An af­ter­noon with Chris Amon

New Zealand Classic Car - - Special Feature - Words: Ash­ley Webb

Ihad the plea­sure of meet­ing Chris only the one time, at his home in late 2011. The oc­ca­sion was rather a spe­cial one for Chris, as he got to see the BMW 3.0 CSL — dubbed the ‘Bat­mo­bile’ — 38 years af­ter he had raced it with Hans-joachim Stuck.

Usu­ally res­i­dent in BMW’S mu­seum in Mu­nich, where it is a prized ex­hibit, this was the first winged CSL to win a race. The valu­able rac­ing sa­loon was brought to New Zealand by BMW New Zealand to take part in the 2012 NZ Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor Rac­ing (cel­e­brat­ing the Bavar­ian mar­que), and it went on a brief tiki tour to be ex­hib­ited at var­i­ous key BMW deal­er­ships through­out the length and breadth of New Zealand.

On the fi­nal leg of its na­tion­wide jour­ney — dur­ing the re­turn trip to Auck­land — the CSL made a slight de­tour for an ap­point­ment with Chris Amon, who had last seen the car dur­ing the Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship (ETCC) se­ries in 1973.

Af­ter ex­am­in­ing the car in which he and Stuck had won the 1973 6 Hours of Nür­bur­gring that marked the de­but of the CSL’S fa­mous wing, we sat down with Chris and pre­pared to be taken back to a time when driv­ers such as Jackie Ste­wart, Niki Lauda, and Jochen Mass vied for tour­ing-car hon­ours. And, with the ar­rival of the 3.0 CSL, a mighty bat­tle for supremacy against the ri­val Cologne Capris en­sued.

From For­mula 1 to tour­ing cars

Amon was sup­posed to be rac­ing in For­mula 1 (F1) for Max Moseley’s March team in 1973, but, in one of Moseley’s typ­i­cal ma­noeu­vres, he ended up rac­ing that BMW in the ETCC. It was an odd po­si­tion for Amon, whose en­tire rac­ing ca­reer had been largely fo­cused on open­wheel­ers.

Chris ex­plained, “It ac­tu­ally came about be­cause of the March con­nec­tion — in that, BMW, at that time, was sup­ply­ing engines to the March F2 [For­mula 2] team, and, in typ­i­cal sort of March fash­ion, they thought that if I drove for BMW, BMW would do most of the pay­ing and they’d have to pay less. As it turned out, I never did ac­tu­ally drive for them; we fell out with them be­fore the first F1 race. But it was through that March con­nec­tion that it arose. There was an­other con­nec­tion there, too, be­cause Jochen Neer­pasch was man­ag­ing the BMW team — well, he was man­ag­ing BMW Mo­tor­sport — at that time, and he and I had driven at Le Mans to­gether for Car­roll Shelby in a Day­tona coupe in 1964, so we knew each other well.”

Af­ter many years rac­ing in F1 — plus sev­eral Can-am drives and, of course, his epic win at Le Mans in 1966 with the Ford GT40 — rac­ing a tour­ing car pre­sented a fresh chal­lenge for Amon: the CSL was far heav­ier and less pow­er­ful than the F1 cars he nor­mally raced. So, how did it feel as op­posed to an F1 sin­gle-seater, and how did he get on ac­cli­ma­tiz­ing him­self to rac­ing a sa­loon car?

“Very dif­fer­ent!” Chris an­swered, with a short laugh. “It cer­tainly did take me a few races to get used to it. I’d done al­most zero tour­ing-car driv­ing, and ev­ery­thing is quite dif­fer­ent — with an F1 car, you’ve got very lit­tle body roll, and you haven’t got much sus­pen­sion move­ment, but, with a tour­ing car, it rolls, and you’ve got ver­ti­cal move­ment. Yeah, to­tally dif­fer­ent. The other thing is that, be­cause your cor­ner­ing speeds are a lot lower, there’s a real ten­dency to try [to] … over­drive, be­cause you feel like you’re not go­ing fast enough. And, of course, you’ve got a lot more weight. If you do tend to try [to] … over­drive, ac­tu­ally, to over­drive scrubs off speed and [you] go slower, so, yes, it took me a while to adapt to it.”

Hans Stuck was much more of a sa­loon­car rac­ing spe­cial­ist than Amon — but did

the Kiwi man­age to pick up a few driv­ing tips from the Ger­man vet­eran?

“Not re­ally. I mean, he was very quick, and it took me a few races to get up to his speed — I got the feel­ing with Hans that he used to wring the thing’s neck all the time. He was a bit of a larger-than-life char­ac­ter; it was ac­tu­ally a bit spe­cial to be driv­ing with him, be­cause his fa­ther, who was still around at that time — he was quite an old man by then, his fa­ther, of course — was part of the Auto Union team be­fore the war. He was Hans Stuck as well, and I got to meet him on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, and that took me back to the Carac­ci­ola and Nu­volari era. He was one of Auto Union’s prob­a­bly most suc­cess­ful driv­ers, Hans’ fa­ther. What I did learn from Hans was that you had to go bloody quickly to be on his level.”

Many years af­ter their part­ner­ship ended, Stuck re­mem­bered Amon as “[t]he best driver I ever shared with. I learned a lot from him”.

Amon’s first com­pet­i­tive out­ing in the 3.0 CSL came at Monza, where, with Stuck, they fin­ished in fourth place. Amon missed round three at the Salzbur­gring, Stuck part­ner­ing with Di­eter Quester for that race. Although they qual­i­fied the BMW on pole, a bent valve led to re­tire­ment. Amon also missed round three at Swe­den’s Man­torp Park. That race took place only a week be­fore Le Mans, and BMW in­tended to en­ter two works CSLS for the 24-hour race, with Amon and Stuck in car No. 50. The CSL qual­i­fied in 30th po­si­tion — in a field of 55 cars — but struck gear­box prob­lems dur­ing the race when it be­came stuck in fifth. Although it was even­tu­ally fixed, on lap 160 dur­ing the night Stuck hit a Fer­rari and ended up in a sand trap, so their race was over.

Birth of the Bat­mo­bile

By now, Amon was be­com­ing com­fort­able work­ing with the BMW team, which had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a slick op­er­a­tion. Chris re­called — “Yeah! I guess, when I went there, ev­ery­body’s per­cep­tion of Ger­man engi­neer­ing in mo­tor rac­ing terms, cer­tainly in my case, went back to the Mercedes era of the ’50s, so it was in­ter­est­ing to be linked with a Ger­man team. I wasn’t in­volved with Porsche at any stage, so BMW was my first ex­pe­ri­ence. It cer­tainly was slick op­er­a­tion — a very com­pet­i­tive sit­u­a­tion, in that, ba­si­cally, you had two Ger­man teams against each other — you had the BMW team and the Ford Cologne op­er­a­tion, they were the main op­po­si­tion as such.”

For round four of the ETCC, the driv­ers faced a de­mand­ing six-hour race at the in­fa­mous Nür­bur­gring, but the boffins at BMW had a new weapon in their ar­se­nal to com­bat the all-con­quer­ing Cologne Capris — that fa­mous wing.

For the 6 Hours of Nür­bur­gring race, the CSL ap­peared for the first time in all its be-winged glory, quickly earn­ing the ti­tle of ‘Bat­mo­bile’. Amaz­ingly, the wing slashed lap times at the ’Ring by a huge 14 sec­onds.

It took a lit­tle prod­ding to get Chris to re­mem­ber the wing’s de­but race: “To be hon­est, I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber. When I first saw the car there this morn­ing again, af­ter 40-some­thing years or what­ever it is, I was try­ing to think, did we start the sea­son with the wing? I’m pleased you re­minded me — that was the first time we ran the wing, was it? Think­ing back, some­where in the back of my mind was the fact that I felt that the wing helped us gain a bit of an up­per hand over the Capris. Hav­ing said that, at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, we were re­ally strug­gling to be on the same pace as the Capris. When I think about it, there were two things that hap­pened dur­ing the sea­son that helped us get ahead of them — one was the wing, and the sec­ond was when we went from a 3.3- to a 3.5-litre en­gine; I can’t re­mem­ber what race we got the big­ger en­gine.”

Dur­ing the ac­tual race, the Amon/stuck CSL fin­ished first, with an av­er­age race speed of 158.5kph, and, in the process, put an end to the Capri’s win­ning ways.

The vic­tory at the ’Ring was Amon’s first race win since the Ar­gen­tine Grand Prix in 1971, so it felt good to be back on the win­ner’s podium.

“I think [that] by the time we got to the Nür­bur­gring, I was re­ally start­ing to en­joy the tour­ing-car thing, and, what­ever you’re driv­ing at the ’Ring, it’s al­ways a chal­lenge and it’s al­ways sat­is­fy­ing to do well there. So, yes, it was a big mo­ment,” he said.

On song

By the time the BMW works team ar­rived at Spa for the 24-hour race there in July, Amon had be­come very com­fort­able at the wheel of the CSL, and his driv­ing skills were plainly ev­i­dent — dur­ing the Spa race, he recorded the fastest lap, with a time of 3min 49.4s at an av­er­age speed of 221.586kph. To put that into per­spec­tive, at the old Spa cir­cuit, Chris set the fastest time ever in the 1970 March — 3min 27.4s.

Stuck had put the CSL on to pole, with a time of 3min 49.9s, then, dur­ing prac­tice,

Amon punted an Alfa at high speed, re­sult­ing in the need for last-minute re­pairs be­fore the race, but they were forced to re­tire af­ter drop­ping a valve on lap 90. Alpina with­drew its cars fol­low­ing a mul­ti­ple car pile-up in which one of its driv­ers, Hans-peter Jois­ten, was killed. The Quester / Toine Heze­mans works CSL won.

Although Amon couldn’t re­call when the 3.5-litre en­gine had first been fit­ted to the CSL, the his­tory books show that it made its first ap­pear­ance in round six at Zand­voort. How­ever, the larger en­gine didn’t im­me­di­ately give the BMWS an ad­van­tage, and ex­ces­sive tyre wear led to the team cut­ting holes in the spoil­ers to aid tyre cool­ing. The Stuck/amon pair­ing started from pole, but, de­spite a spec­tac­u­lar driv­ing stint from Amon, the CSL’S gear­box gave way, leav­ing the Heze­mans/quester BMW to take the race win.

Amon’s last drive in the CSL came at Cir­cuit Paul Ri­card — he missed the fi­nal round of the se­ries (the Tourist Tro­phy at Sil­ver­stone), be­cause he was rac­ing an ElfTyrell at Watkins Glen, where, once again, Stuck qual­i­fied the CSL on pole. Los­ing gears again, Amon and Stuck fin­ished in third place. Although caught in fifth gear, they man­aged to cir­cu­late within 10 sec­onds of their nor­mal lap time. Heze­mans and Quester took their third straight win, Toine Heze­mans gain­ing the 1973 driver ti­tle and BMW the 1973 ETCC.

Grind­ing the equip­ment

With his sin­gle sea­son in the BMW CSL be­hind him, Chris re­called that both he and Stuck had been pretty hard on the car — for Stuck, it just ap­peared to be his driv­ing style, while Amon had driven equally hard to match his part­ner’s pace.

As Chris re­mem­bered — “Ac­tu­ally, just on that, we didn’t have a great fin­ish­ing record that year. The other team car was driven by Di­eter Quester, the Aus­trian, and Toine Heze­mans, the Dutch­man — they were bet­ter at fin­ish­ing races than we were, but we were driv­ing a bit harder, grind­ing the equip­ment down a bit.”

Amon then re­turned to his more usual F1 stamp­ing ground — but did he con­sider stay­ing on at BMW for an­other sea­son?

“I would’ve very much liked to have stayed with the BMW team, but my fo­cus, as the sea­son went on, was to build my own F1 car, and I wanted to be fully com­mit­ted to that. In hind­sight, it was a bloody dis­as­ter, but we won’t go into that. So, I never re­ally con­sid­ered try­ing to stay with BMW, be­cause I re­ally wanted to fo­cus on the F1 is­sue.”

As far as BMW is con­cerned, the Amon/ Stuck CSL is a prized pos­ses­sion — re­put­edly worth around $1.5M — due to the sim­ple fact it was the first winged CSL to win a race. For Kiwi mo­tor sport fans, though, it’s all about the car’s con­nec­tion to one of New Zealand’s best-ever rac­ing driv­ers.

Chris Amon in the ‘Bat­mo­bile’ at Spa, 1973

Meet­ing Chris Amon at his home in late 2011

Chris Amon in the 3.0 CSL at the Nür­bur­gring, 1973

Chris Amon and Bruce Mclaren win the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race in the Ford GT40

Chris Amon care­fully ma­noevres a Masarati 250F at NZ Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor Rac­ing, Jan­uary 2011

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.