Mo­tor­man

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorman - Words and Pho­tos by: Pa­trick Har­low

Prix and later pro­vided Chris Amon with his in­au­gu­ral Euro­pean open-wheeler drive. Tim had weight on his side, prompt­ing Jackie Ste­wart, Jochen Rindt, and Piers Courage to give him room dur­ing wa­ter bat­tles.

Bel­gian Jacky Ickx, Amon’s team­mate at Fer­rari, was first in the pool on the se­cond morn­ing, but by evening was nurs­ing a bro­ken leg af­ter flip­ping his car when his throt­tle jammed open dur­ing prac­tice.

Car breaker

The un­du­lat­ing, twisty, and bumpy cir­cuit was set against a mag­nif­i­cent au­tum­nal golden back­ground of Mont Trem­blant, the trees ablaze with or­ange, yel­low, and red leaves. Built in 1964, the 4.2-kilo­me­tre cir­cuit was sort of like the Nür­bur­gring, Oul­ton Park, and Brands Hatch all rolled into one, and there were con­cerns the lengthy race would be a car breaker. In­deed, only seven cars ul­ti­mately sur­vived the 90-lap, 378-kilo­me­tre race.

In 1967, the hump on the back straight at Mont-trem­blant sent Aus­tralian Paul Hawkins slid­ing for 50 me­tres on his hel­met af­ter the nose of his car be­came air­borne, and it flipped end for end and went back­wards up­side down. Amer­i­can Ron­nie Buck­num had a sim­i­lar mishap that saw him gaz­ing at blue sky for sev­eral long sec­onds be­fore crash­ing down to earth — this was why lip spoil­ers were born, and partly why Team Mclaren favoured ad­justable aero­dy­nam­ics.

Two years af­ter my visit, New Zealan­der Graeme Lawrence was com­pet­ing at Mont-trem­blant in the Spirit of Ed­mon­ton Mclaren M12 Can-am race. He was greeted by yel­low flags as he rode the crest of a hill when Jackie Oliver’s Au­to­coast Ti-22 be­came an­other car to turn end for end. Eas­ing off the ac­cel­er­a­tor, but not brak­ing, Lawrence was hit from be­hind by Robert Dini’s Lola T162. The Spirit of Ed­mon­ton spun around, crashed into the guard rail, and bounced back onto the track. The mir­a­cle of it all was that no one was badly hurt, al­though Oliver was knocked un­con­scious. Af­ter 1970, the track was deemed too ex­pen­sive and dan­ger­ous to bring up to mod­ern-day F1 stan­dards.

Even so, Graeme de­scribed Saint-jovite as one of the nicest places he had seen out­side Switzer­land. He de­scribed how you aimed for some trees across the other side of the cir­cuit, and by that time you were over the hill and on your way down. He also re­called ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems with the nose and tail of his car lift­ing on the no­to­ri­ous fast bump on the straight.

A glo­ri­ous sight

Back to 1968 — dur­ing prac­tice I walked the track and met up with Phil Bai­ley, who cov­ered Can-am races for mag­a­zine. In ad­di­tion to the cars of cur­rent world cham­pion, Denny Hulme, and team boss, Bruce, the Mclaren team fielded a M7A Cos­worth Ford V8 for Amer­i­can Dan Gur­ney, but Rindt’s Brab­ham and Amon’s works Fer­rari were the two cars set­ting the pace. The Aus­trian took pole, with Chris equalling the time, and Gur­ney mak­ing grid three, while Hulme was fifth fastest and Mclaren sev­enth.

On race day, an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd of 45,000 ar­rived, which was the largest paid at­ten­dance ever for a Cana­dian mo­tor race. Such was the con­cern for the state of the cir­cuit that the or­ga­niz­ers asked the teams to vote whether or not the race should be re­duced to 75 laps.

Years later, Denny re­called how his team in­sisted the race run its full length. “We had equipped the cars with ex­tra-large fuel tanks. It all played into our hands, for had the Grand Prix been short­ened, the Amon Fer­rari would have won,” Hulme said.

In fact, Denny had his sums wrong, be­cause Chris re­tired from the lead on lap 72, so he would never have fin­ished even a short­ened race.

In 1968, Amon seemed ever to be the brides­maid, never the bride, but the Cana­dian Grand Prix ap­peared to be one race he would surely win. He took the lead from the start, and held it right un­til the trans­mis­sion failed, de­spite bat­tling for so long with­out a clutch. Mid­way through the race came the glo­ri­ous sight of

three New Zealan­ders lead­ing the Cana­dian GP af­ter a lengthy chal­lenge from Sif­fert’s blue Lotus. Sif­fert gave Amon a hard time, set­ting the fastest lap, but even­tu­ally dropped out with a bro­ken oil pipe. To­wards the end, Bruce Mclaren eased up and was lapped by his team­mate, but the re­sult was a mag­nif­i­cent one-two for the Mclaren team, and a $14,000 first-prize cheque for Denny — enough to buy an Auck­land house in those days!

Gur­ney re­tired from fifth place with an oil leak, but we joined the Amer­i­can for a pro­mo­tional func­tion hosted by his spon­sor, Olsen­ite, a Detroit-based man­u­fac­turer of au­to­mo­tive com­po­nents and steer­ing wheels, be­fore a white-knuckle ride back to Mon­treal with Phil Bai­ley at the wheel of his fe­ro­cious 7.0-litre Dodge Charger. Mon­day was spent at Expo ’67, site of to­day’s Cana­dian Grand Prix, and rid­ing on Mon­treal’s then brand-new metro sys­tem with trains run­ning on comfy Miche­lin tyres.

The ad­ven­ture con­tin­ues

How­ever, my North Amer­i­can ad­ven­ture was far from over, as I boarded an Air Canada flight for a bumpy four-hour trip west to Al­berta and Cal­gary. There, I was met by school buddy John Moore and his wife, Lynn. Fa­mous for the Cal­gary Stam­pede that be­gan in 1912, the city has boomed to a pop­u­la­tion of more than 1.4 mil­lion to­day, but in 1968 it was com­par­a­tively small time, with fewer than 350,000 in­hab­i­tants. We took John’s Nash Ram­bler on the 300-kilo­me­tre drive north to Ed­mon­ton, a vir­tual straight road across the prairie, pass­ing mid­way through the small town of Red Deer that was just as it sounds. In all that dis­tance, only about three cor­ners broke the mo­tor­ing monotony.

A chicken din­ner at the Sax­ony Mo­tor Inn cost the princely sum of US$1.55, and the fol­low­ing day came prac­tice for the Klondike Trail 200 Can-am on the flat, rather fea­ture­less, four-kilome­ter-long Ed­mon­ton cir­cuit. The New Zealand pres­ence was not re­stricted to the fea­ture event. Cappy (Arthur) Thom­son was orig­i­nally from Waiuku, be­fore a world tour saw him set­tle in Cal­gary and join the lo­cal car club. He ar­rived at Ed­mon­ton and raced his im­mac­u­late Porsche 912 to a class win in a sup­port­ing race in what was the pro­gres­sion of a mo­tor-sport ca­reer that be­gan with him rac­ing midgets at Auck­land’s Western Springs in 1955. Cappy is now back in Auck­land, still with a pas­sion for Porsche.

Af­ter the first Can-am qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion, the driv­ers ad­journed to town and open cars for a pa­rade at­tract­ing most of the in­hab­i­tants, be­fore re­turn­ing track­side, where Hulme cap­tured pole po­si­tion and then blew the Chevro­let en­gine in his Mclaren M8A sports car.

John Sur­tees, in a Lola T70, may have won the in­au­gu­ral Cana­dian-amer­i­can Chal­lenge Cup se­ries in 1966, but for the next five years it be­came the Bruce and Denny Show. Mclaren won the ti­tle in 1967 and 1969, Denny clinched the se­ries in 1968 and 1970, and Peter Rev­son won for Mclaren in 1971.

Ed­mon­ton was the third round of the 1968 Can-am cal­en­dar, but I had al­ready seen the M8A in ac­tion in late July af­ter spend­ing the day test­ing at Good­wood with Bruce. The New Zealand team had no fewer than five all-alu­minium, fuel-in­jected 7.0-litre Chev power plants for the se­ries, and a spare mono­coque tub in ad­di­tion to the two team cars. The or­ange cars were might­ily im­pres­sive, with more than 450kw (600bhp) on tap, a 74.5kw in­crease on the 6.0-litre V8s used in 1967. The dry weight of the M8A at a trim 636kg gave a stag­ger­ing power-to-weight ra­tio of 745kw (1000bhp) per tonne. By com­par­i­son, a typ­i­cal For­mula 1 car in 1968 was slightly lighter, but could only boast a mere 634kw (850bhp) per tonne.

Un­like the 1967 M6A, the M8A had two fab­ri­cated-steel bulk­heads in­stead of one, end­ing abruptly be­hind the cock­pit. This left the en­gine as the main stressed mem­ber at the back, like the Ford Cos­worth–en­gined For­mula 1 open-wheel­ers of the ’60s. The mono­coque weighed only 37kg, had sheets both riv­eted and bonded with a cold-set­ting epoxy ad­he­sive, and used tech­niques akin to mod­ern air­craft.

The Bruce and Denny Show

Sev­eral other older-model Mclaren sports cars were com­pet­ing that year, and at the Elkhart Lake round five, Mclarens filled the first six plac­ings.

Dur­ing Ed­mon­ton qual­i­fy­ing, Hulme set the pace and se­cured pole, and when it looked as if Jim Hall’s winged Cha­parral would ac­com­pany Denny on the front row, Bruce upped his pace to take se­cond-best time. Stir­ling Moss, in a 1969 Chevro­let Camaro, led an im­pres­sive field around on the warm-up lap for the rolling start that saw Hulme streak away, while Mclaren and Hall dis­puted se­cond.

Denny’s mo­tor was is­su­ing an alarm­ing amount of smoke that sug­gested his Mclaren would not com­plete the 80-lap race, as the rear of the car was cov­ered in oil. How­ever, the team was pre­pared, and af­ter an hour’s run­ning, Hulme’s pit told him to flick a switch, pump­ing half a gal­lon of oil from a pres­sur­ized re­serve tank into the en­gine. This was enough to get him to the che­quered flag, Denny fin­ish­ing 10 sec­onds in front of his team­mate while av­er­ag­ing 170kph for the race.

A crowd of 43,000 at Ed­mon­ton was the biggestever for a sport­ing event in Al­berta, and the Mclaren team left with a prize purse of al­most US$17,000.

Years later, Hulme re­flected on those hal­cyon days when he won a to­tal of 22 Can-am races for Mclaren. “In 1968, Bruce and I cleaned up a cool US$167,830, and you have to re­mem­ber that th­ese were Amer­i­can dol­lars, which con­verted pretty well against the Kiwi cur­rency,” he told me. “In the six-race se­ries that year, I man­aged three wins, one se­cond, and a fifth, with only one non-fin­ish. The sort of re­sults you usu­ally only dream about.”

Hulme also re­minded me that in 1968 he very nearly re­peated his 1967 For­mula 1 world cham­pi­onship suc­cess, af­ter win­ning both the Ital­ian and Cana­dian GPS. Alas, a half-shaft broke dur­ing the United States GP, and he had sus­pen­sion fail­ure in the fi­nal Mex­i­can race.

Home­ward bound

We left Ed­mon­ton at 6pm, mo­tor­ing in the dark against an im­pres­sive back­drop of oil-well flares, to ar­rive back at Cal­gary soon af­ter 10pm. The warm, sunny weather changed to snow and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the next few days — and this was only au­tumn in Canada.

No visit to western Canada is com­plete with­out see­ing the Rock­ies, beau­ti­ful Lake Louise, and the mag­nif­i­cent Banff Park Springs Ho­tel, built by the Ger­mans years ago but all closed up in late Septem­ber, as it was too costly to heat with win­ter fast ap­proach­ing.

The drive from Cal­gary into the Rock­ies was an easy run, the scenery fan­tas­tic as we paused to pho­to­graph black bears on the road and large elk. More scary was a rear wheel fall­ing off the Ram­bler while we were mo­tor­ing through the Rock­ies — a me­chanic ser­vic­ing the car the day be­fore had for­got­ten to tighten the wheel nuts!

Fly­ing home com­prised a short hop by DC9 to Van­cou­ver, a half-hour flight to Seat­tle, and a third flight to Los An­ge­les, where an overnight stopover some­how found me on the real-life lo­ca­tion for the film­ing of — a story of three barn­storm­ing sky­divers. The movie was be­ing di­rected by John Franken­heimer — his cred­its in­cluded the clas­sic 1966 movie, Grand Prix. Dur­ing a break in film­ing, I talked with lead man, Burt Lan­caster, who said he had never met a New Zealan­der. While The Gypsy Moths was hardly a box-of­fice suc­cess when re­leased in 1969, it pro­vided co-star Deborah Kerr with the only nude love scene in her movie ca­reer— al­though, alas, this se­quence was not be­ing filmed dur­ing my visit.

Burt Lan­caster, Lake Louise, and bears in the Rock­ies, Kiwi dom­i­na­tion of Can-am com­pe­ti­tion in Al­berta, and For­mula 1 rac­ing in Que­bec had all added up to a rather spe­cial cou­ple of weeks. What I had seen in Canada in 1968 had been amaz­ing, as I wit­nessed dom­i­na­tion in two ma­jor mo­tor-sport cat­e­gories by a small com­pany run mainly by New Zealan­ders half a world away from home.

The Mazda MX-5 is, in my opin­ion, one of the great­est sports cars ever and, since its de­but at the 1989 Chicago Mo­tor Show, more than 400,000 of th­ese road­sters have been sold around the world. I drove my first ex­am­ple way back in 1990 and dis­cov­ered what I felt was the ideal car for twisty New Zealand roads. The lit­tle blighter had enough zip to keep it ex­cit­ing, whilst en­dowed with han­dling guar­an­teed to paste a smile onto your face.

Fif­teen years down the road, the con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­ity of Ja­panese im­ports means that the MX-5 now dom­i­nates the lo­cal roadster mar­ket; one could al­most call them com­mon — for some, per­haps, just a lit­tle too com­mon. For Aus­tralian fit­ness in­struc­tor, Michael Lebe­dev, that meant it was time to get all kits and pieces on Mazda’s iconic roadster.

Van­quish the thought

It all started in 2006, when Lebe­dev de­cided to de­velop and pro­duce a kit ca­pa­ble of trans­form­ing a com­monor-gar­den MX-5 into some­thing rather spe­cial — with As­ton Martin’s Van­quish as the ideal. In­deed, Lebe­dev says that his idea for the re­mod­elled Mazda was in­spired by the Van­quish driven by James Bond in the film, Die An­other Day. Lebe­dev’s even­tual cre­ation, the AMX07, takes its name from this con­nec­tion — ‘AM’ for As­ton Martin, ‘MX’ for MX5 and ‘07’ from a con­trac­tion of James Bond’s fa­mous 007 des­ig­na­tion.

Fast for­ward to 2012, and, in Welling­ton, Gavin Knight is con­vinced by a friend that Lebe­dev’s Van­quish looka­like bodykit would rev­o­lu­tion­ize his MX-5 — a car that Gavin had pur­chased a few years be­fore. A 1990 ex­am­ple, his Mazda was a typ­i­cal Ja­panese im­port in that it had sev­eral lux­ury items not usu­ally found on New Zealand–new cars at the time — such as power steer­ing, air con­di­tion­ing, and elec­tric win­dows.

Gavin’s fond­ness for the roadster had even seen him treat­ing the car to a full repaint and a brand-new softtop. Gavin is also a closet As­ton Martin fan and, dur­ing a mo­ment of weak­ness, he al­lowed him­self to be­come con­vinced that con­vert­ing his newly re­sprayed MX-5 into an ‘As­ton Martin’ was an ideal pro­ject in which he could also in­volve his grand­daugh­ter, Gisele.

The devil’s in the de­tails

When it came time to set­tle upon an ex­te­rior colour scheme for the car, Bri­tish Rac­ing Green was the first shade to find favour. How­ever, fol­low­ing fur­ther thought, Gavin de­cided the colour would be too dark for his taste. In­stead he went for a lighter shade — Jaguar Rac­ing Green. This threw up an­other James Bond con­nec­tion — ap­par­ently, the same colour was used on the vil­lain’s Jaguar XKR in Die An­other Day.

As with all projects like this, it is the de­tails that count. Al­though Gavin will never claim that his mod­i­fied MX-5 is an ac­tual As­ton Martin, he wanted to have a bit of fun with its looks, so he pur­chased some gen­uine As­ton Martin badges and wheel caps, and th­ese parts add a nice fin­ish­ing touch to the car’s ex­te­rior.

Mov­ing on to the re­mod­elling of the car’s cock­pit: again with the help of the in­ter­net, Gavin plunged into a huge on­line pool of af­ter­mar­ket ac­ces­sories spe­cially de­signed for the MX-5. Most of the trim parts — such as the wooden gear-shift knob, steer­ing wheel, and burr wal­nut wood­grain in­te­rior — came from MX-5 City in Don­caster, Eng­land.

An­other classy ad­di­tion was a set of cream gauge back­ing plates, th­ese giv­ing the car’s dash­board a more mod­ern look than the orig­i­nal white on black gauges.

Bond again

To say that Gavin is a busy man is a bit of an un­der­state­ment. When he took on this pro­ject, he was five years into com­plet­ing his the­sis for a PHD, man­ag­ing the As­pire Big Band, run­ning a mu­sic school dur­ing the evenings, and help­ing look af­ter three grand­chil­dren and a dog. Adding the Mazda’s re­build into this lot meant he could’ve been head­ing into dan­ger­ous ‘start but never fin­ish’ ter­ri­tory.

How­ever, right from the out­set, Gavin set aside ev­ery se­cond Satur­day af­ter­noon to work on the AMX07. He also made sure that, as the friend who had dropped this on him in the first place, I was also on hand to help! Gavin’s grandaugh­ter, Gisele, helped out oc­ca­sion­ally, but by the time the car was fin­ished it was all about two blokes and a car in a shed hav­ing a great time. The en­tire build took 15 months, with breaks along the way for Gavin to at­tend a fam­ily re­union in Scot­land, plus the odd missed week­end in or­der for him to work on his the­sis.

Al­though the look of the car has been shaken up, me­chan­i­cally noth­ing has been stirred. The roadster drives and han­dles ex­actly as it did be­fore its trans­for­ma­tion. The only ex­te­rior fea­tures not changed are the doors, and they par­tially give away the car’s hum­ble MX-5 ori­gins.

How­ever, out on the road many of those who have spot­ted the flat-cap-wear­ing Gavin at the wheel of this very Bri­tish-look­ing Ja­panese car have been fooled into think­ing that As­ton Martin has in­tro­duced a new car.

No longer in pro­duc­tion in ei­ther Eng­land or Aus­tralia, the AMX07 is a very ex­clu­sive and rare car — one that looks as good in Gavin’s garage as it would in that of a gen­tle­man also known as 007.

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