In a Galaxie far, far ahead...

How Jack Sears and the big Ford Galaxie changed the shape of British tin-top racing back in 1963

Touring car racing, especially since the 1980s, has left me absolutely stone cold. I have never developed any interest in production cars, and racing lookalike versions have always been filed in my mind under ‘S’ for ‘So what’. Perhaps much of this disinterest has become more deeply ingrained by the driving standards displayed by hot-shoes secure within their all-encompassing roll cages, crash bars, fireproofs and multi-point harnesses, confident they can turn motor racing into a contact sport without great risk of hurting their pink little bodies, or those of their rivals.

Had I been a Steward at the majority of British Touring Car Championship rounds over the past 20 years, I’m confident I wouldn’t have lasted long. In desperation the RAC MSA would have lifted my ticket, because I’d have banned three or four drivers per meeting – pulling their licences, probably in perpetuity. One enthusiast’s star driver is another’s completely irredeemable tosser. You get my drift?

Yet back when drivers were still forced to consider life and limb, I did enjoy Ford versus Jaguar, Mini-Cooper versus Ford Anglias, all that Silverstone-derived circus stuff. Talking to Jack Sears recently he took considerable delight in recalling Jaguar’s discomfiture at the May Silverstone meeting in 1963, when he gave the new John Willment-entered Ford Galaxie its thunderous British debut, and ended Coventry’s domination of the saloon car racing scene…

In the newly-delivered 7-litre V8 Galaxie, practising initially on road tyres simply pumped up to around 60psi for the occasion, he had a rear blow out virtually the moment he tramped aggressively on the throttle. Next morning, in time for second practice, the intended Firestone racing tyres had at last arrived from America, and they held together as he unleashed the gigantic Ford’s full power around the aerodrome circuit – and promptly qualified on pole, well ahead of the formerly unbeatable Jaguar 3.8s. While practising starts on the infield runway, Jack then found his new car’s clutch slipping. Team manager Jeff Uren called the Galaxie’s US preparers – Holman & Moody – and John Holman warned him not to let Jack pop the clutch at the race start because it wouldn’t survive.

Consequently, Jack recalled: “At the start I simply let the Jaguars get away while I treated the clutch like cut glass. Into the first corner I was behind Graham [Hill], Roy [Salvadori] and Gawaine Baillie” – I think this was actually Michael Salmon? – “…The Galaxie’s drum brakes were running metal to metal linings, and to my surprise I found they were quite good and fade-free. Into Becketts I could more or less match the Jaguars under braking, so when we came out of Chapel Curve and onto the Hangar Straight I thought ‘let’s see what seven litres can do’ and – again to my surprise – I wafted past all three Jaguars in the one move!

“Then we were diving into Stowe Corner, and I thought ‘well, they are bound to come back past me in the middle of the corner’. So I leaned the Galaxie in towards the apex and it cornered surprisingly well. In fact it wasn’t as heavy as it looked. The massive steel bumpers had been replaced by aluminium ones, and when I searched in my mirrors to find the Jaguars – there they were, heeling over at all angles, still behind me.

“I just put my foot down and drew away. I was worried about the clutch, so from the end of lap two I stayed in top gear. It was extraordinarily easy. Tommy [Sopwith] and Michael Parkes were standing on the inside of Becketts giving me the thumbs up each time I went by, and I even had time to give them a wave…
“I was fortunate to be able to buy the car back some years later, from South Africa, and we have had it ever since. As a racing car the Galaxie really was much better than it ever looked.”

And memorable, too… even for someone so unimpressed by tin-top racing.