Letters, March 2016

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Fuellish behaviour

Nowadays it is usual to think of the 1970s as a time when motor sport was so much more informal and easy-going than today, and this view extends to behaviour in the paddock as well as on the race track. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photograph that illustrates this so well as picture 7 in February’s You were there. This shows one of the Lotus pit crew rolling a 50-gallon drum of Texaco racing fuel (complete with Flammable Liquid warning signs), not wearing breathing apparatus, fire-proof overalls or even gloves – and to cap it all he has a fag in the corner of his mouth! Those were the days…

Rod Shreeve, Charlesworth, Derbyshire

***

Swinging in the rain

In reference to your article on the Porsche 935 I have been very fortunate to have witnessed two of my heroes in two of my favourite cars win two memorable races, both held in atrocious conditions. One was the well-known 1970 Brands Hatch 1000Kms, won by Pedro Rodriguez in the fearsome Porsche 917, and the other, less familiar, was the 1981 Silverstone 6 Hours won by Harald Grohs with Walter Röhrl and Dieter Schornstein. I was a paddock marshal at this event but managed to sneak onto the pit wall and witness the memorable site of Harald opposite-locking the hefty Porsche through Woodcote in the torrential rain. 

What a sight that was, one I’ll
never forget.

Peter Haynes, Needingworth cum Holywell

***

Eureka moment

One of the few drivers who appears only once in February’s list of key victories for the Porsche 935 is Rob McFarlin.

A few years ago, I learned that an hour away from where I live in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Rob McFarlin, winner of the 1979 Sebring 12 Hours, was running an antique store with his wife. The first chance we had, my wife and I drove over in our Carrera S so
I could meet him. 

We walked in, introduced myself to Rob and asked him if he really was the winner of the 1979 Sebring 12 Hours. He was shocked by the question and seemed genuinely pleased that I would take the trouble just to meet him. We went out to the sidewalk and talked for almost two hours.

I showed Rob a programme I had purchased at the 1978 Mid-Ohio IMSA Camel GT Race (my first professional sports car race). Rob was competing there that weekend and featured prominently. He was very competitive in the Champion Spark Plug Challenge Series driving a Datsun 200SX. I found his modesty regarding his achievements to be very sincere and refreshing.

As the conversation meandered in and out of the racing world we discovered we both shared a interest in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The idea of ‘quality’ interested us both. Rob suggested my karting should be as rewarding as driving a 935 provided the effort put forth was a ‘quality’ effort. 

Sadly, he and his wife have moved but I retain great memories of that weekend in ’78 and the two hours I spent with Rob on a sidewalk.

I hope we can always remember those who have worked tirelessly and achieved the reward of a ‘quality’ effort.

Bob G Smith, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, USA

***

Fast lady

In the January 2016 issue Gordon Cruickshank wrote about Robert Cowell, who latterly became Roberta.

Once Roberta had bought a Mosquito she was finding it difficult to locate suitable engines for it and so contacted my dad, who found her two Rolls-Royce Merlins located in Castellemare, Italy, still crated up so presumably ex-RAF WWII issue. The Mosquito (G-AOSS) was eventually scrapped during 1960.

In the very late 1950s and early ’60s she was a regular visitor at our house, always seemingly unannounced, but great fun and invariably arriving in something sporty and fast. She enjoyed the A1 and would call in on her way to or from Yorkshire.

In 1990 she moved into sheltered housing and passed away in 2011, when only six people attended her funeral.

Richard A Ward, Adwick Le Street, Doncaster 

***

Where’s that Tardis?

My wife recently bought me some old copies of Motor Sport from our local library’s book store. Having just read (from cover to cover) the latest issue of Motor Sport and wanting something interesting to read, I picked up the July 1971 issue. On glancing through the classifieds, I spotted the following two items which relate to two cars mentioned in the January 2016 issue: a 1965 Lotus Cortina for £575 or near offer (must make Dario weep, even though it was not a Jim Clark car), and a 1958 Mercedes 300 SL Roadster for £1695. I’m sure John Young is smiling. One can only wonder which of today’s cars will increase in value as these classics did.

Jan Dijkman, Florida Park, South Africa

***

Uncovering Topper

I refer to David Foster’s letter in the January issue regarding the identity of ‘A Tom Topper’, whose book Very Advanced Driving was mentioned in Gordon Cruickshank’s December column. A Tom Topper produced two books on driving – Learning to Drive in Pictures in 1967 and, a year or two later,
the aforementioned Very Advanced Driving that went out of print only a few years ago. 

I am acquainted with the author with whom I had a chuckle following the correspondence in your January issue. Naturally, having remained anonymous under his ‘nom de plume’ since 1967, he would prefer to remain so, especially as the books produced were, and I quote him, “Written based on his own learning in private grounds from the age of 10, and unsullied by the haughty, so-called professional driving instruction brigade who tried to monopolise driving instruction then, and still do today.” This amused us all at the time! 

Despite being a little thin on top since his late teens, he has never worn a hairpiece, or charged anyone for driving lessons. I can only assume that Mr Foster’s instructor was capitalising on the success of the publications and using a hairpiece as a disguise! 

Hugh Price, Kingswood, Surrey

***

Montego at bay

Back around the time of Mansell, Senna and Prost, Rover supplied courtesy vehicles at the British Grand Prix to ferry helicopter passengers to the various grandstands. About 40 cars were used, mainly Montego Estates and Rover 800s, with volunteer drivers of whom I was one. Although we didn’t get paid it was a great weekend; we got free meals and got to see all the practice sessions and the Grand Prix. And I had a surreal experience after racing concluded on Sunday.

When I was following some friends towards the way out, they took a turning which I missed. I continued on, drove through a gate and to my amazement I was on the Silverstone circuit. Now I had a dilemma – should I carry on or turn around, then end up regretting the opportunity of a lifetime?
I thought, what the heck – and went for it! I drove a complete lap of the Grand Prix circuit in a Montego
Estate, at a very sedate speed so the experience would last as long as possible, thinking that only an hour before the F1 cars were going around at speeds of 170mph.

When I told my friends what I had done they thought I was joking, but by the smile on my face they knew
I wasn’t kidding.

The following year I did it again, this time with a convoy of British Racing Green Rovers behind me. But alas, instead of driving around at a reasonable speed so as not to attract attention, they all decided to make it a race. After about two-thirds of the circuit, marshals spread across the
track and forced everyone off. Needless to say the next year all the courtesy drivers were warned not to drive onto the track. But no one could take away my moment of glory, driving the circuit on the same day as the F1 greats.

Derek Linney, Stourport on Severn, Worcs 

***

Shadow man

In last April’s edition of Motor Sport Rob Widdows wrote an article about “motor racing’s most influential designer, whose low profile masks a catalogue of great achievements” – Gordon Coppuck.

Having known Gordon most of my life (we were both brought up in Fleet a couple of streets away from Bill Boddy), I heartily agree with Rob’s description of Gordon’s qualities. It is ironic therefore that in the February 2016 issue of You Were There, Gordon is indeed keeping a low profile in photograph 3 on page 61 sandwiched (unidentified) between Denny Hulme and Tyler Alexander!

You have a great magazine, with very interesting and often controversial views expressed by your contributors.

Chris Brooks, Frimley, Surrey 

***

Putting a sheen on Sheene

Having read the motorcycle nominations for the Hall of Fame I can only conclude that Mat Oxley is not exactly a big Sheene fan. He mentions respecting him but then made a very low-key pitch with regard to a rider who – prior to Valentino Rossi – was easily the first name to spring to most folks’ minds if you asked them to name a motorcycle racer.

To suggest he would be in the “lower reaches” of the nominees is incredible when judged by his comments on some of the other riders suggested. Remember this was an era before satellite television had brought the stars into every living room worldwide, and in this context
I would suggest he was every bit as big
a public personality as Rossi is today.

In the UK and Europe Sheene was ‘The Man’ who made motorcycling ‘cool’ and his personality dragged motorcycle racing out of the shed and into the showroom.

Take into account an incredible ability to recover way too quickly from big injuries: seven weeks from near-dead to starting a race at Cadwell Park, and then managing even to walk was pretty incredible after the 1982 Silverstone smash. Admittedly his best form was behind him from then on, but once it rained and evened up the odds he could still scare the full works riders on his outdated machinery, despite the prospect of another heavy smash
putting him in a wheelchair.

For sure Kenny Roberts beat him royally once he arrived in Europe, in the same way Freddie Spencer beat Roberts, but for a few years we had the coolest, hippest rock ’n roll racer on the planet. He was of his time, alongside James Hunt, in the same way that Rossi’s era reflects that of Schumacher.

I know which pair I would side with!

Neil Leigh, Spa, Belgium

***

Time travel to Le Mans

Thank you for publishing the article on the new Steve McQueen documentary.Over the Christmas/New Year holiday I dug out my Le Mans DVD and watched it again after many years.

I’m glad I did. Apart from the great racing scenes, I was fascinated by the pre-race coverage: Steve McQueen arriving in the 1970s 911S; the campgrounds, queues for the loos and washing facilities; the gendarmes, especially the part where they are starting their bikes; the mechanical cameras – no motordrives; the Ferrari transporter, all open sides; the Firestone tyre truck, a bit dirty; the cramped pits, and untidy garages…

And did I catch a glimpse of the winning Porsche 917, driven by Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann towards the end of the movie?

I’ll probably watch the new documentary too, as I’m a Le Mans and Steve McQueen fanatic. 

I also enjoyed watching the Porsche 919’s performances last year – Mark Webber is smiling!

Paul Duffy, Bundeena, Australia

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