A chance reunion

Racing History

This week I must beg your forgiveness and crave your indulgence for the stream of sentiment below, but I have to talk about something and you are the only people I know will understand.

We had friends to stay for the weekend who brought their young son. Having only had daughters, both of whom reached double digit ages some time ago, I felt ill equipped to keep the lad entertained. But I thought I’d rummage around in the boxes of stuff we all keep in our attics full of discarded children’s paraphernalia we know we’ll never use again, but can’t quite bring ourselves to throw out. And there in the dim light, amid the ghastly assortment of eezy-squeezy fabrics, Sylvanian family members, square pegs and round holes, I thought I caught just the briefest flash of yellow.

I was sure it was nothing more than a glimpse of some jauntily attired and long forgotten doll, but it merited further investigation. So I dug deeper, cursing the lack of light, feeling around with my fingers for something I knew in my heart could not be there.

But it was. Barely able to believe it, from the wreckage of my children’s childhoods, I pulled a bright yellow 1973 Corgi Toys Ferrari 365GTB/4. A Daytona no less and not just any Daytona, but the JCB and (bizarrely) Corgi-sponsored car raced at Le Mans that year by Neil Corner and Willie Green. When I was the age of the boy downstairs this was my favourite toy, and I’d presumed it lost for years.

Of course it’s not in quite the same pristine condition as it when I first ripped opened its box some, gulp, 40 years or more ago. Then it had JCB logos on its bonnet and boot, Corgi stickers on its roof and roundels on its side bearing the 33 number with which it raced at Le Mans, retiring with transmission failure after 214 laps.

I remember the transfers starting to peel, probably as a consequence of repeated immersions in the bucket of cold water I used to re-enact Ascari’s Monaco dunking (back then my imagination was never limited by such tedious strictures as era and formula) and that awful moment when I creased one trying to reapply it and realised it would never look right again. The Daytona lost its entire livery that day in a solemn, tearful debagging ceremony. Better a naked Ferrari than one incorrectly attired.

What I didn’t need to recall was how much I loved that toy car. Every dent, scrape, scratch and gouge on its pockmarked bodywork spoke of the thousand skirting boards into which it had been so tenderly rammed. It flew off a few ironing boards too, I can tell you. The boundless love of an eight-year-old boy is written all over it.

I still have every toy car that ever meant anything to me, including the 1:16 scale Polistil McLaren M23 that showed me how double wishbone front suspension worked and the Kirk F White-sponsored Sunoco Ferrari 512M (complete with misspelt ‘Penke’ logo) I thought was the most exciting thing on wheels then, and secretly still do. But none is as battered as the Daytona.

I have over time also picked up a few things that in the parlance are ‘mint and boxed’ and I find they mean nothing to me. I know many adults collect them, but none was loved by the children for whom they were designed and I find them rather sad.

So now I’d found my most treasured childhood possession, what should I do with it? The boy would never know of its existence and I could easily spare it further damage. But of course I let him borrow it and when his mother gently chided him for flinging it across the kitchen floor I got down on my hands and knees and flung it right back. At moments like this, us chaps have to stick together.

Of course what I should have done is given him the Daytona but that would have been like someone giving an eight-year-old me a ruined model of a 1930s Alfa Monza: I might have played with it for a bit, but it would have had no resonance and would soon have been discarded.

Or at least that’s my justification for keeping it, along with the hope that one day a grandson will appear who, my presumably arthritic knees permitting, will once more provide me with an excuse to play with it. But that’s not the real reason: the still simpler truth is that having been reunited with it after all these years, I don’t want to be without it again. Finders, keepers as I almost certainly used to say.


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