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New Zealand Classic Car - - Readers' Writes - Photos:

New Zealand GP on the Ard­more air­field, south of Auck­land, in 1955.

Named Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh by his royal par­ents, Bira was the only Thai driver to race in F1, and he seemed sur­rounded by an aura, whether in or out of his Maserati painted in his coun­try’s mo­tor-rac­ing colour of pale blue. Ed­u­cated at Eton, the Thai prince be­gan rac­ing a Ri­ley at Brook­lands in 1935, and, in post-war days, ran two other Maser­atis — a 4CLT and an 8CM. Two days be­fore Christ­mas in 1985, and three decades af­ter his New Zealand suc­cess, which was ef­fec­tively his mo­tor­rac­ing swan­song, the 71-year-old prince was at Barons Court on the Lon­don Un­der­ground when he suf­fered a heart at­tack and died. It was an ig­no­min­ious end to a grand and ma­jes­tic life.

Chas­sis Num­ber 2509

Now, at this point, the story may seem to get bor­ing, but stick with it, be­cause the ex­cite­ment will even­tu­ally re­turn. Maserati built 34 of these quin­tes­sen­tial GP cars be­tween 1954 and 1958, and sev­eral of them raced down un­der. No fewer than seven 250Fs were en­tered for the 1959 New Zealand GP.

This is a ma­chine that joins the Mercedes W196 and Lo­tus 49 Cos­worth as a rare GP car to win first time out. A fur­ther seven F1 GP vic­to­ries fol­lowed, plus 35 wins in sig­nif­i­cant races for pre­mier-for­mula cars. Stir­ling Moss re­mem­bered the 250F as a beau­ti­ful and sta­ble car that was lovely to drive. It steered su­perbly and was in­clined to sta­ble over­steer, which Moss said could be ex­ploited by balanc­ing it against power and steer­ing in sus­tained drifts. Moss be­lieved a sea­son be­hind the wheel of this car left him a far bet­ter and more ex­pe­ri­enced driver.

The late Chris Amon’s 250F is the lone ex­am­ple re­main­ing in the coun­try, safely on dis­play at the South­ward Car Mu­seum, Kapiti; oth­ers are long gone, hav­ing trav­elled to dis­tant shores. When Amon was re­united with the car at Ohakea for the 40th ju­bilee of the New Zealand GP in 1990, owner Len South­ward jok­ingly sug­gested the one­time Fer­rari works driver might like to buy it back for the £500 that he had sold it to Len for so many years ear­lier!

But Chris re­called how he con­sid­ered him­self lucky to get the equiv­a­lent of $1K for what was then sim­ply an out­dated rac­ing car. The demon­stra­tion out­ing on the Ohakea air­field was the first time Amon had driven an open-wheeler since the F1 En­sign way back in 1976. In spite of run­ning on 30-year-old tyres and need­ing more time for set-up — for­get not Amon’s bril­liant abil­ity as a test driver — he was im­pressed with the per­for­mance of the car, an early chas­sis num­ber 2509 built in 1954.

Orig­i­nally owned by the Owen Rac­ing Or­gan­i­sa­tion while its Bri­tish Rac­ing Mo­tors (BRM) P25 F1 was be­ing com­pleted, the Amon ma­chine was raced by English­man Ken Whar­ton dur­ing the 1954 sea­son but was troublesome. Whar­ton brought a 250F to run in the 1957 New Zealand GP, but the car would sit idle in the pits af­ter Ken was trag­i­cally killed in the Monza Fer­rari when lead­ing the sports car race ear­lier in the day. The 250F run by BRM was fit­ted with disc brakes, and the Bri­tish team also moved the en­gine for­wards and repo­si­tioned the oil tank from along­side the mo­tor to the cock­pit, in line with mod­i­fi­ca­tions be­ing car­ried out by Maserati. The car’s last race with BRM was in the Ar­gen­tine GP, driven by Mike Hawthorn to third. It was then sold to Jack Brab­ham, who dis­liked it; run by Gavin Quirk; raced briefly by Jensen; and cam­paigned by Len Gil­bert, who ac­quired the Maserati from Quirk, “in 15 kerosene cans”.

Gil­bert reck­oned the car needed about 200 hours of work for an hour’s driv­ing. He blew the en­gine at Ard­more in 1961, but, two weeks later, had the sat­is­fac­tion at the wet Lady Wi­gram Tro­phy to be the only driver other than Brab­ham not to spin in prac­tice. Eigh­teen-year-old Amon first drove 2509 in Novem­ber 1961 at Ren­wick, fin­ish­ing a fine fourth, and won a pre­lim­i­nary race at Levin in early 1962. His driv­ing in the 250F came to the at­ten­tion of Bri­tish team man­ager and 1957 New Zealand Gp–win­ner Reg Par­nell, cul­mi­nat­ing in Amon’s F1 de­but in 1963.

Con­fu­sion

What other 250Fs had a New Zealand con­nec­tion? To delve into the his­tory of the car is to meet with con­fu­sion, and, in re­search­ing of sev­eral sources, I be­came in­creas­ingly be­wil­dered by the amount of con­tra­dic­tion, es­pe­cially in re­gard to chas­sis num­bers. Maserati used the same num­ber for chas­sis and en­gine, with iden­tity plates sim­ply screwed on to the in­stru­ment panel, but, dur­ing re­pairs and re­builds, plates were of­ten switched. So, some 250Fs had two dif­fer­ent num­bers, and there ended up be­ing more cars than chas­sis num­bers in what be­came a nearcom­plete sham­bles.

Even own­ers be­came con­fused. Jensen ini­tially thought his ex-moss car was chas­sis num­ber 2513, but noted jour­nal­ist and his­to­rian De­nis Jenk­in­son swore Moss would never race a car with that num­ber, be­cause of his sus­pi­cious views of the num­ber 13. In 1967, Jensen sug­gested to Jenk­in­son that he have the chas­sis plate re­moved to see if there was an­other num­ber un­der­neath it. There was, and ap­par­ently it was 2508, al­though Jensen re­mem­bered it as be­ing 2504 — which is the Bira 250F! Con­fused? You should be, and I cer­tainly am.

Years later, Swiss jour­nal­ist and en­tre­pre­neur Hans Tan­ner said, “There has been much mis­in­for­ma­tion on these cars de­spite their

for the car, which seems not much for a lot, and, de­spite his Ard­more dis­ap­point­ment, he won the Dunedin road race and took the Gold Star cham­pi­onship that sea­son. At Tere­tonga, Jensen was bril­liant, set­ting the fastest ever lap of the South­land track and beat­ing the newer Coop­ers of Mclaren and Brab­ham in qual­i­fy­ing.

He sold the car to Johnny Mansel and, while in Europe in 1958, ac­quired the Bira car, which had been sub­se­quently raced by Bruce Hal­ford. While it was in Italy, it was restyled to match the Buell Pic­co­los, but it lacked the five-speed gear­box and disc brakes fit­ted to the Amer­i­can’s Maser­atis. Medardo Fan­tuzzi, a mas­ter in alu­minium, worked for Maserati and re­built the bod­ies while Tan­ner de­signed the twin-nos­tril mod­i­fi­ca­tion for the first car and made even more changes with the sec­ond. Jensen said that his sec­ond 250F was def­i­nitely bet­ter than the Moss car, so the up­grades had been worth­while.

Guer­rino Ber­toc­chi was Maserati’s fa­mous chief me­chanic and a test driver whose skills matched those of the best driv­ers in the world. He was part of the Buell team to visit Auck­land for the 1959 GP, and, when one of the 250Fs needed some run­ning prior to Ard­more prac­tice, he did not see this as a prob­lem. The Maser­atis were sta­tioned at Ross Jensen’s work­shop in New­mar­ket, and Ber­toc­chi sim­ply drove the 250F out among the Auck­land traf­fic and south on the mo­tor­way to Ard­more. What a sight that must have been! Ber­toc­chi was not averse to boast­ing about his driv­ing tal­ents and said it was not Juan Manuel Fan­gio, Jean Marie Behra, or Moss who held the lap record test­ing at Mo­dena air­field four years run­ning but him­self. Ber­toc­chi had be­gun in mo­tor sport as a rid­ing me­chanic with Al­fieri Maserati in the 1926 Targa Flo­rio, and it was bizarre that he should die, in 1981, aged 75, not driv­ing but as a pas­sen­ger in a de To­maso Deauville four-door in a road ac­ci­dent with a truck in north­ern Italy.

Strug­gling

By 1959, the Maser­atis were clearly strug­gling to keep up with the rear-en­gined Coop­ers. Moss set a lap record of 1min 24.8s on his win­ning drive with a Cooper in the fifth New Zealand GP, while Schell’s 250F made 1min 27s and the 250Fs of both Jensen and Jo Bon­nier recorded 1min 27.1s. On Ard­more’s back straight, the Coop­ers were timed at an im­pres­sive 152mph (245kph) — al­most 32kph faster than the Ital­ian cars.

Jensen had clutch trou­ble in the 1959 New Zealand GP but was still first res­i­dent com­peti­tor home, in fifth place, as the third­placed Mclaren was classed as an over­seas driver. On Easter Mon­day the same year, Jensen fairly flew in the Bathurst 100-miler. Vet­eran writer and driver David Mckay re­ported that Ki­wis were not sup­posed to fly, but Jensen flew fast enough to beat Aus­tralia’s best. In fact, this was the first time a New Zealan­der had won a ma­jor Aus­tralian car race. “Mak­ing no mis­takes, Jensen put his Maserati in front on the fifth lap and kept it there, trounc­ing Aus­tralia’s top road-rac­ers by com­fort­able mar­gin,” Mckay said.

Soon af­ter, Jensen was hos­pi­tal­ized for weeks with pneu­mo­nia, and the car was sent back to Mo­dena, where he lost track of the 250F for sev­eral months. Af­ter Ard­more in 1959, Buell de­cided to give up rac­ing, as he rightly

Through­out his work­ing life, Peter Parkin­son saw his pro­fes­sion of teach­ing as nec­es­sary to en­able him to pur­sue his hob­bies of build­ing cars and travel. Most years, he would find work in South Is­land coun­try schools, then, once he had saved up enough money, he and his wife would set off on an­other world ad­ven­ture. As most coun­try towns did not have much of a nightlife, evenings would be spent in the shed build­ing cars. These were sold to help raise ad­di­tional funds for travel. The sys­tem worked well through­out his work­ing life, un­til, even­tu­ally, Peter re­tired with his wife, Mar­garet, to the quiet Can­ter­bury town of Ran­giora. With work no longer a dis­trac­tion, he was able to fully fo­cus on his hob­bies.

Re­tire­ment is also a time to re­flect on the past: for many men, one of their fond­est mem­o­ries is of their first car, es­pe­cially the times spent parked at the side of the road in the pour­ing rain with the bon­net up or un­der the car know­ing that the wife is in­side tap­ping the dash­board with her fin­ger­nails. For some un­fath­omable rea­son, in their twi­light years, men like to park the cause of those mem­o­ries in their garages again, this time in the form of an iden­ti­cal ‘clas­sic’ car.

Peter fell into this cat­e­gory when he de­cided to hunt down his first car — a task not too dif­fi­cult if your first was a Hum­ber 80, but Peter’s be­gan life with the aid of a bath­tub and his mum’s kitchen ta­ble.

De­sign and build

As an 18-year-old, Peter de­cided to de­sign and build his own car. He was cer­tain he could build a car lower than the 1016mm / 40 inches of the Ford GT40 and still cross rail­way lines with­out los­ing his ex­haust pipe or putting a hole in his trousers. To get the sizes right, ini­tial mea­sure­ments were made us­ing an old bath­tub — first, by lift­ing it up to at­tain the right ground clear­ance and, later, to work out a good re­clined seat­ing po­si­tion. The kitchen ta­ble was im­por­tant, be­cause, at only 914mm high, it be­came the roof of the car. This mock-up al­lowed Peter to ex­plore var­i­ous seat­ing po­si­tions, with a din­ner plate dou­bling as a steer­ing wheel. For­tu­nately, this was all watched over by a very un­der­stand­ing mum, who du­ti­fully took the mea­sure­ments.

An Aus­tralian car called the ‘Brolga’ was the in­spi­ra­tion for the project, now known as ‘Lucy’. In the early ’70s, while at­tend­ing Dunedin Teach­ers Col­lege, Peter pre­pared a full set of draw­ings of the car as a study of mo­bile art for an as­sign­ment he was given.

From the out­set, he de­cided that this car would be to­tally built by him­self, and the skills re­quired to build it would be learned as he went along. Most of the car was con­structed on the lawn out­side his mum’s house. As the house had no drive-on ac­cess, ev­ery­thing had to be car­ried up three flights of stairs. Once the chas­sis was mo­bile, it was car­ried down the stairs and driven up and down back roads to see what broke. If it didn’t break, it was deemed to be of good en­gi­neer­ing qual­ity.

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