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New Zealand Classic Car - - MOTOR SPORT FLASHBACK -

fter driv­ing for teams like Fer­rari, Ma­tra, and even March and BRM, it was a nat­u­ral con­clu­sion to think of the un­der­funded low­pro­file En­sign équipe as some­thing of a come­down for Chris Amon. Back in the ’70s, it was not im­pos­si­ble to buy your­self a Ford Cos­worth en­gine, mate it to a Hew­land gear­box, pro­duce a For­mula 1 (F1) chas­sis, and go Grand Prix (GP) rac­ing — small oper­a­tions with names like Con­new, Bel­lasi, Tro­jan, To­ken, and many oth­ers that sunk with­out trace af­ter a sea­son — or less — did it, and, in 1973, so did one Mor­ris Nunn. ‘Mo’ had been a driver — good enough in the late ’60s / early ’70s to have been a works Lo­tus For­mula 3 (F3) driver, and Colin Chap­man didn’t of­fer that op­por­tu­nity to just any­one. By the end of 1970, Nunn had built the first En­sign, an F3, in the garage of his house in The Mid­lands, and, the fol­low­ing year, his new mar­que took on Brab­ham, Lo­tus, March, and Chevron. The first win came in round two, and Nunn was on his way. The first F1 En­sign was built in 1973, fi­nanced by Rikki von Opel from the Ger­man divi­sion of the Gen­eral Mo­tors fam­ily, but he didn’t last long — how­ever, once in F1, that’s where Nunn stayed. His peren­nial fi­nan­cial prob­lems trig­gered the nickname ‘No Munn’, but the lav­ish body­work of the in­au­gu­ral car gave no hint of a low-bud­get op­er­a­tion. The En­sign of 1974 looked much more con­ven­tional, and it was 1975 when Chris Amon turned up. Un­til then, Nunn had run var­i­ous back-of-the­field driv­ers, so the ar­rival of Amon was some­thing of a rev­e­la­tion, as Mo ex­plained: “He’s in­cred­i­ble — we move the wing by a notch and he can tell. We’re not used to that.”

Amon’s rec­ol­lec­tion

Chris has his own rec­ol­lec­tions of the ex­pe­ri­ence: “The 174 was the ’73

car ba­si­cally, but with­out the weird body­work on it. I mean ba­si­cally it was a three-year-old car when I ran it at Kyalami in ’76. I was still hob­bling at that point, I had this foot prob­lem, I started off near the back, but I passed a lot of peo­ple that day. I don’t know why, but I ran out of fuel and had to make a pit stop. I re­mem­ber pass­ing Mario in the Par­nelli. I hauled my way up the field a bit, but it was re­ally push­ing it up­hill run­ning a three-year-old car, and the rea­son for that was that the ’75 car, which I’d run in Aus­tria and Monza, be­longed to the spon­sors, HB, and they’d taken it away so were forced for the first cou­ple of races in ’76 to use the old ’73 car be­cause that’s all Mo had while they built a new one. “The ’75 and ’76 cars were fairly sim­i­lar. When I first drove the ’75 car in Aus­tria [1975] and old Mo was a bit funny, he said, ‘We don’t want any feed­back, we just want you to drive the thing and we’ll do the engi­neer­ing’, and about half way through prac­tice I said, ‘We’re go­ing nowhere here — you need to change the springs and some of the ba­sic stuff’. In fair­ness, he agreed to that and ac­tu­ally got the thing han­dling re­ally well in the rain. “Their en­gines weren’t great — I had trou­ble on the grid at Monza in ’75. I can’t re­mem­ber what, but I re­mem­ber fairly early on in the race, it was Niki [Lauda] and [Clay] Regaz­zoni in the Fer­raris lapped me and then I stayed with them for half an hour or so, get­ting towed along a bit. And then they made the new one for ’76. It was a bloody good car, frag­ile as hell un­for­tu­nately, but with a top en­gine in it there wouldn’t have been any con­test.”

Lauda vs Hunt

That year — 1976 — was the year of the Lauda vs Hunt bat­tle for the world cham­pi­onship, as im­mor­tal­ized by the movie Fer­rari was the dom­i­nant team, with Mclaren the best of the Cos­worth run­ners. Tyrrell, Penske, March, and Lo­tus won races, while the Ma­tra V12–pow­ered Ligier was reg­u­larly a con­tender as well. De­spite the ta­lent of the pi­lot, who could hon­estly take a one-car team from Wal­sall se­ri­ously? Chris de­buted the new ’ 76 model at Spain’s Jarama cir­cuit 40 years ago this month and qual­i­fied it a re­spectable 10th along­side Mario Andretti’s Lo­tus and ahead of the pow­er­ful Brab­ham Al­fas of Car­los Reute­mann and Car­los Pace. Chris re­calls, “It was prob­a­bly bet­ter than the Brab­ham-al­fas. I re­mem­ber in Spain I had a big tus­sle, I fin­ished be­tween them ac­tu­ally. I think chas­sis­wise it was as good as a Mclaren, or prob­a­bly bet­ter, and prob­a­bly Lo­tus.” When he says he fin­ished ‘ be­tween’ the Brab­hams, Chris ac­tu­ally fin­ished fifth, and thereby gave En­sign the best fin­ish it had in F1 — a fan­tas­tic re­sult given what the team was work­ing with. A fort­night later, on May 16, a new qual­i­fy­ing stan­dard was set when Chris qual­i­fied an ex­tra­or­di­nary eighth for the Bel­gian GP at Zolder. This time, how­ever, there were no points to be had be­cause, deep into the race, the En­sign shed a wheel and rolled — Chris: “I said to Mo — I can’t drive some­thing that’s go­ing to fall to pieces all the time.”

Fi­nal GP race

At the end of May was Monaco, where only 20 cars could qual­ify, but, with 12th-quick­est time, the Amon/en­sign combo was eas­ily in. How­ever, in the race, a painful wrist meant he was four laps adrift at the end. On June 13, in Swe­den, Chris and the En­sign shocked the es­tab­lish­ment — the six-wheeled Tyrrells clearly suited the An­der­storp cir­cuit and qual­i­fied first and fourth. Andretti’s Lo­tus shared the front row,

and Niki Lauda’s Fer­rari was fifth. The best of the Mclarens, James Hunt, was eighth, but, third on the grid, re­mark­ably, was the lone En­sign. “I re­mem­ber in Swe­den, Mario was on the front row and I was third. I’m sure the En­sign was a bet­ter car than most peo­ple re­al­ized … in fact def­i­nitely. Once again, James with the Mclaren had all sorts of horse­power, par­tic­u­larly when they wanted it. But the prob­lem with the En­sign was that it was frag­ile, and un­der-funded too. Some of the things that hap­pened prob­a­bly wouldn’t have hap­pened had it been well funded.” Again the car failed — this time a sus­pen­sion break­age and an­other crash. The next time Chris slid into the En­sign was at Brands Hatch for the Bri­tish GP, and again he put in a stel­lar lap to qual­ify sixth. This time, a wa­ter leak put the car out af­ter eight laps. The Ger­man GP on Au­gust 1 turned out to be the last GP start of Chris’ long ca­reer — not that he or any­one else knew it at the time. This was the now leg­endary race in which Lauda crashed and was never ex­pected to sur­vive let alone re­turn to the cock­pit later in the year. Chris re­futes any spec­u­la­tion that he quit af­ter Ger­many be­cause of Lauda’s ac­ci­dent — “I’ve got to say that I wasn’t keen to drive the En­sign … given the fact that ev­ery sec­ond race a ma­jor com­po­nent was fall­ing off. But equally I had de­cided not to con­tinue in F1 by then, be­cause Teddy [Mayer] ap­proached me at the Nür­bur­gring and asked ‘what are you do­ing next year?’ and I said ‘ba­si­cally not a lot’, and that I was ‘pretty much go­ing home’. They [Mclaren] were quite keen to have me in ’77.”

af­ter that. It is ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic — it’s moved on from be­ing ‘a truck mu­seum’, although lor­ries and units that tow big rigs form the bulk of the col­lec­tion, but there are cars, buses, vans, toys — all laid out in the gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned struc­ture with an art-deco fa­cade.

South­ern road trip

How many places can you ar­rive at open­ing time on a Mon­day morn­ing to a world-class ex­hi­bi­tion and be greeted by the mayor, who just hap­pened to be siz­zling sausages at the en­try? I’d trav­elled down to South­land with How­den Gan­ley — it had been a mere 54 years since he’d last been to Tere­tonga — and we aimed our rental car out of Queen­stown air­port and made for In­ver­cargill. It’s a lovely drive, and some­thing I rec­om­mend you do. The South­ern Fes­ti­val of Speed clas­sic meet­ing is spe­cial, and, if you haven’t been — next year is the 30th, so put it on your list.

From the mu­seum, How­den and I swooped by and col­lected Wal Will­mott for the run out to River­ton to have lunch with Noel At­ley. Ever since I’ve known Noel, a visit to his work­shop has never failed to im­press — this time, we saw the ACE IV and one of the three FM3S made by the leg­endary Ge­orge Begg not far away in Drum­mond. Over lunch, we tried to ex­plain to How­den the car Noel has in an­other work­shop, and it begs to be vis­ited — How­den can scarcely be­lieve what he’s heard … then there it was, the Con­ti­nen­tal. I’d only pre­vi­ously seen photos of the ‘Can-am–type’ sports car that was built at the end of ’60s in Christchurch, so I was not quite pre­pared for how ex­traor­di­nar­ily short the wheel­base is for a car hous­ing a 7.7-litre Con­ti­nen­tal en­gine in the back. The Con­ti­nen­tal is a project once the ACE is fin­ished — like the ACE III so im­pres­sively con­ducted by Graeme Hamil­ton at Rua­puna, ACE IV was orig­i­nally pow­ered by a straight­six Ze­phyr en­gine with a sought-af­ter Ray­mond Mays head. At one time, ACE IV was con­verted to a rear-en­gined con­fig­u­ra­tion, but Noel is re­turn­ing it to how it was — how it should be — with the en­gine up front and a body rem­i­nis­cent of a Fer­rari 246 like the car Mike Hawthorn drove to win the last world cham­pi­onship for a front-en­gined car in 1958. From River­ton, we dropped in on an­other reg­u­lar stop when in the deep south — David Brown pro­duces world-class D-type Jaguar and Ford GT40 repli­cas from his work­shop in In­ver­cargill. In­deed, a replica of the GT40 Denny Hulme drove in the dis­tinc­tive white-with-emer­ald-green­stripe livery of out­ra­geous Ir­ish en­trant Sid­ney Tay­lor was look­ing glo­ri­ous ad­ja­cent to the en­try. Both How­den and Wal were work­ing for Mclaren in 1965 when the young team was en­trusted by Ford with a Group 7 (Can-am) ver­sion of the 7.0-litre GT40. The unloved project was sar­cas­ti­cally nick­named ‘Big Ed’, so, when a wealthy en­thu­si­ast de­cided this unloved piece of his­tory should be recre­ated, where bet­ter in the world to turn to than In­ver­cargill? David’s jaw vis­i­bly dropped when two

This year, I had an­other rea­son to be In­ver­cargill for its an­nual clas­sic meet­ing at the won­der­ful Tere­tonga — there was a book to be launched. As the cover says, is a pho­to­graphic se­lec­tion from Bill Pot­tinger. The cover also hints that it was edited by yours truly; how­ever, the re­al­ity is that this is ‘Bill’s book’. And who bet­ter to in­tro­duce you to Bill than Eoin Young, who wrote the fore­word shortly be­fore he passed away? “His South­land rec­ti­tude con­trib­uted to his quiet man­ner be­hind the lens that earned per­sonal op­por­tu­ni­ties like be­ing in­vited to join Jochen and Nina Rindt, Piers Courage, Gra­ham Hill and Frank Gard­ner when they took an af­ter­noon off to play golf. Bill’s pho­to­graphs of their ef­forts were gems, and ap­pre­ci­ated by the driv­ers.”

Bill started his hobby while still at school, and rode his bike to nearby Tere­tonga, which is where most of the pho­to­graphs in the book were taken. And, de­spite hav­ing lived in Christchurch since the early ’70s, Tere­tonga was where Bill al­ways wanted to have the book launched. Mayor Tim came along — on his 69th birth­day — to do the hon­ours, all of which was su­perbly con­ducted by Don­ald ‘The Voice of Tere­tonga’ Mcdon­ald. Bill was en­cour­aged to put his best photos into this scrap­book­for­mat book by friends who sug­gested he needed a project to oc­cupy his mind when he was told, on Christ­mas Eve 2013, that the dreaded lym­phoma had re­turned. Bill

Michael Clark Michael Clark, Adam Croy

Photos from the Bill Richard­son Trans­port World mu­seum

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