‘YOGI’ LAID BARE

Rac­ers, fam­ily and friends re­mem­ber fan favourite and true blue Aussie Brian ‘Yogi’ Muir

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS PAUL NEWBY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AUS­TRALIAN MUS­CLE CAR/MUIR FAM­ILY COL­LEC­TION

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.

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