Your ‘X-Ray Spec’ article on the Fittipaldi F6 and the associated comments by the car’s designer in August’s edition reminded me of the time I met Ralph Bellamy.
In 1971 I was working as a dentist in Woking, Surrey where I encountered a new patient of Polish ancestry who I noticed was wearing a McLaren badge. I asked him if he was a supporter of the McLaren motor racing team but he said no, he actually worked at the factory and was involved in building the cars. This led to a long conversation about motor racing and I told him I was a longtime devotee of the sport.
A short while later he telephoned me at the surgery to say that the new Formula One M19A had just been finished and was about to be sent out for the South African GP. If I could get over to Colnbrook that day he would be happy to show me around the factory. I immediately cancelled my patients and set off to the McLaren factory where I was privileged to see the brand-new M19A, which in my opinion was the best-looking car that year.
Later that year my new friend phoned again to inform me that the new Indianapolis M16 was about to leave for the States. Did I want to see it? Once again my poor patients were cancelled and off I went to Colnbrook. I met Teddy Mayer and Bellamy who were both very friendly and pleased to take the time to show an enthusiast around. In those days everything was much more open and lacking the threat of industrial espionage.
That year was very difficult for the team following the sad loss of their founder, Bruce McLaren. Despite this they were still dominating the Can-Am series and competing at Indianapolis as well as F1. The M19A was unlucky not to win its first race in South Africa, but the car’s rising-rate suspension appears to have been its Achilles heel.
I have unfortunately forgotten the name of my patient/friend of long ago, but have never forgotten his kindness in introducing me to the inner workings of a front-line motor racing team.
Gordon R Lang,
See ‘X-Ray Spec’ in the January 2005 issue for Ralph Bellamy’s memories of the McLaren M19A and the team’s problems with rising-rate suspension — Ed