After five years of top-level motor racing in New Zealand, Andy Buchanan walked away with no regrets. He tells Gordon some of his story
ars and aviation were in Andy’s blood. His father flew Tiger Moths between the two World Wars, and was killed during World War II when his Kittyhawk was shot out of the sky over Rabaul. Andy was just 15 months old. He and his older brother, Hamish, were brought up by their mother, a formidable woman who also ran the family farm.
Hamish — who raced Minis — and a family friend in the Wanganui Car Club influenced Andy’s first foray into motor sport as a 20-year-old, in a saloon car race at Levin in January 1962. He had bought a new Austin A40 Farina and made a few modifications to it, including fitting twin carburettors. Unbeknown to him, pundits were taking bets on how many laps he would complete. The answer was three, before he crashed the A40 spectacularly at Hokio Bend. The Austin rolled five times, with Andy being thrown from the car. He was hospitalized with crushed vertebrae, which caused problems for many years.
For his second attempt, Andy bought a Buckler from Scott Wiseman. He soon discovered this car, which was powered by an Elva-modified 1172cc Ford engine, was totally worn out. Having circulated slowly in a few races, the final straw came when it put a con rod through the engine block on the Takapau Plains. When he later stumbled across Wiseman polishing his newly-imported lightweight Jaguar E-type in the pits at Pukekohe, Andy loudly told him he’d promised himself, “If I ever see you again I’ll kill you.”
He didn’t, but it got the attention of others in the pits.
New Brabham, No Money
Andy headed off to do his Kiwi OE, working as a shearer and fencer in England. He became friends with David Mills, who worked in the office at the Brabham factory, and they often went out out drinking together. To his consternation, Andy woke up one morning and realized he’d signed up to buy a new Brabham BT6 Formula Junior car. The purchase price of £5000 included the Lotus twin-cam engine that Brabham, Denny Hulme and Mills said he needed. There was a minor problem — Andy was being paid little more than subsistence wages, and he had no money to speak of!
Two aerogramme pleas for help to Mrs Buchanan saw the Brabham paid for, and shipped to New Zealand in time for the Renwick race meeting in November. Andy had no trailer or the slightest idea how to look after a proper racing car. However, while he was in England he’d renewed his friendship with a former school mate, Chris Amon, and he suggested that Bruce Wilson, Chris’ former mechanic (and later to be his Tasman Series mechanic) might look after the car. Chris even offered Andy the use of a trailer. As far as Andy knows, his was powered by the first Lotus twin-cam to come to New Zealand.
Andy’s first drive in the Brabham was on the roads around Bruce’s home base of Hunterville. It was his first time in a single seater, and he was initially disconcerted by the sight of the wheels bobbing up and down. A short while later the local barber was ranting about hooligans careering around on public roads in racing cars. Andy wasn’t game to own up.
It was a good season, starting with a sixth place on debut in the Renwick 50. A seventh in the New Zealand Grand Prix, against 2.5-litre Tasman Formula cars, was also a worthy result. Numerous podium places and a few wins netted Andy fifth spot in the New Zealand Gold Star Championship. His win in the wet Waimate 50 is regarded as one of his best drives.
Andy recalls the Brabham’s Hewland gearbox used to strip teeth off first gear, and Bruce would painstakingly weld them back on and reshape them. He complained loudly and frequently to the factory about this. At Pukekohe, Jack Brabham called him over. “Come here boy, I’ve got something for you.”
“Beauty!” thought Andy, “I’m getting a good first gear.” Not quite. Jack gave him a tiny tie pin!
Boys will be Boys
Those were the days when things were serious on the track, and there was a lot of fun off it. After one meeting Andy and Chris Amon, and possibly others, somehow came to be dancing on the roof of Andy’s ‘high-line’ Zephyr MKII — it had a ‘low-line’ roof by the time they’d stopped. “Chris slid off the roof and down the boot, landing astride the towbar, and I reckon that’s why he was so fast,” jokes Andy.
At one Mount Maunganui meeting, Andy used his Chrysler Valiant tow car to nudge drums set out along the edge of road works near the circuit, tipping each drum on its side. That night some of the other racers thought they would try the same trick. Unbeknown to them, the road workers had filled the drums with water. There were some dented cars and red faces next morning.
Things were a bit different for the 1964–’65 season. With the opposition stepping up to newer and/or bigger cars, the Buchanan team had its work cut out. Andy still managed a fifth in the Renwick 50, seventh in the NZIGP, Levin International and Lady Wigram Trophy, races that counted towards the Tasman Series. He was third in yet another soggy Waimate 50, won at Matamata, and made the podium in the Zambucka Memorial Trophy race at Levin. He finished the season with a third place in the Gold Star Championship, and second in the National Formula for 1.5-litre cars.
It was another satisfying season, but the writing was on the pit wall. Although the little Brabham had something like 39 finishes from 40 starts, many near the front, it was clear that a 2.5-litre car was needed if he wanted to remain competitive.
Andy bought Jim Palmer’s Climax-powered Brabham BT7A, and couldn’t resist noting that Jim hadn’t paid the required import duty on the car. It did, however, come with a proven history. Denny Hulme had used it to good effect in the 1964 Tasman Series as a Brabham works car, and Palmer enjoyed an equally successful season in 1964–’65. Somehow, Andy couldn’t sustain that success. A frustrating succession of ‘did not finish’ results (DNFS) often resulted from broken cam followers. He also broke his crankshaft at Warwick Farm while racing during his honeymoon (!) and the engine popped its distributor out at Sandown Park. Andy ruefully describes that engine as more of an antiClimax.
The season’s end was really a relief, and the BT7A was sold. Andy contacted David Mckay, noted Australian motoring journalist, and founder of the successful Scuderia Veloce racing team. David had a newer Brabham that Andy wanted, but David wouldn’t sell once he found he couldn’t get a new car from the Brabham factory. However David, with his well-known speech impediment, said, “I have this F-f-f-ferrari I don’t know what to do with.”
It was a 250LM, really a 275 because it had a 3.3-litre V12 engine rather that the 3.0-litre version. Spencer Martin brought this car to New Zealand for the 1965/’66 summer season, winning the Wharton Memorial race at Pukekohe, the Gold Leaf Trophy at Wigram, and the DR Filter Trophy at Teretonga.
When the 250LM was returned to Australia, Andy drove the Ferrari at Bathurst, hitting 280kph on Conrod Straight, where the car would lift on a rise. This terrified him, because he remembered reading about a driver who had been killed when his Porsche lifted at that speed on the same rise and was blown into a tree.