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German Grand Prix 1968

In August we went to the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring. The circuit is some way from any main city and, therefore, hotels.  At the start of the summer, I had asked the Bureau in Frankfurt to arrange for accommodation for the crews.  They confirmed to me that they had done so and gave me details of the hotel which was only a few miles from the circuit.

The crew, this time, comprised Piet van Strien, Manfred Borchardt from Cologne and a freelance cameraman from Mannheim.

I flew into Dusseldorf to meet up with Borchardt.  On arrival, I had a message over the Tannoy to go to the information desk.  As soon as I got my baggage, I went to the desk where I was met by a chap who was about forty.  He spoke English and I guessed that he hailed from Cheshire because he kept using the word “like” within sentences.  On the way to the car, I asked him where he was from and he said “Cologne”.  I said “No, I mean where in England?”.  He laughed and said that he was German and that he had been a prisoner of war.  Towards the end of 1944, he was allowed to go to a farm in Cheshire, like, where he would live and work.  He learnt his English from the family.  He stayed on in Cheshire, at the farm, for several years before returning home.

He was named Lennie Lawrence, so I asked him how he got an English name and he told me that his grandmother had married an Irish sea captain in Hamburg who, of course, was named Lawrence.

Lennie was quite Anglicised, he worked for British Airways and was a member of their darts team that used to travel all over Europe playing darts against other BA offices.

In the evening, we three, Manfred, Lennie and I, went to a beer hall for the evening.  This was in Cologne town centre.  We had a whale of a time drinking the local beer and listening to the singing .  I couldn’t join in, not knowing any German songs other than Lillie Marlene, which the Germans had, long since, stopped singing.

I stayed the night at Manfred’s apartment which was situated on the banks of the Rhine and his rear window was only a matter of twenty feet from the water.

Pedro Rodriguez in a BRM P133

In the morning, we all set off for Nurburgring.  We made straight for the organisers’ office to get the passes we needed.  Then we went to the small hotel to check in.  Here we were told that we had no reservations.  A row ensued until it was explained that our bureau in Frankfurt were supposed to verify the bookings one month before and they had failed to do so.  Oh !  What German efficiency.

The Germans in our crew said they would find somewhere.  The hotel kindly found a farmhouse for Piet and me.  Piet driving his own car took me to the farmhouse.  The farmer and his wife spoke no English, but Piet, being Dutch, could speak to them in German.  They gave us some supper and then showed us to the bedroom.  All the while, there was a young lady lurking in the background and Piet explained that, he thought, the parents were concerned  that we might have evil intentions towards their daughter.

In the bedroom, there was a huge double bed and there we slept.  You couldn’t do that today without tongues wagging.

The night before the race, there was a big party held for all the press and racing teams. It was held in a huge tent.  There we could ply ourselves with beer and sandwiches of all sorts.  There was also a whole programme of entertainment, which included a troupe of “Mastersingers”.  It was a most entertaining evening and made up for our disappointment with the hotel.  It also provided us with food which would make the following day’s hunger more bearable.  It was always difficult to get something to eat on race days.  We had to be in position quite early.  However, we were all given a small plastic case the size of a brief case.   It was filled with various items of food and water.  Included was a packet of Tuc biscuits.  It was the first time that I had come across them.  I have been eating them ever since.

When we were filming at Brands Hatch, I met up with UPI’s head of pictures whose name I have forgotten.  He told me that he had a job that he did not think he could do well.  It was a request from Firestone, the tyre manufacturers, that he had a photographer set up on a bend near the Grandstand and, as the cars went away from the bend, for him to shoot a close up of the rear suspension and tyres.  He thought that this was all but impossible to achieve.

I suggested that we used a 35mm slow motion camera on the same bend, at Nurburgring, to film during the practice runs.  As each car came towards the camera and then went away, on the hairpin bend, the slow-motion camera, operating at 135 frames a second, would make a four second burst zooming in on the rear of the car and the suspension and tyres.

This would give the research scientists over five hundred 35mm frames for each car.  Being 35mm, they could select which frames they wanted and make enlargement prints.

Surtees driving the RA301 at the 1968 German G...

Image via Wikipedia

This is what happened and the job was done perfectly.  Firestone were well pleased, but, they never came back with any other work.

Nurburgring at that time was a huge circuit of over fourteen miles.  It only required fourteen laps to complete, each one being completed in about nine minutes by the fastest cars.

Because of the fewer number of laps, I could have done with many more cameramen, but the budget would not run to it.

John Surtees in a Honda reached seventh on the grid, but retired after three laps with ignition problems.

The race was won by Jackie Stewart in the Matra-Ford with Graham Hill in the Lotus-Ford second.

What was memorable about their race was than the whole period was marred by rain.

People were camped out in the parkland surrounding the circuit, they had their tents flooded and some carried away.

After the race, Piet van Strien dropped me off in Dusseldorf at the plush Dusseldorf Hotel where I could spend the night before flying back to Heathrow.  When I arrived at the hotel, I was soaked and covered in mud.  I thought I might be thrown out, but, nobody said a word.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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