Doug Nye

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Paperwork that is a joy

The race records of teams like Cooper Cars are as good as any photograph when it comes to providing a fascinating look at the Grands Prix of yesterday

I couldn’t help but think as I watched the Bahrain Grand Prix run on an expanse of asphalt and sand rendering the TV images as dull as the tedious non-race itself, how much charm has been squeezed out of modern sport. I guess this is a generational thing. We are all shaped by the experiences of youth – oops, what might this infer about president Mosley? – and for me the images of Maseratis and Vanwalls drifting within inches of painted Pescaran kerbstones, or Coopers clattering through telegraph-pole barriers into the Casino balustrade at Monaco, or battered Ferraris lying silent among bark-scabbed trees at Le Mans, shaped what I regarded as an aesthetic motor racing norm now long-since consigned to the dustbin of history. 

Maybe this is why so many fans like ourselves enjoy fine photography of times gone by, and why some derive so much further interest and enjoyment from bygone team paperwork. Having collected a truckload of the stuff over the years, I was once asked how the paperwork records of, say, BRM, Team Lotus and the Cooper Car Co compared. In retrospect my response was very unfair, but so long as you don’t take it literally the comparison still holds good: “BRM thought they were Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz and every report was written at length with at least a half-dozen copies. In contrast Team Lotus’s records were written on the back of a fag packet. And as for Cooper Cars, well, nobody there could read or write – they were just racers!”.

Now I apologise unreservedly for accusing Cooper’s finest all of being illiterate, but the double-World Champion team’s written records are certainly sparse, limited in their content… and utterly and completely charming.  On the most simplistic level, other records, up to and including those of modern F1 teams, will use driver surnames or initials to identify who did which with what car. Not so Cooper Cars. Its records from 1959-60 list ‘Jack’ or ‘Bruce’ or ‘Masten’ – all first names. This wasn’t business. This was family…

And after the 1960 British GP, which Jack Brabham won in the ‘Lowline’ Cooper after a fantastic battle with Graham Hill’s latest rear-engined BRM, the note (pictured left) on his car’s condition at the finish reads: “Fuel pressure fluctuating. Clutch thrust seizing. New jet on pinion (lubricating jet fitted on final-drive pinion)… – result 1st class. Finished first”.

The matching note for team-mate Bruce McLaren’s fourth-placed ‘Lowline’ reads bluntly: “No new jet on pinion – shagged”. C’mon boys, tell it like it is. The Cooper way. I love it.

Supercars could be museum pieces

Back in 1999, Florida-based collector and hyper-enthusiast Miles Collier organised a symposium for fellow car connoisseurs. He invited myself and Phil Hill to be among the faculty of presenters for that event. It ran for three very full days and quite apart from providing an opportunity for like-minded ‘car nuts’ to get together, everybody present – including each of us on the faculty – went away having learned a tremendous amount about our shared interest. 

The event was so well received that Miles was urged to do it again – some of these Americans are gluttons for punishment – and recently the fifth Connoisseurship Symposium took place at his fabulous museum (pictured) in Naples on Florida’s Gulf coast. Keynote speaker this time was the great Gordon Murray, of Brabham, McLaren, Rocket and now Gordon Murray Design fame. 

He was the first motor racing personality I ever interviewed who was younger than me (by a few months). We’ve always got on well and he gave me a (minor) role in the McLaren F1 road car programme which he masterminded into the ’90s. In March, at last, we persuaded him to make what was a fascinating presentation on the future of the modern motor car as a collectable item. 

Essentially, while collectability is one factor, Gordon maintains that restorability is poised to become another. As for usability, that depends more upon the regulatory climate than any preservation factors. For the future of car collecting, in fact, he did not paint a very rosy picture… 

Significantly, the McLaren F1 which he conceived in the late ’80s/early ’90s embodied long-term restorability as a design parameter. “In 30 years’ time, about the only F1 component a restorer might struggle with would be the heated windscreen with its gold filament laminate. To re-tool for that would cost an absolute fortune…”.

Regarding more recent, computer-dependent ‘supercars’, their high proportion of plastic injection mouldings and complex computer programming with multiple communication codings written in between one system and another may also kick restorability beyond the pocket of any owner. The cost of recreating long-since discarded patterns, moulds and above all computer software codings and systems seems sure to exceed any conceivable value of the restored end product.

Against such a background we might soon see a definable high tide mark for the collectable motor car. The pool of useable, dynamic, exciting and above all worthwhile collectable cars will no longer be growing decade upon decade. Where competition car useability on the public road already has a cut-off mark with production of the last Le Mans-winning cars of the mid-1960s (at the latest), it may well be that high-performance road car useability will prove extremely restricted within 20-30 years time – irrespective of what the law makers may have decreed by then. 

Should demand to enjoy great motor cars – the iconic and defining machine of our modern world – hold up into the future (or indeed be permitted by Government…), it is becoming self-evident that supply will remain virtually fixed. Demand defines perceived monetary value, and it looks as if the top-quality motor car of the 1900s could sustain its investment value – and its thrill of ownership and use – long after its younger sisters of the early 2000s have become immobilised, done to death by their own technologies.

Harry ‘The Lurker’ – motor racing’s finest gatecrasher

Ian Titchmarsh has reminded me of an outstandingly unsung hero of the British motor racing scene, whose shadowy figure appeared in the photo of Jack Fairman and the Ferguson P99 (May issue). Standing immediately to the right of the Fergie’s cockpit was the sport’s most redoubtable gatecrasher – Harry Marks.

For a long period through the 1960s into the ‘70s, grey-haired, friendly Harry inveigled himself onto the front row of any and every major-league motor race run in Britain. Ian recalls 1965, when the British GP was still being held on a Saturday and Harry was a Broadspeed salesman. Ralph Broad issued specific instructions for him to remember that his place was in the showroom and he (Ralph) did not expect to see him (Harry) at Silverstone. As the Grand Prix was run there was no sign of Harry until, come Jimmy Clark’s lap of honour with the winning Lotus 33 on a farm trailer, who should Ralph see, waving next to Jimmy, but Harry Marks.

Some years later when nobody seemed briefed to wave the starting flag for Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart to demonstrate their F1 Lotus 49B and Matra MS80 at a Mallory Park Ford Sport day, Harry ‘The Lurker’ stepped up to the mark, and not only waved the starting flag but also the chequer. 

Ian also recalled James Hunt getting a fit of the giggles over the front cover of Autosport’s June 1, 1972 issue, which showed Reine Wisell’s BRM P160B in the Monaco paddock, with Harry alongside him as proud ‘manager’. He had become a great fan of Reine when the Swede was driving Sid Taylor’s Formula 5000 cars, and if he was to be believed, he’d arranged Reine’s drive for Gold Leaf Team Lotus at the end of 1970 after the cheerful Swede had driven brilliantly to beat Frank Gardner at Oulton Park. Harry had the happy knack of attaching himself to winners, and perhaps Ian’s legal training has contributed to the forensic eye which enabled him to spot our friend in Paul Parker’s new book, Sports Car Racing in Camera 1960-69. Turn to p93 and there’s a startline picture of the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours. Second in the line, and eventual winner, is the works Bandini/Scarfiotti Ferrari 250P. Right alongside it is… Harry Marks.