Alan Mann Racing’s cars are famous for being cloaked in red and gold – but a strong association with Ford, now as in period, is equally symbolic. With the team on the verge of scaling back, we took a lingering glance at a fleet that will soon partially be dismantled
Writer: Gordon Cruickshank Photographer: Matthew Howell
It fits, somehow. Henry Mann, son of 1970s racing team boss Alan Mann, has a camera slung around his neck as we meet to talk about the team his father closed down in 1969 and then restarted when he fell in love with historic racing. Only this isn’t a megapixel smartcam, it’s a Rolleiflex, with film you have to dunk in chemicals. It fits with the fact that Henry works in a small record label in Limehouse, dealing not with downloads but with valves, tape and vinyl. And it fits with the red and gold cars we’ve come to see, all of them decades old. Today is all about yesterday.
Alan Mann died in 2012, but the renewed team has continued to race at historic meetings, with John Young and Henry himself driving cars built up more recently under Alan’s aegis, of course in that memorable, eye-grabbing livery. But without his father’s involvement and with a career of his own to pursue, Henry has decided the team has to contract. In future he will race only the Mustang, so before the cars are dispersed we assembled them at Fairoaks Airfield, the team base, to hear about Alan, AMR and helicopters. Fairoaks is the site of the highly successful helicopter leasing business Alan built up after leaving the car world, but not many realise it owes its current form to him. “It was an old WWII airbase, and when my father bought it, it was just a grass airstrip,” Henry says. “Gradually he expanded it so it was the ideal base when he started the aviation businesses.” We wait while a deafening Jet Ranger taxis past. “It’s the perfect location. We’re out in the country, yet we could be at your office in 10 minutes!” As MS HQ is opposite Battersea Heliport he’s not exaggerating. Mann sold the airfield in 2009 but it’s still busy – before we can drive the cars from workshop to hangar apron we queue, line-astern, behind a van with FOLLOW ME in large letters. Ironic. Following anyone has always been anathema to the Mann team.
It was Goodwood that refired Alan Mann’s racing passion. Having been a bright star of Sixties privateer racing, especially in saloons, he had dropped out of motor sport for 30 years. In 2003 he was invited to race Rupert Clevely’s Lotus Cortina at the Revival, then Rowan Atkinson’s Falcon, and, says Henry, “He got completely wrapped up in it all over again.” He quickly bought a Mustang for himself, had it prepared and threw himself back into the sport where his team had scored so many red and gold stars decades before. “He went at it as though he still had a Ford works budget,” Henry grins. Yet before long his own revival reflected the original team’s progression, as he switched from driving a car to running the new Alan Mann Racing outfit.
It was a parallel to the 1960s. He’d had a modest career on track in the 1950s and early ’60s, though you could argue he made it to Grand Prix level – if you accept the 1957 Naples GP, which he contested in his old single-seater F2 HWM-Alta. But while he’d planned the motor trade as his main focus, his success as a preparer and manager sidetracked him into the sport big style.
Knowing the value of racing PR to the dealership he was running at the time, he had entered Anglias, Cortinas and even a Zephyr on track under the semi-private Andrews banner. With his emphasis on prep and polish, plus future GP driver Henry Taylor at the wheel, he was running a quasi-works effort by 1963. Results were good, but it was an injection of Yankee testosterone that pitched the team onto the front pages of the racing mags. Staying ahead of a beefy V8 Ford Falcon Sprint in the 1963 Marlboro 12 Hours impressed Ford in the US and suddenly (that’s to say with 14 weeks to go) Mann found himself tasked with preparing eight Falcons for the ’64 Monte. Anyone who knew that relentlessly demanding event could tell you those behemoths were hardly suitable; anyone who knew the relentlessly demanding Alan Mann could tell you that wouldn’t stop him. It meant racing full-time and the founding of Alan Mann Racing, signalled mid-season by the arrival of that paint scheme.
Fastest on stage after Monte stage, though finally beaten by the pipsqueak Mini on handicap, the unexpected success of the Mann Falcons boosted Ford across Europe and AMR across Ford. From then on, AMR was an official part of the blue-blood brotherhood, and big V8s were a muscular part of the Mann mix, along with compact Cortina and later the Escort. Years later, when the call came about the Atkinson Falcon, the stars were aligned.
“Of all the tracks he raced at, Dad always loved Goodwood,” Henry says, “so it was something he couldn’t turn down.” Those races, plus a Can-Am reunion in the States, reignited the passion and soon Alan was after a Mustang of his own. Luckily his long-time team stalwart Brian Lewis was nearby, running his own business on Fairoaks Airfield. Part of the team right through its first incarnation, he is once again a vital part of AMR in its revived guise and is on hand today to oversee things, along with John Gray, another long-termer. Brian has seen virtually every racing arena, including running F2 cars for John Coombs and F1 Lobster-claw BT34s at Brabham, and having assembled GT40s at Ford Advanced Vehicles he was crucial to Mann’s lightweight Ford GT experiment in 1966. That was apart from the Cobra roadsters and Daytona coupés AMR fielded, helping Ford to the ’65 international GT championship, the team’s vital part in Ford’s ’66 Le Mans victory, the Monte Carlo Rally and Tour de France entries… All that alongside Sir John Whitmore’s 1965 European Touring Car 1600 title in a Cortina and back-to-back British Saloon Car Championships for Frank Gardner in bellowing Mustang and squat, brawny Escort. Not forgetting the F3L P68 and 69, the sensational super-slippy Gp6 DFV-powered sports cars that AMR created off its own bat in 1968, and the two unique Can-Am machines. Alan Mann’s mantra was undoubtedly ‘yes we can’.
“Magic car,” Brian says of the F3L, defending a machine often seen as flawed. “I feel sorry for the guys struggling with a DFV when nobody knew about them” – only Lotus and AMR had them at first – “but it could have been a winner.” Seriously quick but problematic, the ambitious project was punctured by lack of resources, Chris Irwin’s awful accident and finally a rule change that sidelined the gorgeous machines. But at least Brian had a second chance with it after AMR was reborn.
“Alan came to me in 2004 and asked who could build him a Mustang,” says Brian. “I put him on to Jim Morgan, another ex-Mann guy.” Mann was still running the aviation firms, but the retro team under Morgan and then Grahame Goudie quickly expanded, buying both original team cars and building ‘new’ examples to race. Mustangs, Cortinas and Escorts, plus in 2006 a MkI Capri for Henry’s racing education, then a GT40 (now sold). “After that,” says Brian, “I got a call from Alan saying ‘I’ve just bought David Piper’s F3L. I think it could be a bit of fun!’ ”
With this expanding fleet Lewis was now back full-time, completely rebuilding the F3L he helped assemble in the first place, improving and re-engineering it to use the DFV block as a stressed member. It reappeared in 2008, a much better car, and Richard Attwood raced it at Goodwood in 2010. It has now gone to a private owner in Switzerland.
By the end of 1969 Alan Mann had a trophy shelf to make anyone proud, but what you’d now call the ‘brand synergy’ was about to snap. With two Le Mans victories on top of its other achievements, Ford’s ‘Total Performance’ programme halted. Not fancying following Ford of Britain into stage rallying, Mann, already a keen pilot of both full-size and model planes, chose to leave racing and take to the skies with helicopters and other equally successful aviation enterprises based at Fairoaks. But even Henry doesn’t know why he chose black and yellow as his aviation livery rather than red and gold. Nevertheless, the famous livery has more recently spread across historic racing grids around Europe.
Alan Mann’s health was declining, but sharing drives in the St Mary’s Trophy with his old partner Sir John Whitmore in Mustangs and a Cortina gave him real pleasure. Latterly John Young has been a regular team pilot, taking a Masters title in the Mustang, while Henry, too young even to be aware of his father’s early race successes, has also proved pretty handy, winning a title in that Capri, then two more in Cortina and Mustang. It was especially sweet, not long after his father’s death, to win the Alan Mann Trophy at Donington in his Mustang, while Goodwood’s memorial gathering of Alan Mann cars and drivers was possibly the largest ever assembly of red and gold, a fitting farewell to a man who made such a visible mark on racing.
Though the team is downsizing, Henry does fancy racing an Escort. And Brian tells me he’s just seen a Falcon shell on eBay – “and Henry sounds excited by the idea!” Maybe there’s an expansionist gene in the Mann genome.
Ford Mustang 289
Brian Lewis built this in 2011 from an American road car import. Using the traditional four-barrel Holley carb the 289 V8 produces about 430hp. Sharing with current British Touring Car Championship driver Mat Jackson, Henry won the Alan Mann Trophy at Donington in 2012.
Mustangs and AMR go way back. Following the Ford and Falcon connection the team tested a development car at Goodwood before it was publicly launched in 1964 and developed it into a rapid vehicle in races and rallies, scoring two Boxing Day victories for Mann himself at Brands Hatch, finishing 1-2 in the touring division of the 1964 Tour de France and lifting the ’65 ETCC title as a privateer entry for Roy Pierpoint. A young Jacky Ickx was an occasional Mustang driver, too.
“Even though it has no power steering, it’s quite easy to drive”, Henry says. “It’s very physical, with heavy steering, but it seems to be the one I do best with!” Just as well – this is the one car the reduced AMR will be running next year, entering some Masters rounds and of course the Goodwood Revival.
“It’s up there with the rest,” says Henry. “Except Leo Voyazides – we can’t seem to beat his Falcon!”
Ford Cortina Lotus
Not a period team car, but an LHD vehicle found in Slovenia and rebuilt by Brian Lewis. Henry won first time out in it, at Oulton Park in March 2011, and went on to win that year’s Pre-66 Masters series. “Dad was so happy,” he recalls. “It was the last race he went to. He claimed he wasn’t worried about it as he’d won so many things before, but he was over the moon.”
While Ford’s ‘Total Performance’ ethos made its loudest noise with big American metal, Mustangs, Falcons, Cobras and Daytonas, the Cortina waved the blue flag over here and Alan Mann waved it fiercer than most. From the first GT in Andrews colours through the works GT, which AMR secretly improved for Henry Taylor in ’63, and the class winner at Bridgehampton that led to the Holman Moody and Falcon connection, the Dagenham dustbin turned into a demon once Lotus had wafted the pixie dust over it. Through AMR’s first year the cars were fleet but fragile (though Jim Clark took the British saloon title in the works car), but ’65 was John Whitmore’s year, sweeping the ETCC before him with Peter Proctor and Jack Sears equally vital to the task. (The British title went to Roy Pierpoint’s AMR-prepped Mustang.)
While AMR focused on sports cars from 1966, the red and gold Cortinas raced on in ETCC, hillclimbs and the US Trans-Am series, with some decent results, and then enjoyed a late flowering in ’68 fitted with F2 FVA lumps until the Escorts were ready, winning four ETCC track and hill climb rounds under Whitmore. Though the car pictured is on the disposal list, the team retains one of the 1966 works entries – not for racing. The team’s no2 car that year, it was raced, and crashed, at Brands Hatch by Jackie Stewart on the day of England’s World Cup victory. “Then,” recalls Brian Lewis, “he rushed off to appear on Juke Box Jury”.
“The Cortina is a really light car,” Henry says, “and you have to preserve every bit of speed you can. It’s harder to drive than the Mustang!”
Ford Escort FVA
The most special of our gathering – Frank Gardner’s 1968 British Saloon Car Championship-winning Escort, built up by Brian Lewis: “We collected six plain 1100s off the line at Boreham,” he says, “and brought them back to Byfleet [where the team was then located]. It’s never been got at. Ken Shipley restored it after finding it in Scotland with the Birrell brothers. It’s a Group 5 car but retaining its trim and seats, even the sun visors. The big arches were shaped by Peter Bohanna [who helped the team with wind-tunnel testing]. He first made rubber tools to press out the steel arches. At the time a roll cage wasn’t required, though you can see it has had one at some point.” It also carries a 1968 tax disc. Wonder how the insurance company felt about that…
Frank Gardner had already collected the ’67 BSCC title in AMR’s Falcon Sprint, but the Escort was the way forward – compact and wieldy, with enormous potential from various Ford engines. In ’68 the BSCC ran to Gp5 regulations, allowing Mann to use the fuel-injected 16-valve FVA Cosworth offering anything up to 230bhp. Initially fitted to the Cortina until the new car was homologated in May, it transformed the Escort, helped by serious suspension mods involving Morris Minor torsion bars. It was a blissful season, Gardner finishing well ahead of Brian Muir’s Falcon despite the 3-litre deficit, and even setting a new saloon lap record at Brands Hatch. AMR also entered Roger Clark, Peter Arundell, Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver in a sister car that still exists.
For ’69 the series ran to FIA regs banning the FVA and AMR reverted to Twin Cams fitted with a non-functioning ‘supercharger’ to bump it up a class, aiming for outright wins without undermining the rest of the TC category. Despite reduced power, Gardner took three outright wins plus the over-2-litre class. The following year Ford’s focus switched to rallying, but Mann chose not to follow.
This is the car that scored most of Gardner’s 1968 victories. It’s too historically important to race, according to Henry, but he has driven it up the Goodwood Festival hill. “It’s small and nimble and handles amazingly,” he says. “I even got into the Goodwood shoot-out with it. If there was a suitable series that fitted with the Mustang, I’d love to build one up to race.”
Ford Anglia 107E
Built to contest the 1950s St Mary’s Trophy at the 2012 Goodwood Revival, this 1959 machine utilises a lot of Cortina elements underneath, though powered by an extremely hot 1300 pre-crossflow engine. With its box of electronic instruments for a dash it looks more radical than the Escort inside, but then it isn’t aping anything from the period. Even in his Alan Andrews team days, Mann never raced one of these little machines. Shared by Henry Mann and BTCC driver Mat Jackson – Jackson called it “a bit of a handful” – it placed seventh.