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Glories :

Chris Amon

.
“Donald Duck” goes to races
   
Chris Amon
     
24/08/2017 -

Enzo Ferrari affirmed that “bad luck doesn’t exist, there is only what we couldn’t or we hadn’t been able to foresee”. Another person who didn’t believe in bad luck was Jacky Stewart, the three-time world champion: “I don’t believe in bad luck Yes, I do in good luck. No, I don’t in bad luck: Those who are reputed unlucky are generally those who don’t do all necessary to eliminate bad luck.” In support of that theory mentioned in 1983, the Scottish champion reported a well known case in the motor racing history: “Chris Amon was a charming young driver, greatly talented by nature, but completely lacking of organization. That’s why despite the exceptional quality of his drive, he has never succeeded in winning a Grand Prix”.

However, in 2003, by signing the preface to “Forza Amon”, the New Zealander driver’s biography by Eoin Young, the famous Scottish champion, yet confirming his theory on bad lack, seemed to yield in favour of his friend and old rival, granting that, actually, Chris Amon was sometimes really unlucky. And probably it was also the firm belief of Enzo Ferrari, who had Amon in his team from 1967-1969; a belief that started wavering before the bad luck of this “Donald Duck” of motor racing, such as to give history a portrait which is half full of admiration and half of disappointment in what he might have been: “Chris Amon like a Nazzaro of the Sixties, but without the human sincerity of an unforgettable artist of the wheel. During the three years of races with Ferrari he wasn’t as successful as he deserved. He won with sports prototypes, won Tasmania championship. He never won a F1 Grand Prix. He was a good test driver, or better still, an excellent, fine and clean driver; he ought to have summoned up his courage in running. Yet, strength failed him. After his period in Ferrari he has in vain tried with different teams and cars to overcome the difficulties that accompanied every moment of his career”. Yet, though he hadn’t got so much, Chris Amon left many broken hearts in Italy and elsewhere, more than many lucky drivers who looked like Donald Duck’s cousin “Gladstone Gander” who filled their teams and fans with wins. His name is bound to the amiable smile of someone who has lived those years of racing events and whose life keeps a certain charm, starting from his origin in a far-off New Zealand.

To make it clear, Chris Amon opened his eyes to life on 24th October 1943, nearby Bulls a secluded small town. As he was the son of a big cattle-breeder whose forefathers came from Scotland; a well-off childhood fell to his lot, but he paid for it with a quick separation from home to go and attend far-off private boarding schools, where, at the beginning, he suffered from loneliness and discipline. However, there were always holidays to go back to Bulls and give vent to his feeling of freedom: he was only six when a shepherd, who was in his father’s service, gave him the first drive lessons in an old Ford V8, and at the wheel of it the child was running around in the yard of his family farm. Growing up he showed two great passions: on one hand he was keen on flight, almost natural in a country dominated by great distances, on the other on motor racing. It was all the same evident his lack of interest in the school. In fact, as soon as he took a diploma he decided to work under his father, meantime devoting himself to his passions: he was only 16 when he obtained the pilot’s licence, as provided by the New Zealand laws, and in the same year he bought his first racing car, an Austin A40 Special which ran with a special nitrogen mixture and generated a huge compression ratio equal to 14:1. Partly because mechanics was excessively forced and partly because the material wasn’t so new, at the wheel of that car Chris didn’t manage to do anything, collecting every kind of failures and retirements. But the boy felt inflamed with the holy fire for races: his fellow countryman Bruce McLaren was already a top-star and Denny Hulme, “the Bear”, seemed almost close to Formula One environment. On the contrary, “Black Jack” Brabham was coming from near Australia; he had already been a world champion with Cooper and like McLaren was the future founder of a team of his own.

To emulate those champions, Chris Amon, with his father’s economic aid, bought a 1500 cc Cooper Climax in which he gained the first row on Levin circuit, near home. However, the boy felt that his car wasn’t sufficiently powerful and after that only race he decided to change it with an old front engine Maserati 250F, behaving unlike all the other drivers who were looking for the new and lighter English single-seaters which mounted rear engines. The Maserati car, bought by Amon, was a particular model as its first owner was the Owner Racing Organisation that used it to test some solutions, like Dunlop disk brakes, afterwards adopted on the future BRMs. Thanks to his father Ngaio, Chris got the BP sponsorship that supplied fuels for his family farm and a further aid came from Dunlop, the New Zealand affiliated Company. In the 1962 GP of New Zealand, Amon seemed to have some difficulty in handling his new creature, finishing 11th, one lap from Stirling Moss the winner. At Levin, however, the boy won his battery of qualification, showing his skill in learning quickly to handle such a powerful and difficult racing car, even if afterwards he couldn’t start the race for a breakdown. At Christchurch Amon finished again eleventh behind Moss the winner, drawing Reg Parnell’s attention, an old fox who managed the Cooper cars in New Zealand for John Surtees and Roy Salvadori. The English talent scout admitted that he hadn’t seen a 250F driven with such skilfulness from Fangio’s days. At the wheel of a Maserati Chris ran again a couple of good races: the first one on Dunedin city circuit where, after taking the lead of the race he didn’t finish because of an accident and with the latter at Remwick, where he arrived 2nd on the finish. Once sold the Maserati, Chris bought a 2500 cc Cooper Climax with a rear engine, and finished second at Tauranga, behind the Lotus driven by Tony Shelly. Then the injection of the English engine started to play up by ruining the New Zealand Grand Prix on the Pukekohe circuit, where he was classified seventh after many pit-stops, as well as at Levin and Wigram races, where Chris was obliged to retire. On the contrary, on the race of Teretonga, it was the gearbox which left him down. Amon’s destiny was by that time in the hands of Reg Parnell who managed to reach an agreement with Shell and Dunlop Companies to send the young talent to Europe and make him run in Formula One with a Lola-Climax. In April 1963 Chris joined his mentor in England, ready to take a chance and, as he was only eighteen Reg Parnell also took on a certain responsibility in Chris Amon’s moral life he would have led in Europe, by making a promise to his family of looking after the only and a bit daredevil child. Once he arrived in London Amon hadn’t got enough time to think how far off his country was: Parnell submitted him to a busy round of engagements in international races, waiting for his debut in the world championship. At the wheel of a car which wasn’t a real lightening, Amon came fifth at Goodwood and finished sixth at Aintree. His debut in the world championship was envisaged on the occasion of Monaco Grand Prix, on May 26, but Chris could only run the first tests, because later he had to give his single-seater to his team mate and champion Maurice Trintignant, who was in trouble with his car. The French driver was supported by important sponsors and therefore Parnell had no scruples about leaving the rising star down, managing to let him enter the following GPs. However, in the few laps he ran, Chris drew attention to himself obtaining Ken Tyrrell’s hiring to run with Cooper team in the Junior Formula. Few days later Amon won a race out of the championship at Mallory Park and on 9th June 1963 he finally debuted in Formula One on the difficult circuit of Spa Francorchamp, qualifying 15 for the best time and showing his courage in the rain till he scored the seventh place. Then an oil leakage from his engine betrayed him after only 10 laps. On next Dutch Grand Prix, Chris improved his position on the grid qualifying twelfth, but he was obliged to retire for the water pump breakage, whilst on the difficult circuit of Reims he finally succeeded in finishing seventh.

On the occasion of the English Grand Prix, Reg Parnell managed to come to an agreement with the Climax company to obtain a more powerful engine to give to his favourite: at the wheel of the new car Amon came again seventh at Silverstone, but at Nürburgring he finished off because of a steering failure and at Monza he exceeded and went off in the Lesmo bend by hanging out of his car’s cockpit with three broken ribs. Only at the last season of the Mexican Grand Prix he reappeared on the track, scoring the 19th grid-position but he was forced to retire for the gearbox problems. By the end of the season Reg Parnell could be said satisfied with his young driver’s performances, however, he took care to write Ngaio, Amon’s father, about the necessity for making his son understood, during winter break, how physical and technical preparations were important to his career, and the need of spurring him to give up that kind of life, rather idle one, he was leading till that time in England. Meanwhile, Parnell managed to negotiate the purchase of the Lotus 25, the model which had just won the championship with Jim Clark. Parnell tried as well to obtain from the Coventry Climax Company one of those special powerful engines, which only the leading teams had at their disposal. In winter, unfortunately old Reg was taken seriously ill and died. Amon was informed of the sad event while he was racking his brains over an unlucky year in the Tasman Cup with a Lola Climax 2500 cc, equipped with a damned chassis which bend and broke everything. Parnell’s son, Tim took over the team but he had obviously minor experience and was held in less esteem than his father: thus Coventry Climax withdrew its agreement on the engines supply and the team was obliged to mount BRM V8 engines on Lotus chassis. It was a poor match that in the world championship of Formula One made Amon achieve a fifth place at the Dutch Grand Prix, a tenth place in Rouen, eleventh place at Nürburgring, a failed qualification at Monaco and a good five retires for mechanical problems. There was something better out of the championship with three fifth places at Snetterton, Syracuse and Silverstone and a fourth place in Enna. The 1964 year also saw Amon’s debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, going into Ford’s orbit with Carroll Shelby’s team, which troubled much Ferrari for World Sports cars championship with those terrible AC Shelby Cobras. On the occasion of the famous French marathon with other partner Neerpash, Amon was given a powerful Daytona coupé, at the wheel of it he risked winning the GT category, before being disqualified by an irregular battery during pit-stops. 1964 was also the beginning of a period of pleasure-loving life, because Chris moved to Surbiton, the southwest suburb of London, at Ditton Road, where he shared an apartment with Hailwood, named “Mike the bike” (the famous motorcycle racer who was about to pass to racing cars with the help of Parnell), Peter Revson the heir to the dynasty which owned Revlon cosmetics well known Company, he too with ambition to be a racing car driver, and Bruce Harré, the engineer in charge of the development of Firestone tyres. From time to time, other people dropped in there like Bruce Abernathy, who appointed himself as Amon’s manager, Tony Maggs, a Cooper driver, and Howden Ganley, he too a future driver in F1. According to Eoin Young: “Revson shared a room with Bruce Harré, Chris shared it with Abernathy, and Mike had a room with ten girls…: on a turnover system.” The unrestrained young men, then nicknamed “The Ditton Road Flyers”, took to drink in parties with high alcoholic content, while their neighbours bustled about filling the drivers’ and their landlady’s letterboxes with vigorous protests against their unbearable rows. It was also an overwork for the neighbourhood policemen: everyday they used to get on Tim Parnell’s wick in order to do something to keep under control his wild drivers. When Mario Donnini asked Amon for that period of life, Chris said: “it was dangerous to race but, believe me, have Mike Hailwood going round all over the house by night was much more risky.

Certainly, we had a good time with Mike.” Meantime, Amon’s career seemed to go slowly: in 1965 he only ran two GPs in France and Germany, always in Tim Parnell’s Lotus 25-BRM collecting two retirements. He made up to failures running with Ford in the sports championship, by alternating between the old Cobra and new GT40. During summer, his friendship with Harré and some Bruce McLaren’s good advice allowed him to make some tests with the Firestone.

During one of these sessions, Harré, for fun, made secretly take off and remount the same set train of tyres on Amon’s car: Amon went on track, made some laps at the wheel of the racing car and came back to the pit stands, surprising everybody at his saying that those tyres worked exactly as the pervious ones. Hired by the Midland Racing Partnership to run the Formula 2 Grand Prix on the circuit of Zandvoort, in Holland, after a good fight against German driver Mitter, Chris managed to drive his Lola T60 Cosworth to win. A few weeks later he was called by Bruce McLaren, who burnt himself during the race, replaced him in the sports cars racing at Silverstone at the wheel of a 5-litre McLaren-Elva. Amon made a withering start from the last row and after an aggressive recovery finished first. At the wheel of the same car he again scored a win on Sainte Jovite track in Canada. Can-Am championship was among Chris’s major commitments in 1966: always in McLaren he achieved a third place at Sainte Jovite, second place at Bridgehampton and finally he could have won at Mosport Park, if the Chaparral driven by Phil Hill hadn’t cut in on him just when he was in the lead, causing him to go off the track. There was nothing to do on next races at Laguna Seca and Las Vegas, where he had two retirements for mechanical problems. It was a real poor year in Formula One, where Bruce McLaren, eager to involve him in his team, got into the disastrous plan to fit the V8 Ford for Indianapolis into the new 3-litre formula, which has just come into force. Chris succeeded in finding a unique recruitment in the top series: he entered the French Grand Prix where he barely made it to be placed eighth with a Cooper Maserati, in spite the ever-present mechanical problems. Besides Can-Am, Chris earned his bread with the tests on Firestone’s behalf and driving the special GT40 of MGM, equipped with television cameras to shoot some scenes later on used in the “Grand Prix” film directed by John Frankenheimer.

 

The 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race, the Ford GT40 driven by Amon-McLaren

 

That 1966 was also the year of his win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the event which represented a turning point in his career together with the greatest success in his palmar. He partnered Bruce McLaren; his Ford GT40 wasn’t even expected to win because the barons of Ford and Carroll Shelby thought and hoped for the win of the twin-car driven by the crew formed by Hulme-Miles, also because this team had undertook the whole development of the new model and, therefore, deserved to win. Moreover, the car driven by McLaren-Amon was the only one to use Firestone tyres, while all the others used the best competitive Goodyear. That meant a lower start pace for the New Zealander drivers, at least till when Carroll Shelby asked the two drivers to have Goodyear mounted on their car: thanks to the competitive tyres things took a different turn and the GT40 started to fly, setting GP times till to take the lead and win the race, just ahead of the twin-car driven by favoured Hulme-Miles. Meantime, in Ferrari they were looking for replacing Surtees, who had just divorced from the team. Franco Gozzi, Enzo Ferrari’s right hand, remembered that by that time they addressed themselves to the Shell Company, which controlled the driver’s market by means of sponsorships, in order to see who was available. The oil giant suggested Chris Amon and Danny Hulme, stating that there was certainly a future World Champion between them: Ferrari opted for Chris because he was younger than his countryman. At the beginning his commitment with the prancing horse concerned sports car races above all, because in Formula One there was always to elbow one’s way through the team mates. In fact, in 1967 the famous red car could besides Chris dispose of Bandini, De Adamich, Hawkins, Klass, Parkes, Scarfiotti, Sutclife and Jonathan Williams, more or less everybody hoped to lean his back on one of the two or three single-seaters which the team lined up in GPs. For the moment it was necessary to get doing something with sports cars and Amon showed he didn’t fear it by winning the Daytona 24 Hours in the 330 P4, partnering Bandini; who was immediately on the same wavelength although the first spoke little Italian and the latter little English. By the way, that was the year of the glorious parade on the finishing line, with the winners’ car before the twin cars of Scarfiotti-Parkes and Rodriguez-Guichet: it was an awful slap in the face of rival Ford’s. After Daytona Bandini and Amon still hit the mark at the 1000 km of Monza and with the Italian driver Chris should have shared the cockpit of a 330 P4 also at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately Lorenzo Bandini died as a result of burns during the Monaco Grand Prix because his car burst into flames after hitting the barrier at the chicane after the tunnel, while he was competing with the Braham driven by Hulme for taking the lead of the race. On that tragic day Chris Amon, who had achieved a position in Formula One by winning the Daytona 24 Hours, finished third and never forgot that previous Wednesday, when with Lorenzo after dining in the Monaco hinterland and on their way back they took their time enjoying the panorama, because the Italian driver seemed to enjoy springtime peacefully, nature in blossom, an old man who was fishing on the stretch of coast, the sea and all that smiled at him all around. Almost as if it were an omen of that incredible love for life, Amon thought of it later on. And that third place scored in Monaco turned out a kind of insuperable limit: in that season Chris once again qualified third at Spa, Silverstone and Nürburgring, with the addition of the fourth place at Zandvoort, the sixth at Mosport Park, the seventh at Monza, and ninth in Mexico City and was forced to retire twice at the Bugatti circuit of Le Mans and at the Watkins Glen. On the contrary, at Le Mans 24-hour race his car burst into flames after a tyre puncture which made rim and suspension slide on the asphalt for some kilometres and he was obliged to throw himself out of his still running car to escape the flames. The marshals, who were barely looking for him among the red-hot wrecks of his car, were shocked at his sudden appearance behind them: “Hey, I am here!” At those days the legend on Amon the “Donald Duck” of Formula One didn’t yet exist and thanks to the results of his first year at Ferrari’s could be satisfied with his performance. In particular Chris had won the team technical director’s confidence, Mauro Forghieri who remembered him as follows: “A little man who was reserved by nature and gifted with a first-class feeling for driving. It wasn’t I who discovered him; also people of Firestone’s, from where Chris came, knew it. Nobody could test the cars as he did and, by then, nobody except him could be ahead of such drivers like Jim Clark or Graham Hill”. With regard to Jim Clark, that winter the Tasman Championship lived on the duel between young Chris Amon in Ferrari, Dino V6 powered, and the Scottish driver in Lotus 49T. On a couple of occasions like the Grand Prix of New Zealand or in the Levin circuit race, Chris managed to defeat the Lotus driver, even if he never considered himself to be on a level with Jim:” I never felt equal to Jim. We struggled a lot, it’s true, but he always found some extra strength. And he beat me even on a final spurt to win, with only one centimetre’s lead…” After a few months, great Jim Clark would have inexplicably ceased to live during a race in Formula 2 on Hockeheim circuit because his Lotus smashed into a tree. But other talented champions contended for coming into the limelight: at the end of 1967 there was a lot of talk about Jacky Stewart a new star at Ferrari’s; then, on the contrary, there was Belgian Jacky Ickx, a real king of the wet track, who, after deciding not to reside in Italy, saddled Amon with the whole testing job. Then there was Austrian Jocken Rindt, once Brabham’s driver, whom Chris always competed with on all fronts, from women to races. The 1968 season was full of regret for Chris Amon, who could have really been a World Champion: he was very fast in qualifying, achieved pole position in Spain, Belgium and Holland and the first row in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada and Mexico. Unfortunately, on race he didn’t arrived farther than second at Brands Hatch, to which he added a fourth place in South Africa and a sixth one in Holland, collecting a striking series of stupid retirements: in Spain when in the lead the fuel pump broke: at Spa, where he had beaten the record of the old circuit, which was then attributed to him for ever, a stone made a hole in the radiator and as always when he was in the lead of the race: at Nürburgring he went off the track. At Monza his car skidded on an oil spot, Chris, after an awful looping was thrown out of the cockpit, and stopped in the middle of the branches of a tree to survive unharmed: let’s call it fortune if you want. In Canada he was betrayed by transmission, once again while he was in the lead of the race: he had a water leak in the US and a broken pump in the cooling system in Mexico.

Nothing doing with Can Am too, where Chris had convinced Enzo Ferrari to line up a car derived from the P4, the 350, equipped with an engine overpowered by 4176.22 cc and able to develop 480 hp at 8500 rpm. The lack of an adequate assistance and too many defects in braking condemned Amon to get poor results. The 1968 season was decisive in the spread of airfoils and in Ferrari’s Amon found himself to be the judge of the solution between engineer Forghieri who denied their efficacy and engineer Caliri who backed up their utility: “While Forghieri was out because he was following the races, “- reported Caliri-“I mounted a small rear airfoil on a Formula One car. Ferrari was the first person to see it and he really let rip: but what is it, an ice-cream handcart? However, that fact didn’t prevent me from running in Modena with Amon. And Chris, who was certainly unlucky as a driver, but he was a great tester, immediately realized that the small airfoil gave substantial advantages.” Once he had forgotten the disappointments of Formula 1 and Can Am, Chris went to spend winter as usual in New Zealand, where he finally won the Tasman Cup in the Dino F2 with the V6 engine by 2400 cc. If the year before he had above all to fight against Clark, now the rivals seemed to multiply with the fastest Lotus driven by Hill and Rindt and the Brabham of Courage, perhaps the most valiant competitor to defeat in the running for the championship. As a recent winner in his country Chris was ready to join the fight of the 1969 season, which, however, turned out a real disaster: five retirements out of six races and a third place at Zandvoort as a unique valid result. In Spain he was forced to retire just while he was in the lead of the race, because of a failure of the engine causing him many problems that year.

 

The 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours, C. Amon and Ferrari 312P

 

If there hadn’t yet been sufficient misfortunes in the previous season, the legend of Amon, the unlucky driver, would be definitively derived from that series of retirements. Something better happened in the Can-Am where Ferrari lined up the monstrous 612 with 6222.16 cc and 620hp, which, on the American ground, was directly handled by Amon as it happened with Dino cars in the Tasman Cup: he was third at Watkins Glen, second at Edmonton in Canada, third at Lexington and sixth in the championship. The car wasn’t so bad, but the lack of spare parts weighed so much that it was necessary to fit some parts of Chevrolet engine to repair the Italian big V12 after a breakage. Meanwhile, the pressure on the Company and of Italian Press, which had brought drivers to trial, in addition to the real technical difficulties that seemed to grow more marked due to the fragility shown by the new flat-12 cylinders for Formula One, obliged Chris to look for an alternative to Ferrari. The New Zealander driver was in search of a car with a Cosworth engine, given that in those years the English engine V8 was on the top and could beat much more powerful engines on paper. The choice was taken for the new March. In Ferrari there was somebody who regretted Chris Amon’s leaving, above all the engineers who had appreciated his preparation and feeling for driving. Later on Forghieri admitted that they hadn’t often been able to give him a car up to his skill. Other people were a bit more subtle and “wicked”. Franco Gozzi has recently described the New Zealander driver and his so-called bad luck: “He was a naïve country small rat among town cats, doubtful in every circumstance and often, and by dealing both with love affairs or business relations he made the wrong choice. Once, after Christmas holidays he came into the factory with a novelty: he got married. A girl of small build, a pocket beauty, her name was Barbara. After a while he got divorced, admitting childishly: “in new Zealand it seemed to me that she was good-looking, but, here, in Europe she looks ugly”. He started living together with another Barbara, Austrian, who was Lucky Cassner’s widow, then Jochen Rindt’s fiancée; it was never understood whether he made her conquest or the direct concerned had ditched her to him. On which driver of the Ferrari team might the people of Barcelona Rambla Catalana palm off a fake? Who bought a Mercedes and left it outside the garage and thus the intense cold (a very rare event at Vallelunga) got the oil sump to crack? Who could insist on being paid in pounds because he had to invest in the March and the value of pounds lost 18% at the same week of the payment? Who, in Germany, didn’t give a damn to any cautions and ate an ox tail soup, a concoction of ox tail, and then went to run for three days on track debilitated by diarrhoea? And which flat in Modena was burgled by thieves every three or four months? And, at the harbour of Naples, who was twice taken in by a carton of cigarettes full of sawdust?”

 

The 1970 French Grand Prix, C. Amon with March 701

 

The New Zealander, who had learned to speak the dialect of Modena, went to run in England with his March. First time he and his rival Jacky Stewart disposed of the same car, a mediocre 701, but while the Scottish driver gained a win in Spain, Chris didn’t manage to defeat his misfortune and only scored second places at Spa and Clermont Ferrand, with the addition of a third place in Canada, a fourth place in Mexico, a pair of 5th places at Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen, a 7th place in Italy, an 8th place in Austria and five retirements. If at the beginning of the season the car seemed quite fast and could be qualified on the first rows, when the new Lotus 72 appeared in Jocken Rindt’s hands things changed for the worse and the Austrian dominated, while March cars were left more and more behind. The image was very important for the team partners and when at Hockenheim Chris found himself in a car which entered the main straight by a horrible over-steering, Mosley asked him to change the way to take that bend, “because it makes the car seem malfunctioning.” After all, Chris was not only in a team exactly made around him as Max Mosley and Robin Herd had initially proposed to him, but he didn’t even receive all the agreed amount of money:”They still owe me three quarters of the money”: Unfortunately, Chris also found the 701 in the STP Team of Andy Granatelli, whom in 1971 he ran with the troubled Tasman Cup that saw him unusually far from the top positions. In 1970 Chris also reached an agreement with Bruce McLaren about running the Indy 500 Miles in a car of his friend Bruce’s. He ran all pre-tests, but after the terrible accident in which McLaren himself lost his life because his car broke into two parts under the aerodynamic effect derived by the big mid-wing, Chris no longer trusted the car and dropped the programme one week before the race. The contract with French Matra again brought Amon to the Olympus of the best paid drivers in Formula One: the team of Jean Luc Lagardère had an excellent chassis, but a V12 engine which wasn’t on the top as for power and reliability. The beginnings with Matra were fantastic, with Chris who was valiantly going to win the Argentine Grand Prix … off the championship. It was a mere promotional race to obtain the world validity, in which Matra, Lotus and a squad of Formula 5000 took part. The real championship was much more troubled: he scored a third place in Spain, a pair of fifth places in South Africa and a tenth place in Canada, a 12th place in the United States and four retirements. However, the unluckiest race was the Italian GP, at Monza, where, after scoring pole position, Chris took the lead followed by Peterson, Cevert and Gethin. But in view of the last laps, decisive factor for the win, the visor on Amon’s helmet suddenly became detached while he was trying to free it from oil and grease. It’s useless to say that he had to lift his foot to slow and he finished the race sixth. Not even 1972 brought significant results, with the exception of a rousing third place at the French GP, at Clermont Ferrand: after scoring pole position and running 20 laps in the lead, a puncture forced him to pit-stop. He charged back to the track at the ninth place, and generously recovered by annihilating many rivals to finish reaching the lower step of podium. At the same time that Grand Prix represented the top of the popularity with French fans who welcome him triumphantly, but it was also a turning point in his career that, after that magic moment it started inexorably to decline. Amon himself suggested Jean Luc Lagardère to withdraw Matra from Formula 1: according to the New Zealander it wasn’t so much a matter tied to the French team technical skill as the possibility of working rapidly to make the car more competitive. After feeling a sudden and crazy passion revival for March Company, that broke the contract even before the start of championship because of lack of money, Chris, newly in Italy, ended by joining Tecno belonging to Pederzani Bros. in Bologna. The deal wasn’t too bad on paper: Tecno was a successful chassis-builder for Karts, Formula 3 and Formula 2, and while passing to Formula 1 its team had negotiated a favourable sponsor agreement with Martini & Rossi which brought David Yorke’s experience, the former sports manager of Vanwall and John Wyer Automotive. Good expectations turned into a complete disaster: two chassis, one of them built in Bologna by Allan McCall, Jim Clark’s ex motor mechanic and a monocoque created in England by specialist Thompson. The first chassis was ready at the beginning of the season and thanks to it Amon scored just a world little point at the Belgium Grand Prix, in painful conditions due to the stifling heat of his car cockpit, which caused him to be dehydrated on his arrival. The development of that car was soon dropped because they were waiting for the monocoque from England which was, on the contrary, delayed. When the new car arrived they couldn’t decide which of the two cars was the best one and deserved to be brought forward. To tell the truth the two chassis worked well, but the flat-12 engine of Tecno was dramatically weak and lacking in power and the Pederzani Bros. turned a deaf ear. At the end the owners quarrelled with Amon, accusing him of not doing his duty, with Martini & Rossi that didn’t give money enough and with Yorke that sided with the sponsor. Everyone went on his way and Amon ended the season with Ken Tyrrell, who lined up a new car for him in the GPs of Canada and United States. Chris didn’t know that Stewart had already informed his team of his intended withdrawal by the end of 1973, otherwise he would have considered that race as an important test, by trying to do his best. On the contrary, out of training and demoralized, he ran badly in Canada and in the United States and couldn’t make up for it following Francois Cevert’s death which caused the team to withdraw. Not satisfied with the failure of his own Company, a kind of Cosworth that worked out engines on Ford basis, later on taken over by March, Chris decided in view of the 1974 season to set up his own team with a business man, John Dalton. By that time Amon was convinced that nobody could give him the right car to drive: he had to build it by himself. The car project was commissioned to Gordon Fowell, an engineer having poor experience but with new ideas and advanced approach: in fact, the new Amon-Dalton was featured by suspensions with titanium torsion bars, and as an absolute innovation by a single mid-fuel tank in forward driving position, in-board brakes with universal joints and an original front streamline with a wing raising from a wedged shaped nose. Unfortunately so much innovation was paid back by an excessive weakness, in particular for the complicated system of front suspension. Such experience soon turned out to be a total disaster and the car never worked properly, so that Amon ended the 1974 season in a no less decrepit BRM, scoring a mediocre 9th place in the United States.

 

The 1974 Italian GP, Chris Amon in the AF1 Amon

 

Amon's racing career seemed to be once again over, however, unexpectedly, after another Tasman Cup, where he gained a win at Teretonga at the wheel of a Talon F5000; by the end of the 1975 season he came back into the competition to race two GPs with the Ensign of Mo Nunn. The agreement went on also in 1976: the single-seater wasn’t too bad, with a fine and refined streamline, but it was weak and resources were missing to develop it. At Jarama Chris scored an important fifth place, while at Anderstorp he managed to qualify on the third grid. They were the last successes of Chris Amon who, after Niki Lauda’s awful crash at Nürburgring, decided to have enough of risking his life. Free from Mo Nunn’s agreement and after joining the team of oilman Walter Wolf and Frank Williams, Amon took part again in the Canadian race, where he didn’t even start because during the tests Ertl bumped into him just when his car stood still in the middle of the track. Chris held Walter Wolf in high esteem and with his team he ran in Can-Am and with the car designed by Dallara. Moreover, Chris followed the first development of the WR1, the single-seater made it built by the Canadian oilman for the 1977 season in Formula One, the winner car from its first appearance in the Argentine GP with Jody Scheckter. Then it was Amon and Wolf who recommended Gilles Villeneuve to Enzo Ferrari, in view of Niki Lauda’s replacement. In fact, Gilles ran in Can-Am with Wolf team, under Amon’s direction. After that experience Chris returned to New Zealand with a new wife and he dedicated himself to running the family farm on the milk cow breeding.

After a few years he had the chance to put his drive feeling to good use as a Toyota tester by tuning the cars for sale produced by the Japanese giant. From time to time he also appeared in GP’s world as a Toyota team’s guest to point out and remind how much this sport has been changing since the days in which he raced and as a testimony of being a survival. He passed away this morning in Rotorua Hospital on 3 August 2016, aged 73, after a battle with cancer.

Some time ago other drivers, who had been considered luckier, like Clark, Bandini, old room mate Revson, McLaren, Rindt, Cevert and dozens of others, were more successful and glorious than him but they didn’t save their skin. Perhaps Chris was only a “Donald Duck”, but with all his feathers unharmed and a multitude of fans who have admired him in his best years.

 

Bibliography

  • Young E., “Forza Amon”, Haynes Publishing, London 2003.
  • Rancati G., “Ferrari che gente”, allegato a Ruoteclassiche, Domus, Milano 1996.
  • Casamassima P., Storia della Formula 1, Edizioni Calderoni, Bologna, 1996.
  • A.A.V.V., Ferrari Opera Omnia, collana “I libri della Gazzetta”, RCS Editore, Milano 2007.
  • Gozzi F., Enzo Ferrari, la vita, il mito, le manie, le curiosità, allegato Autosprint n°32/33 agosto 2008, Conti Editore, Bologna.
 
article by Stefano Costantino
Photos by Tano V12
 

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