OldRacingCars.com

Barrie Smith Interview

by Richard Jenkins

Barrie Smith had one unsuccessful foray in Formula 2, but was one of Britain’s top sportscar racers both in the UK and abroad, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He also competed in Formula 3 and recollects some of his racing life below.

RJ: What sparked your interest in the sport initially? I’ve read you were interested in racing toy Dinkie cars at school; was the passion always there?

BS: It seems that the car interest came from a very young age; my Dad bought me a pedal car, which must have been in 1949 and I used to love it, driving up and down our road on the pavements.

I later graduated to an Austin pedal car as they use in Goodwood kids races these days. I sold it to the local garage who then used it for display for many years.

Then at school, we used to race Dinkies. I also studied car data for from little books. By the age of 10 I was quite knowledgable about road cars. In 1950 my Dad bought a DB18 Daimler drop head and kept it for 25 years. A lovely old car with a 6 cylinder engine and pre-selector gearbox . So I knew about fluid flywheels and things like that.

RJ: You started racing as a teenager in your own Lotus Seven. How did this all come about?

BS: In 1963, I bought a kit from Lotus of a Super Seven, which had a Cosworth 1500 Ford engine. It took me three weeks to build it in Jacksons Garage in Westgate on Sea, The owner, Cyril Jackson was very interested in the project and watched the progress with interest, and he even got me a short reg. no. to fit on the bonnet, 8YKT. When the kit was complete, much to my dismay there were many small parts left over! It seemed to be complete but…. I took it to Cheshunt factory so they could check its’ road worthiness. They said it was fine and they explain that the extra parts were due to the staff grabbing parts from the stores without counting them out carefully!

My parents had lifelong friends called the Bland’s. I was friendly with their son from the age of about seven, his name was Barrington, known as Barry. He got a job with Grahame White at the BARC (British Automobile Racing Club) when he was 17. They had a member’s day at Goodwood, so I joined the club and went down there with the Super 7 on road tyres and just took the windscreen off. Much to Barry’s amazement, the times were very good considering it was just a standard road car. So I was encouraged to do something in the sport but had no idea what at that time.

However the nature of a Lotus 7 was to teach me how to drive as it was always sliding around with its 95 brake horse power and 520 narrow tyres, I learned some aspects of car control from that car. Barry Bland passed away earlier this year. He was famous for organising the Macau GP.

RJ: For the next few years, you became a British sportscar regular. What are your memories of this time?

BS: I bought a GSM Delta with a little 105e Ford engine, My 1st race was at Lydden Hill nearby, I was lying second and was so worried about the leader coming up to lap me that I moved out of his way and went off the track, so my glorious start was ruined!!

I then bought the ex- works, ex-David Piper, ex-Dizzy Addicot Lotus 15 from Grahame Capel for £500 complete with its 3.5 litre Buick engine which had been brought over from the United States by Hugh Dibley as “hand luggage”; they were flying chums at that time. Now this was a real racing car with some real power, I raced it for 2 seasons club racing with little success but learning all the time. I sold that in 1966/67 and bought the ex Roger Nathan BT8 Brabham; I loved the shape of the BT8. Again, I raced it in Club racing all season with little success that I remember and THEN the breakthrough came . I bought the last chassis from Lotus for a 23B, which I had planned to make into a GT car with help of an Alan Fowler-made Mercury body. I bought a 1600cc twin cam from Vegantune, they said about 145 bhp. To cut a long story short we were never going to get the Mercury GT ready in time so I bought a rolling B8 Chevron chassis from Derek Bennett and put the Vegantune motor in it. 

RJ: One of your highlights was winning the 1968 Danish Grand Prix sportscar race (which you then repeated in 1969); what do you remember best about it?

BS: Well, I won 18 races that year, the “Tootle’ GT Championship in the up to 1600 class and the Danish GP, which was my very first international race. We started in Denmark as a complete no chancer, However, the circuit was a bit like Lydden Hill and it suited my set up perfectly, and much to sponsor’s surprise I won!

Next year I changed the Blue Chevron B8 for a red one with an FVA engine that was even quicker and won three international races outright in 1969 {Wunstorf, Zandvoort and Denmark again!) These successes got me invited to join the BRDC (British Racing Driver’s Club) which, in itself, is a lifelong achievement.

RJ: Your entry on the oldracingcars.com site is down to the entry by Alan Fowler at Thruxton for the 1970 BARC 200 race, which was the first round of the European Formula 2 Trophy; you didn’t start in a Lotus 48. What happened that weekend?

BS: Yes, that was a shame. Sadly the car was poorly prepared and Alan and his mechanics could never get it to run correctly. But it wasn’t a wasted weekend as I went to racing the Avalon Racing Lola T70 Mk3b in the sportscar race there and came fourth. Of course, in the F2 race Graham Hill won, in the first outing of the Rondel B36. A great result for them and I enjoyed watching it.

RJ: How did you convince Kodak Pathe (Kodak France) to sponsor you for the 1972 season, especially when you lost most of the racing season in 1971 due to a lack of funds?

BS: In the winter of 1971, I went to Paris, and together with René Ligonnet (fellow sportscar racer), we set about getting sponsorship, I went to the Photo exhibition and found the top staff and marketing directors of the exhibiting companies and showed them a racing proposal.

Back in the Chevron days, I had been very friendly with Guy Edwards who explained how to get a sponsor and so following his advice, we got Kodak Pathé to sponsor us for racing in France; René and I driving together in the long distance races and then I drove every other weekend, so it went on.

We were the first Lola car to finish at Le Mans and we won the class. I won several other races, including hill Climbs, which I had never done before! Very exciting! Twenty five kilometres up a mountain road in a full blooded racing car! It was a great year in France.

RJ: During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s you drove all over the World; Denmark, Spain, Holland, Austria, South Africa and Argentina (The 1970 Buenos 1000kms) to mention just a few? What memories have you got of these races?

BS: Jo Bonnier arranged the field for the Buenos Aires races, with one race lasting 1000 kilometres and another one was about half that. It was a fabulous meeting to attend, they had load of money to spend as YPF, who were the local petrol company, was the main sponsor. We had great hotels and food allowances.

We ran the usual Avalon Lola T70 Mk3b and I drove with Ed Swart, the Dutch driver. All was going okay until I hit a hare on the track at high speed, and subsequently it damaged the radiator and caused over heating, so we had to retire. It also damaged the head gasket which blew in the second race. Although our results were poor we had a great time and I was proud to be racing with such great racers. It was Alain de Cadenet’s honeymoon too. 

In South Africa I did the Nine Hour race with Jackie Pretorious and we won our class. It was a great race for us and we had lots of sponsors. One of them asked “what would happen if you crash on the 1st lap, then our advertising would be wasted?” so we did a deal for with him for “so much“ a lap and so after 9 hours it did cost him lots!!

Jackie and I sat on the bed in the hotel room and divided the cash of over a year's wages each in those days!! Amazing.

RJ: Obviously there were budget restraints but were there no other opportunities after 1973 to race?

BS: In 1973 I went to Le Mans and practiced a very fast Chevron B23 BMW with works F2 engines. They were fragile and the team was not very experienced in that type of long distance racing. Jimmy Mieusset drove the car like it was a ten lap sprint and so it blew after about three hours; I never drove in the race.

My problem that year was that Kodak pulled the plug for the 1973 season in December of 1972 without notice. We had arranged for a great promotion for them with a DFV engined sports car based on the Lola T280, but called an Intermatic 500 after their little camera. Kodak France thought we could not improve on our 1972 season when we won pretty much every weekend. The trophy collection was impressive! So they pulled out for 1973 leaving me without a car or sponsor. So once the season was over, I called it a day.

RJ: You also competed in hillclimbs. What, for you, was the biggest challenge in switching and adapting to this kind of driving?

BS: The big challenge in European Hill Climbs is that the roads are long and we did not know them, so I learnt over 20 kilometres of twisty roads in only a van to practice in. This gave us a severe disadvantage. The locals knew the roads by heart, of course. I still won a few cups for Kodak, which was often for the highest placed foreign driver, and as I was often the only foreign driver in the event, I won a lot of cups!

RJ: What was your favourite car to drive and which car of that era would you have liked to have driven but never got a chance to? You seem quite fond of the Chevron B8 you enjoyed a lot of success in?

BS: The B8 was the best handling car of the era. Stirling Moss said that and I agree. I would have loved to have raced either the Porsche 908 or a Lola T280 DFV. They both had terrific power.

RJ: Your career is similar to many of racing without works money and support, but getting good results along the way nevertheless. Do you think the challenges you faced in that respect helped make you a better driver overall?

BS: Yes, we were a poor private team and keeping the car on the track in one piece was a priority and this does slow one down. So I was always careful. My only real accident in all the years I raced, was when I raced the Sid Taylor T70 Lola at Brands Hatch in 1970. I was asked to be the co-driver with Howden Ganley. On the race morning it was very, very, wet. Goodyear ran out of wet tyres for the T70 rears and they fitted Sid’s car with wet fronts and hand grooved 17” slicks on the rear, the car was undriveable. Howden was due to start and wisely refused to drive it. So I jumped in and nearly spun off three times on the warm up lap. I told Sid on the grid, it was impossible. He said just do a couple of laps and come in! I crashed into the press box on the first lap, with the only good wheel left being the steering wheel!! I was lucky the fully-fuelled car did not burst into flames!

RJ: What, personally, do you consider your greatest racing achievement to be?

BS: Personally, it was winning the Danish GP in 1968 against the best sports car drivers of the era. But I suppose winning our class at Le Mans in 1972 was the best result, together with Graham Hill who won outright of course; we won the 2 litre class.

RJ: Away from racing, you forged an immensely successful photographic career. What attracted you to photography and what do you enjoy the most about it?

BS: When I stopped racing, I went to work for a great advertising agency in Covent Garden and looked after a car account for them, I had a one year contract for 1975. At the end of the year, my clients moved to Bridlington and I was not willing to move up there. In that agency we had used all the top photographers of the time; Lord Snowdon, Michael Joseph. Donovan, Tony McGee etc.

I did lots of winter sports with Salomon, Rossignol, and other ski clothes companies, and tour operators. Then I got a contract with London Transport Advertising to do all their bus and underground adverts in situ. This was a great job, which lasted 17 years.

As I worked a lot in France, (speaking fluent French),  I started a photo library called Frenchpix and we sold pictures to all the national newspapers and magazines. I did assignments for the Times and various magazines. I also did a lens brochure for Nikon, now that was a very prestigious job. So it went on till the digital age came in and real photography just died and everyone was a photographer. This would be about 2008.  That year, I was riding my BMW bike down to South-West France when I got hit head on by an old lady who crossed the straight road where I was and very nearly killed me. I had eight months in hospitals and then it took a while to get around again. I have been retired ever since, although I still enjoy taking pictures whenever the subject moves me.

RJ: You lived and worked for many years in France and will always have close links to it; after all, your wife is French. What do you enjoy the most about France?

BS: I worked in France a lot and got to know their way of life, which is very different one, compared to life in the UK. Rural life in France is very slow and relaxing. I have had a house in France since 1989 and spend a bit of time there every year but I still live in Margate where the home of Avalon Racing was.

RJ: You still keep links to the sport and you have a motorsport blog. Do you still follow the sport today?

BS: I do follow the sport a bit, but I am sorry to say racing as we knew it does not exist anymore. The small teams going out and doing well without huge sums of money behind them is no longer possible. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, we used to get by on start money and prize money and we got free oils and petrol; in my case Shell sponsored me. Now I do not think anyone gets such perks. When we won an international race we used to get super bonuses from spark plug manufacturers and STP, Ford, Lucas and many others. All these bonuses helped us survive. Now I doubt if anyone gets anything?

 

Many Thanks to Barrie for his time and allowing all the photos from http://www.frenchpix.com/racingtimes/ to be used for this interview.

Last updated by Richard Jenkins on 16 Oct 2017.

All text is copyright Richard Jenkins 2017.