Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

I Lobster



The Automovil Club Argentine wanted to get back into the international motor racing business. Since five times world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, retired ten years earlier, back in 1958, there hadn't been a lot of interest. The country had been going through a particularly painful period of inept and bloody government and was now in a relatively calm period under the influence of General Juan Carlos Ongania. The President of the ACA gathered together a band of enthusiasts and approached the President of the Nation. The post of President of the Auto Club had the clout of a government minister in some quarters and he was able to convince Ongania that a series of races, featuring the top world drivers, would do for him what chariot racing did for Nero. The result was that invitations were sent out to the top international Formula 2 teams to take part in a Temporada, a series of races throughout Argentina, in preparation to being admitted back into the FIA paddock. The response was pretty overwhelming. Acceptances came from Williams, Techno, Ferrari, Matra, Winkelmann, Tomaso, and many others. The cream of the worlds F2 drivers including Piers Courage, Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert, Jean Paul Beltoise, Clay Regazzoni, Pedro Rodriguez and others also signed on for a chance to escape the winter and take the generous fee the ACA was paying them to take a bow.

Lotus received an invitation to send a team. Colin Chapman, Lotus Boss, couldn't come to an agreement for Graham Hill so decided to send Jack Oliver with me as Team Manager. I didn't mind that. I'd only been to the Republic once, way back in the days when I had a brief flirt with the idea of being a merchant sea captain. A short stay in the fetid docks of BA aboard a collier had been all I had seen of Buenos Aires, enough to scupper any idea of emulating Amyas Leigh.

The teams arrived in the early Summer. Which meant that we were missing the onset of winter at home. We were met with a lot of pomp and patronage at Ezeiza Airport and driven into the City. There is only one way to enter BA. Along the Jacaranda lined Avenida de Libertador. We were booked into the Hotel Norte on the Avenida Diagonal Norte. The northern end terminated in the magnificent Avenida 25th de Julio and in the south was the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, the home of dictatorial government which housed the balcony from which Evita used to woo the masses. The Hotel was a hangover from the Belle Époque. Buenos Aires was built with a strong Parisian influence and was romantically called 'The Paris of the South'.

The cars had been shipped over and weren't expected to arrive for a day or two so those invited set out on a serious orientation exercise. Buenos Aires was a great city even in those dusty days. If you were into architecture or folklore you had plenty to satisfy your taste. Most of the gang that swilled around the race cars had more plebeian tastes. Which was easily savoured. Some of the best boites, restaurants and cafes were to be found within a mile of the Casa Rosada. And then there were the women. Another alternative nick name for BA is 'Cuidad de la Noche' (City of the Night) and when the heat bleeds away from the pavements the entertainment begins.

Every man should have Buenos Aires high on the list of places he wants to visit - alone. The City has the highest catchment of beautiful, vivacious women in the world. They have style and, although the country is Roman Catholic orientated, have an easy going acquaintance with some of the stricter elements of the religion. I recommend the City to men because the Argentinos are very macho and unless a women is prepared to grovel the pickings aren't easily picked. By the time the cars arrived and made unwelcome incursion into our increasingly louche life style we had all decided that Buenos Aires was where we wanted to be. Running the cars was just the price we had to pay. So when the race was over it was irritating to find a letter from the Governor of San Carlos de Bariloche inviting me to visit the famous ski resort in the Andes. I found out that the invitation extended to practically all the drivers, team managers and journalists and felt better. If I opted not to go I wouldn't be missed. Unfortunately hardly anyone wanted to go. One of the organisers, Emilio Van Der Becke, a Consul at the Argentine Embassy in London, called me. I had become quite friendly with Van Der Becke in the previous six months and he came on like an old friend. He assured me that if I accepted the invitation only good things would come my way. He seemed to hint at things unspoken and I was easily swayed.

Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann

The next morning, at some uncivilised hour, I met up with the rest of the party at the Buenos Aires Aeroparque and boarded an ancient Fokker for the trip to Bariloche. Van Der Becke introduced me to local driver, Carlos Reutemann and we sat together on the trip. Carlos wasn't the best travelling companion. The only thing he wanted to talk about was racing cars. I looked around at the rest of the group. They were mainly journalists and photographers. The drivers knew when they were onto a good thing and hadn't volunteered for the ego booster. At last the Fokker thumped down onto the San Carlos airstrip at about 9 am and were met by an assortment of auto enthusiasts and local officials. They explained that a cavalcade had been arranged through the centre of the town and led us to a string of about a dozen rangy, American style convertibles. Carlos Reutemann was the local hero and as no other drivers had been willing to make the trip he was positioned in the lead car. As the Lotus representative, a marque second only to Ferrari at the time, I was invited to join him. So off we went. Until we entered the town we were allowed to sit on the seats. As we drew nearer we were told to sit on the back of the seats so we could be seen. The main street was practically empty. A few shoppers looked at us in surprise as we sat and acted like the Queen Mum. Our hosts, obviously embarrassed by the lack of response, sped through the town and stopped on the far side. There was an agitated conference and then we were told that it was our fault. We were too early. They took us to a little road side cantina which was more used to catering for the casual lonesome Gaucho than a score of foreigners. While our escorts made frantic calls to home base the solitary barman tried to find enough mugs to keep us supplied with coffee and tea.

It was two hours before we received the signal to move in on the civic reception awaiting us in the town. Back on the back of the car, waving arm in position, we drove slowly into town. It wasn't exactly The Mall on VE Day but there was a single line of locals doing their best to look more numerous . The hotel was impressive and I had a room with a balcony overlooking the magnificent Lake Nahuel Huapi. In the distance I could see a small island which I later learned was the location for the Walt Disney film, Treasure Island, and would later be where the exiled Presidenta, Isabelita, was incarcerated after her fall from grace There was a couple of hours or so before I was due for a formal lunch at the Bariloche Hunting, Fishing and Shooting Club so I decided to take a stroll along the lakeside. The air was so wonderful I decided to shed my shirt. I spent most of my life at that time in hot countries sun bathing so thought nothing of it. Until I got back to the hotel. I looked in the mirror and saw a hairy lobster gazing back at me. The cool breeze off the lake had seduced me into disregarding the fact that Bariloche was three thousand feet above sea level and the atmosphere thin.

I contemplated not going to lunch but decided I should make the effort. I bought a big bottle of Camomile lotion and applied it liberally to my flaming torso. It brought minimal relief. Being in Argentina it was expected that guests would wear a jacket and tie. Give me a hair shirt anytime. Emilio Van Der Becke greeted me at the door and, naturally slapped me on the back before introducing me to his friends and compadres who, also naturally, slapped me on the back. The Presidente not only slapped me on the back, he also had a photograph taken with his arm wrapped around my shoulders in an over familiar fashioned. I gritted my teeth, suppressed the whimpers and told myself to remember I was British. A hunting horn sounded in my right ear and I was relieved to find that lunch was about to be served. There were about a hundred diners in a huge rectangle. The President invited Carlos and me to sit on the top table. Carlos on his right, me on the left next to Van Der Beche. The horn sounded again and waiters dressed as Gauchos surged into the room carrying large oval trays with a salmon on each. The President, of course, got special treatment. The head Gaucho/waiter, made a big production of presenting the salmon. He held it high above his head for everyone to see then, with a flourish, in a long arcing gesture brought the salver down for the Presidente's approval. As the dish stopped in front of the big man the fluid carried on. Straight onto my chest. I howled and jerked backwards. The chair back wasn't stressed for this manoeuvre and gave way. As I fell to the floor a jagged end of one of the back supports scraped my tortured back and my flailing legs kicked the table sending the cutlery and crockery skittering all over the place. Van Der Becke was instantly there, pulling at my arms and enthusiastically trying to hump me to my feet. On the other side the Gaucho, who had caused the problem, was mopping at my jacket, trying to soak up the fish sauce. I pushed them both aside and gingerly climbed to my feet, The Gaucho instantly tried to rip off my jacket. I looked at my sodden front and felt like crying. The Gaucho started pawing at my trouser belt and wanted me to give him my trousers so that he could clean my suit up a bit. I saw his sequinned Camisa, Velour bombachas and alligator skin botas and decided to keep my trousers on. Meanwhile Van Der Becke had found me another chair and invited me to resume my seat. I couldn't believe it. After the torture I had been subjected to I thought a little compassion might be in order. Especially as Van Der Becke was treating the whole painful and embarrassing incident as a joke. "Thank you Senores, " he said to the other diners who were obviously enjoying the show. "Senor Rudlin likes to make his mark." I always felt there were dark depths to a man who put moisturiser on his hands.

Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann

I was surprised by the phlegm of the President and Carlos Reutemann. I don't think either of them moved while I was facing my ordeal. When lunch was finally over the President, rather coldly I thought, thanked me for coming and left abruptly. Carlos shook my hand hastily, muttered something about seeing me later, and hurried off with some local friends. I could guess what the subject of the conversation was going to be. Van Der Becke sidled up to me and reminded me that the Governor's soiree started at 9 pm and he would send a car. I tried to protest but he made it obvious that it would be a heinous sin and a insult not only to the Governor and San Carlos de Bariloche but the Nation as a whole if I didn't turn out. It was only then that I realised how desperately few people had been persuaded to come on the trip if the Team Manger of one of the teams was being treated as a celebrity.

The afternoon past in a torrent of self pitying sighs and massive applications of Camomile lotion while I waited for my suit to be sponged clean in preparation for the Governor's party. It wasn't just the flame of the sun burn which was giving me pain, I also had a headache, nausea and a raging thirst. Driving to the Governor's Estancia I prayed that someone would run into us and put me out of my misery. Word of my afternoon performance had obvious got around and I felt everyone was laughing at me. Carlos waved across the room but didn't approach. He was sitting with the President of the ACA who had arrived separately and from their gestures I assumed they were talking motor racing. Even the Governor was at a loss to know what to say to me. To further my embarrassment, the smell of fish became ever stronger as I sweated into my suit.

I was about to leave when the Governor's wife did her consort duties and stopped by for a little chat. Innocently she mentioned that she had heard that I had a little problem earlier and asked me if I was all right now., I found myself spilling out my pain into a receptive ear. She pulled open my shirt and had a peek at my barbecued skin and winced. "There is only one thing for it," she declared, "You must have a hot bath." I stared at her in horror. Was she mad or just taking the piss? She gently took my arm and led me from the room. She explained to me what I should do. I should go to her bath room, turn on the shower so that it was just lukewarm to the palm of my hand. I should then strip off and stand under the shower. It would burn like mad to begin with but as my skin got used to it I could slowly, bit by bit, up the water temperature until I could bear it no more. Then I was to take the big bottle of coconut oil I would find in the bathroom and spread it thickly all over the damaged area. I still had reservations about her sanity but figured the agony couldn't get any worse.

I did exactly what she told me. At first even the most tepid water felt like I was being scalded. But I stuck it out as long as I could then sloshed on the Coconut oil. Getting dressed again wasn't the most pleasant experience I had ever had but the pain of the sun burn had diminished by about 80 percent and I had lost the headache and nausea.

On the plane to our next port of call in Cordoba, central Argentina, the journalists proved what wits they were but I was past caring. Carlos had accepted a lift in the ACA Presidente's private plane and I made it pretty obvious I wanted to sit alone. By the time I turned up at the race circuit a couple of days later everyone had heard ot the spectacle I had made of myself in Bariloche and couldn't resist showing what they considered sophisticated repartee.


Estancia Restaurant Buenos Aires

Estancia Restaurant Buenos Aires. Ingrid Pitt & grumpy old man Arthur Smith try the chivito asado.

Not a lot to say about this except it is the most delicious meat you can eat. In England finding it is the hard part. Not too many butchers have goat strung up in their shop window. Never understood why. In Argentina and Uraguay you won't find a restaurant which doesn't serve it.

To do it the proper way is probably out of the question. At an Asado in South America roasting meat outdoors is practically a religion. In the Asado pit, around the edges, the whole carcass of the goat is spread out on a crucifix made of metal. The fire, smouldering in the centre is using eucalyptus wood to give it that special flavour. Chivito is not a fast food. It takes at least half a day to get the right texture and flavour. But it is worth the wait. Here is the fast route


Couple of legs of goat.
About a pint of peppers, chilli and anything hot soaked for a a day or three in olive oil and vinegar.
Sea Salt

That's it.


Make sure that there is at least a 12 inch gap between the heat and the chivito. This is not a quick meal. if you have got the fire right, use wood not charcoal, it should take about 4 hours. If you have a spit make sure it is turned frequently. A little overdone in permissible but burnt it is not. As you turn the meat brush it down with the pepper sauce. Never let the surface dry out. When you are sure that it is cooked to perfection - dig in. Baked potatoes, Salade Tricolori and Mendosa red go down well with the chivito.

Don't tell your guests it is goat until they have tasted it.

Posted 28/7/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing