GRR

Doug Nye: 'The Colonel' – The best ever privately run Ferraris?

15th February 2018

The name of Colonel Ronnie Hoare is one of the most prominent within the history of the Goodwood Motor Circuit. Through a fairly brief career of seven seasons of competition his Maranello Concessionaires team proved itself to be one of the most effective of all private Ferrari racing organisations. Indeed, from 1961 to 1967 ‘The Colonel’s Ferraris’ in their gorgeous Italian racing red and Cambridge blue livery represented the best that any private owner could ever achieve. And of course his Ferraris won not just one Goodwood Tourist Trophy classic, but two – both with Graham Hill driving – in 1963 and 1964. But how did Maranello Concessionaires begin – and how did The Colonel become such a significant figure within British motor racing history? Back in 1980, he told me the story…

image003.jpg

Colonel R.J. ‘Ronnie’ Hoare had always been a motoring enthusiast. He had been a little involved in racing both before and after the Second World War; driving supercharged MGs at Brooklands in the 1930s and later – while still serving as a regular Army officer – competing in Aston Martin cars at minor club-race and hill-climb level.

After leaving the Army – in which he had commanded Royal Artillery units – he became the head of F. English Limited, the Fiord main dealership in Bournemouth, on the Dorset coast. In 1956 he formed the United Racing Stable team of Formula 2 cars in partnership with Bob Gibson-Jarvie, son of the Chairman of United Dominions Trust, the prominent finance house then helping pioneer hire-purchase throughout the motor trade.

The two businessmen planned a full season of racing in the newly introduced 1500cc single-seater Formula 2 category, from January 1, 1957. They ran Cooper-Climax single-seater cars for drivers like Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb but “…it was not a very satisfactory operation, and I began to regret that I had become involved…”.

Not least, I suspect, ‘The Colonel’ as he was already known within the motor racing world, found the Formula 2 arena inhabited by a bunch of rather scruffy, possible insubordinate ‘Brands Hatch racers’ who had come up from the dirty-fingernail arena of 500cc Formula 3 racing, with noisy, unimpressive motor-cycle engined cars.

‘The Colonel’ always struck a supremely elegant figure, beautifully dressed, the clipped military man still expecting his opinions to prevail, his orders to be heard, and obeyed. He was something of a snob – and Formula 2 was not an ideal area for such attitudes then to prevail. He would find world-class International endurance racing with really exotic machinery deployed far more to his taste.

image001.jpg

On the brighter side, running the United Racing Stable team introduced The Colonel to the Emilian city of Modena, in Italy. As the home town of Ferrari and Maserati – and so many more Italian etceterini manufacturers – Modena was at that time motor racing’s absolute Mecca. “We had been introduced…” The Colonel told me, “…to an Italian building a Formula 1 car to use a Maserati engine and I went to do a viability study for running the car the following season….

“I was shown around by that remarkable chap Hans Tanner who met me in Milan. And at that time one travelled to Modena by rail which was a very boring performance. We arrived in the evening and Tanner took me straight across to the Fontana Restaurant for dinner, and there we met ‘Mimmo’ Dei of Scuderia Centro Sud fame. He was running his racing drivers’ school at the Modena Autodrome at that time and was in the Fontana with about fourteen students and his chief instructor, Piero Taruffi.

“We had a splendid evening, and about midnight – full of Lambrusco – Tanner and I set off across the city and eventually came to a garage adjoining a house. , and in the garage stood a plain table with the car being built upon it!  There it was, about 1 o’clock in the morning, and the project coordinator, Giorgio Neri, had all the best people from the various Modenese racing departments moonlighting away like mad on his new car…”

image002.jpg

The project would eventually reach fruition as the TecMec Maserati, but without The Colonel’s backing. “We finally decided not to pursue that project any further, but during my stay Hans Tanner took me round Ferrari and I was terribly impressed by all that I saw. The whole company’s production was at that time concentrated in the one long workshop which today handles nothing but Formula 1, but what I saw left an indelible impression. I promised myself that I would own a Ferrari one day.”

At that time there was no formal Ferrari concessionaire or importer for the British market. Some years previously Brooklands Motors of London’s Bond Street had imported one car for sale to David Brown – of Aston Martin fame – while the rare competition cars brought in for Dudley Folland, Peter Whitehead, Vandervell Products Ltd, Reg Parnell and Bobby Baird had all been acquired direct from the factory.

However, when Mike Hawthorn won his Drivers’ World Championship title in 1958 he arranged with Mr Ferrari to display two Ferrari 250GT Pininfarina fixed-head Coupes on a stand at the London Motor Show, taken by his TT Garage business which was based in his home town of Farnham, Surrey. One of these very expensive cars was finished in white, the other in heather-grey and the arrangement was for Mike to pay the factory for them at the end of the Earl’s Court Motor Show – so the incentive to find homes for them both was enormous…

The white car he quickly sold to a gentleman named Fitzgerald from Ireland, but the heather-grey version stuck. Colonel Hoare: “I had known Leslie Hawthorn – Mike’s father – from before the war and knew Mike as a kid. I had even helped Leslie change the wheels and fiddle around with his Riley Imp for the first race Michael ever drove and we had become good friends.

image003.jpg

“Obviously I was interested in that 250GT sitting there at the Show, unsold, and so were several other mutual friends, like Gawaine Baillie and Tommy Sopwith. We went back to the Show every day and there would be the car, still unsold, and Michael looking more and more forlorn as closing day approached.

“By the Saturday night, myself, Tommy and Gawaine were all haggling over it with Michael and he was getting desperate. We were talking around £6,000 I think, which was a lot of money at the time, and Michael then said ‘Look, you’ll never buy the car without trying it, and once you’ve tried it you’ll just have to buy it.”

“We went down to Farnham next day and drove the car and instantly fell in love with it.

“Tommy won the battle and bought the car.

“At that time I had just sold a Mercedes-Benz300SL Gullwing which I loved dearly, and had bought a 300SL Roadster from Tommy. I drove it for some time and frighten ed myself silly in it. It was nowhere near as safe as the Coupe and the Coupe in my estimation wasn’t safe anyway. Very luckily I had never hit anything but I rang Tommy and told him I wasn’t at all happy with the car.,

“He was running an identical Roadster and said that his was fine. At that time we both ran Ford dealerships and on the first Monday of the following month we attended a Ford dealer meeting and drove each other’s car afterwards to see how they compared. I found his every bit as bad as mine while he said mine was the same as his but it didn’t worry him. I was convinced that if I did not get rid of that wretched Roadster I would kill myself in it one day, and I told him so, whereupon he replied ‘Why don’t you take my bloody Ferrari, it’s never been on twelve cylinders since the day I bought it!’.

“So we drove straight away to Woking Motors which Tommy owned at that time and at about 11 o’clock at night swopped the cars over and I set off in the Ferrari – which proved to be firing on all twelve cylinders at the time – to go home to Bournemouth. I simply loved it, and when I got home at about two in the morning I immediately awoke my poor wife and took her whistling around Dorset in the car….”

Within a few days the 250GT fouled a spark plug, and thereafter The Colonel became adept at wrestling his way through a change of the side-mounted plugs. “Then one night a plug went out and I left the engine running while I opened the bonnet to take a look, and there before me was the cause of the trouble. The HT leads from the distributors to the plugs ran through a metal conduit before branching out as necessary, and in the dark I could see the leads arcing furiously.

“Immediately I got back to the garage I had them all removed and examined. They proved to be made of very poor material and so we ordered aviation specification replacements from Lucas and that cured the problem completely. I did another 25,000 miles in that car and I absolutely adored it. It was never a moment’s trouble once that problem had been solved, and of course having once had a Ferrari, nothing else will ever do…”.

image005.jpg

In 1959 he decided he would like a new model “but couldn’t really afford it” and then “I suddenly had a brainwave. Poor Mike Hawthorn had been killed that January and nobody had done anything more about importing Ferraris, so I thought of approaching Ferrari to become their British concessionaire. TT Garage had been sold to John Adams, I was worried about the availability of Ferrari spares and during a discussion with him I asked if TT were interested in retaining the Ferrari franchise or if he would mind my approaching Ferrari on the subject. He gave me the go-ahead, provided TT Garage could remain Ferrari agents.

“I set out my proposal, explaining that I would run the concession from my Ford dealership in Poole Road, Bournemouth, would send mechanics over to be trained, carry spares, run a demonstrator, all that kind of thing, and I sent it direct to Mr Ferrari to whom Hans Tanner had introduced me in that first visit of 1957.

“Eventually I received an invitation to meet Ferrari’s commercial manager, Girolamo Gardini, at the Brussels Motor Show in January 1960, and after some discussion he realised I was in earnest and said ‘Come to Modena, you must see Mr Ferrari’.

“During the discussions which followed at Maranello, Mr Ferrari suddenly asked ‘How many cars do you think you could take per year?’ – after a quick double-take I really stuck my neck out and said ‘Four’, thinking to myself we could run two demonstrators, I could probably persuade Gawaine Baillie to buy the third and in 365 days of the year, I must be able to find a customer for the fourth. The Old Man said ‘Well, that’s marvellous because that’s a thousand times better than we have ever done in the UK before, because we have only sold four cars there in ten years!’.

“I had got it. I promptly ordered a new 250GT Berlinetta and so Maranello Concessionaires began…”.

  • Doug Nye

  • Ferrari

  • Ronnie Hoare

  • goodwood_tt_doug_nye_26042017_04.jpg

    Doug Nye

    Doug Nye: Goodwood's period TT at its peak

  • doug_fos_2018_26071808.jpg

    Doug Nye

    Doug Nye: The best E-type I've ever driven

  • gpl-fred-taytlor-1961-crystal-palace-hill-parkes-salvadori-jaguar-e-types-v.-ferrari-250gt-swb-300-1.jpeg06091605.jpg

    Doug Nye

    Doug Nye – Ready for a Ferrari v Jaguar v Aston Martin Revival battle?