Bob Anderson: The call that never came

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One of the last true privateers, Bob Anderson never received the recognition from the works teams he craved —and his efforts probably deserved. Adam Cooper explains

On the face of it, Bob Anderson’s third place in the 1964 Austrian GP was not very special. He finished three laps behind winner Lorenzo Bandini, and only a handful of others survived the two-hour grind around the bland but bumpy Zeltweg airfield.

However, this was an extraordinary result. For Anderson was a privateer in the purest sense of the word. He prepared his Brabham BT11 in a converted shed next to his house, and carried it around Europe on a VW pickup. His wife did all the admin, and he had one mechanic. A familiar story perhaps, but this was Formula One, not club racing.

Austria reflected his dogged determination; elsewhere, some astounding qualifying performances showed that the man had real pace. And yet Anderson somehow remained out of the loop, never taken seriously by the works teams, who perhaps didn’t realise how desperately he craved their attention. He never gave up trying to impress until, in August 1967, his luck ran out.

Robert Hugh Fearon Anderson was born in Hendon on May 19, 1931, the son of a doctor and a pathologist. His father died when he was young, and when his mother remarried, the family moved to Haynes in Bedfordshire.

There was enough money to send Bob to Gordonstoun, but shortly after arriving he developed serious back problems thanks to osteomyelitis, which led him to spend the best part of a year in an Aberdeen hospital bed. This lengthy disruption must have been character-building, to say the least.

He dropped out of school early and, having developed an interest in farming, went to agricultural college in 1950. His fellow students included future F1 racer Henry Taylor and David Stanbridge, who was to become a lifelong friend.

“Bob left college after a year,” Stanbridge says. “He couldn’t really stand the regulations. He got a job as a mechanic in a local machinery dealer, and one day went to see some motorcycle racing with friends. He said, ‘That looks easy,’ and someone said, ‘Have a go then!'”

This was 1953. Bob already owned a Triumph Tiger 100 and, having fitted some tuning parts, he went to Castle Combe. He was soon to give up his job to concentrate on racing, replacing the Triumph with a Manx Norton, and over the next few years developed into one of Britain’s leading riders.

“He was a top man,” recalls veteran bike journalist Mick Woollett. “He was on a par with guys like Hailwood and Surtees on riding ability, but it was all a question of getting the best bikes and best tuners. Socially, he was a bit above a lot of the riders — ‘posh’ is the term you could use.”

His biggest achievement was finishing second behind John Surtees in the 1958 Senior TT. Including that race, he finished in the world championship points 12 times on his 500 and 350cc Nortons between 1958 and ’60, and once with an MZ in 125s.

While still racing bikes he met a French au pair called Marie-Edmée at a Young Conservatives dance in Bedford. Their relationship soon blossomed, albeit against her parents’ wishes.

“They dragged her back to France,” says Stanbridge, “but she got back to England again, and she and Bob eloped. They drove his Bedford van up to Gretna Green, thought the place was dreadful, and carried on driving to the Isle of Mull, and married in Tobermory!”

Bob’s mother and stepfather gave the couple a home in a converted part of their house in Haynes. It was to be a low-cost base for Bob for the rest his life.

In the winter of 1960, Anderson aggravated his old back problems in a fall in South Africa, and he was told not to race again. But the timing was fortunate for, at 29, he was already considering a switch to four wheels. Following advice from Henry Taylor, he went into Formula Junior in 1961 with a Lotus 20. Ironically, a series of accidents did his back little good. But there were signs of raw speed, and he ran under the Team Lotus banner in ’62, alongside Peter Arundell and Alan Rees. Honing his talent, Bob showed excellent form at Monaco, finishing third behind Arundell and Mike Spence. He also picked up thirds at Rouen, Goodwood and Zandvoort, and was second to Arundell at Montlhéry.

Deciding not to continue his association with Colin Chapman, Bob opted for F1 in 1963. He bought an ex-Bowmaker Lola and a Climax engine, and that VW Combi. The latter vehicle was to be his paddock trademark for the next five years.

“It was an ex-builders’ truck,” explains Stanbridge, “and it was covered in concrete when he got it He discovered that you could set it up with the most desperate positive camber, and when you put the car and all the spares in, it reverted to normal. It was undriveable when it wasn’t loaded.”

The team comprised Bob, Marie-Edmée and sometimes a single paid mechanic. Often he had only a volunteer helper from his hometown, such as farmer Stanbridge or future RAC MSA boss John Quenby.

Initially he was forced to concentrate on non-championship events, and after a debut outing at Snetterton, he went to Pau, Imola and Syracuse, where he qualified second to Jo Siffert. Next time out, at Vallelunga, he actually won, admittedly in the face of weak opposition. His first ‘serious’ outing was in the British Grand Prix, where he qualified a respectable 16th out of 23, ahead of old rival Hailwood. He had 10 cars behind him on the grid at Monza, his only other world championship appearance that year.

Bob extended himself by ordering a new Brabham BT11 for 1964. Stanbridge recalls: “He told me that he’d insured his life and used that as security for a loan to buy the Brabham. Things were that bad.”

The car wasn’t ready until May, but at Monaco he qualified 12th. Next time out, at Zandvoort, he finished sixth, picking up a point in only his fourth GP start. At Brands, he qualified a superb seventh.

Bob was regarded as something of a loner, and his occasionally abrasive personality did not help (“He called a spade a bloody shovel!” says one friend). But his efforts had not gone entirely unnoticed. Esso and Dunlop offered trade support, while sympathetic Climax would let him keep his place in the rebuild queue if he got there before the works squads. And so, even on his greatest day at Zeltvveg, Anderson’s first thought was to dash back to England, and it was with some reluctance that he waited for his third-place money at the prize-giving. “The engine was still hot when we loaded it into his Zodiac after Austria!” recalls mechanic George Copeland.

The 1965 season brought few hard results. He again showed his pace by qualifying fifth at the Easter Goodwood meeting (ahead of Brabham, McLaren and Gurney) and ninth at Monaco. But reliability problems proved frustrating, and in August, Bob’s season was curtailed by a major off in practice at the ‘Ring, thanks to cold brakes.

The shunt did at least allow him to prepare for the 3-litre formula in 1966. The BT11 was rebuilt, and a 2.7-litre Climax FRF acquired from Robs Lamplough. Bob qualified eighth at Monaco, and got up to an astonishing fifth by Ste Devote, as captured in Grand Prix. Fact blended with fiction when Bob got a mention from Anthony Marsh on the film’s soundtrack — “It’s Sarti in the lead from Stoddard, Aron, Hulme, Anderson and Randolph!” The joy was short-lived, for he stopped with an engine problem on lap four. He would finish sixth at Monza, though.

That year, Bob was enticed into a brief bike comeback by Yamaha, and he finished fifth in the 250cc event at Assen, behind Hailwood and Phil Read. He also did a full F2 season with Bob Gerard.

In December, Bob won the Rhodesian GP after spending all night repairing accident damage, and on the same trip finished a solid fifth in the South African GP that kicked off the 1967 season.

He had two young kids to support and money was very tight. He now relied solely on volunteer help, and his speed was compromised as he had to finish in order to generate cash. The engine, the last in F1 to run without fuel injection, was worth only 240bhp and, now in its fourth season, the Brabham was also well past its sell-by date — Bob even looked into fitting its running gear to a bespoke chassis.

Matters were not helped when he was not allowed to start at his beloved Monaco, despite qualifying faster than several favoured drivers. Furious, he nevertheless stayed on to watch: “We were walking the course,” recalls friend and helper Alan Brodie, “and were just coming down from the tunnel when Lorenzo Bandini’s crash happened.”

That summer, Anderson seemed aware that time was running out for privateers. His frustration began to build: “I thought I’d have a go on my own for a couple of years in the hope that some works team might make me an offer. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out as I’d hoped. I really don’t understand. I wish somebody would tell me.”

After the British GP, the car was prepared for a planned trip to Canada where good starting money was on offer. On Monday, August 14, Bob headed to Silverstone to run in the gearbox, as he could not afford any problems at Mosport.

“It was a wet morning, but it had stopped raining,” says Brodie. “Bob said, ‘You take it out and have a spin round, we’re just running it in.’ I had driven a couple of times, but I said no, so off he went on the Club circuit Then I heard this bang, and he didn’t come round the corner. He’d hit the marshals’ post on the right, just before Woodcote Corner.”

Bob had been caught out by a patch of standing water which always took an age to dry out. The car wasn’t badly damaged, but he had been thrown into the steering column. He was still conscious, but in terrible pain. Brodie got there first.”

He nearly broke my arm holding on to me. He’d gone forward and his ribs had gone into his lungs. The engine was still running, and the petrol pump was still working. The only mark on his body that you could see was a nasty gash on his right hand where he’d broken off the ignition switch, so we couldn’t switch the pump off. It was just pumping petrol everywhere. The battery was between his legs, and I had to try and remember which lead to undo first”

No doctor could be found, or indeed medical support of any kind.

“When we laid him out on the stretcher it just ripped his lungs open. Had we taken him to hospital with him sitting in the car, as someone suggested, it might have been different. Eventually, we got into this rickety old Silverstone ambulance, it was an ex-army type thing, driven by a labourer off the farm.”

The antiquated device had no oxygen, no bell or siren — and no suspension to speak of. Halfway to Northampton they met an official ambulance, whose crew decided it was too dangerous to transfer Bob, so the two vehicles continued in convoy to the hospital, where he died a few hours later. He was 36.

Silverstone subsequently resited the marshals’ post and bolstered safety arrangements for testing. The changes were too late for poor Anderson — as was a sympathetic Louis Stanley’s assertion to Bob’s friends that he had been under consideration for a works BRM drive in 1968.

A final thought. Did witnessing the fiery Bandini tragedy cause Anderson to shun the one thing that might have saved him? “We had a set of seatbelts,” says Brodie. “It was, ‘Should we fit them or shouldn’t we?’ And Bob said, ‘No, we’ll do that in the winter.’ So we never fitted them.”

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