C

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

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorsport Exclusive - Words Gor­don Camp­bell

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.

Anti-cli­max

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.

Andy gets all crossed up in Brab­ham BT6 (photo Euan Sar­gin­son)

Tony Shelly, Rex Flow­ers, Andy and Barry Porter line up on the grid at Wai­mate in 1964

Andy ac­cept­ing con­grat­u­la­tions for his win at the Wai­mate 50

Top: Andy’s Brab­ham BT7A in the pits at Levin Gor­don Thomas, Gemini (44), Peter Slo­combe, Lo­tus 18 (14), Doug Bremner, Jaguar D-type, 46) and Andy Buchanan, Brab­ham (8) on the dummy grid at Renwick, Novem­ber 16, 1963

An­gus Hys­lop and Andy on dummy grid at Mount Maun­ganui

Andy Buchanan in Fer­rari 250LM at Levin (photo Euan Sar­gin­son, Shell Book of New Zealand Mo­tor Rac­ing 1967)

Clock­wise from top left: Mur­ray Charles shows off his flex­i­ble skills as he works on the 250LM Andy and the Fer­rari at Surfer’s Par­adise Flower power! Posies in the Fer­rari’s in­take trum­pets — well, it was the psy­che­delic ’60s! Jackie Ste­wart dur­ing

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