From the archives with Doug Nye

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Spanner in the works

Having been a mechanic, racer and constructor, Howden Ganley is now an author

Howden Ganley is one of motor sport’s all-round good eggs. He has spent the past few years piecing together his recently published autobiography, The Road to Monaco (Denley Publications, ISBN 978-0-9931395-0-5). Having been given the chance to read some of his early drafts I expected it to be good. And it really is. He’s a detail man who became a highly competent and trusted racing mechanic-cum-emergent world-class racing driver with McLaren and later rose through F3, F2 and Formula 5000 to drive Formula 1 and world championship-level sports cars for Frank Williams, BRM, March (er – I won’t mention Maki), Gulf Research Racing, Matra and more. In partnership with Tim Schenken he co-founded Tiga Racing Cars in 1975-76, and went on to become a major constructor of Formula Ford, Sports 2000, Formula Atlantic and ultimately Group C and even Can-Am cars.

He rates the Sports 2000 Tiga SC84s and Metro V6-engined GpC GC287s – plus the Formula Atlantic FA81 and FA84 – as his favourite Tigas, while the CA82 Can-Am central-seater was “probably the best single car we built”.

By the end of 1987, however, he reckoned he had become pretty much burned out by running the company, and it was at that point that his sometime BRM and Gulf Mirage team-mate Vern Schuppan rented the Tiga factory for his ultimately foiled Porsche 962-derived road car projects.

Howden’s inside story of both top-class and minor-league motor racing is a tale that very few have ever been so well qualified to relate. Almost every one of his autobiography’s 440-plus pages offers something quotable, throwing often new light upon all manner of motor racing topics, gossip and frequent scandal.

In 1966 Howden had joined what became the Drummond Racing team campaigning a pair of Can-Am McLaren M1B sports cars for drivers Peter Revson and Skip Scott. Under chief mechanic Kerry Agapiou – one of the famous Agapiou brothers who went on to campaign a series of exotic Can-Am Fords – Howden was joined by Aussie mechanic Ian ‘Mumbles’ Gordon who had worked formerly with Frank Gardner. According to Frank, ‘Mumbles’ was the man who famously blew up the toilet tent at a New Zealand GP meeting by draining fuel into its trench, only for an unwitting smoker, after relieving himself, to flick in a still-glowing cigarette butt…

After working three consecutive all-nighters to convert one of the Drummond McLarens from Chevrolet to Ford V8 power, followed by a barely conscious truck drive from Long Beach to Riverside Raceway, Peter Revson dropped him and Ian (or ‘Mumbles’) off at the Mission Inn. More than ready for their first proper sleep after interminable hours, Howden recalls how “I saw what convinced me forever that I needed to stop being a race mechanic, or at least stop doing all-nighters. When we arrived at the hotel reception desk and were asked to fill in the little cards, Ian was so exhausted that he was unable to write, or answer any questions, even his name. I filled out his card, realising that this was an example of somebody who was at the limit of his endurance.

It reminded me of Noddy Grohman, the former Cooper and Brabham mechanic who had died in his car while driving home one night, apparently as a result of years of overwork. I was determined that neither I nor any of my later employees, would ever get to that limit…”

Four years later on the podium at Riverside, Peter Revson would do a double-take after he and team-mate Denny Hulme had just driven their sister Gulf-McLarens home 1-2 in the LA Times GP Can-Am race, because “his old race mechanic” Howden had just joined them, after finishing third in the Sid Taylor-entered BRM-Chevrolet P167.

Another time, as Howden writes recalling his reception by the Matra team when he joined them for the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours, “After all the introductions they told me that I had a nickname. ‘Already? I’ve only just got here.’

“The nickname was ‘Ancien Mecanicien’… because during practice for the previous year’s Canadian GP apparently I overtook Chris [Amon in the F1 Matra], whereupon he roared into the pits and treated the Matra personnel to one of his famous wobblies, shouting: ‘I’ve just been overtaken by my old mechanic’, which was probably the most insulting thing that he thought could have happened to him.” To the intense amusement of the Matra lads, plainly…

Howden’s book is now a wonderfully interesting, amusing and often deeply perceptive and moving piece of work by a really down to earth, nuts-and-bolts Racer with a capital ‘R’.

Highly recommended as one no enthusiast should miss.

*****

Wacky races

Drivers making a mandatory stop to hang up their waistcoat? There is a precedent…

e were having a quiet cup of tea at the Goodwood Festival of Speed when one American visitor – glancing around at the hospitality tables, the uniformed waiting staff, the centuries-old Goodwood House and the towering cedar tree shading its carefully cut lawns – remarked, “I guess this meet is what you’d call genteel…” The way she spoke, it wasn’t a question.

At just about that moment, on the giant TV screen, fastest man on earth Andy Green shot under the hillclimb bridge in his dark-blue Jaguar, and plunged deep into the braking area at the now infamously blind-approach Molecomb Corner. At what looked like his Black Rock desert 763mph, in extremis he cut across the grass infield to open the turn. Floor-flat braking on sap-filled grass never works. It certainly didn’t this time – ka-boom! – the Jaguar’s crumple zones collapsed as it slammed through rows of straw bales, torpedoed the TV camera tower, wrote off the camera itself (shorting out our coverage to glaring white) and rattled the lucky cameraman around what had been his sun-soaked platform. Fortunately he survived more or less intact, and returned to his duties – with a replacement camera – almost as soon as the marshals had extricated the Wingco and his wide-eyed passenger, removed the luckless Jaguar and rebuilt the bale barriers. The Festival is “genteel”? In this respect, I think not…

A few days later, seeking something else amongst my stacks of ancient paperwork, I turned up the tiny 5-inch x 4-inch programme for one of the earliest British motor sporting events – a kind of predecessor Festival of Speed. It took place 115 years ago, on July 14, 1900, at the Ranelagh Club in Barnes, London, and really was genteel.

It was billed as ‘Automobile Races and Gymkhana (and polo matches)’, starting at the supremely civilised hour of 3.30pm, plainly to allow for a really good lunch. The afternoon’s opening event was a ‘Handicap Bending Race for Motor Carriages’ – “Between staves; forwards to a line; front wheels to cross the line; vehicle to stop and return backwards. In starting go to the left of first post. In returning pass first post at top of course, on the reverse side to that on which it was passed going forwards. The point of contact of both front wheels with the ground must be beyond the top line before reversing to go back.” Still with me? This gripping competition was to be run in heats.

The Ranelagh Club’s Event 2 was a ‘Handicap Starting Motor Carriages from Cold’ – for “Carriages with tube ignition only. The tubes and lamps must be sufficiently cold to allow of their being held in hand without inconvenience. No electric ignition must be employed. The driver to start on foot 20 yards to the rear of his vehicle, run to his vehicle, light lamps, start engine and race once round the full course with flying finish.”

Four entries contested a race for ladies and thereafter the events’ gentility veered towards the bizarre: “Motor Tricycle Coat and Waistcoat Race – at the end of the first lap the driver is to stop, dismount, take off his coat and hang it on a numbered peg; at the end of the second lap, take off his waistcoat and hang it up on the same peg; at the end of the third lap, put on his coat and waistcoat, fully button both, and finish at the end of the fourth lap.”

The day’s grand finale was then an “Obstacle Race for Motor Carriages – full course between gate-posts, to include the opening and reclosing of a gate and to finish through a paper screen”.

Amongst those competing were the Panhard et Levassor of the Hon CS Rolls, Claude Johnson (the famous ‘hyphen in Rolls-Royce’) in a Mayfair Voiturette, TW Staplee Firth’s Locomobile steam carriage and the splendidly named Mr E Shrapnell Smith on a Perfecta Tricycle.

The motor sport was run alongside two polo matches, one for the Freebooters v Old Cantabs and the second for Fetcham Park v Ranelagh, while the Royal Artillery Mounted Band thumped out a programme ranging from Strauss’s Blue Danube to a Russian dance by Glinka. Maybe there’s something here for F1’s rule makers? Hands up for the coat and waistcoat pitstop, plus having to burst through a paper screen at the finish.

Only trying to be helpful…

Mors draws applause

A 1908 Grand Prix car provided Doug with an alternative Goodwood ride… and wooed an F1 star of the 1980s

t Goodwood, former Renault and Ferrari turbo-era Formula 1 star René Arnoux was absolutely entranced by the Collier Collection’s 13-litre 1908 Grand Prix Mors after we rumbled into the top paddock. My friend Eddie Berrisford was driving and I was his white-overalled riding mechanic (I was meant to be co-driving Paul Vestey’s ex-Jack Sears Willment Cobra, but its carburettor flooded to a dangerous degree in my first ‘run’ on the Saturday).

Happily I’d realised on the way to the start that the usually wonderful AC/Shelby rocket ship wasn’t a happy old lady. She was hesitant and back-firing on the right-side cylinder bank. I then asked the marshals to let me start last of our batch just in case – to avoid yet more delays – and after a flying start the Ford V8 engine roared cleanly towards the first corner, but as I re-opened the throttle for the charge away from the second apex it just choked-up, flooded and died.

I parked immediately in front of the house, and five minutes later restarted and she idled perfectly back into the paddock, where a glance down the ram pipes revealed at least an inch of standing raw fuel on top of the right-rear carb’s twin butterflies. Either the float had sunk or the needle valve was jammed open.

So next morning I found myself instead in the mechanic’s seat of the 107-year-old Mors, Eddie and I explaining its intricacies to wide-eyed René.

The notion of Camille Jenatzy and mechanic Daysiolles operating this vast machine on the 47-mile Dieppe public road circuit had him shaking his head in near disbelief.

Front brakes? Non. Windscreen or indeed any weather or airstream protection? Non. Seat belts? Non. Rear-view mirror? “Je suis le retroviseur” – and so on.

René read intently the French manufacturer names and addresses engraved or cast into various of the great car’s accessories – admired its ‘bleu de France’ national racing livery and nodded in approval when we mentioned 150-160kph flat out.

After all, the seven-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner and 1977 European Formula 2 champion has been there (often), but not without the lavish luxuries above…

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