Looking at the teams which appear regularly at race meetings
The point of recognition between the public and the racing teams that entertain them is only at the circuits where brief programme notes (always about the drivers) do little to enlighten spectators about the cars, their sponsors, the mechanics, and the wherewithal of the team’s existence. There are many different reasons for taking part, ranging from pure professional to philanthropic, with most of the shades between involving publicity to some degree. The common bond is a love of racing, a sport which has made or broken many a fortune; racing can be profitable but few men, if any, drive for that reason alone.
The purely professional entries are those of the works teams, such as B.R.M., Lotus, or Brabham, backed up by semi-works teams such as those of Roy Winkelmann or Ken Tyrrell in formula events, Alan Mann or Maranello Concessionaires, who have all the facilities of the works at their disposal. Garages and component makers often enter or sponsor cars. for publicity, then there are wealthy private entrants and sponsors, or less-well-off individuals who thrive on faith, hope and charity.
All the more successful teams receive a fair share of publicity, in fact more than a reasonable share if you listen to their less fortunate rivals. Well, who are the teams who appear at all the big meetings, who contest the places behind the “works” cars then return to the far end of the paddock where autograph hunters are the more dedicated of the breed?
To make a start on our series “Behind the Scenes,” we went to Crystal Palace on Spring Holiday Monday and talked to the men who run Mefco Racing. Their silver Porsche 904, distinguished by a green band along the bonnet and roof, is trailed by a white Ford Zephyr. Every regular spectator has seen the Porsche, now in its fourth season, but not so many perhaps know much about Mefco. The car races mainly in Britain, usually in international events and though it has not scored any important victories it has “bags of seconds” to its credit and was third in the two-litre class behind a pair of 906 Porsches at Crystal Palace.
John Morris, a Birmingham building contractor, bought the car in 1954 and the following year started a racing and business partnership with Martin Hone, mine host of the Opposite Lock club in Binningham. Morris has been racing “on and off” since 1951 in M.G.s, vintage cars, a Cooper-Bristol and an XX120, without any conspicuous success, and he temporarily retired on acquiring family commitments in 1958.
The racing bug stayed in his system though and being a Porsche enthusiast he decided to buy the 904 when it became available. Although a partnership deal fell through and despite having to pay import duty, Morris still reckons the car was a very good investment. During his first season he met Hone, then a pupil in the Jim Russell school, at Snetterton, and from a friendship grew a racing and business partnership. The name Mefca was publicising a trade name that never got under way, but the Opposite Lock is one of their successful promotions. Dennis Averill, their racing road manager, works at the club and his elder brother helps out with the routine maintenance work on the car, though A.F.N. do the more serious work and the car has been back to the factory twice for full overhauls.
Hone and Morris share the drives as equally as possible, and currently have an equal number of points in the Autosport championship. In 1965 they were class runners-up to Bernard Unett’s Sunbeam Tiger, and last year Hone was runner-up again to John Miles’ Elan. Last year they bought an Elan to try and get more class wins, but they did not keep it long because other Elans were going quicker. In their big races this year Morris bagged second-in-class at the Good Friday Snetterton meeting and third in the class at the Martini Silverstone meeting, Hone won his class and was second overall at Mallory Park on Easter Monday and was third in his class at the Daily Express meeting at Silverstone.
Morris, a quiet-spoken man, and Hone, with a ginger beard, say they lack time to get abroad very often but hoped to do the Reims 12-hours in June. Next year, they may sell the faithful Porsche and get a bigger, more competitive car, and would like to get their hands on a flat-eight Porsche if possible!
One exuberant young man who gets around a lot is Robin Widdows, whose dark-blue Brabham-Cosworth F.V.A. is entered by the Witley Racing Syndicate. No great mystery about Witley, since the team resides in that Surrey village, but who make up the Syndicate? Widdows was a bit reticent on the subject, since the title is a new one which impresses organisers of Continental events, but it consists of himself, his father, Charles, who was a Battle of Britain fighter pilot and R.A.F. test pilot, and his godmother, who takes a keen interest in his racing career. Just 25, Widdows is a member of the British bobsleigh team. He started racing a Lotus 23 in 1965 (14 starts, 8 wins), and bought a Brabham Formula 3 for last year in which his best success was a win in the Wills Trophy at Silverstone. An accident while testing at Silverstone last winter had this driver walking around with his arm in a sling for several weeks but the bones mended in time for him to race his brand-new Brabham at Snetterton on Good Friday and again at Silverstone on Easter Monday, doing well enough to get invited to the first Formula 2 race on the Continent at Pau, where a broken fuel pump drive belt put him out of the running. He had an accident during practice at Nurburgring, but is carrying on to do all the “circus” of events including the French championship series.
Witley Racing Syndicate is housed in a garage converted from stables at the family home, the car being worked on full-time by Les Osborne, who was employed from the start, and Tony Fox who started this year. They turn up to events in a Ford Transit van, the Brabham on a trailer, and the car is noted for its immaculate turnout. Widdows has taken on a tough class against full works’ opposition, and may never win a race, but he hopes to get enough experience to be in line for a works drive at the end of this year. Widening his scope, he drove Edward Nelson’s GT40 at Spa, the wet 1,000 km. event, and was involved in the Formula 3 pile-up at Monaco while driving the Chequered Flag Brabham-D.A.F.
A gipsy red Ford GT40 entered by Nick Cuthbert and driven by Eric Liddell, is seen at most international meetings, not quite in league with Hulme and Hawkins but generally close behind. This is an all-Scottish team which also comprises a Lotus Elan driven by Bill Dryden. Based at Galashiels, where Cuthbert lives, the red Ford two-tier transporter makes regular sorties down south with mechanic Bill Brotherstone at the wheel.
Cuthbert is a racing contemporary of Jimmy Stewart, having raced a Healey Silverstone at Charterhall, Bo’ Ness and Rest and be Thankful. He is director of a road building company, King’s and Co, and he turned his attention recently to sponsoring racing entries. At the beginning of last year be bought the GT40 for Eric Liddell, who had done very well north of the Border in his Lotus Elan and an E-type he bought from Jackie Stewart.
The team’s best success came early on when Liddell won the British Eagle Trophy at Brands Hatch, Easter Monday last year. With Peter Sutcliffe he was second in the 500-mile race at the Kent circuit, then took the Benefactor’s Trophy at Croft. Also the Crystal Palace lap record fell to this car last Whit Monday when it was placed second in the race. This year the Elan made a good start to the season by winning its class at Snetterton on Good Friday, but the GT40 got involved in a multiple accident without sustaining any serious damage. Since then it has had fourth places at the two international meetings at Silverstone, while Liddell was second in his class at Monza, driving with Edward Nelson in the latter’s GT40. The two were also planning to compete in the Reims 12-hours in June.
A really enthusiastic sponsor is Malcolm Gartlan who enters a GT40 for John Harris, a handy driver who won his class in the Autosport championship in 1965 driving an Elan. Gartlan, a building contractor, used to rally and sprint various touring cars but never raced because the idea of it upset his family, so in 1966 he bought the Elan that Harris had been driving and took the role of sponsor. At the end of the year he sold the Lotus and bought the GT40 from Paddy McNally, finding his acquisition exciting and awe-inspiring in complexity or so, it seemed at first sight. The team is based at Pershore, Worcestershire, where Gartlan lives; Harris, who runs the sports car section in one of his uncle’s garages in Coventry, has raced Sprites and Healeys successfully and taken part in the Targa Florio, and their mechanic is bearded Ted Grace. Their transport is a Ford Econoline van and trailer.
The three do all the maintenance work on the car, and so far they have had an extremely unlucky start with two engines blown up (attributable to assembly rather than maintenance). Repairs cost £300 a time but on the credit side the car got fourth place overall at Snetterton on Good Friday and has won a couple of club events at Oulton Park and Mallory Park.
This team is learning as it goes along. When the car was purchased the ride heights and roll centres were set up wrong and it took a time to discover that it was wrong, in the first place, and how to put the matter right. Rectification took five seconds off Harris’ time round Silverstone, and the car is getting more competitive all the time. Future plans include the Monthléry 500-km. event in September, and for next year Gartlan hopes to get the engine fuel-injected to keep the car fully competitive. On the subject of sponsorship, he says he gets a great deal of satisfaction in watching his car do well, and it does not bother him that he is not driving himself.
Usually sponsors are people who have raced, found their level, and get satisfaction from being associated with a successful car and driver. Without them racing would be far poorer. – M. L. C.