Ron Gaudion was 25 when he arrived in England from Australia in February 1954. He was 29 when he returned home. Between times he’d been central to Jaguar D-type’s Le Mans hat-trick.
AUG 24th 2017
Ecurie Ecosse, part 2: From factory floor to race team’s core
Armed with a five-year engineering apprenticeship, plus a two-year automotive engineering course from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, he craved experience. That’s why he made the trip. And that’s why he left Jaguar Cars after just one year in favour of a small racing team from Edinburgh.
“D-type was designed for long-distance events only and the works did very few races,” says the 87-year-old Victorian now living in Queensland. “Plus there was nothing said about me becoming a works mechanic permanently.”
He had been co-opted as the sixth mechanic for the works cars at Le Mans in 1955 – he tended the Mike Hawthorn/Ivor Bueb winner in conjunction with Len Hayden – having proved his abilities during the build of the second, extended batch of Ds in the first half of the year. Among them were two cars assigned to David Murray’s Ecurie Ecosse.
“I’d heard that they needed a second mechanic and when ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson, supposedly the chief mechanic, came down in the transporter to collect the cars, I approached him,” says Gaudion. “He told me to come to Aintree that weekend [in September] and speak with Mr Murray. That’s what I did – and he took me on. Ecosse was planning 15 meetings per season, with sometimes two or three races per weekend. That suited me fine.
“Jaguar had had a family atmosphere and it was the same at Ecosse. Stan Sproat, the other mechanic, and I hit it off. We got on well with DM [David Murray], too. He never found fault with either of us over two seasons. But if he got out of sorts he could really blow up.
“Wilkie kept out of our way. The few times he wanted to do something to the cars at a track, he buggered it up. DM would go red in the face – we thought he was going to have a heart attack – and call him everything under the sun.
“The other time he went berserk was at Le Mans in 1957 when he got stuck into [Jaguar racing manager] ‘Lofty’ England in front of Mr and Mrs [Williams] Lyons and Mr and Mrs [Bill] Heynes. Practice had started but David and Wilkie had not turned up. Our cars were ready and Lofty, there to manage Duncan Hamilton’s private entry plus the French and Belgian D-types, asked Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson, our drivers, what they were waiting for? ‘Well, for Mr Murray.’ He told them they were wasting time and to go. When David arrived he asked who had given them permission: ‘These are my cars and nothing to do with the works!’ He really tore into Lofty.
“The latest car that year was a 3.8-litre with fuel injection. Wilkie had wanted it in Edinburgh a fortnight before the race. Lofty said no, and it wouldn’t be ready in time, and asked the team to send me down to Coventry to be brought up to speed with the injection and the new quick-change pads and callipers. The main thing really was that he didn’t want Wilkie touching the car. I helped prepare it and drove it to Brighton, from where we flew to Cherbourg with Silver City Airways.
“There were no fewer than 10 Ferraris that year – three works cars and the others sponsored and prepared by the factory – plus three works Maseratis and a full team of Aston Martins. We knew that the most important thing was to finish; if we did that we’d be happy. Well, all the others, for one thing and another – accidents, gearbox, engine, brakes – retired and three-quarters of the way through the race we were running one-two.
“All five Jaguars finished and came in 1-2-3-4-6. Fantastic.
“Stan and I didn’t do any special training for that race; he knew what I was doing and vice versa. He’d been at Ecosse for three years whereas I was the new boy, but it was me who had to ask Mr Murray for our share of the mechanics’ prize. Both years! He was hanging onto every pound and I don’t blame him: it’s an expensive sport and the team was on a shoestring. I don’t know what he paid the drivers but I wouldn’t be surprised if only Flockhart got paid and that the others drove because it was a nice team with good cars.
“But he could be generous. On the Continent, we got 30 shillings a day to cover our bed and three meals. We’d been away for about six weeks [in 1956] and I was running short of cash, so I asked to borrow £10. When we got back we picked up our wages – sometimes there’d be 10 envelopes waiting for you – and I offered him £10. He insisted that I hadn’t borrowed from him. And that was that.
“The same thing happened the following year. I had made him write an IOU in his notebook, which I then signed. But when I offered to repay the money I discovered that he had torn the page from his book.
“Of the drivers, Flockhart was a really nice bloke to work with and didn’t lose his head. [His 1956 Le Mans-winning co-driver] Ninian Sanderson, however, a second-hand car salesman from Glasgow, could be a bit wild. The team rules were: no drinking or fornicating before a race. Well, we were at Goodwood and he was about 2.5sec off the pace in practice, saying that he couldn’t pull 5,800rpm in top gear. To change the back axle on a D-type takes two blokes five hours…
“The next day he was still 2.5 seconds off and we had to change everything back. After the race, he came to the beer tent for the first time: ‘I’m buying, boys.’ We asked for a beer, but he said: ‘Not with me. You’ll have a scotch.’ It was his way of saying sorry. We later found out that he’d had a bird in the hotel and was therefore off-peak, as it were.”
Englishman Bueb was drafted for Le Mans 1957, replacing Sanderson alongside Flockhart in the newer, faster car; Sanderson was paired with fellow talented amateur John ‘Jock’ Lawrence.
“Scots in those days didn’t take kindly to Sassenachs,” says Gaudion. Er, not much has changed, Ron. “They took to me because I was an Aussie, not a Pom. But Ivor fitted right in – perhaps because he never went up to Edinburgh.
“I really enjoyed my time there but could read ahead: the D-types were past their use-by date and the [world championship] rules had changed – from big motors to 3-litres – and that was going to create problems for us. I’d had three good seasons in the UK but couldn’t see Ecosse progressing. I got married in Edinburgh in September and left the team in February/March 1958. It was time to go home. I wanted to settle down. There was no reason to stay any longer.
“There’s a time and a place for all that and I had worked it out pretty well, I think, to suit me.”
Ron, you absolutely aced it.
Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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