Howden Gan­ley

Al­lan Dick be­gins the story of a Kiwi who made it right to the pin­na­cle of world mo­tor­sport


In vir­tu­ally ev­ery story that’s writ­ten about Howden Gan­ley, he is de­scribed var­i­ously as the “fourth New Zealand F1 driver” or “New Zealand’s for­got­ten F1 driver”. Th­ese have been re­peated so of­ten that they have taken on a life of their own and have be­come some­thing of a stan­dard on which to judge the ca­reer of Gan­ley.

Over lunch at a sea­side café in Dunedin re­cently, Gan­ley asked me if I un­der­stood why his name is on one of the four apart­ment blocks at Hamp­ton Downs, along with Hulme, McLaren and Amon.

I was sur­prised that he asked – I thought the an­swer was so ob­vi­ous that he must have been ask­ing me a trick ques­tion. So I hes­i­tated.

“The four of us are the New Zealan­ders who have, so far, won points in F1 World Cham­pi­onship races.”

It was no trick ques­tion, I had known the an­swer, but ob­vi­ously he gets asked who, when, why and what, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

What I didn’t know was how the Gan­ley block of flats got to be on pole po­si­tion at Hamp­ton Downs. Ini­tially his name was on the fourth block from the start­ing line, but af­ter the flats were con­structed and named, a de­ci­sion was made to re­verse the way in which the track was run!

But if some peo­ple strug­gle to place the name of Howden Gan­ley in the mo­tor rac­ing fir­ma­ment, not so with Mis­ter Google.

Type his name into Google search and you will come up with 102,000 plus ref­er­ences – in­clud­ing one that takes you to a YouTube clip of a very fast and very scary lap of the Nur­bur­gring.

This was filmed in 1973 with a cou­ple of cam­eras bolted onto the Iso Wil­liams car he was driv­ing that sea­son.

many of the com­ments posted on YouTube are from peo­ple stunned by the lethal na­ture of the cir­cuit who praise the hero driv­ers in that era

This is graphic footage from when the famed North Curve (Nord­schliefe) cir­cuit had been partly up­graded with some of the most dan­ger­ous sec­tions lined with Armco.

The voice-over was done by Jackie Stewart, who sounds re­mark­ably like a woman, and he is crit­i­cal of the high dan­ger risk of driv­ing a rac­ing car around the cir­cuit at high speeds.

Many of the com­ments posted on the YouTube site are from peo­ple who are stunned by the lethal na­ture of the cir­cuit and have noth­ing but praise for the hero driv­ers who raced there in that era.

Iron­i­cally, it was to be the Nur­bur­gring that ended Gan­ley’s rac­ing ca­reer.

Af­ter two sea­sons with BRM, one with Wil­liams and a part-time sea­son with March, for 1974 Gan­ley signed with the Ja­panese com­pany Maki who pro­duced a truly ap­palling car.

In prac­tice for the Ger­man Grand Prix that year Gan­ley found him­self ar­riv­ing at a fast cor­ner with no brakes.

A part of the rear sus­pen­sion had col­lapsed and took out the brak­ing sys­tem. The car hit a bank on the left hand side of the track, flew into the air and ca­reened down a bank on the other side, where he was trapped in the wreck­age. It was a big one.

His rec­ol­lec­tions of that in­ci­dent are crys­tal clear, as are as his mem­o­ries of his en­tire life and his views of mo­tor rac­ing to­day.

He suf­fered se­ri­ous leg in­juries – so se­ri­ous that his right foot was lit­er­ally turned into soup and it was a long time be­fore he could walk again.

To­day, 38 years af­ter the crash, he walks with a limp and his mo­bil­ity in turn­ing cor­ners is re­stricted and walk­ing down stairs is so lim­ited he tends to walk down them side­ways.

Af­ter years of a hand-to-mouth life­style, the sport has been good to him in a fi­nan­cial sense – “Not so much the rac­ing, but in the cars we built and sold af­ter I re­tired from rac­ing.”

But when you have com­mit­ted 19 years of your life to mo­tor rac­ing, you don’t walk away af­ter a crash.

While Gan­ley’s rac­ing days were over, his in­volve­ment in the sport he loved – and con­tin­ues to love with a pas­sion – was any­thing but.

There were rac­ing cars to de­sign and build, there was the BRDC – Bri­tish Rac­ing Driv­ers’ Club – to be­come in­volved in and was the ca­ma­raderie that had be­come so cen­tral to his life. And he was suc­cess­ful at it. To­day, Howden Gan­ley has houses in the USA and Great Bri­tain and he shares his year be­tween those houses as well as reg­u­lar, an­nual vis­its back home.

Af­ter years of a hand-to-mouth life­style, the sport has ob­vi­ously been good to him in a fi­nan­cial sense.

“Not so much the rac­ing,” he says. “But in the cars we built and sold af­ter I had re­tired from rac­ing.” That’s the Tiga part of his life when he and Aus­tralian Tim Schenken de­signed and built a va­ri­ety of suc­cess­ful rac­ing cars.

Apart from mo­tor rac­ing, he is a keen golfer and or­gan­ises two tour­na­ments a year in mem­ory of his late wife Judy who died from can­cer a cou­ple of years back. Judy had been ac­tive in mo­tor­sport as well – both as an am­a­teur driver and man­age­ment.


mo­ment in the early life of Howden Gan­ley that was to dic­tate the rest of his life, it was at Ard­more in 1955.

“My fa­ther had been a sailor and I al­ways thought that I would take up some sort of re­cre­ational boat­ing my­self. But he took me up to Auck­land from Hamil­ton for the 1955 Grand Prix at Ard­more.

“I wan­dered off from Dad and his mates and headed down to the cor­ner known as the Clover­leaf and here I saw the two cars that were to change my life

Th­ese were the Tony Gaze Fer­rari and the Bira 250F Maserati. I had never seen any­thing as beau­ti­ful as those cars – par­tic­u­larly the 250F.

“The Gaze Fer­rari was a fa­mous car. It was the As­cari Fer­rari 625 in which he had won eight out of nine Grands Prix.”

The young Gan­ley was just 13 years of age at the time.

Born in Hamil­ton in De­cem­ber 1955, he had been chris­tened James Howden Gan­ley and for a while he was called Jim, or James.

“But Dad was also Jim, so we fi­nally set­tled on the fact that I should be called Howden.”

But there seems to have been some vac­il­la­tion. When he left school he be­came a cadet reporter with the Waikato Times news­pa­per and among other du­ties, he got him­self the mo­tor rac­ing beat.

This was the late fifties and the early six­ties now and the suc­cess of Ard­more had not only made mo­tor rac­ing a le­git­i­mate in­ter­est in Auck­land, but the Waikato had be­come a cult-cen­tre for the sport. The Hamil­ton Car Club was boom­ing and there was a very strong mo­tor rac­ing cul­ture that was al­most as im­por­tant so­cially as rugby was.

The in­flu­ence that the Waikato was to have on New Zealand mo­tor rac­ing over the next decade or so can­not be overem­pha­sised. Many of our top driv­ers called the Waikato home – the fa­ther and son Palmers (Ge­orge and Jim), Len Gil­bert, Phil Neill, Ivan Segedin, Den­nis Mar­wood, Brian Innes, Ross Greenville – and Howden Gan­ley. There were many oth­ers and a look through the pro­grammes from that era shows a dis­pro­por­tion­ately high num­ber of our top driv­ers com­ing from the Waikato.

So get­ting the mo­tor rac­ing beat on the daily for Gan­ley was a bit of a coup where he seems to have been James. H. Gan­ley at that time. He bor­rowed this from the jour­nal­ist he wished to em­u­late, a cer­tain Eoin. S. Young, who in turn was tak­ing the lead from Road and Track’s Henry N. Man­ney III.

Writ­ing about mo­tor rac­ing was one thing – com­pet­ing was another. So he bor­rowed a mate’s E93A Pre­fect for a grasstrack meet­ing out near Raglan and was ad­dicted.

That was fol­lowed by a Hill­man, but then he made a huge leap and bought a pur­pose-built rac­ing car – a Lo­tus 11 Cli­max sports racer. There were vari­a­tions on the Lo­tus 11 theme – from road car to club racer to out-and­out racer. This was the lat­ter – a Le Mans model with 1098cc Coven­try Cli­max en­gine. The car is most fa­mously called the “ex Palmer car”, but it was, in fact, im­ported by speed­way star Roly Crowther in 1956.

Af­ter a sea­son it was sold to Des Wild of Christchurch be­fore Ge­orge Palmer bought the car for his son Jim to make his na­tional de­but in. This was the first in a se­ries of Lo­tus cars for the Palmers.

Af­ter a year and a half the Maun­ga­toroto Kid, Johnny Windle­burn bought it and he had a suc­cess­ful 1960 sea­son in it.

“Johnny wanted to sell the car and I wanted to buy it,” says Gan­ley to­day. “The price was £1300 and by scrimp­ing and sav­ing I had saved £650. I man­aged to per­suade my mother to loan me the other £650 and the car was mine.”

The Lo­tus rep­re­sented ev­ery­thing that the young Gan­ley had in the world. There was no trailer and no tow car.

The sup­port for mo­tor rac­ing in the Waikato had now grown to al­low the for­ma­tion of the famed Mo­tor­drome Rac­ing Team – based on the Mo­tor­drome Ser­vice Sta­tion. There were four mem­bers – Ivan Segedin (Mark II Ze­phyr), Den­nis Mar­wood (Hum­ber 80), Ross Greenville (the ex Palmer Lo­tus 18 For­mula Ju­nior) and Howden Gan­ley.

“My first race was at a club meet­ing on a short cir­cuit at Ard­more. Be­cause I had nei­ther tow car nor trailer, I drove the Lo­tus up there.”

But it wasn’t a suc­cess­ful de­but. The rear hubs had been swapped side for side and, un­der rac­ing con­di­tions, the knockon hubs un­wound them­selves and he al­most lost both rear wheels. And then the wa­ter pump fell off.

“I had a prob­lem. I was in Auck­land and needed to get the car home to Hamil­ton. So I phoned dad and he came up with his trailer. The Lo­tus was too wide at the front to fit the trailer, so I hack-sawed down the cor­ners and spread the steel sides flat. That got the Lo­tus onto the trailer and we got the car home.” It also solved another prob­lem. “Dad looked at the trailer and said that I had bug­gered it, so I might as well use it for that sea­son.”

So now he had a rac­ing car, a trailer, but no tow car.

That was over­come by mak­ing friends. Over that and the fol­low­ing sea­son, he found mates, or made friends with peo­ple with cars who would tow him be­tween meet­ings. They’d ar­rived in, say, Levin, where the per­son who towed him down would have to go back to Hamil­ton, leav­ing Howden to find some­one to tow the rig to Christchurch for Wi­gram.

But that wasn’t the end of his dif­fi­cul­ties.

“My first big meet­ing was at the Ard­more Grand Prix and I had no money. I was flat broke, but I wanted to go south. That was the dream.

“But at the Grand Prix meet­ing I won £15 for third in the sports car race and then a whop­ping £150 for win­ning the Ul­ti­mate Ecko hand­i­cap race. That gave me the money to go south.”

From that point on, the sea­son wasn’t a good one as far as re­sults were con­cerned. He had spins and me­chan­i­cal faults.

Sports car rac­ing was still in good shape in those days. There were good cars – C and D-Type Jaguars, a cou­ple of Lo­tus 11s, a Lo­tus 15, the Ly­coming, a cou­ple of Bob-tail Coop­ers, a Lola T1 or two, mod­i­fied road cars and home-built spe­cials and many oth­ers.

It was also the era of For­mula Libre rac­ing, so the faster sports cars usu­ally got a start in the main race of the day as well.

Af­ter the win­ter of 1961 and with the 1961/62 sea­son com­ing up, Howden Gan­ley booked him­self a boat pas­sage to the UK af­ter the sea­son-closer at Wai­mate.

“I didn’t re­ally know what I was go­ing to do, or how I was go­ing to do it, but I wanted to go to the UK and see how I could fur­ther my­self in mo­tor rac­ing,” he said over din­ner in Chez Dick at Oa­maru on his way to Dunedin.

And if Dunedin was a dan­ger­ous cir­cuit in the dry – it was more so in the wet. This was not a cir­cuit for the meek

This sea­son proved to be bet­ter than the first with some strong plac­ings go­ing into the sec­ond last meet­ing of that sea­son – Dunedin.

“By now, I had my own trailer, but I was still hitching tows with mates. Trav­el­ling with me that sea­son was Dave (Speed) McMil­lan – who was to be­come a suc­cess­ful driver and team owner in the years to come.

“I had been to Dunedin the year be­fore and knew how tough and spec­tac­u­lar the Oval cir­cuit was. I was look­ing for­ward to it.

“But on race day – a Satur­day – it was rain­ing. We man­aged to put the Lo­tus un­der­cover in the Army Drill Hall just around from the pits which were on the grass of the Oval. The Army peo­ple were good enough to let us start the car up and warm it up by driv­ing it around the perime­ter of the un­der­cover pa­rade ground!

“We went out for prac­tice and there was a big col­lec­tion of cars. What I re­mem­bered of the cir­cuit from the year be­fore was that there was a long, start/ fin­ish straight and then a fast and slight right-han­der that started you up the ceme­tery rise.

“A hun­dred yards fur­ther on there was another fast and slight, up­hill right-han­der and then a slow and tight left-han­der.

“I re­mem­bered that both of those right-han­ders could be taken flat out in the Lo­tus – but that was in the dry!”

And if Dunedin was a dan­ger­ous cir­cuit in the dry – it was more so in the wet. The en­tire cir­cuit was fast and lined with foot­paths, un­for­giv­ing power poles, houses, fac­to­ries, ser­vice sta­tions, brick walls and other hard stuff. The sec­tion that Howden re­mem­bered – off the start/ fin­ish straight and up the ceme­tery rise, had the other at­trac­tion of a drop off to the right, a grassed bank planted with very ma­ture trees. This was not a cir­cuit for the meek.

What made this Satur­day even worse was not just the fact that it rained, but that it rained af­ter two dry weeks when diesel and petrol fumes ac­cu­mu­lated on the road sur­face. Mixed with rain a sit­u­a­tion called “sum­mer ice” pre­vailed. In places the road sur­face lit­er­ally could not be walked on it was so slip­pery.

This was a day of car­nage. Cars slid off ev­ery­where – par­tic­u­larly in prac­tice. Rod Cop­pins put the TecMec through a flour mill back­wards and ev­ery­where you looked, there were dam­aged cars.

The vic­tims in­cluded Howden Gan­ley.

Us­ing his the­ory of tak­ing the two up­hill, slight, right-han­ders “flat” he found him­self in trou­ble on the sec­ond. Hug­ging the right-hand side of the road so as to line him­self up for the tight left­hander, he per­haps got in a bit too close to the gut­ter, the car was un­set­tled over a bump and he started a long, high­speed slide.

The sea­son be­fore, Jim Fen­ton had done ex­actly the same thing in the Con­naught Grand Prix car that had been con­verted into a sports car. The Con­naught had spun, crossed to the other side of the road back­wards, clipped a gut­ter and som­er­saulted down the bank, crash­ing and bang­ing its way through the trees. The driver had been dumped out on the first som­er­sault and wasn’t in­jured.

Gan­ley stayed on the right hand side of the road and the out-of-con­trol Lo­tus fi­nally smote a power pole.

The car was badly dam­aged. Not only was the frag­ile al­loy body man­gled, but the tubu­lar space-frame had also been dam­aged.

Not only was that the end of Gan­ley’s rac­ing that weekend, it was the last time he was ever to race in New Zealand and the last time he was to set foot in Dunedin – un­til this visit!

“Colin Ber­ry­man had towed the car from Christchurch to Tere­tonga and back to Dunedin. He had to get back to Christchurch and I had a cou­ple of things to at­tend to in Dunedin. So Dave McMil­lan and Colin went back that night and I hitch-hiked to Christchurch on Mon­day and there I ar­ranged for the Lo­tus and the trailer to be put on a coastal ship that would un­load it at Raglan. I caught the ferry to Wellington, hitched back to Hamil­ton and got ready to catch the boat to the UK.

“I had to leave Dad with the task of get­ting the Lo­tus back from Raglan, hav­ing it re­paired and sell­ing it.”

Even­tu­ally it was re­paired but, ac­cord­ing to Ver­coe, it wasn’t un­til De­cem­ber the fol­low­ing year that the car was sold.

“Af­ter Mum had been re­paid, all I got back was £25,” muses Howden to­day.

But it had been the start of a worth­while ca­reer, even though in the UK it would take him five or six years to be able to af­ford a Brab­ham which was to lead to a drive in the works McLaren F5000 cars and on to For­mula One.


top-line rac­ing in the era of big hair – pe­riod photographs show him with this mass of dark hair and enor­mous sidelevers. To­day, the sidelevers are gone, his hair is shorter but it’s still thick al­though the dark is now al­most pure white. Through Eoin Young, Howden ex­pressed a wish to go back to Dunedin and find the pole he hit. Eoin planned the visit metic­u­lously – a two day ex­pe­di­tion out of Christchurch with an overnight stop in Oa­maru. Trou­ble is that Eoin fell vic­tim to the flu and was con­fined, splut­ter­ing and wheez­ing, to bed. So Howden Gan­ley was en­trusted to the care of Tony Hay­cock and Terry Mar­shall.

Din­ner that night at Chez Dick in Oa­maru was a great af­fair. Howden is an in­ter­na­tional mo­tor rac­ing celebrity with a gen­uine For­mula One ca­reer and an in­sider’s knowl­edge. I’m re­luc­tant to talk too much mo­tor rac­ing at first in case he’s over it. But I needn’t have wor­ried. He’s as pas­sion­ate as he ever was and his knowl­edge is de­tailed – both in cur­rent mo­tor rac­ing and his­toric.

We talk “Bernie” and we talk the cur­rent drop of new F1 driv­ers. He’s not a par­tic­u­lar Schu­macher fan de­spite his cham­pi­onship wins. “He owed a lot to the team he built around him.” He likes Alonso – “He drives re­ally hard and he’s not in the best car.”

He is a to­tally ded­i­cated fan of Stir­ling Moss.

Some­how the name of Lance Mack­lin sur­faces. Mack­lin was a Bri­tish am­a­teur driver who showed a lot of tal­ent in sports cars and the oc­ca­sional F1 drive. In the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hour Race, Mack­lin, in an Austin Healey, be­came a fall guy for what hap­pened when Mike Hawthorn hit the brakes re­ally hard af­ter ap­par­ently for­get­ting a fuel stop. Hawthorn’s sud­den and un­ex­pected move caught Mack­lin by sur­prise; he swerved and swerved right into the path of the Mercedes driven by Pierre Levegh. The rest, as they say, is his­tory. Eightythree peo­ple died af­ter the Mercedes scythed through the crowd.

Mack­lin tended to get the blame and dropped out of sight af­ter the dis­as­ter.

Howden is sur­prised that I know Lance Mack­lin mar­ried a New Zealand girl and came to live here, op­er­at­ing a fish and chip shop in Otaki for sev­eral years. A decade ago, Mack­lin’s for­mer mother-in-law used to phone me on ra­dio talk-back and talked about it. I am sur­prised that Howden not only knows, but has re­searched Mack­lin’s move­ments in New Zealand, writ­ing a story for the Bri­tish mag­a­zine Mo­tor­Sport. Howden says Mack­lin and his wife first lived in Auck­land, then Hawkes Bay be­fore set­tling in Otaki where they also had an ice-cream par­lour down by Otaki Beach.

Howden hasn’t for­got­ten his early craft of jour­nal­ism. Apart from the oc­ca­sional story like the Mack­lin one, he still knocks out book re­views.

The flame still burns brightly.


we make the trip to Dunedin and back. You can no longer drive com­pletely around the old Dunedin “Oval” cir­cuit – roads have been changed – but where Howden had his ac­ci­dent is still the same. There’s new gut­ter­ing and the lamp­posts are now metal and back from the gut­ter. Howden quickly finds the bump that set him off course – it was a gut­ter cross­ing – and he finds where the big, hard­wood lamp­post he hit stood.

I show him where John Mansel had his fatal crash – just 100 yards be­fore his own crash.

We drive around as much of the cir­cuit as we can this day and go in­side the Army Drill Hall where he warmed the Lo­tus up that dark day.

His in­ter­est is high. He asks ques­tions. He re­mem­bers things. It’s been fifty years since he was last here. The flame still burns.

“All for you, Mr Gan­ley!”The too good to be true Maki F1, which spelt the end of Howden’s F1 ca­reer

Howden in works BRM uni­form

Howden driv­ing the BRM P160 at Paul Ri­card Cir­cuit. 1971

As Bruce McLaren’s pro­tégée, the works sup­ported McLaren M10B F500 was to be Howden Gan­ley’s step­ping stone to For­mula One with the team. Bruce’s un­timely death put paid to this

Howden on the left in­spects the re­mains of the Lo­tus 11 af­ter the Dunedin crash

Howden aboard the ex-Crowther/ Wild/Palmer/Windle­burn Lo­tus 11. It was this car Howden crashed at Dunedin 1962

Howden in Dunedin re­cently re­vis­it­ing the scene of the ac­ci­dent

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