JAN 20th 2016
Doug Nye: Mike Salmon – One of Goodwood's Finest
Doug Nye began writing about racing cars at ‘Motor Racing’ magazine in 1963-64. Today he is a multiple award-winning motor sports journalist and author of over 50 years’ experience, with some 70 books to his name. He is Goodwood Motorsport’s founding Historian and consultant and fulfils similar roles for Bonhams Auctioneers and the Collier Collection/Revs Institute in Naples, FL, USA. He is a member of the National Motor Museum Advisory Council at Beaulieu, Hants, and is a regular columnist for ‘Motor Sport’ magazine, while contributing to many other specialist periodicals worldwide.
It was indeed sad to hear of the death on January 13 of long-time Goodwood habitué and extremely capable racing driver Michael Salmon. He was 82.
Back in 1980, when I wrote ‘The Colonel’s Ferraris’ – the story of British Ferrari importer Col. Ronnie Hoare’s Maranello Concessionaires racing team – Michael contributed the following as a postscript in honour of the Colonel, with whom he had worked for many years as sales director and team driver, and also – very firmly – as a friend.
‘It was always a great honour to be invited to drive a Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari – not only because one knew that the machine would be the latest creation from the factory, but that the entire operation would be run with total dedication by Ronnie Hoare. Ronnie treated each one of his competition cars as his own personal property – the preparation and attention to detail was infinite and the organisation dealt with on almost military lines – but there was one big difference.
‘I remember,’ he proceeded. ‘On one occasion at Le Mans when our 330LM/B was lying fourth overall, when it was decided to change the nearside rear wheel. Unfortunately the hub had turned on the splines making removal almost impossible.
‘After agonizing minutes – much heaving and hammering – the replacement was fitted. Had this not been the case the Ferrari would almost certainly have been withdrawn as, in Ronnie’s opinion, the safety of the driver would have been in jeopardy.
‘Yes, racing for the Colonel was a never to be forgotten experience. Sadly those days have gone forever. No longer can private teams afford to run exotic machinery in long distance events in the Maranello Concessionaires’ style. Ferrari drivers have been, and always will be, privileged people…’
And he had been one of that privileged elite. In fact Michael had co-driven the Colonel’s lovely 330 LM/B – with its 4-litre V12 engine – to finish fifth overall and third in class at the 1963 Le Mans 24-Hour race, sharing its cockpit with Jack Sears. Later that year he drove a Maranello Concessionaires 250 GTO home sixth in the Grovewood Trophy race at Mallory Park, and shared the sixth-placed Concessionaires-entered 250 GTO/64 – based on the Colonel’s Goodwood 1963 TT-winning chassis ‘4399 GT’ – with Innes Ireland in the 1965 Monza 1,000km.
Mike placed sixth again in that year’s Spa 500km, second in class in that same 250 GTO/64 – and then shared the Colonel’s latest Ferrari 250 LM with Lucien Bianchi at Le Mans, this time failing to finish – as LMs (with their fragile gearboxes) so often did. He was out of luck again at Le Mans in 1966 sharing the Colonel’s gorgeous little Ferrari Dino 206S with David Hobbs.
He was a Channel Islander, and as a boy he had been evacuated to the British mainland when Nazi invasion threatened Jersey in 1940. He was a lifelong motorcar and motor racing enthusiast and served an apprenticeship with Jaguar before joining the factory’s service department and being despatched to various Jaguar distributorships around the country to gain trade experience.
He began racing his own Jaguar XK120 as early as 1955 and throughout the ’56 season, gaining racing experience on circuits as diverse as Goodwood, Aintree in Liverpool, Oulton Park in Cheshire and even Crimond aerodrome in Scotland.
With his Jaguar boss ‘Lofty’ England smiling upon him, Michael was able to buy an ex-works Dunlop test Jaguar C-Type for 1957. It was road-registered ‘POV114’, and by coincidence I have spent the last three months working with this car, which has been owned by Penny Griffiths (and her father Guy before her) for no fewer than the past 53 years. Goodwood partner Bonhams are now offering this fantastic time machine of a C-Type in their forthcoming Monaco Sale this May. And after Michael’s tenure during 1957 – when he began to show real form in it here at Goodwood – ‘POV114’ continued its stalwart British club-racing career with Gordon Lee, then Robin Sturgess.
When Guy Griffiths bought it – for £635 – in 1963, it was his first competition Jaguar, and it became the basis for his Griffiths Collection and the Chipping Campden Motor Museum. Guy went on to recognise that, while the VSCC provided an active racing category for historic single-seater cars, there was no such contemporary arena in which keen owners could exercise their historic sports-racing cars.
So – Guy being Guy; a feisty, determined and widely-experienced racing character of pre-war Brooklands and postwar racing-photography fame – he promptly created the Griffiths Formula, and began an historic racing series of his own. In combination with VSCC competition, here was the basis of today’s Historic racing scene, in which the Goodwood events have played such a prominent – and trend-setting – role since 1993.
Back to Michael Salmon. His Jaguar connections brought him the opportunity to buy the ex-works/ex-Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-Type ‘XKD504’ – which had been the first of the works ‘Longnose’ cars built for 1955. He campaigned this car widely and energetically, from 1959-61. In that latter year Gerrard’s Cross garage owner Roy Bloxam was tragically killed at Goodwood’s Fordwater Corner when he crashed his Lister-Jaguar, and Michael would subsequently marry Roy’s widow Jean – herself well-known as a very capable Aston Martin driver.
She told me just a few weeks ago how ‘Michael liked his Jaguars but I steered him towards Aston Martins – I preferred him to drive them’ – and through 1962 he campaigned a DB4GT, before in ’63 appearing in both John Coombs Jaguars, and Ferraris entered by Chris Kerrison and Colonel Hoare, in addition to the DB4GT. He had in parallel been a star driver of Jaguar saloons, and would even win the ‘Motor’ 6-Hours race at Brands Hatch before being deprived of the laurels in post-race scrutineering.
He began campaigning the Hon John Dawnay’s ex-works Aston Martin Project 214s in 1964, but their season was marred when his co-driver Brian Hetreed lost his life in a terrible accident during practice for the Nurburgring 1,000km.
Through 1965 Mike Salmon had an all-Ferrari season and from 1966 began to appear in Viscount Downe (the former John Dawnay’s) Ford GT40, and he shared a Gulf-JW GT40 with Brian Redman at Le Mans ’67.
He wasn’t a natural race winner, but for any private entrant he was a hugely competent and vastly experienced driver, widely regarded as a safe pair of hands. At Le Mans ’68 he suffered severe facial burns when his Strathaven-entered GT40 burst into flames under braking for Mulsanne Corner, and poor Michael became the unwilling subject of Paddy Hopkirk advertisements for a fresh line in fire-proof racing overalls, illustrated by a spectacular photograph of the burning GT40, fire-balling its way towards the Mulsanne sand banks.
In the later 1970s Michael resumed International endurance racing, with Robin Hamilton’s private Aston Martins at Le Mans, then Simon Phillips’s Ferrari 512BB there. In the 1980s he became the senior Nimrod-Aston Martin team driver. He and Jean were great supporters of what we were reviving here at Goodwood and today following her sad loss we offer our sincere condolences. In his heyday Michael was one of Goodwood’s BARC finest, and he will always be remembered in this corner of Sussex.
Photography courtesy of The GP Library and The Revs Digital Library