Collector Nick Mason

So you think you can tell heaven from hell? For the Pink Floyd drummer, his collection of
30 cars is a celestial paradise. And who are we to argue? You’ll all wish you were here…

Words: Andrew Frankel. Photography: Tim Kent

At first it’s hard to know what to make of Nick Mason, rock star, racer and collector of quite extraordinary automobiles. We meet in his London office, which is not some glass-fronted Soho monstrosity dripping in gold discs, but an anonymous-looking house in an anonymous-looking street far away from the glitz of the West End. He answers the buzzer himself and directs you up the stairs to a room so vast you think you’ve climbed into a Tardis.

Inside, apart from the odd bit of drum kit lying around, there is little to indicate his membership of one of the most important and successful bands of all time. Instead there’s a Sinclair C5, a 1983 RAM F1 car painted in Ferrari colours and used as a platform for his Playstation, and more model cars than you can count. Hundreds certainly – probably thousands. There are books everywhere, almost all about cars and with a decided emphasis on Maranello product.

As I walk in Nick comes over, grinning. The night before he’d been at a charity bash helping to raise millions for the NSPCC, but he looks fit and well in jeans and a faded T-shirt. At 62 and with nothing to prove to anyone, you might think he’d be minded to quieten down. Not a bit of it. “I didn’t do much racing last year and thought I didn’t miss it, but then I raced three cars at Silverstone this year, loved every second of it and am looking forward to doing some more when work allows.” Part of that work involves getting back on stage with Roger Waters, the man who left Pink Floyd in the mid-80s and, legal wranglings aside, had next to no contact with the band until they got back together for an apparently one-off appearance at last year’s Live 8 concert.

But while the music made the cars possible, there is no question which is his first love. “When I first started going to race meetings, it was the 1950s,” he says. “Rock ’n’ roll had hardly been invented and if you’d looked in my record collection it would have consisted of things like The Laughing Policeman. By contrast, some of my earliest memories are of being captivated by cars which in later years I went on to race against or even own.”

It was the late Derrick Edwards, renowned Aston Martin restorer and racer, who first coaxed Mason into going racing. “I think I’d always been minded to do it, so I didn’t need much persuading. It was the very early ’70s, I’d just started to get some income and we went out and found a suitable car. The moment I raced it, that was it. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.” The car was the famed ‘LM21’ Aston Martin Ulster and it’s been raced by Mason ever since.

Given that he was one quarter of what became perhaps the biggest rock band of the time, it is surprising he had time to pursue a hobby with such tenacity. Mason explains: “Back then an album might take a year to make and you weren’t needed every day; that’s where the time came from.”

He proved quick behind the wheel and raced at a high level, competing at Le Mans five times, culminating in sharing a Group C Porsche 956 with Richard Lloyd. But, typically, if you ask him to name the race of which he has fondest memories, it’s not a headline event.

“Unquestionably it was the support race for the 1993 British Grand Prix. I was in the 2-litre Birdcage Maserati and it came down to me, Frank Sytner’s D-type and the
last corner of the last lap. Frank was very firm but fair but his tyres had gone off and I just managed to squeeze past, albeit not without picking up some blue paint down the side of the car. It was the fairytale ending.”

By then Mason was the owner of a stable of cars to weaken the knees of the most hard-bitten enthusiast: “I just found myself in the position where I was able to buy a car I wanted to race without having to sell another. I think of it not so much as a collection as an accumulation…”

Today the accumulation stands at around 30 ‘serious’ cars, including a 1901 Panhard, two T35 Bugattis, an ERA, a number of pre-war Astons, a Maser 250F, two Birdcages, the D-type, a Lotus 18, Porsche 962, a McLaren F1 GTR and, naturally, a not insignificant number of rather important Ferraris: there’s a racing Daytona, Gilles Villeneuve’s 312T3, an F40, an Enzo, a 512BB LM that he’ll be racing at Le Mans this year, an ex-factory 512S and, of course, the 250GTO.

The most significant car to leave the collection in recent years is a V16 BRM, famously flawed yet staunchly defended by Mason. “It wasn’t as bad to drive as its reputation suggested. It actually handled quite well and the power delivery was manageable, not unlike an F1-spec DFV. In the end I did race it once, and it did finish, though probably only because the race was shortened…” He felt he’d done all he could and let it go.

Today the cars all work as part of his Ten Tenths business and all can be hired for any purpose, though usually it’s for filming. His favourite is the GTO. He bought it in the late seventies and describes it as “the one to be left with if all the others had to go.” The next closest to his heart are the Birdcage and LM21 and, if restricted to a five-car garage, he’d add the 250F and McLaren.

Is there anything that still eludes him? He smiles and says, “When I look in the back of Motor Sport it’s like I’m Pete Doherty [the drug-addled ex-Libertines front man] in the chemist’s. I guess the real gap I’d like to fill is a drum-brake sportscar, in the mould of a 300S Maser or an Aston DB3S.”

It’s lunchtime, so the rock star makes sandwiches while we just talk about cars, his father who made the Shell History of Motor Sport films, and his hard-driving family. His wife and both daughters race and he worries about them, just as his father worried about him. “I find myself wanting to hang out a pit board that says ‘P1, +4sec, but do be careful’.”

And that, in a nutshell, is Mason. What is most admirable about him is the fact that he is humorous, human and always understated. “It may sound ridiculous coming from a man with 30 cars, but I don’t see myself as a car collector. I’m an enthusiast who’s been lucky enough over the years to be able to indulge in his passion.” Meet the man and you’d not begrudge him one second of it.