New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial -

De­nis Clive ‘Denny’ Hulme was born in the Nel­son area on June 18, 1936, and moved with his par­ents and younger sis­ter Anita to the Bay of Plenty when he was six. Denny spent his 30th birth­day in France — at Le Mans, to be ex­act — as part of the big-bud­get eight-car Ford team (three Shelby en­tered, three from Hol­man and Moody, and two for Eng­land-based Alan Mann), which had been as­sem­bled to beat the Fer­raris. He’d been there be­fore, but that was five years ear­lier when he and com­pa­triot An­gus Hys­lop had shared a Fiat Abarth 850S — all 847cc of it.

Carlo Abarth didn’t want this pair of Ki­wis in one of his cars, but they’d been foisted on him by Shell. How­ever, his view of them rather im­proved as the race wore on. By the end, he was pos­i­tively in rap­tures with his New Zealand boys when they brought the tiny car home 14th, but, much more sig­nif­i­cantly, they won the 701– 850cc class. Re­mark­ably, Denny didn’t get an­other Le Mans gig un­til Ford came knock­ing five years later — this de­spite him al­ready forg­ing a very suc­cess­ful niche in sports cars. Not that he was twid­dling his thumbs on most of the birth­days be­tween his Le Mans out­ings. In 1963, he won round nine of the hotly con­tested Formula Ju­nior cham­pi­onship and with it the An­er­ley Tro­phy at Crys­tal Palace on June 3, while, on the last day of the month, he took out the Formula Ju­nior sup­port race for the French Grand Prix (GP) at Reims.

World cham­pi­onship points

In June 1964, Denny was due to star in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent type of car, a 7.0-litre Ford Galaxie of air­craft­car­rier pro­por­tions; how­ever, an en­gine mal­func­tion meant that nei­ther he nor co-driver Jack Brab­ham got to start in the Brands Hatch 6 Hours. Denny had great suc­cess with the white and green Sid Tay­lor– en­tered Brab­ham BT8, and, over the first week­end of June in ’65, he won at dif­fer­ent tracks on con­sec­u­tive days with the pretty lit­tle 2.0-litre Cli­max-pow­ered sports car. At the end of that month, he scored his first world cham­pi­onship points with a fine fourth in the French GP over the chal­leng­ing Cler­mont-fer­rand cir­cuit. That was be­fore Denny was a Formula 1

(F1) reg­u­lar, but, by the time he ar­rived back in Le Mans in prepa­ra­tion to take part in his sec­ond ‘round the clock’ clas­sic — on his 30th birth­day — he was a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the Brab­ham F1 squad. A week ear­lier, he’d been in one of eight cars that had crashed out on the open­ing lap of the Bel­gian GP — Spa-fran­cor­champs was al­ready sod­den when the race started, but when a heavy rain­storm hit soon af­ter­wards, all hell broke loose. To say Denny never was much of a fan of rac­ing in the rain is a slight un­der­state­ment.

Life in the fast lane

Fun fact — is there an­other driver in his­tory who started his sec­ond Grand Prix d’en­durance les 24 Heures du Le Mans in a car with a big­ger in­crease in en­gine ca­pac­ity than the car he raced on de­but? The pale blue Ford GT40, with its red and white mark­ings, had 6982cc — a mere 8.24 times the cu­bic cen­time­tres of the Fiat Abarth! Fast for­ward two decades, and Denny spent the two week­ends be­fore his 50th birth­day back on the track … not in his­torics or do­ing demon­stra­tion runs, no — front­line pro­fes­sional mo­tor rac­ing. In the pre­vi­ous 20 years, he’d been crowned world cham­pion in his sec­ond full sea­son, won the Can-am ti­tle twice, been Rookie of the Year at In­di­anapo­lis, won more F1 GPS, be­come a fa­ther to Martin and Adele, re­tired from mo­tor rac­ing, re­turned to New Zealand to live, and found him­self with a bit of spare time on his hands and gone back to mo­tor rac­ing — pretty stan­dard, re­ally.

Great cham­pion

The Euro­pean Group A foray started at Misano on May 4 — by 1986, the cat­e­gory was in a phase be­tween get­ting kicked off and hav­ing to run an RS500 Sierra to even look like hav­ing a chance. Denny was in a 3.5 Rover Vitesse and, in the top cat­e­gory, was up against BMW 635CSI cars, Volvo 240 Tur­bos, and Ford’s XR4TI. From Misano, on Italy’s Adri­atic coast, they moved to Swe­den and An­der­storp, where Denny had taken his penul­ti­mate F1 vic­tory on the eve of his 37th birth­day. He and co-driver Jeff Al­lam fin­ished third, but they weren’t con­tent to rest on that set of lau­rels. Ten days be­fore Denny’s 50th birth­day, they were at Brno in Cze­choslo­vakia (as it was then), where they were fifth, but, a week later, at Aus­tria’s Zeltweg cir­cuit, they could only man­age 19th. This had noth­ing to do with the se­nior man be­ing three days shy of half a cen­tury old, as, in early Au­gust, they an­chored the six­th­placed Rover in the 24 Hours of Spa (the race in which Denny as­ton­ished English­man Al­lam with his so­lu­tion for the heat — “He cut the bot­toms off his race suit at about the knee”), but the best was still to come … In 1966, Denny won the Tourist Tro­phy in the Chev V8–pow­ered Sid Tay­lor Lola T70, and, two decades later, at Sil­ver­stone, the Hulme/al­lam Rover was vic­to­ri­ous. As Al­lam told me in 2007 — “I knew it was 20 years since he’d won it and wanted him to take the lime­light, but he wouldn’t have it. He knew I’d driven more laps and wanted to leave no one in any doubt about it … dear old Denny.”

Sadly, Denny never got to cel­e­brate an­other ‘mile­stone’ birth­day — he was 56 when he had the heart at­tack at Bathurst in 1992, but this month marks 80 years since he was born, and I know I’ll not be alone in rais­ing a glass on the 18th and re­mem­ber­ing our great F1 world cham­pion.

A win for New Zealand

Of course, this month also marks half a cen­tury since that his­toric, and some­what con­tro­ver­sial, vic­tory for Ford at Le Mans — but it wasn’t just a win for Ford over the pre­vi­ously dom­i­nant Fer­raris; it was a win for New Zealand, with the pair­ing of Bruce Mclaren and Chris Amon do­ing it for Detroit in the pa­tri­ot­i­cally coloured black GT40 with the two sil­ver stripes. The sec­ond-placed GT40 of Ken Miles and Denny was sec­ond, just a whisker be­hind — the grand plan of a staged dead heat hav­ing been scup­pered by the or­ga­niz­ers. Miles was a Us-based English­man who had done a se­ri­ous amount of the de­vel­op­ment work on the car. He was very much a sports car spe­cial­ist and, at 47, was the old­est of the driv­ers in Ford’s 7.0-litre GT40S at Le Mans in 1966. The year had started well for him, with vic­to­ries in both the 24 Hours of Day­tona and 12 Hours of Se­bring, where he had been paired with Indy 500 hard-nut Lloyd Ruby.

Af­ter suf­fer­ing spinal in­juries in a plane crash, Ruby was tem­po­rar­ily out of rac­ing, and that was when one DC Hulme was drafted into the ‘Shelby Amer­i­can’ squad. Miles was at the wheel for the fi­nal run to the line in the pale blue car, while Bruce was in the all-black GT40. Much has been writ­ten about the fin­ish, and it has the po­ten­tial for a great film — so long as New Zealand’s enor­mous in­volve­ment isn’t some­how air­brushed out of his­tory. There are sug­ges­tions that Miles felt slighted by Ford when the automotive gi­ant might have pro­vided an ‘open goal’ for him to win, af­ter all the de­vel­op­ment work he’d done — I even heard once that Denny was dis­grun­tled, but there has never been any hint of dis­con­tent on his part when I have run that no­tion past folk such as Chris Amon or the late Eoin Young and Phil Kerr.

If you’d like to read a good book on the sub­ject, I rec­om­mend Go Like Hell by AJ Baime. There was, in fact, a pro­posal that it be made into a film, with both Cruise T and Pitt B hinted at as be­ing in­volved. Heck, I

even heard it was go­ing to be shot in New Zealand, with one of our cir­cuits be­ing ‘turned into’ Le Mans. A quick check of the In­ter­net Movie Data­base de­scribes the project as be­ing “in de­vel­op­ment”, so your guess is as good as mine.

Kiwi suc­cess

I don’t know how you mea­sure two Ki­wis win­ning the big­gest and great­est en­durance mo­tor race in the world along­side all the other mag­nif­i­cent sport­ing achieve­ments of this won­der­ful lit­tle na­tion. We spe­cial­ize in punch­ing above our weight — not just with ‘great stuff, we came fifth; not bad for 4.5 mil­lion peo­ple’ but be­cause we ig­nore that we’re small and take on the world as equals. Amon and Mclaren’s vic­tory de­serves to be ranked with the very best of our achieve­ments of the world stage — it was, and is, a huge deal.

Just quickly on the sub­ject of films — Roger Don­ald­son and his team are leav­ing no stone un­turned as they march re­lent­lessly to­wards com­ple­tion of the doc­u­men­tary on Bruce Mclaren. I em­pha­size ‘doc­u­men­tary’ — this is not be con­fused with the project that was launched at the in­au­gu­ral New Zealand A1 GP round in Jan­uary 2007. Don­ald­son has had in­ter­na­tional suc­cess be­fore, but petrol­heads might only know him as the guy be­hind Smash Palace from the early ’80s and The World’s Fastest In­dian. How­ever, he has done much more and is both a per­fec­tion­ist and an en­thu­si­ast, so we could not wish for any­one bet­ter to tell the story of one of the great­est of the great Ki­wis.


I men­tioned Formula Ju­nior ear­lier — that was the aptly named cat­e­gory that sat be­low F1 and re­placed both Formula 2 (F2) and Formula 3 (F3) from 1959 to 1963. For 1964, F2 and F3 re­turned, and Formula Ju­nior cars were soon ob­so­lete — some of the lat­ter mod­els had a sec­ond, al­beit short, life in F3, but, by the late ’60s, they’d been long since su­per­seded and were worth very lit­tle. The cat­e­gory spanned the tran­si­tion of the en­gine go­ing from be­ing in front of the driver, to be­hind.

(As an aside — I al­ways hes­i­tate when want­ing to write ‘rear en­gined’ — a Porsche 911 or orig­i­nal VW Bee­tle is rear en­gined. So, why not write ‘mid en­gined’? You would know what I meant — right? That be­ing that the en­gine is po­si­tioned be­tween the driver

and the ad­ja­cent axle … how­ever, un­der that line of logic, is not my daugh­ter’s Citroën or the Rover Vitesse that Denny won the Tourist Tro­phy in also mid en­gined? In­deed, un­der this cri­te­rion, the ma­jor­ity of us drive mid-en­gined cars … Any­way, let’s get back on track.)

So, af­ter the for­mat was in­vented in Italy in the late ’50s, at a time when Cooper was still on the cusp of rewrit­ing his­tory by get­ting a car with the en­gine be­hind the driver to win the world cham­pi­onship, it was not en­tirely surprising that all early Ital­ian ju­niors had their en­gine up front and that, in most cases, it was a Fiat. Those cars — like Stanguelli­nis; Volpi­nis, Taraschis; and my per­sonal favourite (a love af­fair that can be traced back to the Hippo book, Rac­ing Cars of the World, that I was given for birth­day num­ber five; like Denny, I was born in June), the Osca — were the first to be­come ob­so­lete, but are to­day worth the most. As we ap­proach the 60th an­niver­sary of the birth of Formula Ju­nior, prices for these minia­ture GP cars con­tinue to es­ca­late, and so, while no ju­nior is a bar­gain, and those Ital­ian­built Fiat-pow­ered lit­tle gems might lag well be­hind in the power stakes, they more than make up for it with their val­ues.

By 1963, you ideally needed a Brab­ham or Lo­tus to win — Lo­las or Coop­ers might get you on a podium ev­ery now and then, but the days when a dozen or more dif­fer­ent mar­ques would be on a grid were gone. This year’s Monaco His­torique fea­tured front-en­gined ju­niors only, and in ad­di­tion to the Ital­ians al­ready men­tioned were mod­els from Elva, Lola, Gemini, Bond, Alexis, BMC, and many other com­pa­nies. If I couldn’t have an Osca, the Cal­i­for­nian-built Apache would do me, as it looks like a scaled-down Indy road­ster.

Five Ki­wis were en­tered, Roger Her­rick (Lola Mk2 Ford); Paul Hal­ford (Au­to­sud Fiat); Neil Tolich ( Jocko Fiat); Michael Sex­ton (Gemini BMC); and Tony Olisoff, in his unique front-wheeldrive Elfin BMC. This is a top ef­fort given no Aus­tralian en­tries — and Formula Ju­nior is very strong over the ditch.


Michael Clark Michael Clark,steve Holmes

Denny Hulme re­laxed and on the grid, third row be­hind Bra­ham, at War­wick Farm. Pho­tos: Bruce Wells.

Lin­ing up just prior to the 1967 Tas­man Se­ries event at Tere­tonga. Photo Ian Peak.

Denny Hulme demon­strates his Mclaren M23 at Pukekohe in 1976. Pho­tos: Graeme Ben­nett.

Denny Hulme at speed in the Brab­ham at Tere­tonga. Photo: Ian Peak. Denny Hulme at home in the Apache

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