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Farewell to a genius, a racer and a very good man

IMG_0761I was very saddened to hear of the recent passing of Peter Westbury.  He was one of my heroes as I grew up in the 1960s, reading old copies of Motoring News and picturing the races in my mind long after they’d been held; and when I first met him in the 1970s I was not disappointed. Peter will be remembered by many as the Championship-winning, bearded hill-climber who made four-wheel-drive a pre-requisite for any sort of success. He was an engineering genius – the man behind Felday Engineering (along with the very likeable Mac Daghorn).

Much more than that, however, Peter inspired no lesser driver than Jim Clark: intrigued by Peter’s ground-breaking Felday four-wheel-drive, 2-litre BRM-powered sports car, Jim approached Peter about possibly racing the car in the Guards Trophy race at Brands Hatch in 1966. Jim duly turned up on the race weekend – and loved the car from the moment he sat in it.  I asked Peter once about that momentous time.

“I don’t remember a minute when Jim was not absolutely in tune with it,” he said. “He just adapted to it naturally. It was an absolute pleasure to watch and to share. He could make the car understeer or oversteer at will and was also very detailed with his descriptions. I never went along with that stuff about Jim not being a good test driver. He was superb.”

Thanks to Peter Darley, the official Team Lotus photographer at the time, we can see Jim and Peter on the grid at Brands, discussing last-minute details (with, in the background, former driver, Henry Taylor, who was by then head of Ford’s Competition Department). Note Peter’s standard-issue Firestone jacket with added “Felday” logo.PD-108.1.11 - Version 2

PD-108.1.12Peter was a very fast and able racing driver in his own right, eventually progressing to the front of international Formula 2 racing in 1969-70 with a beautifully-prepared Brabham BT30. (Peter is pictured below – photo courtesy of LAT Photographic – at the 1969 German GP, when F2 cars ran alongside the F1s.) Thanks to his long-standing ties with BRM, Peter was also invited to drive an F1 BRM P153 at Watkins Glen at the end of 1970.

Articulate and well-informed, Peter was always enthralling. I last saw him at Goodwood two years ago, when we chatted at length with Sally Swart, Jim’s ex-girl-friend (top). Peter was telling me how much he was enjoying his retirement in the Caribbean (St Lucia), where he spent much of his spare time in support of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Club (as per the logo on his blazer). He had plenty to say about modern F1 – and most of it was constructively good.

He that sort of man.

Peter Darley’s superb photographs can be enjoyed in two current books – Jim Clark: Life at Team Lotus and 1965: Jim Clark and Team Lotus – the UK Races.  His next volume, Pit and Paddock, will be published in early 2016

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5 thoughts on “Farewell to a genius, a racer and a very good man

  1. Nice piece, brings back memories (of reading far away things in Motoring News) and of a great guy.

  2. George Levy on said:

    Peter

    Wonderful remembrance of Peter Westbury. I really enjoy your posts on peterwindsor.com

    Perhaps you can shed light on something related to Westbury, Jimmy and 4WD as a follow-up for your readers:

    Robin Herd, as I’m sure you know, insists that Jimmy had entered into an agreement to move from Lotus to the new Cosworth 4WD car for 1969. Those plans were scuppered, Herd says, by the events at Hockenheim.

    What is your understanding of whether Jimmy was serious about leaving Lotus for Cosworth?

    I was reminded of it by your piece on Westbury. Jimmy had such a good experience with the Felday, had watched “Silent Sam” dominate Indy in 1967 and had only a week or so before his death enthused about the performance characteristics of the 4WD Lotus 56.

    All the best for the season, G

    >

  3. John Fitzgerald on said:

    I endorse everything you say about Westbury. In those days the quality of driving and engineering excellence was outstanding in British, and European, hillclimb circles.
    Whilst 4wd turned out to be a cul-de-sac for F1, it was not an irrelevance. This was, after all, long before the days of Quattros and Integrales in rallying……….
    Thanks Peter. Your perspicacity and experience of our sport together with Jenson Button are now the last bastions holding my interest in the sport that captivated me in 1965.
    And yes, of course, let noone be in any doubt, Clark was the fastest and the best of all time.

  4. Rob Hazell on said:

    Echoing the above comments, this is a fitting tribute Peter, to a man who was so talented in both his engineering and driving skills. Unfortunately I didn’t ever meet him but so enjoyed watching him race and his successes in F3 in 1967 and then being part of that wonderful era of F2 from the mid sixties to the mid seventies with his BT30.

    For a little further background on Peter and the Felday story I found this page on Bonham’s website which may be of interest.

    https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21906/lot/306/

    Thank you Peter for all of your articles which always capture so atmospherically the stories of racing past and present, just the way “Jenks” used to do.

  5. Pingback: Farewell to a genius, a racer and a very good man - A Las Carreras

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