Former F1 driver Derek Bell remembers his first meeting with Enzo Ferrari
This year’s Salon Privé Concours Masters at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, southern England, includes a special day-long celebration of Ferrari’s 70th anniversary. Derek Bell, a former Scuderia Ferrari driver and five-times Le Mans winner, will be Chief Judge at the event.
The Official Ferrari Magazine: Tell us about how Enzo Ferrari spotted you.
Derek Bell: I was running Formula 2 in my third year and winning races. It was in 1968, after Jimmy Clark sadly passed at Hockenheim, that Enzo asked me to drive for him. That morning Jimmy drove me to the track and commented that he’d been having problems with his car. It was such a tragic loss. Enzo phoned asking me to drive for him. At that same time I had Colin Chapman [Lotus] and John Cooper wanting me. After testing in Maranello, we went for a factory tour. Enzo himself appeared. That was our first meeting, raincoat over his shoulders, silver hair. I had lunch with him in Il Cavallino.
TOFM: How did you get on with Il Commendatore?
DB: He treated me like the “new kid on the block” and looked after me; he was always trying to nurture me into being a top driver, the very best. I found him to be a caring man too, often asking after my poorly wife at the time.
My very first professional race was for Enzo in F2, where I got pole and won my second race; my first Formula One drive was for Ferrari in the Gold Cup at Oulton Park, and then my first grand prix was for Enzo at Monza. Then my first ever sports car race in 1970 was in a Ferrari 512 at Spa in May. I was then asked back to drive at Le Mans with Ronnie Peterson. So really, every first-time drive was with Ferrari. I’d say I had a pretty special relationship with Ferrari. It is my fondest memory of my racing career to have raced for the greatest name in motor racing.
TOFM: Later, you drove the Ferrari 512 S in filming with Steve McQueen in Le Mans.
DB: Being on a film set was totally different to anything I was used to, and an amazing experience. We drove the cars hard too. Steve had total dedication to being a racing driver. I couldn’t believe his ability. One scene that still makes me chuckle today is when I took a corner flat out after about four slower takes. Steve shot through right behind me. Afterwards Steve leapt out of the Porsche 917 screaming and shouting that I had taken him through flat-out. I said, ‘You didn’t have to follow you know, you could have backed off.’ But of course he didn’t, he was Steve McQueen!
TOFM: What are your favourite Ferraris?
DB: A 275 4-cam for certain. I bought one in 1971 from Jacques Swaters for $5000 [€4290] , then sold it two years later for the same price. It’s now worth £2.5 million [€2.15m]!
TOFM: This is your seventh year judging at Salon Privé. What is it that keeps you coming back?
DB: Salon Privé is always a wonderful experience, and combining that with my love for Ferraris for this "Tribute to 70 Years of Ferrari" Concours Masters, it makes perfect sense for me to be on the judging panel. I really am honoured to be a part of it.
TOFM: How does a Ferrari owner who has entered make sure his or her car catches your eye?
DB: Of course, a beautifully presented car with correct attention to detail is very important, but it’s the owner’s passion and enthusiasm that grabs the judges’ attention. If the owner has gone through the restoration journey, helped source parts, retracing the history and ownership of the car, that all gains points with the Concours judges. You have to remember these owners are merely custodians of these beautiful old cars. To see them bring these cars back to their former glory is very special indeed.