Fascinating F1 Fact:35

For those who think that it will all be so much better when Brexit is done, perhaps one should take a wander back in time and examine the motorsport world before access to Europe was easy and without undue paperwork.

Back in 1956, a 30-year-old Jack Brabham was still struggling to establish himself in Grand Prix racing. He had not started racing until he was 22 and it was seven years after that before he headed to England. He had made his F1 debut the previous year in a Cooper which he had bought from the factory, but he decided that he needed a better car and so sold the Cooper in Australia and used the money to buy a Maserati 250F, which – oddly – had been owned by the Owen Racing Organisation, which manufactured and raced BRMs. The company was working on the new P25, but it was not ready in time for 1955 (in the finest BRM tradition) and so Sir Alfred Owen bought a Maserati in order to have a competitive car for Peter Collins to drive. This also gave his engineers the chance to examine the latest Italian technology… 

Collins used the car to win the BRDC International Trophy and the London Trophy and he was then hired by Ferrari.

Owen wanted to get rid of the 250F in early 1956 and Brabham agreed to buy it. Once it was delivered, Jack discovered that the paperwork was not as simple as he had imagined and that, to avoid Purchase Tax, (a sales tax imposed on all items deemed to be “luxury”, which was then running at a shocking 60 percent of the price), Owen had only temporarily imported the car and, as a result Brabham could not use the car unless it was exported and then re-imported with different paperwork.

The easiest way to do this was to put the Maserati on a ferry to Guernsey, the Crown Dependency which, officially, is not part of the United Kingdom. Leaving his Commer transporter in Newhaven, Brabham accompanied the 250F to St Peter Port. It had to be craned on and off the ship because there were no roll-on/roll-off vessels on the route. The ship arrived in the fog and Brabham saw nothing but a wharf, as the car was craned on to the dock and then wheeled across to be loaded on to a different boat, while rubber stamps were applied to paperwork.

They then sailed back to Newhaven where the Maserati slipped in its sling while being unloaded. A terrified Brabham watched in horror, fearing that the car would be dropped on to the dock. Later he wished it had been, because the car brought him nothing but pain. The engine needed to be rebuilt and so it was sent to Italy. Brabham, with his wife Betty and young son Geoffrey, drove to Modena in a Borgward Isabella Combi to pick it up. The rebuild cost a lot more than anticipated and so on the return journey they had to survive on bread and water, because getting money from abroad was complicated and time-consuming. They rushed back to Boulogne, their major fear being that they would run out of petrol before they got there. They just made it and boarded the ferry SS Lord Warden.

They had enough money left for a bowl of soup and had just finished that when the Lord Warden ploughed into a French ship called the Tamba, in fog off Cap Gris Nez. It was a big impact but the Lord Warden was in no danger of sinking and so the ferry continued, with Brabham worried about what he would find when the passengers were allowed back to their vehicles. The result was a Borgward Isabella smashed front and rear, but the Maserati engine undamaged.

Brabham never did race the 250F because he never had the money to do so… and so took a job with John Cooper instead. This led to back-to-back World Championships in 1959 and 1960, and a third title in 1966 in one of his own cars. In 1979 Jack would be knighted for services to motorsport.