Straight-laced officials prevented Aston Martin challenging Ferrari for victory in the 1963 Goodwood TT. Innes Ireland was not amused…
Time spent with Innes Ireland – as with so many extroverts – could veer wildly between great fun and acute embarrassment.
Dear old Innes – a former paratrooper – never suffered fools gladly. And he enjoyed a drink, and larkin’ about… and a sing-song. After a convivial dinner, what many regard as normal social constraints could speedily evaporate. Over many years – just like his kindred spirit John Bolster – his deafening songs about the spreading chestnut tree (with full gesture repertoire), John and Mary in the dairy, itinerant officers crossing the Rhine, or Der Führer’s testicular deficit – not to mention the bridge at midnight – enlivened (and sometimes emptied) many an establishment. But sometimes Innes’s often heated exuberance in face of adversity, or of what he perceived as petty officialdom, also demonstrated itself vividly on track.
A fine example occurred 50 years ago, in August 1963, during the Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood. Innes had won there the previous year in the UDT-Laystall team’s pale-green Ferrari 250GTO. This time around he and Bruce McLaren had been engaged by Aston Martin to drive the factory team’s majestic pair of Project 214 Coupés.
These cars were later airily recalled by team chief John Wyer as being “rule-benders using similar box-section girder chassis frames to the prototype-class Project 215… distinctly non-production, but we didn’t think anyone would look too closely, and so it proved”. The 214s had 3750cc engines while the Project 215 used a full 4-litre unit.
The Project 214s’ body shape benefited from considerable wind tunnel development. John Wyer recalled them as being “very good cars… extremely fast… the first officially to exceed 300kph down Mulsanne”. Innes certainly loved his car at Le Mans: “Quite viceless – you got in and drove and it behaved impeccably. You just sat back and let it go, and didn’t it go!” But cast Hepworth & Grandage pistons – instead of forged, as originally intended – ruined Le Mans ’63 for the Aston team as the crowns failed on both cars.
Freshly forged pistons arrived in time for the Goodwood TT, where Innes and Bruce relished taking the fight to Ferrari. But then officialdom stepped in…
Rules is rules. The new cars had been homologated with 5½-inch wheel rims. Soon after homologation, Dunlop had introduced broader racing tyres, demanding new 6½-inch rims. Thus equipped, the cars had then been accepted by the normally picky ACO scrutineers at Le Mans. So it was hardly surprising that Aston subsequently trundled to Goodwood expecting a warm home welcome…
Instead, RAC scrutineer Stuart Procter – renowned as a stiff-backed stickler – spotted the wheel and tyre-size change, checked Aston’s homologation papers and rejected the wider rims, insisting upon the homologated 5½-inchers – or “You’re not running in my motor race.” Despite Wyer’s vociferous protests, and diplomatic gymnastics by BARC secretary John Morgan (who feared losing his race’s most charismatic home team entries), Procter proved immoveable. The best he would permit was fitting the new-size tyres on the homologated 5½-inch rims.
Even ‘Death Ray’ – as John Wyer was known for his piercing gaze – quickly recognised he had met his match. The argument that Le Mans had accepted the larger rims, and that the production DB4GTs were being fitted with 6½-inch rims as new, were summarily dismissed. The paperwork was king.
Ireland and McLaren were concerned at how the cars would handle with their fat tyres wobbling around. After running the big rims in first practice, when Innes was competitive with the fastest Ferraris, the narrower rims were fitted for the second session. Sure enough the big cars wobbled around like jellies on springs.
Ireland fumed: “Bloody scrutineers! The track was measured with the car on 6½-inch rims and a different off-set, so effectively the track on the 5½-inch rims was something like 4½-inches narrower than on the other wheels. I told John Wyer to stuff the scrutineers and tell them we wouldn’t race… If they made us run on 5½-inch rims the car wouldn’t handle worth a damn, whereas on 6½-inch rims we could blow the Ferraris off with no sweat and win the race. But it wasn’t the inch off the rims which killed us, it was the narrower track.
“I was absolutely furious. I could have won the race standing on my head but here was this potential winner (British, for ***** sake!) being made to run in this uncontrollable state…”
He could only manage a time 0.6sec slower in the second session, “After really hanging it out and driving at 12/10ths – but there was no way I could drive like that for four hours.”
After a slow start from the outside of the front row, Innes tailed Graham Hill’s GTO before lunging for the inside line at Woodcote, shouldering the World Champion onto the grass. Innes admitted: “I was driving way over my head and beyond the capabilities of the car on its narrow track and I spun good and proper, flatting the tyres… I made a quick stop for new wheels and as I left I saw the chief scrutineer, who had made us run on the 5½-inch rims, so I slammed on the brakes, opened the door and yelled: ‘Now see what you’ve ****ing well made us do’.”
At one point he missed a gear and plainly bent a valve, losing 300-400rpm “everywhere”. After 10 more laps or so, he missed another gear that seemed to bend the same valve straight once more “because suddenly I had max revs again, the car was going like a train and I was back in business.
“I was very angry… and I spun it a few more times after that. I can always remember the crucial moment when I knew I’d lost it because the wipers would be blown off the windscreen and I’d get a blast of air across my face through the circular holes cut in the side windows. When that happened I knew I’d never get it back.”
Having survived all this, and – amazingly – negotiating the Goodwood chicane two-abreast with Michael Parkes’s GTO, Innes brought the Aston home seventh, still incensed at “being denied victory by some stupid little bureaucrat. The car still didn’t comply with the homologation rules as we raced it, so why couldn’t he let us race in a condition that would at least have given us a chance of winning?”
Hmm – while Procter had spotted the Project 214s’ rim disparity, he’d missed their non-conforming chassis design, so Aston Martin had actually been hung for a lamb, rather than a sheep. But in the marque’s centenary year we can still celebrate Roy Salvadori’s subsequent defeat of the Ferraris on their home ground at Monza, that September. It’s ironic now to consider that this would have been impossible had the Italian scrutineers looked as closely at the chassis as Mr Proctor had at the wheel rims… You lose some, you win some.
Racing mourns the loss of a genuine unsung hero
Bob Robinson’s name might not mean much to many, but his pioneering work will be familiar to generations of aspiring single-seater racers
On June 27, at the age of 79, Bob Robinson passed away. With his death the British motor racing industry has lost one of its great unsung heroes because Bob ‘was’ Arch Motors, chassis supplier to what became – from the 1960s to the 2000s – the world racing market.
With him at the helm, Arch Motors produced beautifully fabricated, hand-made frames, monocoques and related parts for Lola, Lotus, Ford Advanced Vehicles, Mallock, Royale, Van Diemen, Palliser, Titan and so many other constructors the full list is mind-boggling.
During the 1950s, Bob Robinson had been an enthusiastic and successful sidecar racing rider and entrant, campaigning his own 998cc Vincent combination. His regular passenger was Lewis Young, who also had a decent reputation as a solo rider – his successes including at least one second place to Mike Hailwood, while his mechanic for one European season was a youthful Barry Sheene. He would ride in the solo events at a meeting, and then slide onto the sidecar alongside Bob Robinson for the chair race.
Bob founded Arch Motors – under a railway arch in Tottenham, North London – in partnership with a fellow sidecar racer named Ted Young. One early customer was Lotus Engineering at nearby Hornsey, for whom Arch began making wishbones and throttle pedals. The introduction to Colin Chapman’s emerging marque had come via college friend Don Gadd who had taken a job with Lotus. Eric Broadley was another early client in 1958, and for him Arch Motors used pioneering bronze-welding techniques in the production Lola Mark 1 sports-racing chassis. This was a far more sympathetic process than gas welding with steel rod and it made a superior end product.
Arch Motors produced many hundreds of Lotus spaceframe chassis from the Type 22 Formula Junior onwards, including the Lotus 23s and – as Bob’s son Bruce recalls – some 15 Lotus 24 Formula 1 frames. Bob Robinson also produced the Lola Formula 1 frames for the Bowmaker-John Surtees operation through 1962, followed by Ford GT40 subframes, water pipes and other related fabrications.
In 1966 under a Great London Council scheme Bob moved the business to Huntingdon, where Arch Motors became re-established alongside Lola Cars and Specialised Mouldings, the glassfibre and later composite bodywork specialists. Alexis, March, Merlyn – the list of Arch Motors’ customers is a who’s who of the specialist British racing industry – all beat their path to Arch’s door. After Ted Young died in 1970, Bob Robinson continued to run the company for decades to follow. Arch produced many hundreds of Ralt chassis and almost any racing driver who found his path to prominence through junior formula racing from the 1970s to the 1990s would have negotiated much of it within an Arch Motors product – from Ayrton Senna sideways, and down.
Bob Robinson also assisted with many prototype and road-going products – his company building chassis for the Strathcarron road car, the Tomita, the Panther Limas, Unipowers, Chris Craft’s concept car and also Gordon Murray’s wondrous Rockets. At its height Arch had about 50 employees and the company remains in good health today, with more than a thousand historic racing cars surviving, in major part, as Bob Robinson’s enduring legacy.
We owe him.