One of my good friends, Anders Hedborg from Stockholm (current owner of our Lola T-70 Mk III) sent me an interesting email link a couple of weeks ago promoting the Annual Monterey Auto Auction week. Participating would be the high profile sellers RM Auctions and their Lot 234 just happened to be our old Fiat transporter!
The auction estimate was $850,000 to $1,100,000. Well, as you can imagine, this really got my attention – as back in early 1970 we sold the old gal to David Piper for £400! At that time I was happy to see the back of it. I still have the service bills and this rig cost more to maintain than the sports cars we were hauling around with it at the time. What is staggering about this particular sale is the fact that RM Auctions chronicled the Fiat’s history to boost credibility and thus its value, naming Carroll Shelby, Alan Mann Racing, David Piper, Steve McQueen, etc. etc. as previous owners, but not a stitch about John Woolfe Racing having ever touched it. If they had I would think it would have easily topped the million dollar mark. Nevertheless, I was happy to see the beast with a well deserved coat of paint and a detailed restoration of such a high standard. I trust the new owners appreciate just what they have in historic value.
I have many stories I could tell about this unusual piece of Italian engineering but one in particular springs to mind……
One day, in early February 1969 (Christ that was over 43 years ago!), I remember Mike Treutlein getting marooned out in the back fields of Haverhill in East Anglia. He had just delivered our Lola T-70 and the Chevron B12 to the Harwich docks, both destined for Denmark and the “Racervogne i Tivoli Show” (Racing Car Show at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen).
During his return journey that afternoon, the heavens opened up and delivered an intense snow blizzard and Mike and his girlfriend in tow, Kay, vanished off the face of the earth for two days. Back then there were no mobile phones and even phone boxes in the high street were a luxury. CB radios were also still well over ten years away. The storm was relentlessly violent, with heavy easterly winds and as darkness fell, concerned, I contacted the police to report the massive 40 foot long transporter missing. I hoped that there would be news of it out there somewhere in the drifting snow, along the roadside or in a lay-by, but there seemed to be no trace.
On a remote country road, Mike had blindly driven down into a cutting, some 8 to 10 feet deep, and smack into a snow drift where he instantly became stuck. In no time the vehicle was as good as buried, with snow building up above the top of the windscreen. From accounts a few days later, Mike and Kay were not initially too concerned about the situation as they had all the provisions they needed to survive including plenty of derv to keep the engine running. However, after the first night the diesel pipes froze, the engine quit and panic started to set in.
The next morning Mike managed to dig his way out of the cab and attempted to find solid ground so he could try and walk to safety. However, after virtually freezing to death and finding no sign of civilization anywhere, he retraced his tracks back to the Fiat where he had left Kay keeping things as warm as possible.
The next day the snow had stopped and the sun came out. Mike climbed onto the roof of the transporter and could just make out a pall of smoke drifting over the countryside, seemingly coming from a chimney a couple of miles away. He managed to set his bearings and headed off again, this time towards the smoke. After a few stressful hours he caught sight of a rooftop and was relieved beyond imagination when soon afterwards a dog came leaping at him through the 2 ft. deep snow, followed by a local farmer. Mike and Kay were finally rescued and the long awaited phone call from them, confirming their safety, was received.
The Fiat took a couple of days to thaw out from its snow covered, frozen state and with a little help from some farm machinery, it was eventually coaxed back on to the road. To add a happy ending to the whole saga, whilst they were weathering the storm together, Mike proposed to Kay and they were married in September that same year!
Click here to view the RM Auctions sales brief. They really did justice to this classic piece of race history.