The Radio London racing cars

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Ed Holly contacted us from Australia in October 2003. He had recently bought the Brabham BT15 racing car, as driven by Keith St.John under Radio London sponsorship back in the sixties. As you can see from this recent photo, it is in immaculate condition:

Ed wrote: “It is in identical form to its 1965/6 spec with the proper F3 engine and gearbox, correct size wheels, in fact identical to the way Keith raced it, all except for the colours. I don't know what it looked like back then so am hoping someone may come up with a colour photo for me.” Does anyone have one? Or remember what colour it was in the sixties?
Brian Long's book The London Sound mentions that Keith initially drove a purple and white 2 litre Elva BMW. In July 1965 he raced the Brabham for the first time. Unfortunately the book does not mention the Brabhams's colour. Keith finished eleventh in a field of twenty during that first race. A car sponsored by Radio Caroline came sixteenth.
Ed said: “Keith's Elva BMW is also here in Oz owned by Dr. Michael Henderson and, yes, the two will now do battle on the track in the same races!”
We asked if anyone could provide more information about the car, its colour or its driver Keith St.John. Almost immediately another former owner, Jim Johnstone, contacted The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame: “I owned the Brabham and drove it in British Speed Hill Climb Events in 1968. I finished 10th in the Hill Climb Championship and collected several class records on the way. It came to me without engine and gearbox and I installed my 1100cc supercharged Ford engine and Hewland MkV gearbox. The engine ran on neat methanol fuel. I bought the car from the late David Hepworth, who had acquired the car in a deal he did with, I believe, Keith St John. When I took delivery, the car was in what can only be described as a pale shade of purple and it still had Team Radio London and Lianne Engeman's name sign written on both sides. I repainted it in midnight blue, the colour it still carries.” Thanks to Jim for that information. Ed Holly told us that Lianne was a Dutch racing driver who married Keith St.John and, in the early seventies, raced an Alfa on behalf of the Dutch pirate Radio Veronica.
In December 2003 we heard from Dr. Michael Henderson, the owner of the Elva BMW: “My friend Ed Holly has told you I have the ex-Keith St.John Radio London Elva BMW 7S. Actually I bought it from Ken Sheppard in 1967. Ken ran it for Keith. I brought it out to Australia, sold it in 1972, and bought it back for re-restoration in 1998. I have several black and white pictures of the car when Keith was running it, but nothing in colour. My recollection is that it was a lurid shade of purple, which I have no intention of trying to reproduce! When I bought it, Ken Sheppard had sprayed it an attractive shade of blue and that is how I raced in the late 60s - early 70s and have it now. I attach a pic of the car as raced by me now.” (Dr. Henderson has since sold the car - see below.)

Michael also sent this black and white shot of Keith St.John in the Radio London Elva BMW:

So it looks as if both Radio London cars raced in purple and white. In this 1965 recording Kenny Everett describes the Elva as a “purple and white bicycle seat!”:

click to hear audio Kenny Everett talking about car racing at Brands Hatch on his evening show of 17th June 1965. Tape generously provided by Stuart Russell (duration 1 minutes 1 second)
Brands Hatch programme

We asked if anyone had memories or photographs of the Radio London racing team and, in September 2005, we heard from Dave Gray. He wrote: “My aunt originally purchased two Formula 3 Brabhams for her son, my cousin Bill Maidment, to start a private racing team. They eventually were sponsored by Radio London with Keith St.John and Lianne Engeman (a stunning blonde) as drivers. If my memory serves me correctly Keith was the first driver. The McLaren Elva was purchased, I believe, directly from McLarens and was one of their test cars. The colours were purple and white. Somewhere I have a small colour photo of one of the F3 cars in the paddock at Brands Hatch. My cousin was also the mechanic. Unfortunately he also had a penchant for drink which ultimately killed him long before his time.
Bill also started Motor Racing Stables at Brands Hatch with Tony Lanfranchi. The Motor Racing Stables set-up had three Lotus Elans that were used for customers to drive around the circuit and the Elva was kept for racing (provided one had completed the course, and you had to pay for the racing privilege). Marie Laurie, better known as Lulu, was a client in the sixties.
I have no idea what happened to all the vehicles as the expense of the team and the demon drink sent my aunt bankrupt and the last that I can remember hearing of the two F3's and the transporter was that they were in Holland, Lianne's home.”

Keith St.John

Keith St.John. Photo kindly provided by Ed Holly.

In November 2005, we received an email from the man who knew the answers to all our questions - Radio London's racing driver, Keith St.John. He wrote: “This is how Radio London Racing started. I was driving one of our tankers when I was hit by a Mini Cooper. It had motor racing and Radio London stickers on it. Upon talking to the driver it transpired that he was Mike Hurst of the Springfields pop group. The talk turned to motor racing and Mike mentioned that Radio London, which had been on air six weeks, might well be interested in a racing team. On Mike's say-so I went to see the Radio London people. They were nearly next door to the Steering Wheel Club. They said ‘great’. They could not pay any money but would give me free air time. The deal was done. By this time (Dodgy) Derek Spencer, late of Elvas, joined the team recommended by my very good friend Malcolm Berman who became team manager. The Dodgy nickname came from Derek's great skill at welding petrol tanks. Until he blew himself up. Those were the days. Under his influence a new Elva BMW was ordered. A very good deal, as long as we used the works BMW engine 1800cc, bored out to 1991cc. It came from the BMW works at Munich. About this time Bill Maidment joined the team with a Brabham F3 he was building. The team colour was originally Aston Martin Roman Purple. How the white came about: I crashed in practice at Brands Hatch. The front end was repaired in time for the race but the only paint we had available was white. After the race we decided you could see the cars better that way, so all the Radio London racing cars had white on the front from then on. The team was based at Speedwells, Golders Green. The next season a McLaren Can-Am was purchased with a Chevy engine. Radio London went off the air when the government stopped anyone advertising on the ships - but they were great times.”
Keith said that not everything in Dave Gray's email, above, was correct:
“The two cars purchased were Palisers F-Fords not Brabhams. (Dave's) Aunt and Bill were part of the set up. One car was for Lianne to contest the Benelux Champ, the other for me. These were not sponsored by Radio London but by (the Dutch station) Radio Veronica and Alitalia airline. The cars were based in Holland at Hank Van Zarling's speed shop, prepared by Bill and Derek. Bill and Tony did not start the motor racing stables. Tony never had anything to do with Radio London. Tony, Sid Fox, Tony Trimmer, myself and others were instructors at the Motor Racing Stables. I purchased five Lotus Elans from Lotus. When I was at Lotus (owner) ‘Chunky’ Chapman came in the office and asked how he could make all the Radio London cars Lotuses. I said ‘just give me 2 or 3 cars to run for a season’. We got a good deal on the Elans so it was agreed to put Radio London Racing on the side of the Elans and give free airtime to Lotus. He was quite pleased. The Elans were used for customers to do 3 laps with an instructor. Then, I think, it was 5 laps in a F-Ford. About every 6 months or so races were held for drivers that had passed the course. The Elva never lived at Brands Hatch. It was based at Speedwells, Golders Green. I now live in Spain, as does Lianne. We see each other about once a week. She still looks quite stunning. I have a self-contained studio apartment at my villa. At the bottom of the pool is the outline of an F-1 car with Mansells big red 5 on the front.” (Sadly since we heard from Keith, he has passed away. He died in Marbella on 21st November 2018, aged 81.)
In August 2014 we received an email from Derek Spencer who described himself as “chief mechanic and bottle washer” for Radio London Racing. He remembered things slightly differently from Keith. He said that the colours used on the Radio London cars were Ford ‘Roman Purple’ and Rootes ‘Moonstone White’. He also said that “the BMW engine was by Frank Webb at Nerus Engineering, Rye, around the corner from Elva.”

Radio London Elva

In August 2015 Dave Root got in touch to tell us that the Elva racing car driven by Keith St.John during the sixties, was back on the track in the UK having been bought from Dr. Michael Henderson by Bruce Bartell. Bruce and his son Max raced the car following a rebuild by WDK Motorsport. There is a video of Max Bartell racing the car at Oulton Park in 2014 on YouTube. Dave also sent us the photo, right. A photo of the car taken in 2016 (on the Radio London website) shows that it was then being raced by Gareth Williams.
In January 2017 we heard from Dave Root (‘Dave the marshal’) again, with some sad news: “It was reported in Motorsport News and on the HSCC (Historic Sports Car Club) website that Bruce Bartell died in January aged 59 after an 18 month battle with cancer. He was the man who brought the ex-Keith St.John, Radio London Elva BMW sports car back to Britain, restored it and raced it with his son Max. The report says that despite poor health he was on hand at the Goodwood Revival race meeting in September to see Max finish on the podium of the Madgwick Cup in the Elva. For those interested, the race can be seen on YouTube. The Elva is car no.18.”
Our thanks to Keith, Derek, Dave and all the correspondents on this subject. Meanwhile, does anyone have any more photos from the sixties, ideally in colour? Cars sponsored by Radio London raced at a number of events during 1965-1967 at Snetterton, Silverstone, Mallory Park, Oulton Park and Brands Hatch. The station also promoted Radio London Trophy meetings at Brands Hatch on 19th June 1966 and 18th June 1967 (see programme, right above). A large numbers of pop stars were in attendance along with thousands of listeners. If you have any photos of these events, please get in touch.

Photos of the Radio London racing cars in action here. Return to top of page.

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