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.
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.
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.
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.