Another new kid on the DDC block gives his tart views on the recent exhibition at the Excel. The tone will come as no surprise to those of us who have enjoyed Shaun’s company at any time. I first encountered him at Le Mans in 1995 while he was working on ‘Persuit of Perfection’ – the film he produced back then is still one of the greatest ever on our bit of the sport. For those who have missed it try this and especially marvel at the action on the opening lap – GoPros, who needs ’em? Find the video HERE
A trip down memory lane was what I was anticipating on my visit to London City Classic last week at the Excel.
I spent a fair amount of time in the ’80s working with some enthusiastic – and in a number of cases under-financed, over enthusiastic – World Endurance Championship race teams in various capacities. Then in the mid ’90s I had the dream commission to make a number of films about it, including ‘Pursuit Of Perfection’ The McLaren Le Mans Film. So I have always maintained a fondness for things Classic and Retro.
My initial spark of interest in this came as a teenager from listening to the 24 Hours of Le Mans on radio at night under the blankets at school in late 50s.
I was hooked.150mph down something called The Mulsanne Straight! To me it was simply unbelievable.
Our Family Car at the time was a Morris Minor 1000 Traveller, which probably could only hit a maximum of 80mph on a downhill straight with a following wind. Around that time, funnily enough, a friend of the family called Piers Courage won his first race in his Mother’s Traveller at Boreham in Essex, then the Ford test track. She didn’t know about it till afterwards!
God, I could have been a Grand Prix Driver – if only my Dad had happened to own a Brewery.
Anyway my first trip to a track was Snetterton, in Norfolk.
As we arrived I saw some chap called Jimmy Clark driving a Lotus Cortina totally out on his own without another car anywhere in sight.
It was his first of three drives that day. I think he won in the Lotus by a quarter of a lap. All I remember thinking was that everyone else appeared to be extremely bad at this lark. I was hooked. Hard not to be.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that 15-20 years in the future I would be going to Le Mans regularly. Or that 35 years or so later I would be making a film there following the winning – British – car.
So I have I suppose become something of an aficionado of things Classic: or in the words of the late great Charlie H a bit of a connoisseur.
It is probably a traditional lament from anyone over 30 years of age that “Fings Ain’t What They Used to Be”!.
I went to the Excel out of curiosity to see if I could conjure up some memories of the past. I was sadly rather disappointed at the frankly lacklustre range of ‘Classics’ on display there this time. I hate to say it, but it really wasn’t a a patch on the Show put on by our ancient enemy the Fr**** in Paris last week.
As my old Pal John Brooks rightly said ‘ not exactly Premier League. My own comment was that it was really only one up from Vanarama Southern – and a mate owns that Team.
At the twenty five sovs a pop which the punters paid I thought it was well steep.
The French, in spite of their youthful president’s political problems (or maybe because of them?), put on a stonking display at Rétromobile. One which I would gladly pay good very good Euros (if such things really exist) to attend next year in spite of the little local difficulty we appear to be having with the bureaucrats based in the country next door, whose only saving grace is as far as I can figure is a little place called Spa Francorchamps, that and the beer.
However I digress.
Wondering around on Friday I found that there really were just a smattering of vaguely interesting racing cars in what I can only describe as a fairly boring sterile shed.
On the non competition side there was plenty of ‘pretty little things’ to see. But even then, there was nothing that had that magic ‘WOW’ factor. Just row upon row of predictability
Joe Macari and Quentin Wilson added a bit of class banter, but that for me was about the only really interesting part of the day.
Ces’t la vie. Paris for me next year. Maybe the Entente can be a bit more Cordiale this time around?
At DDC Towers we welcome another contributor, our old friend Andy Hartwell. Andy was one of the regulars on the ALMS beat at the turn of the century. Here he gives an overview of what drew him to this area of motor sport. Hopefully this will the first of many contributions from Long Island.
It was 1995 and Major League Baseball (USA) decided to cancel the World Series over player/owner disputes. For this lifelong fan, that action was enough to turn me off to the game we had so often played for hours in the streets where I grew up. It was time to look to other interests and, as luck would have it, a man from Italy would persuade a famous car maker that the time had come to return to the world of sports car racing. The man was Gianpiero Moretti and the car he championed Ferrari to build was the 333 SP.
Growing up, when I wasn’t playing ball – pretending to be any one of a number of my favorite New York Yankee players every time I stepped up to bat – the other thing that I was most interested in was sports car racing. I loved seeing the Jim Hall Chaparrals, the Lola T-70s, the McLaren Can-Am cars and all the modern open top racers featured in the racing magazines of the time. There was Road & Track, Sports Car Graphic, Car and Driver, Autoweek/Competition Press, and later, On Track and Auto Racing Digest. Money I earned from delivering papers, along with meager parental allowance monies, would often go towards buying the latest issues. (Along with a box of chocolates or two.) I couldn’t wait to see who was racing what and where. I was in awe of these champions of courage, and in love with the idea of going fast around corners in both directions, not just in a straight line or to the left over and over.
When I finally was old enough to have a car
of my own, Dad found a 1957 Chevy for me and I would tear that baby up and down
twisty and narrow River Road thinking, as I had when playing baseball, that I
was really Stirling Moss or Jim Hall or Mark Donohue and corners were to be
cut, not driven around. I sometimes wished the Chevy was a Triumph or an MG but
hey, I was driving and enjoying myself regardless.
In the mid-1960s, Dad and my Brother Steve and I went to a few races at our
home track, Bridgehampton. We saw the USRRC, Trans-Am and Can-Am races at that
under-developed, bare bones circuit, but the venues condition didn’t
matter. We were seeing my heroes in the
flesh and not too far from home to boot.
This was the real thing, not a static image on a page. It was a time when I came to feel I needed to
have a future in this sport. Not as a
driver or mechanic, but as a journalist or photographer. I wanted to see, hear
and feel more about what went on within this magical world.
The idea was further cemented in my mind
when, at the 1968 Bridgehampton Can-Am race, I cheered on my favorite, Jim Hall
when he took the lead from Bruce and Denny in their identical McLaren
MK8As. When the race ended, and the last
car crossed the finish line, this 17 year old fan leaped over the fence, ran
across the track, and stood in the pits as Hall pulled up right next to me! I
reached in and was the first to shake his hand to congratulate him on his
second place finish! He wore an open face helmet and I can still see the blood
and marks on his face from all the sand that had been thrown up during the
race. Shaking his hand was a seminal
moment for me. I knew then I had to have a place in this exciting world!
(Note: 40 years after that race I found a
photo someone took of Jim at that moment. In the photo, I am the kid in the
white T-Shirt and sunglasses on Jim’s right!
The photo also captured my Dad, in the crowd over Jim’s left
shoulder. And the elbow you see sticking
out behind Jim’s left arm belongs to my brother, Steve! What are the chances of every finding a photo
of that magic moment?)
Well, sometimes what you feel you want is
the very thing you have to wait the longest to receive. While working a full
time job in retailing, I gave journalism a shot, writing short pieces for a
Long Island weekly newspaper. I covered a few local club rallies, wrote about
the world of racing at Bridgehampton, and submitted a piece or two on Lime Rock
and Watkins Glen events. This early involvement came to a sudden halt when the paper’s
interests waned in affording print space to a sport that was never really in
the mainstream of public awareness. My journalistic
desires were put on hold. I then fell back on my other first love, baseball. I
was a Yankee fan again. Moreover, I was reborn as a fan of the game. Well, that is, until 1995.
Besides baseball, which you could watch on
TV for free – an amount equal to my ability to pay, the years of the mid 1970s through to 1995
were devoted to family, career and economic concerns that put the idea of a
journalism or photography career on the back burner. In fact, I tuned out of the whole racing
scene for close to 20 years or so. When others talk of the GTP era, or the
Ayrton Senna years, I feel no emotional attachment. I simply didn’t follow the sport back then.
As the years passed, and our economic status improved, and baseball went stupid and shut down when it should have been celebrating a pair of champions, I decided to pick up a car magazine again. In the pages of Road & Track I saw a picture of the new Ferrari 333 SP. I immediately had a flashback to the glory days of the Can-Am series and the beautiful prototypes built by Bruce McLaren and Lola and Chaparral. The spark was reignited.
I worked out getting credentials to Lime Rock and later other circuits, so I could be on the scene shooting photos and writing about this new era in racing. Those early stories in the local paper helped pave the way for me.
In 1996, I had the opportunity to interview
Wayne Taylor. This was the year he would go on to win both the Rolex 24 Hours
of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, in his Riley & Scott MKIII with
Oldsmobile power. That blue and white
and yellow paint scheme was often what the fans saw come across their line of
sight first, provided a certain red Ferrari hadn’t stolen the lead.
That interview with Wayne – which he told me at the conclusion was, I quote,
“The best interview I’ve ever had”- would lead to his setting me up with
credentials to the inaugural Petit Le Mans (1998).
When the internet became a thing, I found a
website called Sportscarworld and reached out to its creator, Malcolm Cracknell,
to see if he could use a little help with the content side of the
business. My first submission to Malcolm
at Sportscarworld.com was a picture of the Porsche GT1-98 that would later go
airborne, ending the race on a flatbed tow.
We connected well and Malcolm became a friend. I would go on to
contribute for years to that first site and the many iterations that would
follow. This was at a time when most folks only had slow dial up internet
service so the pictures were small and I was ‘advised’ to abandon my thoughts
of submitting short videos for posting.
(I think what Malcom said was ‘NO MORE $#%^ VIDEOS!)
I would also go on to become a contributor
to TheRaceSite.com and many of my ‘Through The Esses’ columns appeared there,
and are still accessible today. A short stint writing for AllRaceMagazine
(defunct) happened as well but I’d rather not talk about that experience, thank
For the next 20 +/- years I would go on to cover the Petit again for several more years, along with days spent covering racing at Sebring, Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Mosport, Watkins Glen and VIR. Never made it to Road America but I just might someday. Along the way I met a lot of wonderful professionals who covered the races as photographers, journalists or public relations specialists. I’m sure I am leaving some great names off this list, and for that I apologize in advance, but some of the names were Barbara Burns, Craig van Eaton, Sylvia Proudfoot, Regis Lefebure, John Brooks, Janos Wimpffen, Lyndon Fox, Gary Horrocks, Brian Mitchell, Richard Prince, Rick Dole, Chris and Rob Dyson and many more. Each of them having played significant roles in the sport and in my development from novice to (nearly) professional status.
During my time of active involvement, I was
able to talk with and write about many great people in the sport. I am pleased to say my time – albeit as a
part time journalist/photographer – found me watching the emergence of some
incredibly talented drivers and teams.
People like Andy Lally, Spencer Pumpelly, Mike Borkowski, Guy Cosmo,
Mark Wilkins, Jeff Segal and more were just making a name for themselves and I
was there to talk with them early in their careers and write about their
desires and ambitions to succeed in the sport.
It was also during this time that I found a
great friend in Dennis Spencer. He and I would spend a lot of time talking in
the paddock about almost anything. He was a great man who seemed – to me,
anyway – to have no sense of what fear can do to a mind. He was smart, intelligent, brave and a man
with a big heart. His sense of humor and
his ability to mentor others were remarkable traits that I admired greatly.
When he passed the sport lost a magnificent competitor and I lost a good
Dissipating brain cells have led to gaps in
memory over all that I enjoyed about the sport. In no particular order I do remember
covering the NASAMAX team at Sebring; doing the race reports and press releases
for Stevenson Motorsports for a little over seven years; covering the Red Bull
Racing team at Daytona and, I think, Sebring;
Meeting and reporting on George Robinson’s 74 Ranch team when Jack Baldwin
had the lead driving role; Sharing hotel rooms and rides with Janos Wimpffen
and later, Lyndon Fox; Sharing space at
a private home in Sebring with several fellow enthusiasts; Having a hotel or two on the beach at
Daytona; Staying in less than stellar
accommodations for Sebring; Flight delays; Losing my dailysportscar jacket at
the airport; Staring down a pig/boar
late at night on the way back to Sebring;
Dropping my camera bag into the only puddle within 50 feet of me at
Yes, it’s been a fun ride and I feel so
very fortunate to have been there during what many folks consider a golden age
of sports car racing. Today, I find
myself more attracted to Vintage Racing and seeing some of the cars of the past
– both recent and ancient – doing what they were built to do.
Yes, 1995 was a seminal year for this journalist/photographer. But, I wonder if you can guess what my interests today include outside of racing? Can you say, “Batter up!”?
The 2019 edition of the Rétromobile was well up to the high standards that we have come to expect from this French Classic. It has become something of a must attend event for those of us who ply our trade in this arena, being the first serious event of the year adds a taste of optimism to encourage us, no matter how misplaced this rush of blood ultimately turns out to be.
So to whet the appetite I am flagging up a few delights, some familiar, some less so. I will have a few other posts to produce in the next few days in between the doing the paying stuff…….
Arriving on Tuesday evening I barely made any progress past the Peter Auto stand, ambushed by various gangsters that I am acquainted with, all of us keen to catch up on gossip, rumour and the occasional fact……one of the cars on the Peter Auto stand was very familiar, on old friend from a couple of decades gone, McLaren F1 GTR, #24R. Originally a factory Schnitzer car for the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours, it then turned up in the Gulf/Davidoff team for a few races in that year. It was driven by Thomas Bscher and John Nielsen till the Dane royally stuffed it in Practice at Suzuka at the end of summer. Once refettled Steve O’Rourke acquired it for his British GT campaign and then achieved a fantastic fourth place overall in the ’98 edition of the French classic……….the stuff of dreams.
More memories were to be found round the corner on Gergor Fisken’s stand, always a source of truly classic cars in every sense of the word. True to form Fiskens had on display a cornucopia of automotive goodness, including one gem that really struck a personal chord. My first attendance endurance race was the 1971 Brands Hatch 1000Kms, it proved to be a slippery slope, which is how and why you are reading this doggerel. So it was quite something to encounter the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 that Henri Pescarolo and Andrea de Adamich drove to record a memorable victory that over the Gulf Porsche 917s, the first international success for the Italian marque for 20 years.
I reflected on the 1971 season, and its impact of my young self, some time ago HERE – while it has been largely downhill on the personal front since those heady days, the T33 still looks stunning.
Artcurial run the auction based at the Rétromobile and they always come up with much that is stunning, 2019 was no exception to this rule. The Serenissima Spyder was captivating, another treasure from Count Volpi’s outfit and, even more appealing, exactly as it ran at Le Mans in 1966.
The timing of its competition career was unfortunate as it was crushed along with the rest of the field by the Detroit bulldozer that was Ford’s GT effort at Le Mans that year featuring no less that 15 GT40s on the grid. No matter, the patina and graceful design are timeless, who ever acquired this exquisite car has won a motoring lottery.
Also at Artcurial was this headline grabbing Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring which went under the hammer for a pretty respectable €16.4 million, quite understandable when considering this beautiful creation.
One of just five examples built and with an almost complete history, it is a slice of motoring royalty……….one can dream…………
On a completely different scale in every sense of the word was this giant Berliet T100, at the time of its introduction the largest truck in the world……it dwarfed everything else at Rétromobile.
Even this Panzer MK IV had to yield to the Berliet………………….
Another French star on the boards was the WM P88, holder of the top speed record down the Mulsanne Straight, posting 407kph in 1988…………….
Back into the 21st Century is the Maserati MC12 Corsa that was to be found at Girado’s impressive stand. The Corsa was the track day version of the MC12 for those who wished to emulate the performance of the wildly successful GT1 racecar.
The Corsa had a claimed 745bhp from the V12 6.0 litre engine, shared with the Ferrari Enzo. Only 12 examples of the Corsa were built, making it ultra desirable as if it needed any further enhancement.
Another extremely stylish and rare Italian that was to be found in Paris was a concept car that appeared at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the Lamborghini 400 GT Flying Star II.
This striking shooting-brake displays all the confidence of the mid-60s and was based on a 400 GT platform. Its other very significant attribute is being in the final wave of creativity from Carrozzeria Touring which was experiencing financial difficulties at that time. The stunning Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Touring described above was also part of the history of that venerable styling house. As to the Flying Star, it is very much a case of what might have been……………..
The final initial glance at 2019’s excellence at the Rétromobile is another one off Italian, another Lamborghini, this time from the house of Bertone. It is hard to see how one might improve on the visual impact of the Miura but the P400 Roadster makes a convincing attempt. There are subtle differences to the ‘standard’ car, the angle of the windscreen was lowered, a spoiler was added at the rear and the exhaust was re-routed.
After a number of decades of almost neglect this piece of automotive art was restored to its original very cool blue metallic livery. In Paris it graced the Kidston display, formed exclusively of Lamborghinis, mainly Miuras. What a fantastic collection…….
The gathering of automobilists on New Years Day at Brooklands has established itself as the opening highlight of Britain’s classical motoring calendar. It being the first day of the year helps but the event has grown in popularity as the Brooklands site has been redeveloped to reflect some of the past glories. Our Special Correspondent braved the conditions and a few rather dull exhibits to bring us this first dispatch from the 2019 Motoring Front.
Year’s Day gathering at Brooklands is the biggest such event and in 2019 the
majority of cars were nothing special – too many MGBs, VW Golfs, Triumph Stags
etc. – but the day was saved for your correspondent by the arrival of a few
First in the line of small sports cars that quickly gave the company its international reputation, the “M” type M.G. Midget was based on the newly introduced (in 1928) Morris Minor and shared with it the excellent Wolseley-designed overhead camshaft engine.
This car is an early Oxford-built example (before the final move to Abingdon) and has the central throttle pedal and transmission brake. It has Brooklands racing history and is equipped like the two cars that ran at Le Mans and Spa in 1930.
The pioneering Lanchester company amalgamated with Daimler in 1931 and this co-incided with Daimler casting aside their sleeve-valve engines (which they had used since 1908) and resorting to the use of poppet valves. In 1931 an interim Lanchester model, the 15/18, was introduced using the Daimler fluid flywheel and an example won the first R.A.C. Rally in 1932.
In October 1932 a completely new design was announced with a 6-cylinder ohv engine and the Lanchester cars were increasingly “Daimlerised”, this example having a 1378 c.c. 6-cylinder driving through a fluid flywheel and bodywork by Mulliners of Birmingham.
Britain’s first post-war Motor Show in 1948 the Nuffield Group introduced a
completely new range of Morris and Wolseley cars, quite unlike anything to
emerge from their factories before. The Issigonis-designed Morris Minor was one
of the Earls Court stars but two new Wolseleys were there as well: the 4-cylinder
4/50 and the bigger 6-cylinder 6/80. These both had, in the best Wolseley
tradition, overhead camshaft engines (the 6-cylinder shared with the new Morris
Six) and they were the first Wolseleys to have independent front suspension, this
being an adaption of the Issigonis wishbone and torsion bar design. And
steering-column gear changes, all the fashion at the time, were also new for
not sporting cars, although some private owners turned up for the Monte Carlo Rally
for a few years, and the Police chose them in quantity as Patrol cars.
shown is a typical 6/80 saloon.
In July 1937
Lord Austin introduced to the Press at Longbridge the Big Seven. This was a
supplementary model to the famous Seven and had a longer chassis and an engine
of 900 c.c. It was intended to bridge the gap between the Seven and the Ten. It
turned out not to be a best seller and production stopped on 1939 when it was
replaced by the Leonard Lord-inspired Eight which became a real success.
Seven did compete on a small scale, four works cars, for example, taking
premier awards in the 1939 Exeter Trial.
The role of Team Photographer with a endurance sportscar outfit is a delicate one requiring tact, patience and perseverance, as well as skills behind the lens. It is a strange kind of hybrid position, not one of the bosses or drivers or sponsors but also not really one of the guys………the photographer does not do all-nighters mending the damage caused by the latest hero’s antics on track……..nor do they pull the seemingly endless long days back at the workshop preparing the cars in the first place. If you believe some of the others in the team they just point and shoot.
One analogy that springs to mind, it is like the position of the governess in a Downtown Abbey-style house, not family nor servant, neither upstairs or downstairs……….. Most of us who try to chronicle the progress of a team round the clock are tolerated at best.
Like any rule there are exceptions that prove matters. One such example around the turn of the century was to found at Dyson Racing, a no bullshit outfit with all feet firmly on the ground. If you could win the approval of Pat Smith and the guys and gals from Poughkeepsie then you were the real deal. Dr. Brian Mitchell was their bard, their recorder of memories, and as the years pass these recollections become more and more precious to remind those involved of the good times and the good people.
Brian was without question one of the guys, his commitment to the task was clear and unambiguous, the team certainly recognised it. On the odd occasion when I would show up for a Dyson pit stop in the middle of the night at places such as Daytona he would be on hand, part of the process just as much as the man with the tyre or the stopwatch.
So it is illuminating to see his work, a couple of decades down the line, a reminder of a tough week that ended in triumph as Dyson Racing took their second Rolex 24 victory in three years. The times were a-changing with a new century and a new approach on the way, progress they called it………….
Enjoy the view from inside the winners’ tent and share their achievement or at least their pride and joy standing on the podium…………we all know in our hearts it is transitory at best but the view from the top compensates for all that.