Charles Lucas Engineering 1965

By Jonathan Williams

I first met Charles Lucas, “Luke” to his friends, in 1960 at the engineering college we were both attending in London. The first words he spoke to me, around lunchtime, were “Let's go and have a drink”. This sounded positive and we became friends and ended up sharing a fairly squalid apartment full of engine parts off the Fulham Road. Like many of the students, he was more interested in going motor racing than studying, so I introduced him to Selwyn Hayward who built the Merlyn race cars from whom he purchased a sports car version as did his school friend Piers Courage. I bought a Formula Junior version with catastrophic results when the front suspension failed at Monaco putting me in hospital. Princess Grace came to see me and was charming, sitting on the end of my bed for half an hour.

At the end of 1964, Luke inherited a fairly large amount of money and, kind and generous person that he is, he decided to build a top class F3 racing team with Piers and me as drivers. He purchased two Brabham F2 chassis from Winkleman Racing which had been raced by Jochen Rindt and Alan Rees and fitted them with the latest Cosworth engines and Hewland gearboxes. We also had a magnificent transporter, ex Ian Walker Racing, two very fine Australian mechanics, Peter Hosken and John Petit; the technical side was overseen by Roy Thomas, Tom the Weld, who had worked for Graham Warner on the Gemini FJ cars at the Chequered Flag. Our base were the ex BRP (British Racing Partnership) premises in the up market London borough of Highgate. We used to visit there on a daily basis when we were not racing and one day I saw that my car had Firestone tyres fitted in place of the customary Dunlop R5s. I quickly found Tom and asked him “Are they better?” “No,” replied Tom, “they are free.” They worked well in the event; in those days it was common for a set of tyres to last ten races or more. The cars were painted in a very attractive manner in red, white and blue, as was the transporter.

Brands Hatch

I raced the unpainted car for the first time at Brands Hatch in January 1965 and was leading when Roger Mac hit my gearbox at Druids, making me spin, so I finished second. We did not make a protest, I can't think why.

After the first few races, it was clear that the Brabham was the right car to have, and also that Roy Pike in the Chequered Flag car was becoming the top man. This changed at Zolder when I comfortably beat him after sleeping on the floor of the hotel room I shared with Peter Gethin following a long night out with Picko Troberg. After that Piers and I were the drivers to beat. One or the other of us won pretty much as we pleased, especially in Italy.

Chimay 1965

Chimay 1965

I made a couple of solo outings to Pau and Chimay, by which I mean that I was alone with my car and a trailer, without a mechanic. It was the life I enjoyed, and it took me a while to be comfortable checking into hotels instead of being in my van where I could park and sleep anywhere I felt comfortable, and it felt strange having someone else looking after the maintenance of my car, something I had taken care of since my first Mini in 1960. I was a reluctant convert to luxury. It rained hard at Pau and I made a fool of myself, spinning off into the public gardens. At Chimay I was racing for the lead with John Cardwell when I discovered a side of his character I had not seen before as he forced me with all four wheels on to the grass at a 120 mph corner. He later said he hadn't seen me.

Rheims

My season suffered a big setback at Rheims when I had a major accident which was entirely my own fault. In an F3 car, Rheims was very boring, only using the brakes twice a lap. For whatever reason, I decided to overtake the four cars in front of me on the entry to the hairpin bend at Thillois to briefly be in the lead. Predictably, I finished up in the concrete wall. After lying on my back in a field looking at the deep blue cloudless sky, unable to move, I was flown to the local hospital on an external stretcher attached to a “Mash” style helicopter where they put my legs in plaster. I was in considerable pain from my back, but they ignored my complaints. The chief nurse, a nun refused me morphine on the grounds that she would not have it on her conscience if I became an addict. My Saviour from this unpleasant situation was John Fenning who molested a doctor outside my room and forced him to do something. The result was that they x-rayed my spine, discovered that I had three broken vertebrae and told me not to move or I would be paralysed which was a bit late as I had been moving constantly for 48 hours to try and ease the discomfort. Soon after, I was transferred to London where they told me that I would be in hospital for six months. I left on crutches after thirty days. While visiting me in hospital, Luke ran into my mother who had come to see me. To her horror he said, “Don't worry, Mrs. Williams, as soon as Jonathan is well again, I will have a new car ready for him.”

Monza 1965

My first race one month after leaving hospital was at Roskilde in Denmark, a glorified go kart track. In fact I did not race as the stewards asked me to brake hard in front of them, and I was unable to do so as my right leg was still weak and painful, so I coasted past them while they shook their heads, and gave me the thumbs down. After a pleasant month on holiday at the seaside in Italy, I finally raced at Monza and won my heat easily, sadly the battery went flat while leading the final and I was forced to retire.

Buenos Aires 1965

In January 1966 we went to the wonderful Temporada series in Argentina, my car was uncharacteristically unreliable with a trivial water pump problem but, as usual, I enjoyed it hugely thanks to the kindness and generosity of our Argentinian hosts. We used to have meals with Fangio and Froilan Gonzalez regularly. Magic. These were my last races for Luke. As a result of our success, he had been offered the Team Lotus F3 outfit. Esso were a major sponsor, and Geoff Murdoch their competition head wanted Roy Pike to partner Piers. There was no room for me, but I had already done a deal to race for De Sanctis in Rome which worked out very well. No regrets.

Monza 1965