My late friend Andrew De Domenico, two years my senior, was as much of a car nut as I, and between us, around Christmas of 1962 we decided that it would be a great idea to go and watch a Formula 1 Grand Prix instead of just reading about it. My mother wouldn’t hear of it at first; let’s face it, travelling wasn’t as simple as it is today, but when I explained that we were only planning to go to the Syracuse Grand Prix in nearby Sicily, which was only a hundred odd miles away, it suddenly didn’t sound so bad.
Things were looking good. Andrew did a bit of research and the planning got under way. We would fly from Malta to Catania, take a train from Catania to Syracuse and a taxi from the station to the “Camping il Minareto” across the bay from Syracuse centre. Il Minareto (the lighthouse) was a super little spot right on the peninsula’s edge, the bungalows were clean, it had its own restaurant, and it was affordable, even for us. But there was one drawback. It was a couple of miles away from the Grand Prix circuit and neither of us had a driving license or anything to drive for that matter.
So on the Thursday morning we took the long walk into town where we found a small scooter rental shop and rented a couple of scooters. Now we were mobile; free as the birds. Back at Il Minarato before lunch, we were surprised to see a British registered VW pick up that had arrived while we were away. It had a green racing car covered only with a tarpaulin. Welcome to Formula 1 in 1963. We immediately made our way to the bungalow where it was parked, and soon made friends with the new “visitors”.
Ex motorcycle champion Bob Anderson, his wife, their very young daughter, and their mechanic had made the 2500 mile trek overland from UK to participate in the 1963 Syracuse GP, and we were about the only people within a radius of quite a few miles that spoke English. We dined together at the local restaurant that evening. Clearly they needed translators, and we spoke both English and Italian, but we too needed them in order to get into the circuit. Over dinner a plan was hatched. Friday morning we would leave together, and a few metres before the circuit gates, Bob would stop by the road side, Andrew and I would lie on our backs either side of the race car – between the wheels – and the car would again be covered with the tarpaulin. Bob showed his passes at the gate and drove the VW pick up to his allocated pit garage, where he backed it in, and his “Maltese load” was duly unloaded. And remember this was Formula 1!
The paddock soon started filling with red cars, green cars, blue cars. We just couldn’t believe this: we were actually in the middle of the Grand Prix action. There weren’t many British drivers present, Team Lotus drivers Jim Clark and Trevor Taylor were on the entry list but never showed up, as did Ferrari and their number one driver John Surtees, much to the disappointment of the partisan Italian crowd. American 1961 World Champion Phil Hill was also a disappointing no show, but there were plenty of other top class drivers there, including Sweden’s Joe Bonnier, Switzerland’s Jo Siffert and Andrea Wicky, Holland’s larger than life Count Carel Godin de Beaufort who habitually drove his orange Porsche barefooted, and more Italians including Carlo Abate, Gaetano Satrabba and Lorenzo Bandini. Andrew’s Brownie camera worked overtime all weekend.
We agreed on the same drill for Saturday, and race day on Sunday. On each occasion we made it into the paddock without any problems, so that for qualifying on Saturday and the Grand Prix itself on Sunday we were able to watch proceedings from Bob Anderson’s pit. It doesn’t get much better than that. My face lit up. It was my first of many encounters with one of my real heroes. Jenks had been side car World Champion some years earlier with Eric Oliver, and had accompanied Sterling Moss to victory in the Mercedes on the 1955 Mille Miglia. I was in my seventh heaven.
The race was not without its own excitement as first Wicky retired with an engine problem, and later one of the favourites Bandini retired with a similar problem. At the end of the 56-lap race it was Swiss driver Jo Siffert in his Lotus who took the chequered flag first, from the enormous Dutch Count De Beaufort and Italian Carlo Abate’s Cooper Maserati. And our man Bob Anderson was an excellent fourth.
After it was all over, we helped Bob and the team pack the Lola Climax back onto the pickup, climbed aboard alongside the still warm race car, and headed back towards Il Minareto for a shower and a well-deserved dinner.
Unfortunately both Count De Beaufort and Bob Anderson passed away in racing car accidents not many years after we had met in Syracuse, the Dutch Count just one year later, aged only 30, and Bob in 1967 aged just 36. Formula 1 may have been more human in those days, but safety was seriously lacking, and it was only shortly afterwards that Sir Jackie Stewart started his crusade for more safety in motor sport, for which we are all truly grateful today.
© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Joe Anastasi