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Motorsport Published: 8th Mar 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Gordon Bruce recalls how he came to be in at the birth of classic saloon racing

While studying engineering in the late ‘60s, I was fortunate to secure a weekend and holiday job as the gofer and tow car driver for a racing team in Hove. It was during a test day for the equipe’s ferocious supercharged Vincent-engined single-seater that I was unexpectedly invited to experience a Cooper-Norton 500cc F3 car, and must have done something right, as a number of hillclimb entries resulted. As some of you will know, it’s an odd branch of the sport that, at Shelsley Walsh for example, returned just c.2.5 minutes of driving in the Cooper over an entire weekend, including practice. However, I proved proficient enough to hold the 500cc record there throughout 1972 – in fact until the fad for adding a dose of nitro to the already toxic methanol fuel shattered all existing 500cc records. My modest racing career had begun in earnest.

By now, I was a road tester on the weekly magazine Motor, whose staff boasted a number of rapid racers and, thanks to a kindly word in Ford’s ear from my colleague Tony Dron, I landed a trial run in a (standard production series-ed) Motorcraft Mexico Challenge race at Aintree. I briefly lay second to the recently departed Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams before somebody rightly gave this cheeky new boy a lesson, by tapping me into the boondocks. However, that brief flash of promise, combined with my encouraging sprint and hillclimb results, prompted Ford to loan me an Escort for the 1974 season.

The Mexico Challenge really was tremendous fun and the racing incredibly close; in fact a bit too close the day I first qualified on the front row. The inside kerb of the Mallory Park hairpin is abnormally high. As I followed pole-sitter Colin Vandervell (son of ‘Mr Vanwall’) into that corner on the first lap, the driver behind employed my car rather than his brakes to slow himself down, as a result my Escort mounted the giant kerb, flipped over and spun on its door handle.

I was now side on and staring straight into the eyes of 30 other maniacs braking flat-out from 90mph – not the most comfortable of situations! An unwelcome dose of glandular fever prevented a serious title challenge that year, but I learnt a lot from that eventful inaugural season, and achieved a few placings and a share in the relevant Oulton Park lap record with Dron.

The following year he and I became the first drivers to race MkII Escort Sports alongside the MkI Mexicos. The Sports proved to be quicker through fast corners but slower through the others, which made for interesting battles and quite a few bent panels. I led several races and though ultimately only victorious in one, did also win a few memorable dinners at the infamous Penthouse Club, courtesy of the series sponsor – the scantily clad Penthouse Pets that adorned the grids were another welcome element of the popular series that year!

For 1976 I graduated to running the ex-Noel Edmonds Capri in the Radio 1 Production Saloon Series. Though we were quicker than he’d been, suffice to say my season had been ‘unrewarding’ until we got to Snetterton in May where, out of the blue, I was offered a drive in the Weston Park Racing Team’s MkI Jaguar 2.4. It revved to a heady 8000rpm and handled like a dream, though hitting the brakes had little effect other than to make the instruments rattle violently within the polished walnut facia. Perhaps that inability to slow down explains why I managed to win all five races entered in the car that year. These were the pioneering days of classic saloon racing, and greatly entertaining for drivers and spectators alike – still hugely enjoyable, such series are now a lot more serious and a great deal more expensive to contest.

Though lucky enough to briefly progress to the British and European Touring Car championships, my time in that original classic series and later experience of the European Historic (Ford Falcon) and Intermarque (AC Cobra) ones were the most fun I’ve ever had behind the wheel, and I must confess there are days when I wish I was still out there!

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