My only grand prix
1965 British at Silverstone
by John Rhodes
How did you make the leap from Formula Junior star to GP driver?
I had enjoyed success with Midland Racing Partnership and then with Ausper in FJunior. This in turn led to me driving for Bob Gerard in Formula Libre. He was a gentleman driver in the truest sense; a really good man who entered cars out of sheer enthusiasm for motor racing. Bob had a couple of old Coopers, one with Coventry-Climax power and the other with a Ford engine. We raced everywhere and lived off start money as you did back then. I’d won the Driver of the Day awardat Mallory Park with one of his cars and Bob decided to enter me in the British Grand Prix.
The race didn’t exactly go to plan though, did it?
The Cooper had electrical niggles which ended my run. I forget how many laps I did but, to tell the truth, I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked and had qualified near the back.
Not an auspicious GP debut, then?
To be perfectly honest, there’s only so much you can do with outdated equipment. That’s not intended as a comment on Bob or his preparation — he was meticulous. I always loved single-seaters, and we did well in Libre events, scoring quite a few wins. That T60 was a really nice car to drive. It’s just that you can’t expect to be running up front with the Clarks or the Brabhams in a three-year-old car. But we couldn’t afford a new one, so that was that.
Did you come close to having any more GP outings?
No, not really. My next event was a non-championship race at Enna. After Silverstone, we discovered a crack in the frame which was a worry. Well, at Enna the car went off without any assistance; just turned left. I was left sitting there with the basic tub and not much else. Somehow, Bob managed to find the parts to rebuild the car as we desperately needed the start money. I was aching all over and had fashioned a crutch out of a branch to hobble around with. I was black and blue. We made the start, but at the second corner, it did the same thing again and got horribly out of shape. That was the beginning of the end for me in single-seaters. I’d liked to have carried on but I had a family and a mortgage and I was never going to get rich driving for Bob, so I thought ‘What next?’.
Hence the move into saloon cars with the works Mini Coopers…
Absolutely. During my Cooper FJunior days, I had built cars at the factory down in Surbiton and got to know Ginger Devlin. I was at Silverstone testing the GP car when Cooper was trying out the Mini. I asked if I could have a go and went quite well. That in time led to a contract, a retainer, start money…
Any regrets on changing disciplines?
None whatsoever. I had a wonderful time racing the Minis. It’s nice to have been a GP driver, if only briefly, but that I’m remembered as a saloon car driver is fine with me.