Racing legend Fred Gibson catches up with an old mate who’s spannered for the greats. While Paul Gover recalls being nicked by GM’s speed cops – on their own test track!
Sometimes you don’t know where to start, but for this column it’s pretty easy. It’s a bit late now to wish you all Happy New Year, so instead I’ll wish you Happy New Season – racing season that is. Thanks for your continuing interest in Gibson Motorsport. I don’t know about you, but Christine and I had a great break. One of the things we did reminded me that while motorsport is a worldwide business, that world can sometimes seem very small.
In early January we were invited to a birthday bash for my sister Margaret up on the Gold Coast at the home of Bruce ‘Richo’ Richardson and his wife Nola, whom we’ve known for many a great year.
Bruce is an interesting guy in his own right. He’s in his late 70s now and is probably best known to most readers of this magazine as the Ron Hodgson Racing mechanic captured by the TV cameras being consoled in the pits at Bathurst 1976. This was when the leading Bob Morris/John Fitzpatrick L34 Torana, prepared by Bruce, looked like it would fall a lap or two short of winning, but somehow limped across the finish-line to take a stunning victory.
I’ve suggested to editor Luke that Bruce is deserving of a profile in AMC [ED: Sage advice, FG, look for it later in 2016] as he has such an interesting story. For instance, when he was 21 he decided to up sticks and head for the UK, as you do. He told us it cost him £109 and he had to go via Naples. He’s got no idea how he made it from there to England!
But he sure knew what he was doing when he arrived there. Bruce went to work for a man called Reg Parnell. Some of you may recall that Reg, who was born way back in 1911, was a driver in his own right, although his career was badly set back by World War II. But he took part in six grands prix, including the very first World Championship race at Silverstone on May 13, 1950 – and came third for Alfa Romeo, whose other drivers were blokes by the name of Fangio, Fagioli and Farina.
Parnell then moved into team management, and for several years had a close association with his fellow Englishman, Roy Salvadori. Roy did 47 grands prix, several of them in Coventry Climax-powered machinery – and that’s where Richo comes into it.
Reg Parnell had a close association with Coventry Climax, and Bruce looked after Roy’s Climax engines when he was driving for Reg. At one point the engine suppliers asked why they hadn’t seen any of Salvadori’s engines for rebuilds for some time, and were told that Bruce was looking after them himself. That was unheard of back in those days!
I’m not sure when Bruce came back home, but he worked for me at one stage when I drove the ex-Frank Gardner Brabham, the Tasman 2.5-litre car complete with Coventry Climax engine for Niel Allen.
Before teaming up with Niel, Richo had worked for Frank Matich on his Lotus 15 and Jaguar D-Type; he was also involved in the construction of the first Elfin sports car with Gary Cooper, which was the first of Matich’s really good sports cars.
Bruce told me a lovely story about Frank, too. The Climax engines had a tendency to drop a rod, and one day at Warwick Farm Frank came screaming into the pits, revving the thing to death even though it was only running on three cylinders. “Bruce,” he yelled, “put the bloody plug lead back on, will you?” Bruce took a quick look and told the boss to switch off – there was a rod hanging out the side of the block!
The same thing happened to me when I was driving Niel’s Brabham. Niel was blueing because we had a Gold Star race the next day. Niel told Bruce in no uncertain terms that he had to get the engine ready – and we found a solution you might not manage to find today. Alec Mildren was running Climax engines himself at the time, with guys like Kevin Bartlett driving for him, and Alec was there. Yours truly was dispatched to ask Alec if we could use one of his blocks; sure enough, Bruce rebuilt my engine overnight. Imagine asking a mechanic to do that these days!
At that same party up on the Gold Coast the door opened and in walked a man I hadn’t seen for 35 years. Bob Beasley is his name, and he just came up and hugged me and asked me if I could remember our last meeting. Neither of us knew the other was going to be there, so it was a terrific surprise. Bob was in the car business in Sydney back in the day and used to race a Super 7 at places like Catalina Park and Oran Park, where I was campaigning my Lotus Elan. Super 7s were all the rage – guys like the Howard brothers and Fatty Geoghegan raced them as well. Bob also had several memorable Bathurst campaigns in Falcons GTs and GT-HOs.
That unexpected encounter reminded me that motorsport has such a knack of bringing people together – and managing to bring them back together again after so many years.
Just to finish off on a more up-to-date note, I’m pleased to report that just before Christmas we completed the restoration job on a Skyline which holds quite a significant place in Gibson Motorsport history.
When Christine and I relocated to Melbourne in 1985, this Skyline was sitting in the workshop as a complete car. This was right at the start of the Skyline programme, and we couldn’t race the car in 1985 because the homologation hadn’t been taken care of. But George [Fury] went on to drive the car as the Peter Jackson Skyline and it has been restored to its 1986 livery.
It had been knocked about a fair bit in the intervening years and it needed a full restoration, but that work is now complete – and for me that’s a great way to start another year in the Gibson Motorsport story.
Racing legend Fred Gibson spent the summer catching up with old racing mates.