Here it is then guys - the Bumper Christmas Edition !!!!
It'll probably take until Christmas to read it all. All I can hope is you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed reliving it. Pix will have to be drip fed as I don't know how to do those clever multi post jobbies.
Pix BTW are unique and never published previously.Beachcomber’s Tales from the Day – [ ‘ish ]. November 2012“Carrol Shelby and the Good Ole Boys do LeMans” or “A Christmas CARROLL”
Again a little backgrounder is required here. During 1993/4 I was heavily involved with Shelby and Shelby American – initially collaborating with SA on Carroll’s endorsement of the RAM Cobra replica, and as I became more involved – and friendly with Carroll – he asked me to head up the European branch of his Shelby Transplant Trust. I was appointed European Liaison Officer, and in this post I was also tasked with getting the Trust as much publicity as possible. This began with the Innes Ireland Memorial Rally [ subject of a previous tale ] and continued with my securing Free stand space at the prestigious Racing Car show held in Birmingham – see attached pic.
It was whilst attending this show I introduced Shelby to one of the organisers of the LeMans 24 hour race from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. He [ ACO ] had approached me with a view to us running a round of the RAM / Bardahl Trophy series prior to the 24 Hours race proper. The RAM / Bardahl Trophy was a one make series for identical RAM Cobras – which now had Shelby’s personal endorsement. In the event, the control tyre supplier to the series cried off as they were concerned about the stress of 10 laps including the fearsome Mulsanne Straight – even with chicanes !
The ACO were pretty dissapointed as they wanted to mark Shelby’s [ with Roy Salvadori ] 35th Anniversary race win [ in the Aston ] which secured Shelby’s World Championship.
I suggested to him that maybe I could persuade Shelby to attend and we would use several of the Trophy series cars in the cavalcade laps before the race. He jumped at the suggestion, so it was just a matter of running it by Carroll – with the platform that we could also have a high profile promotion for the Transplant Trust – job done.
It ALSO just so happened that the current owner of the race winning Aston – Harry Laventas – is a REAL petrolhead AND the Aston was being displayed at the same show – see where we’re going with this ?
Harry was delighted when I rolled up on his stand with Carroll and Salvadori in tow ! Carroll and Roy were re-united with their race winning car and Harry was over the moon with the publicity opportunities of having Carroll pictured in his car. We all attended an evening soiree [ paid for by the show organisers ! ] at which I suggested that Harry might like the opportunity for Carroll to drive the car around LeMans on the occasion of the 35th. anniversary of his win. Does a Bear shit in the woods ? Another deal done.
Why all this effort you may ask – well it had always been my ambition to drive around LeMans in the pre-race cavalcade – as any competitive appearance would be most unlikely !
With all the deals in place and the handshakes done – it was just left for me to organise things.
We prepared the car that Carroll had driven at the Innes Ireland Rally and 6 of the Trophy cars – we didn’t want any foul ups. Carroll called me to let me know he was bringing Bob Bondurant and Pete Brock over – could I organise RAM Cobras for them to drive ? Won’t bore you with the details of the nights of midnite oil burning, but we eventually wound up with the cars ready the weekend before the race. I was tasked with taking Shelby’s ride on a car trailer, whilst the other cars went via car tranporter.
So to the event – again pretty well working flat out the week before with little sleep I set out with the trailer accompanied by Mrs.B and AC from RAM [ Realm Engineering ]. I’d been a regular visitor to the 24 Hour race for the previous 20 odd years, having not missed a race since my first visit in 1968 [ another 100 or so tales right there ! ].
This was a journey I could do with my eyes shut ……………… well actually they were shut, about 3 am on the notorious Paris Peripherique. Yes, I fell asleep momentarily and awoke to find myself heading for the steep curved banking. Nearly got away with it, but just clipped the back of the trailer which then resulted in spinning round [ 20’ trailer and similar size Citroen CX Estate ]. When we came to rest [ AC and Mrs.B had been asleep when it all started ] it seemed like everything must surely be wrecked. Fortunately there were very few cars around at that time in the morning and we were just surveying the damage when a van full of Gendarmes turned up. They weren’t worried in the slightest that the accident had happened – just how to clear the road before rush hour. I suggested the best way was to take the Cobra off the trailer [ which had jack knifed into the back of the Citroen ] get that off the road and try to disentangle the trailer and Citroen and get that off the road. I should point out that we had smashed one wheel and ripped another tyre to shreds. Oh yes – Shelby’s Cobra had slid across the trailer and broken a chunk out of one of the “one off” wheels ! No other damage to the car, which was quite miraculous – except we were still 200 miles from LeMans with a wrecked trailer. There was also a 5 gallon Jerry Can of petrol in the boot of the Cobra which somehow had flipped the lid open spilling high octane fuel all over the road ! And there were the Gendarmes sitting on the Armco – casually smoking the obligatory Gitanes !
Having managed to pull the trailer and Citroen apart, we found there was surprisingly very little damage to the car and apart from a damaged light lens we were good to go. That just left the trailer – eventually we managed to sort out two diagonally opposite hubs with fully inflated tyres, but it was obvious that the Cobra couldn’t go back on. So there we were, wounded trailer and Cobra with a chunk broken out of the wheel. We elected to drive the Cobra and just take things steady with the trailer and car. We stopped for a well deserved breakfast and rang back to the factory to get one of the lads to drive out that day with 4 matching wheels and tyres for the Cobra and 2 spare wheels for the trailer.
And all this before we even arrived at the circuit. We eventually limped in to the campsite behind the Grandstands at 6 in the evening – only to find that AC had forgotten ALL the passes and paperwork to get us in ! 30 minutes of wrangling later and we were in. Just as we pulled in to the area reserved for Shelby and the others – the broken wheel on the Cobra finally gave up and broke completely !
The Bardahl hospitality boys had set up the truck and awnings etc. for us - and the ATS company [ Cobra Daytona Replica ] had set up their hospitality truck and arranged 3 motor homes for Shelby, Brock and Bondurant. The head guy at ATS was trying to court Shelby to endorse his new Dayona Rep, and had gone all out with the hospitality to impress him – and the designer, Pete Brock.
Brock and Bondurant said they’s like to get acquainted with “their” Cobras – Carroll of course had already done a few hundred miles in “his”. Carroll took his Cobra out for a run and was none the wiser about my mishap on the way down. He did comment that the car was wearing different wheels to the last time he drove it !
On the evening before raceday the ATS guys had decided to thow a big party in Shelby’s honour [ remember the sucking up bit ? ], but an hour or so into the festivities, Shelby excused himself, and came round and joined our party as he said “with the good ole boys – not those starched up Frogs”. It wasn’t long before Brock and Bondurant also crept away and joined us.
That was when Mrs. B introduced Shelby, Brock and Bondurant to the wonders of Pastis – Pernod to be precise – the stories flowed thick and fast of Shelby’s early days. That was a wonderful evening under the Sarthe stars.
Race day dawned with a beautiful sunrise and everyone had crawled out of their respective pits by 9.00am to a typical “Full English” breakfast – again the boys declined the offer of joining the French party for their typical “Continental” breakfast ! We prepped the Cobras one final time and took them onto the circuit to line up before the Cavalcade. Carroll asked us if we’d be peeved if he drove the Aston on the first laps with Harry Laventas – as if !!
So we all set off on the Cavalcade with myself driving “Shelby’s” Cobra – my lifelong automotive ambition finally achieved. Although I did have a job to do ! We needed pix of the event – some I even managed to get in focus and frame. We all came into the pits after the parade laps when Carroll transferred to the car I had been driving and I swapped to one of the race Cobras to follow him round. At the last minute a French TV cameraman asked if he could ride shotgun to film the event. I was grateful for that, as it meant I didn’t have to try to take pix at 100 + silly miles an hour. Carroll waved across and started off down the pit lane, I put my foot on the throttle – only to have the cable snap !!!! What were the chances of that………..
Not to be done out of my extra laps [ this time just the two of us ], I quickly pulled the outer cable off and fed the inner through the back of the bonnet so I could operate it by hand – that was on a 275 bhp race engine BTW. I forget just HOW many times I’d done precisely that as a get home fix on my bikes in the 60’s !
By this time Shelby was at the far end of the pit road and I had some serious catching up to do ………. Ah – problem, one hand on the throttle wire – which I couldn’t let go of, and one hand to steer ..oh shit. I asked the TV guy to change gear for me as I obviously had no free hand. He said he couldn’t – and then decided he WOULD after I took my one free hand off the wheel to change gear ! I finally caught Shelby up by the time we got to the Esses before the Dunlop Bridge – the Esses were a little exciting with just one hand on the wheel.
The next two sections were pretty straightforward, but by this time Shelby was up at around 120mph + and the swoop into Tertre Rouge was looking decidedly iffy. However 400 yds into the Mulsanne Straight and the additional power of the race Cobra came into play and I’d caught up with Shelby and the cameraman was ecstatic with the shots he was getting. I have to say he was a brave guy, not sure I’d have been wielding that camera around kneeling up in the seat with no seat belts !
All was going really well until we got to the first chicane – I’d been up and down the Mulsanne dozens of times in all manner of fast cars – but NEVER encountered the chicanes before – oh dear. I arrived at the first chicane way too fast and in the wrong gear and with the cameraman concentrating on getting his shots – I just had to go for it. Shelby was well impressed when I came round the outside of him in the chicane, I didn’t let on afterwards that I was on the verge of total loss of control [car and bowels ]. I was ready for the second chicane and I got the camera guy to select 3rd. [ 5 speed box ] and brake down to the correct RPM, rather than change down twice as you would normally. Shelby pulled away a little at the exit of the chicane as he was in the right gear ! The Cobra was then given the beans and we just topped 185mph as I caught Shelby just before the 40 mph Mulsanne Corner. Again, travelling way too fast, the car ended up in a beautiful power slide [ that’s to say more luck than judgement ] with the cameras flashes in the crowd going wild. Next was the series of bends at Arnage, this time I got the cameraman to put the Cob in 3rd. and “pottered” round whilst Shelby showing his old flair just powered through and was gone. The rest of the lap went without hitch, until we came to the new to me Ford chicane before the start finish straight.
Shelby was only supposed to do one lap as the time was running down and I was ready to go into the pits – which circumvented the chicane - so at the last moment I had to take the chicane to follow him ……….again lurid slides and much encouragement from the crowd – if only they knew. The marshalls and officials jumped out down the straight and Shelby realised that he wasn’t getting another lap and slowed to take the adulation of the crowd – I fell in behind, didn’t want to miss that reflected glory moment.
The cameraman asked me if I could do a burnout so he could make his final shots through rubber smoke – could I !!!!!!!!! He was talking to a fully paid up Comp Altered driver ! He steadied himself against the roll bar – and at 7000 rpm the clutch was dumped and a full 100 yds rolling burnout was the result, oh yes and I got a serious bollocking from the marshalls.
Back in the pits and the cars were taken into the paddock, whilst we went on up to the hospitality suite. Oh how the other half live.
The rest of the event was pretty much an anti-climax. Shelby was feted as the Grand marshall of the event, we got to have a superb meal put on by the ACO – and then we went back to our camp site to enjoy the racing whilst Shelby was whisked off here there and everywhere.
Then down to Earth - we spent the next few hours after the race straightening out the trailer and tow car and getting 4 good wheels and tyres on it for the trip home.
That wasn’t quite the end of the adventure - Harry had flown in on the Saturday morning [ in his private jet ] landing at the airport adjacent to the track. The plan was to take Carroll and the boys back to London for some further festivities before they went back home. What we didn’t know was that the main Organ Transplant Centre in France had organised an evening meal to cement the European part of the Transplant Trust. That only left Myself, Mrs.B and AC to represent the Trust as Harry had to be back in London that evening. AC begged off – as that kind of thing is not really him. Mrs. B and myself lapped it up ! I think the party finally finished around 3am – by which time we were too “tired and emotional” to even contemplate going back to the campsite, only to find that the French had booked a suite for us at this VERY expensive hotel – all paid for. When we got back to the campsite the next morning – it was very desolate. Everyone had left and it seemed a sad end to what had been an amazing experience.
And now some 18 years later everytime I see AC’s trailer – I look at the bow in the nearside metalwork and think of that 3 am adventure on the Peripherique – and my week with some true motoring legends.
Happy Christmas / Thanksgiving one and all - Beachcomber
L-R Moss, Shelby,Salvadori, Brooks, Sir Frank Wells [ heart Surgeon ] and unknown [ sorry ]
Carroll with Roy Salvadori and Moss sat in "their" car
Carroll in the same car just entering the Mulsanne Straight
AC in one of the race Cobras taken from my Cobra.
Carroll, John Attwood [ CEO Addenbrookes Heart Transplant Centre ], Bob Bondurant and Pete Brock before the Cavalcade
A round of the RAM / Bardahl trophy at Dijon in France.
A transporter load of RAM Cobras - including the "factory" race car at the back