THE SUMMER OF ’65
Michael receives some interesting photographs that were taken 50 years after the photographer, Jochen Maus, was invited to attend a day at the Nürburgring
It never fails to amaze me what turns up out of the blue. These photographs came from Stirling Moss’s PA with a note to say, “Stirling thought these may be of interest to you and Chris”, along with a handwritten letter from the photographer, Jochen Maus. Herr Maus had forwarded the photographs to Sir Stirling just over 50 years after he’d taken them, during a day at the Nürburgring to which he was seemingly invited by the motor racing great along with our own great — Chris Amon.
There are several layers to this story, which is why I consider the ‘find’ so interesting. The photographs were taken in 1965, straight after the German Grand Prix (GP), and, therefore, nearly four years after Moss had last raced in a GP. Since the final race of the 1961 season, he’d been to New Zealand, won the last GP at a sodden Ardmore in early January, and spent a chunk of 1962 in a coma following his Formula 1 career– ending accident at Goodwood at Easter. A year after that, he’d returned to Goodwood to test a Lotus sports car, and, at the completion of the session, announced his retirement. Years later, he told me, “the speed was there, boy, but it wasn’t natural, you see. I decided to stop — perhaps it would have better if I’d waited a while longer”.
The car he’d been driving at the Nürburgring that day, in the summer of 1965, was a Brabham being run by Stirling’s old entrant, Rob Walker. Indeed, it was in the Walker team colours of navy blue with the white ring at the nose with which Moss had won the New Zealand GP, as well as some of his other more famous victories. Moss, with his plain white helmet with white straps, a navy blue car, and number seven is an enduring image of the times, and so it is obvious why the filmmakers wanted him in the movie. Movie? What movie, I hear you ask? Before we go there, let me indulge in a quick tangent …
At the German GP, in either 1961 or ’62, an over-zealous official had advised Walker that his car would be thrown out of the event for failing to appear in the official colour for British teams — namely, the various shades of green collectively known as ‘British Racing’ … Although Walker’s fortune came courtesy of the family’s Scottish distillery, he was very much the epitome of the unflappable English gentleman and enquired what problem could possibly have arisen that would threaten expulsion from the meeting. He was advised his car was blue and not green and, therefore, contravened the rules. Walker pointed out that the Porsches were silver not white, the actual German racing colour, and pondered whether they, too, would be excluded from the meeting.
There was never any further discussion about ejection after that. As a further tangent before we get back to the movie: Walker’s claim that his cars ran in ‘Scottish Racing Blue’ seems to have more to do with dark blue being his favourite colour rather
than national pride — there was never a Scottish Racing Blue! Not officially, at least.
As soon as Chris saw the photos, the story emerged. At that time, early August 1965, it seems that both MGM and Warner Brothers were vying to do a movie using Formula 1 as the backdrop, as Chris recalled all these years later, having never before seen these photos. “Stirling and I were there to do some trial footage for Warner Brothers with John Sturges — it was obvious why they wanted Stirling; he hadn’t raced since the accident in ’62, but he was still one of the biggest names in motor racing.”
So, what exactly was involved? “We were certainly lapping pretty quickly, and it was obvious [that] Stirling hadn’t lost the art of being a racing driver. For me, it was a great honour, because I’d been in that race at Ardmore in the wet in the [Maserati] 250F — I was only 18 and trying to make sure I stayed well out his way when he went past. At least once, I was so intent on not being an obstacle that I got into a big slide, which I think Stirling mistook for fantastic car control”.
It is obvious that Chris also has fond memories of meeting the famous director. “Sturges was a hard man, but he had no shortage of stories — he’d already made The Great Escape and Gunfight at the OK Corral by then, but, in the end, there was only ever going to be room for one Formula 1 movie, and one of them had to pull the plug”. And it was Warner Brothers that dropped out, leaving MGM to march on and make Grand Prix. round in the movie. Much of the work Chris did on that film was driving a Ford GT40, which had a camera fitted to the back and a towing arrangement, so it could be dragged along for ‘filming at speed’ to occur. It took until the release of Rush a couple of years ago for anything to come close to Grand Prix, which, half a century later, remains both admired and maligned in about equal measure.
Act of bravery
Speaking of Rush — it was based on the extraordinary events of the 1976 Formula 1 season and the down-to-the-wire final round of the world championship, but it was at Monza, 40 years ago this month, that Niki Lauda made his unbelievable comeback. It is not only the most amazing act of bravery (apart from those attempting to save the life of another person) in the entire history of motor racing, I have never heard anyone ever come up with anything to match it in any other sport.
Quick recap — six weeks earlier, Lauda had not just crashed badly in the opening laps of the very last German GP to be held on the old Nürburgring; his burns were so bad that a priest had been summoned to issue the last rites. No one reckoned with the Austrian’s super-human levels of determination — against the wishes of everyone, the still-healing burns on his head bandaged so heavily that he couldn’t even get his helmet on, he went to try to qualify his Ferrari.
The scuderia was so convinced he wouldn’t be back — not in a hurry, at least — that it signed a replacement driver. This meant that when the buck-toothed Lauda defied all orders — and resulted in a bloody mess every time his helmet was taken off — they had to turn out a third red car. He qualified fifth, quicker than both his regular team-mate Clay Regazzoni and his replacement, newcomer Carlos Reutemann. That was impressive, but it was nothing compared with what he did in the race: after 52 gruelling laps, he was within 20 seconds of the winner, finishing an astonishing fourth.
If it sounds as if I’ve gone fishing in the adjective pond, I can’t say enough about what it took to even think about getting back into a racing car in the condition he was in, let alone what he achieved. I was never any great Lauda fan, so I’m not writing this as a card-carrying member of his supporters club, but I can say no more than if you dreamed this up and took it to a film studio, it would be laughed off as a way-too-implausible yarn …
The man to beat
… about as implausible as a tale about a tiny bloke who is born during the World War II, grows up in a state house in Auckland, gets into motor racing as a teenager, and not only never stops but also continues being the man to beat in big hairy-chested things called Formula 5000s in his mid 70s — and not with modest opposition; in fact, with a dozen or more blokes who have beating him as their goal in life: this is the tale of Kenny Smith.
This is another story in which the truth is less believable than fiction, and, at long last, it’s been told. Kenny and I started the process of writing a book earlier this year, with interviews having taken place prior to my trip to the States in late May / early June. Once back, we got together more frequently, and the stories started flowing — and Kenny has some wonderful ones, as do his mates. I contacted Graeme Lawrence early in the process. Kenny calls ‘Shag’ his blood brother — Lawrence, in return, refers to his old buddy as ‘Short-arse’. Given that Shag is hardly of lofty proportions himself, he could only endearingly ever be referring to one person …
I asked Graeme if he would write the foreword — “I’d be honoured — absolutely honoured … How many words and when do you need it by?” I told him the word number was entirely over to him, and that if I could have had it the day before yesterday, that would have been good. “You’ll have it by lunchtime tomorrow.” When it got to four in the afternoon, I started to wonder what time they did lunch in Hamilton these days — the manuscript had been sent that morning with a note to say the Lawrence foreword was coming.
I have to say that it was worth the wait. Lawrence proved that he can spin out verbs as well as he used to handle an open-wheeler. In addition to my words as the author, with, of course, ample assistance from the star of the book, there are contributions from Donn Anderson, covering the early days; Greg Broughton, on the successes both Kenny and Graeme had up in South East Asia; Ross Mckay, on the return to Formula 5000; and my good mate Bob Mcmurray, who is present for all of Kenny’s Toyota Racing Series races. The book will go on sale in November.
On the subject of books, Ruapuna: The First 50 is a scrapbook-style publication that has been compiled by well-known Canterbury motor racing personality Lindsay Kerr, and, frankly, I can’t think of a better person to have coordinated it. Kerr traces the origins of the local track at Templeton back to its inception in 1963 then takes the reader through nine chapters covering the five decades, including the success of classic car racing, and chats with some of the people who have helped carve Ruapuna into the internationally accepted venue that it is today. There are over 150 photos from the five decades, along with a collection of programme covers, magazine items, newspaper cuttings, event advertising, and written material from the Canterbury Car Club’s own bulletin.
Among the drivers Kerr spoke to for the book are Canterbury motor racing legends Trevor Crowe, Avon Hyde, John Crawford, and the late John Osborne. In addition, there is a chat with Barry and Nola Brown — now in their 80s, the Browns were involved with the volunteer force that built the track and also raced on it.
The book is available from the Canterbury Car Club office (phone 03 349 6003). The retail price is $50, plus $10 postage and packaging. It is a credit to Lindsay for making it happen — without good club men like him, such publications would never see the light of day.