But – as it happened – I had… Or at least, I haven’t heard anything specific about that incident for the past thirty-nine years. Of course covering its own back ‘Autosport’ published a boxed apology the following week, emphasising that I as a freelance (not a staff writer) had submitted the story. I had not been present in person at the Press Conference and that I had based my story upon the transcript. I felt they could have been a wee bit more supportive, but I really sympathised with editor Quentin Spurring because he had taken more flak than I had – and it must have been pretty intense…
I didn’t get to talk with Mr E for several years – despite our paths crossing several times. Then one day a friend called, asking me to meet Mr E with him to inspect a car that Bernie was thinking of buying. I didn’t feel very comfortable but went along with it. Mr E that day was crisp, friendly, the surprisingly weak handshake that I remembered. And later – after inspecting the car in detail – he started to talk about how Formula 1 was going down the tubes. The drivers were spoiled kids. “Maybe we’ve made the cars too safe today? We don’t kill ’em off often enough. The top blokes just hang around too long. They don’t move on or out and give someone new a drive. What we ought to do is have spray bars on each corner, so we can flood the track in places if a race gets boring. That would wake them up. Maybe the drivers should swap around – top drivers drive the backmarkers’ cars, and vice versa at one race each year? That would sharpen up the front runners when they realise how the other half has to live…”.
That day he was, in fact, a relaxed, playful, outrageous, bundle of fun. Maybe it was a test. I respected the confidence, keeping those comments to myself until today, but had I quoted them accurately at that time you can imagine the dreadful fuss it would have sparked – especially that line about “not killing ’em off regularly enough”.
In later years, on perhaps a half-dozen occasions, he ’phoned from time to time, usually to talk about old cars and acquiring them for his collection. His 1937 Mercedes-Benz W125 he would describe as “…that silver one, what’s it called, that WD40 thing…”, and by then I suspected that such a reference was part intended to needle someone he viewed – I am sure – as just another nerdy retarded-schoolboy enthusiast, a rivet counter, one of those irritating fans who thought he had a right to an opinion, merely because he had been a lifelong enthusiast... But regardless, Mr E still commissioned a couple of books from me for very special projects.