Gordon Spice, who has died aged 81 after a long battle with cancer, was one of British motor racing’s great characters and one of the finest tin-top drivers of his generation.
Born in London, Spice always claimed motor racing was secondary to his business interests, which included a successful car accessories company, though his CV hardly reflects as much. Despite his successes, he insisted that he never took it too seriously. As he said when Motor Sport took him out for a Lunch With… in the October 2017 issue, “I wouldn’t want to be a racing driver today given the monastic lives so many of them seem to lead. If someone had said to me, ‘You have to make a decision: you can either go on drinking and smoking, or else be a racing driver,’ I know which I’d have chosen. It wouldn’t have been racing.”
Spice began his competitive career in 1962 with an MG TF, and made his first appearance in the Le Mans 24 Hours just two years later at the wheel of a Deep Sanderson, though the car overheated early on. For the balance of the 1960s he became a fixture in the British Saloon Car Championship in a variety of Minis and he took the class title in ’68.
From 1970-1972 he dabbled with the European F5000 Championship and obtained a few decent results, but there was never much money – and what he had invariably ran out before the season was through. After switching to the recently introduced production saloon category in a Ford Capri for 1973, he had another crack at F5000 in 1975. He won the second race of the season at Oulton Park – having correctly opted to run wets on a bright, sunny day, as a consequence of melting banks of snow that were soaking the track – but suffered serious injuries later that summer in an accident at Mallory Park.
“I went to the Caribbean to recuperate. and learned to drink rum and that has been my only tipple ever since –a direct consequence of my F5000 shunt.” When he returned, he promised that he would never again race a car “without a roof ”.
At the wheel of a Capri, he won his class for five straight seasons (1976-1980) in the British Saloon Car Championship, without ever taking the title outright, and in 1978 he shared the winning Capri with Teddy Pilette in the Spa 24 Hours – the last major event on the original road circuit.
In the 1980s he added further strings to his bow in sports car racing. Having established his credentials as a works driver for Rondeau, he acquired the assets of the disbanded Ford Group C team and set about taking on the cream of endurance racing, initially running customer Group C2 cars, then building his own C2 and, later, C1 chassis under the Spice Engineering banner. It was typical of Spice’s attitude and showed not a little courage. There were some good C1 results including two podium finishes in 1989. Overall Spice took four class victories at Le Mans, twice finishing third overall and scooping the FIA Group C2 World Championship title on three occasions – twice in his own cars.
For all that, he appeared not to try too hard (“I never went to a gym and never gave up drinking on the night before a race,” he said). Gordon Spice was a very fine racing driver.