Doug Nye: Archive shots of the world's richest single motor race

21st February 2018
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

I guess it comes to most of us. I mean the day on which one realises that a time has come – we really are sliding down the razor blade of life – and that dotage beckons. In some ways that happened to me yesterday. My grandson called in after school, and over a drink and a biscuit he just glanced at me and asked: “So – what have you been doing today?”.


What?! Hang on a minute. That’s meant to be a question that adults ask of ten-year-olds and younger. Yet here we were – boot on the other foot. Fortunately, it made me laugh. Well, most things still do, but it was a moment – indeed – to review just what I had done today.

In fact, I had spent most of it shuffling through a large foolscap envelope of 2 ¼-inch square colour transparencies that I had found, lying under other stuff, on a shelf at our GP Library store. I slipped the contents out onto a table, and then held the sleeves up to the light, around dozen transparencies in each one.

They had been taken between 1963 and 1970 by an old friend, the Swiss-born French-domiciled journalist Gerard ‘Jabby’ Crombac. He was a most influential player on the regular International motor racing circuit from the 1950s far into the 1990s. He was the founder and longtime editor of the French magazine ‘Sport Auto’, he had been an enthusiastic racer in his own right – initially with a Lotus Mark VI – and from the earliest 1950s he had been a great friend and confidant of Colin Chapman, and of British fellow journalists including most particularly the great John Bolster and Gregor Grant, the latter founding editor of ‘Autosport’ magazine, the former its Technical Editor. Above all, John and Gregor just loved spending time in Gay Paree – and ‘Jabby’ was a really sociable character who enjoyed having them there. Through the 1950s into the 1960s, just a few bob went a long way when it came to chaps finding diverting entertainment in Paris – and they certainly enjoyed numerous diversions along the way.

So, on my particular day in question, I spent a few hours with the Epson scanner, painstakingly digitizing Jabby’s wonderful images from the world’s richest single motor race. Any time one spends working on such photographs, looking deep into them rather than merely at them – adjusting focus, sharpness, colour tone, contrast – can be deeply rewarding. 

Jimmy Clark in the works Lotus-Ford 34 which went out due to inadequate Dunlop tyres - after leading the 500 - 1964
Jack Brabham in his John Zink Urschel Trackburner Special - aka Brabham-Offenhauser BT12 - 1964
Parnelli Jones - with cigarette - in the Bowes Seal Fast Special Watson-Offenhauser roadster 1964
A.J. Foyt’s woinderfully well-presented Sheraton-Thompson Special Lotus-Ford - 1965 Indy ‘500’
Andy Granatelli’s STP Oil Treatment 4-wheel drive supercharged V8-engined Ferguson-Novi to be driven by Bobby Unser, 1964 ‘500'
Spare front-engined Watson-Offy roadster in Foyt’s Sheraton-Thompson Special colours...
Lloyd Ruby in Bill Forbes’s Watson-Offenhauser - Indy 1965
Rodger Ward’s rear-engined Watson Offenhauser ‘Moog St Louis Special’ - Indy 1965
San Francisco BMC dealer Kjell Qvale’s MG Liquid Suspension Special Huffaker-Offenhauser for Walt Hansgen - Indy 1965

Not only does one see so much more within the original image than any casual glance provides, eventually one comes back to reality with a bump – it’s surely time to go and put the kettle on – and one realises that a couple of hours have just elapsed – in which one was entirely transported back into the memories and mindsets of the motor racing past.

So here this week I thought I’d just share a cross-section of these latest rediscoveries with you – archive images of a Speedway racing past in which we Brits looked on in awe at the fabulously colourful paint jobs – the liveries – the advertising upon racing cars that was complete anathema to the national and International authorities based this side of the Atlantic. It was exotic, it was rare – and when Jimmy Clark and the works Lotus-Ford 38 finally crushed all opposition to win the Indy ‘500’ in 1965 it was just supremely, gloriously, wonderfully triumphant.

This is why we are always so delighted to see some of the great Indycars brought to the Festival of Speed each year – in period (apart from anything else) they simply provided a magnificently unrestrained and extrovert splash of showman colour within a world which threatened to hide its light under a bushel…

With the high-profile media launches these days of Formula 1 team new liveries for this coming World Championship season – what a long way ‘the sport’ has come to match these pioneers.

Photography courtesy of the GP Library

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