Searching for those elusive photos

November 23rd, 2014

When one thinks about the size of the crowds that used to attend motor races in the 1960s, I still find it amazing that it is so hard to find period photos of even the most noteworthy cars that were racing.

This is particularly an issue with the lower formulae. At the moment, I am researching Lotus Formula Junior racing cars from the early 1960s, specifically the Lotus 27, which was a monocoque car raced by the works-supported Ron Harris Team Lotus equipe, with drivers including Pete Arundell, Mike Spence and John Fenning.

A monocoque in a lower formula such as Formula Junior was quite revolutionary. In fact, it didn’t catch on because if you were a privateer owner, and you dinged your car while racing in Europe, it was very difficult to repair a monocoque tub compared to a spaceframe chassis, where cutting out damaged tubes and putting in new ones was a relatively straightforward task.

Additionally, the early versions of the car proved a bit of a handful. The side skins of the tub were made of fibreglass rather than the more traditional aluminium, and it turned out that they flexed under load, particularly under braking, making for some unpredictable handling. The car really only came right when they discarded the fibreglass skins and went back to aluminium.

Anyway, back to photos. In total, the Ron Harris Team Lotus team used five cars during the 1963 season. Usually, they ran three drivers, and one of the chassis was only delivered very late in the year, so most of the time they had four cars between them, with one acting as a spare, maybe for the team leader, Pete Arundell.

What is particularly tricky is trying to work out which chassis was used by which driver. I have been trying to do this through analysing photos of the cars at each race but boy is it difficult! Firstly, the photos need to be of sufficient quality to be able to see certain features. At the very basic level that means being able to see if it has fibreglass or aluminium sides, as that narrows down which car it could be a little. At a more detailed level, hopefully this means that one can see the rivet patterns on the side of the car, so that individual characteristics of each car can be identified.

To say I’ve had mixed success with this would be an understatement. Even trying to find out at which race the first aluminium-sided car made its appearance has proved difficult: some say it was the International Trophy meeting at Silverstone on 11th May 1963, with Pete Arundell driving, others say it was the Grand Prix de Monaco Junior on May 25th. Unfortunately, the only good photo I can find from the International Trophy meeting is of Mike Spence, and he is still driving a fibreglass-sided car…

The two photos I have from the Monaco meeting show Arundell driving a fibreglass-sided car. One, taken in the first heat, has Spence behind him, also in a fibreglass-sided car and the other, which could have been taken in practice, also clearly shows the distinctive oval cut-outs of a fibreglass-sided car. Yet the Motor Sport report, written by none other than John Bolster, reports that the problems with the car had been solved now that it had aluminium sides!

I don’t have any photos of the next race for Arundell, at Mallory Park on 2nd June but the following day a race took place at Crystal Palace, and photos show all three Ron Harris Team Lotus cars to be fibreglass-sided… There was quite a gap to the next race at Rouen-les-Essarts in France on 23rd June and for that I have the evidence from a super piece of film from archivesenligne.fr that both Spence and Arundell raced aluminium-sided cars.

What I really need is a couple more really clear photos of Arundell during the final of the Monaco Junior race. If anyone knows where to find such shots, please contact me!

After that, what I am looking for are really clear side-on shots of the Ron Harris Team Lotus cars, especially Arundell’s. Preferably taken while the cars are stationary in the paddock or on the grid, as this gives the best clarity to be able to count rivets!

Here’s a summary of the meetings I am looking for photos from (all 1963):

Aintree, 27th April
Silverstone, 11th May (Arundell only)
Monaco, 25th May
Mallory Park, 2nd June
Reims, 30th June
Clermont-Ferrand, 7th July
Zolder, 25th August
Zandvoort, 1st September
Albi, 9th September
Brands Hatch, 14th September (Deserti only)
Nurburgring, 29th September

In the meantime, I will keep looking, and also trying to trace the histories of these cars post-1963. At the moment, I have a fairly good idea of this, it is just that I cannot pin specific histories to specific chassis. I can narrow it down a little, but I can’t say for sure…yet. I live in hope.

Beyond reasonable doubt (cont)

June 26th, 2011

Well, it’s been rather a long time since I updated this blog! No excuses really, other than laziness. However, I do have some interesting news on my previous post, four years on.

After having run out of all my other options, a couple of years ago I did the thing that I should have done in the first instance – called The Star picture desk directly. To my utter amazement, when I enquired whether they still had the negative in their archives, they came back to me a few days later by email to say that they did indeed have it. Not bad for a photo which appeared in a late edition of an evening newspaper 35 years ago! They announced that they could provide it to me but at a cost. When I worked out the fee they were asking, it was several hundred pounds. I explained that the photo was just for reserach purposes and wouldn’t be published but they were not prepared to budget on the fee. Now I’m never keen on paying large amounts for photos, particularly when the book they would have appeared in has already been published, so it would be largely to satisfy my own curiosity and I just felt I couldn’t justify the amount. So, regrettably, with the answer tantalisingly within my grasp, I left it.

Fast forward to the summer of 2010. Out of the blue, I received a phone call from someone in South Africa, asking me some questions about a subject I can’t reveal the details of unfortunately. I was able to help them with some detailed information and, after one or two bits of email correspondence, my contact made a comment to the effect of ‘if there is anything I can do in return for you, just let me know’.

Well, I took him at his word and explained my conundrum. My contact explained that he had some contacts at The Star and he would ‘see what he could do’. A few months passed and then in May 2011 I received an email from him saying that progress had been made and that The Star were prepared to give me the photo, as long as it wasn’t for publication. A few more weeks passed and my contact came back to me to say that they couldn’t scan the negative as their negative scanner was broken.

Currently, the only way it could be scanned is if he borrows or rents a negative scanner, takes it in and does it himself, as they won’t let the negative off the premises. So near, yet so far! As he is doing me a favour, I just have to trust in my contact and leave it to him but I am absolute tenterhooks as to what the answer will be. Apparently there are other photos (unpublished) in the sequence, which may also help to shed further light on the identity of the crashed Lotus 72, after 37 years, and finally put it beyond reasonable doubt.

Beyond reasonable doubt?

October 18th, 2007

One of the aspects of my research into the history of different types and marques of racing car that frustrates me is that it is sometimes difficult to establish the provenance of a particular car beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, you find yourself writing something like “it is my belief that…” or “the most plausible explanation for this is that…”

Now, I’ve never really found that to be a particularly satisfactory state of affairs, therefore what I tend to do is write that as a ‘holding position’ (e.g. when a book deadline is looming and I have to go with something) but keep on researching, quite often long after the book has been published.

An example would be Lotus 49 chassis number 12. This was a show car delivered to Ford in 1969. The car never raced (as chassis 49/12) and was later donated by Ford to Tom Wheatcroft’s Donington Collection, where it remains to this day.

The car always puzzled me, since it incorporated elements of several distinct specifications of 49. When it first appeared, it had a ZF gearbox with ‘fir tree’ suspension mountings (e.g. Mk 1 specification), a saddle oil tank with cooler over the gearbox, a high wing, a ‘paper clip-style’ driver roll-over bar, a nose cone with NACA exit ducts (all 49B spec) and deep ‘Tasman style’ cutouts in the tub for the forward mounting of the lower rear radius arms (1969 49T spec).

My conclusion was that this car had been built at the same time – and using the same jigs – as the cars for the 1969 Tasman series. Chassis numbers 49/8 and 49/9 were built with high wings, ZF boxs and deep cutouts in the tub for the radius arms, although the oil tank was still in the nose in the style of the Mk 1 49s.

I concluded that it was extremely unlikely that Team Lotus, already extremely pressed to prepare two racing cars for the Tasman series, would have built an entirely new car just for show purposes and that they would have used an existing, damaged car as a starting point if at all possible.

In fact, this is precisely what they did with chassis 1, crashed heavily by Jackie Oliver at the 1968 Monaco GP. This was rebuilt to 1969 49T spec for Jochen Rindt to use in the Tasman series and renumbered as 49/9. However, it seems that its sister car, 49/8, was built from new.

Only one other car remained unaccounted for, chassis 49/6, which had also been crashed heavily by Oliver, in practice for the 1968 French Grand Prix at Rouen-les-Essarts, when his rear wing collapsed. I surmised that the fabricators would have salvaged as much as possible from this car, then re-skinned it using the same jigs as used for the Tasman cars, but retaining features such as the 1968 roll-over bar as that was what was on the car. I have never been able to conclusively prove this but I think this is the most plausible explanation. If anyone has any information which could help me prove this, I’d love to hear it but I suspect I will never be able to.

A similar situation exists with the Lotus 72s. After doing sterling service for the works team, a pair of 72s were sold to Team Gunston in South Africa, for them to race in the domestic Formula 1 Championship which ran in that country until the mid-1970s.

The cars, chassis numbers 72/6 and 72/6, were delivered to the team for the start of the 1974 season. In 1974 – according to race-by-race engineering records I have copies of – Ian Scheckter (brother of Jody) drove 72/6 and ex-motorcycle racer Paddy Driver 72/7. For 1975, the driver line-up changed and Eddie Keizan took over the position of team leader at the wheel of 72/6 and Guy Tunmer joined the team to drive 72/7. These chassis numbers are also verified by period race reports in both Motor Sport and Autosport (1975 South African Grand Prix), as well as the engineering records for 1975.

Towards the end of the domestic season, Tunmer had a huge crash at Kyalami during private testing prior to the Rand Winter Trophy. His car was so badly damaged that it had to be completely stripped down and the bare tub sent back to Team Lotus in the UK for repair. The strip-down was carried out by a Team Gunston mechanic and I have a photo of the car after it had been completed. However, that mechanic contends that he kept the chassis plate off the car and still has it to this day and that it says 72/6. He has sent me a photo to prove it and it does indeed show 72/6 not 72/7. So what is the possible explanation?

Could they have swapped cars during the test?: This I felt was the most likely explanation. However, I checked with all the surviving Team Gunston mechanics and they said that, to the best of their recollection, the drivers never swapped cars. Additionally, when I showed the photo of the stripped tub to one of the former Team Lotus mechanics who worked on 72/6, he said that it definitely wasn’t an ex-Peterson car as it would have featured an extended cut-out in the cockpit sides to accommodate his extra-long forearm and this tub didn’t. Finally, albeit much more tenuous, the words ‘Fittipaldi was here’ were scrawled in black felt tip pen on the inside of the cockpit by some wag. Fittipaldi never raced 72/6, only 72/7, so why would somebody write that on a car he never drove?

Could the mechanic have removed the chassis plate from 72/6 at the end of the 1975 season, rather than when he stripped down 72/7 for rebuilding?: This I regard as the most likely explanation, since the F1 cars were rendered obsolete at the end of that season due to the Championship switching to Formula Atlantic regulations from 1976 onwards. I am sure it is plausible that the mechanic who had worked all year, maybe for two years, on that car would remove the chassis plate as a ‘keepsake’ to remind him of his time with it. This theory is supported by the fact that, when 72/6 was repatriated into the UK in the early 1980s, it came minus its chassis plate and the new owner had to have a new plate made up.

As far as I am concerned, the key to identifying the car conclusively lies in a photo I was shown by the late Eddie Pinto, ex-chief mechanic of Team Gunston. It was actually a newspaper clipping in his photo album, reporting the Tunmer crash and that the car was badly damaged and Tunmer would be unable to race in the Rand Winter Trophy. Crucially, it showed the front of the car with the nose off.

Having conducted extensive research into the characteristics of each car, I can now identify them by the rivet patterns on the front footbox. Unfortunately, the copy I have is a scan of a newspaper article, therefore it is not distinct/clear enough to see the rivets. If I could get an original copy of the photo, I would perhaps be able to look at it through a magnifying glass or get it blown up to see the rivet patterns. Unfortunately, no photographer was credited by the newspaper, so all I know is that the photograph appeared in The Star, July 24th 1975.

I have tried everything I know to track this photo down. I have asked all my contacts in South Africa but to no avail. It was suggested to me that the British Newspaper Library in Colindale would hold a copy and, indeed, they do but only on microfilm and the microfilming of the original newspaper is even poorer than my photocopy! The name of Barry Curtis has been suggested to me and I have tried to track him down via the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists but they have lost touch with him and internet searches of phone books have yielded no results.

The name of Alton Berns (Burns?) was also suggested. His photo archive was sold to a company back in the 1990s but this company subsequently went into liquidation and – so the story goes – somebody clearing out the offices of the company in the wake of the liquidation threw all the old photos and negatives into a skip. If true, this is criminal and a terrible loss to South African motor sport history.

So I’ve reached a bit of a dead-end. Barry Curtis, if you are alive and out there, I would dearly love to make contact with you. Or if anyone has any idea about who could have taken that photo, I would love to hear from them – all avenues and possibilities explored. It really would be good to prove that Tunmer was in 72/7, and to clear up this little mystery that has been bugging me for years, beyond reasonable doubt.

A Lotus museum?

June 5th, 2007

You know that saying “one thing leads to another”? Well, as part of my research into Lotus 19s (an ongoing project, not sure how that is going to pan out!) I was trying to track down a driver called John Scott-Davies, who had raced a 19 at some point in the 1960s.

Flicking through a copy of the Historic Lotus Register’s regular magazine, I noticed that a John Scott-Davies was listed as handling advertising sales for the magazine. Further into the magazine, there was a piece about the same person planning a museum about Lotus and Colin Chapman in London.

Bingo, I thought, it had to be the same guy, too much of a coincidence for it not to be, surely? So I picked up the phone and asked him if he was ‘my’ John Scott-Davies, only to find out that he wasn’t the one I was looking for…he was too young!

However, the conversation continued and he mentioned that he was planning a public meeting to actually set up the organisation which would plan, develop and run the museum and would I like to come along to the meeting?

Four or five days later, a small group of around 15-20 people assembed in The Wishing Well pub in Tottenham Lane, Hornsey, formerly a pub called The Railway Hotel which was owned and run by Stanley Chapman, father of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. The meeting duly took place, to the background of a gushing fountain feeding into a large indoor fish pond, which made hearing things a bit tricky!

It turns out that the original stable block which was the place where many of the early Lotus cars were constructed, still survives intact, as does the Lotus 11 assembly shop and stores built a little later and indeed the extension with showroom at the front of the building where the (at the time) revolutionary new Elite was displayed for a short time.

John had obtained planning permission to convert the buildings to a museum from Haringey Council and apparently, the current occupiers of the site, the builders’ merchants Jewsons, had showed some interest in the project.

I could see that the proposed museum could have some very useful synergies with what I want to do with my motor racing history research (particularly building up a Team Lotus archive). The museum intends to have some kind of archive and this is something which I think I would be well suited to run, or at least have some kind of involvement in, having started my working life employed by a business information library and with my knowledge of Lotus history generally.

I volunteered to become a trustee of the charitable company which would be established following the meeting to take the project forward. Since then, we have visited the site, held regular trustees meetings and John Scott-Davies, now the group’s President, has given a talk on Lotus history at the Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham. I have designed a logo, we have now been incorporated as a company and are pursuing charitable status and we are preparing a business plan, looking into possible funding routes and investigating possible site acquisition or leasing.

In addition, a website (www.colinchapmanmuseum.org.uk) has been established to provide a worldwide channel for information about the progress of the project.

So from one phone call about Lotus 19s, I  have ended up being a trustee of a museum project and I have to say I am enjoying it, although it is clear that there are many obstacles still standing in our way if this project is to become reality. Be sure to check this site and the museum site to see how we are getting on! And I’m still looking for ‘my’ John Scott-Davies, so if you are out there, I’d love to hear from you!

Following the dream

April 6th, 2007

A while back my wife Gill and I spent some time in the company of a very friendly couple, Peter and Sjoukje (pronounced Show-keeya) Argetsinger. Peter is one of three sons of Cameron Argetsinger, the man responsible for getting racing going in Watkins Glen in the US, firstly on a road course and later at a purpose-built facility which went on to host the US Grand Prix on numerous occasions and still does host major events such as Nascar and the IRL. 

The Argetsinger dynasty continues to be a much respected one in the world of motor racing, even though they are no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of Watkins Glen. Nowadays, much of their attention is focused on the International Motor Racing Research Centre (IMRRC), a wonderful library and archive located in Watkins Glen itself which houses a treasure trove of motor racing information and memorabilia of great value to people like me who research and write about the history of motor racing. Cameron is the President of the IMRRC, his wife Jean is on the Council, eldest son J.C. (who is a judge) is the Secretary and middle son and author Michael is on the Council too. Youngest son Peter, who is a racing school instructor, is not on the Council but is still a keen supporter of the project. 

I was asked to go over to the IMRRC and give a talk on the Lotus 49, a subject I am pretty familiar with due to my book, published in 1999. The Centre had the actual 1969 US Grand Prix-winning Lotus 49B, which was driven by the late Jochen Rindt, on display and wanted to put on an event themed around the car and its winning exploits 35 years before. Peter and Sjoukje were charged with making us feel welcome during our (short) stay in the Finger Lakes region. On the first night we went out for a lovely meal with them, the local wine being a real eye-opener, having already spent a fabulous time earlier in the evening down on the jetty of the Family’s lakeside holiday home, sipping wine and getting to know our hosts. 

After my presentation the next day (which I think went well although it did last slightly longer than I had planned!), we went for a meal at J.C.’s club in Elmira and spent a lovely evening in the company of the Argetsinger family, the Lotus 49’s new owner Joe Willenpart, and other family friends including Ferrari admirer Paul Medici. It was a pleasure to be able to talk with Cameron and hear his reminiscences about racing at Watkins Glen and some of the stories about the many characters (including all the top drivers) that he met in his capacity as boss of the Watkins Glen circuit. 

The next day, Michael took me round the old Watkins Glen road circuit, while Gill and Sjoukje went out for a spot of shopping. The old ‘Glen’ was a real man’s circuit, with fast sections, bumpy sections, twisty sections and a fabulous, seemingly never-ending curve towards the end of the lap to test the ‘cojones’ of the drivers. All too soon it was time to leave and head back, via Niagara Falls, to Toronto and our flight home the next day.

On the way back, Gill and I chatted about our morning’s adventures and she told me that she had enjoyed a great conversation with Sjoukje about following your dreams, even if at first sight there didn’t seem to be any financial reason (indeed often the opposite!) for doing so. Sjoukje said that if you followed your passion, the work and money would eventually follow you.  Well, it has taken several years for me to finally embrace this way of thinking but I have taken the decision to focus more on my passion, Lotus racing cars, and follow my dream. 

And it is funny how things have already started falling into place! I’ve recently become involved as a Trustee for a charitable company which plans to develop a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus, and I’m also working on several Lotus-related research projects, which may end up becoming books.  At the same time, I am trying to develop a Team Lotus archive, in order to preserve the memories, diaries, photos and memorabilia of former Team Lotus personnel for future generations and I suspect that this will provide me with many more ideas for features and books in the months and years to come. Out of the blue, last weekend I had two added bonuses: firstly, someone I met at the Race Retro show at Stoneleigh gave me four boxes of slides of racing in the 1960s at the Pacific Raceways circuit at Kent, near Seattle; secondly, I was able to pick up a big pile of Lotus World magazines from the 1980s which, as well as including contemporary race reports, had a sizeable historic content, including old photos and interviews with people associated with the earlier days of Team Lotus. I was also able to find a specific edition I had been looking for which included a photo of a car I have been researching, the first such photo I have ever seen.  Lastly, I’ve had two conversations in the past week with people who want to use me to research the history of old Lotus racing cars, based on my previous record in this area.  So it seems that Sjoukje was right. I am following my passion and certainly the work appears to be coming!