Working every day on rebuilding some small parts of an ageing Formula 5000 racer is what Andrew Thompson does to make a living. He is currently about to release the rebirth of a class-leading McLaren M10-B and it’s the second in line in his unbridled bid to recreate the racing machines of Paddy Driver, who won the three-tiered formula in the early seventies.
The South African racing scene was very active then with Formula One. However, it was simply too expensive for such a small nation like ours, so full grids were out of the question. While the racing was popular and delivered a crop of famous competitors such as John Love, Sam Tingle, Doug Serrurier, Jackie Pretorius, John McNicol, Bobby Olthoff among others, they achieved a large slice of mythical status for all that white knuckle effort
Paddy Driver’s exploits as a racing motorcycle rider were notable for he was a Springbok who managed to finish third as a privateer in the world championship race series behind Mike Hailwood – his life-long friend, and Giacomo Agostini on fire engine MV Agustas in 1965. He did it on an outdated single cylinder G50 Matchless 500cc machine – which was an outstanding achievement all on its own.
This McLaren M10-B was the second race car of Paddy Driver’s following an F5000 Lola race car. “At the time this minimalist piece of race engineering, had a huge lump of a V8 Gurney Weslake motor stuck behind the driver and was best kept quiet in the corners and booted flat out on the straights,” says Driver after he had a number of crashes along the way. Paddy’s car and its unique Trojan build design, which was the last ones ever made, quickly became an outdated model that was a worthless racing machine in those days. “These racers were often stripped of parts,” said Thompson, “and reused in other projects or lost in some dingy shed along the way.
Luckily, Paddy Driver, who is a notable hoarder and collector, unearthed the remains of some other old McLaren’s as well as John McNichol’s M10-B McLaren but was never able to get around to rebuilding them. So, for many years the project lay dormant.
Thompson, after a period of intense negotiation with Driver, about three years ago, purchased the job lot and has painstakingly rebuilt these two old war horses. He says that their new owners in all probability won’t race the cars in any serious way ever again, but with some luck, they will appear at the Historic race festivals like the notable Zwartkops event in January every year, which is something special. Bruce McLaren was killed in a test practice accident at the Goodwood race circuit in England in 1970 but had pioneered some fantastic racing technology during his illustrious racing career. “ These M10-B F5000 machines formed a formidable part of that leap forward in car design and development,” says Thompson, who has spent every waking moment in the last three years to make them come alive again to an incredibly high standard of perfection and originality.
Each of the race cars and the end result of the rebuild is proof positive that all that dedication and expertise that Thompson has poured into these old clunkers have been worthwhile. While the cost of all this lavish care and attention is formidable, Thompson states that he still lies awake at night dreaming about whether he put the circlips in the small ends correctly, and hopes all will be well when the huge V8 engine bursts back into life.
Fettling old race cars are not for the faint-hearted or carried out for much financial reward, it is all about a vocational aspiration being reclaimed. For a car nut like Thompson, it is something to look forward to as we wind our way through planet earth while living in the golden glow of the greatest era of South African motor racing ever seen on our very own race circuits.
Story and pics by Ian Groat