Christmas Day Saturday 1965 was cold and clear and the forecast for the Boxing Day, to be held on the Monday was similar, but even colder. As always in the Collins household, all the relations had decided that ours was the best place to be over the winter break so multiple Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents and all were tucking into their early evening sherries and cake, when the phone rang. Strange, we all thought, as my father went to answer it. No mobiles then and the apparatus was on a special shelf in the corner of the hall clanging away. A brief conversation and he returned to say that he and I would be going to Brands Hatch to watch the motor racing on Monday, with an old pub friend of his, who had been there before.
There was no previous in our family for visiting race tracks, as in the past my father had persuaded me to watch trains, not cars, so it was with some trepidation that we turned out at 07 30 to pick up our friends and head down the A20 to the track. It was bitterly cold with a totally clear sky and a heavy frost which covered the ground all day, so much so that, when we arrived at Brands, many of the day’s marshals were circulating the track to ensure that there was at least a line with some grip all the way around the Club circuit.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so that when the cars were let out of the pitlane for the first practice session the sight and sound of a brilliant metallic-blue open sportscar, emitting what I can only describe as an ear-splitting howl, coming down the slope of Paddock Hill Bend just completely staggered me. By the time there were upwards of 20 cars circulating, from CanAm Mclaren M1s to F2 Brabhams, I was totally sold and have never looked back.
Boxing Day race meetings, by this time, had been happening for many years and were a feature of the calendar. So much so that racecar manufacturers chose the meeting to debut their following year’s new car offerings, in fact the importance of Brands on this day could be gauged by the fact that Autosport magazine saw fit to allocate one whole page of its pre-Xmas issue to previewing the entry alone as there was important stuff, as well as interesting and well-established names and cars on the list. In fact, considering the weather, the crowd was massive.
That metallic-blue car I saw first went on to win the Formula Libre (anything goes basically) race as it was the Felday Engineering four-wheel drive sportscar powered by no less than a BRM Tasman 2 litre V8. Other than the Ferguson, was this only the second 4WD car to win a race at a significant race meeting? Not only did it win in the hands of Mac Daghorn, it also came second to John Coundley’s Mclaren M1 in the Sportscar event. In GTs, the importance of the meeting brought out David Piper in Dan Margulies’ Ferrari GTO 3413, a ’62 car rebodied to ’64 style. It won, but can anyone tell me what subsequently happened to the Mongoose GT entered by David Plumstead? This seemed to be a bright red TVR Griffith with extra-wide rear wheels and big Webers atop its 4.7 litre V8. The name? Well, mongooses eat cobras don’t they?
Alan Mann himself, at the wheel of a Mustang won the saloons, which brought the curtain down at the end as more ice was forming on the track and light was failing but, the most prestigious event of the day was the last round of 1965’s national Formula Three championship and it was won by Piers Courage in a brand new Lotus 41 – a ‘horrible little car’ according to Charles Lucas, the team owner.
I had taken my mother’s 1930s Kodak Brownie Box camera complete with eight frames of 127 film to shoot and so, by way of illustration, I include a panned shot of Piers winning taken from the main grandstand. It was my first-ever motorsport photograph. Little did I realise as I sat in the back seat of my father’s car, taking over two hours to get out of the car park at the end of the day, just how many more I would shoot over the following 50 years!