Mike Barney standing by the truck known as “Gertie”.

I asked the RAC man:
‘How about bribing these guys?’ He said: ‘Oh no no no, you can’t do that, that’s only in films.’

1967 Monza

Alastair joins McLaren for his first Grand Prix in Monza, Italy. Despite beating the red tape at customs in France the McLaren car is unable to finish the race.

Bruce had a Formula 1 car with a V12 VRM engine that was going to the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. We’d been racing Formula 1 all season but I hadn’t been involved yet. They asked if I’d like to go to Monza and I said: ‘Would I ever.’ There was no warning, it was Tuesday afternoon and we were leaving in less than an hour so I rushed home and got my passport.

I drove the truck, this great big truck, across London and followed the chief mechanic Mike Barney. We were all excited, it was my first race, my first trip across Europe, and Bruce was starting on the front row. It was a 4:3 grid in those days. I learnt about Italian food, French food, stayed in the French hotels, learned how to bribe customs officials.

We didn’t have the right paperwork when we got to Dover so we couldn’t get across into France. In those days there were little men wearing RAC jackets when you got to Dover who came to see you. They told us we couldn’t travel without the right paperwork. We obviously weren’t going to get there in time so I asked the RAC man: ‘How about bribing these guys?’ He said ‘Oh no no no, you can’t do that, that’s only in films.’

We spent the night in Dover and in the morning Mike went off early to call Bruce. I was in the customs shed with two French customs officers. I had the company wallet, no credit cards in those days so it was stuffed with cash. Italian and French notes were as big as pieces of A4 paper. I got two of these huge notes out and waved them around and showed ‘one to each of the officials. They looked very pleased as if to say: ’Yes, that’s a good idea.’ There was a key on the wall (I’d already worked out what key was in French, clé), which opened the impound where the truck was locked up. I said: ‘We get the clé… grand camion…tu droit..’ ‘Oui!’ they said and took the notes and carefully folded them up very small and put them in their top pockets. Then we walked, unlocked the shed and I drove the truck out into the cold morning air. Mike was on one the pay phones to Bruce telling him we couldn’t get into France. I sounded the horn and he turned round to see me with the truck signaling him to get a move on. ‘Oh hang on,‘ he said to Bruce, ‘Alastair’s outside with the truck.’ And off we went. We made it to the Italian Grand Prix on time and, after all that, didn’t finish the race because the engine ran out of oil and blew up.

Previous story | next story | back to timeline