Anthony Hussey

Lancia Aficionado, historic rallies contender, and provider of comfort to all the fastest cars

For a man whose work and hobbies revolve around cars, Anthony Hussey did not grow up with any youthful desperation to be Fangio. The family product, Connolly Leather, has been standard fitting since the first models of Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Aston, Ferrari and Morgan (who are still ordering the same colours). Yet Hussey’s first driving pleasures came in the unlikely surroundings of Korea, during National Service, when he realised that keeping a four-ton truck straight on a rockstrewn hill-road, or slithering a Jeep on ice through a minefield, was pretty exciting. This might be why he competes in historic rallying rather than on a dull and predictable race-track.

Once back in the UK, he found his sister had become secretary to Maurice Smith, Editor of Autocar, and cars began to feature rather a lot Smith lent him his DB2/4 Aston Martin, and Hussey did his first ‘ton’, like so many others, on the Kingston Bypass. He soon met people like ‘Steady’ Barker and Peter Gamier, and went to the races in the company of photographer Michael Scott and Michael Turner, the artist “I used to stand right behind Scott at the track edge, while the drivers used him as an aiming point. Clark would beckon him forward or back a few feet each lap, then nod and get on with it. He’d be in a full drift when he got to us. When Scott wanted to move, he would wave to Clark to let him know he was going.”

Did he ever want to race? “Oh, my (Connolly) uncles tried to keep all of us too poor to race we just went to watch.” Nevertheless, he became fast friends with Stirling Moss after leather-cladding a bathroom in Moss’s famous Mayfair house, and still is. Today he goes only to vintage races “I might go to a Grand Prix, but only if someone dropped me in the paddock by helicopter”. It was Scott (who now runs the 96 Club) who introduced Hussey to Lancias. “He said, what you need is an Aurelia B24 Spyder; I know where there’s one for £375. I didn’t know what it was, but I bought it.” That was in 1966, and he still has it. Competition caught up with him when he saw the first Coronation Rally over Eppynt in 1986, one of the first historic events, and thought “I really want to do that”. He entered the next two Coronations, two Monte Carlo Challenges, several Circuits of Ireland and three Pirelli Classic Marathons, in the Spyder, his Aurelia B20 coupe or an Aprilia, and loved them all. “I never care where I finish, I just want to drive for miles and miles on wonderful roads in a beautiful car in the company of people who think the same way. After the spectacular Yugoslavian leg of the ’89 Marathon, I actually went off and had a little cry, I was so happy and exhausted.”

Connolly’s new venture, into luggage and accessories and a glamorous West End shop, has kept him off the stages for a while, but earlier this year he tackled LEJOG, the testing end-to-end challenge. It was going fine until the Spyder collided with a lorry; but Hussey relates even this sad out come with his endless jollity: “A real PR coup. First I get towed to the start, then I catapult a famous car journalist (Phil Llewelyn) through the windscreen!” (The Lancia is healing fast, at Omicron Engineering.)

He relishes the pressure of these long-distance rallies. “Saturation therapy. If work is stressful, a normal holiday is no good I lie on the beach and think about the business. But on a rally, you worry about that noise in the back, the oil, the schedule. Makes work problems seem smaller when you get back.”

His competition mounts are always Lancias: ‘The coupe’s a good old nail, and with the transaxle Aurelias are brilliantly balanced for snow. One Monte was packed snow from Edinburgh wonderful!” This is one of his favourite words. But the Connolly office car-park offers other excitements, like two Ferraris, an F40 and a 328GTB, a Metro 6R4, a very fast Jaguar he’d rather not publicise, and his favourite, the Nissan Skyline GTR. This, in case you’ve forgotten, is the tarmac-tearing homologation race special with computer-steered back end. Just brilliant. Hewn from cast-iron. It’s chipped to 375bhp, but it’s still peaceful to drive. And you can leave it anywhere no-one knows what it is. I just don’t know what to follow it with.” These cars are only extended at 96 Club track days, where the digital efficiency of the GTR overwhelms the GTB but, says Hussey, “I know which one has the soul”. And the F40? “Such a turn-on, but you can’t stretch it on the road. For that you need a ’60s Alfa or Lancia; you can have fun at 60mph instead of 130.”

Lately Hussey has been a regular judge at such elevated concours d elegance as the Louis Vuitton and Villa d’Este meets, also awarding a ‘best interior’ prize. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m there, because I believe cars are for driving; but these events do bring out some incredibly rare and beautiful coachwork, especially Villa d’Este which lures some lovely Lancias along from collectors who won’t leave Italy.”

And, he adds, it also brings him into contact with the world’s top car designers, a useful thing when the Connolly company now has plants in Melbourne, Greece and Detroit. But for all the sparkling glamour of these affairs, what Hussey is currently longing for is the chance to get wet, cold and tired on the forthcoming Liege-Sophia-Istanbul rally, “even if it does mean coming back through Bosnia”. If he enters, he wouldn’t expect to win, whichever car he might take: “I’m not fast, I’m a mid-field wallower, but I’ve got stamina.” And, one might add, seemingly unstoppable enthusiasm. GC