Back in Bradford and nothing to race. Life can be miserable sometimes. How are we going to get the money together? Racing was getting more and more expensive. The entry fees were now in double figures! I told John Wickham when he was with the BARC at Brands Hatch that this would be the end of Motor Racing. Also told the landlord of our local that when beer went up from eleven pence to one shilling and a penny for a pint that all the breweries would go bust. Ha Ha, and that was old money!Then out of the blue I got a phone call from Brian Kreisky. Some Indian military man had been persuaded to sponsor a foreign guy in F3 and he was useless. Get down to London and I will introduce you.So off to Earls Court where this guy lived and I met an affable Indian Man called Colonel Kee and his wife who was an Indian Princess. Nice place, both spoke impeccable English and were very refined. What they though of a lad from Yorkshire I will never know. The Colonel had teamed up with Ralph Firman and Ross Ambrose who later went on to creating Van Dieman. They had two cars available, old Lotus 59`s, and another driver called Geddes Yates and the chief mechanic was Pete Denty, who went onto be another famous fettler. These snippets are from Autosport and it meant that I would have to compete in a car that is 4 years old. After last year with a new car it will be tough. Still it was at least a drive. Better than nothing!The colonel had aquired an old bus and it was parked up some where near Heathrow, being converted by Jack and I was dragged into help. In my best suit! Still the chance of a drive and I would have done it naked. We were entered for the first race at Mallory Park in early March so no time for testing.
The first time I clapped eyes on the car was at Mallory, so after a quick seat fitting and the pedals adjusted so I could reach them it was time for practice.
What a good do, pole position first time out.
The old Colonel was quite a clever feller as his company, Travisco, was at the beginning of supplying microwaved meals in motorway service stations.
His son Rory was an artist of some distinction. Wonder where he is now?
Not only did I win the race but I got the fastest lap. A brilliant weekend for us all, everyone was in a good mood, could it get any better?
Well it did not get any better because at the next race at Brands the car would not start on the grid,I was pushed off to finish 18th. Then at Snetterton the gearbox seized and I did not finish. Then up to Oulton and we were back on form and managed 3rd.
Yes that is my nosecone flying off to the right.
Back to Mallory and finished 2nd, just behind Tony Trimmer in the new Lotus John Player Special. How he managed to sneak past me I still do not know. I had been on Pole again and won the first heat, so I was a bit miffed at not winning. Still a good result, everyone in a better mood now, and I followed this with two third places at Silverstone.
This is me in front of Tony Brise and David Purley, who were both very good friends, but sadly are no longer with us, they perished in separate air crashes. And they say motor racing is dangerous!
Now for the continent. We loaded up the Colonels team bus and off we went.
Unfortunately we only got as far as Ashford in Kent and it lost all its water. So after a lot of faffing about we managed to hire a van that was big enough for both cars, but no where to sleep. Anyway we struggled into the Zanvoort circuit in Holland and did a very late practice. In the first heat I had an accident down the back straight when a shock absorber collapsed, started at the back of the grid in the final, but only made it up to 16th.
Geddes Yeates had left the team and my old karting adversary Roger Keele took over the other car, on my recommendation, and finished in front of me in 8th place.
The Colonel had arranged to borrow a decent transporter from another team and had booked a villa in Eze sur Mere so off to Monaco we went.
We travelled down the route Nationale and took several days to get there and another F3 driver,Stan Matthews, and his mechanic , the famous [soon to be ] Colin Bennett tagged along to keep us company. We were still using the borrowed van and my other cousin Karl, who had cadged a lift on this trip, was roped in to drive it, as Pete Denty was going to Monaco with the Colonel and his family.
The object of these trips was to race and also enjoy our selves, so a few nice bistro restaurants with rooms fit the bill. We ended up on the last leg in Juan les Pins in Antibes and found a reasonable hotel. Now for a bit of night life!
We wandered round a few bars and stuff before relaxing in a a bistro on the waterfront before we realised that we had lost Stan Matthews. However he came in a little later and asked Colin to order him a drink. Colin was not to be moved and said to Stan , who refused to try the launguage, " You have got to try it some time, go order for yourself." Stan reluctantly went to the bar and we saw the bartender raise his eyebrows and say to Stan " Monsieur? " who after a long pause, finally blurted out " parlez vous vino? " Well, needless to say, after we had finished laughing this became our favorite response to anything we vaugely did not understand.
Another mechanic, who was to later become a very good friend, was Brian Stewart. He was looking after John Bisignano, who was sponsored by Holiday Inn, and that`s where he stayed when we were in Monaco. Huh, never invited us,although I am sure we managed a few drinks together in the famous Tip Top bar.
And so to the principality. The villa was great and of course so was the circuit, the whole atmosphere of Monaco was and still is something very special. Not to mention the famous Tip Top bar!
Oh, and the racing was a disaster. In the first heat another shock absorber collapsed and I hit the armco in the Tabac corner. So no final, 4 year old car, 4 year old shockers! And Stan did not qualify either, nor Bisignano.
Just to interrupt the story, I got a job as an instructor with Motor Racing Stables and whenever I was back in England every wednesday me and Peter Hanson went to the circuit at Croft and did our bit. Very interesting, and the young mechanic who looked after the two formula ford cars the pupils drove was a very young Gary Anderson and in the quiet periods we had I taught him to drive. Gary went on to designing the first Jordan F1 cars!
Stan came up to Croft and I helped him sort out the March 723 F3 car he was trying to race.
After Monaco we travelled up to Chimay, a street circuit in Belguim. As far as I can remember it comprised three villages linked by highways and so was very fast between, but obviously not through, the villages. They were fairly tight and the crowd on the pavements were very close to the action. As you can see.
Brian Stewart followed us but was arrested at the customs for trying to smuggle artwork out of the country. Bisignano`s brother was an art dealer and had asked Brian to take some paintings back to England. He made it to Chimay by finding an unmanned border crossing down a country lane. Just like the old movies! Bisignano crashed, so back in England Brian went to work for Tony Brise. The Colonel was not too happy with the various problems we had experienced, especially with the shock absorber failures and Dr Erlich had told him that the front shockers were old and faulty and should have been replaced. Ralph came out to Chimay and took over from Peter Denty in preparing the car, but it would not fire up on the grid for the race and I was left at the start, although I did manage to claw my way up to 11th this did not please the Colonel.
So we returned to England, returned the borrowed van and loaded the cars into the bus which had been repaired whilst we had been away and went back to Attlrborough in Norfolk, where Ralph had his workshops. We were pretty tired by then so Ralph offered me and Karl a room for the night on Connaught Road where he lived. We slept soundly, however when we awoke and went down, after breakfast, to take our leave in the bus it was Empty!
The Colonel had refused to pay Ralph for his services, so Ralph had driven the bus away in the night and unloaded the cars and spares and hidden them.
"Sorry Baz," he said," this is nothing personal, but no money, no cars! "
We went to the Police Station as I wanted to race at Mallory the next weekend but they could not do anything so we went to London in the empty bus and had a crisis meeting with the Colonel.
He said was not going to pay, but he lent us his Mercedes 300 road car and sent us on or way.So it was back to Yorkshire and we borrowed a tow car and trailer and returned to Attleborough where we eventually persuaded Ralph to let us have one of the Lotus 59`s in exchange for the Colonels Merc. Now at least we could race at Mallory. Back to Burley in Wharfedale this time where Barry Taylor, the guy who had attached himself to the NERO team in the 70`s, had relocated. When I raced for Sports Motors last year I had let Barry have the NERO name for his own use, so it was time to call in a few favours. He had already lent us the tow car and trailer, now we needed his time and workshop space. This was going to be an association of convenience, with a few personality clashes along the way guaranteed. A reasonable start to Mallory was 4th in the heat and 13th in the final after a quick spin in the esses. There were over 60 entries, so not bad.
Next race was at the Siverstone short circuit and me and James Hunt, in the Dastle Mk 9, collided at the start and were eliminated. It was raining quite heavily and we both blamed each other.
Our old tow car, a Zodiac, broke down on the way to the next race at Thruxton, so we did not make it. One of the very few times that I have never made it to a race. We did make it to the British Grand Prix support race at Brands Hatch and after a spin at Westfield I still made it back up to 14th.
All these spins were probably down to the fact that we did not know how to set up the the car with the wings that we had aquired. The rear one still looks too far forward by todays standards. In the picture above is Barry Taylor in the scruffy overalls and behind him is Karl in the STP shirt.
Before Travisco pulled out they had already submitted entries for a few meetings, so why not use them, especially as one of them was in the South of France.
Before that we were at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire, one of my favorite circuits. Practice was good and I finished 4th in the heat. Come the final and the battery died and I had to have a push start. Made it up to 15th in a good entry, could have been better.
Now for France. We trundled down in the old Zodiac and found a hotel in Bandol, by the sea. Why not, we might as well treat ourselves.
Racing not so good, in the first heat one of the froggies turned into me as I slipstreamed past him down the back straight, and pushed me off. I could not rejoin as he had broken a steering rod. When I eventually got back to the paddock Barry Taylor was fuming and he had punched the Frenchman , meaning we had to go before the stewards and they would not let me start the final. Kreisky,who was still our PRO, told us that we would not get any start money. How to pay for the hotel? I queried this and found out that Kreisky had stolen it. So Barry T punched him as well.
The end of a very rocky friendship. Then we realised that the spare gearbox, that Ralph Firman had very kindly let us take to Ricard, was missing.
It was only when we got back to England that the Colonel contacted us and said that he was going to be sued by a French team because we had sold them a gearbox with no internals. We? It turned out that it was Kreisky and we never did find out what he had done with the bits. The Colonel told the french team to sue Kreisky. Never knew the result of that as we did not speak to Kreisky again and he was frightened of Barry T so he did not come near. Can`t say I blamed him, Barry T was a big lad who knew how to handle himself. Ask in any of the Ilkley pubs.
That was the end of the Lotus Era. The Colonel was still refusing to pay Ralph and he wanted his other race car and the Merc back. Ralph was not letting go without some money. The whole thing was a mess and would drag through the courts for some considerable time. By a strange coincidence I met Ralph in Sainsburys the other day and we are going to get together and write down his side of the story and of course the eventual outcome.