Many a motor racing career has been inspired by racing films, perhaps the most iconic is ‘Grand Prix’, the 1966 John Frankenheimer epic, Australian John ‘Buzz’ Buzaglo worked on ‘Grand Prix’ and was a Formula Ford ace in the UK shortly thereafter………
Billycarts with Jonesy…
Growing up in Melbournes suburb of Balwyn, early ‘motoring’ exploits were shared with local lads including Alan Jones who took on THE billycart challenge of the Eastern Suburbs, the formidable drop from Belmore Road down Balwyn Road to Hyslop Park, enough to test the ‘gun suspension setup’ of pram wheels front and ball-bearings at the rear……….how many of us developed a love of oversteer in such sophisticated ‘machinery’?!
Jones and Buzaglo were to meet again in British F3 in 1973.
Kangaroo Valley & ‘Grand Prix’…
Bored with his job he set off for Europe in 1965 to see the sights and soon set up digs in Earls Court , ‘Kangaroo Valley’. A succession of jobs followed including film extra work. Whilst at Brands Hatch as an extra Buzz befriended one of the producers and was offered a job as a ‘Second Assistant Director’ on ‘Grand Prix’, at 150 pounds per week it was too good to resist, and off to Clermont Ferrand and Monza he and best mate Jeff Morrow went.
Their task was to manage the cars into position to allow the shoot of the day to take place, in the process getting to know both cast and the drivers well ; Jochen Rindt, Peter Revson, Bob Bondurant, Mike Spence, Chris Amon, Jackie Stewart and co-star James Garner . Much fun was had driving the cars into position and into ‘parc ferme’ in the evenings. James Garner asked the boys to take his Mustang GT350 from Clermont to Monza ‘which took a week , we did it ever so carefully’ .The most dangerous part of the job was an invitation by Frankenheimer’s bored wife to visit her hotel suite, it was immediately clear Scrabble was not her game of choice ………..discretion was the better part of valour, and after one drink Buzz departed , job and hide intact!
‘ The Revolution Club’ & Merlyn FF
His competitive juices were fired by close proximity to ‘the scene’ and he was soon saving hard for a car , working in 2 clubs one of which , The Revolution Club was a haunt of racing people including Stewart, Rindt, Frank Williams, Bill Ivy, Mike Hailwood, Piers Courage, Emerson Fittipaldi, amd many others. Eventually he chose a Merlyn Mk 11 Formula Ford which was promptly loaded up for a test session at Brands Hatch, Tim Schenken happened to be watching proceedings, having a quiet ale by the fire in bar. He soon appeared in overalls lapping in the Merlyn and making various changes to the set up, Schenken had won the first British FF Championship in a similar car in 1968 and was running an F3 Brabham in that year ,1969.
He launched a campaign of club events commencing at Brands finishing 5th, and Castle Combe, ,3rd in late 69′ and soon established a reputation as a young man to watch from Oz…………having wound his actual age back at the time by 5 years in the best traditions of the sport………..
Winning in Jochens Overalls…
Into 1970 the car was raced frequently picking up several wins at Brands Hatch. His first win on 11 June 1970 was in a pair of overalls given to him by Rindt. ‘Jochen came into the club one night and asked if i had bought a car yet, he immediately offered me a pair of overalls and delivered them the following week telling me to make sure i had some wins in them.They were beautiful plain light gold, triple layer nomex, he had hardly worn them’.
‘Emerson Fittipaldi offered to help me by talking to my sponsor after an enormous lose from bank to bank in the Snetterton Esses on some oil dropped by motorbikes in the previous practice session.I was sitting there in the middle of the tracjk thinking WTF!?, and he shouted down to see if i was alright. He was towing his F3 Lotus 59 back to the pits over the bridge and saw the whole thing. He walked me down to the track to show me the oil which was there in the earlier car session. It was a wonderful gesture, he and his wife Maria came into the Revolution Club for a meal on me a few nights later. An amazing, genuine and ever so friendly bloke’.
At Oulton Park Buzz and another car touched, the Merlyn being rolled into oblivion, fellow Aussie Brian Mc Guire extricated him from the wreck, he finally woke up in Cheshire & District Hospital on the following Wednesday. ……..he was out for 3 months. No racing, and no income.
Buzz saw Rindt ‘steal’ a lucky 1970 Brands Hatch British GP win from Jack Brabham , whose BT33 famously ran out of fuel on the last lap, an error ‘credited’ to Chief Mechanic Ron Dennis in later years. Very late for work in London, good mate Mike Hailwood gave Buzz the ride of his life making it back to London in record time, ‘the Honda 750/4 a stunning bit of kit’, he recalls.
Another memorable Brands day involved Buzz and girlfriend being picked up by Frank Williams in London and schmoozed in the plush Grovewood Suite in the belief The Revolution Club could assist in Williams’ future campaigns………FW was not too miffed to learn Buzz was the manager, such was his work ethic, Williams figured he owned the place!
Palliser in ’71
Upon recovery from the shunt he and Richard Knight (winner of the first Australian FF Championship in an Elfin 600 in 1970) built up a pair of Palliser WDF3 Formula Fords to attack the 1971 season. Buzz continued his run of success, a win in a Championship round in front of Tony Brise and a BARC Silverstone round over Richard Knight in identical cars, both setting lap records were highlights.
KVG Racing & ’72 Success in an Elden Mk10a…
Strong 1971 results attracted KVG Racing sponsorship in 1972, to support a 2 car team , a new Palliser WDF2 for Buzaglo and Buzz’ WDF3 for Ian Grob. The earlier model, the superior performer, was raced by Buzz before being sold to Aussie Peter Finlay, very competitive in it 1972/3 in Europe before being similarly quick in Australian Formula Ford as one of the Grace Bros Team entries in 1975.
Early in the season it was decided to replace the Pallisers with a pair of Elden Mk10a’s, the ‘ducks guts’ in FFequipment at the time. Buzz was having a strong season,being tipped to win the BOC Championship but a bad accident at Croft in March hospitalised him again with a broken leg and ribs . Ken Grob, KVG Racing, wanted to focus on Sports Cars for his son so Mexican driver Johnny Gerber bought Grobs car with the other given to Buzz. .The cars were made more competitive by the purchase of 2 of Dennis Falconers very slippery and contentious bodies…’good for an extra 250 rpm over the standard Elden body down a decent straight and a tad more downforce depending upon how the bodywork was supported’ according to Buzz.. At this time British businessmen, shipbroker Tony Vlassopoulo, Ippokampos Shipping, Johnny Gerbers sponsor , provided financial support.
Gerber and Buzz won many races that year with Buzaglo taking the Castle Combe FF lap record, which stood for 8 years, and the BRSCC South Western FF Championship.
There was a strong Australian contingent at Snetterton for the inaugural Formula Ford Festival in ’72 then as now the launchpad of many a Grand Prix career. Larry Perkins’ Elfin 620, John Leffler’s Bowin P4a, and Bob Skelton’s Bowin P6f, all entered, as well as the Finlay Palliser. Future F1 drivers Danny Sullivan, Patrick Neve ,Tiff Needell, as well as Perkins were also entered. Buzz qualified well, and finished 2nd to Sullivan in his Semi Final, and back in the pack in the final having initially run 3rd, off the front of the grid, and moving forward before the distributor moved causing a misfire which pushed him back thru the field. Best placed of the other Aussies was Perkins, 3rd in the final and at the start of a 5 year sojurn in Europe which took him all the way to F1.
Leffler and Skelton finished 4th in their respective heats, Buzz recalls the guys as being ‘great blokes with the cars creating huge interest, and making a strong impression’ in what was the global FF Grand Final for 1972.
The FF year finished with a meeting at Zolder , ‘it was a 2 race format, in the first race Patrick Neve won, i was third , i won the second race and set the lap record winning overall’.
’72 had been a mixed year with the accident but a successful one despite the ‘might have beens’, particularly at the FF Festival.
Lookin’ Good : F3 in ’73…
Ippokampos were happy with the results of both drivers and provided some support to Buzz’ mount for the last year of the 1.6 litre F3, a March 733 Novamotor (Ford Lotus Twin Cam) owned by Kiwi Peter Bloore. The car and engine were great choices, in what would be a year of phenomenal F3 depth.
There were dozens of F3 races in England in ’73 with Alan Jones, Larry Perkins, Brian Henton, Richard Robarts, Tony Brise, and Mike Wilds to name the future F1 drivers running in the 3 main championships……..these fellows did the lot, Buzz did 6 selected rounds as funds permitted. Jacques Laffite, Lella Lombardi, Conny Andersson, Jean Ragnotti, & Michele Leclere ran in occasional forays in the UK in the midst of their domestic European campaigns. Buzz’ first F3 year was an impressive one particularly given no testing pre-season and the self run , self prepared nature of the car. The first time he sat in the car was at its first race meeting.
Competing in 6 meetings, best results in the BARC Championship being 7th, 8th, and 2nd at Silverstone, Brands, and Castle Combe, also setting fastest lap and the lap record, behind winner Ian Taylor there at an average speed of 103mph.The Lap Record stands in perpetuity as the F3 1.6 litre record. Best in the Northern Central Rounds was a 9th at Brands Buzz memorably ‘saving Perkins life in the tunnel under the circuit’ as Jones threatened to ‘effin knock those ice cubes (glasses) off your nose’ if his Cowangie driving habits were not altered!
Contesting the British Grand Prix in the BRSCC F3 Championship round was a huge thrill with a strong 7th in a field which included 6 future F1 drivers, only 2 of them ,in works cars , Jones & Henton, finished in front of him in the leased March. ‘I started my heat on the second row behind Jones, before the start, for the life of me i couldn’t get the belts done up. While trying to do them up in a panic i missed the drop of the flag and just about the whole field passed me. I drove like the clappers and passed John Sheldon on the outside of Woodcote putting 3 wheels into the dirt. A stone went through the fuel filter a lap later so i DNF’d but i had one of the fastest non-qualifier laps so made the final. From the back row i worked myself up to 7th getting a European F3 Championship point. I remember AJ saying to me later you really had your eyes on this weekend.’
It had been a very promising first F3 season, his sponsor was happy, things were looking good, and on the rise. Australia’s ‘Sports Car World’ Magazine ran an article about Australian drivers doing well in Europe , Buzaglo was in the best of company being featured along with Schenken, Jones, Perkins, Vern Schuppan, Dave Walker, and the late Brian Mc Guire. Roll on 1974.
A Year which seemed full of promise…March Holbay in ’74…
Ippokampos provided a 150 thousand pound budget to run a 2 car team. Unlike today, when control classes largely hold sway throughout the open-wheeler world, the choice of chassis and engine was critical. 1974 was the first year of the 2 litre F3 Formula, the choice of a March 743 was a good one, the Holbay engine, based on the Ford Cortina SOHC unit, was not. The good ole Lotus Ford Twin cam, suitably bored and stroked and prepped by Novamotor in Italy would have been the better choice and therein lay the problems of the season. Buzz blames himself as the budget was adequate to purchase Novamotors , he knew them well and they offered their engines at a favourable price, but Holbay offered a ‘works deal’ with engines free…………it made sense at the time.
Some good qualifying results were ruined in races where the engine lacked competitive power and torque. Poor car preparation also let the team down with a bad run of results for both drivers early in the season, with Buzz’ best results 6th,7th, and 8th at Oulton Park, Silverstone, and Snetterton respectively. Next race, Monaco F3 ……………….
Monaco ..or not…
Buzz was excited, he was entered for Monaco, and picked up a ‘special engine’ from Holbay’s John Reed . ‘We have given you a special engine you can rev to 9000 rpm, you have had so much bad luck’ , which was fitted to the car the week before the event. Whilst helping the mechanics fit the engine Ron Dennis and Neil Trundle called into the workshop suggesting removal of the rear bodywork due to expected heat, and fitting a bigger rear wing, great blokes Buzz thought!
On the Monday before the event he was summoned to Tony V’s office to be told his seat was being taken by Tom Pryce for the Monaco F3 race, which he duly won. Rondel Racing (Ron Dennis and Neil Trundle) ran Pryce in their MotulM1 F2 car in 1973 , the Token was to be their Motul F1 car for 1974 but Motuls’ ( French oil company) withdrawal of funds meant the F1 project was sold by Rondel to Tony V and Ken Grob, re-naming it Token, an acronym of their names. The car was a dog, Pryce’s Monaco F1 entry was refused as a consequence of poor results in preceding Grands’ Prix, the F3 ride was a calculated way of re-launching his career…….Buzz, further down the ‘team’ totem pole was pushed aside.
Pryce won his heat by 16 seconds from Brise and the final by 20 seconds , again from Brise, unheard of margins at Monaco given the driver depth, and Brise another star of that generation was no slouch. Buzz wishes he had been in the car such was its pace. Unbeknown to Buzz, the engine was ‘a cheater’, with a device that allowed air past the restrictor, then as now mandated by the class, allowing more revs and power. He feels no ill will to Pryce, whom he knew and believes had no knowledge of the ‘special engine’ either . As Buzz put it ‘it was the one and only 2 litre F3 race Pryce ever did, he had no point of reference to the performance of a ‘normal Holbay’. No other Holbay engined car was in the top 15………..By the end of the year Holbays’ ruse was known, and Novamotor were dominating with their variant of the Toyota 2TG. What was memorable was Buzz and his girlfriend being being flown from Luton to Nice in Ken Grob’s Learjet and living it up for the Monaco weekend…
For Buzz it was all over though, Tony V was focussed on F1 not on his Formula 3 Team and no further ’74 appearances were made..
‘Brands 1000 Km…
He had no money, his career was over but for a one off drive in fellow F3 driver John Mc Donald’s 2 litre Chevron B19/23 sports car in the ’74 Brands Hatch 1000Km race.Mc Donald was struggling with the car in practice but eventually gave Buzz a few laps qualifying the car around 15 th ,’i was black flagged after 19 laps for dropping oil so that finished the race ,i was really pissed off as i was in my element driving this great handling car, from memory i was up to 17th at the time i was stopped’ Outright victors were the Beltoise/Jarier Matra MS 670, its banshee like V12 wail ‘enough to blow smaller cars sideways’, Buzz recalls.
Not forgotten by March, who had a high regard for his skills, he test drove the prototype March 75S 2 litre sports car in late ’74, giving his feedback about a car which ‘was not much chop’, subsequent results proving this analysis pretty correct.
Post racing and home…
And that was it, Buzz had run out of money and ideas. He had a reasonable run being partially supported by sponsors along the way but did not have the chance to hone his skills and put aside a bad trot, maintaining enough support to go forward in the way Perkins and Jones did. It took them 4 and 3 years respectively to jump out of F3, incredibly competitive then as now………..he represents one of Australia’s might have beens’. He started his career late, won his first race within 6 months in a second hand, self run car and was beating future grand prix drivers with extensive karting experience by 1971. Buzz achieved 14 FF wins at a time it was at its most competitive anywhere in the world. He also set 4 lap records , 3 in FF ; Silverstone in ’71, Castle Combe and Zolder in ’72 and the Castle Combe F3 lap record in ’73.
You wonder what he may have achieved with a little more luck, or funds, or a mentor/patron? Buzz never raced in Australia other than a few Grand Prix Rallies, these fun events a contrast with the International races contested.
Wanting to stay in the UK, good friend and future F1 entrant/entrepreneur John (RAM Racing) Mc Donald organised a job at his Datsun outlet, from ’75 he worked for well known dealer/entrant ‘The Chequered Flag’ selling Lancias building it to be the # 1 Lancia dealership in Europe, before joining old mate, Richard Knight’s then fledgling Mazda dealership , finally returning to Australia in 1982/3 and joining Allan Johnstone’s Penfolds Dealership group selling Mazda’s in Melbourne’s Burwood before retiring to Albert Park and walking distance to the track…
Buzz keeps in touch with many of his UK racing friends, meeting the journalists Joe Saward and Mike Doodson each year at the AGP. Good friend Jo Ramirez , the well known ex Eagle/ McLaren Team manager gave Buzz his most prized possession , the empty Moet Magnum sprayed by Senna, and personally signed and marked Adelaide 1993, by him, after his last GP win.. Sadly ‘those overalls’, along with many other items were lost in a container which never arrived home from the UK .
So many Aussies have taken the European racing plunge over the years, then as now success is difficult for even the well funded, ‘it was a blast, magic’ as Buzz puts it, and a great ‘might have been’ at the same time……………all fired by ‘Grand Prix’, and the enthusiasm of his Revolution Club racer mates.
Alan Cox, Mike Dixon, Buzz Buzaglo, Pinterest unattributed, Facebook