The press office at the Classic Motor Show (expertly run as always by Andrea Seed and her Poppyseed Media crew) was somewhat quieter than usual. For the first time for as long as I can remember Barrie Williams was not there, the incomparable ‘Whizzo’ having passed away a few weeks before at the age of 79. He wasn’t a writer, but his witty tales and supreme car knowledge were always welcome amongst the journos.
Everybody loved Whizzo, not just for his uncontrollable laugh but also for his mastery of anything on four wheels, including Porsche. Somebody has said that he ‘usually managed to find a Porsche drive whenever there was a GT race in the UK’ but most notably he won the top class in the Porsche Club Championship with a 911 in both 1989 and 1990, took podiums in a brace of 1000kms races and in 1998 – with Max Beaverbrook and Geoff Lister – took the BVB Racing 911 GT2 to overall victory in the Paul Ricard 4 Hours round of the GTR Euroseries.
After racing for his father’s Fastakart team he graduated to driving a tuned Austin A40 (the 1950s one!) in sprints and hillclimbs before making his track debut in a Morris Minor 1000. His successes in the Morris got him a ‘works’ drive with Gloucestershire wine grower Alan Mckechnie, in Formula 3 Cooper, V8-powered Anglia and a Lotus Cortina. Happy in all disciplines, he won the 1963 Welsh Rally in his own 1071cc Mini Cooper S – the first international victory for the model.
The '70s and '80s were busiest for Whizzo. Interviewed for the long defunct Retro Cars magazine he told me: ‘One year I was driving in the British Touring Car Championship with Mazda, in the Production Car Championship in a Vauxhall, and racing my own car in the Escort Mexico Championship. I also went rallying, I was a busy boy’.
Barrie's efforts in the rotary-engine Mazda RX3 in the ’75 British Grand Prix support race earned him a trip to race in Barbados: ‘The event was organised by the Barbados Rally Club. Alec Poole, Derek Mcmahon and I drove a Mini Moke into the open-air bar, someone pulled the handbrake on, and we all fell out onto the dance floor’. I can vouch for that Whizzo story; I was amongst the crowd in the bar.
Whizzo raced or rallied almost anything he could get his hands on. In recent years his record and his personality made him favourite to pilot what are best described as ‘significant’ cars at top-level revival meetings such as Goodwood. ‘Significant’ owners were happy that he could win, and bring their car back without a scratch on it. ERA, Connaught, Tojeiro Jaguar, BRM, AC Cobra, his trademark orange helmet found a place in all the greats.
I’ll miss my press room chats with Whizzo.
Barry ‘Whizzo’ Williams a hugely talented club racing force of nature, whose skill behind the wheel was matched by his ability to entertain away from the driver’s seat