‘YOGI’ LAID BARE
Racers, family and friends remember fan favourite and true blue Aussie Brian ‘Yogi’ Muir
Meet the charismatic Antipodean ace who took British tin-top racing by storm
One of the wave of luminaries to make the trek from the Antipodes to Britain in search of racing success, ‘Yogi’ Muir – so named by fellow Aussie Frank Gardner – became a household name in his adopted country. But unlike Gardner, who battled hard to top the podium Down Under, Muir was largely forgotten at home, despite a stellar career in tin-tops that took him to 23 British Saloon Car Championship outright wins, along with victory in the hallowed Tourist Trophy at Silverstone in 1970. It was after competing in that same fixture exactly 35 years ago, however, that this unsung hero’s career came to an end in tragic circumstances.
Muir’s early forays were nearly as eventful. Growing up within sight of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the young Muir qualified as a marine engineer before setting out his stall selling Holdens. Circuit racing was still in its relative infancy in early post-war Australia so trials and hillclimbs drew in the teenager, who campaigned an Alvis 12/50 with some success. His press-on driving style thrilled the crowds, but eventually led to a serious crash as he rolled the Alvis, which was consumed by the ensuing blaze.
By 1958, the attraction of the track led to the purchase of an Austin A30, which proved his talent at Bathurst and Phillip Island and opened the door to a guest drive in an 1100cc Lotus Eleven, which ace mechanic Ray Eldershaw remembers well: “I looked at his practice times and he was dead last, then in the race he came fourth behind two Jaguars and a Maserati. I said, ‘What a big difference from yesterday,’ and he told me that he had gone to bed and done 2000 laps around Bathurst in his head! It was then that I realised he was pretty special.”
Eldershaw was called upon once more after Muir splashed out on the ex-ian Geoghegan ‘Humpy’ Holden 48-215, which the trusted mechanic fitted with a 140bhp engine that put Muir toe-to-toe with the best Holden racers of the day. Despite proving competitive, his time in the car was curtailed by a job offer and he travelled to England to work for Jack Brabham – then in his fourth Formula One season and on the cusp of his first title in 1959.
Muir never strayed too far from his roots, however, and the lure of big bangers proved too great. After crossing paths with fellow expat Paul Hawkins, he moved to Willment Automotive, which was making a name for itself with Ford Cortinas and Galaxies both in the BSCC and on the other side of the Atlantic. Sadly the move didn’t pay off, and after an unsuccessful drive he returned to his homeland on the promise of a leg-up from one of the country’s top teams.
David Mckay, mercurial owner of Sydneybased Scuderia Veloce, had a keen eye for talent and brought Muir back from Blighty to pilot the Holden EH S4 alongside promising youngster Spencer Martin in the 1963 Bathurst 500. In his element, and with tacit factory support, Muir’s Holden was leading until breaking its propshaft. In a cruel twist of fate the battle between Ford and the homegrown Holdens was won by Bob Jane and Harry Firth at the wheel of a Cortina GT. Muir stuck with the S4, by then painted red and fitted with a stroked, Eldershaw-built 225bhp 3.4-litre ‘six’, for the following season. The ’64 Australian Touring Car Championship – then just a single round – was in his pocket until mechanical maladies again put paid to his race, blowing a tyre and with it his chance of victory.
The lure of the BSCC beckoned once more when Muir won the Klg/smith Industrial Driver to Europe scholarship. At the grand old age of 34 , and with £1000 in his pocket, he left in July 1965 for another crack at the British racing scene. At first there were no drives available, but then Jack Sears retired and Frank Gardner defected to Alan Mann Racing. The Willment team’s monstrous Galaxie suited Muir’s driving style as he once again became a crowd favourite, until brake failure at Oulton Park – while leading a certain Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina – resulted in another spectacular crash. The Ford V8-powered Lotus 30 was a less comfortable home for the Aussie, who wasn’t built for lithe sports-racers, yet his deft handing of the notoriously tricky 30 brought him to the attention of Ford’s Le Mans programme.
Despite being on the Blue Oval’s radar he was never expected to race, and had instead booked
‘Muir must have pinched himself when Alan Mann Racing traced him to a Middlesex garage and flew him directly to La Sarthe’
a driving test needed for his RAC Competition Licence. Muir must have pinched himself when Alan Mann Racing tracked him down to a Middlesex garage before flying him directly to La Sarthe for qualifying. Dr Dick Thompson, Graham Hill’s co-driver in the 7-litre GT40, had fallen foul of French officials, leading to the vacancy, but Muir’s luck didn’t last. After 110 laps the pair were forced to retire with suspension problems, becoming a footnote in history to Ford’s famous GT40 1-2-3.
By the end of 1966, Willment had closed and Muir swapped the big Galaxie for Gawaine Baillie’s temperamental supercharged Falcon Sprint. A frustrating season watching Gardner storm home to his first BSCC title was interrupted by a return to Le Mans, this time with Jacky Ickx in the experimental – and unreliable – Mirage M1. Engine failure called time on their race, but Muir was back a year later with fellow tin-top ace Jackie Oliver. After so many mechanical failures at the top table, it was a blow for the enthusiastic racer to misjudge a pass at the end of the Mulsanne and bunker their GT40 in the sand.
Away from Le Mans, Muir once again took up the cudgels in the BSCC, this time in a Falcon Sprint prepared by Bill Shaw Racing. The Aussie managed five outright wins but was again foiled by compatriot Gardner, who made a late charge in his Alan Mann Escort to take the title. Muir raced in Australia, too, heading home for the Bathurst 500 just a week after his failure at La Sarthe. The new Holden Dealer Racing Team provided the drive, showcasing the 327cu in Holden Monaros. Again the machine gave out before the man, this time with brake problems affecting all of the cars, with Muir and co-driver George Reynolds eventually finishing fifth.