The Passage of Rarities

Back in the 1980s I was occasionally asked to buy classic and competition cars on behalf of the wealthy Japanese collector Yoshiyuki Hayashi. His pink Italya Trading sponsorship livery became quite familiar on assorted Group C cars, racing not only in Japan but also internationally. Those occasional commissions proved a useful avenue to my actually handling some great cars, and learning so much more about them than I would ever have managed as just another paddock bystander armed with press pass, notebook and pen.

On Hayashi’s behalf I bought, and kept at home or ran for a while, cars as diverse as a look-alike ‘Knobbly’ Lister-Jaguar, a make-believe 1937ish Alfa Romeo 6C, a genuine — and stirringly gorgeous — Alfa Romeo T33 Stradale, a T33TT3, and then a ‘Lightweight’ E-type Jaguar, Ferrari 275LM, Maserati 300S and a pair of Formula 1 Ferraris — the unique Spazzaneve prototype 312B2-and-a-bit, and an ex-Reutemann 312T2.

But the absolute apple of my eye from that period was Lotus 49 ‘R3’, the last surviving green-and-yellow 1967 team car — ex-Graham Hill and John Love in South Africa. It had been raced there in Team Gunston colours before passing through less celebrated hands and eventually ending up with me in pale blue, and derelict. I think it cost £22,500.

Jenks and I drove up in his battered ochre-coloured Ford Transit to collect ‘R3′ from dealer Mike Lavers’ place in Fulham. It was boat race day, and we threaded our way back through dense traffic with ‘R3’ roped to Jenks’s home-but trailer, which was a caravan chassis from which he had cut the rotted body. We did nothing in style.

But Michael Cane did. He worked hB magic on restoring the car to its green-and-yellow glory with a John Judd Coswoth DFV engine we bought for £4000 cash from the Fittipaldis, on the day their F1 team folded. The gleaming car was eventually air-freighted out to Hayashi in Japan, but we later managed to buy it back thanks to the National Heritage Trust Fund and ‘R3’ is preserved in the NMM at Beaulieu today (despite sporadic best efforts there to destroy it — the first and worst of which reduced me to tears).

My go-between with Hayashi was a Japanese journalist and wheeler-dealer who spoke his own brand of Jenglish. I collected him at Heathrow once, fresh off a flight from Paris. As we headed back to my place he observed, “Doug, all the car in Engrand so much creaner than all the car in Paris. They all durrr-ty like hell, and all cover in burr-d shrit!” For a while I found it difficult to see the road ahead…

I subsequently went to Gotemba near the Fuji race circuit to see the collection, finding it disappointingly unloved, crammed into an industrial warehouse. It’s 20 years ago now, when the 1992 Japanese GP was held not at Fuji but at Suzuka, and Nigel Mansell had just won his title with Williams, promptly falling out with them and announcing his retirement from Formula 1. His team-mate Riccardo Patrese won that Japanese GP, but there was more action off track than on it.

Not only had the new World Champion announced his departure but Alain Prost had signed for Williams on the proviso that Ayrton Senna would not. Patrese was moving to join Schumacher at Benetton so a stunned Martin Brundle was out on his ear. McLaren were engaging an unknown quantity in Michael Andretti and were talking with Mika Häkkinen in case Senna opted out, while Honda confirmed it was withdrawing from Formula 1, leaving McLaren without an engine. Oh, and Ferrari had dropped the hapless Ivan Capelli for the last two races of that year and replaced him with Nicola Larini. Strapped for cash, March gave what had been Karl Wendlinger’s drive to Jan Lammers, back in F1 after 10 years away…

Some Japanese girl interpreters working at that race have an unusual abiding memory of Suzuka ’92. On duty in the Team Lotus pit, they looked on completely aghast at Now these supermen drivers behaved. Husky Mika Häkkinen had just qualified seventh but team-mate Johnny Herbert out-did him, by qualifying sixth. And then in the back of the pits a grinning Häkkinen grabbed the giggling little Herbert in simulated homosexual rape.

I think that wasn’t what excited young Japanese girl interpreters had quite expected of Formula 1 but it raised a laugh.