I have certain fond memories of the first single-seater racing car I drove, which was a Vanwall. Tony Vandervell gave me a wonderful opportunity of driving it at Goodwood. There are a number of single-seater racing cars that I would have liked to have driven, throughout my career. It could be that I didn’t, necessarily, put enough attention into making certain I sat in the best car at the best time. My championship-winning Ferrari 158 was a good basic car, but not a special one. The “special one” was the car fitted with a flat-12 engine. I drove this only on one occasion at Monza 1965. In this guise, I really had the opportunity of “playing” with the opposition, and this was the only Ferrari I ever drove that was capable of doing that. The little 1.5-liter V-8 was a good, sound car, capable of being driven hard, but we were always playing “catch up”—it wasn’t a Lotus! The direct injection caused a lot of finicky problems. Coventry Climax had an engine that was far more advanced than ours. It is true to say that the F1 side of Ferrari always suffered at the expense of their Le Mans program.
A sports car I was particularly proud of racing, although I had an enormous accident in one due to parts breaking, was the Lola T70. It was wonderful to be part of its creation and development, it gave me great satisfaction—it was a really good motor car. Another along that line, which was a superb example of a car “built for the job,” was the 300SLR Mercedes, the type that Stirling Moss drove. It is well-balanced, but at the same time a Jekyll and Hyde car. I, again, have had the privilege of driving it. You can make it so well behaved all the time, but also having the advantage of really pushing it and it responding in a way that many other Mercedes cars never did. The others were a bit “tip-toe.” The 300SLR is such a forgiving car, ideal for races such as the Mille Miglia.
My choice of a greatest racecar, however, is rather an emotional one, out of my period of racing, into the prewar period of motor racing, a real beast of a car, the Mercedes W125. In some ways it could be described as a great big “go-kart.” I have driven this 1937 machine for the Mercedes museum on several occasions at different venues. It is just an incredible—I use the term again—beast. When I see period pictures of it, my emotions run high, thinking of the great drivers who drove it, such as Rudolf Caracciola and Dick Seaman. I realize how fortunate I am having the opportunity of sitting in the same seat they used to campaign the great prewar races; a tremendous sensation. I remember turning up at Spa for my first ever demonstration run. Stirling and I had been invited to drive. In front of us was the W196 of the mid-1950s and, as I have already described, “the beast” W125 with its great big wheels. Stirling looked around the car inquisitively, paused, and then said, “This one’s yours John.” I looked closer and found it was throttle in the center, brake on the right. I had to continually repeat to myself, “throttle in the center, brake on the right,” all around the track. I have since found the car a terrific car to drive, a great pleasure.
As told to Mike Jiggle