Sur­tees wins the 1st Pukekohe GP


John Sur­tees had one of the big­gest, eas­i­est and ear­li­est wins of his 4-wheeled mo­tor rac­ing ca­reer 50 years ago when he won the 1963 New Zealand Grand Prix, chris­ten­ing the new cir­cuit at Pukekohe just out­side Auck­land, on Jan­uary 5. Pre­vi­ous New Zealand GPs had been run on the Ard­more air­field course.

Sur­tees was driv­ing a Bow­maker Lola-Cli­max in one of the clos­ing com­pe­ti­tion ap­pear­ances of the team be­fore it was dis­banded, but Sur­tees was be­gin­ning a surge of suc­cess.

He signed with Fer­rari back in Europe that sum­mer, win­ning the Ger­man GP on the old Nur­bur­gring and fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the Bri­tish GP at Sil­ver­stone.

The fol­low­ing sea­son he won at the ‘Ring again and the Ital­ian at Monza to the de­light of the Ti­fosi and clinched the World Cham­pi­onship.

The brand new £45,000 mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit, built around a horse rac­ing track at Pukekohe, about 30 miles from Auck­land, had been fin­ished only a week be­fore the race, but the hot-mix sur­face stood the heat of the day and the race well, and apart from it be­com­ing rather glassy with rub­ber and oil there was few ad­verse com­ments on the cir­cuit. It was

It was reck­oned to be the fastest track in the south­ern hemi­sphere

but this was sel­dom men­tioned


reck­oned to be the fastest race track in the south­ern hemi­sphere.

Gra­ham Hill was a lit­tle scep­ti­cal be­fore the race. ‘Two hair­pins? I should have thought one would have been am­ple!’ he said. The back straight was good for about 155 mph, while the two hair­pins were in the 40 mph bracket. It was reck­oned to be the fastest track in the south­ern hemi­sphere but this was sel­dom men­tioned pro­mo­tion­ally.

I was now work­ing for Bruce McLaren as what we called a ‘sec­re­tary’ but would now be a ‘go­pher’. What­ever, my name was on the let­ter­head as a di­rec­tor when Bruce McLaren Mo­tor Rac­ing Ltd was launched in Bri­tain later that year. It also meant that I went to all the races with Bruce start­ing, for­tu­itously, at Monaco in 1962 when he won for Cooper. I was cov­er­ing the ‘Down Un­der’ races for Mo­tor Rac­ing mag­a­zine in the UK.

Jack Brab­ham thought the Ki­wis had done a won­der­ful job get­ting the new track ready in time. “I was stag­gered that it was ac­tu­ally com­plete. The sur­face was a lit­tle new and slip­pery and prob­a­bly just needed weath­er­ing. The cir­cuit lay­out is rea­son­able but there is plenty of room for im­prove­ment; some of the cor­ners were miles too sharp and too nar­row. I think they will al­ter two or three for next year.”

Trans­port prob­lems al­ways give an air of ur­gency to this ‘colo­nial GP’, and this year was no ex­cep­tion. All the over­seas driv­ers en route from the South African GP the Satur­day be­fore had been stranded in Karachi when they found their flight was can­celled. They were stranded again at Dar­win with en­gine trou­ble, and they fi­nally reached Auck­land on the evening af­ter the first prac­tice. The en­gine and ra­di­a­tor for the Brab­ham ar­rived only hours be­fore Jack, and there were some bleary-eyed push­ers be­hind the Brab­ham the next morn­ing!

Chris Amon was rac­ing a 2.5-litre Cooper, brought out to the colonies by Bruce McLaren the pre­vi­ous sea­son and fa­mously crashed into the dunny at War­wick Farm by David McKay. Amon re­mem­bers buy­ing the wreck less en­gine for 500 pounds and had Ron Frost (later to pro­mote the in­ter­na­tional se­ries in New Zealand) com­pletely re­build it.

“I thought I qual­i­fied quite well, some­where in the top half dozen. In the morn­ing I’d won the race for New Zealand driv­ers from Tony Shelly and An­gus Hys­lop. I’d made a good start and was ahead of Jack Brab­ham but on the straight he went sail­ing past me and I was think­ing “Shit – he brakes late!” when he went straight off the end of the straight. I never saw him again for a few laps when he came by again...”

New Zealand driv­ers An­gus Hys­lop and Jimmy Palmer were sec­ond and third in the Grand Prix that saw only one ‘vis­i­tor’ reach the che­quered flag.

Tony Maggs was sit­ting on the pit bench by the sec­ond lap, and he was joined a few laps later by Jack Brab­ham. Bruce McLaren gave up his lead un­will­ingly be­fore half dis­tance and joined the ranks of re­tired rac­ing driv­ers. Af­ter per­se­ver­ing with the four­wheel-drive, front-en­gined Fer­gu­son for 74 of the 75 laps, Gra­ham Hill was with­out a doubt the ‘bad luck boy’ of the GP. He lost a cer­tain sec­ond place when a shaft broke in the Fer­gu­son gear­box within a mile of the flag!


favourite for the GP on his doorstep, and he un­der­lined his po­ten­tial by tak­ing pole po­si­tion, 1.4 sec­onds faster than Sur­tees in the Lola. McLaren’s Cooper was the 1962 wa­ter-and-oilthrough-the-tubes chas­sis, with a 2.7 Cli­max en­gine, which he had driven to win the Aus­tralian GP in Novem­ber. Bow­maker had a cou­ple of Lo­las, one a 1962 V8 chas­sis strength­ened here and there, and fit­ted with a 2.7 Cli­max, for Sur­tees, while Tony Maggs was us­ing the older four-cylin­der chas­sis, which Sur­tees shunted dur­ing the La­vant Cup at Good­wood the pre­vi­ous sea­son. His en­gine was a 2.7 Cli­max, stretched from a 2.6, while Sur­tees’ power unit had been built up from a four-cylin­der 1,500 cc block in the Bow­maker work­shops.

Dur­ing prac­tice Gra­ham Hill wasn’t feel­ing very world cham­pi­onish with the Fer­gu­son. It seemed dis­in­clined to ei­ther go or stop, and the front-en­gined car in the semi-trop­i­cal heat was, to quote Gra­ham, ‘like driv­ing a stove’.

The Lo­las had never been tested in their 2.7 For­mula Libre guise, and the Bow­maker boys had to cram a test­ing ses­sion as well as two days prac­tice into the Fri­day pe­ri­ods.

Both cars were hope­lessly un­der­geared, but Sur­tees started fly­ing with the right cog in the back, and man­aged a lap at 1 minute 28.2 sec­onds be­fore the car started over­heat­ing. The head was lifted, and a new head gas­ket fit­ted overnight.

The Brab­ham was in brake both­ers, as the ma­jor­ity of the an­chor­age was on the front wheels, which was caus­ing Jack some em­bar­rass­ment while he was set­ting third fastest prac­tice time to put him­self on the front row of the grid along­side the Cooper and the Lola.

Hill and Maggs were on the sec­ond row, and Tony Shelly (2.5 Lo­tus) and Chris Amon (2.5 Cooper) were a full sec­ond slower, but they were fastest New Zealan­ders, with laps at 1 minute 29.8 sec­ond. An­gus Hys­lop’s best was 1 minute 30.7 sec­onds in his 2.5 Cooper.

Jimmy Palmer was a young New Zealan­der who seemed to have been ‘up and com­ing’ for the past three or four years, but has been re­strict­ing his driv­ing to FJ Lo­tuses with en­gines of var­i­ous sizes. Reg Par­nell had brought out a spare 2.7 Cooper, which he was pre­pared to fit around a New Zealand driver, and Palmer tried his luck. Those who said he wouldn’t be able to drive it were wrong. He could, and did, and was placed third!

Sur­tees stole the start, McLaren lagged a lit­tle with too much wheel­spin, with Brab­ham and 19-year-old Amon in

hot pur­suit

Sur­tees stole the start, and was away in a very pre­cise man­ner when the flag dropped. McLaren lagged a lit­tle with too much wheel­spin, and fol­lowed the Lola un­der the In­dia Bridge, with Brab­ham and 19-year-old Amon in hot pur­suit.

The prac­tice ses­sion the pre­vi­ous day was the first time Maggs had driven a Lola, and also the first time he had ex­pe­ri­enced the ex­tra urge of the 2.7 Cli­max. His ex­pe­ri­ence wasn’t in­creased a great deal in the race, ei­ther, for it was all over in two laps! The Lola had jumped out of first gear on the line, and the re­sult­ing sky-high revs had bent a few valves. On the first lap Maggs was smok­ing round in a handy fourth place, but re­al­is­ing what was amiss, the South African pulled into the pits next time round and took his hel­met off.

Brab­ham was also smok­ing badly, but af­ter los­ing a fair amount of ground in the open­ing lap with another brak­ing ad­ven­ture (as de­scribed half a cen­tury later by young Mr Amon!), he was work­ing his way up quickly. He had climbed up to fourth, be­hind Sur­tees, McLaren and Hill, be­fore the tem­per­a­ture gauge went into the red, and he pulled in with a blown head gas­ket. Exit Brab­ham.

Up front, McLaren was try­ing to wrest the lead from Sur­tees, and in do­ing so he set the fastest lap of the race at 1 minute 29.5 sec­onds, but he also clipped a kerb on one of the hair­pins with a fuel tank, which de­vel­oped a leak.

Un­aware of this, and un­able to do any­thing about it if he was, McLaren pressed on past Sur­tees, and be­gan draw­ing away at a sec­ond a lap.

McLaren’s race pace was draw­ing the two lead­ing cars away from the field at a great rate of knots, so that by lap 16 they were 30 sec­onds ahead of Gra­ham Hill in the Fer­gu­son.

An en­gine miss set the McLaren pit wor­ry­ing, and his lead over Sur­tees dropped off rapidly. On lap 19 he was in the pits while the me­chan­ics checked for a loose plug lead, and sent him off again, now in third place on the heels of the Fer­gu­son. Another lap showed no im­prove­ment in the sour note of

the en­gine, and a closer pit in­spec­tion showed that the mag­neto was cooked. A fuel leak was also dis­cov­ered, and for McLaren the race was over.

This left Sur­tees with a half-minute lead over the Fer­gu­son. The four-wheeldrive car had lost first gear be­fore the race started, and the ex­tra work in sec­ond was start­ing to tire the clutch.

At Gra­ham’s re­quest the Maxaret non­skid brak­ing ap­pa­ra­tus on the Fer­gu­son was re­moved in Eng­land, but the Fer­gu­son wheels weren’t skid­ding un­der brak­ing – they just weren’t stop­ping!

The gammy clutch meant Gra­ham’s rev limit was de­creased, and hav­ing lit­tle re­tar­da­tion – ex­cept through the gear­box – he was none too keen on giv­ing chase to Sur­tees. The gear­box was protest­ing against the work it had to do, and on oc­ca­sions when Gra­ham missed a gear go­ing by the pits the four-wheel-drive took over, with front and rear wheels break­ing away at the same time, and the car head­ing in­field.

Sur­tees was far enough out in front to be able to ad­mire the scenery, yet even ‘cruis­ing’ he was lap­ping Shelly in fourth place by lap 37. The ti­tle of first New Zealan­der home in the GP car­ried with it a large bag of gold, and this meant a fair old scrap be­tween Hys­lop (Cooper), Amon (Cooper), and Shelly (Lo­tus) with their 2.5 litre cars. Palmer did not know enough about his bor­rowed 2.7 Cooper to join in the scrap.

The ti­tle of first New Zealan­der home in the GP car­ried with it a large bag of gold, and this meant a fair old scrap be­tween Hys­lop, Amon, and Shelly with their 2.5

litre cars.

Amon fell by the way­side with mag­neto trou­bles by lap 18, and Hys­lop drove around Shelly to leave him 30 sec­onds in ar­rears by lap 30. How­ever, when Sur­tees lapped the black Lo­tus, Shelly de­cided to take ad­van­tage of the ‘tow’, and set off in the Lola slip­stream. This was help­ing to haul in Hys­lop han­dover-fist, but the 150-odd mph max­i­mum of the Lola along the long straight lured the Shelly Lo­tus to de­struc­tion, and the New Zealan­der clat­tered to a halt on lap 61 with the bear­ings gone.

From then on it was like the last hour at Le Mans. The gaps be­tween the lead­ing cars were so great that no-one was try­ing to im­prove their po­si­tions; all they wanted to do was make sure they stayed on the is­land to col­lect the loot.

Early in the race Hys­lop had been draw­ing dan­ger­ously near to the Fer­gu­son, but Gra­ham demon­strated that world cham­pi­ons can drive any sort of nails – even blunt ones – and main­tained a steady 15-sec­ond lead on the New Zealan­der.

The re­sults ap­peared to be print­able with 10 laps to go, but half-way round on the last lap the Fer­gu­son gear­box snapped a shaft, and the car trick­led to the edge of the track with no drive. This left a sur­prised Hys­lop in sec­ond place, al­most a lap be­hind Sur­tees, and an equally sur­prised Palmer in third place, 45.9 sec­onds be­hind Hys­lop.

Amaz­ing to think that all that hap­pened half a cen­tury ago and I had been there to record the event!

John Sur­tees with win­ner’s tro­phy, Jim Palmer (3rd) and An­gus Hys­lop (2nd) on the Pukekohe ros­trum

Chris Amon in his Cooper

John Sur­tees, Bruce McLaren, his fa­ther Les, race stew­ard Ge­orge Smith

Gra­ham Hill be­ing push-started in the Fer­gu­son, Innes Ire­land stand­ing along­side

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