Michael goes pic­nick­ing at Taupo, un­cov­ers an un­usual For­mula Ju­nior, and dis­cusses na­tional rac­ing-car liv­er­ies

New Zealand Classic Car - - Words: Photos Courtesy - By Michael Clark

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.

Ju­nior rac­ing

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

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