Godfather of historic endurance rallying remembered

| 21 Mar 2016

I recently attended a memorial service for Philip Young, the man who more than any other we can thank for the existence of historic rallying. Let’s get this straight, Philip could be a complicated and difficult man, a short-tempered object lesson in the art of obtuse, but he was also a marvellous human being who got things done and engendered the most incredible loyalty in people. Many’s the time I have listened  to one of his participants ranting about how this “infuriating” man has deigned to treat them – the customer – only for them to proceed to sign up for everything else he was planning.

It wasn’t just the unique ambition of his rallies such as Around the World in 80 Days or Peking to Paris that enchanted them, it was Philip’s humour and humanity. On form, there was barely anyone funnier. On form there was no one better to sit by a bar with in some far-flung corner of the world. On form, gruffness aside, there was no one on the planet with more humanity (and I’m including the Dalai Lama in that). He didn’t suffer fools, actually he did. He really really did, just not gladly. Thanks to his travels, not only did Philip have the finest photo album in the world, he also had a wonderful knack or slipping effortlessly into social situations in any geographical location with any people. His secret wasn’t some chameleon like ability to adapt, but the opposite: he simply treated every situation and every person the same, without judging or comparing, for better or for worse. 

His ability to cross borders that he really shouldn’t have been able to cross always put in mind Dr Who, holding up that blank business card which to the reader said whatever it needed to say in order for them to let the Doctor do what he wanted.

National treasure Lord Steel of Aikwood was one of the speakers at Philip’s service (using that word feels wrong, it was a gathering, a celebration more than any kind of service) and reminded us all that Philip was a dyed in the wool Liberal and had even been a party employee. He had also done his time in Fleet Street, on telly and much more, winning friends and ruffling feathers in equal measure. If you go back to his Unipart-backed heyday he was British endurance rallying’s flag-bearer, a bit like Alain de Cadenet was at Le Mans.

The memorial appropriately took place at Brooklands and the turn out kind of reflected everything I have said above, it was a dichotomy rather reminiscent of Philip himself. In the cars, and it has to be said their owners, too, there was a wonderful mix of rich and poor, scruffy and pristine. Again, all had been treated equally and had been welcomed equally by Philip, possibly even more so if he perceived that taking part in one of his events had been more of an effort, more of a sacrifice for you. Equally, wealth or title were never any sort of barrier against Philip’s scorn or disdain when it was merited.

After some reminiscences by some of those closest to him (including the legendary Fred Gallagher) the event finished with a minute (or two) of noise, all the cars revving to the Gods, led by the Napier-Railton. It was like blowing one massive raspberry to the world and I think Philip would have liked that.

Indeed, if he were reading this I could imagine that familiar wry smile starting to play on one side of his mouth. It wouldn’t earn the full guffaw, sadly, but I did achieve that from him once (with an anecdote a well-known racing driver of Philip’s acquaintance had told me about two of his team being caught in flagrante with their French host’s wife) and I can tell you, it felt like bringing down that fairground hammer and ringing that bell. We will not see his like again.