Collector Alistair Morrison

This is one collection which works for its living. From F1 to Formula Junior, these cars are out on the track through the season, bringing pleasure to owner and onlookers alike
Words: Gordon Cruickshank. Photography: Charlie Hopkinson

I always want to be hands-on...” Thus Alistair Morrison, Formula 1 car racer, mechanic, machinist – he even drives the truck. Does he do everything? “Not entirely; I have an ex-Arrows and Beatrice guy who does about 75 per cent of the work on the cars. But he’s moved to Spain, so now I save up jobs and he comes for a week a time.”

Morrison is in fact an architect, but grew up with the habit of dismantling things and only took on help with his racing when he reached historic Formula 1, via a Brabham BT38 and a March 733, in which he won the German Open F3 title – “only championship I’ve ever won”. It’s obvious on arriving at his Sussex cottage that aesthetics matter: the timber-framed 14th-century house looks unchanged for several hundred years, although Alistair has neatly enlarged it, and while I know there are several racing cars lurking I can only see a couple of garages and outbuildings set in some lovely gardens in the hollow of a valley. But when Alistair opens one garage door I see a well-equipped workshop going round the corner – and a Cooper T67. And a Lotus 72. And a 23B, a 51, and the pointed green nose of a Formula 1 Tyrrell.

If you follow Thoroughbred GP racing, you’ll recognise Morrison’s ex-Michele Alboreto 012. With its distinctive chiselled looks and brilliant Benetton colour scheme, it’s an eye-catcher on TGP grids. In Albo’s day it ran a Cosworth DFY, but these days packs a Nicholson-tuned DFV. Tyrrell’s first carbon-fibre chassis, 012-1 first ran in 1983, and though Alboreto scored a point in it, the DFY struggled against the turbos. For ’84 and ’85 Ken’s team fitted the turbo Renault V6 and Martin Brundle drove it, without much glory. 012-1 even raced in the first year of F3000 with Roberto Moreno inside.

Unsurprisingly, it is a serious machine to handle. “With a flat bottom and rising-rate suspension, its characteristics change with the loadings,” says Alastair. “If you cross a line it’ll bite.” He contrasts it with the other star of his stable, the ex-Ronnie Peterson Lotus 72. “That’s like a big Formula Ford to drive.” He bought it so he had a car to race at Monaco, and he has fallen for it in a big way. “I like unusual stuff, and torsion-bar suspension appealed to me.” It’s also a very straight piece of history: the chassis bulge for Ronnie’s gearshift hand is visible, and Morrison has original nose and wings for it (safely preserved). It’s now in proper Ronnie spec: “I found the correct smaller wing and Clive Chapman supplied the right saddle oil tank.” There’s one item he’s very chuffed about. Being a tall guy he heightened the roll-over bar a couple of inches, disguising it with the taller of the 72’s airbox types, thought to be wrong for ‘Super Swede’ spec. But lately he’s found a picture of Peterson driving it with the tall ’box. Details count for a perfectionist.

At last year’s Silverstone Classic Morrison took both F1 cars, but found racing two of them just too much like hard work, so one has to go; he’s had so much fun in the 72 that it’s the Tyrrell which Bonhams will auction at the Goodwood Revival. “When I took the 72 to Lisbon they asked me to drive through the cobbled city streets as a publicity event. We soon outstripped the police bikes and just drove where we wanted. It was brilliant!” A spin-off benefit was that Alistair’s son Hamish, previously not terribly interested in the cars, had to drive the FJ Cooper – his first ever time in a racing car. He was hooked, and now races the Cooper, the 51 and the 23B, which father and son share in sportscar events.

A serious lathe proves Morrison’s metalworking skills – “it’s quicker to make a spacer than order it” – while a beam hoist overhead allows him to swap the cars around single-handed. In another barn, discreetly tucked into the hillside, is more evidence of his passion: noses and moulds for the F1 cars, Alboreto’s Tyrrell seat hanging on the wall (“A memorial?” I ask; “No, I just don’t have Alboreto’s hips!”) and the Elan which was his first fast car, awaiting restoration.

Outside, the transporter. I called it a truck earlier on; that’s underselling it rather. Alistair’s cars in fact travel in the rear half of a grand motor-home built by Oakley, the horsebox people. One wall slides out, complete with sofa, to make a decent-sized sitting area, there’s a shower, kitchen, beds and flat-screen TV, and the beautifully veneered and leathered interior looks like a luxury yacht. Alistair can fit three cars in the back, aided naturally by every electro-mechanical aid. In the underfloor storage bins are two shrink-wrapped spare engines, a Ford twin-cam and a DFV, but I’m disappointed to learn that this sybaritic weekend cottage on wheels doesn’t boast a tiny foldaway fork-lift to heave them in and out.

While this is undoubtedly racing in style, Morrison is a long way from being one of those hands-off racers whose cars are delivered to the track by minions. He loads them up, he drives them to the track, and has minimal help. But he is diffident about his skills: “What I’d really like is a Williams, but I can’t afford it. And anyway I don’t think I could put it any further up the grid.” A man who races for pleasure, not glory.