A genuine collectors’ item: ROFGO Collection book review

The ROFGO collection is one of the most famous around, and this book highlights its wonders, says Gordon Cruickshank

Gulf GR8 Ford of Derek Bell and JAcky Ickx at Le Mans in 1975

The Gulf colours adorned a huge array of racers, from F1 to Le Mans via F3. This is the Gulf GR8-Ford of Derek Bell/ Jackie Ickx at Le Mans in 1975

DPPI

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A list of cars in a collection doesn’t sound like the most promising premise for a book. However, this is no ordinary collection, and no ordinary list.

We’ve all watched with envy as Roald Goethe gradually added any car that ran in those wonderful Gulf colours to his stable, and now that he has surely obtained every possible vehicle from Le Mans Porsches to a transporter to a modest Formula Ford, and the ROFGO Collection has its own impressive new home, it’s time to take stock – and the stock list is stupendous.

Like so many of us, Goethe was captivated as a youth by the striking blue and orange livery of the GT40s and Porsche 917s as they streaked down Le Mans’ legendary Mulsanne Straight.

Like so many of us, he had a Gulf GT40 model on his shelf. Unlike most of us, Goethe ended up in the position of being able to buy a real GT40, and to help acquire it he went to Adrian Hamilton, well-known historic car dealer and son of Le Mans winner Duncan. Soon he possessed not just any old GT40, but one of the JWA team cars, and began wondering if there was a theme he could build a collection round.

Well, the theme was obvious and with Adrian’s help, knowing all the right people in the business, he assembled more than 30 cars with Gulf history. Not that they’re all in pale blue with the orange swoop down them; some, such as the Brabham BT25 that Black Jack raced at Indianapolis, merely have delicate little roundels here and there. But all have a Gulf connection, which is appropriate for Goethe as his business is oil, though not with the same company.

Gulf Ford GT40

Roald Goethe’s collection was sparked by the acquisition of a classic John Wyer-run Ford GT40

Getty Images

Don’t imagine that this comes under the heading ‘catalogue’. It’s more than that. It’s a beautifully compiled book of individual life stories written by eminent historian Doug Nye, illustrated with very fine static photos of every car plus of course the period shots from their past lives as front-line racers. Luckily they didn’t have to go very far to take the photographs – ROFGO’s spacious new home (also now Hamilton’s base) is dramatic enough to provide strong backdrops, and the quality of both image and reproduction is excellent. In addition the book’s design is crisp and appealing, with tastefully sparing use of orange and blue.

With Doug at the keyboard you know you’re going to get the real story, and he doesn’t come up short. It would be easy to look up a history for each car on the net but what you wouldn’t get is the background, the development, how the regulations of the time affected the design, and the human stories of trying to build the best racing car. To take the McLaren-Offenhauser M16B as one example. We get not only the story of this car, a works team chassis driven by Peter Revson, but how the M16 design developed, a type which took three Indy wins, its variants, and the fact that having shown the rest of the Indy teams how to do it with its all-new concept, there was already an improved version waiting in the wings.

Similarly the Formula 3 Ralt-Alfa Romeo RT3 includes designer Ron Tauranac’s story, while the chapter on Audi’s R8 sports- prototype explains just why the company switched from touring cars to the most prestigious arena of all – Le Mans, and the impressive successes it garnered over a remarkable five-year career.

Not that they are all old-time racers. Having left the field for a while Gulf came back into sports car racing in a big way later on in the 1990s, which means the collection includes a Kremer K8, McLaren F1s of both long- and short-tail forms, Audi R8 and Courage LMP machines, and GT contenders from both Aston Martin and Lamborghini.

Goethe has even obtained the ultra-rare and ultimately disappointing Aston Martin AMR-One with its 2-litre six-inline motor. While that car’s impact on motor racing history was hardly profound – the two of them barely completed six racing laps of Le Mans in 2011 – Doug gives it credit for attempting in a very short timeframe to use new ideas to give it parity against the all- conquering diesels. Whether Goethe, who races many of the cars, is likely to be seen out in it, I’m not sure…

There’s a couple of cars here you wouldn’t expect to see in the livery: a 911 Carrera RS, which contested Italian rallies in Gulf livery in 1979, and even a Formula 1 car – a Tyrrell 007 entered by a privateer in a couple of events in 1976. It is the only Formula 1 car ever to run in full Gulf colours, although the ROFGO Collection includes a couple of grand prix McLarens (M14A and M19A) and a Brabham BT26A.

Oddities include the Howmet-McKee TX turbine car – firing up that whistling wonder brought everyone outside at the lavish launch party – and the towering Mercedes truck that transported Porsche’s works team cars and then the JWA machines. A chapter on racing many of the ROFGO cars and a comprehensive list of entries, results and specifications for each chassis wrap up the book, while a brief contents list at the beginning makes it straightforward to find a particular car. As the collection is not generally open to the public, this hearty volume is the next best thing to a visit.


ROFGO Collection book coverROFGO Collection

Doug Nye

Porter Press, ISBN 9781907085673

£75