Ray Amm remembered
Life is is full of surprises and I am happy to say that most of them seem to be pleasant ones. Recently I met a man from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) who told me he had found a copy of one of my books, written in 1953, in a second-hand bookshop out in that country, and that it had a mysterious dedication written in the front and signed by me, not as DSJ or Denis Jenkinson, but simply Jenks. It read “To Ray, in appreciation of that 145mph lap”. When he showed it to me it was unquestionably my writing and my signature, though I could not recall writing it, and he was intrigued to know who “Ray” was and what was the 145mph lap? The fact that he found it in a bookshop in Rhodesia explained it all: it was Ray Amm the Rhodesian who rode in the Norton works Motorcycle team in the mid-1950s, a fearless and brave rider who was a very pleasant chap and one whom I kept in contact with after I left the active motorcycle European racing scene at the end of 1952.
Norton were developing a fully enclosed racing motorcycle on which the rider took his weight on his knees, rather than his feet, in order to get him lower and reduce frontal area. Naturally it was known as the Norton Kneeler, and Ray Amm took to it with great enthusiasm; it was also known as the “Tin Fish” because of its long slippery aluminium bodywork. The 145mph lap? That was a lap of the Montlhéry banked concrete track, south of Paris, that Ray achieved on the Kneeler.
The works Norton team usually went record-breaking at the end of the racing season, with solo and sidecar machines and Ray Amm was attacking long-distance records on the Kneeler. During this activity he recorded a new outright motorcycle record for the banked track, averaging 145mph, which for the mid-fifties was very quick and heroic. At the time the fastest lap ever achieved on the French “Brooklands” was by a Grand Prix car at 147mph, so you can see why I was impressed by Ray Amm’s performance. Like many racing motorcyclists Amm was greatly interested in Grand Prix car racing and whenever we met on our European tours, he on the bike circuits and me following the Grand Prix world, he would always want to know about the world of Fangio, Moss and Hawthorn.
I cannot recall when I gave him the copy of my Grand Prix book, but it was probably just before he returned home for the winter, and the Montlhéry record was still in the mind. In 1955 Ray Amm left the Norton team and joined the Italian MV Agusta Team, and sadly was killed in a non-championship event at Imola, in the days when the present day circuit was still comprised of normal public roads. It was a simple accident, Ray was going a bit too quick (he usually did) and over-cooked it and “stepped off”. As he slid down the road, unharmed, he struck a kilometre stone on the edge of the road, and it broke his neck. I lost a lot of friends in those days.
The owner of the book was most interested to hear the story behind the inscription inside, and was fairly certain it had to be Ray Amm’s book, because he knew all about him, though it was years before his time, but a man of the calibre of Ray Amm is not easily forgotten by the true racing enthusiast. It is nice to know the book resides in an enthusiast’s library and is treasured for a very special reason. It brought back some happy memories of nearly 40 years ago, and some sad ones.
Today one simply cannot get away from fakes and forgeries and a reader sent me an interesting cutting from The Times entitled “Vicious Circle”. It is so apposite to our world that I will quote it in full: “Such is the fame of master forger Tom Keating that the first fakes of Keating fakes have started to appear in the salesrooms. Ever since a 1984 Keating version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was sold for £8000 last year, Bonham’s, the auction house which is organising a Keating sale this year, has been bombarded with spurious Keatings.
The forgeries come in several guises: a fake of a Keating fake of an old master, a forgery of one of Keating’s own individual landscapes, or even pictures that look nothing like Keating’s own work but with his initials in the bottom corner. ‘Good painters imitate nature, bad ones spew it up’ wrote Cervantes. Very bad ones imitate the imitators, he might have added.
If you apply the above article to the old car world of “hysteric historics” it is easy to substitute well-known motoring names, either people or makes of car, and it makes sense. I leave it to you to enter your own modifications. When Cameron Miller built his run of six or seven new 250F Maseratis he was very careful to clearly stamp each chassis with a CM serial number, thus identifying them as “genuine fakes”. I wonder if at this moment, someone is building a fake CM car. “Worth a lot of money, in its own right”, I am told by “the Trade” (whatever that means?), and when it appears Mr Miller will be furious. I can hear him saying “It’s a fake, a forgery. I never built it,” and he would be right. Who would want to buy a fake Cameron Miller fake?
But as The Times story says, there appears to be a market for fake paintings of original fakes by Tom Keating, so why not fakes of forgeries. I leave you to fill in the name. Bugatti, Bentley, Frazer Nash, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, the list is endless. If you find a fake of a Bean or a Trojan forgery, let me know.
In closing, the reader who started all this posed an interesting question, nothing to do with fakes or forgeries, but about racing. He asked me to name three particular moments in motor racing that have made lasting impressions on the mind. A difficult one for me, but here goes: 1. The day Mike Hawthorn beat Fangio in Reims in 1953. 2. The day the Indianapolis cars came to Monza in 1957. 3. The first turbo-charged Ferrari engine.
I will qualify them briefly. For years British drivers had never been taken seriously in European racing circles, and Mike Hawthorn put a stop to that attitude. The Indy cars raced “wheel-to-wheel and hub-to-hub” round the Monza banked track at 170mph; it was a new meaning for speed. The turbocharged Ferrari meant that the turbocharging of 1-1/2 litres to somewhat normally aspirated 3 litres was serious. Renault had shown the possibilities of turbocharging and Ferrari confirmed them.
If you, dear reader, would like to send me three of your memorable moments, not necessarily the three best, but ones that left a lasting impression, a post-card to Motor Sport would be nice. — DSJ