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Gerry Marshall

Gerry Marshall (b. November 16, 1941 d. April 21, 2005) was a British saloon car racing driver, was considered by many to be one of the best drivers of all time according to a 2002 magazine poll.

Career

His professional driving career spans four decades, in 2000 chalking up his 600th win in a race at Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit, Norfolk in an Aston Martin DB4. His first win was in 1964, driving a Mini and his last (and 625th) on 11 September 2004.

Over the years Gerry raced many and numerous cars, ranging from 1950s Formula One cars (Aston DBR4, V16 BRM) to Le Mans cars (Ferrari 250 GTOs, AC Cobras, Lola T70, Porsche 962), to the extraordinary (Alvis Grey Lady, TVR Tuscan, Morris Marina, Ford P100).

However, he is probably best remembered for his flamboyant and crowd-pleasing style during the 1970s driving for Dealer Team Vauxhall in the racing Firenzas "Old Nail" and "Baby Bertha", and also the V8 Holden-Repco Ventora, "Big Bertha". He also won the 1971 Escort Mexico championship, beating future Formula 1 World Champion Jody Scheckter and finished 2nd in the 1974 Avon Tour of Britain driving for the same team as the equally respected rally driver Roger Clark.

Marshall's style has been described as "sideways, on-the-edge cornering that was to distinguish his driving in any car, large or small, front or rear drive.” This outward appearance belied an extraordinary cool-headed ability and intelligence behind the wheel. His biography, published in 1978, is titled Only Here For The Beer and a tribute edition was re-issued shortly after his untimely death.

He died of a heart related illness whilst testing the ex-Richard Petty's IROC Chevrolet Camaro at Silverstone . His son, Gregor, is also a race driver.

The 1960s

Gerry’s first sprint was in a “borrowed” Mini, hired from a car hire company in Wembley. It was sprinted at the weekend before being returned as “well used” car on a Monday morning!! His second sprint was in a fixed-head coupe MGA before finally getting to drive his own car (the A35) in a sprint at Brands Hatch in 1961 in which he was equal first in practice but didn’t get to compete as was only first reserve!! Unfortunately the A35 met with a nasty end on the way home from Brands Hatch and was followed swiftly by a beautiful Riley 1.5 that got swapped for the first bona fide racing car, a Mini 997cc Cooper, which he sprinted in late 1963 before finally moving onto racing in 1964, where he entrusted Newtune of Cambridge to prepare and enter it with a 998cc Elf engine..

It was also in 1963 that Gerry started his first footsteps into motor journalism, something he was to enjoy for many years and he brought a smile to face of many readers with his “Marshall Art” and “From the Hot Seat” columns that he regularly used to “write”. You could often find club event reports in Autosport with glowing tributes to a Gerry Marshall and then notice at the end of the report that it was written by a certain G.Marshall or G.Maynard (his first wife’s maiden name!!).

Gerry’s first official race was at Brands Hatch in March 1964 and once again he was quickest in class but the weather (for once) and lady luck conspired against him and the race was snowed off! Therefore Gerry’s first proper race was at Snetterton on the Easter Monday of 1964. In true style he won the 1000cc class and continued winning that season (including overturning at Mallory Park in practice!) until money and impending engagement (to Carol) forced the sale of the Mini and retirement from racing for a few month. But not for long……….and that is a story written elsewhere.

For 1965 a 970 Mini-Cooper S was built in partnership with Mike Walton and the car once more ran in Newtune colours. It was tuned to the then Group 2 specification for international races and also to race against the ever increasing home built highly-tweaked Minis in the British club scene.

First time out at a Brands Hatch club meeting Gerry was second in the 1200 cc class but at the opening international meeting, The Race of Champions meeting at Brands, Gerry went off at over 90mph and knocked down several trees (never one to be an eco-warrior). Somehow, Brian Claydon of Newtune, managed to repair the car for the following weekends meeting at Silverstone, but luckily for all the event was rained off. Gerry’s best race of the year was undoubtedly at Snetterton, where he was equal fastest practice lap and finished second to Warwick Bank’s works car and ahead of John Fitzpatrick’s Broadspeed entry. There was also a win at a Mallory Park national and second place at Crystal Palace, in addition to numerous club racing successes.

Mid-season though, the car was sold to Julien Hasler; earlier thanks to Robbie Gordon (then of Newtune), Mike Walton’s share of the Mini had been bought out. Gerry then drove Newtune’s own 1275S in the Snetterton 500 km with David Warnsborough and drove a steady, sensible race (for once!!) to win the 1300 cc class in the European Saloon Car Championship race.

Up until now Gerry’s competitive racing had all been with Minis and like several others he was branded as a Mad Mini Man (e.g. someone who could drive a Mini to its limits, and over, but would be lost behind the wheel of a “conventional” racing car – oh for hindsight!!). Gerry, as usual, thought otherwise and raised a lot of eyebrows when he lapped a lightweight Jaguar E-type quicker than its regular drivers during a test at Silverstone: however, a drive was not forthcoming.

At this time Gerry was working for his father, Albert, in the family-owned hardware shop. A disagreement between them led to Gerry leaving and trying his hand as a salesman at various garages and whilst working in London for Robbie Gordon and James Boothby he was offered a drive in June 1965 in a TVR Grantura. Gerry handled this with his usual verve and impressed Martin Lilley of Barnet Motor Company enough for him to offer a drive in a Lotus Elan. Gerry also went to work for the Barnet Motor Company, becoming sales manager.

This change for Gerry proved to be a good one and as the sales manager he got to buy and sell many sports, GT and competition cars. Towards the end of 1965 and at the beginning of 1966 Gerry had a string of wins at Brands Hatch and also drove the company’s TVR Griffith. It was reported at the time “This was a converted road car and only had a mildly-tweaked V8 motor, but it still went like stink!”. With this car Gerry enhanced his blossoming reputation and photographers rushed out of their usual hiding spots whenever he was on track and got dramatic pictures of Gerry driving the TVR in his now customary sideways fashion. “It was the only way to drive the car” said Gerry, “although the Elan had to be driven neatly”.

The sideways technique paid off and at the September national Tholt-y-Will hill-climb (when he should have been at home for the birth of his first child, Tina!!) Gerry covered the tortuous Isle of Man course in a time that would have been credit to a more nimble single-seater and indeed he beat most of them, finishing fifth overall.

Also in 1966 Gerry raced Roy Ensor’s 1275 Mini-Cooper S and a near-standard TVR 1800S Mk 3 in marque events, occasionally with success. In the Brands Hatch six hour race the car was very well placed when a wheel fell of with only a few minutes to go: Gerry and co-driver, his great friend Tony Lanfranchi, had got the car extremely well-placed whilst it was wet at the beginning of the race and it was only towards the end of the race when the track started to dry that several more potent cars managed to pass them.

“The meeting Gerry Marshall will want to forget” was the headline Auto News gave for a Brands Hatch sprint in the July. On a wet track Gerry had aquaplaned off the circuit at Paddock Hill Bend and pretty much wrote of the Barnet Motor Company’s Elan, which had only been raced a handful of times. Gerry didn’t let this worry him and just a week later, with a couple of broken ribs strapped up, Gerry raced a TVR at Silverstone in the Six-Hour Relay Race and probably wished he hadn’t of, as he lost a wheel, twice!

All in all 1966 was a successful year for Gerry. He won numerous club races and gained a massive amount of publicity for the Barnet Motor Company. With Martin Lilley now being in charge of TVR Engineering (him and his father had rescued TVR from bankruptcy) Gerry’s racing plans for 1967 seemed to naturally revolve around TVR, the TVR Griffith seemingly ideal, especially with the planned 400bhp 5.3 litre Ford V8, the possibility of the 1-litre TVR Tina (named after Gerry’s eldest daughter and one of the two prototypes is owned by the Marshall family), the TVR 18010S a Lotus Elan and there was also a plan to go into partnership with Ken Ayres in a hot Mini 850.

Gerry also wanted to prove his “sideways” critics wrong by racing a single-seater and in one of the Motor Racing Stables Lotus cars at Brands Hatch he had already lapped as fast as the senior instructors (I’m sure that cost Lanfranchi a beer or two!!).

Whatever Gerry was due to drive in 1967, you could be sure that he’d be thoroughly enjoying himself. As reported in Sporting Motorist “Gerry Marshall really gets to grips with his motor cars and flings them about with such gay abandon that people expect him to fly off the road – he has been named the Jochen Rindt of club racing, also the Mr. Dunlop Benefit (by commentator Barry Simons) but he rarely does and more often than not wins”.

As we all know, 1967 was the beginning of the Vauxhall relationship and not wanting to go over what’s written in Only Here for the Beer I hope we have provided a little bit more information about Gerry’s beginnings in motorsport and his racing in the 1960s.

The 1970s

The 1970s really were Gerry’s most prolific decade of motor racing. Club motor racing in Britain then was on the BBC every week (on Grandstand) and you always knew that if you saw Gerry lining up and Murray Walker commentating you would be in for a fun Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It has always been widely reported that Gerry was not shy and retiring and this made him ideal for interviews, quotes, guest speaking at club and charity events and columns (he wrote in Car and Car Conversions, Motor and Autosport). He even had several films made, most notably Barry Hinchcliff’s “There’s Only One Gerry” and of course the publications of Only Here for the Beer and Competition Driving.

Not only was there the numerous race and championship wins for Gerry in the DTV Vauxhalls but there was also his own forays into racing cars of his own (when DTV commitments didn’t clash), sponsoring others (including F1 World Champion Denis Hulme, Tony Lanfranchi and even offering Colin Chapman and Graham Hill a drive in Gerry’s Lotus XI!) and his blossoming business, Marshall Wingfield, in partnership with John Wingfield.

Gerry also won the final car meeting to be held at Crystal Palace in 1972. Run by AMOC, the final race was a Historic Sports Car race. Gerry won in a Lister Jaguar.

Gerry raced Lotus Elans, the special Costin Amigo, Ford Escorts (winning the inaugural Mexico Championship from Jody Scheckter in 1971 and also finishing runner up to Roger Clark in the 1974 Avon Tour of Britain), Lola T70, Holden Torana at Bathurst, Hillman Avenger, Clan Crusader, Austin Marina, Birdcage Maserati, Mk2 Jaguar, Sunbeam Tiger Le Mans, Porsche 924, an Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet Camaro and BMWs.

The majority of the ‘70s is covered in Only Here for the Beer (up to the start of ’78) so we won’t repeat what has previously been said. But as mentioned above, Gerry competed in hundreds of events, ranging from the one-make Ford Escort Mexico Championship (which he won, beating future Ferrari F1 World Champion Jody Scheckter), competing in many rallies (including second to the great Roger Clark in a Ford Escort in the ’74 Avon Tour of Britain), winning the last ever race at Crystal Palace in his own Lister Jaguar and numerous others.

When in 1977 DTV and Vauxhall decided to go rallying everyone thought Gerry would be okay and there were rumours flying around of offers and deals involving Ford and Leyland products. The truth for ’78 was somewhat different and he managed to scrape a deal together to race Colin Vandervell’s ’77 spec Ford Capri for the national Tricentrol championship and a Triumph Dolomite Sprint for the two production car championships, the Derwent TV/Shellsport and the Britax championships, with both cars being sponsored by Triplex, who were Colin’s sponsor but due to work commitments he wouldn’t be competing in ’78. Gerry asked if Triplex would be prepared to throw in a few extra bob for the Dolomite. The Dolomite was prepared by Roger Dowson and Alistair Barrie under the Downie racing banner and the Capri was prepared by John Westwood. The Dolomite turned out to be the far more successful of the two cars with 21class wins and three second places from 25 starts, with Gerry winning the both the Derwent TV/Shellsport and the Britax championships in the Dolomite. The Capri driving was not the success that Gerry had hope, with the Tricentrol Championship costing more than anticipated and the only result of note was the start of the season, in the wet at the International Trophy at Silverstone, when he finished first in class and second overall. There other flashes of brilliance but bad luck always seemed to prevail, like when leading at Donington when the gearlever broke off.

The start of the 1979 season looked promising, with Gerry forming GMR (Gerry Marshall Racing) in partnership with Roger Dowson to run two Triumph Dolomites in the Group 1 RAC Tricentrol Championship (with Rex Greenslade in the second car) and one car in both the Production Saloon car championships (which had both been one the season before). Both cars had continued sponsorship from Triplex and new deals with Esso, Motor and significant backing from BL Motorsport. Also, the engines were being prepared by Don Moore, who also built the engine for Gerry’s Lister Jaguar for the Lloyds & Scottish series. There was also talk of co-driving a Chevrolet Camaro in the ETC but that didn’t get past practice.

1979 was also the first season Gerry really started preparing cars for other people with GMR, as there were also a Dolomite for Juliette Slaughter, another Dolomite for David “Jess” Yates and Capris for Eric Cook and Trevor Scarborough, and some advice/help for Mike Brown (the company accountant) and Martyn Marshall (Gerry’s youngest brother) and their Vauxhall Magnum (the ex-Hamilton Motors race car), plus of course there was still Marshall Wingfield to run and a family!! Things started well and even though being in a lower class he managed to battle for outright wins. There was also the accolade of John Webb and the BARC organising the Gerry Marshall Benefit Races at Brands Hatch and sharing the Dolomite with Roger Clark at the TT event at Silverstone and all seemed to be going well with Gerry really being at the height of his career when disaster struck at the Grand Prix support race in the July of ’79 which was supposed to be the highlight of the year, with good rides in the Dolomite and Lister Jaguar.

“As the Capris stormed off on their second lap, one of the nastiest accidents in recent saloon racing befell Gerry Marshall. Almost flat out down the straight from Stowe to Club, Marshall was fractionally ahead of Walkinshaw’s Mazda and keen to stop him moving up to challenge class leader Greenslade. A few feet before the 100yds marker board, the two cars touched and Marshall was launched into a series of rolls, the severely damaged Sprint landing in the catch fencing at Club” Autosport, July 19, 1979.

Gerry would have been travelling over 100mph and was extremely lucky to survive. During the accident, the sheer force made his helmet come off (still intact and fastened) and the mountings of his seat had broken, which meant he was thrown around the inside of the car, unprotected. He was knocked unconscious, had severe lacerations to his face and head (needing over 100 stitches), had three fractures to his skull, cracked ribs, damaged jaw, teeth, kidneys and damage to his back and spine (these plagued him through the rest of his life). As bad as this was, the doctors told him if his helmet hadn’t of come off he would probably have broken his neck!!

Remarkably he was out of hospital in ten days and back behind the wheel of a Dolomite and his Lister in the August Bank Holiday races at Brands Hatch and before the season was out he was back to winning ways, looking forward to the eighties and the possibility of more to come with his relationship with British Leyland. The relationship with Vauxhall became stronger throughout the 1970s and he raced the now (and even then) legendary Supersaloon Vauxhalls, Big Bertha (Ventora), Baby Bertha (Firenza) and Old Nail (the first ever production and race Firenza), as well as various standard, Production Saloon and Group One Firenzas and Magnums.

The 1980s

For the 1980s Gerry decided to retire from full-time Group One racing as he wasn’t happy with the current regulations and there was a big falling out with British Leyland. He therefore decided to concentrate on his racing team and Productions Saloons and also re-kindled his love affair for Historic racing.

He won various Production Saloon Championships (Wilcomatic, Monroe Shock Absorbers, etc) and drove an even more diverse range of cars then ever before (also winning the Lloyds and Scottish Championship.

These included:- A Lister Jaguar, Ford Capri, Triumph Dolomite Sprint, BMW 3.0Si, BMW 323i Ford Fiesta, Ford Escort XR3i, Ford Lotus Cortina, Aston Martin DBR4, Talbot Sunbeam, Volkswagen Scirocco, Lola T70, Lola T222, ex James Bond Lotus Espirit Turbo (now in the Haynes Museum), MGB GT, MGB, MGC, Opel Monza, Opel Manta, Ford Escort RS Turbo, TVR 450 SEAC, Toyota Corolla in selected BTCC races, Mitsubishi Colt Stariion, Vauxhall Chevette, Opel Manta, Ford Sierra Cosworth, Rover Vitesse, Saab 900 Turbo, Ford P100 pick-up, ex-Hammer House of Horrors Aston Martin DB4, Aston Martin V8, Suzuki Swift Gti, A Vauxhall Firenaza Droop Snoot, before rounding off the 1980s in the inaugural TVR Tuscan Challenge.

The 1990s

More racing (and winning) followed in the 1990s, notably in the TVR Tuscans (narrowly missing the title in 1991 due to political moves) and also the famous Marsh Plant Aston Martins.

Gerry also found time to squeeze himself into the Multisport Van Dieman and Caterham Vauxhall for various one-off drives and a return to Production Saloons in Sierra and Sierra Sapphire Cosworths.

There were more historic outings in Jaguar E-Types, Austin Healy 3000, Austin Healy 100S, Chevrolet Corvettes, Ford Anglia, Lotus Cortinas, Ford Mustangs and who will forget his drive in the rain at the 1999 Goodwood Revival St Marys Trophy race, narrowly beating another saloon car legend John Rhodes. This drive also netted Gerry the coveted driver of the day award.

2000 onwards

2000 was a great year for Gerry, on the 6th August he scored his 600th win at Snetterton in the Marsh Plant Aston Martin DB4 and also made a return to racing a Vauxhall Firenza, driving one of the original 1974 Thruxton racecar Droop Snoots.

There was also a reunion with Baby Bertha at the 2001 Goodwood Festival of Speed (as well as 2002/3 and several other demonstration runs). He was also awarded the BARC Gold Medal for his contribution to motorsport.

Gerry continued to race the DB4 Aston Martin continuously as well as forays into Europe in a Ford Mustang and Lotus Cortina, as well as various outings in an AC Cobra. There were also outings at the Goodwood Revival in Mk1 Jaguars, Chevrolet Corvettes and Austin Healey 100s, plus the beautiful Alvis Grey Lady and Ferrari 330LM that he shared with Ivan Dutton and Peter Hardman at the 2004 Revival, with his last race at Silverstone in November 2004.

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