The Scarf & Goggles Awards

A whiff of the original Scarf & Goggles made a return to Silverstone this summer, in the form of a small but perfectly formed bar set on the Village Green at the Silverstone Classic.

The Scarf and Goggles bar at the 2015 Silverstone Classic

This year’s running of the event carried with it a celebration of 25 years since Silverstone first premiered its International Historic Festival, the first event of its kind in Britain that brought together marque clubs, autojumbles, live music and period family entertainment from the 1920s-1960s to support a full race card of historic action.

Today, the world is a very different place. The old Festival went into hiatus during the dark days of Octagon’s reign at Silverstone, during which time the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival meetings kicked into high gear and ensured an unprecedented level of success.

In 2015, the classic racers gathering for Silverstone's festival are of a later generation

In 2015, the classic racers gathering for Silverstone’s festival are of a later generation

As a result of this, when Nick Wigley and the guys and girls of Goose reimagined Silverstone’s original prestige event as the Classic, they sought to get away from Goodwood’s cast iron grip on all things tweed and British Racing Green. Thus the Silverstone infield now throngs with Nissan Skylines and 1980s BMWs rather than Aston Martin Ulsters and Bugattis – but it is indeed a thriving place, dedicated towards the finer things of the past 40 years.

Of course it is rather galling to see the cars with which one’s own career has been associated being shown off like brachiosaurus bones to an incredulous new generation. “This is a Vauxhall Vectra BTCC car, son,” said a chap near me in the paddock. “Years ago, John Cleland and the BTCC were the best things ever…”

Internally the S&G was screaming: Arrrrgh! Hold on! There’s JC over there and he hasn’t aged a day since 1999. Which was only five minutes ago, wasn’t it?

Oh well… Despite being made to feel rather venerable, there was some cracking racing to enjoy, not least from the Sixties GTs. A four-way duel for the lead in Saturday’s race between a TVR, a Cobra and two Jaguar E-Types boiled down to a ripping tussle between the Cobra and the faster Jag, the former boiling out of every corner on opposite lock while the ladylike E-Type darted around daintily looking for a way past.

The racing highlight was this duel for classic GT glory

The headline event was an hour-long race for Group C cars, running at dusk for maximum headlight glare and exhaust gas flare. The entry was a little thinner than hoped – it seems that the cost of running these 240mph beasts is becoming a burden – but the quality was superb, with the early race battle between the F1-powered Jaguar XJR-14 and the turbocharged Nissan R91CK being worth the entry fee alone.

Glorious Group Cs remain the crowd favourite

Your scribe’s vote for car of the day went to the unique EMKA Aston Martin, vintage 1985 and driven in period by a young Tiff Needell (actually, scratch that… Tiff was never young!)

However, the inaugural Scarf & Goggles Award for the Most Admired Car at the event, named after and presented by Stuart Graham, who created the racing spectacle of the Historic Festival 25 years ago, went elsewhere. It was deservedly claimed by the unique 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO ‘Breadvan’ owned by Martin Halusa and raced in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy for Historic Cars by his sons Niklas and Lukas.

Nick Wigley (centre) flanked by Janet Garton and Stuart Graham as they prepare to award the inaugural Scarf & Goggles awards

The second Scarf & Goggles Award was for the best off-track attraction or entertainment and named after my father, Mervyn Garton.

After some to-ing and fro-ing on the judging panel between a number of marque clubs, this was eventually presented by my mother to the RAF Benevolent Fund. These chaps built a unique display of a full-sized replica Spitfire that they spent all day sitting people in and describing life in World War 2, plus a host of vehicles that are lovingly tended by the team in their off-duty hours.

As a display, the RAFBF completely embodied the sort of attraction that Dad sought to bring to the event. They are a credit to the RAF and to the men and women their efforts do so much to support in their hours of need.

The winners who created the RAF Benevolent Fund area pose with their deservedly-won trophy

It was a wonderful and nostalgic event, with its future becoming increasingly clear. Status Quo was the headline act onstage this year but the possibilities are limitless – Haircut 100, Matt Bianco, Sade and the Happy Mondays among them. There could be Soda Stream bars and a video rental shop servicing the campsites, offering VHS or Betamax versions of favourite movies like Crocodile Dundee and Pretty Woman for adults and He-Man for the kids.

Personally I’d add a 1978-1988 invitational Formula Ford race for good measure, Pat Sharp’s Funhouse live action TV show on the Village Green and a New Romantic ballroom on Saturday night.

A very fetching MG Metro - typical of the new generation of classics drawn to Silverstone

A very fetching MG Metro – typical of the new generation of classics drawn to Silverstone

Goodwood may well have mopped up the 1940s to 1960s, but if you are someone who sighs wistfully for lurid Benetton polo shirts, stonewashed jeans, mechanics with mullet hairdos and the days when British Touring Cars gave F1 a run for its money then the Silverstone Classic is an unmissable occasion.

Here’s to 2016…

Working with a racing legend

There are very few times in one’s life when the opportunity arises to say: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the seven times world motorcycle racing champion and 1964 Formula One world champion, John Surtees.”

But that is exactly what happened at Goodwood last month.

Big John‘ and self were engaged by Shell to bring the Revival to life for its guests and to mark the restoration of the Shell Classic X-100 motor oil as a brand. Not only is Shell bringing back an icon of the 1950s and 1960s to the shelves of your local retailer, but with every can sold it is raising money for one of the best causes out there – the Henry Surtees Foundation.

At Brands Hatch in 2009, a promising and personable young racer, Henry Surtees, was killed. Your scribe was at Manston that day, but had been at Brands Hatch the day before, when I was introduced to Henry by a mutual friend and was deeply impressed by his wit and easy confidence. When the news came over the radio that he had been lost, I was not alone in feeling his loss very sharply indeed, even after such a short meeting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I first met Henry’s celebrated father, when he was among the champions who had gathered in Bahrain to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Formula One world championship. His early arrival and eager presence around the paddock – accompanied at every turn by the stalwart artist, Michael Turner – became a welcome feature of the weekend.

Then came the matter of climbing aboard his car for the parade of champions: the wickedly beautiful little Ferrari 1512, which now resides in Bernie Ecclestone’s very private collection. John was rather uncomfortable about this, as it was to be the first time he had gone on track since Henry had died and his family was far from thrilled about it. Then the car broke. Bernie was annoyed, spotted windmilling his arms in the collecting area, but Surtees himself was outwardly unmoved.

The following day, with the car miraculously fixed by the genius who cares for it, the host of champions mustered once again. First out of the blocks was Nigel Mansell at the wheel of the glorious Thinwall Special Ferrari. He was followed by the likes of Damon Hill in his title-winning Williams, Mario Andretti in his title-winning Lotus and Jody Scheckter in his title-winning Ferrari.

I was stationed beside ‘Big John’ in case there was another problem. Here was a rather wiry, almost nervous old gentleman, far removed from the confident, beaming figure that we all recognise in the photos from the mid-Sixties. He seemed ill at ease while the likes of Keke Rosberg and Jackie Stewart set off on either side amid the yowl of Cosworth DFV power – but then came the most unforgettable sight.

First of all, the Surtees chin jutted. Then he snapped his goggles down and the years fell away. Everything about his body language changed – as if to say: “I’m still a bloody racing driver, like it or not!” And with that he dumped the clutch and left two black lines running down the immaculate Bahraini pit lane. It was an astounding demonstration of courage.

Fast forward to this year’s Revival, where John was to be found signing autographs at every turn, posing for selfies, doing interviews and generally being pressed into action. He drove a Ferrari 250 LM to lead out the Lavant Cup competitors, helped to open Shell’s new vintage-looking aviation refuelling area and he played a key role in the Bruce McLaren tribute.

In the midst of all this, he came and spoke to a lot of bigwigs from Shell. As MC for the event, I had seven questions to make sure we said all the right things – and didn’t need one of them. Surtees has been a Shell ambassador for decades and knows, very precisely, what to say and when. Then I asked him to tell the audience something about Henry and what the Foundation is doing in his name. And what a response.

John talked us through his time as a karting dad, about Henry’s life and loss and then about the work that the Foundation has done since 2009. He spoke brilliantly about the lives saved because the Air Ambulance now has blood transfusion equipment. About his determination not only to make the world safer in Henry’s name but also to use motor sport to bring wayward and disadvantaged kids back from the brink.

All of it impressed upon the guests how important every can of Shell X-100 oil sold will be. And, equally, it also showed the determination and energy of a man who, even in his ninth decade, is determined to work harder than ever in his son’s name to bring some measure of good from his horrendous loss. This is the John Surtees that I have come to know. These encounters have been a pleasure and a privilege and I hope that our paths cross again before long.

Scarf & Goggles to return to Silverstone!

Some rather fantastic news follows from Silverstone – the original Scarf & Goggles is to be revived as a place of conviviality, refreshment and general period automotive-and-aviation-themed excess at the Classic, when it marks the Silver Jubilee of the mothership for high-end classic and vintage events. Even the old ‘pub sign’ that has sat in the shed for a couple of decades will be hanging from on high once again.

Rather than blather on, I shall leave you with the words of MPA Creative:

silverstoneclassic

The special Silver Jubilee celebrations at next month’s Silverstone Classic (24-26 July) will see the introduction of two new awards honouring the two driving forces behind the circuit’s first-ever historic motor sport festival 25 years ago: Mervyn Garton and Stuart Graham.

Paying tribute to the pair’s pioneering achievements in creating the blueprint for what’s now The World’s Biggest Classic Motor Racing Festival, the Stuart Graham ‘Scarf and Goggles’ Award will be presented to what’s judged to be the most admirable car competing at the Classic while the Mervyn Garton ‘Scarf and Goggles’ Award will acclaim the best off-track visitor attraction. Both will be perpetual accolades awarded annually as from next month’s event.

“It’s the original ground-breaking vision of Stuart and Mervyn which remains right at the heart of everything we do at Silverstone Classic today – that’s why we are so delighted to be acknowledging both their foresight and achievements with these two very special Scarf and Goggles awards,” said Nick Wigley, Event Director.

“The Scarf and Goggles bar, after which these awards are named, was such an integral part of those early events. Now I’m pleased to announce we will be further evoking its fond memories with the opening of a new Scarf and Goggles pub bar on our Village Green.”  

Back in 1990 when Garton and Graham first put their heads together, there were very few major events dedicated entirely to historic racing cars. The Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, the L’Age d’Or meeting at Montlhéry and the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca were already established, but in England, the world centre of historic racecar preparation and ownership, there was nothing to compare.

Stuart Graham made sure that the BRDC pulled in the finest racers worldwide

Stuart Graham made sure that the BRDC pulled in the finest racers worldwide

As well being a TT winner on both two and four wheels, Graham was a director of the BRDC, the organisation that runs Silverstone. He was keen to see the circuit expand its portfolio of events in order to broaden the base that supported the British Grand Prix, upon which the venue was heavily reliant.

Graham realised that there was wide support at home for his idea of a Silverstone Historic Festival and it was agreed that the first two-day meeting would be held a fortnight after the 1990 British Grand Prix. This would have the added advantage of being able to use much of the infrastructure already in place for the F1 meeting.

The tented city - racers, collectors, automobila-ists and, of course, the steam-powered fairground!

The tented city – racers, collectors, automobila-ists and, of course, the steam-powered fairground!

The modest opening 12-race timetable and seemingly notable 426 racing entries laid the foundations to what’s now not just the biggest historic race meeting on Earth but also the world’s biggest annual motor racing event of any genre. Last year’s record breaker featured an unrivalled 1,125 entries – a figure that could be topped again in July.

Over the last 25 years, of course, the scope of the thriving historic scene has widened considerably and now includes many classes which were front-running categories in contemporary racing at the time of the first Historic Festival. These include categories such as Group C sports cars, 90s GT Legends and Super Touring saloons, each of which have now earned their place in the Silverstone Classic line-up.

“This award is a very kind and thoughtful gesture,” said Graham. “It is amazing how quickly 25 years seems to have passed, since we first got the idea of a major classic festival at Silverstone off the ground. I was very fortunate to have a small but equally enthusiastic team to provide valuable help in many areas thus ensuring a successful first event.

“Today it gives me – and I am sure everyone involved in the early days – a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction to see the eminence of the Classic as it continues to grow, thanks to the excellent work of Nick Wigley and his team who have done a fantastic job. I now wish this great meeting continued success for the next 25 years and beyond.”

From the outset, it was also planned that the Festival would be more than simply a series of races. Considerable thought was given to activities and attractions away from the track in the hope that the event would appeal to motoring enthusiasts and families beyond those who would be satisfied by the race programme alone.

The silver Audi Coupé in which Mervyn thundered around the Festival, putting on the show (replaced by a BSA motorbike on public days!)

The silver Audi Coupé in which Mervyn thundered around the Festival, putting on the show (replaced by a BSA motorbike on public days!)

To that end, the late Mervyn Garton was appointed to mastermind the off-track activities. The revolutionary formula he created has been adopted at most other large-scale motoring events since and continues to thrive at the Classic.

Right from the beginning it was anticipated that car clubs would be keen to attend if they were allocated dedicated spaces in which their members could meet and display their cars, and so it proved.

Mervyn’s fertile mind also introduced air displays, live jazz music plus the creation of trade and automobilia malls. By the time of the third Festival, another of his innovations appeared in the shape of the ‘Scarf and Goggles’ bar, which became a very popular social hub close to the paddock, and somewhere where racegoers could enjoy a convivial atmosphere and meeting place during and after the racing.

“Silverstone was the core of our family life and Mervyn made it his mission to cultivate a unique experience of live entertainment, classic motoring and aviation with the Scarf and Goggles at its heart,” said his widow Janet Garton. “He was delighted to see the rise of the Classic and would have loved to see Status Quo at Silverstone! He would also be deeply honoured to be associated with an award that recognises the most impressive off–track attraction for visitors.”

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

From an estimated attendance of 20,000 in 1990, the 2014 event played host to 94,000 spectators with the milestone 100,000 landmark set to be surpassed for the first time this summer. The car club feature conceived by Garton has spiralled in popularity, too. At the inaugural meeting 21 groups were represented, a figure that has grown to an unprecedented 120 in 2015.

Tickets for the 25th anniversary Silverstone Classic must be purchased in advance. Adult admission starts from £40 and, as well as pits access, ticket prices include booking fees, parking, infield, grandstands, live music – this year topped by rock legends Status Quo – and the vast majority of the numerous attractions. Full details – together with hospitality packages and weekend festival camping – can be found on the official website: http://www.SilverstoneClassic.com.

-Ends-

Editor’s notes: The Silverstone Classic – celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015 – is firmly established as the World’s Biggest Classic Motor Racing Festival with a record 1125 race entries in 2014 watched by a record crowd of 94,000. The spectacular event – winner of the prestigious ‘Motorsport Event of the Year Award’ as judged by the International Historic Motoring Awards in 2013 – is staged at the famous Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire, birthplace of the FIA Formula One World Championship and home of the Formula 1 British Grand Prix. The three-day festival features the very best of historic racing covering more than eight decades of motor sport as well as live music from classic rock bands (topped by Status Quo in 2015) and a wealth of family entertainment. This includes a free fun fair, retail outlets, a host of interactive activities, a two-day classic car auction and air displays, plus huge showcases of classic cars often celebrating important milestones in automotive history. In 2014 a record parade of 84 Grand Prix cars celebrated Silverstone’s 50th Grand Prix as well as special cavalcades to mark Maserati’s centenary and 50 years of the Ford Mustang. The Silverstone Classic is promoted and organised by Goose Live Events Ltd. Goose manages international events for companies such as AstraZeneca, Bacardi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Unilever.

Mervyn Garton, 1937 – 2013

Mervyn having fun in a historic motor...

Mervyn having fun in a historic motor…

It is perhaps worth reflecting that historic motor racing in the UK – or at least those who pay to enjoy it – lost one of the sport’s unsung heroes when Mervyn Garton died on September 30th 2013. It was he who created and managed the many and varied off-track attractions which supported the original International Historic Festival at Silverstone, thus creating the die from which today’s Silverstone Classic, Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival were cast.

Although his early life was filled with enthusiasm for high speed – of which motor sport and aviation were foremost – it was only at the age of 40, during a colourful career in banking, that Mervyn indulged his passion to the fullest.

Becoming a member of the Silverstone-based Jim Russell Racing Drivers’ Club, Mervyn raced at Silverstone and Snetterton alongside the likes of Daily Express sports editor Ken Lawrence and the vivacious and speedy Sue Dutson, now a doyenne of Italian motor sport after more than 25 years of domestic bliss with Piercarlo Ghinzani. Later he became an instructor, teaching Land Speed Record holder Richard Noble how to go around corners, among many others.

Branching out from amateur racer to racing instructor, by the late 1980s Mervyn’s commercial background was also being brought to bear in the Silverstone arsenal. At this stage, historic motor sport in Britain was still very much a club-level activity focused upon the participants having a good weekend’s racing.

Historic racing at the 1981 British Grand Prix

Historic racing at the 1981 British Grand Prix

If people wanted to come and enjoy seeing some famous old cars racing that was fine – but there was precious little else to occupy them. There were support races at contemporary British Grands Prix but when Silverstone decided to try and establish something like the Nürburgring’s established Oldtimer event, it called upon Mervyn to create the off-track activities and entertainment… which he did with gusto.

Immediately he established a framework for marque clubs of all denominations to have their own bespoke display areas, allowing owners of classic cars the chance to become part of the show itself. Whether it was the Renault-Alpines, the Droop Snoot Group or the Jowett Jupiters, all were made to feel as though the Festival was their own annual jamboree and created an 800-acre sea of polished bodywork stretching to all points of the compass.

Marques great and small flocked to the Festival

Marques great and small flocked to the Festival

Filling the circuit with cars and owners was one thing, but entertaining spectators was quite another. A gigantic outdoor shopping mall of automobilia, intended to rank alongside the Beaulieu Autojumble, was also among the early additions to the Festival experience.

Activities for those with wider interests than old cars soon followed. Live jazz and big band music, craft areas and children’s entertainment were added. So too were vintage aircraft, motorbikes, trucks, buses and tractors. A steam-powered vintage fairground sat atop the Copse runway and of course there was the social heart of the event – the Scarf & Goggles bar – which became the epicentre of the social scene.

Each year the Festival – initially sponsored by Christie’s and later Coys of Kensington – would have a theme, such as British Racing Green or Italian Racing Red, for which Mervyn would diligently create display areas and schedule autograph sessions. Auctions were staged, as was the Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance.

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

Finally there was the addition of the Garton-designed Retro Run as the ultimate hands-on experience for those taking their own classics to the Festival. Routes included stops at such sites as the former RAF Twinwood, from which Glenn Miller flew off never to return, and the Bridego railway bridge, where the Great Train Robbery was perpetrated – always ending with a parade lap of Silverstone in its pomp for the ‘Runners’.

The BRDC was always happy to give Mervyn carte blanche to create all of this, with Andrew Marriott handling the PR and John Fitzpatrick linking in with the on-track action. In 1993 the Club also provided sufficient budget to support a full-time assistant – who appeared in the form of James Beckett, the driving force behind today’s celebrated Walter Hayes Trophy weekend.

It is a measure of the Festival’s success that when Lord March was looking to create the Festival of Speed as a precursor to restoring motor racing at Goodwood, he asked Mervyn to jump ship. Although he remained at his Festival post until the event was shelved, Mervyn became a great supporter of Goodwood’s growing prominence on the calendar and thoroughly enjoyed the early Revivals.

Mervyn became a regular on 007's set

Mervyn became a regular on 007’s set

When not submerged in Festival business, as he was wont to be for many months of the year, Mervyn relaxed by driving trucks for fun. Taking priceless cars over to Italy for the Mille Miglia, carting the star cars from James Bond movies from set to set or taking the Group 4 prototypes around the countryside only added to the appeal.

After almost a decade in retirement in Lincolnshire, Mervyn fell foul of long-term illness two years ago and died peacefully in St. Barnabas Hospice leaving a tremendous legacy. The revived Festival, renamed the Silverstone Classic, together with Goodwood’s main events and such newcomers as Chris Evans’s CarFest can trace the sum total of their participatory appeal to the pioneering work begun by Mervyn almost a quarter of a century ago.

Mervyn and his wife Janet: always at home at Silverstone

Mervyn and his wife Janet: always at home at Silverstone

He was also my father, and he will be profoundly missed by all of our family.

José Froilán González

There was something about José Froilán González which seemed indestructible… making the announcement of his passing this weekend, even at the ripe age of 90, something of a shock. Known as the ‘Pampas Bull’ by the British press and ‘El Cabezón’ (fathead), by his countrymen, he was the Argentine star who claimed Enzo Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory as a constructor enjoyed tremendous affection from fans both in his prime and in his latter years.

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

Rotund and ready-smiling, González was born in the city of Arrecifes and was a keen athlete in his youth – whose competitiveness was somewhat at odds with his naturally chunky frame. At 10 years of age he got himself behind the wheel of a car and this produced an even bigger thrill, so he contrived to find ways to drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes from that moment on.

Racing duly followed, at the age of 24, when he embarked on some of the great cross-country events of the era. He took a typically South American approach by using a pseudonym to avoid his family finding out about his antics – although they did, despite his best efforts. His father then helped González establish a trucking business – no doubt hoping that this would occupy him too fully to go racing – but although it was successful, the whole operation was duly sold after a couple of years in order to pay for a Maserati 4CL with which to make his international debut in Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari's first Formula One win

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One win

González clearly had talent and this earned him sponsorship from the Argentine government of Juan Peron – just like his older rival from national road races, Juan Manuel Fangio – which took him to Europe in 1950. Once again his talent was clear and he was signed up by Enzo Ferrari – although with some reservations from the Old Man about the state of high anxiety that González would work himself into before a race.

On July 14th 1951, fate decreed that it was González who would enter the record books as the first man to drive a Ferrari to victory in a Grand Prix, when he mastered a race-long battle with Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 158 to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He drove out of his skin that day, hurling the big unblown V12 around with all his might to hold the waspish supercharged Alfetta at bay in what was undoubtedly his finest Grand Prix performance.

There was no onward momentum from that first victory, however, in what fast became the ‘Fangio era’. He would win at Silverstone with Ferrari once again in 1954, the year when he also anchored the Scuderia’s victory at Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant, but spent the majority of his European racing days as a journeyman. González not only drove for Ferrari but also Maserati, BRM and Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall operation – the British teams usually in non-championship events such as Goodwood meetings.

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the BRM at Goodwood

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the mighty V16 BRM at Goodwood

González returned to live in Argentina before the start of the 1955 season, establishing a successful car dealership business. He did not often choose to hark back to his racing days, but when he did he was always cheerful and grateful – if somewhat bemused – by the affection in which he was held by fans of the sport from thousands of miles away. He will be missed.

 

The racing driver’s bride

The website of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota is not the first place one would think of looking at when seeking out members of the rip-roaring Grand Prix racing community of the 1950s.

And yet here is a profile of a trustee of the church who is in charge of Sunday Services; who rounds up ushers and greeters for duty every Sunday morning and hosts a monthly discussion group about movies. Not very F1, perhaps, but the photograph of a twinkly-eyed lady with an elfin haircut gives the game away… this is indeed the widow of that great British racer, Peter Collins.

Peter Collins and his wife Louise entertain ‘Fon’ de Portago (l) and ‘Taffy’ von Trips (r)

The story of Peter Collins is too rarely retold. This dashing young man with the carefree approach to life cut a swathe through the racing scene in the 1950s alongside such contemporaries as Sir Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Roy Salvadori – although he is best remembered for his symbiotic partnership with Mike Hawthorn in which each christened the other ‘mon ami mate’.

Born in Kidderminster in 1931, Collins’ father owned a garage and a haulage company, and to no great surprise young Peter developed an affinity for mechanical things very early on. As a teenager he thrived in the rough and tumble of 500cc racing on abandoned airfields alongside the likes of Moss and a certain Bernard Ecclestone.

The rakish young Collins gets ready for action

At a party hosted by the great pre-war lady racer Kay Petre in 1951, Collins managed to inveigle himself with the Aston Martin sports car team boss, John Wyer, and earned a test drive. On the appointed day at Silverstone not only was Aston present but also the HWM Formula 2 team – and by the time the teams were packing up to go home, Collins had a contract with both!

Throughout the first half of the 1950s Collins was a stalwart performer for the Aston Martin team in endurance racing and rallies.  He also kept trying to break into Formula One with the British teams BRM and Vanwall but without great success, while first Hawthorn then Moss took the Grand Prix world by storm.

Finally Collins got his big chance when Moss requested that his old 500cc sparring partner be drafted in by Mercedes-Benz to partner him in the 1955 Targa Florio. They won the race and Collins found himself signing a contract for 1956 with none other than Enzo Ferrari.

Formula One drivers were expected to compete elsewhere, which meant that Collins’ first landmark result with the Scuderia came not at a grand prix but with second place on the Mille Miglia. Nevertheless this was swiftly followed by victories in both the Belgian and French Grands Prix, and these early days earned him the unstinting admiration of the ‘Old Man’, devastated by the untimely death of his son, Dino, and who turned to Collins for solace, treating him as a member of the family.

Ferrari holds court with Collins (l), Musso (r) and Castelotti

Ferrari holds court with Collins (r), Musso (l) and Castelotti

Meanwhile those mid-season victories ensured that the championship boiled down to a two-way fight between Collins and his three-time world champion team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio. At the final round, the Italian Grand Prix, Fangio’s car suffered a steering failure and left Collins with a clear run to the title – only for the young Englishman to voluntarily pull in and give his car to the older man, whose second place finish sealed his fourth title.

“It’s too early for me to become world champion – I’m too young,” Collins said afterwards. “I want to go on enjoying life and racing, but if I become world champion now I would have all the obligations that go with it. And Fangio deserves it anyway!”

This was astonishing behaviour, even by the more sportsmanlike days of the 1950s. As even Fangio admitted later, if the position had been reversed, nothing on Earth would have persuaded him to get out of that car.

Yet Collins was happy and after the clamour of his first season at Ferrari came the enjoyment of some leisure time. Each winter the drivers kept themselves busy – and earning money – with off-season appearances in the Americas and at the Nassau Speed Week. They also pursued their other great interest in life – women. It was in January 1957 that Stirling Moss told Collins about a beautiful girl he knew in Miami who loved grand prix racing – an actress called Louise King – and gave his old pal her number if he was at a loose end while in the States.

As close off the track as on it: Collins leads Moss, Silverstone 1956

As close off the track as on it: Collins leads Moss at Silverstone, 1956

In fact Collins had met Louise at Monaco the previous year. Evidently this fact slipped his mind as he stood waiting for his ‘blind date’ at the Coconut Grove Playhouse bar and got talking to a bright young thing – who turned out to be the very girl he was waiting for all along. Not only did Collins get away with this gaffe, it was the start of something special.

As you can doubtless tell, Louise was no ordinary girl. The 24-year-old beauty was starring in the Broadway production of The Seven Year Itch alongside Tom Ewell, the star of the movie adaptation alongside Marilyn Monroe. The independent daughter of a distinguished diplomat, not only did the young divorcee willingly spurn Hollywood’s advances, but she was also an Austin-Healey driving member of the Sports Car Club of America with a passion for motor racing. It’s hardly surprising that Collins was besotted.

Collins and Louise relax by the pool between races

Two days after their first date, Louise lay next to Collins beside his hotel pool in Miami. It was at this moment that, whispering so that his friend, the American driver Masten Gregory, didn’t overhear, that Collins proposed – and Louise accepted. They were married the following Monday, to widespread disbelief.

Although Louise’s father was quickly won over by Collins’s natural charm, his own parents were appalled by the prospect of their beloved son marrying an actress, never mind that she was already once divorced and, as the last straw, an American.

His friends in the motor racing set however were astonished that Collins, a legendary swordsman, was seemingly going to turn down the pleasures of the many available – and occasionally unavailable – women with whom he had previously wiled away the hours. There was, by general consensus, more chance of Moss joining a monastery or Hawthorn going teetotal.

Few in the paddock believed Collins could adapt to domestic bliss

It was also widely expected that Enzo Ferrari would take this turn of events worst of all. He had lavished Collins with a paternal care in an era when drivers took lives in their hands on every lap and it was assumed that Ferrari would feel that a man with priorities off the track was never going to give him 100% commitment – but in fact the reverse was true.

The newlyweds were made welcome by Ferrari and his wife, Laura, who insisted on accompanying the glamorous new girl on every shopping trip and lunch date despite her complete lack of English and Louise’s equal lack of Italian. Initially they took a room in the old farmhouse above the Cavallino restaurant, but that summer they were gifted the use of an old villa on the factory grounds which had lain empty since the war.

For 1957 Fangio chose to rejoin his friends at Maserati and, when Eugenio Castelotti was killed in pre-season testing, Collins was the established star. He was teamed with the returning Mike Hawthorn, Italian driver Luigi Musso and Spanish nobleman Alfonso de Portago but it was to be a dismal season.

A publicity picture taken before the start of the fateful 1957 Mille Miglia

The greatest pall hung after the death of ‘Fon’ de Portago, together with his co-driver Ed Nelson and 10 spectators, in a crash on the Mille Miglia. The race continued, of course, with Collins leading for much of it until the transmission failed 130 miles from the finish. Recalling that night in Chris Nixon’s seminal book Mon Ami Mate, Louise said of Portago’s loss:

“…it was almost as though they expected it and although he was a very popular guy no-one could get upset about it. That night a group of us went out to to a restaurant and after dinner we danced the night away. We didn’t set out to go dancing. It was just a regular part of the evening at that restaurant and it provided a sense of release for us after the race.”

Death was an ever-present part of life as a racing driver, and therefore of life as a racing driver’s wife. The Collinses and the rest of the sport moved on, and in Formula One the most memorable grand prix of the season came in Germany, when Hawthorn and Collins, lapping together, managed to get beaten by Fangio, who put in the drive of his life to regain a 40 second deficit.

“I motioned Peter to come alongside and pointed behind us with thumb down to indicate that Fangio seemed to be in trouble,” Hawthorn later recounted in his book, Challenge Me The Race.

“He nodded, put his thumb up, then pointed to me with one finger and then back to himself with two. He wanted me to win and was prepared to come second himself, which I thought was a very sporting gesture…”

Fangio has passed Collins and tracks Hawthorn, 1957 German GP

Fangio has passed Collins and tracks Hawthorn, 1957 German GP

It was also a plan doomed to failure, brought about by Fangio’s last and most celebrated victory. Yet increasingly Collins’s attention was not on his sport. He was planning to build an ‘American-style’ home in England, to invest in the new Austin-Healey factory in Nassau and to opening a Ferrari dealership with his father. He also wanted children, and his aims for family life began to preoccupy him as the 1958 season loomed.

After the disappointing Lancia-derived 801 of 1957, the new Ferrari 246 Dino held plenty of promise. Yet in the opening rounds of 1958 Collins was off the pace next to Hawthorn and Musso. When, in April, he and Louise left Maranello to live instead on their yacht Mipooka, moored in Monaco, Enzo Ferrari was cut to the core by what he perceived to be treachery.

Louise at home aboard their yacht, the Mipooka, to Ferrari’s chagrin

At Le Mans for the 24 Hours, Collins shared a new Testarossa with Hawthorn, who joked that racing for so long was no fun and that they should break the car in time to be back in England for Sunday lunch. When the clutch overheated, Collins was forced to retire and Hawthorn’s prophecy came true – while the team was able to drive the ‘broken’ car back to the pits once the clutch had cooled sufficiently.

All this was fuel on the fires of intrigue at Maranello, and an enraged Enzo Ferrari turned to Musso as the stick with which to beat the ungrateful young Englishman.

Collins at speed in the British GP - his last victory

Collins at speed in the 1958 British GP – his last victory

Both Collins and Musso retired from the Belgian Grand Prix but in France it seemed that Musso was thoroughly wound-up to win at any cost. Ferrari initially forbade Collins from driving in the main race but later relented. Nevertheless Reims was a circuit on which the lionhearted Hawthorn thrived and he claimed victory for the Scuderia while the tragic Musso crashed fatally while trying to keep up.

The British Grand Prix saw the return of the old Peter Collins. Perhaps inspired by Ferrari’s attempt to drop him from in France, he was simply unbeatable despite the presence of both Hawthorn and the Vanwall of Stirling Moss… with much talk of the 1959 season, it seemed that Collins was now firmly back in the saddle at Ferrari.

To the victor, the spoils. Hawthorn and Collins celebrate Silverstone sucess

To the victor, the spoils: Hawthorn and Collins celebrate Silverstone success

The next stop was the Nürburgring one week later for the German Grand Prix. Initially Moss led but his Vanwall’s magneto broke, leaving Hawthorn and Collins out in front from a charging Tony Brooks in the second Vanwall, who duly caught and passed them.

Determined not to be caught napping twice at the ‘Ring, the two Ferraris fought back but at Pflanzgarten Collins ran wide, hit the earth bank and was catapulted from his car as it somersaulted through the air. He was thrown head-first into a tree and did not survive the journey to hospital.

Louise’s 18-month fairytale ended as abruptly as it started. The Collins family lost no time in getting her to sign over any claim to her late husband’s estate and, in the depths of mourning, her friend Peter Ustinov scooped her up and put her on tour with him in Romanoff and Juliet as a distraction while ‘mon ami mate’ Hawthorn raced on to claim the world championship.

Louise still delights that, in Marilyn’s arms, Tom Ewell’s eyes are on her!

By 1959 she was back in America and back in the spotlight, becoming a regular on TV staples What’s My Line and the Today show. Eventually she stepped away from showbiz, finding new avenues as a real estate broker in New York City and Connecticut before retiring to Florida almost 20 years ago.

It seems unfair that so rich and varied a life as that of Louise King can be so defined on this blog by 18 months spent as the wife of a racing driver. And yet perhaps not. For her part, Louise remains staunchly proud of the life she shared with Peter Collins, the man she still describes as ‘the great love of my life’.

This summer will mark the 55th anniversary of that fateful German Grand Prix, and doubtless there will be many heartfelt prayers said in a certain church in a corner of Florida. And we should raise a glass to the brief, bright lives of the two ‘mon ami mates’ and the ongoing good health of their ‘mon ami matess’, Louise King.

The former Mrs. Collins, today a pillar of the church in Sarasota

The former Mrs. Collins, today a pillar of the church in Sarasota

Alonso Shows ‘The Right Stuff’

In general, S&G feels that Formula One lost much of its appeal when it decided to put the cart before the horse. This is not a place for those who get dewy-eyed about lightweight Lotuses or develop a slightly hoarse tone when they utter the letters ‘DFV’ in short succession.

However, racing drivers remain racing drivers, regardless of whether their public persona is contractually obliged to be less lifelike than a store-front mannequin. That’s why this is a rather special clip.

Every 10 years, Ferrari likes to remind the world of its longevity by paying Bernie Ecclestone a fee to borrow the car with which it won its first Grand Prix as a constructor – the glorious 4.5-litre V12 375. Contrary to popular opinion it’s not the actual car with which José Froilán González defeated Alfa Romeo at the 1951 British Grand Prix – in fact it’s Alberto Ascari’s car from that same race – but in every way it’s identical.

Current Formula One drivers tend to get rather baity about being required to drive old cars. They complain about the brakes, the grip and the fact that they are suddenly reminded that their job used to be mortally dangerous. Mika Häkkinen detests driving Fangio’s dominant Mercedes-Benz W196, for example.

But in this respect, Fernando Alonso proved to be a glorious exception. Here we see him marking the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win by taking his turn at the wheel of Bernie’s 375. It’s all fairly standard stuff with a few waves to the crowd for his first lap, while self-important F1 types – Pasquale, naturally – line up for their moment on the TV screens.

But while all this is going on, Fernando’s been sussing the car out. That racer’s brain has been having a good fondle of this particular old girl and the blue touchpaper is duly lit.

At 3:40 on the video below he stops waving his hand to the crowd and starts waggling the backside of the car instead. Bernie’s face is a picture: then he clearly can’t bear to look any longer. As a result he misses all the best bits as, for two fabulous minutes, Fernando hustles the Ferrari in the style she was built to be driven.

One to enjoy!