It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Chris Amon from cancer just recently.
Many of us will have memories of Chris as a great driver among a generation of great drivers, all of whom he was capable of beating on his day. He’s always remembered as the man who should have been a world champion but never won a Grand Prix, but I have a completely different recollection of him.
It was 1964, at the time of the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Chris was driving for Reg Parnell Racing, which at that time was running the Lotus 25 with a 1.5-litre BRM V8 engine. Unfortunately Chris retired during the race. However, this weekend was Chris’s 21st birthday.
Along with my good friend motor racing photographer Max Le Grand, I had been at the race on the Saturday and on the Sunday went to cover the regular cricket match between the drivers and the local Farningham Cricket Club. After the match, which was hilarious fun (I cannot remember if there was a result) Chris invited us to join him at a party.
This was to start with a meal at, if I recall correctly, the ‘Contented Sole Fish Noshery’ in the Surbiton area of south London. At the single, long dining table were the great and good of Formula 1 racing of the time, team owners like Chapman and Tyrrell, virtually all the drivers from the previous day’s race, and a smattering of the motoring press. In a corner was a pianist thumping out old songs on a rather honky-tonk piano. I recall him recognising the crowd at the table and sending down a menu to be signed by all present.
After the meal we all adjourned to the home of Chris Amon, Mike Hailwood and one or two other drivers, in Ditton Road. The party was by this time pretty loud with the likes of Graham Hill and Innes Ireland helping Chris to celebrate.
When Max and I were leaving we saw a police panda car arriving. The officers were met on the steps, and I am stretching my memory here, by rally drivers Paddy Hopkirk and Terry Hunter. We were later to learn that the officers were pacified by Paddy and Terry furnishing them with autographs in their warrant books of most of those gathered there.
I wonder how many of those attending Chris’s party are still around today? Perhaps someone can confirm my memories.
Rest in peace, Chris.
Peter Anderson, Gillingham, Kent
I share with my wife Nicky and all of you historic motor sport fans my deep sadness on hearing of Jack Sears’ death. I was once privileged to sit next to Jack on a long-haul flight – eight hours of being enveloped in his stories was truly one of my life’s highlights. This led to my good friend Bill Telford and I hanging out with Jack for the three days of the Shelby Convention, sharing the convertible Mustang that we’d rented. Jack subsequently invited me to bring Nicky to his Norfolk farmhouse for afternoon tea a few weeks later, when he graciously showed us around his private car collection. He personally signed my copy of his book and the bootlid of my Cobra. Every time we met since that date, he always recognised us and was delightful to be around.
Bill Telford organised a private dinner party during last year’s Goodwood Revival, where the few of us present (including Allen Grant, another Shelby racer) had the immense pleasure of hearing Jack recount some of his stories. He was truly a great raconteur. The one that I enjoyed the most was how Mr Hurlock (one of the two brothers that owned AC at the time) insisted that the mechanics remove the spoiler from A98 (the one-off Cobra coupé built by the factory to compete in the 1964 Le Mans race) during free practice. Hurlock was determined to eke out extra top speed over Shelby’s Daytona coupés. Jack reluctantly agreed and recounted vividly how, as he crested the slight brow towards the end of the Mulsanne straight, the car took off completely at more than 180mph.
Despite his best efforts one wheel landed before the other, sending him into a lurid slide. He was still travelling at 170mph-plus and desperately trying to scrub off speed before the impending disaster. The car lurched one way, then the other, with his corrections of opposite lock, then back the other way again until he finally stopped the snaking and regained control. Completely shaken and white with fright, he made his way gingerly back to the pits. Leaping out of the car, he addressed the waiting mechanics with the words “Get the f*****g spoiler back on, I almost killed myself!” So, while for most of the time he had a genteel and measured demeanour, there were occasions like this that he allowed his anger to come through. And who can blame him! That dinner party turns out to be the last time that Nicky and I saw Jack alive.
Colin Newbold, Tunbridge Wells
Thumbs up for Le Mans
In his interesting letter in July, Ken Lyon explained that he and his pal were in Brescia at the time of the 1956 Mille Miglia and afterwards at Maranello, where he took the photographs that you published.
What he does not say is that he and his friend had come to Europe early in 1956. Landing in Genoa they bought a Fiat Multipla that carried them to all the Grand Prix races and major sports car races throughout the 1956 season.
How do I know this? Well, in 1956 I hitch-hiked to Le Mans at the end of July and they gave me a lift to the circuit. Their kindness is something I won’t forget. A wonderful weekend. Thank you, Ken.
Terry Harrison, Appleton, Cheshire
In your excellent feature on the 50th anniversary of Grand Prix, you mention that Chris Lawrence turned his Cooper Ferrari into a pretend Manetta Ferrari.
Not so! Jo Bonnier’s very tired Anglo Suisse Racing Team Brabham BT6 Climax was masquerading as a Ferrari most of the weekend, and overnight, after Friday’s practice, Mike Spence’s Parnell Lotus 33 BRM was repainted red. Spence also changed his normal yellow/red helmet for a Mike Parkes-style helmet as worn by Yves Montand as Jean-Pierre Sarti.
I was a BRSCC marshal in 1966 and we were invited to volunteer to ‘work’ at the filming after the British GP at Brands Hatch. We were even offered expenses! One day it heaved down with rain, but the second unit kept busy. If you look very carefully at the ‘Spa’ sequence there is a head-on shot of ‘Nino Barlini’ that was actually filmed on the back straight at Brands.
The rest of the time we stood around while they refilmed the marching Guards band and start procedure. “A hell of a way to start an auto race,” said director Frankenheimer. I was on the grid and spent some time with Mike Spence – a really nice guy. We talked about the Ferrari-liveried Lotus-BRM that let him down in the GP.
The real highlight of the three days was the Yamura fire sequence. I was standing at Paddock Hill (along with hordes of others). What you see is what actually happened, real flames and everything – James Garner couldn’t leap/fall out quickly enough as he was almost engulfed. Both he and Frankenheimer looked more than a little concerned afterwards.
They didn’t shoot a second take!
David Fox, Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, USA
After 50 years of spectating at circuits and stages, we thought it was about time that we gave a hillclimb a go. Where better than Shelsley Walsh? A mix of historic cars and a venue new to us. An early start was rewarded by a fine day amid friendly competitors, club members, helpers and spectators. It’s a most attractive venue, charming and well maintained. Hans Stuck and the other drivers had time for us punters and must stand out as examples for others in the sport.
The best day I’ve had watching motor sport in a long time. Well done MAC, a perfect day. I’ll definitely be back.
Howard Smith, Prestatyn, North Wales
I’ve been slow to read the August issue and noted the letter from David Cole regarding the high windscreens mandated by the FIA for the 1960 sports car season. I was at the Sebring 12 Hours that year, saw the ridiculous screens and am sending some of my photos along in case you’d like to publish them for the enjoyment (meaning a laugh) of your readers. It’s interesting to note the FIA continues to come up with ridiculous rules over and over and over, ad inifinitum.
Jeff Allison, Ken-Caryl Valley, Colorado
There has been much talk recently about the Westminster Bubble – wherein British MPs think within their own milieu, divorced from reality.
Williams engineer Rob Smedley’s recent remarks about the pit-car radio rules make me wonder if the F1 family needs to peer outside its own version of such a bubble. Rob said he was pleased that the lifting of radio restrictions meant virtually unlimited communications between teams and drivers. On BBC Radio 5 it was said that ‘we’ want to hear even more chat from the drivers. No, ‘we’ don’t – programmes like Loose Women exist to serve any desire there may be to listen to inane conversation.
The drivers’ car management, once an important part of their art, has been largely negated. The laptop army poring over data has enhanced reliability, but has also removed some of the happen chance that used to create odd but welcome results from time to time. Imagine the costs incurred, and yet testing has been all but abolished. To my mind it’s a real shame, in terms of development cost-effectiveness – especially for the lesser teams. It’s also bad for fans – attending a test session was a great way to see F1 at a much more intimate level than on a race day.
Most of all, I resent the ‘bubble’ for allowing the persistence of fundamental regulations that work against close racing. For years we have heard valid opinions that to constrain costs and improve the show, downforce should be limited. This, coupled with increased grip from bigger tyres, would allow for better racing and more overtaking. Inside the ‘bubble’, regulation tinkering is proposed, discussed and – sometimes – half-heartedly implemented. Result? On-track action has remained limited by aerodynamic interactions and costs have remained disproportionately high.
This is a ‘bubble’ that needs popping with some fresh, clever thinking at the head of F1’s governance.
David Buckden, Walmer, Kent
A better view
Andrew Frankel’s Kyalami report (May issue) brought back precious memories. Spectating from Leeukop, you could see three-quarters of the track: unbroken views from Sunset to the start-finish, then pick them up again at Crowthorne for a short burst before disappearing towards Jukskei, only to emerge very soon again at Sunset. Fast and flowing meant a short lap time.
First race I ever saw was the Nine Hours in 1971: Ferrari one-two, Ickx on a chase after a long delay. As an eight-year-old kid, I was hooked. I saw most GPs from ’73 on, a highlight of course being Jody’s ’75 home win. And Senna’s pole lap in ’85. Then there was the time I had a pit pass by virtue of my brother who was marshalling. Said race was the ’76 Wynns 1000 won by Scheckter, Nilsson and Grohs in a black BMW CSL. You couldn’t beat it.
Then the new Kyalami: very disappointing and to add insult to injury, so many hospitality suites you couldn’t see large parts of the track. As a guest one day, I was astounded when lunch was served during a race – many guests had their backs to the action.
The newly revised track looks much improved, and hopefully more is now visible again for trackside spectators. I would love to see the World Endurance Championship visiting. Thanks for a great mag, my first copy was the ’76 Silverstone Six Hours report, Martini 935 on the cover. I wish I still had it, but I have most of the rest!
Jacobus Pienaar, Adelaide, Australia