MOTOR SPORT FLASHBACK
Michael goes picnicking at Taupo, uncovers an unusual Formula Junior, and discusses national racing-car liveries
The ‘picnic meeting’ run by the Historic Racing and Sports Car Club (HRSCC) and the club itself were once described as a funny little meeting run by a funny little club — both are true, and, although neither was necessarily intended as such, both, in my view, are unconditional compliments.
The meeting in question is always held over the first weekend of December on the Taupo club circuit — a tiny little track that perfectly complements the intent of the meeting, and there we were, having a picnic, when a race for old cars broke out. Entry is free, there is no timing, and grid positions are either determined by who turn up on the dummy grid first or, as with most groups, by asking ‘Who hasn’t had a turn yet?’ The spirit and the fun aspect of historic motor racing is amplified on a grand scale — you’ll never hear of a protest, while unsporting behaviour is heavily frowned upon, almost as much as trying too hard.
Prize-giving revolves around humorous incidents although, to be fair, it was better when club stalwart Allan Currie handed out lemons the size of softballs for indiscretions. A Sunbeam aficionado, Scottish-born Allan was a welcome visitor at the 2015 picnic meeting, having been ferried there by fellow Havelock North resident Dr Maurice Jolly, an old mate of Eoin Young and collector of odd and interesting motor vehicles. Allan is one of life’s gems and was knocking about low-key car-club events in Scotland at the same time as a young farmer was getting bitten by the motor racing bug — we will feature that promising young driver in more detail next month, for, on March 4, it will be 80 years since Jim Clark was born.
I’m proud to be a member of the HRSCC and embrace the club’s low-key approach to grass-roots motor racing as being very much along the lines of the grass-track and hill-climb events of days gone by.
I was introduced to Dennis Merwood by Formula Junior drivers Terry Collier and Ian Garmey. Originally from Levin, Merwood has lived in Seattle for the past 45 years, and told me, “This could never happen in the States — just look at it, it’s perfect.”
Bruce Mclaren Motorsport Park
In mentioning the Taupo club circuit, it is appropriate to note that it now forms the southwestern portion of the renamed Bruce Mclaren Motorsport Park. Back in 1994–’95, I know, from personal experience, that there was a move afoot to rename Pukekohe to something like Taupo’s new moniker, but there were various hurdles that meant it ended up simply being Pukekohe Park Raceway. I don’t recall anything insurmountable, but, because time was of the essence, the opportunity to link our most famous motor racing son with what was as good as his home track (he won the second-ever Grand Prix at ‘Puke’) was lost forever.
I see the Taupo name change came with the blessing of Bruce’s widow Patty and daughter Amanda, as well
as Mclaren main man Ron Dennis but gather it hasn’t been universally embraced. Amanda is quoted in an accompanying press release: “This is just such a wonderful tribute to a late husband and father, and we are so looking forward to seeing the plans the park has for the future. A motorsport recognition such as this in my father’s home country has been a long time coming.”
No argument there, and I also hear that a museum is mooted.
As the world closes in on the 60th anniversary of the birth of Formula Junior, examples of the — mostly — gorgeous cars from 1957 to 1963 keep coming out of the woodwork. This is especially impressive given that we never actually officially had a championship for ‘Juniors’ in period. There were two cars at Taupo (Bruce Mclaren Motorsport Park) that were new to me — one instantly recognizable as one of the more successful models from a famous manufacturer, but the other had me completely stumped.
In the blue corner is an American-built BMC (British Motor Car Distributors). BMC originally imported MGS into the US, and, upon the introduction of Formula Junior into North America, the chance to promote BMC products was spotted by one Joe Huffaker. He designed a front-engined car using Spridget bits and the A-series engine. Some 20 examples were built and were successful on the West Coast until the arrival of the rear-engined Cooper and Lotus Formula Juniors instantly made that design redundant. BMC then produced its first rear-engined car — initially with drum brakes and subsequently with discs on the front. Some 14 of those were built before the MKIII, which had discs all round and an Anglia 105E engine option — that’s right, a BMC-FORD.
Terry Collier’s car, pictured here in a stunning pale blue, is the only known BMC MKII in the southern hemisphere.
Huffaker eventually lost interest in Formula Junior and went onto to build the Genie Group 7 / Can-am sports cars and also cars for the Indy 500.
In the red corner, a Lotus — refreshingly in a livery other than the obvious green and yellow. Although the car made a return to the track at Manfeild in mid November, owner Roger Greaney wasn’t feeling well, so decided to postpone the car’s debutproper to the picnic meeting. The