Ronald 'Steady' Barker, who died last weekend, was a distinguished technical editor at Autocar during the 1960s, but he will always be remembered more as a free spirit than as some nine-to-five hack.
When Britain was starting to build the wonderful cars that still carry its reputation - namely the Mini, jaguar XJ6 and E-type, Range Rover, MGB, Rolls-Royce Shadow - and hot-housing still-venerated stars such as Stirling Moss, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart, Steady was with us in his pomp, ready to understand, explain and criticise these wonderful people and machines. He knew all the main men as friends, so when the Mini pioneer Sir Alec Issigonis died, Barker was able to write the finest and best-informed tribute of all.
Barker was already in his 60s when I met him, but he still loved cars as much as any car-mad teenager and drove like the wind. Memories crowd one, at times like this, but in particular I'll never forget a mad trip we made from home near Cirencester to Silverstone in Steady's magnificent 1908 Napier, so he could compete in a VSCC race. As we stormed along, he swore that his preoccupation was to slide this mighty behemoth as little as possible on the road so he'd have as much 'meat' as possible left on the skinny tyres to survive a 10-lapper, or whatever it was. He won, of course.
Neither will I forget a fast tour of France, Belgium and the Netherlands we made in my silly car of the time, a Ferrari 308GTB. Steady, an inveterate buyer of daft motors, especially French, owned a particularly odd little thing called a Lafitte, which had a three-cylinder radial engine and was about the size, era and price of an Austin Seven but far less successful in the marketplace.
Our mission was to find another that I could buy - so we could found the UK Lafitte Owners' Club, for which Steady, addicted to puns, had already written the motto: "Lafitte First". It warms me now to think of two car-obsessed idiots in a Ferrari - one at least well old enough to know better - spending four days of their lives trying to buy a car for no better reason than to fulfil a dopey, home-made mission statement.
We'll all miss Steady and his exploits (one of which was to wing-walk atop a Boeing Stearman biplane flown by his great friend, Vic Norman, to celebrate his 80th birthday), but no one will say this was anything but a life wonderfully well-lived. In his later years his ambition was to outlast his great friend/foe Alex Moulton, and he managed it by just over two years. Somewhere, right now, I reckon they're happily reunited, bickering away about sleeve valves and interconnected suspensions. Symmetry is restored.