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Peter Giddings Racing


from Historic Racing (Australia), November 1994, article by Graham Gauld

One of the most traveled of the modern historic racers is probably Peter Giddings who also has his cars in different places in the world at different times. We caught him before he set off for Eastern Creek and the historic races there.

Tall and rangy, Giddings is a quiet-spoken Englishman, and like most of us spent his childhood with his Dinky toys of cars and racing cars. When he was old enough he bought a motorcycle as quickly as he could "... and tried to kill myself and then I discovered that a three-wheeer would count as a motorcycle combination provided it didn't have a reverse gear. As I couldn't afford a Morgan, I found a three-wheeler BSA with front-wheel drive for 35 pounds. I made up a little wedge arrangement which allowed me to barely qualify as a motorcycle combination."

Giddings comes from a musical family and his mother was a very fine pianist and played with Max Jaffa on the successful radio programme 'Grand Hotel' whilst Peter was trained in the double bass and trumpet. Thanks to this training he was able to play gigs all around Sussex and raise the money to buy a Brooklands Riley and after lying abaout his age got a driving licence. He then met through his music a man called Ebblewhite was was chief timekeeper at Goodwood and whose father had been the famous timekeeper at Brooklands, and was persuaded to join Ebblewhite as a timekeeper with the assumption that at least it would get him closer to the drivers. He continued to be a timekeeper until 1961 and was the actual timekeeper working on Stirling Moss's Cooper when he had the accident which stopped his Grand Prix career. Giddings relates, "I remember we used to keep the big bolt cutters in the timekeeper's room because it was the only secure room with a lock, and a friend rushed in looking for the cutters. We asked him how it looked and he said that it didn't look good. It was terriblely oppressive, as though our stop watches had stopped ticking."

He felt therefore, that it was only right and proper when he bought his first racing car, a chain-gang Frazer Nash, that his first race would be at Goodwood.

"I actually wanted a Jaguar E-Type or an Austin Healey but couldn't afford it and all I could afford was something vintage which started me on the historic scene. I was lucky to meet Geoffrey St. John who sold me the Gough-engined Nash. When I turned up at Goodwood I found I had no reverse gear and Matthews, the scrutineer who had also taken me under his wing, had a word in my ear. We found a little bit of Reynolds chain and wrapped it around the axle and he came back and made me put it in reverse. It rolled back two or three inches before the chain fell off but he said "you're in."

Giddings was also befriended by a D-Type Jaguar driver called James Boothly who was a bit of a character. He wore a poncho and affected a walking stick which he didn't need, drew the Goodwood circuit on the dirt of the paddock and showed Peter the lines to take. With this instruction he went off and did his first race. "I'll never forget Boothby afterwards coming up to me red as a beetroot. He shook me by the shoulders and indignantly said, "when I showed you the apexes of the corners it didn't mean you could overtake me!" Unwittingly I had overtaken him in his TVR. So I really got into vintage racing because I could not afford a modern car and what kept me in vintage racing in the later years when I could afford a modern car was when I realised I could still go to the small hill-climbs and win my class even against the modern sportscars of the day."

During this period Giddings sustained himself with his music, playing for the local citizen's orchestra and also playing dance music and jazz. He played with bands like Freddy Randall in the early days of commercial television and was making a good career. He realised it was not the career for him. "We were getting into all sorts of bad habits to stay awake at night, sleeping in damp beds and doing things we shouldn't, so I knew it was not for me. A friend of my mother's Sir Joseph Shadwick, owned a recording company which was contracted to Decca to record the London Philharmonic on tour. I had done very well in electronics, accoustics and transducers and he suggested I join him and was soon running the business. Through this I met another doctor in accoustics, Eugene Beyer from Heilbron in Germany and he asked me to work with him and so I got involved in advanced microphony which has been my business to this day. It has not only sustained me but supported the only bad habit I have which is my vintage car racing."

Times were different in the1960's as you could pickup Exchange and Mart and choose your car. It was not strange to see Grand Prix Bugattis for sale and 8C Alfas all at reasonable prices. If you were on the scene you could also follow up leads and still find cars hidden away in barns. Rob Walker, a near neighbor, was also supportive of Giddings' efforts but it was his friendship with Geoffery St. John which saw his next move. St. John had sold the Gough-engined car because he had built an AC-engined Nash from Archie Nash's Union Special and raced it with great success. In turn he sold this car to Giddings because St. John had now graduated to the car of his dreams, a Bugatti. "I remember going to the Halfway Garages at Padworth with Geoffrey, who was a rep for Smiths at the time, and we towed this V8-engined Bugatti back from the garage with me trying to steer the Bugatti which was bouncing all over the road. I was to move to a Bugatti myself through a young school-boy called John Crosswaite who had built up a Bugatti with his father using bits of junk and I was able to sell my Frazer Nash and buy the Bugatti. I raced it on pre-war tyres as that was all I could afford and that got me to circuits like Silverstone and Brands."

"I then got it into my mind that I would drive an Alfa so I changed to that and then went back to a Bugatti. It is only in recent years that I have been able to afford an Alfa and Bugatti at the same time. To my mind the top three marques were Alfa, Bugatti, and Maserati though I have had my fling with the odd Ferrari in my time. I tried Lister-Jaguars but the Italians are the cars that do it for me."

Most people will agree that his two Maseratis are amongst the best he could own. His 8C, chassis 3011, is so famous as the ex-Whitney Straight, ex-Bira, ex-Gaze car that an entire book was written about it but Giddings' memories of the car go long back.

"You have to imagine Goodwood before I even started timekeeping, when I used to cycle over there and get in under the fence, and I remember the first time I saw that car as though it was yesterday. It was red with yellow wheels and it had just been out practicing with either Nobby Spero or Danny Margulies driving it and there was this marvellous heat haze coming from it. I can honestly tell you I went weak at the knees, I don't know whether it was lust, love, or whatever. I thought it was the most marvellous thing I had ever seen. I greatly admired Margulies because he had rebuilt the car after it had blown up and I liked his driving style with all arms and elbows; it was like turning back the clock and watching Nuvolari. I got to know Danny and the fact that he is still racing today is wonderful. He was another mentor who helped and encouraged me. I followed that car for many years as it changed hands but I could never afford it. Finally it came into the hands of Heiman who poured a fortune into the car to get it going and got Ivan Dutton to restore it - but he could never get it right. They manufactured a completely new supercharger but used the wrong alloy, practiced with it in the morning, had some lunch and when they came back the supercharger had melted into a grotesque sculpture of molten metal. The methanol had literally attacked the alloy and destroyed the supercharger and this destroyed him. He said out loud, 'the car's for sale, I've had it.' A very good friend of mine who was there and knew I wanted the car phoned me in America. I rang him and got him to agree to sell the car to me and I got Richard Crump to plonk down some money and then Heiman phoned me the next day and wanted to back out of the deal - but it was too late and the car was mine. Little did I think when I saw it at Goodwood all those years ago that I would own it one day."

Over the years the car was finished in a number of colours but Heiman decided on black. When Giddings got hold of it he took off its 16-inch wheels and the radius arms from the rear axle. It is on its proper shock absorbers and as far as he is able to tell it is running exactly as it did in its day. This was one of three similar 1934 Maseratis bought by the American millionaire Whitney Straight, who was later to become Chairman of BOAC, Britain's international airline. There was a sister car to this 'snowplough -nosed' Maserati which was converted into a sportscar and was owned at one time, I believe, by Patrick Lindsay whilst the third car retained its normal Maserati bodywork and was kept in Italy for Hugh Hamilton to race with 'Lofty" England as chief mechanic. When Hamilton was killed in the car the remains of it were sold in Italy.

Today Peter Giddings is Vice-President in charge of exports for Clear-Com, a California-based electronics corporation, and he travels for about 200 days of the year seeking contracts all over the world. He does a lot of his racing in Australia and spends a lot of time there. He owns an Alfa Rmeo Monza and he was looking forward to the big historic meeting at Eastern Creek as a friend of his, Alf Barrett (one of the old school of racing drivers) was the guest of honour. Barrett had at one time held the lap record at every circuit in Australia driving an Alfa Romeo Monza. In addition Peter Giddings has the ex-Etancelin Talbot Lago Grand Prix car, a Lister-Jaguar, Cooper-Maseratis and of course his immaculate Maserati 250F; the classic.

"It's chassis number is 2501 and it was a factory car for about four years, being constantly updated. It was the first, for instance, to have the slippery Fantuzzi body so it was a pukka works car and then was the hack driven by drivers like Scarlatti, eventually ending up in New Zealand. It has a very tortuous history. I asked one of the great experts in Maserati chassis numbers, Barry Hobkirk, to do a definitive history of my car. From this we used photographs, counted rivets on the body to correctly identify it and now we have extended it to cover all the Maserati 250F1s... the final results of all this should appear sometime in the future."

At Monterey recently Giddings took a fine win with his pre-war car but couldn't quite keep up with the 2.5 litre rear-engined Coopers in the post-war race. But no matter - his 'gung ho' style makes him one of the most exciting racing drivers to watch on the current historic scene.