Blue & Orange

There is an odd feeling evident in London over the past two months. The Olympic Effect, usually heavy on cost and light on return, has changed the way Londoners react to each other, pockets of civility have broken out, a new found confidence in the national identity. Whether this will last is anyone’s guess, perhaps the feelgood atmosphere will fade as the autumn slips into winter. It would be nice to think that the Games really will have a legacy.

As if in harmony with the wider world, on the motoring front it is as if London has taken to impersonating the Monterey Peninsula, during the Pebble Beach Concours week. In the past seven days those of us who are into fine automobiles and the like, have had several birthdays and Christmases all come at once. Kicking off the week was Chelsea Auto Legends, then on Wednesday I toddled over to Syon Park for the 2012 Salon Privé, then the past two days were spent marvelling at the Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance. I defy anyone to match the sheer quality of the cars on show, truly one is fortunate to be in this part of the world right now.

So rich and varied has the content been at the latter two events I consider it almost impossible to produce a single blog post that would do justice to the story. So for the next week or so I will take elements that caught my eye and try and bring them to life for the readers.

In the past two years one of the most significant additions to the historic sportscar scene has been the ROFGO Collection. Put together for a private collector by Duncan Hamilton & Co., the central theme that runs through it is that the cars included were sponsored by Gulf Oil, so plenty of icons to choose from.

The collection was the centrepiece display for the 2012 Salon Privé and certainly did the event and location justice.

Oldest car in the collection is the Mirage M1, winner of the 1967 Spa 1000 Kilometres, a race that put Jacky Ickx on the map and established his reputation for being special in the wet. If your local track is Spa then………………

This Mirage was the first to wear the colours of Blue and Orange, a sponsorship deal that was arranged between team owner John Wyer and Gulf Oil VP and sportscar nut, Grady Davis. The funding enabled John Wyer to form JWAutomotive with John Willment. He then recruited John Horsman, David Yorke and Ermano Cuoghi to create one of motorsport’s legendary outfits.

Next on the lawn was the Mirage BRM M2, not one of the cars to trouble the record books and probably the worst to come out of JWAutomotive. Unreliable and with wayward handling, the scale of disaster was disguised in the wake of the double triumph for the team at Le Mans in 1968 and 1969 utilising the venerable GT40. Porsche were on the horizon with the 917, this canine could be quietly forgotten.

The stuff of legends, a simple recipe. Take the coolest guy on the planet, the coolest car of almost any time, the greatest race of them all, season with an insane Hollywood budget and cook at high pressure for several months, final result is immortality.

“A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it… it’s life. Anything that happens before or after… is just waiting.”

Steve McQueen, Gulf Porsche 917 and Le Mans, what more needs to be said?

An unmistakable profile, the Porsche 908/3, a clear signal of Porsche’s determination to pound the opposition into dust. Problems with the 917 at Nürburgring or on the Targa Florio? Well run the 908/3 instead.

JWAutomotive had an involvement with a German manufacturer a whole year before signing their deal with Porsche. They acquired a Mercedes transporter in 1969 and at Salon Privé the ROFGO Collection showed off their restored truck for the first time in public. Speaking with the collection’s chief mechanic, Ted Higgins, we both agreed that it would be very cool to use this to take the cars to the next Le Mans Classic, though whether Ted would play Michael Delaney or Tommy Hopkins, was open to question.

In 1969 Gulf Oil also backed a couple of Formula One teams, so it was no real surprise to find a Brabham BT26 on the lawn.

The other famous association between Gulf Oil and motorsport some 40 years ago was with McLaren, whether in Formula One with the M14A.

Or in Can-Am as illustrated by the M20, truly giants roamed the earth during that brief era………

Gulf Oil all but disappeared after the take over by Chevron Oil in 1984, but the brand still existed in the UK. A relaunch of the company in 1991 included a plan to tap into the enthusiasm of British Le Mans’ fans. So in 1994 Gulf were back at Le Sarthe.

Not only was Gulf blue back, but so too was 1971 Gulf Porsche 917 driver, Derek Bell. Five time victor at La Sarthe, including in a Gulf Mirage in 1975, Bell was the ideal ambassador for the brand and still quick enough to be second fastest overall in Qualifying. The Kremer K8 was a development of the Porsche 962.

The next step was to reunite with the other famous racing marque, McLaren.

In 1995 and 1996, Blue & Orange were reunited on a pair of F1 GTR’s resulting in many race victories and the 1996 BPR Endurance Series titles for Ray Bellm and James Weaver.

1997 saw the launch of the FIA GT Championship, with the Gulf liveried longtail F1 GTRs.

And one of the greatest endurance racers of them all, the Audi R8 also sported Blue & Orange in 2001.

Paul Belmondo brought the colours back to Le Mans in 2006 with his Courage C65.

Since that time another icon of the motoring world, Aston Martin has turned Blue & Orange. A DBR9……………

Then back as a prototype on the Lola Aston Martin LM P1

The ROFGO Collection is fantastic, Automotive art of the highest order. Even more fortunate is the willingness of the owner to share his treasures with the rest of us, not a cheap enterprise. It was a highly polished jewel at the centre of the 2012 Salon Privé, in total harmony with the ethos of the event.

John Brooks, September 2012