30 years on Trevor Taylor reflects contentedly on his life in Jim Clark’s shadow
“Even on the road, I don’t drive quickly, me. I live in Yorkshire and used to pop down to Ledbury to see John Thornburn. John could do it in an hour and half; I did it in two and a half hours. I’d get up early in the morning to miss the traffic and the maximum I do is 60, 65mph. I don’t know why! But I used to be a mad devil…”
The voice hasn’t changed a bit since the sixties, even if the driving style has. Then, Trevor Taylor had a reputation as a flier who was unlucky. Jim Clark’s team-mate. The man whose Lotus always seemed to be the one that went wrong, or to whom the big accidents seemed to happen.
Now, with two grown-up children Dean and Lesley from his first marriage to Audrey, and two more, James (Blue) and Nicky from his second, to Liz, he is happy to reflect on a hectic past while clearly relishing fatherhood second time around. “My eldest’s 34 and my daughter’s 32, but the ones I’ve got now from my second marriage are 11 and eight.” You take an instant liking to Taylor; nothing else is possible. He’s an individual at peace with himself and his racing achievements. An open man, rather like an older version of Russell Spence, a hellraiser now tamed. Talk about his children to him, and his whole face softens immediately. “It makes you think, you know, when they’re in the back of the car. Or if they fall, it’s me who feels it. I’ve always got on with kids, I’m a bit of a trickster with them, you know, we have a laugh and a joke.” He pauses suddenly, frowns. “Is it all right me talking like this?
“The older one is very clever, because my wife’s a school teacher, but the younger one, he’s a real character, very streetwise. When he gets his clothes dirty and she tells him off, he says (and he speaks with his hands): ‘Mummy, what can I do? I’ll have to get my act together!’ Well! I walked out; I couldn’t stop laughing. I see that side of life, me.”
Taylor, the man who is lucky still to be able to see any kind of life at all, walked away from some mighty accidents in his heyday. At the time of our interview, at the Portuguese GP, he nodded towards practising Grand Prix cars, his tone one of open admiration as he asserted: “These lads, they’re brave. I couldn’t do what they do today.”
He sells himself short, of course, because in his day Trevor Taylor did precisely that. He had his moments up on the high wire. Suggest that to him, though, and he is quick to play things down further.
“It worked differently. I was Formula 500 champion, okay? You know, the old Norton engine, double knocker and all. And it sort of worked up from there to where we had a bit of a do in the Formula Junior club and then we went down to the Racing Car Show and Chapman said: ‘Why not come and try one at Goodwood?’ Well, that particular year, 1960, in Formula Junior we paid for the car but had works backing. Jimmy Clark was the official Team Lotus Formula Junior driver. To start with Jimmy had the five-speed gearbox and we only had the four-speed VW unit so he won quite a few races. The first time we had the five-speeder was at Aintree and it made one hell of a lot of difference. I think on the first lap I were four tenths in front, even with Jimmy! If you’ve got the equipment you can do it, and it’s the same today. Exactly the same.
Not surprisingly, Taylor remembers the Scot with fondness after their time together at Lotus. It doesn’t rankle at all that many remember him as ‘Jim Clark’s team-mate’.
“He didn’t have to talk loud or behave like that, because he was such a natural driver. He didn’t have to work like I did. Everything I did, I had to work at. Either you’re born with it, or you have to work at it. I couldn’t compete with him at all.
“At that particular age you had no fear, really. You hadfear, but not to the extent when you thought you were really going to chicken out. It wasn’t until Formula One, when a lot of things broke on my car – gearboxes jammed and suspension broke that I started to think ‘I might not finish this bloody season out.’ “
Trevor stayed lucky, but often only by the grace of God. Nothing illustrates that better than his good fortune at Spa in 1962, when he and Willy Mairesse collided at speed. History frequently paints the erratic Belgian as a wild man other drivers sought to avoid, but Taylor is generous concerning his rival.
“He was a chap that you couldn’t really get close to. He lived in his own sort of world, do or die. He was a good driver, but he wanted to be a champion too quick. That particular race it started off in first practice. I think I was in pole position then, and after second practice I was on the front row, but I was third fastest. It was my first visit at Spa. I liked fast circuits, and after Graham Hill led I passed him and led for about four laps. I was, it might have been, four or five seconds in front and I thought, ‘If I could just maintain this…’ When I went by the pits I saw that they’d gained on me slightly, so next time I was coming into the hairpin and I thought it’s the only place where I can get anything. From the pits, all round the rest of the lap we were in top gear, flat everywhere. I know it sounds silly, but we were. We never changed gear. Other people did, but we didn’t. The Lotus was a good handling car, and we had a five-speed box. From the pits we changed into top just after the esses, all the way up the hill, all along the straight — and this was the old circuit, remember — through the chicane in top, round Stavelot in top. Every time you touched the gear lever you lost point something of a second and it acted as a brake anyway. All the way up to the hairpin. And that’s where I thought, ‘The only way I can maintain this time, is to brake a little bit later.’ Well, that’s what did me. I had too much brake on the rear, locked the rear brakes and I spun going in. Jimmy went by me and Mairesse caught me. I couldn’t shake Mairesse. Once he got behind me in that Ferrari, I was pulling him everywhere round the circuit. It was a bit of a ding-dong.
“We were coming up from Stavelot, climbing all the way up the hill. The gearchange on the Lotus came out through the back and he came up with the snout and touched that. I was into neutral and round I went. But he saved my life, as true as I’m standing here. I would never have overtaken anybody on the inside, who’s spinning, because they spin like that and you’re into him. I’d always followed the spin. But he did come through on the inside and he knocked my front end, knocked me straight, into a ditch. And he catapulted and knocked a telegraph pole down. Course, he were damaged. I was alright.
“Funnily enough, I sort of came to a standstill and thought, ‘God, I’m blind!’ Cause I had a dark visor, and I’d gone into a ditch full of mud and water. Until I got my goggles down. I thought I’d done my eyes…”
1962, of course, was the year of the Lotus 25, with its monocoque chassis. Initially Taylor hated the car, and particularly the driving position.
“It was so rigid and stiff. You just thought to yourself, ‘There’s something wrong here.’ The chassis was just so rigid in comparison with the old spaceframes we had been brought up with. We actually went softer with the springs on the new car, to take some of the shocks out of it. From the 24 to the 25 the difference was unbelievable. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll never bloody drive this thing. Everything’s wrong with it.’ And there was the angle you were laid at. You were really laid down in the Lotus. The more upright you are, you feel better. The brain is more central to the body. That car did my back, I believe. And another thing that did was at Enna when I had a huge accident with Bandini…”
He pauses and smiles, arms spread wide. “If we’d have been strapped in that car, I wouldn’t have been here. You remember Bill Gavin? The writer? Well, he was my pal and we used to travel all over the place together. It was in the flat-out corner on to the pit straight and they’d just introduced some of the Armco then. Surtees was leading, and me and Bandini were having a bit of a ding-dong, a fair race. Bandini came on the inside of me in the corner. He went past, taking a tighter line and as he slipped out a bit further he caught his rear wheels on a bit of a shingle thing. His wheels sprayed all this stuff over me. I had a stone in my mouth, one in my goggles which caught me on the nose, here. One jammed up in my helmet. It knocked me completely out. Luckily it did, because I must just have been relaxed. The car spun, hit the Armco, shot in the air and I was ejected. It burst into flames and I went down the track head over heels, but I was relaxed. Just like a rag doll, Bill Gavin said. I had friction burns. The biggest scab you’ve ever seen on my back!
“I woke up, actually, in an ambulance, and I could see this shimmer. It was the sun on the lake. I’m looking, thinking ‘Where am I?’ I couldn’t work out where I were. Bill was there and said ‘Are you all right, Trev?’ And I said, ‘Hello Bill, what are you doing here?’ He told me we were at Enna track, and I thought, ‘Where the bloody hell’s Enna?’ It was shock. It was two or three hours later when I sort of thought, ‘Oh yeah, I was racing Bandini…’
Hospital treatment was never in the top echelon at Enna. A few years later Pedro Rodriguez would also be thrown out, of his wooden Protos, and go skating down the road. The unfortunate Mexican had to have his ankle set without the benefit of anaesthetic…
“I said to Bill, get me out of here. I’ve got to get out. They wanted me overnight, at least a week. The doctor said he washed his hands of me, but what he did, he came to the hotel and gave me some injections, and the next morning Brabham flew me back to Luton. Back home I went straight into hospital and was there a fortnight. It took a long time to heal, to be honest.”
Chapman was patient, certainly aware that most of the shunts could be traced to machinery shortcomings even if he wouldn’t acknowledge it. They got on well together. “I did a lot of the testing, and Chapman taught me a lot about camber angles, toe-in, castors, that sort of thing. It really got me interested, which is what I love about these cars here.” He nodded affectionately at the Opel Lotus car he was running that weekend. “At that particular time our problem was jamming gearboxes, because you could pull one gear out of engagement but it would stay in, but you could get the lever through the selector gate, which you shouldn’t have been able to, and get another gear. Once you got two gears at once you locked the gearbox! But we couldn’t trace this. It was a ZF, a super gearbox apart from that! Eventually it was Mike Costin, who used to work with Lotus Developments, and Chapman, who solved it. What they found was that the selector shafts themselves still had very fine particles of swarf which jammed them. I couldn’t understand how you could still get the lever through the selector gate. You shouldn’t have been able to do it, but there was just enough room under stress.
“It was a long time into the Formula One programme before Mike actually found that. For instance, at Spa in ’62, there was about five minutes of practice to go and as I went up through the gears I sensed it was going to jam. I went all the way round in the same gear and pulled into the pits, and Chapman was telling me to get back out there and I refused, telling him what was going to happen. He were a bit annoyed, excited. He said to Jimmy, ‘Take that car back to the garage,’ which were at Stavelot in those days, and Jimmy went out of the pits, up to the ess bend and it jammed and he went straight into one of the hoardings.
“I thought about that, and how I would have been in another shunt. And that sort of thing destroys you. Although I liked what I was doing, mentally it started to shake me. I started to change gear a bit sooner, that sort of thing. At the end of the day you think, ‘If I have another crash, it might be my last!”
Eventually Chapman offered to rest him from F1 to let him recover, but Trevor wanted to continue and they went their separate ways. He moved on to BRP for ’64, had a brief outing with the awful Shannon Climax at the ’66 British GP, then almost retired as his back troubles persisted, but the perceptive John Webb brought him back for the inaugural season of F5000. He would prove a complete star. The winning wasn’t over after all, but neither were the big shunts…
He drove a Surtees TS5 for Team Elite, and it all clicked again. “I was a winner straight away! That was a good form of racing. You could get wheelspin in top gear! I thought, ‘Well, you can still do it!’ It was the confidence thing. The TS5 was a really, really good car.” He and Peter Gethin vied for the championship all season, and he needed to win the final race at Brands to clinch the title. “Gethin was ahead on points, but I was leading the race. We were coming up to lap Chris Warwick-Drake’s Cooper at the corner back from Dingle Dell. It weren’t his fault, it was just sheer fright. I think. I took him on the inside, where he’d waved me through. But Gethin at the same time went round the outside. He saw Gethin, knew I was there, but pulled my way and our wheels touched. I knocked him into Gethin and I went straight up the bank and had a lot of damage on the car and was out. Gethin restarted, but on the startline I’d seen him leaking water and knew he’d done a head gasket. All I had to do really was finish. It was just unfortunate…
The following season he had the grandmother and grandfather of all shunts at Salzburgring, when a front tyre blew at 160mph. That time he really was lucky to walk away. “I saw a white puff from the tyre, which I couldn’t understand. I thought it was water. Later, I realised that Goodyear used charcoal to put the tyres on at that particular time, and it was the powder blowing out when a bolt went through the tyre. I hit the Armco and if the car had rolled end to end I wouldn’t have been here. There were no wheels on the car and I went out over the Armco, afraid someone’d hit me. The marshal couldn’t believe where the driver was! ‘Driver, he disappeared,’ he kept saying. That was a tremendous shunt…
“What happened was that an hour later my throat came out here, my neck too. I couldn’t swallow. The doc told me I’d probably swallowed my tongue but brought it back up when the car hit the bank. He told me I was a very, very lucky man. I was on liquids for three or four days.”
In 1971 at OuIton Park he had another nasty one at Knickerbrook in Malaya Garage’s Leda. “Frank Gardner had warned me about it, but in my next to last race with it, a front tyre went down and sent me straight into the bank. Fortunately I went in at an angle, which knocked the offside front wheel off. It hit me on the head and knocked me out again, but it split the tank and I was trapped in the car because my left ankle was caught between the clutch pedal and the monocoque. And I was really scared, when I came to! I kept trying to pull my leg free and did a lot of damage. But if that thing had gone up I would have left my ankle in there, I tell you. I pulled and shoved and pulled and shoved and eventually got out, but the dash had come off and gone straight into my leg, you could see the bone… Even now, I feel it when the weather’s cold…”
He had similar adventures when he returned briefly to F1 to test the Cosworth 4WD in 1969. “I nearly wrote that off so many times! A brake shaft snapped when I was coming into Woodcote and I spun so many times that I couldn’t work out which way the car was facing when it finally stopped. I nearly went over the bank at Becketts when a wheel stud pulled out. And, to cap it all, the fire extinguisher blew up in my face when I was braking for Stowe. You just can’t imagine what that was like, trying to stand up and stop the car at once — that thing was so big you could stroll round the cockpit anyway!”
He loves golf, but knows he has to be careful what he does to avoid slipping the discs that used to pop out all too easily. “I could turn round like this to put the television on, and out would go a disc. But at the moment I’m getting gristle round the bone, which keeps them in place. I’ve been to physio, an osteopath, what can you do? I’m 56 years old. Nobody wants to, but you have to accept your body as it is!”
He has a Yorkshire sense of humour, outgoing but not reliant on the misfortunes of others. “I’ll tell you a story. It was when we were racing the 500, up at Snetterton with the doubleknocker Norton. At the end of the straight I found I could brake later than about 200 yards. There was no marker board but there was a little white stone at that point. Well after practice we were all talking, ‘Where are you braking?’ that sort of thing. Turned out we were all braking at that stone. So that night I went out and moved it further from the corner, nothing dangerous though, you understand. On the first lap everyone braked on it but me, and I went through in the lead…”
Trevor Taylor is the kind of man who is genuinely interested to ask his interviewer questions about themselves and their feelings, as keen to learn what you can tell him about modern F1 as he can tell you about the sixties. A racer who made a yellow helmet (and matching overalls) something special long before a Brazilian would burst on to the scene. On his day, such as Spa ’62, he could run with the best.
He and his brother sold out the last of their garage business in 1986, and shortly afterwards he lost a lot when the Stock Market crashed just after he’d been advised to make investments. But there’s no trace of bitterness when he talks about his recent fortunes. At the time we talked he had high hopes of setting up his own Vauxhall Lotus team, which he still plans for the 1994 European season. Despite that, he remains content, untouched by any regrets how his career turned out. Without doubt he was better than his results suggest, and was one of those who haplessly forged the reputation number two drivers ‘enjoyed’ at Lotus in the sixties. Love of the sport has overridden personal feelings.
“The one thing I have, is this dream, that I return to racing all dressed in black and nobody knows who I am and I win everything…
“People say I was unlucky,” he smiles cheerfully. “I was not unlucky. I walked away from a lot of accidents, and I’m still here to tell the tale. And I always loved what I was doing.”