Personal transporter memories
- Mike Argetsinger, Rob Ryder
- October 24, 2007
Bedford VAL Plaxton transporter for Tony Dean's Porsche 908
1969 Can-Am round
Mike Argetsinger on Cooper in 1966
My year with Cooper was 1966 — I attended every Grand Prix with them that year and was part of the team (although not an employee as such — they did cover my travel and lodging). It is important to remember that at the time, Formula One teams were very much smaller than what one sees today. Here is the Cooper team in 1966 as I remembered it recently in a personal note to Barry Boor:
”There were just seven mechanics for the two race cars and the spare. Dennis Davis was the greatest in a bunch of genuine characters and all around good guys on the team of mechanics. l dont remember all their names but Trevor Orchard. Jim Potten. Ron Dennis and Ernie Symonds I remember (I also remember a Roger and a Gordon but cao no longer remember their last names). There was Roy Salvadori (my all time hero and the person who made the season happen for me) as team manager (and Susan Hindmarsh was always there too — she treated me great always — a real lady and drop dead beautiful). the designer Derek White (Bob Marsdon — a real nice guy — was also on the design team but didnt come to many races) and John Cooper (another hero of mme) and Jonathan Sieff (who owned the race team then) would usually appear as well. That was pretty much the whole team! As you know, Jochen Rindt and Richie Ginther started the season as drivers and John Surtees joined the team after Spa when Ginther went back to Honda. Chris Amon (who had been slated for the spot to be vacated by Ginther prior to Surtees becoming available) made an appearance at the French GP which was the only time the team fielded three cars in a race that year.”
The race cars and most of the mechanics came to the races in the transporter — crossing the channel for each continental GP. They also had a Ford Transit van that one or two of the mechanics would drive to the event (between the Dutch and German GPs, Ernie Symonds and I drove that van to Modena. Italy to have two of the team engines plus a third from Rob Walker’s team rebuilt at Maserati). We rejoined the team prior to the next race.
Mike Argetsinger on Brabham in 1968
O — you’ve got me thinking about that Brabham team in 1968 and it brings back a lot of great memories. One story that I have never put down on paper before but might amuse you concerns Spa.
After the race was over I rode back to the town of Spa in the Brabham transporter. Now as I remember it the distance from the paddock to the garage they were using in Spa was several miles. I also recall that the road went up and down some pretty impressive hills and I seem to remember looking down at some fairly tall pine trees that were jutting up out of those steep valleys.
Having reached the town we were just a turn or two away from the garage when we suddenly received some animated signalling and gesticulating from pedestrians. We all piled out to see what was up — the rear door was wide open, and there — lying in the street — was Brabham’s race car! In a slight state of shock we hustled the car back in to the transporter and continued to the garage where both cars were unloaded and the business of loading up the transporter began.
Now you may recall that this was the first (I believe) Grand Prix that saw the emergence of wings or air foils on F-1 cars. Both the Brabham team and Ferrari had them. Well, the wing om Brabham’s car was bent and so was the nose and I recall some other minor damage. When we had loaded the cars the mechanics had not done up the restraint system over the wheels because it was such a short distance to the garage and they knew they had to unload them again. The tires actually each sat in a well which, by themselves, generally kept the cars from moving around. The wheel clamps though — which fitted over the top of the tires and then were ratcheted tight — were the real securing factor. Whatever the impetus the car obviously rocked enough to slam against the inside of the back door (it was a sliding roll up inside type) and knock it open.
The first to roll up to the garage was Ron Tauranac. Ron Dennis explained the situation to him and not too much was said. The cars were on the parking lot just outside the garage. Pretty soon Jack Brabham drove up. He started to walk into the garage and as he did he walked between the two race cars. He literally did a "doubletake" — but you had to be looking riqht at him to see it — he never stopped walking and the expression passed from his face almost immediately (he had to be something like "wait a minute — I didn’t shunt this bloody thing"). He busied hiniself with whatever for about 5 minutes before he said a word to anyone and that was to Ron Tauranac. I made sure to be sufficiently far enough away not to overhear their conversation — it was animated but you could only tell this by watching their eyes. No gesticulating — no theatrics. I remember the moment as clearly as I do anything that happened that entire weekend.
In remembering the story I have often thought about those steep hills and tall pines coming up out of those valleys. Timing is everything I guess.
Rob Ryder on the change in paddock atmosphere
In the late 1960s and through the 1970s I never missed any F1 race in the UK, Championship or non-Championship. Then the rot set in, starting at Silverstone. Barriers in the paddock, high catch-fencing and longer run-offs on the track. I didn't watch the large-screen TV, I stayed home and watched on my own TV.
Was the racing better back then? Taking of the rose-tinted spectacles I have to admit it probably wasn't. Just as many processions and wins of over 20 seconds. The difference was that apart from the GP you also got 5 or 6 support races. F3s, Atlantics, saloons, sportscars, celebrity destruction races in Capris or Escorts. All of the up and coming hot-shoes trying to impress the GP teams. The other big difference was that you felt part of the race meeting, and not just something that must be tolerated. It did not matter if the race had been boring because you had the sights, sounds and memories that mean so much now.
Let me indulge myself and give an example. Brands Hatch was always my favourite venue in the UK. For the F1 races there, it was a 4-5 days stay in a tent, camping in a field opposite the paddock entrance. This was great for the GP in July, but pretty miserable for the Race of Champions in cold and wet March. We always arrived before the first transporter, and left after the paddock was empty. When the transporters arrived (at all hours day and night) there was very little security on the paddock entrance... one guy to ensure nothing was taken out... nor to stop you going in!
As teams arrived, the "regulars" would leave the camping ground and make for the paddock to see who it was. Invariably the transporter was only accompanied by a driver and two or three mechanics. This was before the "race engineers" had been invented. With all the gear to unload it was not unusual for us to act as gophers - moving tyres, tool boxes and other stuff from the transporter to the covered paddock area. You see what I mean about feeling part of the event?
I have many, many stories of meeting drivers, team managers and mechanics at these races. Everyone seemed to have time for a word and explanation of what they were doing. If it was after a practice session you even had to endure the excuses as to why XXX was only on the 5th row, and how it would be after the next 2 hour session.
Another reason for stopping me attending, was the change in the attitude of the fans. In the "good old days" the drivers were not mobbed in the paddock, and if they were in a personal discussion they would not have been interrupted. I remember many of the drivers at the 1972 GP sitting outside of the cafe at Brands having drinks and a bite to eat. No-one bothered them or went asking for autographs. The drivers were having their own time, and with 3 days of free access the fans felt there was no hurry. At my last races the fans were 4 or 5 deep whenever a driver appeared, pushing for autographs, Maybe it was because the move to motor-homes and corporate areas had taken hold, and you grab them when you could? Whatever the reason I did not like the atmosphere...