Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Lotus Eaters

If you think the current Grand Prix season has been full of unpredictable excitement, cast your mind back thirty years to 1982 when, against a backdrop of the FISA/FOCA wars and the transition from normally aspirated engines to turbos, no less than eleven drivers won races during the 16-race campaign.  Keke Rosberg wound-up as World Champion despite only winning one of the races – and he was driving an ‘outdated’ Cosworth-powered Williams.

There were plenty of other dramas too, the most tragic being the loss of Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder. Shortly before his fatal accident, the French-Canadian became involved in a spat with Ferrari team-mate Didier Pironi over driving tactics. The Frenchman – full of remorse at not having patched things up – himself suffered an horrendous accident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix a few weeks later, badly damaging his legs and so effectively ending his driving career. However, Patrick Tambay salvaged something for the Prancing Horse by winning that race at Hockenheim and Ferrari went on to claim the Constructor’s title despite winning fewer races than both Renault and McLaren.

Amongst the drivers to win races that year was Italian Elio de Angelis, the first his of his two victories for Lotus, when he crossed the line a scant 0.05-seconds  before Rosberg at the Osterreichring.

Amidst great  jubilation on the pit wall Colin Chapman famously threw his cap into the air. Little did we know that this was to be the last Lotus Grand Prix victory to be witnessed by the team’s creator for he would die of a heart attack in December that year.

I can actually say “I was there”, for I travelled to the German and Austrian races with Team Lotus, in some style I might add. I had previously worked for Lotus, leaving at the end of 1979 only to be let-down very badly in a promised new venture. I went on to work for a specialist car builder in London, but that business folded too, so I was job hunting.

With the two races being a double-header I thought it would be a good idea to get myself out there to look for work (well, that was my excuse!) but couldn’t really afford it. During the course of the British GP week-end I spoke to Lotus Team Manager Peter Warr about the possibility of hitching a ride on the transporter. To my surprise he was receptive and suggested I call a bit nearer the time. The response to that call was “sorry, no room on the truck but would I mind driving Colin Chapman’s Elite out to Hockenheim? Well, I really wanted a ride in a lorry but I didn’t need asking twice!

On the allotted day I duly left Ketteringham Hall in the black Elite, accompanying the transporter down to Felixstowe and across to Zeebrugge for an uneventful drive down to Hockenheim. Qualifying was overshadowed by Pironi’s horrendous accident and for the Lotus boys it was not a great day either. They had enjoyed little success so far in the season with the recalcitrant Type 91; de Angelis qualified 13th with Mansell even further back, lining up 18th on the grid.

The race saw de Angelis retire with handling problems but Mansell  salvaged some cheer on his 29th birthday by finishing ninth. We had already celebrated the occasion during the morning when the Goodyear guys marked up one of his tyres in a rather novel way – we all signed it! Despite the disappointments, the Team Lotus boys were as ever in good cheer.

We were sharing our hotel with the Renault team which at the time was hit with some internal strife between drivers Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux. At dinner in the evenings the French crew would raise their glasses with the time-honoured French toast of ‘Proste!’, to which the Lotus table responded very loudly with ‘Arnoux! It then turned into the nightly ritual of a bread roll fight.

I was duly entrusted with taking the Lotus Elite on to Austria, this time accompanied by Kenny Szymanski. Kenny was an American Airlines steward who miraculously managed to arrange his flight schedules so that he always turned up at the right place when a Grand Prix was on and spent the week-ends working as tyre man Clive Hicks’s assistant. Always very entertaining, Kenny was excellent company for the trip – especially as we broke down! Not just anywhere but in a tunnel. A passing mechanic (and a Lotus fan to boot) helped us push it out and we got it going again without really knowing how.

The Elite soon stopped again, our friend still following us. We built-up quite a little party on the hard shoulder as the Renault transporter stopped, the crew showing no hard feelings for the hotel mullarkey! Again we got it going and carried on, only to stop again. This time we were on our own and well into the evening. We were on a hill and couldn’t believe our good fortune when we investigated a side road opposite us to see a small hotel at the bottom, so we coasted down and checked in.

Much to Kenny’s amazement, the person who had checked in just before us lived in the next apartment block to him in New York! The next morning one of the team mechanics came out from the circuit and rescued us; the problem was some dirt in the fuel pump.

The Osterreichring enjoys a beautiful setting up in the hills with excellent spectating, the team’s hotel actually overlooking the circuit. Only downside was a monster thunderstorm that seemed to arrive regularly at 5pm every day! Qualifying proved a tad better than Hockenheim just a week before with de Angelis taking seventh on the grid and Mansell 12th.

In addition to the Elite the JPS-liveried Jet Ranger helicopter was also deployed for the weekend, being used by Colin Chapman to commute from the rather more salubrious hostelry where he and Hazel were staying. Naturally he wanted to land as close as possible to the paddock and was using a small grassed spectator area(!) at the end of the pits as helipad. Mike the pilot and I used to go and shoo the punters away when he was coming in. On race morning Mike and I duly went and taped-off the area and the ‘chopper landed, with the Old Man at the controls, Hazel alongside and Peter Dyke from Players, together with his wife, in the back.

As they landed, Mike went to the pilot’s door, yelling at me to go round the other side to open the door. As everyone disembarked, Mike got in, indicating me to do likewise. I obviously looked surprised, so he repeated it. I did as I was told and before I knew it, Mr Chapman was belting me in and putting a headset on me – I could now hear Mike properly above the rotors. “You said you had never flown. I’ve got to refuel so I’ve cleared it with the Old Man to take you with me”.

Talk about no time to panic! He was right, up until that time I had never flown, the reason being that I do not like heights so assumed I wouldn’t like flying. However, with no time to think about it, here I was in this little helicopter of all things. We flew out to a local airfield to refuel and upon returning to the circuit the morning warm-up was on so we followed it from the air – how cool is that! All fears of flying were forgotten and thankfully I had my camera with me so even recorded the occasion. To this day, I’ve never had a problem with flying.

The Italian Air Force aerobatic team had clearly been inspired by the Red Arrows performance at Brands Hatch a few years earlier and went one better by enveloping us in vapour trail as we stood in the pit lane! Once that excitement was over we settled down for an entertaining race that saw a delighted Elio de Angelis pip Rosberg by less than a car length to take a fantastic win. An overjoyed Lotus team swarmed onto the pit wall in celebration, me included, but little did we know then that Sunday 15 August 1982 would be the last time Colin Chapman would throw his famous black cap in the air.

Celebrations were short-lived as it was time to head for home. The Elite was staying behind so I found myself a lift as far as Luxembourg with Dan Partel, an American who had been responsible for re-establishing FF1600 and 2000 championships in Europe. Indeed a European FF2000 round was a support race at the Osterreichring, a young Ayrton Senna led all the way in his Rushen Green Van Diemen, followed home by Calvin Fish, now familiar to Americans as a TV commentator, complete with his delightful Norwich accent!

Once again we broke down, this time a stone jamming a brake on the poverty-model Fiesta that Dan had hired for the trip. From Luxembourg I got a train up to Eindhoven in Holland to spend a few relaxing days with some old family friends. The drama was not over though. They were driving me up to Zeebrugge to catch the ferry one evening when, as we approached the Dutch/Belgian border, a car we were about to pass suddenly did a U-turn (on a motorway!) across our path – he turned out to be a Greek who was lost. Both cars were written-off on the ensuing accident, fortunately witnessed by a group of Dutch policemen so there was no doubt about where the fault lay. The police even took us back home and I eventually caught the ferry home the next day.

So ended a momentous fortnight, the memories of which have remained with me to this day.
John Elwin September 2012 – All images courtesy of and copyright John Elwin

Le Pétoulet

To win one Monaco Grand Prix driving a Ferrari is quite an accomplishment. To repeat the victory three years later driving for Rob Walker is to be in truly exalted company. Maurice Trintignant was an exceptional driver with a 14 year career in Formula One, scoring points at the Nordschleife in his 44th year. He was the driver of the last Bugatti to race in a Grand Prix and with José Froilán González triumphed at Le Mans in 1954.

After he retired from motorsport, Trintignant had a vineyard near Vergèze, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. He called his vintage Le Pétoulet after the nickname he had been bestowed by his fellow drivers in 1945.

In his wonderful autobiography “F-Stops, Pit Stops, Tears and Laughter” Bernard Cahier tells the full story.

“He (Maurice) owned a Bugatti 37B which he’d hidden in a barn during the war. When he took it out and raced it for the first time after the conflict he discovered the engine was starved for fuel. Upon further investigation he discovered that a family of mice had taken up residence in the gas tank while it had been in the barn and the fuel line was clogged with their droppings. Telling this story to his friend and fellow driver, Jean-Pierre Wimille he said, “You know Jean-Pierre my gas tank was full of pétoules” – the provincial word for mice droppings. Wimille had a good laugh and then told Maurice, “That’s appropriate because you’re nothing but a big pétoulet yourself!” From that moment the name stuck.”

So it was quite a surprise to see this wine bottle on a windscreen at Salon Privé and recall the tale. I doubt that the wine deserved the branding, especially coming from that beautiful corner of France. One day maybe I will sample……………

John Brooks, September 2012

To purchase a copy of this great book go to

Lawn Dressing

The ebbing of summer in and around London brings a generous portion of automotive exuberance. Perhaps it is the final chance to play with the classic before the nights draw in and the roads get salted. In any case the first weeks of September see a veritable cornucopia of Concours of Elegance in the UK, and the crop of 2012 is especially rich.

I got the first inclination that last week’s Salon Privé was going to be extraordinary when I took a wrong turn down by Isleworth’s famous pub, The London Apprentice. Attempting to retrace my route I was passed by the above Lamborghini Miura that was being closely followed no less than three Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwings. Heavy metal on the bank of the Thames…………

Frankly that set the tone for the rest of the day. Utterly amazing cars in a beautiful setting and almost perfect weather.

Syon House is the London residence of the Duke of Northumberland and is now host to the Salon Privé, the event having outgrown its original home, The Hurlingham Club. It is a fine location, matching the quality of the cars on show.

I have already posted about the central display from the ROFGO Collection but by no means did they overshadow the rest. There were stunning cars everywhere, all the colours, all the sizes, all the ages. The FXX was just one of many stars.

Aston Martin chose the Salon Privé to reveal to the public their latest model, the V12 Vantage Roadster.

Another lovely drophead was this vibrant Bentley, no chance of losing this in an airport parking lot.

The event honoured two particular cars this year, the Gullwing Mercedes, I had witnessed that myself.

And the Ferrari F40, there were many fine examples on the lawns.


Including this ‘black sheep’ courtesy of Joe Macari.

Mr Macari was much in evidence at Salon Privé, this immaculately restored Dino engine is his handiwork.

As was this MC12

One category on display was that of Shooting Brakes, this Ferrari 330 GT was the last car to be created by Alfredo Vignale. It was brought to Salon Privé by Jay Kay, who must be worn out at this time of the year with the number of shows he attends.

One entry in that class that caught my eye, a fantastic Chrysler Town & Country Car. Looking like it had just rolled off the dealer’s lot, if you try hard you can hear Bennie Goodman and Glenn Miller swinging away in close proximity.

Is it possible to over restore a classic?

Speaking to one dealer who had much experience of cars from the period, he asserted that this beautiful Rolls Royce Silver Ghost is in way better condition today than when it left the factory nearly a century ago. Is that a problem? I suppose it depends on the car, the Silver Ghost can carry it off, one expects to be dazzled.

Another car that impressed me was this gorgeous Ferrari 330 GTS, absolutely mint.

Another rarity even by the standards of this event was this Daimler ‘Royal Four’ Limousine.

One of seven examples built to the specification of King George V, this is the only known car outside of the Royal Collection.

The Salon Privé is much more than a collection of fine automobiles in a splendid setting. The entry ticket appears to have a steep price till it is compared to other events of a similar stature. Unlike other motoring events, such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which has grown to be a victim of its own success, there is a feeling of intimacy almost like an extended family party. For those not getting behind the wheel later the excellent Pommery Champagne flows, a perfect accompaniment to the barbecued lobster.

For those whose interests extend beyond cars there are several diversions, a chance to window shop in a relaxed manner.

No motoring event can exist without an element of horology, Salon Privé is no exception to this rule.

Despite the retail distractions, the central theme of the day is the car.

And there were some many amazing examples to choose from. Choosing the crème de la crème was the task allotted to the judges, amongst whom was my old mate, Peter Stevens.

The 2012 Salon Privé stands comparison with any of the world’s great celebrations of the automobile, be they in the grounds of Villa d’Este, or on the greens at Pebble Beach. If you are reading this blog, then you should probably be planning to attend next September, I know I am.

John Brooks, September 2012


Blue & Orange

There is an odd feeling evident in London over the past two months. The Olympic Effect, usually heavy on cost and light on return, has changed the way Londoners react to each other, pockets of civility have broken out, a new found confidence in the national identity. Whether this will last is anyone’s guess, perhaps the feelgood atmosphere will fade as the autumn slips into winter. It would be nice to think that the Games really will have a legacy.

As if in harmony with the wider world, on the motoring front it is as if London has taken to impersonating the Monterey Peninsula, during the Pebble Beach Concours week. In the past seven days those of us who are into fine automobiles and the like, have had several birthdays and Christmases all come at once. Kicking off the week was Chelsea Auto Legends, then on Wednesday I toddled over to Syon Park for the 2012 Salon Privé, then the past two days were spent marvelling at the Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance. I defy anyone to match the sheer quality of the cars on show, truly one is fortunate to be in this part of the world right now.

So rich and varied has the content been at the latter two events I consider it almost impossible to produce a single blog post that would do justice to the story. So for the next week or so I will take elements that caught my eye and try and bring them to life for the readers.

In the past two years one of the most significant additions to the historic sportscar scene has been the ROFGO Collection. Put together for a private collector by Duncan Hamilton & Co., the central theme that runs through it is that the cars included were sponsored by Gulf Oil, so plenty of icons to choose from.

The collection was the centrepiece display for the 2012 Salon Privé and certainly did the event and location justice.

Oldest car in the collection is the Mirage M1, winner of the 1967 Spa 1000 Kilometres, a race that put Jacky Ickx on the map and established his reputation for being special in the wet. If your local track is Spa then………………

This Mirage was the first to wear the colours of Blue and Orange, a sponsorship deal that was arranged between team owner John Wyer and Gulf Oil VP and sportscar nut, Grady Davis. The funding enabled John Wyer to form JWAutomotive with John Willment. He then recruited John Horsman, David Yorke and Ermano Cuoghi to create one of motorsport’s legendary outfits.

Next on the lawn was the Mirage BRM M2, not one of the cars to trouble the record books and probably the worst to come out of JWAutomotive. Unreliable and with wayward handling, the scale of disaster was disguised in the wake of the double triumph for the team at Le Mans in 1968 and 1969 utilising the venerable GT40. Porsche were on the horizon with the 917, this canine could be quietly forgotten.

The stuff of legends, a simple recipe. Take the coolest guy on the planet, the coolest car of almost any time, the greatest race of them all, season with an insane Hollywood budget and cook at high pressure for several months, final result is immortality.

“A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it… it’s life. Anything that happens before or after… is just waiting.”

Steve McQueen, Gulf Porsche 917 and Le Mans, what more needs to be said?

An unmistakable profile, the Porsche 908/3, a clear signal of Porsche’s determination to pound the opposition into dust. Problems with the 917 at Nürburgring or on the Targa Florio? Well run the 908/3 instead.

JWAutomotive had an involvement with a German manufacturer a whole year before signing their deal with Porsche. They acquired a Mercedes transporter in 1969 and at Salon Privé the ROFGO Collection showed off their restored truck for the first time in public. Speaking with the collection’s chief mechanic, Ted Higgins, we both agreed that it would be very cool to use this to take the cars to the next Le Mans Classic, though whether Ted would play Michael Delaney or Tommy Hopkins, was open to question.

In 1969 Gulf Oil also backed a couple of Formula One teams, so it was no real surprise to find a Brabham BT26 on the lawn.

The other famous association between Gulf Oil and motorsport some 40 years ago was with McLaren, whether in Formula One with the M14A.

Or in Can-Am as illustrated by the M20, truly giants roamed the earth during that brief era……….

Gulf Oil all but disappeared after the take over by Chevron Oil in 1984, but the brand still existed in the UK. A relaunch of the company in 1991 included a plan to tap into the enthusiasm of British Le Mans’ fans. So in 1994 Gulf were back at Le Sarthe.

Not only was Gulf blue back, but so too was 1971 Gulf Porsche 917 driver, Derek Bell. Five time victor at La Sarthe, including in a Gulf Mirage in 1975, Bell was the ideal ambassador for the brand and still quick enough to be second fastest overall in Qualifying. The Kremer K8 was a development of the Porsche 962.


The next step was to reunite with the other famous racing marque, McLaren.

In 1995 and 1996, Blue & Orange were reunited on a pair of F1 GTR’s resulting in many race victories and the 1996 BPR Endurance Series titles for Ray Bellm and James Weaver.

1997 saw the launch of the FIA GT Championship, with the Gulf liveried longtail F1 GTRs.

And one of the greatest endurance racers of them all, the Audi R8 also sported Blue & Orange in 2001.

Paul Belmondo brought the colours back to Le Mans in 2006 with his Courage C65.

Since that time another icon of the motoring world, Aston Martin has turned Blue & Orange. A DBR9……………

Then back as a prototype on the Lola Aston Martin LM P1

The ROFGO Collection is fantastic, Automotive art of the highest order. Even more fortunate is the willingness of the owner to share his treasures with the rest of us, not a cheap enterprise. It was a highly polished jewel at the centre of the 2012 Salon Privé, in total harmony with the ethos of the event.

John Brooks, September 2012






The Royal Seal

Windsor Castle is where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll lives, so it is an unlikely setting for a motoring event. However in this, the year of her Diamond Jubilee, an automotive celebration and tribute has been arranged. Sixty of the finest cars in the world are on display at Windsor Castle this weekend, absolutely magical.

More later

John Brooks, September 2012

Chelsea Morning

Now in its third year, the Chelsea Auto Legends is maturing nicely and has become a must do event if you are in and around London in early September. The timing of the show is providential from a family perspective, marking the end of summer holidays and just before the schools go back.

While bringing a dash of speed and style to this exclusive part of London, not that the Royal Borough needs much more of either, there is a more serious purpose to the Chelsea Auto Legends and that is to raise money for The Royal Hospital and other Armed Services’ charities. For this year the featured charity was Walking with the Wounded, a very worthy cause.

The Royal Hospital was opened in 1692 and is a retirement and nursing home to former British service men and women. Designed initially by Sir Christopher Wren, the buildings are in need of extensive refurbishment. This expensive project formed the catalyst for Chelsea resident, and long time Le Mans fan, Michael Scott, to conceive and then create a show that brings the flavour of the world’s greatest race to Central London. Since that initial objective was first achieved the horizons have expanded and this year something could be found for everyone of a automotive mind.

Greeting the visitors as they pass into the grounds was a fine collection of cars brought along for the day by their proud owners. Ferrari, Cobra and Jaguar on the roll call, and all marques with real Le Mans pedigree.

Further into the estate and the first real racers were encountered, a Porsche 911 GT1 from Le Mans  1997, though the front diveplanes and rear aerofoil configurations came from later developments of the car.

Another factory Porsche on parade was the 1983 winning 956/003. That was a real skin of the teeth performance as the engine started to smoke badly during Al Holbert’s final laps with the water temperature going off the scale. Holbert just about made it across the line at the conclusion of 24 hours, another lap would have seen the engine seize.  Another lap would also have seen Derek Bell’s factory 956 run out of fuel, which would have left Mario and Michael Andretti as winners in the Kremer 956. Small margins always play a big part at La Sarthe.

How could you have an event in London with a Le Mans’ flavour and not feature the Bentley Boys?

Or my old friend the Harrods McLaren for that matter.

The cars that raced at Le Mans is an important element in the Chelsea Auto Legends but another strong representation comes from the Italian Car Clubs and the turnout for 2012 was fantastic. I was drawn to this Maserati MC12, outshining its cousin , the Enzo. My old friend and Le Mans racer, Joe Macari was prominent with his fabulous set of Italian classics.

And who can resist a pretty Alfa Romeo?

Or this butch Abarth 500?

When it comes to tough guys, who is going to argue with the Subaru, smart in East African trim?

Quattro, still with the capacity to startle in the flesh.

Another integral part of the London Auto scene are the folks from the Ace Café, though we are all Mods at heart.

Perhaps one of the biggest draws of the day was the SuperCar Parade, certainly the audience flocked to see the cars arrive.

Bugattis, Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsche all sounding like an automotive celestial choir.

At the other end of the noise scale is the electric powered Lola B12/69EV of Lord Drayson.

The Brooklands Museum had a substantial presence, reminding us of our sporting heritage.

And the ROFGO collection also brought along a few gems.

The Show expanded in area to virtually all parts of the estate and dotted around the place, like garden sculptures, were classics such as this Citroën DS21.

Another Citroën on the grass, this one a modified DS19, Le Dandy Coupé, only 50 made and snip at £79,995……………..

For those in need of their regular Sunday fix of retail therapy, there were many fine stalls. Budding Eric Claptons could source exactly the right shade of blues……………

Those wanting automotive art for the walls could do worse than this colourful depiction of the 1971 Daytona 24 Hours.

Art and motorsport come together with this McLaren F1 GTR

And then there were other distractions………………..

The Chelsea Pensioners also inspected the visitors………………one hopes that they approve of the disruption to their regular Sunday morning routines.

Though what they made of the Ghost Busters Wagon is anyone’s guess.

The Chelsea Auto Legends is well worth the time to visit, great cars in an historic location, well organised and for the benefit of a host of worthy causes. What’s not to like? See you there next year.

John Brooks, September 2012

Per Ardua Ad Astra

The attention of many in my world will be on a press conference later today held at Daytona Beach, though I doubt that anything will be revealed that has not already been leaked. Around about that time some of us will raise our eyes to the sky and reflect in awe at the depth of the human spirit. At 15.15 GMT Alessandro Zanardi will compete in the first of his three races at the 2012 Paralympics, participating in the Mens Individual H4 Time Trial.

We should be inspired by the determination and sheer guts of Alex and all his fellow Paralympians. Here he is at the same track back in 2009.

John Brooks, September 2012

Carpe Diem Quam Minimum Credula Postero……….

As the field blasted off for the 47th edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring, who could have imagined that 14 years on that we would still have the American Le Mans Series? Sportscar racing in North America had been in turmoil for the best part of a decade and it seemed that state of affairs would continue.

Well it has been a helluva ride for those lucky enough to have a small part. My involvement was full on during the first four years but much less since, nevertheless I always look forward to rolling into Road Atlanta or Sebring. Will that be true in the future? Who can say.

So rather than get angry or despondent, celebrate the fact that we have been lucky enough to be part of some of the greatest racing seen in the past couple of decades. Nothing lasts forever, ask Peugeot.

The message is the same today as it was in Roman times, Horace had that nailed down. Perhaps we should party like it’s 1999.

John Brooks, September 2012