A BRANDS CLUBBIE 1967 : Peter Collins

A day at the races  Story and images by Peter Collins

To be precise, it was the Kent Messenger Cup organised by the Maidstone and Mid Kent Motor Club.

Doesn’t sound much, does it? But in the ‘60s and 70s, club meetings often contained some high quality fields and races and this meeting was no exception including, as it did, rounds of the Motoring News GT Championship, the Les Leston F3 series, Amasco Marque Sports Cars and Redex Gold Cross saloons in separate Up To and Over 1000cc capacity races. The feature Cup race involved Formula Libre which always seemed to me, at the time, to have great entertainment value, perhaps one of the best of these events I saw involved Gerry Marshall’s special saloon Vauxhall Firenza battling with Val Musetti’s March Formula Atlantic.

Anyhow, we had planned to go, so decided to set off early and thus enjoy all the practice sessions as well as the races for our 7/6d, programme extra.

At least, we should be able to set off once my magic wand gear-levered, first-series Mini Minor decided it was going to respond to the pressing of its floor starter. Never mind, it just needed its umpteenth drying out of the inside of the distributor cap and we were away.

Frankly, I fail today to understand the attraction of Minis having endured this one, a Mk2 Cooper that, at 30k miles, still had a gear change that needed two hands to select reverse and often decided to drop onto three cylinders for fun, despite the 'attentions’ of a major local BMC dealer. Add the excruciating seats, cacophony from the gear train and near lethal road-holding on Dunlop C41s in the wet and I think I have done my bit.

Anyway, to Brands on 17 April 1967, close to 50 years’ ago, for a day of action.

On arrival a visit to the paddock was decreed and it was good to get close up to some cars that were exotic at the time, not to say exciting. And, as for being able to touch a single-seat .… at the top of the hill were two serious motor cars. One was the Mclaren M1C, with 4.7 litres of Ford V8, for Keith St John, sponsored by Radio London. Keith was there with his girl-friend Liane Engeman who later went on to drive semi-works Dutch-entered Alfa Romeo GTAms in Europe – where is she now? The second was Robin Darlington’s Lola T70, which was the ex-Red Rose Racing car that had originally been piloted by Brian Redman but was down for Tony Lanfranchi at this meeting and had a 5970cc Chevy V8 for motive power.

One other 4.7 Ford-powered car was the so-called Vandervell GT. This was basically a much-modified TVR Griffith and had previously been known as the Mongoose GT because its entrants, Purley Performance Cars, considered that it should eat Cobras.

All the top runners in UK national Formula 3 were present, including John Miles in the Lotus Components 41 previously pedalled by Jackie Oliver in ’66 and Tony Lanfranchi and Harry Stiller in BT21s.

According to Mike Kettlewell in Autosport, Stiller drove the race of his life in the Les Leston round, moving from fifth at the start to take the lead early in the event. Alan Rollinson in another BT21 established himself in second, whilst Miles finished third in the 41. In the process of battling for the lead, Stiller came close to taking the outright Club circuit lap record, recording a 52.6-second lap against the benchmark of 52 seconds dead. Interesting asides were that Peter Welstead’s Lotus 41 spent the whole race dragging the underside of its bodywork along the ground and none other than Frank Williams had a big hand in helping Stiller to victory as the latter’s BT21 had misfired throughout practice. The black box was suspected and a panic call put through to that famous flat in Harrow for help, resulting in a new box being driven at high speed to Brands and being fitted with minutes to go before the race.

Back to event one, however, which was for the popular 1-litre saloons. This meant Minis and Imps and included one of the beautifully prepared Alan Fraser cars, to be driven by Bernard Unett. Regular runners East Anglian Racing Cars were running their 1-litre Anglia for the quick Alan Peer. In Minis were Charles Carling and Dave Morgan (yes, the Crystal Palace James Hunt punch-up victim) while Peter Gaydon was another fast Imp man. The latter established himself in third place after a fine early scrap that saw Peer go clear for second in the Anglia. Nobody even got close to Unett in the Fraser Imp, however, who won despite a broken rear absorber.

The Motoring news GT counter had a fine and varied entry from Digby Martland in the virtually works Chevron GT BMW (no B designations then). In a 1600 Chevron was John Lepp, as also was Peter Taggart, and these two, with Johnnie Blades in his Lotus 47, had a fine dice behind Martland for the other two podium places. There was a good battle for smallest class honours between Andy Mylius in his neat SCA-powered Ginetta G12 and Mike Walton on his first outing with his gorgeous little Abarth 1000SP (quality cars in club racing!). The latter was adrift by 0.6 seconds due to dragging bodywork.

The Guards Trophy looked to be Keith St John’s because the Lola T70 was misfiring, but the irrepressible Lanfranchi challenged despite this and even nosed into the lead at one point before the T70’s clutch gave up, and he was lucky not to be taken by third place man Clive Lacey in his Brabham BT8 Climax.

An interesting entrant in this race was Bobby Bell in a very rare Piper GT with Lotus Twin Cam. The attractive metallic green car with transparent side panels to the doors was one of a very few such cars constructed by Pipers, of later camshaft fame, at their original Campbells Garage premises at the bottom of Hayes (Kent) High Street, which is now just a petrol station.

The Amasco marque sportscars was all about E-types and it was a matter of which of those of Warren Pearce, John Quick in WOO 11, then so often seen on the road around Beckenham, and Keith Holland would win. It was the latter in the end as although Quick got away first he was, apparently, running-in a new engine and eventually finished third behind Holland and Pearce. Roy North won the 3-litre class in his light blue Morgan Plus 4 and I wonder if anyone knows what happened to that car. Also in the race was Pete Brown in the JCB MGB from BMC.

The feature Cup race for Libre cars was next up and this time Lanfranchi made sure of a win, taking his BT21 to first place ahead of Keith St John and the McLaren. A possible who, what, where and when, if anyone got a shot of the car was the appearance of Fraser Imp man Bernard Unett in Brian Jordan’s Lotus 32/35 F3 car. He finished fourth. Was this the only non Rootes single-seater drive he ever had?

The final race was the big saloon Redex round and the shadows were lengthening after a long day. It was well worth waiting for however. Brian Peacock walked away with his 1.8 Team Anglia Ford Anglia whilst all sorts of mayhem went on behind. In the end, John Wales in the Mini of one William Green, as it said in the programme, held onto second under intense pressure from Colin Youle’s similar car.

Happy days and the end to a happy day. All that remained was to fire up the Mini Minor. As it had been sunny all day we were in with a fighting chance, then it was off down Death Hill and up to the Swanley By-Pass.