GRR

Mystery Monday: Paul Michaels – Running a privateer F1 entry was the highlight of my career

19th June 2016

My love of cars comes from my father. He was in the motor trade and I can always remember him bringing home all sort sorts of different cars. As a result, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and left school at the earliest opportunity, starting Hexagon in Daleham Mews, Belsize Park, in 1963. 

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It was perhaps a slight mistake to call the business ‘Hexagon Fine Tuning’: people were turning up with pianos at first! So we quickly dropped the fine tuning bit and went from strength-to-strength selling and maintaining everything from Jaguars to Jensens, Marcos to Porsches.

A love of motorsport generally goes hand-in-hand with cars – and so it was with me. Of course I wanted to be racer but a few laps sitting next to proper drivers like John Watson and Mike Franey made me realise that running a team might be a better place for my talents.

We started off in historics. We had a Maserati Tipo 61 ‘Birdcage’ and a Lister-Jaguar… trouble was these old racing cars were costing us a fortune, so I thought we might as well have a go at modern motor racing and bought a Trojan T101 F5000 car for the 1973 season.

Wattie had raced for us the year before so I knew how good he was. For example, having only just recovered from an accident at the Race of Champions where he’d broken his leg, he jumped in the F5000 at a test session at Brands Hatch and immediately broke the lap record.

I’d always had this ambition to be in F1 by the time I was 30 and, back then F5000 to F1 wasn’t that much of a leap, so I thought ‘why not?’ So, for the 1974 season, Hexagon became a privateer F1 team with Wattie as our driver.  I was 28 years old. 

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We had an incredible year, really mixing it with the big boys. The hairs still stand up on the back of my neck when I remember John finishing sixth at Monaco, behind Emerson Fittipaldi and ahead of Graham Hill. Because we’d finished in the points, we were invited to the Prince’s Palace. I was running around after the race trying to find a hire shop so we could get some dinner jackets.

We came close to a deal with Gitanes for 1975 but at the end of 1974 I decided we had to stop. We’d scored a brilliant six points and the season had cost £114,000 – a tiny amount in today’s F1 prices – but it would have been nearly double that for another season. I wouldn’t change a thing though – we lived the dream for that year.

For over 50 years, the one constant has been buying and selling cars. For a long time we sold new BMWs but there’s little fun, or profit, in that so today Hexagon concentrates on classics, from air-cooled Porsches to Astons, Ferraris and everything in between. 

What’s so great about classics? They become a part of the family and they give you access to a lifestyle. I think we’re ahead of the game with our new flagship showroom in East Finchley (on the old site of our BMW dealership).  As well as space for 50 classics, it features a design gallery where you can buy high-end ceramics and cool home furnishings, we’ll soon open a coffee bar and, by the end of the year, a restaurant run by Michelin star chef Christian Honor. The walls feature pictures from our motorsport days mixed with modern art I’ve collected over the years. 

There’s nothing else like it in London – it’s a real destination, not just for car lovers, but for anyone who appreciates design, drink and food. Together with our charity night this summer, it should certainly keep me busy! I’m also planning on opening a car museum next year too. The motor industry has given me everything. It’d be nice to give something back.

Hexagon is holding a Le Mans-themed charity night on 5th July at its flagship East Finchley showroom. Sky F1 presenter Natalie Pinkham will host a live Q&A featuring Derek Bell MBE, Jacky Ickx, Richard Attwood and Mark Blundell. For tickets see https://hexagonclassics.com or call 07711 169 111. All proceeds will go to Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity and Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity. 

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