To Fin­ish

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorsport Flashback - Phil Kerr’s book,

Phil Kerr

On the morn­ing of Satur­day, Au­gust 22 — the day af­ter my copy was due to have been fin­ished — a phone call came that started with, “Michael, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news — Phil Kerr died this morn­ing.”

So some fluff has been side­tracked to make way for a man who was in­volved very much at the busi­ness end of mo­tor rac­ing in Europe for over a decade and a half.

Phil, of course, told his own story in his su­perb au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, First, which re­ally did, as the sub­ti­tle says, tell of his years in­side F1, CanAm, and the Indy 500 — with much of his in­volve­ment be­ing with the Mclaren team, for which he op­er­ated as joint man­ag­ing di­rec­tor from 1968 un­til 1975, when he re­turned to New Zealand.

Mclaren had en­tered both F1 and CanAm in 1966, but it wasn’t un­til Denny Hulme joined Bruce in 1968 that they be­came a two-car F1 op­er­a­tion. Phil had come with Denny from Brab­ham and so, in join­ing Mclaren as it started to grow, was very much in­volved in the team’s for­ma­tive years.

Driver to Europe

Phil had met the younger (by nearly three years) Bruce at a hill climb that they were both com­pet­ing in, and they quickly be­came close friends. In 1958, a ‘ driver to Europe’ scheme was pro­moted by the New Zealand In­ter­na­tional Grand Prix As­so­ci­a­tion, and the win­ner would be de­cided from three fi­nal­ists — Phil Kerr, Merv Mayo, and Bruce Mclaren. As Merv told us in a Mo­tor­sport Flash­back fea­tur­ing him some years ago: “We all knew Bruce would win — and that was the right re­sult!” But the other two — Phil and Merv — were there be­cause they were both fine driv­ers too.

In 1959, Phil, hav­ing com­pleted ac­coun­tancy and man­age­ment ex­ams, also headed to Europe — but to use his qual­i­fi­ca­tions and skills in op­er­a­tional and lo­gis­ti­cal ar­eas rather than from be­hind the wheel of a rac­ing car. At over 1.9m tall, Phil’s height would have been a def­i­nite is­sue, as rac­ing cars be­came in­creas­ingly smaller through the 1960s.

Phil met Jack Brab­ham and, in 1959, be­came his man­ager and ran Brab­ham’s garage busi­ness on the edge of Lon­don. Phil re­mained with Brab­ham un­til the end of 1967 and, dur­ing that time, cham­pi­oned to his boss the at­tributes of a tough com­pa­triot who he sensed had a real fu­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, Jack did not share Phil’s en­thu­si­asm for Denny Hulme as a world-class driver, but Phil

kept plug­ging away un­til the chance came, and Jack re­lented. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Ra­dio times

My first con­tact with Phil came in 1995, when I was pre­par­ing both a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle and a ra­dio trib­ute to mark the 25th an­niver­sary of the death of Bruce Mclaren. I phoned Phil, in­tro­duced my­self, and dis­cov­ered that the pass­ing of 25 years had not less­ened his gen­uine af­fec­tion for a muchre­spected and loved mate. He agreed to join me live on air and told the lis­ten­ers of the day that Bruce had died and the days which fol­lowed, at the fac­tory,

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