Some folk quit motor racing to avoid death but former Formula 3 driver Ronnie Grant took it up to feel alive.
“I’d been overdoing things, running the garage and my fleet of 50 taxis, when I started vomiting blood,” he tells me. “I was rushed into hospital where they gave me six pints of blood, except one of them was infected with hepatitis B. I swelled up like an orange. I nearly died and it was then that I promised myself that if I pull through, I’m going to do all those things I wished I’d done but never got around to. One of them was motor racing.”
He was 41. Today, aged 94, sharp as a tack and looking dapper in a sports jacket and Clan Grant tamo’-shanter, this former racing driver, cabbie and, for the past 59 years, owner of Clapham North MOT, a garage in railway arches off Clapham High Street, London, is proof that a brush with death can be the catalyst for a fresh start – a start that would one day see him race against Ayrton Senna. But first there were the sniggers of two young racing car designers to face down…
“I started racing in Formula Vee in 1966 and in 1970 won the final round of the British championship,” recalls Ronnie. “Then Formula Super Vee came along. I wanted to have a go and had the right engine but no chassis. I heard Lola were converting the chassis of a Formula Ford to Super Vee but had no engine, so I offered them mine if we could work together.”
Sitting in Lola’s drawing office the day Ronnie showed up with his engine were two young designers who would go on to achieve success at the highest levels of motorsport: Patrick Head (now Sir Patrick Head) and John Barnard.