I am sure that all those who knew Innes Ireland will join me in thanking you for the generous tribute in December’s Motor Sport. He was indeed a very fine fellow.
I am certain that stories of Innes’ riotous life will continue to entertain us for many years to come. Perhaps I may recall one incident that occurred during the winter of 1958. I was then a Sandhurst cadet, and although cars were forbidden during the first year, most of us contrived to conceal our transport in lock-ups and private car parks within half a mile or so of the college. My own was a shabby two-seater Morris Eight with loud exhaust and completely bald tyres, its damp road characteristics providing useful schooling in car control in comparative safety at low speeds.
Accompanied by two colleagues I set off one Saturday evening to sample the hostelries of Surrey. Heading back to comply with our strict 23.00 curfew we could not resist one last pint at a particularly attractive pub, somewhere near Farnham. We emerged contented after a thoroughly enjoyable evening, relishing the prospect of the sporting drive that was by now necessary to meet the dreaded deadline. Failure to do this was quite unthinkable.
Fate now intervened, as the old Morris refused to start, the battery having inexplicably expired. In a state of some agitation I concocted a heart-rending tale involving a sick relative and asked the publican if I could ‘phone Sandhurst to explain our now inevitable lateness. Three men in conversation at the bar overheard this request and immediately volunteered to help out, insisting that we join them for another drink before hitching the Morris to a well-used Austin A90 by means of a very short rope.
I had imagined we were about to tow-start the Morris, but was curious that the driver, the youngest of the three, insisted that my colleagues should join him in the A90. As we moved off, I hopefully engaged gear . . . but to my consternation the A90 tore off into the darkness at enormous speed, leaving me wrestling with the unlit Morris, snaking wildly on its ‘slicks’ in the frosty lanes, my foot riveted to the rapidly lengthening brake pedal.
Eventually we swung into the drive of a substantial country house, where a van bearing the legend ‘Innes Ireland Racing’ was parked. We then realised just who our benefactor was. I never discovered the identity of the older men, though I now believe that one of them was Reg Parnell.
Innes flung open the door of his spacious workshops: “In you go lads. Help yourselves, try ’em for size.” Quite forgetting our plight, we fell upon the machinery within. From memory there were a couple of Lotus XIs, an A-type Connaught, a Ferrari and sundry exotic road cars. Meanwhile, a ‘phone call to the house summoned the then Mrs Ireland with a bottle of scotch, six glasses and a silver tray. As we soaked up both the atmosphere and Innes’ whisky we became careless of the fate awaiting us at Sandhurst.
Unnoticed, Innes slipped away to the house, reappearing in the number one dress from his days as a captain in the parachute regiment. To our critical eyes this did not look entirely convincing as the uniform was somewhat crumpled, the buttons were tarnished and the red beret sat uneasily on Innes’ distinctly civilian haircut. However, the plot was now obvious so the six of us piled into the A90, which was then unleashed into competitive mode.
The car slid, rolled and squealed its cross-ply tyres as Innes deftly clonked the steering column gearchange up and down. To us it was a splendid demonstration of on-the-limit motoring, though one of Innes’ chums frequently urged caution as we rushed along at between 90-100 mph. Naturally, this only encouraged him to greater things, and I certainly remember seeing 90 on the clock as we streaked through Aldershot.
We arrived at Victoria College guardroom in a long slide over the gravel parade ground. “OK lads, off you go,” said Innes. It was by now 1.30 and the duty provost sergeant, to whom first-year cadets were meat and drink, bellowed “You’ve lost your names gentlemen” as he gleefully reached for the charge sheets.
Enter Innes: much stamping of the feet, saluting and grovelling by our sergeant. “The lads have been out with me for the evening and my car broke down. I’m sure you will overlook the matter, sergeant.”
Naturally the answer was affirmative and three relieved cadets made off to their billets while a perplexed sergeant watched Innes and friends wheel-spinning on their way, guffawing with laughter.
The following weekend I went over to Elstead to collect the Morris. Its battery had been charged and the dynamo fettled, and payment for this service was firmly refused.
Needless to say, I followed Innes’ career with enthusiasm thereafter. It was always a source of regret that he never raced the Maserati 250F acquired from Patrick Lindsay in 1970. That would have enlivened historic racing.
By today’s standards our behaviour on that night 35 years ago would have earned us a driving ban, or even a jail sentence. Yet then the only offence we committed was speeding in a built-up area, from which one could usually escape with a good ticking-off if caught.
Those were the days.