All aboard the gravy train - the occasional perks of a journo's job


Author: David EvansPublished:

Every so often, thanks to our privileged position as the press, we get invited on what’s known as “a good jolly”.

In my (dim and distant) past life on electronics magazines – 12 September 1988 to be precise (I only know because it says so on the back of the photo!) – a load of hacks went to Brands Hatch to help component distributor Celdis celebrate its 25th birthday.

While we pootled around in Escort XR3s or XR2-powered Formula First single-seaters, the sadly departed tin-top legend Tony Lanfranchi buzzed past us all, giving rides in a D-type replica. He was a top bloke, too, and chuffed that someone remembered the BMW 3.0 Si and Moskvitch that he raced in the ’70s.

Three years before that, my editor (also a car nut) asked if I’d like to go Castle Combe for an event organised by Computervision, which sponsored the Group B Metro 6R4s.

After the sales pitch (and a nice meal), we got to play Scalextric with the team drivers: the late, great Tony Pond, Malcolm Wilson and Marc Duez. They won, of course.

The next morning, after the journos had competed to set the fastest time on a slalom course in an MG Maestro EFI (I didn’t), we all had rides around what would be the Combe special stage on that year’s RAC.

If you were lucky, it was in one of the 440bhp works cars, with Mr Pond in my case. “Just touch my knee if I go too fast!” he joked before we shot off down the track, effortlessly sideways through the first corner.

There seemed to be no less traction as we kicked up the dirt doing a ton on the loose surface. All too soon, it was over. Brilliant, and still the quickest car I’ve been in.

Spool forward 25 years – these things don’t come around that often, in case you were wondering – and I was back in a Group B car, as part of Audi’s 30th birthday do for the quattro. This time the backdrop was more spectacular: a ‘closed’ section of the Col de Turini, with one Walter Röhrl driving.

When I say closed, there was a PR bloke with a walkie-talkie at each end to give the all clear. Memories of the 6R4 flooded back: the same fierce acceleration and unfeasible grip. ‘There’s a corner coming up,’ you’re thinking, ‘it’ll never get round that.’ Before my old brain had caught up, we were halfway towards the next hairpin.

He may have been 62 knocking on 63, but Röhrl had lost none of his competitive edge. “Shit: I forgot to stop the watch!” he exclaimed as we slewed sideways at the top. Over the course of the week, he put 450 ‘clicks’ on the ’84 ex-works A2 car – “only 265 horse-brakes” – and took 20 seconds off his best time.

My attempt to film the run mostly focused on the footwell, but Vicky Parrott was there with Autocar’s video crew, which got some great footage, here.

Sadly, when the chance to go on the best BMW bunfight ever was up for grabs a few weeks ago, it coincided with press week for our calendar – the dates for which I mostly compile – so our man Page went instead. Apparently it was quite good as he related in his blog.

To make up for missing out on that one, though, Clements kindly asked if I would like to go to Goodwood, courtesy of Jaguar Heritage Racing and JD Classics. Well, it would have been rude not to, particularly because I suspected that Alex Buncombe would be driving one of the cars. He was.

First up was a ride with JD’s boss Derek Hood in his prized D-type (above), which was deceptively fast down the Lavant Straight. Malcolm Sayer’s aerodynamic shape clearly works: the only thing disturbing the airflow was my massive bonce!

It was wet, too, which made it all the more exciting because the three cars had been set up for dry conditions. As Will Arif explained before we headed out in the C-type: “I will be working quite hard.” He certainly was, expertly correcting the ex-Fangio beauty as it squirmed around the track, its straight-through pipes howling away next to me.

When it was my turn for a ride with Alex, it was chucking it down as he deftly set up the 350bhp hard-top for lurid powerslides out of Madgwick, Lavant and pretty much everywhere else. The bloke’s car control is awesome: no wonder he won this year’s E-type Challenge in it.

Those organised Jaguar PR types put a camera on each car, too, so you can get some idea of the conditions if you watch ‘Historic Jaguars lapping Goodwood in the wet’ on our You Tube channel.

One of our Facebook followers was evidently unimpressed, though, stating that ‘the entire thing is lame’. There’s no pleasing some people! Lame would be the last word I’d use. But then, as Max Boyce says: “I know, ’cos I was there...”

Photos: LAT, Stefan Warter, Stuart Price


Chris Martin

David, your tales from the Brands Hatch school pretty much mirror mine - except I did get a full-on five-star bollocking from Tony Lanfranchi for not only spinning off at Graham Hill Bend, wiping off a wheel (and other parts) but then attempting to rejoin the track and drive back to the pits! I still have the papers somewhere, with erratic lap times, and comments from Tony L and the instructor Tomas Mezera. The latter impressed me with how an XR3 should be launched over the brow at Paddock Hill, so I was not surprised when he later turned up in the Australian Touring car series and went on to win the big one at Bathurst in the early nineties. As for the Formula First, I was rather unimpressed, and the one I had certainly did not go where you pointed it, but then I found out later from someone who had worked there on the spanners - no names, he is now well known in the F1 pitlane - that those cars got so regularly trashed, their job was just to keep bolting parts back on to keep them running on four wheels, there was never any attempt at 'setting up', ie checking camber, caster, tracking, corner-weights etc, so no two drove the same anyway, rather like those cheap arrive-and-drive kart tracks. By the way, my track days were not perks of anything, I was a paying punter, but the danger of going along with mates is it still gets to be a personal battle between you, only resolved later in the pub. Clive was a bit better than me anyway, and he didn't fall off, but Jay, (now a well known guitarist, Google up Jay Stapley) was way quicker than everyone, and he did not even seem to know how or why, until we found out he was ignoring the rev limit - the tell-tale was jammed in the red. On his final run, he broke all records on his second lap, and was off on the third, thereby forfeiting his remaining seven laps. We all had fun though, and it did teach us all that making the transition from an armchair sports fan and expert to real 'Racing Driver' is not as easy as it looks. BTW, for a good read, if you haven't already, try to find a copy of 'Down The Hatch' by Mark Kahn, a riotous account of Mr Lanfanchi and his driving career. Chris M.


David Evans

Hi Chris: it certainly sounds as if you had a good time. I vaguely remember the format of the day as a couple of laps in an XR3 with an instructor, who marked you as you went. Then they basically went through everyone's forms – taking the mickey, of course. If you got less than a certain mark, they paid for a taxi home, though I don't reckon that anyone ever did.

Tony said I had an excellent idea of the lines, though they clearly weren't for Brands! I'm sure it was all part of his set routine but it made us chuckle anyway. After that, you could (I think) do 10 laps in the XR3 or five in one of the Formula Firsts, which I went for because it was a single-seater – and it's still the only single-seater I've driven.

And, yes, I do need to track down a copy of 'Down the Hatch'; I've used that for headlines a few times over the years...

All the best for now, David

Philippe Bertrand

Happy guy, even if it is "sometimes" on "many" years.



Hi David

I too attended that Computervision trip (on behalf of some trade journal I worked for). I remember clearly being driven by Tony Pond and being astounded by his late braking. It was my most exhilarating passenger ride ever (excepting theme park rides). It was also the first time I met the late Russell Bulgin and I thought what an arrogant twat, only later learning what a great bloke and journalist he was and much missed. You've got a better memory than me - I don't recall the Maestros!


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