Doug Nye

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Prodigal’s return

New series of racing miscellany, in which the renowned historian presents a cornucopia of the amusing, informative and occasionally downright bizarre

I never cease to be surprised by happenstance. Thirty-nine years ago I had just found a quiet moment for a word with Bill Boddy on the echoing staircase of Motor Sport’s editorial offices, then in Bonhill Street in the City of London. I had been his assistant for just a couple of months, but I found the place as unappetising as I did the magazine’s then owner, Wesley J Tee. I thought the world of Bill – and got on like a house on fire with the magazine’s Continental Correspondent, Denis Jenkinson, whom I’d known for some years. But then I told ‘The Bod’ I was leaving. And he replied – bless him – “Oh I’m not surprised, Doug. I thought you would – you’ll do all right.” And I’ve been unemployed (and probably unemployable) since. But it’s been fun. Now here I am again – by invitation involved with Motor Sport once more.

These pages are really intended to become this magazine’s miscellanea file. All manner of intriguing, puzzling or simply fun topics pop up which neither warrant a full feature nor qualify as hot news. What I’ll try to do, however, is to offer some diversion, some rare photography and good-fun stories which any enthusiast might find worth re-telling in like-minded company.

As I write I’m still drying out after the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Tippy-toeing the Ferrari GTO up the hill on the wet Sunday afternoon I was picking my way around mud scattered by previous runners while trying to go quickly enough to ensure I wouldn’t baulk Pete Hardman in the Ferrari 330P3, who was starting next and going for a time. 

I saw on the TV screen beside Molecomb Corner that Pete had started, but I managed to reach the top paddock with car and pride intact, and had just switched off when he arrived. I was ambling around in the drizzle admiring the parked cars when Derek Bell appeared in most of the Gulf Mirage-DFV, minus its right-front corner, dragging its nose-splitter on the ground and literally streaming muddy water and general pond-life. Ever-fastidious Derek was strapped into its now water-filled cockpit, his normally dazzling overalls drenched in muddy slime. A soggy tuffet slithered off his helmet, and he had mud inside his visor. He looked like a sewerman who had just lost his footing. And he was beside himself with embarrassment.

But the top paddock on FoS Sunday was no place to hide. Sir Jackie Stewart was there, and so was Peter Gethin.

“Ooh Derek, I’m surprised you didn’t take more care. It’s wet, you know…” 

“Ooh Derek – I find in the wet it’s good to take a higher gear…”

Derek could only groan: “I shouldn’t have got out of bed this morning,” and when he saw me moving around the front of the Mirage with a camera in my hand he did a double-take before exclaiming: “Oh for ****’s sake, that’s all I need: a bloody historian!”

All this time, just ahead of the Mirage, Stirling Moss remained seated in the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, gazing fixedly ahead, taking no part in the ribaldry. “Cor, boy”, he said, “I’d absolutely hate it if I’d just done that and damaged the car. Professional pride, you know”.

But then he thought for a moment, before admitting: “I went off on the verge down there, too. Fortunately I caught it.” So now, Derek, we know who spread the mud. If it’s any consolation, I think you were done-up by the Maestro.

*****

Sir Jackie Stewart might have his limitations but as a public speaker he can be superb, at his formidable best when he speaks from the heart. At the recent memorial service for Judy Ganley – the immensely popular late wife of Formula 1 driver and Tiga car constructor Howden Ganley – JYS had the huge congregation in stitches, recalling his first encounter with Judy during the 1971 CanAm Championship. 

A proud American, auburn-haired Judy Kondratieff was an accomplished driver – a class winner in the 1970 Sebring 12-Hours – and an excellent lap-scorer and timekeeper. Through Patty McLaren she had been co-opted into the McLaren CanAm team whose drivers at that time – after Bruce’s tragic death – were Denny Hulme and Peter Revson. Jackie provided their main opposition in the Carl Haas-run Lola…

As Stewart recalled: “Of course, the racing world was very relaxed then. We all socialised together, and I think it was at Denny’s suggestion that on the Sunday morning before each race we would all congregate in the McLaren motorhome, where Judy – who had a beautiful, warm, attractive voice – would give a reading.

“We’d all cram in there, I usually ended up sitting on the floor, and as the series went on word of Judy’s Sunday morning readings spread, and initially unknown to us big crowds would gather around the motorhome listening to her voice through its open windows.

“She had a wonderful sense of humour, and occasionally she’d drop in the name of an appropriate racing driver – one of the boys – and everybody would just crack up. She’d have us in fits, and it would put us in a great mood for the race, just an hour or two later.

“Yes – for me perhaps my most appealing memory of that CanAm Championship in ’71 is of Judy’s Sunday morning readings from the correspondence columns of Playboy and the Forum pages in Penthouse…”

Capacity for chaos

In recent years, owners of the five surviving Formula 1 BRM P261s – plus the one look-alike – have been affected by the pre-1966 Historic F1 regulation change which banned ‘2-litre’ Tasman BRM V8 engines. The cost of the conversion from 1.9 or 2.1-litres back to below 1500cc has been staggeringly high. It involves new crankshaft, liners, rods, pistons, cams and, in some cases, major castings. When the governing authority made the change – “to level the playing field between Climax V8 users and those running BRM V8s” – the conversion cost was about £50,000. Today it’s £70,000. Some owners have made the change; at least two have not. As BRM specialist restorer/preparer Rick Hall points out: “No racer will comfortably spend a ton of money to make his car go slower.” Worse is that while the 2-litre BRM V8 makes the P261 a joy to drive, the 1½-litre F1 version is more peaky – less torque, less power, less flexibility and much less fun to use.

When one considers that largely old-casting BRM V8s are left facing entirely 21st century-built Climax V8s, one can understand why once-healthy and promising pre-66 F1 Historic racing tends to be – ahem – muted today. We used to have grids with Tasman cars, 2½-litre four-cylinder Climax-engined Brabhams, Coopers and Lotuses, plus the dayglo-nosed BRM V8 cigars. On most modern circuits the mixture seemed to work, and the large mixed grids were genuine crowd-pleasers. 

Admittedly, the actual Tasman BRM V8s did not make their racing debut until the New Zealand GP at Pukekohe, Auckland, on January 9, 1966. While BRM works drivers Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart finished 1-2, that’s decidedly not ‘pre-66’. 

However, the first ‘2-litre’ BRM V8 to have been raced in a ‘Formula 1 car’, was the 1930cc unit ‘6007’, in Tim Parnell’s Lotus 25 ‘R4’. Innes Ireland drove it in the Rand GP at Kyalami on December 5, 1965, finishing sixth. The race was run to the new 3-litre limit, due to take effect on New Year’s Day, 1966. 

A ‘2-litre’ BRM V8 had raced even earlier in sports cars, at Goodwood on Easter Monday, March 30, 1964, with Jack Brabham, no less, giving the American Team Rosebud Brabham-BRM BT8 its debut in the Lavant Cup race. ‘Blackie’ finished third overall, and won his class, with BRM’s prototype 1880cc ‘stretch’ V8 ‘6001’ in the beautifully proportioned car.

So by the time the so-called ‘Tasman’ BRM engine earned its nickname, this big brother of the 1962 World Championship-winning V8 was already nearly two years old. With ever-more liberal interpretations being applied elsewhere within so-called ‘Historic’ racing, I wonder how long it might be before Tasman and F1 heritages once more combine to attract and entertain the paying spectator? As far as I’m concerned, it can’t come quickly enough. But then I don’t have to pay any conversion costs…

*****

Familiar history is in reality an often misleading and fluid thing. When I was a kid every enthusiastic schoolboy knew the bore and stroke of a ‘San Remo’ Maserati was 78x78mm – it’s one of those things we absorbed before discovering girls. 

Now take aerofoil wings applied to racing cars. Think of the pioneers and of course there were the side wings attached to the inter-war Opel RAK 2 rocket car, and the strutted wing bolted to their Porsche 550 by the May boys at the Nürburgring 1000Km of 1956, when the scrutineers told them to take it off and stop messing about! Then, apart from the side-winged ‘Mad Dog’ Indy car at Daytona, there’s a long gap until Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2E appeared with strutted wings in the CanAm Championship of 1966. Famously, that set Formula 1 minds ablaze for the increasingly risky nonsenses of ’67-69.

Again, every really enthusiastic schoolboy knows all – or most – of this. But one rummages through a forgotten file of old photographs, and out slips a jaw-dropper. Here it is – a full aerofoil-section, fin-mounted rear wing with clear airflow across its upper and lower surfaces, being bolted onto a sports-prototype Ferrari unmistakably on test at Monza, probably during 1962. With its two long exhaust tailpipes, the car appears to be a V6 Dino Ferrari 196 or 246SP. The tail bodywork does in fact retain the famous Richie Ginther-inspired full-width tail spoiler used on those cars, and this is plainly the low rear-deck body design introduced for ’62. 

Presumably the aerofoil was an early experiment by new chief engineer Mauro Forghieri. And, presumably, if it worked the car would have become very unbalanced with the front end going light and washing out, especially through the high-speed Curva Grande or at Vialone. Having just found the photo I don’t know exactly when it was taken, nor the full story. But there will surely be some unreconstructed schoolboy out there – possibly Italian and probably ex-Ferrari – who does…