Words and pictures by Billy Dulles
Jem Marsh introduced me to Tim Lalonde at Le Mans in 1966. I knew his ex-Minoprio Marcos GT car but I think he had already sold it by the time we met.
Former Ferrari Team Manager Florini was recruiting entrants at the Sarthe circuit for a forthcoming revival of the Mugello Race outside Florence. The starting money offered was ludicrously high for a 1300cc car and we felt it would be silly to pass this up, particularly as the French contingent did not appear to be interested. Jem had a partially built up lightweight shell and Colin Minot built the engine for Tim.
We entered as a Marcos Cars entry, with Tim & I as co-drivers. There was a seaman's strike on the cross channel ferries and we had taken the precaution of making an early booking to give us plenty of time to get to Florence. Tim had recruited a friend of his from Bristol, Percy White, who raced a Mallock U2, and was given the 'privilege' of taking his holiday and towing the race car behind his Wolseley 1500. (In case you are unfamiliar, Wolseley 1500 and Riley 1.5 were BMC interpretation of a Sports Saloon, rather boxy 4 seaters on a Morris Minor platform and MGA power with the appropriate badges.)
By the time we had loaded the trailer with the car and spares, replacement engine in the trunk of the Wolseley, Minilites and Dunlop Racing rubber, and tool boxes in the car I had serious misgivings about the stability of the rig.
I planned to leave the next day via Freddy Laker's British European Air Ferries to Geneva Switzerland and deliver a brand new Downton Cooper 'S', where we were to meet up.
Of course the inevitable happened. I had a phone call from Tim "....Willy were not going racing, come and pick us up!"
The trailer had started weaving going down a hill, Percy lost control and they struck a car going in the opposite direction with the trailer.
Thankful that no-one had been killed or even injured; we took stock of the situation.
Jem had fortunately taken out full insurance on the racer and trailer, so we were covered in that direction.
We decided to rebuild a road car 270 DGJ which I had as a demonstrator with some parts salvaged from the racer. An easy enough task with a Mini Marcos, but still involving 3 days and nights of frantic work
We now had no tow car. Percy I think borrowed his mother's car without tow bar, and no trailer. I had the Cooper to deliver and the racer to get to Italy. So we decided to drive in convoy, this time BEAF via Southend to Geneva. The Marcos boiled in traffic crossing London, and we realized we had done a lousy job of tracking the front wheels as the tyres started feathering. Needless to say we missed the flight but BEAF put us on the flight to Basle, Switzerland, the next day. We made a short stop at Rolf Wherlin's Garage in Basle, to use his tracking gauge. He was the local Morgan agent and I had met him hill-climbing my Plus 4 on the Continent. Then on over the St. Bernard pass to Italy to join the Autostrada di Sol. Mick, my mechanic (taking an unpaid holiday) and I shared the driving until we could stay awake no longer, and we had to pull in a few miles from Florence to nap.
Somebody poked his head in the window and woke us up jabbering about the World Cup. Apparently England had beaten Germany in the final.
We got moving again and met up with Tim and Percy and decided to use the Cooper S to reconnoiter the circuit with Tim. The lap length was something like 60km and needed learning but we were not supposed to practice outside Official Practice. Tim and I set off, I was navigating and we nearly missed a turn, with Tim recovering just in time to swerve back on to the right road. In so doing he drove a little Fiat 500 off the road, who disappeared down a bank in a cloud of dust and bobbed up again in a field apparently undamaged! About 50 people suddenly materialized as if from nowhere with the local Carabinieri. The situation could have turned ugly and we did not want to admit we were practicing for the race on open roads, although I suspect more than a few were. A few thousand Liras appeared to mollify the aggrieved Fiat Cinquecento driver, and we went on our way after going through the formality of filling out a form, already used for someone else!
Last updated 3rd June, 2016