The worst car I ever drove - Kamikaze run

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Howden Ganley – Maki F101

The idea of a new and well funded Formula One team working just for him sounded too good to be true for Howden Ganley. Sadly, as he tells Mark Hughes, he was absolutely right

Howden Ganley’s Formula One career began with BRM in 1971 and ended against a barrier at the Nürburgring in 1974, both legs broken. In between he might have won the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix for Williams, but it was such a chaotic race that no two lap charts told the same story and the results were pretty much educated guesswork.

He came to the UK from New Zealand as a mechanic and is now a director of the BRDC. The car in which he broke his legs was the Maki, one of the most spectacularly unsuccessful F1 cars of all. Today Ganley can relate the bizarre story with great humour, but at the time it was probably less than funny.

“Well, I never entirely knew who was who. There was a chap who called himself Mr Togo and his right hand man, the designer, was called Mr Yamamoto. Of course, it was only later on I found out they weren’t their real names; they were the names of the two architects of the raid on Pearl Harbour. It was quite appropriate.

“I was driving for March at the beginning of 74. These characters tracked me down in Argentina at the hotel and I thought it was someone pulling my leg, calling me at the hotel pretending to be Japanese, and starting this fantastic F1 team. I kind of played along and tried to suss out who it was. Then I got another call in Brazil, and it’s the same game again and I’m beginning to think maybe it’s not someone pulling my leg. I said, ‘Well, call me sometime’, and never thought much more about it.

“I went back to England and these phone calls carried on. It seemed to be for real and March were very short of money at that time and I was likely to lose my seat there. Eventually these characters came to England and wanted to meet me and I said, ‘Oh yeah, where do you want to meet?’ and they kept saying ‘Ercort Load, Ercort Load’, which I finally realised was Earls Court Road. I said, ‘Whereabouts in Earls Court Road?’ and they say, ‘Pizzarand’ and eventually I got to meet these guys at Pizzaland.

“They had all the plans and talked a good story. They had four chassis they said, good engines, seven mechanics and had bought the transporter. Then they said ‘We’d like to pay you this much money’. I’m ‘Okay, that sounds good’ and then ask who the other driver is. And they say, No, no; this is all for you’. It’s kind of a dream isn’t it, all this resource and it’s yours; it was too good to be true. But I guess I wasn’t thinking straight.

“The weeks went on and I signed the contract. I should have been suspicious when, as part of the ceremonial carry-on, they gave me a headband like the Kamikaze pilots wore. That was obviously a hint that they expected me to stick my neck out…

“They did have four chassis, genuinely. They asked me to find them a workshop at the last minute and luckily I had one down at Bath Road in Slough, which I’d taken over from Frank Williams. They moved in there so at least I knew where they were and could keep an eye on them. The cars came broken down and we built them up and tested at Goodwood and Silverstone. There were problems with it but it was gradually getting better. But then they began turning up telling me things had been changed when I knew full well they hadn’t been; I suppose trust was starting to break down.

“This went on and on but they wouldn’t enter any of the races — Spain, Monaco, Belgium and France all passed by. I couldn’t understand it and was getting really frustrated. It came to a head and they finally agreed we’d definitely do the British GP at Brands. But before that I said we needed to make certain changes to the car and they agreed. And I have to say, they did do it; in about three weeks they’d completely changed the car around.

“But then it got really strange. I. went to Brands on the first day and they didn’t turn up. I kept phoning the workshop saying ‘Where are you?’. I had a friend round the back and he said ‘They’re sitting round there drinking tea, they won’t come.’ There was no good reason for them not to come; they’d even loaded the truck the day before! I think they couldn’t quite cope with the moment of truth.

“Eventually they turned up right at the end of the first day, too late to get onto the track. I ran the car in second day’s qualifying, there were a few problems with it and the net result was we didn’t qualify. However, the time we did in the one day, had we done it the first day, would have put us in about the middle of the grid. The thing wasn’t that bad, it was the organisation that was wrong. I was quite encouraged by it, thinking it would be okay when we give it a proper run.

“So we went to the next race at the Nürburgring. I went round the little loop and got it sorted how I wanted it. Then first lap on the full circuit, about a mile out, it turned sharp right into the barrier at high speed. It wasn’t as well constructed as it might have been, so the front fell off when I hit the barrier, swung around and bashed my feet. Finished with no front end, me with broken legs. As far as I was concerned that was the end of that.

“Next thing I know they’re suing me for not driving in the Austrian Grand Prix. I was lying in a hospital bed at the time of the Austrian Grand Prix…

“I got Peter Jowett (the accident investigator) to look at the car. A rod-end failed on the suspension. They had a fail-safe washer but the washer was smaller than the hole and it slid right through. I’d been concerned about the way it was built and had asked if they structural rivets because you couldn’t tell under the paint and they said Ah yes, ah yes’. But it turns out after the crash that they were just pop rivets, so it’s not surprising it fell apart.

“They always said that Honda was behind the project and perhaps it was. Had it been successful perhaps Honda would have joined; but as it wasn’t, perhaps they just stood well back. I never knew if that was true but I kept getting told that.”

The Maki returned in 75 but neither Hiroshi Fushida nor Tony Trimmer ever qualified it and neither it nor the mysterious Togo and Yamamoto were heard of again.