My fascination with cars started in my early teens back in the eighties. I suppose it was only natural that this love of cars would draw me into a career involving four wheels.
After leaving school, I applied at a local BMW dealership for an apprenticeship as a mechanic. I was accepted onto the BMW approved training scheme and duly began my practical apprenticeship combined with the compulsory further education that accompanied the BMWscheme. For four and a half years I soaked up all I could about their cars and got to work on and drive such greats as the E30 M3, E28 & E34 M5, E24 M6 and many more. Other trade in cars came through the garage, and real excitement came at seeing Porsche’s and Ferrari’s and the chance for a test drive (part of the BMW approved car check you see!)
Being surrounded by great cars naturally meant my drive to and from work needed to match my 9-5 excitement. After passing my driving test (thanks for all the patience mum!) my first car was a Fiesta 1.3 Super Sport in orange. A great little car and I loved it to bits until one damp winter night in Warwick high street, a lady used my little Fiesta as a braking aid and it was gone. The replacement was my dream car, a Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6 in graphite grey. This was the big time. Our relationship got off to a shaky start though when she broke down on the way home after collecting her for the first time (alternator failure) but after that she worked like a dream. Finance and insurance payments, which accounted for nearly all of my monthly pay didn’t matter when I was driving that great little car. I was still living at home so rent was cheap! Soon after, a graphite grey 1.9 came calling at a local dealer and the “upgrade” was complete. The difference in ride quality (comfort) was noticeable but I could live with it – I was still young! In hindsight I felt the 1.6 GTI was an easier car to handle at the limit, I think the balance of power and chassis was perfect.
Being a BMW boy at heart meant I followed the E30 M3 touring car success with great pride. It was during the heydays of the BTCC in the late 80’s early 90’s that my passion for all things Motorsport took hold and this would eventually take me further afield than I could ever have imagined at the time. The compulsory further education of the BMW apprenticeship had taken me to university entrance possibilities and, along with a great friend of mine who shared the motor racing bug, we quit our jobs, sold our cars for the lure of a career in motor racing and the holy grail of Formula One. It was off to university and the life of a student beckoned…
Cars and student disposable incomes just don’t mix so I had to make do with my imagination of what great cars I would buy in the future. As it turned out, that motivation got me through university well. The highlight being my final year project which was done in conjunction with Jordan Grand Prix on composite materials. I had a toe in the door of the industry I yearned to be part of. It wasn’t that easy however! After 50-60 rejection letters (sorry, not enough experience) I finally got a break from a company called Reynard Racing Cars who were very well known in IndyCar racing. It was a step in the right direction. I was employed as composite design engineer for 4 years at Reynard where I had the privilege to work on some great racing cars. My favourite being the Panoz GTR-1, which raced at the 1997 Le Mans. Not hugely quick, but an amazing sound. My car after university was an extremely capable and enjoyable Peugeot 306 D-Turbo in Miami blue. Like the 205 GTI 1.6, it had a well balanced chassis and a strong engine, but it was a diesel! As always, the problem with me was that there was a faster version and I needed that, speed was now a part of my daily life. Enter the Peugeot 306 GTI-6 in Diablo red. A very quick car but unfortunately Peugeot has never quite repeated the successful recipe of the 205 GTI in my opinion.
After four years, I needed another challenge and an opportunity arose with the Sauber F1 team based in Hinwil, Switzerland. My girlfriend and I decided that a couple of years living abroad would be a great life adventure. So in September 1998 we sold everything and moved lock, stock and barrel to Switzerland. It’s now 2012 and we still haven’t returned to the UK, so much for that couple of years!
That was a culture shock moving from a small English town to tiny Swiss village. We slowly got used to life there and I was finally working in F1. What seemed like a dream 10 or so years ago was now a reality. Personal cars took a bit of a back seat to F1 but we still managed to fit a new style Toyota MR2 (not the hairdressers one!) and a Peugeot 206 GT WRC (limited edition for rallying – still no joy finding the 205 recipe) into our garage. We stayed in Switzerland for 4 years until the merry go round that is the small world of F1 came calling with a great opportunity to join a brand new and very large Japanese F1 team in Cologne, Germany. Off we went again, cars and life left behind to start afresh.
Cologne is a fantastic city, not very German in fact. Some call it the most northern Italian city such is the friendliness of its people. It suits us, we’ve been here over 10 years now, it’s definitely our second home.
Life in F1 was probably one of the most challenging and rewarding, seeing the fruits of your efforts pitched against your peers every 2 weeks in front of the worlds media. However the sport demands every bit of you and with a new baby, a new chapter in my life had begun and the sacrifice was too great. I didn’t have time for my beloved cars and being given a company Avensis diesel estate isn’t up for discussion here! So after 6 years with the team and with a good friend and colleague of mine, we left F1 and started our own composite engineering consultancy also based in Cologne.
This company developed well to the point where in 2012 we were offered a great deal to sell our shareholding to an F1 team of all things! This turn of events has allowed me to return my attention to my car passion whilst continuing to grow and run the company I co-founded.
I found Classic Heroes after Google searching “Peugeot 205 GTI for sale”. This was one of my fondest cars for driving pleasure and it’s timeless Pininfarina design. I now appreciate it more for its lightweight, no frills ethos combined with it’s modest power output and excellent chassis performance. One phone call with Barney was enough to convince me that here was a guy so honest and passionate about cars that it would be easy for me to deal with him. No hidden agendas, just pure passion and huge knowledge. I purchased my lovely cherry red 205 GTI 1.9 from him earlier this year as the start of my own personal icon collection of cars that have inspired me over the years. Following on from the 205 purchase came the stunning Grand Prix white 1987 Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera that I saw by chance on Classic Heroes website. I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time with that one. Both these cars hark back to my time at BMW as cars that gave me pleasure to drive, own and to lust after.
One significant model that was missing, until recently, was the car that ignited my passion for motorsport and ultimately got me to where I am now, the BMW M3 E30. I am delighted to now be the very proud owner of one of the finest Evolution II examples currently in the UK (courtesy of Barney of course!). It has covered less than 17,000 miles and is a vision in Misano Red. How Barney finds these wonderful cars is beyond me, but sincerest thanks to him for this gem of a car. Other cars that I would love to have in my collection are a Ferrari 328 GTB and a F355 GTB(manual and in red of course!) and an original Audi UR Quattro, the rallying legend and another one of the best examples where one could truly identify their road car to a race car.
My love of cars isn’t only confined to past glories. I’m lucky enough to work with companies like Porsche and BMW Motorsport in my daily life. When I see how they continue their push for development perfection, it’s something I appreciate and can connect with from my experience in F1, where perfection was not quite good enough, or perhaps it was until 2 weeks later. I particularly admire the 997 911 GT3 RS, E46 M3 CSL and the Nissan GT-R. I’m not a huge fan of Japanese cars normally as they lack a bit of soul for me, but that car is a real engineering and performance achievement. Cost considerations aside, I also find the Ferrari 458 just a stunning design from every angle. A real piece of automotive art.
My current car is a Porsche 911 Carrera S of the 991 generation. It’s an incredible car. The improvements over the 997 in detail and quality are phenomenal. How the 911 design has evolved over the last 50 years makes it a true icon in the automotive world. Some people debate that the current generation has lost it’s character and perhaps that’s slightly true but I can drive it around like a 5 series BMW in fully auto mode (I’m getting on a bit now!) or when the feeling takes me (which is quite often) I switch to sport mode, the exhaust valves open, the gearshift and throttle mapping sharpens and the character of the entire car is transformed into a snarling beast wanting to be unleashed. It still brings the hairs on the back of my neck up and a huge, huge smile to my face every time and that’s ultimately what all these cars and car ownership is all about for me.
Classic Heroes would like to say a huge thank you for this first article and invite you to share your own stories with other motor enthusiasts via the Classic Heroes News page.