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Bruce Dowell Cobra Story

Vintage Color Photos

64 targa

This is Bruce Dowell's own story of how he became a Cobra team member in 1964: "I first started going to watch Motor Racing in about 1957/8. I would then have been about 14/15 and we lived in North West London. I did this about two to four times a year in '59 and '60, and in 1961 my father suggested that he and I do Le Mans and the Belgium Grand Prix.
In 1962 the new Ferrari was the most gorgeous GTO and I had to see this car wherever it was destined to appear, and in this country that meant six occasions with very little sleep, but I made it. In '63 I didn’t do quite as much, but I had decided that I was going to ‘do’ Europe the following year so I needed to save a little on the ‘funds’.

1964 Targa

I figured that I needed to get myself ‘in’ with two different teams, G. P. and Sports Cars and it would be no good trying to do this at an event where others might try the same tactic. But nobody, but nobody would go to Sicily unless you were completely mad, or very, very keen, and as the first event for each of these types of racing were both taking place in Sicily in April (the Syracuse G. P. and the most wonderful Targa Florio), Sicily in April was were I had to be.
In fact I started at Goodwood for the Spring Bank Holiday meeting two weeks before the Syracuse G.P.
Saturday practice was very wet, it poured down all day and did not look as though it was ever going to stop. By I now was very keen to get going south and didn’t relish Sunday doing nothing in this rain, so at the end of the practice I was to be seen wrapping up my very wet tent and packing away when a fellow in an adjacent caravan, poked his head out and said “Had enough? Going home?” and I retorted with great relish, “No, I’m off to Sicily.” He was speechless.

bruce dowell photo- shelby coupes transporter
Six days later I arrived at Palermo, I then hitched via Enna to Catania and booked into a youth Hostel (yes I was young then) as near as possible to the base of Mount Etna as I wanted to climb it the following day. There was then a two week gap before the Targa, so I hotfooted it up to Rome to meet up with a female friend from England who was in turn visiting her girlfriend, an Italian ‘who was getting married’. I stayed until the wedding and then shot back down to Sicily and made for Cefalu, where the only decent-size English(?) speaking team was the Carroll Shelby Cobra team, and did I come up trumps!
One of the things that I feel that you missed here was mention of the two ex Monte Carlo Falcons that the drivers also had as practice cars, and I thought that these were just fantastic. But not quite as fantastic as the '64GTOs, if the '62/63 GTO was gorgeous, the '64 models were just doubly gorgeous (if that is possible). Here I came into contact with Gurney, Grant, Hill, (both of them) Bondurant, Arena, Coco, Stucki, Shelby (himself), Jack Hoare, who seemed to be so pleased to talk to another Englishman and I am sure many others.

daytona coupe le mans
After the Targa I had two weeks to be established in Monaco, so I visited the ‘newlyweds’ in Rome, (just what they wanted, but they were very, very kind) and got pitched into a campsite within walking distance of the circuit.
A week later I had to be in Spa, a circuit I new of old, and an easy journey. There I met up with my new American friends and again tickets and access were no problem. This is where I first saw the ‘Coupe’ (as in chicken ‘coup’) as opposed to the ‘snake’ for the open cars. And as you say the Coupe was fast, and the Shelby team had a right to be optimistic. The sworff in the fuel line was very suspicious, but clearly Carroll was, as we say, ‘long enough in the tooth’ to know that he was not going to get anywhere dancing up and down about it.

daytona coup le mans pit
From Sports Car racing at Spa I headed for a Grand Prix at Zandvoort, (Holland). I remember having been to Zandvoort but I have very little recollection of anything about the event.
From there I must have gone to the very close-by Nurburgring where I remember being allowed to use one of the hire cars and go and get shopping (sandwiches and the like) for the boys. I also have a memory of being attacked by Mrs Schlesser for encouraging her husband on whilst going down the straight behind the pits. (I thought that he was a ‘racing driver’ and going fast is what you had to do in that job. I also thought that he was a ‘has-been’ anyway). Neerpasch was very nice and I had come across him at G.P. meetings.
I don’t remember much else or even where I slept, but on the Monday I do remember a car was readied for Paul Frere, (a very well known and respected ex driver and journalist). I remember that as he seemed to be going off for a lap on his own, at the point of departure I leant over and just said to him, ‘Can I have a ride’. Of course I hadn’t realized that he hadn’t realized that I wasn’t really a mechanic at all. After all I was ‘with them’ and I did have a Shelby ‘t’ shirt on. Your book has revealed a new slant on all this.
I think about here Carroll must have suggested that would I like to come and work for them on a more permanent basis, which was a shame really, and I should have said no. But I didn’t and went with others down to Modena. I think that my wages were £15 a week with board. We stayed in the Hotel Real Fina which was well out of my league and I was not ‘sleeping on the floor’! (I have incidentally no memories of Antwerp or going back to England. I also have no memories of how I or we got to Moderna, BUT IT WAS NOT BY AEROPLANE). I do however remember coming back in this gorgeous, (what I thought was ex-Ferrari transporter, because I know that I had seen it before in a previous role). It was driven throughout by this little Italian ‘Ermano’, I had never come across before, but what a good mechanic and great character.

daytona coupe pit stop
Ermano (who went onto a far greater role) drove us up to Le Mans where we had the use a garage in the town staying at a nearby Hotel. A few things I remember about our time in Le Mans: 1. I cut my hand quite badly needing a stitch which was put in by an Irish nurse who had lived in France so long her English was bloody awful. 2. There was an older fellow in ordinary clothes, not jeans or overalls, but he seemed to speak French, so I figured he had been hired to help with French officialdom, which even the French don’t understand, which you tell me now would have been this John Baus. 3. Alf Momo and Briggs Cunningham appeared on the scene, (not mentioned by you but pictured on page 177 in the check jacket, was Alf Momo), both very charming and I used their hire car to do some fetching and carrying.
This had most dire results in the most alarming way, after the race and (for all of us, no sleep) and just the slightest amount of alcohol, which I was not too used to.
One other very important point not covered but perhaps not told to you was, at the last pit stop for the G.T. winning car, Bondurant was of the opinion that Dan was to take over and finish the race, but Dan INSISTED that Bob should ‘enjoy’ this honour! WHAT A GENTLEMAN! (almost worth a re-write!)
One other thing that was going on this year was the making of the French film ‘A Man and a Woman’ and some of this was done at Le Mans, and provided you don’t blink, I can be seen pushing a Coupe into place.

dan gurney
I can’t think what we did after Le Mans, but Reims was two weeks later and we certainly didn’t come back to England, because I remember when we got to our hotel in Reims, Jack Hoare’s sister was there, and with her, without me knowing about it, my girl-friend at the time. At some point in the post-race celebrations and God knows why, but someone maybe from another team, had the bright idea to get from the hotel kitchen a packet of ‘washing soap’ and empty it into the water fountain in the middle of the town square, I thought that this was fantastic! The foam was still bubbling down the street the following day.
Jim Potton and Ernie Symons (as prompted by your wonderful book) joined us I think prior to Le Mans and Jim had brought his Jaguar with him. Anyway it was in this Jag that I returned to England and went to live at home in Harrow whilst commuting across to Slough working at the other end of the large workshop belonging to ‘Ford Advanced Vehicles’ which came under John Wyer.
This was not an easy journey for me, and I had no car and very little payment. Phil Remington was in charge and he did not need me but Carroll, who was probably back and forth to Venice, had hired me so he was a bit stuck. I remember Dan G. visited one day and about five or six of us went out to perhaps a pub for lunch in his hire Granada (large size ‘gutless’ English Ford) and on the return journey, Dan was just demonstrating in the nicest, safest way possible just how f…ing useless it really was.

ferrari 275p

From Slough the cars were prepared for the Goodwood Tourist Trophy, but I was NOT required to attend, by Remington, but I went all the same. I remember vividly his face when he saw me down there (on the public side of the fence, I hasten to add), but I figured that I had been going to race meetings in this country ‘before’ he knew where Europe was and neither he nor anybody else was going to stop me.
From this point it was not very long before things were starting to pack up and although I was unlikely to be offered the opportunity of going or coming back to America I actually had no desire to go to America anyway. Bruce's adventure included the Targa Florio, Spa, Nurburgring, Le Mans, Reims, FAV at Slough and the Tourist Trophy.


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