John Brooks our photo editor for the 96Magazine has been very busy lately going through some incredible material. The piece below was included in the English edition of the 1987 Le Mans Annual.
Janice Minton, the well know journalist sadly is not with us anymore and died too young.
“Every year, the British competitors at Le Mans are guaranteed a welcome by Le Club Soixante Douze du Mans, which will celebrate its 25th birthday in 1988.
It was originally started by a group of people from KLG Plugs, including James Tilling, who went every year to look after their customers’ cars, and clubbed together to share facilities – basic by today’s standards – including a pitbox and a tent, and later a caravan, in the outer paddock.
The Club was open to all British enthusiasts who had been to Le Mans for three consecutive years, and you could only miss one year in three, or your membership lapsed; at its peak it had 50 members. Its French name also helped in the constant battle between members and marshals: they shrugged and looked the other way, thinking they must have heard of it before. Each year at the Club lunch, the Secretary would be presented (and fitted) with her badge of office – a Club garter to be worn on the thigh for the weekend.
By 1975, numbers were falling dramatically, and in 1980 a young Michael Scott, member for five years, was offered the Club and set about its rejuvenation.
The Club has met the changing market by offering better facilities as a unique membership-only hospitality club. Although members can bring guests, entry is still at the discretion of the Club and is restricted to 150 people, so a waiting list operates.
Paddock space had become so precious that the Club moved base to Tertre Rouge, where it still meets every year. M Roger Lefevre closes his garage there for the week to watch over the proceedings and Madame runs the kitchen. In fact, members are arriving earlier in the week every year to indulge in Madame’s asparagus and strawberries for a few extra lunches.
Over the years, the Club has installed better facilities such as a properly laid driveway, a viewing stand on the Tertre Rouge comer, showers, marquees and private parking. The weekend Club fee includes all food and drink, and there are options on caravan hire, Friday night dinner and hotel rooms, plus the collectors-item commemorative T shirt. The pitbox continues, although the ACO cleverly changes it every year – and gets it painted free of charge by Club members!
For some years now there has been a pre-Christmas lunch for members and guests, and in 1987 a very successful “24 Hours Dinner” launched Derek Bell MBE as Patron of the Club, raised over £5,000 for the Ferry appeal and allowed James Tilling an audience again for his hilarious tales of early Le Mans.
The prestigious Friday Club Champagne Reception for British competitors and members has become a tradition, where drivers are persuaded (by fair means or foul) to flash lights or wave as they round Tertre Rouge during the Race. 1987’s new optional Friday Club dinner was attended by over 90 people and antics were tolerated well by the indulgent restaurant owners, still bemused at the line of Ferraris parked outside.
A special display was created at Tertre Rouge this year by member David Holland, with a complete mock-up Aston Martin pit to show off the actual DBR1 that won in 1959, driven by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori. Many of the Pirelli Parade cars attended the Friday party including the Bentley that won Le Mans and a Jaguar C-type.
As for the future, more of the same but better all the time, more fund-raising (and hell-raising, too, no doubt), more British involvement in Le Mans with the welcome return of Aston Martin, (with whom the Club has strong links) and more fun.
In the interests of the British competitors, the Club took up the cause of Radio Le Mans and started the negotiations which led to the first-ever 96 continuous hours of British radio commentary, information and music for the spectators.
For the rest of the year, its sister club in the UK, the 96 Club, runs event hospitality and private circuit testing for its members, who receive a discount for Le Club Soixante Douze du Mans.”