previous year, to maintain his car but before he could set off on his first “Continental Tour” it was necessary to find some means of transporting the Maserati. The vehicle finally acquired by Halford was an ex-Royal Blue AEC long-distance coach.
Tales concerning Tony Robinson and his escapades with the “Royal Blue” were to provide a great deal of entertainment amongst those Formula One privateers who roamed round Europe for the next three years. “My father arranged its purchase from the local ‘bus company” Bruce told us “and we had the whole thing neatly fitted out inside not only to carry the Maserati, but also for Tony and me to sleep in.” However, original plans to make ‘ the “Royal Blue” Halford’s regular home on wheels all through the summer were thwarted when Halford realised that this would hardly impress the Maserati factory, on whose goodwill and credit he would be relying for the race-to-race maintenance of his car.
With restrictions imposed on the amount of money which could be taken out of Britain at the time, it is clear that Formula One privateers had to maintain their outfits on the income they derived from their racing. Thus it was imperative to start at each race in order to pay the bills which had been incurred in the Maserati customer division for the car’s maintenance the previous week. “If I’d been seen living in the back of a ‘bus,” grinned Halford, “I’m not certain that Maserati would have been very convinced of my creditworthiness. So you see I had to stay in a hotel, because although I couldn’t really afford to I certainly couldn’t afford not to!” As it was, Halford and Tony Robinson had rooms kept in the hospitable Albergo Reale, not far from the Maserati factory in Modena. Other regular habitués of this hostelry included fellow 250F privateer, the burly Bristolian Horace Gould of whom Halford speaks very generously—”He was a good bit older than I was, but we soon became firm friends. He helped me out when I hadn’t got any money and vice versa.” We’re also told that the British contingent ran up terrific debts at the hotel during the course of the season, but the amiable proprietress always seemed to be prepared to lend them more. She ran an impromptu bank from behind the bar where she dispensed money to her impecunious residents, confident in the knowledge that Gould, Halford and the others would always pay it back by the end of the season. Rumour had it at the time that contracted drivers like Schell and Behra, who also stayed at the hotel, entrusted their prize and starting money to her for safe keeping. “I swear some of that money she lent out belonged to people like Behra and Schell,” Halford said with a grin.
But before he vanished to the Continent, Bruce took in some British races. “I started off about as badly as it’s possible to start,” he recalls. The race concerned was the Aintree 200 which also contained the similar 250F of Australian newcomer Jack Brabharn. “I saw one of the tank straps coming loose on Brabham’s car, so I pulled alongside and started waving at him to try and attract his attention. I was so occupied trying to do this that I didn’t notice Country Corner coming up and ran slap into the wall!” Halford was so upset and depressed by this incident, particularly when he had to face his, admittedly sympathetic, father that he retired to the bar of a Liverpool hotel run by an old friend to take liquid solace for much of the following evening!
As a result of this unfortunate incident the Maserati was despatched to the factory for repair but Bruce took in a couple of non-championship Fl races at Oulton Park and Aintree, where he finished first and third respectively, before setting off for the Nurburgring where he had secured an entry in the German Grand Prix. “This proved to be a fiasco, for I spun the car out in the country when I hit a patch of oil, knocking off the exhaust pipe in the process.” But Halford was running in seventh place at the time, and there was no way in which he was about to give up. After all, this was his first Continental Grand Prix with the Maserati. But the exhaust tailpipe had become detached a short way back from the exhaust manifold allowing the gases to blow up into the cockpit, making Halford feel. a little on the groggy side. In fact Bruce wasn’t feeling well at all, the Maserati starting to weave about the track as its driver became drowsy under the effect of the fumes. Meanwhile the race officials, who’d by now been informed that he had been push-started after his spin, were frantically trying to flag the apparently ailing car off the track. Equally determined, Halford was ignoring their pleas for three laps as he was now in fourth place. Bruce pulled into the pits finally to be met by a trade colleague who immediately inquired “How are you ?” Halford replied that he would be all right although he was feeling a bit under the weather. “Well”, said his friend, “for heaven’s sake play it up a bit, you’re in big trouble with the organisers so try and look as though you’re really ill.” Bruce obliged with an impressive virtuoso performance which clearly caught the sympathy of the ferocious officials. He survived to race again, a few Deutschmarks the poorer after he had paid a small fine imposed by the organising club, but disqualified from his hard-earned fourth place.
Immediately after his German ordeal, Halford set out for Caen where he crashed the car into a wall whilst holding third place behind the 250Fs of Salvadori and Schell, so the Royal Blue had to cart back its occupants to Modena pretty promptly in order to prepare for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. “It was really quite amusing,” Halford smiles, “to see team manager Ugolini issuing credit slips for work done in the Maserati factory… and then making sure he collected the amount due from your next lot of starting money at the very next race.” In fact the works did a great deal for their privateers, even running to “entering” Halford’s car as a works machine and transporting it to the circuit concerned in the works transporter just to ensure that he got an entry. Of course, they had got a vested interest; if he didn’t race, he wouldn’t get any starting money and if he didn’t get any starting money then there would not be anything with which to pay the Maserati bills!
Halford’s first European season ended with a retirement in the Italian Grand Prix but this was followed with a couple of “morale boosting” finishes at Brands Hatch (sixth) and Mallory Park (second) before the European season drew to a close. Bruce had competed in a total of nine races during the year, but had already collected enough amusing experiences to fill a book. For 1957 the same 250F was retained, the Royal Blue given a thorough check-over and Tony Robinson was away again as the European season shook itself awake.
The first stop was the Sicilian road circuit at Siracusa—”We reckoned that was a three-day haul from Torquay.” Before anyone thinks that is not a bad average, Halford will be quick to point out “that was driving flat out in shifts, 24 hours a day!” The Royal Blue, complete with Maserati, could only muster a genuine 38 m.p.h. flat out which was rather less than it managed in its hey-day on the London to Exeter express route. There was a notice inside the coach, a legacy from its earlier days, saying “please do not speak to the driver”. Taking it in the spirit intended Halford recalls “When I wanted to give Tony a beer or some cigarettes, I used to ring the bell!”
Engine failure prevented Halford finishing at Siracusa, but despite this problem and subsequent transmission failure at Pau, he managed to secure an entry for the Naples non-championship race where he finished sixth. From there they trailed all the way up to Reims to be rewarded by a distant 11th place, eight laps behind Collins’ winning Lancia-Ferrari and then it was back to Italy for the Grand Prix over the picturesque and daunting 17-mile Pescara road circuit.
“That was one of the most marvellous circuits on which I ever raced,” smiles Bruce, “but such was the cost of running the Maserati that I was a bit reluctant to do much practice round this track. The official minimum required was three laps, and with this giving a total of over fifty miles, I did most of my practising in the Royal Blue!” It could cost up to £1,200 to repair a badly damaged Maserati 250F engine at this time and for this reason Halford seldom risked his over 7,000 r.p.m. “which was pretty frustrating when you think that the works cars were using 8,400 r.p.m. by 1957. At places like Monza I was always being held up on corners by people like Godia and Perdisa, only to be out-run on the straights. It was a ridiculous situation, but there just wasn’t the money available to risk it.” An indication of just what an economically fragile operation Halford undertook is the admission that he lived on salad for most of the 1957 season because he couldn’t afford anything else!
Halford smiles when he recalls that Pescara race—”I was up to a genuine sixth when the gearbox broke”—but it was back to Modena for a strip down before Tony Robinson headed off back to Caen for Halford’s next race. The singlemindedness and ingenuity shown by Halford’s able and trusted mechanic was never more amply demonstrated than during the week prior to the 1957 Caen race. Going over the Mont Genevre from Modena, the Royal Blue’s AEC engine ran a big-end near Briancon. Bruce Halford arrived at Caen direct front Torquay in company with D.S.J. in the MOTOR SPORT Porsche only to find that there was no sign of his car, only a message from Tony Robinson saying that the bus had broken down in Briancon but that he’d managed to find another lorry which was prepared to transport the Maserati all the way to Caen. This bland message concealed some of the most harassed moments in Robinson’s life, for he had to get the Maserati to Caen in order that his employer might race and thus earn some money, but he had to be sure that he negotiated a sufficiently reasonable deal with the lorry owner so as not to leave Halford in debt “up to his ears”.
Tony shopped round and eventually found the owner of a big Berliet lorry who was prepared to do the trip, so the Maserati was loaded on the back and they all set off on Friday evening. By this time it was a question of driving virtually flat-out all the way there, but the driver so frightened Tony by the over-enthusiastic way he applied himself to this record-breaking task that he was eventually persuaded to hand over to his assistant. Unfortunately the co-driver was very young, very inexperienced and very slow, so poor Tony Robinson spent a sleepless night worrying half the night whether they’d ever arrive at Caen at the speed they were going and the other half of the night wondering when the lorry would fly off the road and wreck the whole plot. Practice at Caen was scheduled to take place on Saturday afternoon and it was just before lunch when the big Berliet lorry and its exhausted occupants swung into the paddock to be greeted by a much-relieved Halford who had almost resigned himself to missing this race altogether.
As a reward for his mechanic’s tremendous devotion, Halford finished in an excellent third place at Caen behind Jean Behra’s BRM and Roy Salvadori’s Cooper-Climax, this result assuring him of a place in the German Grand Prix the following weekend. But there was still the problem of getting the 250F to Nurburgring, for there was no time to get back to Briancon and sort out the Royal Blue, so Halford persuaded the lorry driver to take his car as far as the German frontier where Tony Robinson unloaded it, pushed it across into Germany and proceeded to make friends with one of the border guards who put him in touch with a friend who, in turn, brought a Mercedes-Benz lorry out to carry the Maserati on the final leg of its journey to Nurburgring. Halford recalls arriving at the German frontier to find his Maserati standing by the side of the road and Tony sitting on the bank smoking a cigarette—but again everything turned out well with a good 11th place in the German Grand Prix, this being the epic race in which Fangio trounced the works Ferraris.
This drawn out saga was typical of the trials and tribulations facing private Formula One teams in the middle 1950s, experiences which their members shrugged off with a goodnatured grin. Neither Halford nor Tony Robinson were ever put off by these apparent setbacks and Bruce continued into 1958 for a third season with the 250F. He was also invited to join Ivor Bueb in the works Lister Jaguar team, so he had a full schedule of events for most of the summer. In fact it was in 1958 when he competed at Le Mans for only the second time, the 3-litre “ceiling” imposed by the CSI necessitating modifications to the Jaguar competitors’ engines to bring them down to 3-litres. Halford drove with Brian Naylor and, even before they had started, problems loomed on the horizon. “The normal D-types would do about 10 m.p.g.”, recalled Halford, “so we naturally assumed that the 3-litre-engined cars would be more economical. So you can imagine our feelings when we calculated that the thing would only return 7 m.p.g. We had to fit an extra fuel tank in the headrest on the tail which would ensure that we could go the minimum distance between fuel stops and we eventually managed to get up to 4th in class before gearbox trouble cropped up.” In fact the Lister proved reluctant to stay in any gear and it was only after Naylor applied some pretty brutal persuasion out on the circuit that the car was jammed into 3rd gear where it stayed for the rest of the race.
Highlight of Halford’s 1958 Formula One season was another third place in the Caen Grand Prix, this time behind Stirling Moss’ 2.2 Cooper-Climax and Bonnier’s Maserati 250F, but it was by now clear that the car was getting towards the end of its competitive life. At the end of the season Halford therefore sold the car to Ross Jensen, a young New Zealand driver who was also a member of the works Lister team.
Halford stayed in the Lister team at the start of 1959 but had a change of cars for international Formula Two racing. “John Fisher, a friend from Portsmouth, bought one of the 1½-Lotus 16s—the one which was exhibited at the Racing Car Show. It was quite a nice car to drive, but it was so unreliable!” By the end of the 1959 season, Halford’s tally amounted to 18 starts and just one finish!
Two big accidents punctuated this disappointing year. The first was at Monaco “where I was one of just three Formula Two cars to get into the race. The other two were Wolfgang von Trips in the Porsche and Cliff Allison in his Ferrari. Just before the start Huschcke von Hanstein came up to me and asked me to be a little bit wary of Trips because they’d never run the car on full tanks before and were not too sure just how it would behave. Well, we all negotiated the first lap successfully and as I was accelerating up towards St. Devote I became aware of Louis Chiron on the outside of the corner reaching for his flag. I just backed off enough to slow up slightly for the corner and arrived to be faced with Trips sideways across the road, Allison having hit him at the front. I piled in and hit him at the back, wrecking the front of the Lotus, but it was repaired and racing again within two weeks!”
After sharing a works Lister-Jaguar with Ivor Bueb at Le Mans—”we blew up while running fourth”—Halford sustained some unpleasant injuries after a crash at Clermont-Ferrand in the Lotus although he’d managed sufficient laps in Graham Hill’s works car during practice (his own had already lost a wheel!) to convince himself that he was at a significant disadvantage with his private car. “I was thrown out onto the road just after Ivor crashed and we both arrived at the hospital at the same time. I was quickly flown back to Hum from where my father collected me with a mattress in the back of the family estate car.” Bruce was home recovering in Torquay when the shock news of Bueb’s death reached him.
“I’m pretty sure that this was one of the reasons behind Brian Lister withdrawing,” Halford told us, but his cars continued to be competitive in British sports car events and Halford drove them for the remainder of 1959 and through 1960 as well. The car he used in 1960 was the spaceframe Frank Costin bodied Lister which had been bought by Jim Diggory. “Unfortunately this failed scrutineering at its first race so Jim immediately bought an Aston Martin DBR2 which I used for the rest of the season.” This Diggory owned Lister is the car which Halford raced recently in JCB events. “What really killed the Lister was the weight of the engine and gearbox—all I know about mine was that after three laps we didn’t have any brakes left.”
In addition Bruce had a brief, unsuccessful spell with the Diggory-Gwyniad Formula Junior car “which was so low that my bottom was dragging on the ground—literally!”. Then came some drives with Ecurie Ecosse, notably in the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours where he shared a Jaguar D-type with the late Ron Flockhart, and later in the Cooper-Monaco Climax with which he scored several wins. Fisher replaced the Lotus 1& with an F2 Cooper and Bruce was invited to drive the Fl Yeoman Credit Cooper as well. It was in this Cooper-Monaco that Bruce Halford’s racing career effectively came to an end at Le Mans in 1961.
I was sharing the car with Tommy Dixon on this occasion,” Bruce told us thoughtfully. “During one of my stints I came past the pits, swung into the Dunlop curve under the bridge and suddenly realised that I wasn’t going to make it because it had rained at this corner and nowhere else on the track. I didn’t notice it because I was sitting awkwardly behind the full-width screen which the regulations then demanded. Really, it was one hell of an accident. I just relaxed, loosened up and was shot out into the middle of the road on my backside. Mike Parkes was the next man round and I count myself extremely lucky that he didn’t run over me. I’d always been lucky in surviving lurid accidents relatively unhurt— I think it’s all to do with the fact that once I realise the car is out of control, I relax and let it throw me out rather than fight with it. But after this one, I began to think perhaps it’s time to stop.”
In fact that’s where Bruce Halford did stop his motor racing career. What is more he stopped it completely, never attending any more races or reading the racing magazines for over twelve years. On first mention it seems strange that a man clearly so devoted to a sport such is motor racing should be able to tear himself away from it so totally. But Bruce Halford explained to us that he would not have been able to stop had he not been firm with himself and done just that. That’s not to say he hasn’t retained a keen interest in motoring and motor cars though, for his stable currently consists of a brace of Fiat 850s (one a saloon, the other a coupe), an immaculate Aston Martin DB5 and an absolutely concours Ferrari 275GTB four-cam coupe plus the Chevron 138 which Alec Poole once used for rallying. During that twelve years away from motor racing he found plenty of things to occupy his time, for not only is Bruce Halford a highly competent yatchtsman but he also works regularly on the Brixham pilot boat, just down the road from his home!
“I made my first visit to a motor race in 12 years when I went to last year’s International Trophy at Silverstone,” he continues with a grin, “and the moment I saw the JCB event I knew that I was involved again.” From that point onwards the enthusiasm switched on and some outings in his friend Barry Simpson’s familiar Lister-Jaguar prompted him to think about a full season of JCB racing in 1975 if the opportunity arises. Whilst Bruce Halford no longer harbours any aspirations about taking up professional driving, his easy-going and lively outlook makes him keen to get back in the cockpit again. He comes over as a charming individual who thrives on competitive sports and as a man who has enjoyed, and intends to continue enjoying, his time with motoring matters.