About The Web Master---Max Rutherford. As at Jan. 2007. Return to HOME.
Max was born in New Plymouth, New
Zealand, into a family of petrol heads.
Older brother Don rode motorbikes in speedway, road racing and scrambling (motocross to you young people), and progressed to midget cars then even “promoter” at Waiwakaiho.
Father Jack was a rally fan and was secretary, (and Life member, ) of the Taranaki Car Club and was also instrumental in running the road races at Paritutu and was a MANZ steward. Ironically Jack also produced the clubs newsletter, as his son does for this club.
Max was a pusher for Don with midget 99 at Waiwakaiho, then got the bug when Go Karts hit NZ. Along with Johnny Callender, Max Rook, Ron Paul and several others, they built the first few Karts in Taranaki and used the usual wheelbarrow wheels and tyres for the first couple of years of racing on slippery grass paddocks.
Max’s had a 200cc Villiers motor tuned by Don and it was quite quick. He managed twice to get into the finals of the North Island championship. During the second year of that sport Max drove into the front of a parked car due to a broken steering linkage and no brakes! With his leg in plaster for 3 months he could not work at his trade of apprentice Ford motor mechanic so as he was offered a TQ to drive if he rebuilt it, so he spent the three months doing just that. It was owned by St. Aubyn Motors and the used car salesman there, Terry Casey, was the instigator of the deal. Terry was later to become the treasurer at Waiwakaiho Speedway.
That car was powered by a 500 Norton and after being breathed on by Roger Hill, allowed Max to be “most improved first year driver” at Waiwakaiho during the 1962/63 season. It was numbered 66, which he figured was 99 upside down. Guess that’s hero worship of a brother?
The next season he was offered a drive in Jim Oliver’s JAP powered No1 TQ, built by Dennis Palmer and previously driven by Mike O’Carroll, and was able to become Taranaki Champion. It was a quick car for its day and with it he held the lap record at Palmerston North for several years after setting it in 1963. (The shape of the track was changed later so no one could claim the record!!).
Max’s first visit to Palmerston North was not welcomed by the promoter Ray New, who warned him to start at the back of the field and stay there, and “not interfere with his local boys who were much quicker!” After going through the field and winning he was greeted back in the pits by a furious Ray, who threatened to not let him start in the next race. Max asked him if he could speak to his drivers about driving faster or keeping out of his way, which only made Ray wilder. So he started a full lap behind in the feature race which did not stop him winning again, so then Ray asked if he would return the following week! Max gave him a very short and colourful answer in the negative.
For the following season he built a rear engined TQ, called MiniMax, with all independent suspension and 4 wheel brakes, (off a Cesna aeroplane). This was a duel purpose car designed for hill climbs as well as speedway. It had a 500 BSA single modified by Roger Hill to run on Methanol, and had a four speed gearbox. Max only drove it twice on speedway, (not very successfully), and one hill climb at Urenui, in which he placed second to the NZ champion Roy Lyme in a Cooper Porsche, then he sold it to raise money to travel to UK.
He sold it to Rod Hollings in Rotorua who used the car in the following years and was several times NZ hill climb champion or runner up to Jim Boyd in the Lycoming Special. After a spell in Auckland the car was sold to a Brian Jenkins in Nelson, who raced it reasonably successfully on Christchurch speedway, before rear engined cars were banned (typical) and he chopped it up and dumped it! The MiniMax is shown at left.
Max traveled to England in January 1965, with a group of six guys, which included Colin Dixon and Malcolm Campbell, who were speedway/scramble types. Also Roger Hill who was the “mechanic” for the group and who is still in England to this day, but more of that later. On arrival in England Colin, Malcolm and John Bullock from Wanganui, another of the six, pursued their scrambling, while Max visited the Brabham racing car factory in Weybridge, Surrey, where he easily got himself a job building formula three cars.
While there he befriended Brabham drivers, Denny Hulme and Frank Gardner, and traveled to the Silverstone GP and other test days in UK with them. This employment lasted for 6 months before he was approached by Cliff Haworth, a new Brabham Formula 3 purchaser, to travel through Europe for the 1965 season as his mechanic. No pay was offered but expenses would be paid, (that became food only as Max spent most nights sleeping on the back of the VW Kombie truck between the wheels of the F3 car!). It was a great way though to visit the tracks of Europe at someone else’s expense, and that’s the way Max viewed the opportunity. Generally they traveled in convoy with perhaps three or four racing cars and the attendant mechanics and/or owners. They traveled like gypsies, and lived in camp sites or on the sides of the roads. On one great trip they traveled over 2000km., from a track in Denmark to a track in Caserta, Sicily, in four days driving virtually non stop except for the odd kip beside the road and to buy food. All the great tracks of Europe such as Monza, Spa, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Pau, Caserta, Nurnburgring, Monaco, Rhiems, Le Mans etc were visited that year either as mechanic to Cliff, or with Cliff as a spectator.
That 1965 season, which netted only moderate results by the American driver, was followed by a season as mechanic for a Scottish driver, The Honourable Charles Patrick Henry Crichton-Stuart, the third Earl of Bute. (Sounds great but he was only an average driver and an even less average payer!) The season included the Temporada series of four races in Argentina, which Charles won, then the rest of the Formula 3 season in Europe. It helped Charles considerably that the F3 car used for 1966 was the factory prototype. Max returned to the factory for a few days in late 1965 to build the car, then spent two days at Goodwood with Jack Brabham sorting it out and deciding on the set up for the following seasons production cars. See comment later about Max’s thoughts on Jack Brabham.
During this year Charles kindly lent Max the F3 car, (it was not his anyway!), to drive around Brands Hatch while Charles did his thing as driving instructor in the school’s Lotus Cortina’s. Max managed to do around 50 laps there and came within 2 seconds of the then current lap record. The head instructor at the time was Tony Lanfranchi who suggested Max try the advanced driving test. So Tony went as passenger with Max in a Lotus Cortina and gave Max an AA rating, which he only gave to around 5% of drivers at the school. He asked Max where he had learnt to drive, to which Max answered, Go-Karts on wet grass and speedway on wet clay.
Charles then entered Max for two races at Cadwell Park in north England. They were Formula Libre races with F3, F2 and sports cars mixed up together. As the track was wet, Max was able to drive semi go kart/speedway style, with tail out through the corners, and managed a second and a third in that mixed company, so was quite happy. From this though he realized that to be another Stirling Moss he would need a lot of money that he did not have, so that was the end of his race driving in UK. Later however, he did drive the Formula 1 cars a little at Spa in Belgium and Kyalami in South Africa in testing.
Charles was too much of a playboy to be serious about racing, so at the end of that 1966 year Max decided to quit as he was then about to be married, and traveling all the time was not a good way to start a marriage. (Also Charles owed him a lot of back wages which he never did pay and Charles is dead now). However, he was tracked down by the Brabham factory team, who wanted him to be Jack’s personal mechanic in Formula 2 in 1967.
That was to be a disaster of a year. The drivers, Denny Hulme, Aussie -Frank Gardner and Jack had used Honda power the previous season, which was very successful, but were now reduced to using Cosworth FVA’s, the same as everyone else, so it meant they did not have the power advantage of the previous year. The Brabham designer, Ron Tauranac, lost his direction in a big way with the F2 cars as the F1 Brabham Repco's were taking all his time. Typical was the eight different fuel collector systems tried that year!
On top of that Max found working for Jack was very frustrating, as he is without doubt the meanest and rudest boss/driver he had ever worked with. Even a ‘good morning’ greeting was very rare, yet Max was his personal mechanic and had the guys life in his hands! And as for a ‘thanks’ after a race, well it never happened, mostly because Max got the blame for all the failures in the cars fuel systems. Max does though rate Jack as by far the best test driver he ever worked with. The two days with the Formula 3 car mentioned earlier had started him thinking that way.
One funny incident during that year was at Nurnburgring where the Brabham team were using Goodyear tyres while every one else had Firestone. The last days practice was cancelled due to 2 inches of snow on the track. Race day was very cold and the snow had to be removed from the track before any racing could take place. In any other country the races would be cancelled, but Max reckoned that if thousands of racing mad Germans were told to pack up and go home, then world war 3 would start the same day! So the race was held. Because of the low track temperature, the Goodyear’s would not get up to temperature at all, so the three drivers were running at the back of the field just going for the start money involved. At one point Frank Gardner went missing for the best part of a full 14 mile lap duration, so after the race Max asked what went wrong.
Frank calmly told the team that he had spun at the bottom of a hill and because his tyres “were like four round blocks of ice”, to get going again he had to reverse back up the side he came down, to get a run on the hill he wanted to get up! Can you imagine that happening today?
Another comment about that meeting is that after a practice run Frank Gardner returned to the pit and announced the car was un-drivable as it had “terminal pendulum understeer!” This became a well repeated joke amongst the racing mechanics that year. Max decided at the end of the 1967 Formula 2 year that he needed to get into Formula 1 or return home, so he approached Ken Tyrrell, who was putting together a team for 1968, of French Matra cars with the new V8 Cosworth motors, and a rising star called Jackie Stewart as a driver.
It was to be a good year and Max also obtained work at Tyrrell’s for Roger Hill. Tyrrell’s finished the year with Jackie 2nd in the world championship, despite missing 3 races with a fractured wrist bone. The car was very good for their first attempt at F1. One race in that year was Nurnburgring which Jackie won by an all time record in modern F1of over four minutes. Jackie himself considers that among his greatest race victories. Jackie was out of his car and taking to Max, Ken and Roger when second placed Graham Hill arrived at the finish line.
For 1969 Matra built the MS80, which was an even better car, and which easily won the world championship. Jackie cleaned up 6 of the first 8 races so already had the championship tied up by 2/3rd way through the season. Also the F1 constructor’s championship was Tyrrell’s and Matra’s. Max observes that this period was a great time to be in Formula 1 for several reasons. Among the reasons was that it was still a sport for amateur teams as the big money teams like BMW and Mercedes had not arrived. The friendship between teams was great and lending a competitor a gearbox or motor was par for the course. It was also a period of great innovation with aerodynamics just starting with big wings sprouting up front and back. And four wheel drive was also being played with and the Tyrrell team in fact had the only four wheel drive car to enter and finish a race that year, which was the 1969 British GP.
It was a very rewarding season working with Ken Tyrrell who was a real ‘British Gentleman’ who with his wife Nora, made the team very much a family affair, which is a far cry from a modern formula one team. Jackie was also extremely good to work with. Not only one of the greatest drivers ever in formula one, but very much a ‘human’ person who well respected the team effort needed around him and regularly upset officials after a race by first making sure he personally thanked his mechanics after a win, before getting tied up with reporters and prize giving functions.
Also Jackie was a great test driver, perhaps not as mechanically knowledgeable as Jack Brabham, but certainly as sensitive to minute changes. An example was during a ten day tyre test session the Tyrrell team undertook for Dunlop at Kyalami in South Africa at the end of 1968. Ken, Jackie, Max and Roger Hill were down there for the test.
After ten days of lapping the track at near record speed, while testing over 100 sets of tyres, on the last day the Dunlop engineers fitted the best front tyres to a set of one inch wider rims, to test the effect. Jackie went out for 2 laps to scrub the tyres in, but returned to the pits complaining of severe wheel balance problems at the apex of each corner. A check of the balance and a look for any other problems showed no discrepancy, so Jackie was sent out again. After another lap he returned to the pits in a state of high humour. After he stopped laughing he told the team he had solved the problem. He figured he had the wheel shaking problem because on the apex of each corner he was now hitting the kerbs, which for the last ten days he had missed, because the previous wheels were one inch narrower!
On the previous day, Max had a chance to do a lap in the car as Jackie was held up getting to the circuit and Ken did not want to waste any time. Ken asked Max to do a lap and warm up the tyres and clean them of the previous days stones and dust. After one lap the front tyres were still dirty so Ken asked Max to go out again. This lap he pushed much harder, that is as hard as he dared run in the French Government’s precious formula one car, but it was still not fast enough to clean the front tyres. He suggested to Ken that it might be more prudent to let Jackie do the job!
For 1969 Max was joint chief mechanic with Roger Hill, and at age 25 was literally going grey with the high pressure and responsibility, so at the end of the season decided to quit while ahead and at the top, so to speak, and return to NZ. Ken Tyrrell wanted him to stay and as well he was offered work by Colin Chapman of Lotus and Bruce McLaren, but going home was the plan. To help with the airfares home he accepted a job as mechanic to Derek Bell on the Tasman series in a Tom Wheatcroft Brabham, but that proved to be a disaster, as against Max’s advice, Chris Amon was given a run in the car and he proceeded to blow the only Cosworth V8 motor they had left. So the car was packed up and sent back to where it now rests in the Donnington Collection in England.
A funny incident happened at the end of the 1969 year at the Mexico City GP. Jackie had already won the championship, so the Dunlop tyre people, who Tyrrell were with then, decided on some fun. Generally the racing world could never understand why Jackie could always do incredibly fast laps at the start of a race, while other drivers took a few laps to settle in, by which time Jackie was usually several seconds out front. The secret was Jackie’s total concentration including the half hour leading up to the start. It was not possible to have a normal conversation with him during this time. Also the Matra car was very well balanced with or without a full tank of 40 gallons of fuel, and the Dunlop’s got up to temperature very quickly. Photo shows 1968 MS10 at Kyalami for tyre testing in December 1968. Max is at far right.
Max and the other mechanics decided to go along with Dunlop and use this mystery as the basis of a prank. Four cans of fly spray were purchased and suitably disguised with Dunlop stickers. Tyrrell only had four mechanics on “fly-away races” in those days so each of them had a can hidden in their overalls, then a few minutes before the grid was cleared of mechanics, they made a big scene of spraying each of Jackie’s four tyres with the “fly spray”. Naturally, photographers, reporters and opposition team personal quickly gathered to watch, and the mechanics took delight in telling them that this was the secret to Jackie’s speed on the first lap. Super sticky tyres!! If they had used their heads they would have realised that the “fly spray” wore off the back tyres before the car had done 2 feet, due to the wheel spin at the start. But most fell for it like a bunch of school kids, although by the time the next magazines were published, common sense had risen to the top.
Since returning to NZ at the end of 1969 Max has been fairly successful in keeping away from racing cars, except for designing and helping to build a speedway three quarter midget for Laurie Callender. You can read about that car in issue 1 of Pit Notes 2002.
He also did some suspension development work in the 70’s, on a prototype road car called the Toiler, which was being built in Auckland, by an ex midget driver named Roly Crowther.
Max still follows Formula 1, but from a distance, and nowadays keeps busy rebuilding a 1937 Austin 7 Ruby and flying radio controlled model aero planes. He also plays a lot of 8 ball pool as well as writing the newsletter and web site for the Taranaki Historic Speedway club. He restored a 1954 V8-60 powered midget in 2006 and more recently two 1952 JBS 500 F3 cars.
He took an early retirement in 2005 when he sold his business that made women’s chest protectors for sport. It had become a fairly big business for one person to run, as it was exporting to 28 odd countries, and Max needed less stress and more time for his hobbies.
Jackie and Max remain in touch and while in England last year, 2006, Max and Roger spent part of a day with Jackie and Helen at their home in the Midlands of England.
Regrettably Ken Tyrrell and his wife Nora have both passed on and sadly one of the mechanics on the team with Max took his own life in 2004. Roger Hill, one of the original six to go to England is still there in UK and worked for Tyrrell right to the bitter end, then took a few short term jobs connected with Formula One before retiring in late 2006.
Last photo shows Max surprisingly reunited with Jackie's World Champ winning MS80 at the Goodwood Revival Meeting in September 2006. This same Photo is used on the cover of Max's autobiography "Paddock to Podium" available from Max at firstname.lastname@example.org The autobiography covers his full life connected with motor racing.
Here is a typical review of the book.
Race mechanic Max
Rutherford was part of the Antipodean presence in '60s motor racing, and
eventually worked with Jackie Stewart during the Scot's title-winning '69 Fl
campaign. He mines a rich seam of anecdotes about the likes of Charlie
Crichton-Stuart, Jack Brabham and Ken Tyrrell, and he pulls no punches. The
result is an entertaining read.
Classic and Sports Car--- James Page
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