These 10 Period Race Shop Photos Have Just Been Unearthed
Written by Doug Nye // Photography courtesy of The Revs Institute
Back in 1963 I found my way (with a huge slice of luck) into doing what I still do today – 53 years later – by writing to a British motor racing magazine. I guess some guys just get stuck in a rut. That magazine was a weekly named ‘Autosport’ which is still published today. At that time it was still being edited by its Scottish ex-military founder, a real character named Gregor Grant.
Dear old Gregor took the time to respond to my schoolboy letter in which I’d asked if they might have a situation vacant on ‘Autosport’. He told me that they hadn’t but he believed that there was one on ‘Motor Racing’, which was a monthly publication based in a portable building in the canteen car park at Brands Hatch race circuit.
So I bought a copy, found the address and wrote to them, explaining that I had just turned 18, I was still at school but dead keen to get into the racing world. I explained that I read all the magazines, had committed great chunks of racing history to memory, I was full of all the fancy words – pronouns, adverbs, prepositions – and despite being just a kid from what I guess Americans would call ‘the projects’, I was actually quite a polite, friendly and house-trained kind of chap.
Somehow – despite actually meeting me in my interview at Brands Hatch – the guys at ‘Motor Racing’ took me on. Within about three weeks of writing that second letter I was out of Grammar School, their plans for me to go to university lay in tatters, and instead I was happy as a pig in the proverbial working in the motor racing world. Well, nearly.
In fact the Brands Hatch-based publishing company that owned ‘Motor Racing’ didn’t have a vacancy so much on that magazine as on another periodical they published. It was called ‘Airfix Magazine’ and it was produced monthly for the British Airfix plastic-kit company, a kind of English rival to Revell, Monogram, the American giants in that area.
I’d been eagerly gluing together, painting and finishing airplane, ship and racing car models for a good ten years by that time. In all modesty I had got pretty good at it. I still have some of those models today. But Wow! Now someone was actually paying me to do that, to pursue one absorbing hobby, while just outside the office walls was a race paddock full of – nnnnnhhhh! My other great, absorbing interest – real, live, race cars…
I was absolutely fit to bust. Living my dream. One of ‘Motor Racing’s editors was a super bloke named John Blunsden. He not only wrote for our own British magazine, he was also European Editor for ‘Sports Car Graphic’ and his name was well-known in the US. ‘Blunders’ would subsequently build up his Motor Racing Publications company, and would later publish many books by me, he’s still around and I have the most tremendous respect for him still.
I hadn’t been working there for very long when John asked me if I’d like to tag along with him to a press reception that was being held in the BRM team’s Formula 1 ’shop at Bourne in Lincolnshire.
I was so excited, I cannot tell you. I think he had a Ford Granada test car – in retrospect a pretty quick and comfy thing with a kind of knife-blade nose profile. John had been a race driver, he was a most talented driver, in fact, we hurtled up the 150 miles or so to Bourne in quick time. I just thought it was all terrific.
As we drove into Bourne I knew that this was where the ERA ‘Old English Upright’ race cars had been built before the Second World War. I knew that the initials ERA stood for ‘English Racing Automobile’. I also knew that the BRM – ‘British Racing Motor’ – project and its wonderful Grand Prix cars had descended from the ERA program post-World War 2.
At that time BRM had just lost the Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championship that they had won in 1962, when its No 1 driver Graham Hill had also won the Drivers’ Championship title. With American team-mate Richie Ginther he had more recently battled with Jimmy Clark’s Lotuses all the long way through 1963. I was going to see where these great heroes were based, first hand.
We drew into the BRM factory yard at Bourne, and suddenly here was a man in mechanics’ overalls tapping on my passenger-side window. I wound it down and he just said “Hallo Chris! Nice to see you mate”. That puzzled the hell out of me.
Dear old John burst out laughing. At that time Chris Amon – who was the new young kid on the block in Formula 1 – and I were facial doubles. The fact that I was about half a foot taller and a whole foot wider wasn’t apparent with me seated in that Ford Granada. Anyway, I was simultaneously embarrassed, pleased and flattered.
Then I spent the rest of that day just totally open-mouthed, looking at stripped-out BRM Grand Prix cars, including ‘Old Faithful’ now preserved in the Revs Institute Museum in Naples, FL. I was shown BRM V8 Formula 1 engines, Lucas fuel injection with its famous ‘bomb’ high-pressure fuel pump, racing springs, shocks, disc brake calipers and rotors, I looked at gearboxes, and was shown the inside of gearboxes, and the insides of the engines. I gazed into the car cockpits where Graham and Richie had done their heroic jobs, and I just marveled at everything the engineers and team mechanics told us. I absolutely loved it. I have absolutely loved it ever since, and it left me with a real taste and appetite for proper race teams’ proper workshops – where the real work gets done.
In later years I would troll around Ferrari, and Renault Sport, and Alpine at Dieppe, around McLaren, first at Colnbrook under the London Heathrow Airport approach path and then in Woking, Surrey – both their facilities there – and Williams at Didcot – ditto – and at Wantage. I saw how they went about their work at Maranello, at Autodelta Alfa Romeo, at Porsche, at Sauber, at AMG-Mercedes – and I have never come away empty-handed, without learning so much that was intriguing, interesting, fascinating and new.
Which gets me round – at last regular readers might grimace – to the point of this particular blog. Just dial-up the Revs Digital Library, and trawl through there for what you might find in the way of privileged insider-access to the race team workshops of the world – such as the samples we have selected for you right here… There is so much to see, so much to savor, and much of it you cannot find anywhere else these days. It is, as I keep on insisting here…a truly fabulous, informative, resource.