THE Man in the van was on a mission when PETER COSTER invited him to an Aussie beerfest in London:
ON A COLD DAY in London in the 1970s, while looking for a flat to rent with a few Australian mates, I noticed a small racing car on a trailer. When we moved in a few doors away in wet and windy Chiswick, the Formula 3 car was still there. There were weekends when it disappeared, but the next week it was usually back on the trailer sitting at the kerb. The driver was Alan Jones who had his father staying with him.
I knew more about his father, who had won the Australian Grand Prix in 1959. No one knew much about his son.
I invited them to a house-warming party that attracted a bigger crowd of Australians than the Munich Beer Festival. They also drank more than the Australians who were banned from Munich after their overly enthusiastic approach to drinking and relationships with voluptuous frauleins carrying frothing steins of beer.
Alan Jones, whose biography, AJ: How Alan Jones climbed to the top of Formula One, was launched this week, was trying to break into European motor racing and his father had arrived to give him a hand.
Stan Jones was a Holden dealer in Australia who raced the Maybach Special. The 3.8 litre engine came from a German half-track desert scout car that was bought by Repco engineer Charlie Dean, who made his own chassis with a Studebaker front end, a Lancia rear and a Fiat crash gearbox.
Later the body of smooth aluminium was made from aircraft belly tanks. It was bought by Stan Jones and became a symbol of Australian ingenuity against the better-bred racing cars from Europe that were appearing on early Australian and New Zealand circuits.
Stan Jones sat high in the car and likely would have been killed in a roll-over.
As a schoolboy, I waited in high excitement each week for my copy of The Champion, in which my hero, Rockfist Rogan, drove a similar machine. Rogan was a champion driver and a champion boxer.
Stan Jones won the 1954 New Zealand Grand Prix in the Maybach ahead of Ken Wharton’s V16 BRM (it stands for British Racing Motors) and Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari.
But not before the old Maybach had put a rod through its crankcase and was replaced with one taken overnight from a truck and tested on the way to the track next day.
Such were the dreams of small boys. In London in 1972, I was in awe of Stan Jones who was to die the next year and was not there to see his son win his first race at Brands Hatch in the GRD Formula 3 car parked in the street in Chiswick.
Alan Jones at least had a camper van to pull it. Vans were how he made a few bob (shillings in those days) to keep the racing car on the track.
The young Jones and a mate sold camper vans to Australians arriving in London to start a European adventure before returning to live in Kangaroo Valley in Earl’s Court, made famous or more likely notorious, by Barry Humphries in the Barry McKenzie films and the comic strip in the equally famous or notorious satirical magazine, Private Eye.
Alan Jones did well enough to be given a test drive by the March team and would have won the 1973 F3 championship had it not been for a misfiring engine at Brands Hatch where I would wander through the paddock looking at the cars at Formula 1 races.
Graham Hill, twice world champion, said “Gidday”, with a laugh when he heard my Australian accent. F1 was a different world in those days. People could get closer to the cars and the drivers.
Bernie Ecclestone was just another driver, but determined to become the sport’s obergruppenfuhrer and eventually one of the richest men in Britain.
Alan Jones was later to be given a drive in a Formula One Hesketh, a car made famous by James Hunt, who won the world championship in 1976. The car was named after Lord Hesketh, a champagne-guzzling peer, known as “Bubbles.” Hunt was also a dedicated imbiber.
Jones’ first race in the Hesketh was in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. It was marred by Rolf Stommelen’s crash in which five spectators were killed. People died in Formula One in those days, not necessarily driving a car.
Jones also did four races for Graham Hill’s team before driving for Surtees and Shadow, where he won his first Grand Prix at the Osterreichring.
The Surtees TS19 carried sponsorship for Durex, the condom manufacturer, which led to the BBC, known as “Aunty”, refusing to cover the Formula One 1976 season. The apparent public sexual excitement was a commercial coup for Durex.
Jones said years later that in more politically-correct times he would have been held up as a public-health hero.
He won the Can-am sports car series for the Haas-Hall team in 1978 and four out of five races for the Williams team the next year, finishing third in the F1 world championship. The 1980 season was his championship year.
He finished 13 points ahead of Nelson Piquet to become Australia’s second world champion after Sir Jack Brabham.
The next year saw Jones finish four points behind Piquet and three behind his Williams teammate Carlos Reutemann.
Jones retired the next year in which he won the last race of the season around the car park of the Caesar’s Palace hotel. The next year saw the car park turned into a boxing stadium for the “hellacious” world title fight between Marvellous Marvin Hagler (his real named changed by deed poll) and Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns, who turned out to be the one pummelled into submission.
Jones came out of retirement the following year at the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach in California. The Arrows he was driving had no sponsorship and I thought I could help.
I was a correspondent then based in Los Angeles and had an American mate whose neighbour was the son of the owner of Korean Airlines.
There was to be an international incident a few months later when Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by a missile from a Soviet jet fighter.
Korean Airlines was interested in putting its name on the Arrows, but it was too late to do the deal for that race and after retiring with heat fatigue at Long Beach, Jones was to drive his last race for the struggling Arrows team at a Race of Champions back at Brands Hatch where he finished third behind world champion Keke Rosberg in a Williams and the American Danny Sullivan in a Tyrrell.
Jones retired too early and was a driver who could have won another world championship had he stayed with Williams. He was a tough competitor, like his father, a hard charger who never gave up. In an interview on ABC News Breakfast this week, he was asked about his father’s influence on his life.
Jones said he grew up always thinking he would become a racing driver. He went racing the weekend after his father died because Stan Jones would have said his death was no reason not to get behind the wheel. Like father, like son.
Author: Peter Coster
PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.