Thursday, December 23, 2021


As the possibilities of further global travel diminish, I am looking back over memorable experiences in exotic locations, and perhaps one of the most memorable was test driving the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur saloon in, of all places, Venezia, in 2005.


Exactly how do you sample a car in the city of canals you ask? Quite simple, you take a vaporetto to the ‘Motoscafo’ at Venice airport, and there in the parking lot is a line-up of Continental Flying Spurs. From there, it’s up into the foothills of the Italian Alps for a day’s challenging driving.

Taking off from RAF Brize Norton, home of the Queen’s Flight, it’s just under two hours before we are flying over the French and Italian Alps, and about to land at Venice’s Marco Polo airport.


Stepping off the chartered Dornier 328, we take to the vaporetti for a scenic ride along the Canale Grande to the famous Gritti Hotel. The Palazzo Pisani Gritti was built in the 16th century and became a hotel in 1895 – and is now part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection.

Now, usually, as I am ‘staff’ I often get assigned a room either under the stairs, at the back of the building, or in some cheap motel three kilometres away – but this time I was lucky to score, not a room, but a salon on the second floor, looking out on the Canale Grande from my room.

Of course, the media group which I am hosting doesn’t get to stay long in this combination of sumptuous comfort and fading luxury (usually just one night), but this time the next pickup by the chartered jet is delayed a day due to bad weather in Frankfurt, so we get another night at The Gritti. The price the journalists have to pay is yet another serious lunch with Bentley executives, spelling out the glories of the Flying Spur and what it will do for Bentley.


Here’s a shot of two of my best media mates, Howard Walker (L) and Paul Eisenstein (R) with the then Board Director for Sales & Marketing Adrian Hallmark.

Coincidentally, after a stellar career in various global divisions of the Volkswagen Group, he has returned to Crewe as Chairman of the Bentley Board – and a better choice to lead Bentley I could not have imagined.

Back to the driving phase. We depart Marco Polo airport east via Autostrada heading for Pordenone, then a little loop up around Spilimbergo, to a coffee stop in Pordenone.

Then a great drive along SR 251, with a stop for lunch in Longarone. We then headed south on the A27 Autostrada, bypassing Conegliano and Treviso to return to the comfort of the Gritti for another night.

We strolled off for dinner at a tiny restaurant called San Marco, on Calle dei Fabbri – just a stone’s throw from Piazza San Marco.

This restaurant is attached to a comfortable little three star hotel, but the chef had been in residence 22 years and the food was always fabulous, and cheap! No need for five-star dining two nights in a row, much nicer with simple regional dishes served by the chef himself, directly from the kitchen.


Scooting around the base of Dolomites in a Bentley; two nights at the famed Gritti Palace Hotel; then a smooth chartered flight back to Heathrow and home to Detroit. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days in Italy!


The first thing I did back in the office was to dash of a note of compliments to my mate, Raoul Pires, who designed the exteriors for the Continental GT, and the Flying Spur, telling him how much the American journalists enjoyed the car. That put a smile on his face.



Thursday, December 16, 2021


Ever wondered what the next HSV Holden Commodore would have been like had Australia retained local manufacturing? How about a $200,000 executive saloon with Lamborghini Huracan levels of performance?

The new Cadillac CT5-V BlackWing is the spiritual successor to the HSV GTSR W1 with an updated version of the 474kW, 6.2-litre supercharged V8, LS9 engine used in the Holden mated to a Hydra-Matic 10-speed auto. A Tremac six-speed manual is also available that let’s you flat change up the gears and includes auto-blip for down-changes.


The LS9 engine has evolved into the LT4 engine used here with direct injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing to push power up to 492kW at 6500rpm with 893Nm of torque from 3600rpm.


GM says it tops out at 320kmh and reach 100 kmh in 3.4 seconds and put that into perspective, Lamborghini’s 2019-era Huracan LP610-4 also does 3.4 seconds to 100kmh and runs out of puff at 323kmh.

Interior is as good as a BMW M5 or Mercedes E63 AMG, its natural competitors.

Our test car, included optional heated and ventilated 18-way power adjustable leather sports seats in one-piece carbon-fibre shells; a 12-inch digital instrument binnacle including a tyre pressure monitor; G-Force, launch control and boost meter depending on whether it’s in Tour, Sport or Track modes.


On a private airstrip, 100kmh passed in 4.1 seconds, 200kmh was in 8.2 seconds  and it dropped into eighth gear at 283kmh with two cogs to go before I backed out at 291kmh, 1190rpm short of the redline so that 320kmh is achievable.

Sadly, this is Cadillac’s last big-engined push before going full EV starting with the 2022 Lyriq, but for me, as an ex-pat Aussie, this is what should’ve been the final send off for V8 Aussie muscle cars had it worn a HSV badge and Holden body.

Damien Reid

Notes from the Editor:

I'm thrilled that the final Cadillac ICE sedan is a high performance competitor to Euro muscle cars, and its integrity in all aspects of its creation, configuration and presence has been maintained and enhanced.

I've been an avid fan of these more compact, high performance Cadillacs since my four day trial of an STS-V back in 2005, and my amicable contact with Cadillac's then Head of Engineering, Dave Leone (below).

That car was a great building block for Cadillac, which went on produce the ATS-V, winning the North American International Auto Show Car-of-the-Year in 2013.

Soon-to-be GM Chairman Mary Barra; Product chief Mark Reuss and Cadillac's Dave Leone celebrating the COTY trophy for the Cadillac ATS in 2013.

I believe the CT5-V could have found a lot of buyers in Australia with the demise of the 'hot' Holden Commodores. Cadillac has confirmed the CT5-V's motorsport credentials already, with a considerable amount of track testing of CT4 and CT5 in early 2020.

One will never know if the potent CT5-V could even been considered as a race car? I think it's got the chops.

John Crawford

Wednesday, December 8, 2021


 I was searching through photos which my dear friend Stirling Moss gave me from his personal photo album and came across these two which celebrate the start of his incredible career as a professional racing driver.

Here, he's wrestling with his Cooper, powered by a single cylinder JAP motorcycle engine. He said it was "a lively and testy little bugger" and "you needed your wits about you to drive it to win."

Then, probably his most ignominious moment, at the Castle Combe circuit in 1958, when he was 'bumped' by another competitor and this was the result - however, happily for Stirling he escaped unscathed.

But, for me, sitting and listening to him in his study at 43 Shepherd Street, recalling many of his great racing moments, I will never forget his re-telling of his famous victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia, when he finished the 1000km race in just over ten hours, averaging 99.9mph!

It was in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. Mercedes-Benz has, many times, transported this very car around the world for Stirling to participate in special events staged by Mercedes-Benz.

However, with the passing of Sir Stirling Moss at 90, in 2020, Mercedes-Benz will never, ever bring the car out from its museum in Stuttgart ever again - it is being permanently retired.

In a wonderful tribute to Stirling's contribution to the great history of Mercedes-Benz, the company commissioned a fabulous three-minute film of the original car being driven around London (under controlled conditions).

#722 ending its journey outside Stirling's 'digs' in Mayfair, and met at the door of number 43 by Sir Stirling and Lady Moss's son Elliot at 7:22am - the exact time Stirling, and navigator Denis Jenkinson finished the 1955 Mille Miglia.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

As much as I am impressed with the sense of reverence and respect in which Mercedes-Benz held Stirling, it just adds to respect I have for this great company, which is central to the history of the automotive industry.

John Crawford

Sunday, December 5, 2021


In its day Cadillac produced cars which were every bit the equal of those produced by Rolls-Royce, although the haughty and bumptious Brits would never admit R-R had a very competent competitor in the colonies.


However, they were magnificently innovative, well-designed and well-built cars which carried the crest that was the precursor to the rather pretentious logo later developed by Harley Earl.


In the beginning, when Alfred Sloan gathered many Detroit marques together to form General Motors, Cadillac was considered something a ‘bit special’. Quite frankly, books published at the time, quoting lesser mortals in the GM engineering enclave were always either a little miffed, or, a lot in awe of what Cadillac was capable of.


One element of excess were several 16 cylinder Cadillacs – monsters with mucho power.

Top left: 1930; Top right: 1934, Mid left: 1934, Mid right: 1966
Bottom: 2003

However, back in early August 2003 as the Detroit automotive community was getting ready to descend on Pebble Beach for another celebration of the great cars we have known and loved, I was talking to Bob Lutz and he said: “Wait till you see what we’re putting on the concept lawn this year.”


Well, not to keep you waiting, it was an outrageously big, bold and quite beautiful concept car from Cadillac called the Sixteen. And, yes, it had a gorgeous 16 cylinder engine. 

It was something really special – but crazy? You betcha!

And, guess what. The whole idea was driven by GM’s car czar and the ultimate enthusiast – Chairman Bob Lutz. I love the guy. We became friends when I was working in Detroit with Bentley Motors, and his enthusiasm resembled that revealed by the car buffs that populate car clubs all around the world.


Bob Lutz was a breath of fresh air among the suits at GM Detroit, and I don’t know a single senior automotive writer in the USA, who has spent any time with him, that doesn’t come away impressed, invigorated by his enthusiasm, and captivated by his great knowledge of cars, concepts and classics.

So, just take in this concept in its entirety, and yes, as you can see, it was a runner! Ah, they were great days. Bob always battling the bean counters to get things done. Same old, same old.

Sadly, an era gone forever I’m sure.



Wednesday, December 1, 2021


The world of Formula One is farewelling a racer, a fighter, a motor racing titan, a memorable figure in a larger-than-life world. 

Frank Williams started from nothing and with outstandingly strong support from his wife Ginny he built a racing empire, producing cars which proudly carried his name, and was a pacesetter in a highly technical environment.

Ginny Williams celebrating another Williams victory

Frank’s history and accomplishments are well documented, and he’s a success story Britain can be proud of. Just the way he bounced back after his terrible car crash in March 1986 is a testament to his determination and perseverance.


However, my very good friend Peter Windsor (a lifelong friend and colleague of Frank’s) was the unfortunate passenger in the rented Ford Sierra, which left the road in driving rain, and as he has said in writing about the incident, it could have ended far better had Frank Williams been wearing a seat belt.

Which adds a slightly different condition, that could see perseverance replaced by the word, perverse. Frank was, like many successful men, very volatile, unpredictable, and, perverse.

Why did he fire Damon Hill at the end of the year he clinched the world drivers’ championship? Hill said in an interview: “The way I looked at it, if I want to keep my drive then I have to win. But if I couldn't keep my drive even if I won, that seemed really bizarre to me.”


Also, why did Frank fail to stop Nigel Mansell from leaving to go to Ferrari, when he too had been a world champion driving a Williams?


Many of those close to the sport, and the Williams equipe have voiced a common observation – Frank thought drivers, however talented, were expendable and replaceable.


There have been other close, and introspective analyses of Frank Williams’ life. His wife Ginny’s quasi-cathartic book ‘A Different Kind of Life’ (written after Frank’s horrific accident) tells of a man who was extremely self-centred, almost ignorant of the changes to his relationship with his wife, who admitted she wrote the book to tell Frank how she felt – simply because he never bothered to ask her. Ginny died of cancer in 2013.

A film, simply titled WILLIAMS, and approved by Claire Williams was created in 2017 by the BAFTA-winning director, Morgan Matthews and also shed a none-too favourable light on Frank’s complex personality.


However, none of this should surprise anyone who has spent time with, or been associated with, highly-successful and driven businessmen. In fact, when thinking about Frank, the word obsessive seems more than appropriate.


This supports my lifelong theory about the Yin and Yang aspects of peoples’ personalities. Some of the very successful personalities I have known well, and been around have proved to be very unpleasant at times, but they simply did whatever was needed ‘to win’.


Peter Windsor however has emphasised the qualities of integrity and ethics, which he said Frank made clear to Windsor in 1985 when he joined Williams to manage sponsorships.

Frank said: “Two things Peter, we never poach sponsors from other teams, and we never poach drivers from other teams. Other than that bring me all your ideas.”


A seasoned automotive industry executive, whom I know, who joined Williams following the accident found Frank was more mellow, but still powered by his massive ego, which more than likely was the key to his determined ability to face the challenges of becoming a tetraplegic.


I met Frank Williams only once, the weekend of May 30-31, 1981, at the Monaco Grand Prix.

I was there courtesy of the fact I was PR Director for Leyland Australia, and that season Leyland’s truck, bus and tractor division, Leyland Vehicles, was the primary sponsor of the Williams team.

Leyland Vehicles PR Manager, Robin Wimbush, worked hard to ensure I was deeply embedded with the team.

It was probably the most enjoyable Grand Prix I have ever attended - enjoying the repartee, the jokes and getting the inside scoop on planning, strategy, tyre choices and tactics.

Pre-race, Charles Crichton-Stuart (L) who was good friends with AJ and Frank Williams

However, thanks to an ‘Access All Areas’ pass arranged by my friend Alan Jones, I spent the whole weekend with the team, in the paddock and pits.

I also attended a sponsor's dinner on the Saturday evening before the race, attended by Frank, his partner Patrick Head, and the drivers.

Pre-race sponsors' dinners are usually avoided by the team, who have much more serious concerns, but Frank, Patrick and the drivers were in good form, and I can now see why Reutemann went on to become a successful politician in Argentina - he was 'cool', jovial and very smart at gauging peoples' attitude, temperament and reactions.


I had quite a few opportunities for one-on-one discussions with Frank, and was in the paddock during many meetings he had with the drivers, Patrick Head (right), and the team.


It was a successful event up until the late stages of the race, when Alan Jones was forced to pit with a faulty fuel pump.

Jones’ teammate,  Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, had qualified 4th, Jones qualified 7th, but in the race Reutemann’s gearbox packed up, allowing Jones to chase down Brazilian Nelson Piquet.

Jones stuck to the tail of polesitter Piquet like glue, and I was snapping photos at Mirabeau, when Jones harried Piquet enough for him to go just slightly off-line on the approach, and AJ dived through the gap to take over the lead.

Shortly after Piquet’s name disappeared from the score sheets, and Jones left the field way behind as he stamped his authority on the race.

The result was a disappointment for Williams. Jones had been running so far ahead of the field in the latter stages, until his fuel pump caused a late pit stop, allowing Villeneuve to take the win, with Jones finishing second.


By the time the race ended I was back in the pits hovering around Williams and Head. Although Frank knew the fuel pump was a component issue, he still delivered some not-so-choice words to the world champion, telling him he had been taking it too easy, which robbed the team of enough time to get him back on track before Villeneuve blasted past him.


I went back with AJ to his hotel, who was, understandably, not happy to be criticised by the team owner after the immense physical and mental challenge of competing at Monaco, and the whole affair may well have been a pre-cursor to Jones’ decision to retire at the end of 1981.


Victory is sweet, and flowing champagne can disguise a lot of under current turbulence, but there’s no denying the fact that Frank Williams was a Formula One icon, and a great achiever.


The team won nine constructors’ titles and seven driving championships, but the financial pressures caused by poor track performance, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID pandemic, and the loss of its major sponsor eventually forced the family to relinquish control.

So the dedicated and fiercely-loyal Claire Williams agreed to sell the Williams team to Dorilton Capital for USD$266 million, so that, in her words: “Dad would come out of all this with something of value, because in all those years he never took money out of the team.”


Another chapter in the Formula One archives has closed, but the name and image of Frank Williams will be remembered for the fighter he was.

Valé Sir Frank Williams.

John Crawford