It’s fair to say that the Graham Hill Trophy at the 77th Goodwood Members’ Meeting – a race chock-full of stunning closed-cockpit GT cars and prototypes – is a favourite event round these parts.
Harking back to the spirit of the RAC TT races of the early 1960s, there’s a cinematic feel about the Goodwood circuit and paddocks when these cars are in town. Having a snoop through the shelters before Saturday’s first practice session there was one GT car in particular which seemed to be getting the lion’s share of attention.
Peeking through a mass of bodies and camera lenses appeared the long, low, purposeful nose of a bright red Italian thoroughbred. But perhaps not the one you’d first think. Instead, here rested a 1965 Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3/C, a car which was in fact designed and built to take on the Ferrari 250 GTO at its own game by the gifted, and somewhat hot-headed, Giotto Bizzarrini. A man who based much of his work and engineering flair on the aerodynamics and processes used in the aeronautical industries.
It seems fitting, therefore, that walking up to meet us is Steve Brooks, a man who has just finished announcing his plans to fly around the globe this summer behind the controls of The Silver Spitfire. He’s also racing the Iso Grifo and a Jaguar D-Type in anger this weekend. Busy chap then.
Despite looming commitments, a beaming Brooks, full of energy and charisma, is only too happy to talk to us about his weekend.
“The TT has always been the most iconic race at Goodwood. I was looking for something I could race in it with that would be special. I looked at all the different cars, and I don't know why, but they just didn't feel quite special enough.
“And then I heard the story of Bizzarrini, and he was the most fantastic man. And he designed the Ferrari GTO, the finest car ever. Amazing. But then, he fell out with Ferrari's wife, and he went out on his own. A typically Italian story. Wonderful.”
Steve continues with an infectious and boyish enthusiasm, a quality which shows he’s a man who genuinely loves the stories and engineering craft which comes as part and parcel of these machines, and a man who cares about passing these stories on to the next generation.
“He went out on his own and he was obviously quite upset so he built this car with the intention to eat up the Ferrari GTO. It's a very special piece of machinery and it has got some wild engineering in it, way in advance of its time.”
Built by Piero Drogo’s Carrozzeria Sports Cars in Modena, the A3/C model was the race-prepped version of the Iso Grifo – the other being the luxurious A3/L. What strikes you as you stand over the A3/C is how low, long and wide it is. This race car is big. But one that looks like it should be fast, as all the best do.
The advancement Steve mentions relates to the heavily-tuned 5.3-litre Chevrolet Corvette engine block which was used in all Iso cars. This monstrous power-unit was fitted way-back into the middle of the car to compliment and balance its lightweight monocoque. Bizzarrini was so pleased with the results, it is suggested he described the A3/C as the second coming of the GTO. Not only that, he considered it the more refined of the two. He would say that though, wouldn’t he?
Steve seems happy to agree with the great man.
“It’s an early version. 1965. It’s one of only two right-hand drive versions in the world. It comes from the Drogo shop, which were the lovely ones. Later he fell out with Drogo and had to move on again. This is all aluminium riveted, and it is just so special”.
Who are we to argue? Especially as Steve is a man, and a driver, used to handling some of the world’s most iconic machines.
Not only is he here to promote a round-the-world Spitfire flight and race a rare Italian GT car, Steve is also here with his original and breath-taking D-Type Jaguar XKD558. Some people have all the fun…
“The D-Type you can be very sideways. It just hangs out beautifully. That's harder to do in the Bizzarrini, it has a lot more momentum behind it. You can certainly feel you’re driving Detroit iron around the track. If I had to choose I'd say I prefer racing the D-Type in terms of handling. Malcolm Sayer created I think the most iconic car the UK has ever produced when he developed the D-Type”.
Steve is fast to point out a link to all three of his beautiful machines in order not to take the limelight from his beloved Bizzarrini.
“When these guys hone in on the correct performance, you get these incredible shapes that come out. It is real beauty. I think last century was probably the most exciting century on this planet. We saw the arrival of the engine, the car, electricity, the aeroplane, but it wasn't until the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s where they managed to combine the function that they already had, with the form. For me, seeing the form of the Spitfire, the form of the D-Type, and the form of the Bizzarrini; that is where the specialness comes in”.
Closing the interview as Steve’s first practice session behind the wheel of the Iso Grifo A3/C approaches, we cautiously ask what his hopes are for the Graham Hill Trophy within the car he always wanted for the event.
“To go racing, and not want to be at the front, it would be a waste of time. That said, it’s a tricky place Goodwood, and it’s a place that deserves a lot of respect”.
And as we wish Steve a safe and successful weekend of racing, it won’t be long until he’ll be setting his sights on a dangerous, yet inspiring, world-first aviation adventure as part of the Silver Spitfire expedition team. That, too, deserves a lot of respect.