Remembering a motor racing legend

By John Maslin, Zaryd Wilson

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Kevin Ellery was a friend of Chris Amon. The Bulls Museum which has a display dedicated to the motor racing legend has a book of remembrance available for people to sign. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Kevin Ellery was a friend of Chris Amon. The Bulls Museum which has a display dedicated to the motor racing legend has a book of remembrance available for people to sign. Photo/ Stuart Munro

He was a world motor racing legend. But to his beloved Bulls and Scotts Ferry communities, he was just the guy down the road.

Chris Amon who died this week was regarded as the best Formula 1 driver never to win a championship Grand Prix.

And this year marked the 50th anniversary of the victory for Amon and Bruce McLaren at Le Mans when the Kiwi duo won the famous 24 hour race in a Ford GT40.

He was awarded an MBE in 1993.

Chris Amon was raised at Scotts Ferry near Bulls and returned to farm there in the 1980s after retiring from racing.

He was a fifth generation farmer on the Scotts Ferry land.

The Bulls Museum has a display dedicated to Amon - created in 2013 and made permanent last year - and friend and former neighbour of 36 years Kevin Ellery was there on Friday reflecting.

The museum will also have a book of remembrance available for people to come in a sign and leave messages.

Mr Ellery was an engineer and used to do work on Amon's farm machinery.

"He was just another bloke really, in those days to us. He was a hard worker because he used to harvest his own grain. He used to grow up to 400 acres of maize on that property.

Mr Ellery said Amon enjoyed hard work.

He'd come back from overseas, leaving behind fame and by all accounts settled nicely into life at Scotts Ferry again.

"He got on with life and I think he tried to get away from (racing) a little bit," Mr Ellery said.

New Zealand motorsport legend, Chris Amon, reacquaints himself with the Formula 5000 1974 Talon MR1A racing car he drove in the 1975 Tasman Cup, Hampton Downs, Te Kauwhata.
New Zealand motorsport legend, Chris Amon, reacquaints himself with the Formula 5000 1974 Talon MR1A racing car he drove in the 1975 Tasman Cup, Hampton Downs, Te Kauwhata.


Bulls was proud of Amon and he was proud of Bulls. When the display dedicated to him opened in 2013 he spent two days in town signing autographs and having photos with fans.

He'd come down from Kinloch where he retired following the 2004 floods.

Mr Ellery said people were fascinated to hear of Amon's career.

"Up until then people didn't really show much of an interest," Mr Ellery said.

"They'd see him on the road, wave out to him. He was just another neighbour on the road. But when this happened in the museum it was amazing the interest from people in town.

"They just came out of the woodwork and were really interested."

But if anything, Amon was more famous overseas.

"Living down there I remember probably it would been in the 1990s - we had some German tourists turn up on our doorstep at Scotts Ferry looking to find out where Chris Amon lived," Mr Ellery said. "And that's how much interest there was in him."

"He was better known overseas than he was in New Zealand. That was because the media coverage wasn't the same back then."

Amon went to Wanganui Collegiate - the same as Earl Bamber who went on to win the Le Man nearly half a century later.

Amon was always interested in machinery when he was growing up and was driving around the farm before the age of ten.

British Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart wrote of Amon in 2013: "Chris Amon was unquestionably one of the finest drivers that I have ever raced against; his techniques was as smooth as silk. Perhaps more importantly he was one of the nicest people I have ever met in the world of motorsports".

When Whanganui's Earl Bamber won last year's Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, Amon told the Chronicle the result was "just marvellous".

For Amon it brought back memories of the day he McLaren took the title.

He said he harboured two ambitions and Bamber's success realised one of them.

"The first was to see a Kiwi win at Le Mans and the other is to see a Kiwi driving in Formula 1 - now one has happened," he said.

The quietly spoken and hugely likable Amon showed precocious talent at an early age.

As a 17-year-old he was behind the wheel of a Maserati 250F single-seater, racing in New Zealand before going to Europe to enjoy a long and illustrious international career.

Amon drove it in the 1962 summer season, highlights being a victory in an all-NZ race at Levin and a fighting 11th place in the GP, one of the last to be staged at Ardmore.

This car provided Amon with a taste for oversteer which never left him.

"The Grand Prix was remarkable for the rain, which began as soon as the race started. Cars were spinning all over the place. I remember at one point heading down the straight and seeing the front wheels had stopped.

"But I loved that car. You could steer it on the throttle. I'd grown up reading about guys like Juan Fangio and it was from their era."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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