It's 40 years since The Blue Flame became the first car to achieve 1000km/h, setting a World Land Speed record that lasted 27 years. It could have gone even quicker - but it very nearly didn't make it at all.
As the floodwaters rose over England, I emulated Noah and loaded up the GTO and a pre-war Aston Martin Ulster and set sail to the New World to seek a better life – well, temporarily anyway...
As the floodwaters rose over England, I emulated Noah and loaded up the GTO and a pre-war Aston Martin Ulster and set sail to the New World to seek a better life – well, temporarily anyway.
Our motor trip got off to a cracking start at Florida airport, where I was met by my good friend Derek Bell (now that’s what I call a proper limo service, as well as an opportunity to name drop) who apologised for not holding up a sign with ‘Derek Bell’ on it – I’m sorry if you’ve heard this story before, but I can’t resist recycling it.
While touring some years ago, it seemed necessary for the band to check into hotels under different names; probably to avoid hordes of girls descending on us. In hindsight I can’t think why we wouldn’t want this, especially as travelling incognito transformed simple tasks such as collecting room keys into a nightmare, as the receptionist, unaware of our Machiavellian security procedures, demanded proof of identity.
Anyway, I used Derek’s name throughout, which worked well as I was able to remember it, and most of my car pals could remember it as well. I then got wind of the fact that Derek’s then-wife was a little perturbed to hear about this, thinking (quite rightly) that it could bring his reputation into disrepute.
Seizing on this, I acquired some headed paper from a hotel in Australia, and dispatched direct to Derek’s home a substantial invoice for room damage, TVs slung out of windows and a colossal bar bill – and, as an afterthought, a note from the manager noting how much the staff and guests had enjoyed Mrs Bell’s performance of the Dance of the Seven Veils in the dining room. Sadly, I don’t think this ever got to the intended recipient, but I still ponder on the breakfast discussion that might have ensued.
After Florida, we headed off to California for the Laguna Historic races and the Pebble Beach Concours. Laguna is a fantastic circuit and I was able to benefit from a short briefing from Derek, although regarding the legendary Corkscrew corner even his ability to communicate was challenged and all he could say was, ‘You’ll just have to go out and see that one for yourself…’ Derek went on to trounce all the other drivers in the Race of Legends, confirming my belief that I had chosen the right advisor.
My race in the Aston was fun, if a little lonely, and a great opportunity to get some time on the track. And it did throw up a few novel experiences – not least of which was coming up on a back marker with two people aboard. My first assumption was that, this being the USA, it was the driver and his lawyer, and that any contact or overtaking manoeuvre might be met with a protest, writ and punitive damages. Consequently it took me some time to plan my overtaking manoeuvre, although it later transpired that the second occupant was a necessary riding mechanic to pump fuel to the engine… But it’s a great credit to Steve Earle that he’s able to get cars like this out on the track. Even the VSCC would struggle with officialdom on that one.
After a night cleaning up the Aston and the GTO (the GTO had become transport to and from the circuit for a couple of days), it was on to the green at Pebble Beach. In England there is still that disapproval of American concours encouraging over-restoration. The Americans have taken this criticism very well, considering it comes from a land where for many years it was considered perfectly acceptable to chop up lovely vintage Bentleys into many parts, and then swap them around and chuck away the leftover saloon bodies, big chassis and smaller engines. A little over-chroming or metalflake paint seems fairly innocuous in comparison.
In the California sun the gleaming Duesenbergs, Cords and hot rods were truly sensational, and the attention to detail breathtaking, and there was also a place for a terrific collection of original, unrestored cars to add to the interest. Jay Leno’s irreverent commentary as he handed out the raffle prizes was another high point.
And, finally, a compliment to the judges, who behaved impeccably. They took a real interest in both my cars, despite the fact that these both looked a little out of their league. Feeling like the man who forgot his trousers, I came away determined to finally get rid of the horrible 1970s clock in the Aston dashboard, which was shoved in to fill a hole left by a broken oil temperature gauge 20 years ago. I only really noticed it for the first time when the judges were too polite to mention it...
NICK MASON is Pink Floyd’s drummer and a great car enthusiast. He has raced classic and modern cars for the last 30 years and has written two books: one on cars, Into the Red and one on his version of the history of Pink Floyd, Inside Out.