World's most exclusive Gulf club

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A keen collector craved a Ford GT40, but passion sometimes knows no bounds

By Andrew Frankel

Their names are 3707 Zenith Blue & 3957 Tangerine and on their own are just a couple of colours.

But put them together with art and skill, apply them to the flowing surfaces of an aerodynamically honed racing car and something extraordinary happens. Mouths fall open, fingers point and young boys dream about one day owning such a car. For these are the racing colours of Gulf Oil.

One young German lad did more than just dream. His name is Roald Goethe and he was transfixed by the liveries of the Gulf GT40s he saw race in the 1960s. He determined that, one day, he would have more than just a model on his bedside table. He would have the real thing. It took 40 years but in 2008, and by now a wealthy man, he approached Adrian Hamilton to help him find one. Little did either know that Hamilton’s sourcing of an original JW Automotive Gulf GT40 would simply be the first step on the road to what is now probably the most important single-theme collection of cars in private hands. It was Hamilton who suggested his client build up a unique gathering of Gulf machinery and, using his unrivalled contacts in the world of historic racing, spent four years scouring the planet for examples of every significant Gulf racing car.

It’s called the ROFGO Gulf Collection and comprises 25 cars. Actually, it has 24 cars plus one very large and quite fabulous truck, of which more in a minute.

The list starts with that 1965 GT40 but stretches right up to the present day with the McLaren MP412C GT3 that Goethe races. In between these poles are some of the most delectable and important racing cars ever made. There are F1 cars here and Can-Am machines, too, but the focus is very much on those classic sports-racing cars. All are ‘live’ and Goethe intends to use them. Indeed the 917 only recently returned from the bodyshop having been damaged at Le Mans Classic, when Vern Schuppan hit a barrier avoiding someone else’s accident.

We could have dedicated the whole magazine to the collection, but in the end elected to take eight machines that we thought represented the best of the spirit of Gulf Racing including, of course, the rather large beast in which some of them travelled.

*

There is neither the space nor, I feel the need to explain to Motor Sport readers how the GT40 came to be. But even once it had been conceived, designed, built and raced, it was a car that took a long time to get right. The less said about its debut at Le Mans in 1964 the better, but 1965 was scarcely an improvement: six entered the race, none finished. It wasn’t until 1966 and the arrival of big-block 7-litre power that the full potential of the design and some much needed reliability were finally found.

Back in the 1965 race, one of the entries was a private Rob Walker car. Driven by Bob Bondurant and Umberto Maglioli, it managed barely two hours of racing before succumbing to head gasket failure. It was returned to Ford Advanced Vehicles, dismantled and forgotten about for two years.

For any normal racing car that would be time enough to render it obsolete, but not the GT40. New rules for 1968 mandated a 25-car run for any wishing to compete with an engine of more than three litres and that played perfectly into Ford’s hands. While in time younger, purpose-built machines like the Porsche 917 would spoil the party, in the short term there was hay to be made.

The old Rob Walker car was recreated in Gulf colours, given a new identity (P/1084) and sent out to race. To be fair it was its sister P/1075 that captured all the headlines, winning Le Mans in both 1968 and the near photo-finish in 1969, but P/1084 was good enough for fourth at Spa, driven by David Hobbs and the great Paul Hawkins.

Its greater significance here is as the first member of the Gulf Collection, the car that inspired Roald Goethe as a child and a machine that set the ball rolling for the collection as it is today.

*

2009 Lola-Aston Martin LMP1

Like so many of its forebears down the years, Aston Martin’s first full prototype since the AMR1, some 20 years earlier, was destined to earn its keep as a best-of-the-rest car. However, unlike those other Astons that promised much and delivered little, the LMP1 prototype did as well as could conceivably be expected, usually proving the fastest petrol-powered prototype in the field.

Unfortunately when that field turned up at places like Le Mans, it also included diesel prototypes with rules so heavily stacked in their favour there was nothing any petrol car could do other than to hope that they broke. But with works Audi and Peugeot teams investing the kind of money that only vast global multinationals can muster, failures were the last thing that tended to happen.

Three LMPls were made, Lola building the cars, Prodrive running them and Aston Martin providing its road-based 6-litre V12. Sadly the cars are probably best remembered for the unseemly spat between Lola and Aston over its naming: Aston wanted it called the DBR1-2 to evoke the memory of the only Aston ever to win a top-level championship, Lola pointing out that the car was, in fact, an Aston-powered Lola. It’s a shame because, unfairly favoured diesel opposition aside, it was usually the class of the field, winning the 2009 LMS series outright against only occasional diesel opposition.

At Le Mans in 2009 two LMPls qualified first and second in the unofficial petrol-powered contest, one car running as high as third outright until dropping out of contention after an altercation with another competitor, the other coming home fourth behind two Peugeots and an Audi. It was Aston’s best result at the race in half a century. At Sebring the following year, one actually made the podium in third place behind two Peugeots.

The collection’s car is the second chassis, usually raced by Darren Turner and recording a best result of second place at the 2009 Nurburgring 1000Kms.

*

1971 Porsche 908/3

What better measure of a car’s brilliance can there be than to know that of all the cars he raced in his long career, the Porsche 908/3 is Brian Redman’s favourite? “It’s a jewel of a car,” he says. You look at that non-existent wheelbase and think it must be twitchy as hell but nothing could be further from the truth. It was fast, friendly and with that torquey flat-eight motor, wide tyres and no downforce, it was an absolute dream to drive on the Targa.”

Ah yes, the Targa Florio, one of the races (along with the Nurburgring 1000Kms) for which the 908/3 was specifically designed. Of course Porsche already had the 917 at its disposal, but understandably felt its brutal power would not be put to best use in the Sicilian hills. As for the ‘Ring, computer simulations suggested there would be little difference in lap time between the two cars, but Porsche rightly figured the 908/3 would be far easier to drive and therefore less likely to go punching holes in the Eifel scenery.

Actually that 908 title is a little misleading. Its 3-litre engine aside, the car actually owed very little to the earlier 908s and rather more to the astonishing beryllium-braked, titanium-sprung sub-400kg 909 Bergspyder hillclimb car of 1968. With the bigger engine and the need to be reliable for hours on end rather than a few seconds at a time, the 908/3 was never going to be that light, but its 545kg kerb weight still made it a quarter of a tonne lighter than the already flyweight 917. And with 360bhp under the driver’s foot, it was no slouch.

A Gulf 908/3 opened the account by winning the 1970 Targa with Redman and Jo Siffert while the rival Salzburg car of Kurt Ahrens and Vic Elford took care of the Nurburgring 1000Kms. In ’71 all three 908/3s crashed out of the Targa Florio, leaving victory to Alfa Romeo, but the model went out in style with a total podium lock-out at the ‘Ring, with first and third going to Martini cars and second place to the Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez Gulf entry.

The car seen here is none of the above. In fact chassis 12 was built for the ’71 season but only did one race in Gulf colours, with Siffert and Derek Bell qualifying fifth for the Nurburgring race but retiring from second place with a broken chassis frame. It was sold to Joest Racing in 1974 and continued to race for a further four seasons.

*

1971 Porsche 917

It might not have won the Le Mans (despite what the McQueen film would have you believe, no Gulf 917 ever did), but if there is a jewel in the collection’s crown that’s a little bit bigger and shines a touch brighter than all the others, this is surely it.

The story of 917/26 starts in 1969 when it was used as a test car, but got properly interesting the following year when it took part at Le Mans driven by David Hobbs and Mike Hai!wood. The latter crashed it sufficiently badly for the car to be given a new frame, number 31, and it then raced to victory at both Imola, driven by Brian Redman, and in the last world championship race of the season at the Osterreichring, where Jo Siffert shared with Redman.

Siffert and Bell came fifth at Sebring in 1971, before Richard Attwood and Herbie Muller produced the best result for a Gulf 917 at Le Mans when they brought it home second, two laps behind the rival Martini car of Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko. The winners averaged 138mph for the 24 hours, an unprecedented achievement in the history of the race.

It raced on in Interserie and other events for some years, but has rightly been restored to its glorious Le Mans specification. This includes short-tail finned bodywork, a 5-litre engine, five-speed transmission and that inimitable livery, the best specification for arguably the most revered car in endurance racing.

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1975 Mirage GR8

Having won Le Mans for Aston Martin in 1959, doing it again in the ’60s with Gulf-sponsored GT4Os and rampaging to win after win with the Gulf Porsche 917s in the early ’70s, by 1975 John Wyer had little left to achieve. But as nine years of Gulf sponsorship drew to a close, it would be nice to go out on a high. The Mirage GR8, this actual Mirage GR8 to be precise, provided it.

Mirage came into being as a marque with the Ford GT40-based M1 in 1967 and raced on into the mid-70s with varying degrees of success. Two GR85 went to Le Mans for 1975 (the other is in the collection, too) to face a field that wasn’t perhaps the strongest to assemble in north-west France. Opposition came from Ligier and Lola as well as an army of RSR Porsche 911s contesting the GT category. This GR8 was the first car to be driven by the endurance dream team of Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell, the Belgian already with one of his six La Sarthe wins under his belt, the Brit still looking for his first.

The Mirages were powered by Ford-Cosworth DFVs detuned not only to make sure they lasted 24 hours but also because the oil crisis had resulted in the ACO mandating a minimum 20-lap gap between fuel fills. According to Bell, that meant the GR85 had to manage 7mpg. Even so they qualified first and second, with Vern Schuppan and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in the sister car. The latter pairing led early on, but were delayed by electrical problems in the evening, Bell and Ickx picked up the baton and ran with it. They built up a sufficient lead to change a cracked exhaust manifold on Sunday afternoon and, despite loud bangs and thumps from what turned out to be broken rear suspension, came home first, a single lap ahead of the best Ligier.

For Wyer it was the perfect retirement present, for Ickx and Bell merely a sign to things to come.

*

1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail

For a car that was never designed to race, it has to be said the McLaren F1 did rather well. In 1995 it made McLaren the first marque since Ferrari in 1949 to win the Le Mans 24 Hours on its debut and it swept to victory in both years of the BPR Global GT Series, Thomas Bscher and John Nielsen winning in ’95, Ray Bellm and James Weaver taking the title in ’96.

But it was all change for 1997: the BPR was out and the FIA GT Championship was in, for which Mercedes designed the CLK-GTR, a purpose-built racing car of which a few technically road-legal derivatives were offered for sale. It placed the F1, with its long-travel, high camber-change road suspension and threeseat cockpit blocking the airflow to the rear wing at a massive disadvantage.

Complaining wouldn’t get them anywhere, however, so Gordon Murray knuckled down and adapted the Fl as best he could. The result was the F1 GTR ‘Iongtail’, its most obvious attributes being bodywork extended dramatically at the front and rear to find some of the downforce the earlier GTR so clearly lacked. Other changes included the fitment of a sequential gearbox (addressing the GTR’s one major mechanical weakness) and dropping the engine capacity to just under six litres.

Extraordinarily, it seemed at first that the plan might work, that an adapted production GT would beat what was effectively a works prototype. At the first three rounds the longtails took a hat trick of victories, but often only by outlasting the new Mercedes that were still in the troubleshooting stage of their development. Mercedes then won at the Nurburgring, McLaren at Spa before it was Mercedes’ turn to take three on the trot. In the end it came down to the Laguna Seca finale. Mercedes won and its driver Bernd Schneider took the title, with McLaren team-mates Steve Soper and JJ Lehto tied in second place.

The collection’s Gulf car was run by the 1995 BPR champs Bscher and Nielsen. It came third at both Hockenheim and Helsinki and in 1998 Bscher used it to win the Monza 1000Kms, sharing with Geoff Lees.

*

Aston Martin DBR9

For half a century various projects have aimed to return Aston Martin to the success seen in its 1950s racing heyday. There were the Project 212,214 and 215 cars of the early ’60s, the Group C Nimrods of the early ’80s and the AMR1 of 1989. All failed even to approach what had been achieved even by the beautiful little DB3S that came second at Le Mans three times in the 1950s, let alone the DBR1 still the only Aston actually to win it.

But the DBR9 got close. True it was racing for GT rather than outright honours, but from the very beginning it began to rack up victories, starting with a class win in the 2005 Sebring 12 Hours. But of course the main aim was to taste success at Le Mans once more. And just as in the 1950s, that success was a long time coming. In 2005 it was third in class behind two Corvettes. In 2006 the DBR9 was an impressive sixth overall, which would normally be enough to secure GT honours, but once more there was a Corvette ahead, having been driven out of its skin into fourth place.

It was only at the third time of asking that Aston Martin finally climbed to the top step of the podium, with the DBR9 of Darren Turner, David Brabham and Rickard Rydell finishing fifth overall and a lap clear of the nearest Corvette.

In 2008 Brabham and Turner did it again with Antonio Garcia in none other than the car you see here, still wearing all the mud, dirt, oil, rubber and bug squash it accumulated. It had started life in 2006 contesting the American Le Mans Series, and BMS Scuderia Italia raced it in the following season’s FIA GT Championship before the car returned to the factory team.

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1907 Mercedes 0317 Transporter

This is the actual transporter in which the collection’s Porsche 917 travelled to and from Le Mans in 1971. Only three were ever built as Porsche transporters: one is believed lost, another is in the US painted in another livery and this the only survivor wearing those familiar Gulf colours.

Hamilton found it in Florida, still in the Rothmans configuration it wore when last used as a working tool, but in such terrible condition that It looked as if had spent the last 30 years on the floor of the ocean.”

Once it was back in the UK, Hamilton sent it to Yorkshire-based WHF Ltd which supplies support trailers and hospitality for race teams and whose clients include Red Bull and McLaren. Fourteen months and a full mechanical and bodily restoration later, the transporter was once more fit to be filled with Gulf Porsches.

Any amount of time with the vast transporter based on a chassis for a Mercedes coach and powered by a 10.8-litre straight-six motor producing about 210bhp will dispel any doubts as to the value of the restoration. The transporter is perfect, the detailing simply breathtaking and the use of the Gulf livery more striking than on any Porsche 917.

You climb up into the cabin, sit in the gently sprung driver’s seat and start drinking in the details: the near-horizontal steering wheel, vinyl door cards, immaculate chrome-edged sun visors and perforated boarding behind the two immaculate bunk beds. So dedicated were they to getting the truck just right, the correct fuel gauge had to be sourced from Russia. It cost 000,000 just to restore and a whole lot more to buy,” says Hamilton, but the collection would not be complete without it.”

Like every other member, the transporter is regarded as a working vehicle and will next year be loaded with the 908/3 and 917 and driven to the Le Mans Classic, a sight likely to be as astonishing as any seen at La Sarthe in recent years.

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