He is remembered as the brains behind the idea that created Goodwood but Tony Gaze was also a formidable fighter pilot and a successful racing driver. He tells Eoin Young his story
Tony Gaze was at the Australian Grand Prix this year, tall and distinguished and unrecognised in the paddock of the modem professional business that he knew as a sport 50 years before.
It was as Squadron Leader FAO Gaze (with three DFCs) that he had made the original suggestion that a motor racing circuit could be made from the perimeter roads of the airfield where his Spitfires had been based: Westhampnett in Sussex, a wartime airfield formed in the grounds of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon who, as Freddie Richmond, had raced at Brooklands. The circuit was duly constructed-and became known as Goodwood.
Gaze had raced Alias in Australia in the late 1940s and came to Britain in 1951 to try a 2-litre model in F2 for experience, and in 1952 an HWM in F1 when the formula changed. As an Australian who spent most of his racing days in Britain, he is regarded as a colonial by the British and as a Brit by the Aussies. The truth is that he is a very British Australian.
The British influence came early on when, as a 19-year-old, Gaze went to Cambridge University to study Natural Science in 1939, also trying his hand at motor racing. He had met Peter Whitehead in Australia when Whitehead was combining his wool business with pleasure-racing his ERA. “It wasn’t until after the war that we became great friends and set up our own racing team,” Gaze recalls.
Gaze raced only once at Brooklancls: “It was a dub meeting, a one-hour belt round the track. I thought it would be like club meetings anywhere else in the world and that everyone would be like me. I had an English-bodied Hudson which I thought would be the thing for a club meeting but when I arrived, them was Fane, Whitehead, Reggie Tongue, Hugh Hunter with the 2.9 Alfa and all the others. I thought ‘What the hell am I doing here?”
When war loomed Gaze joined the RAF. The way he tells the story now it was as though the war was an exciting extension of his second year at Cambridge. He started as a Pilot Officer and by 1941 was flying “Spits, twos and fives with Douglas Bader’s wing (and later pressurised sixes) from Westhampnett.” His war years were not without their own drama as he was shot down over France suffering facial wounds, but escaped through Gibraltar to become the first Australian to shoot down a German jet (in a Spitfire XIV) and the first Aussie to see action in a British jet.
Gaze recounts tales of his career in planes and cars with a lazy expansiveness, almost suggesting “didn’t everybody do this, then?” in a Boys’ Own paper fashion.
The war over, Gaze turned his attentions back to cars, and in 1947 he returned to Australia with a supercharged Alta single-seater, an Alta sportscar and an aerodynamic HRG sportscar. “I was entering three cars in everything, hopping out of one into another. That sometimes meant hiring a truck, but it was worth it.”
This was motor racing on a lavish scale 50 years ago in Australia and Gaze was setting his sights on a season in Europe with an Alta. He completed the 1951 season in F2 surprised to find he was racing against works teams from Ferrari, Maserati, HWM, etc. with their F1 team drivers. He stayed on to drive the HWM when F2 became F1 in 1952.
“In that first season in Fl my best finish was at Spa in the GP of Europe when I was up to about ninth but on the last lap I was hit in the face by a bird on the Masta Straight and had to creep to the finish because I couldn’t see. The only other time I got close to points was in the German GP at the Nurburgring. I was up to fifth and I thought I was going to be the first Australian driver to get a championship point — and then I flew off the road into the trees. I got back on and did exactly the same thing at the next corner. I looked over my shoulder, saw the back wheel leaning over and realised the De Dion had broken.”
In 1953 Gaze partnered Lex Davison and Stan Jones in an all-Australian team driving a Holden 48/215 in the Monte Carlo Rally. The race had drama of its own for Gaze and his cronies: “We had a good run. Before the final test I think we were in sixth place and then we had an argument. Stan wanted me to drive the final test because he felt I was better on ice than Lex, but Lex said he had put all the money into it and he was determined to drive that final stage. That did it. Stan sulked. He was navigating and I was braced in the back with the stopwatches. I suppose Stan might have been feeling car sick but he wouldn’t read out the markers and we finally came in 64th out of 100 finishers. It was probably a good thing because if we had done well they would have torn the car apart. On the way back we stopped off at Monza and our best lap average with three up and all our luggage was 5mph faster than a standard Holden’s maximum speed!”
GM Australia were so delighted that they gave Stan and Lex a Holden each as a bonus but Gaze never received so much as a thank-you note. Undeterred, he took an HWM-Alta to New Zealand and Australia in 1954 finishing third in the first GP at Ardmore and second in the Lady Wigram Trophy at Christchurch. At Ardmore, the special fuel for his car and Whitehead’s Ferrari didn’t arrive so they were severely rationed and Gaze started the GP knowing he had only enough fuel for a few laps. Initiative and bare-faced cheek turned the day around for him: “I saw Peter’s car had expired and my crew were syphoning his fuel out for me. Despite that, about five laps from the flag I coasted in completely dry. But there were the lads with another chum of fuel! In it went and I managed third place on the same lap as the winner!” Gaze later learnt that the mechanics had leant over into the BRM pit and stolen the churn when they realised Ken Wharton was safely in second with the V16 BRM.
Soon after, Gaze decided to buy a DB3 Aston Martin sports car and drive it in the smaller European events. A less successful scheme this, as the Aston ended up against a tree in Portugal and was burned out. He completed the season with an HWM.
In 1955 there was a plan fora Kangaroo stable formed by the Monte Carlo squabblers, Gaze, Davison and Jones but the final team line-up with DB3S Astons was Les Cosh, Tom Sulman with Gaze and David McKay sharing a car. “The Astons weren’t very quick,” explains Gaze “but they finished races and the Ferraris and Maseratis quite often didn’t. But then came the disaster at Le Mans and our continental sportscar races were cancelled.”
Rather than turn away dispirited, Gaze looked to his next move. He and Peter Whitehead had discussed forming a team for the 1955 series in New Zealand and having seen the impact made by the V16 BRM they decided the way to get big starting money would be to buy Tipo 159 Alfa Romeos: “We thought the race promoters would pay anything for those. Alfa were very good about it but they said they could only sell us one car and they weren’t sure about spares because all their race engines had gone into racing boats. They were asking normal sort of racing car prices in those days; around £5000. We had to turn the Alfa down because we wanted two identical cars.
“Pete had good relations with Enzo Ferrari and we wondered about a pair of 4.5-litre Indianapolis V12s but Enzo talked us out of that, pointing out that there were 24 plugs to change on every warm-up and you had to take the front wheel off to get at some of them. He reckoned a 3-litre engine in a 2.5 Fl chassis would be nearly as fast and much more reliable. We asked if he would give us current cars if we promised not to run them in Europe against the works cars. He agreed and offered to convert them back to Fl for the 1955 season and then fit 3-litre engines for the 1956 New Zealand races.
“He didn’t do it. He probably realised that them was only so much starting money to go round in Fl and every extra Ferrari on the grid meant less money for him.”
Seeing that avenue of enquiry reaching a dead-end, the pair eventually bought a pair of ex-works Tipo 625 Fl cars fitted with GP engines stretched to three litres. Gaze wasn’t aware of it at the time but his Ferrari was the chassis that Ascari had driven to win more GPs than any other car in 1952 and 1953.
They had chosen wisely. “Pete and I finished second and third in the New Zealand GP at Ardmore behind Bira’s 250F Maserati,” Gaze remembers. “When our engines were stripped after that race everything was absolutely mirror finish. They were real racing engines. Then we sent them back to Ferrari after that first season to be officially renovated and they came back with a lot of bits that were OK as extra spares but when we stripped the engines down in 1956 we discovered that they were just 3-litre Monza sports car engines. The cranks and rods were only polished in the important places — it wasn’t complete mirror finish like the original engines.”
Their engines for 1956 were uprated to run on methanol and the team-mates had agreed that they would race each other to win the GP but would share the wins after that, always supposing they were in a position to do so. In fact, Stirling Moss won the race in his 250F with Gaze second and Whitehead third. Compensation came when Moss left the series to race in South America, leaving Whitehead and Gaze to share the wins in New Zealand. Gaze took his Ferrari and an HWM sports car on to Australia for the first races at Albert Park.
“Lex Davison had previously bought my HWM single-seater and he bought my Ferrari for the Grand Prix while I drove my HWM to win the sports car race ,then sold him that car too. Lex won four Australian GPs, three in cars he had bought from me.”
With the Ferrari sold, Tony’s wife Kay (widow of accomplished Thirties racer Johnny Wakefield) persuaded him to retire and Prince Bira talked him into taking up gliding. He applied similar enthusiasm to that sport as he had to motor racing and became a member of the Australian team for the World Championships at Cologne. “So,” he concludes “I suppose I’ve represented Australia in flying, racing and gliding.” Tony and Kay had bought a farm at Nagambie in the country outside Melbourne but Kay died before they had a chance to settle there. Lex and Diana Davison had been firm family friends with the Gazes beyond their deals over racing cars, but tragedy was to strike both families. Lex was killed in a Brabham during practice for a Tasman race at Sandown Park in 1965 and in 1977 Tony and Di married. They now enjoy their rallying with vintage Alfa Romeos and, of course, they are regulars at Albert Park, respected members of the Aussie racing establishment.