Photographing Donald Healey’s extraordinary pre-war rally car
Before Donald Healey ever had the thought of building his own sports cars the Cornish ,ex WWI air ace, was a hugely successful rally driver.
Based from his garage in Perranporth on the Atlantic coast Healey competed in the Land’s End to John O Groats rally in an Ariel 10, for which he had the local franchise, noting that sales rose after the car was proven in competition. He also won the Brighton Rally and first RAC British rally in 1929 in a Triumph 7 .But it was his extraordinary success at one of the toughest of all international rallies that has become the stuff of legend.
His motorsport antics were noticed by Noel Macklin the founder of Invicta cars and Donald was signed up to compete in the inaugural Alpine Trial in 1930 with a 3.0litre Invicta Tourer winning the tortuous event over steep Austrian hill climbs ahead of German racing icon Hans Stuck. A new model featuring the famous low chassis and a Meadows 4 1/2 litre straight six was entered for the 1931 Monte Carlo rally with Healey selecting Stavenger in Norway for the start, carrying two passengers to share the driving and navigate.
During one such co-drive Donald was awoken to find the car hurtling into a ditch hitting a telegraph pole punching the rear axle back three inches locking on the brakes. After roadside repairs involving disconnecting the rear brakes completely and Jerry rigging the exhaust up over the back of the car they managed to get back on the route. After four long days of driving on treacherous mountain passes the team arrived in Monte Carlo without any penalties to undertake the final section, an obstacle driving test along the quay.
Back home in Perranporth Healey had practiced the course layout on a quiet road and he hurtled through it in record time clinching the prestigious trophy and achieving an ambition. He would drive the famous rally again in a different Invicta the following year finishing second.
To read the whole feature check out the January issue of Classic and Sports Car magazine. see: https://www.classicandsportscar.com/
Photographing cars for a magazine feature in a big city is never straightforward and if you want to shoot action it takes the level of difficulty to a higher plane. But that’s what Classic and Sports Car magazine required in February of 2020 on a week long feature visit to Los Angeles to collect some sunny stories for the winter pages of the next issue.
Local knowledge is key when finding locations, and although I know LA pretty well, I wasn’t familiar with the area where our cars were so we had to trust the owners and they came up trumps choosing a section of road around the Palos Verde headland south of the city with the glittering Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands in the background.
Shooting action with two cars ,three if you count the camera car on public roads can be a traumatic experience for classic car owners who aren’t used to close formation driving but our guys did really well even managing a smile as we coaxed them closer and closer to get the pictures.
We found a piece of safe two lane highway with turn arounds about mile apart,an elevated bank for panning and a short mountain section for a chase sequence.I just wish we’d been shooting video and sound as the noise was glorious.
When shooting action it really helps to have good communication with the subject drivers so I gave the lead car a walkie-talkie and described each set up to both of them so they knew where they were meant to be in relation to each other and the road positioning for the different shots explaining the safety risks along the way.
We did about 3 or 4 runs of each type of shot to achieve the right placements…I could have gone on all day such were the great cars, locations and weather but owners tend to get a bit gnarly if you push them too long so when I knew I had enough we wrapped it up and went for lunch…not a bad day in the office.
By the time Karl Benz introduced his Motorwagen to the world in 1886 photography was already established as both an art and a science.
In fact Frenchman Joseph Nicephore-Niepce, the prolific polymath credited with the first process, to fix an enduring image ,Heliography, in 1827 had invented an early form of internal combustion engine way back in 1807 ,although he fitted it to a boat rather than a car.
So fast was the development of new technologies in the Victorian era that Benz’s quadracycle powered by an internal combustion engine did not evolve much and was quickly overtaken by steam and electric powered vehicles that proved not only faster and more efficient but also the most popular cars in those early days of motoring.
In 1899 Camille Jenatzy broke the important 100km/h or 62 mph land speed record in his electric car Le Jamais Contente (above)) and in 1906 Fred Marriot in a American Stanley Steamer set a new LSR on Daytona beach in Florida at 127mph.
But how to record all this high-speed derring-do.
Exposure times in the early days of the Daguerrotype were up to 30 mins and elaborate frames and braces were offered to hold the subject of a portrait still for the time the shutter was open.Henry Fox Talbot’s coachman had to stand still for 3 minutes for this very early 1841 Calotype (below), there was no shutter at all for the earliest cameras just the lens cap that was removed and then replaced. Exposure times were quickly reduced with further advances in lens technology and accelerators added to improve the light sensitivity of the plate that brought this down to under a minute.
But even the portable photographic equipment of the Victorian era was heavy and unwieldy with early models using glass plates that needed coating with wet collodian emulsion on site and developed immediately afterwards. Matthew Brady’s extraordinary images of the American Civil War, considered to be the first photo journalism, brought the horrors of conflict to the breakfast table but the images were, by necessity posed, portraits a bit stolid to the modern eye and battles scenes seemingly static with any movement blurred due to the long exposure times still required to capture the image. Movement had been captured accidentally as this stereoscope image (below)of Broadway by Edward Anthony in 1859 shows but it was not intentional.
The search for the technology that would allow an ‘instantaneous ‘ image was on.
The 1959 Aston Martin DBR1 is one of the beautiful and valuable sports racing cars in the world and I had the enormous privilege of shooting the actual Le Mans winning David Brown works team car for my book The Art of the Le Mans Racing Car.
The DBR1 had been driven to victory by the unlikely coupling of Brit’ Roy Salvadori and American Carroll Shelby.Like most drivers of the day they did not just drive for one team and Salvadori achieved success in a wide variety of sports racing to F1 cars including Maserati 250F and Ferrari 225 to Cooper-Climax and latterly Jaguar saloon cars. Likewise Texan Shelby raced in all motorsports from F1 to hill-climbing and rallying and whilst competing in the fearsome Carrera Panamericana suffered a bad accident in an Austin Healey that left him in hospital for 8 months.
Remarkably Salvadori, who drove for 14 hours of the 24 hours of the race, was suffering from the flu and Shelby had a bout of dysentery and had tucked a nitroglycerine pill under his tongue in case his heart problem flared up during his stints.
Seen above is the raw un-retouched image of the car in the infinity cove studio on a black cloth background with the bonnet removed.I’d had an idea to create a layered image with bonnet on and off but had been too busy to develop the idea at the time.
The technique uses Photoshop to layer the image one on top of the other and adjust the opacity to allow you to see through the bonnet to the engine bay and takes a long time to get it right. Here’s the final comp’ image and there’s another taken from overhead in Portfolio One on this website.
The few weeks ago I got the opportunity to photograph Lewis Hamilton’s 2019 F1 championship winning car at a secret location in the UK.
As is often the case there is neither the time or the funds available to bring the car to a studio so I built a studio around the car. When I say studio it is the bare essentials of what I need to capture the image.Lighting is by flash either direct through softboxes or bounced into a white sheet behind the car.
It’s not perfect and my technique relies on my 30 years plus of experience of knowing what’s important to spend time on and what’s not.My friend Rob came along as assistant and we wrapped up the shoot with minimum fuss in just under four hours.
Here’s the final retouched head on image. You may notice that the car is still quite dirty… actually it is uncleaned from the final race of the F1 season in Abu Dhabi. Lewis won it with Max Verstappen second in the Red Bull Honda and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari taking the final podium spot.
I’ve featured the front 3/4 view in my cars portfolio see : https://www.jamesmann.com/portfolio-one/
One of the highlights from this year was a fabulous pairing of two 1950’s sports racing car icons that I photographed for Classic and Sports Car magazine.
The two cars were both based at the Classic Motor Hub near Bibury in Gloucestershire with stunning countryside and quiet roads for us to drive on nearby. Martin Chisholm runs a series of events at the Hub every year and welcomes classic car fans in for a look around the showroom.
We found a superb section of the old A40 that appeared to have been totally cut off with so quiet in fact that a Hare lolopped up before looking both ways and hopping across the road right in front of us. The wide well engineered road was reminiscent of the early Le Mans and Reims circuits where these cars found they fame and we blasted up and down without seeing another car for over an hour.
It’s rare to have a shoot with the perfect balance of great cars, decent weather,helpful people,a good location and enough time so I was chuffed when the cockpit ride in image made the cover.
Each year I undertake three car photography workshops for the Royal Photographic Society.The summer event takes place at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu with the support of Ford.
This year they sent us a pair of Mustangs 50 years apart in age but both on the same theme of the car driven by Steve McQueen in the Hollywood thriller Bullitt.
I usually go for a mid tone car for these workshops as they are the most straightforward to shoot so the Highland Green Bullitt cars were always going to be a challenge.
We were fortunate that the sky was overcast so the contrast was low and with some tweaks to open up the aperture we all got some great results.The classic Mustang won our hearts and as well as statics and details we were able to shoot some cornering and panning images.
The group of twelve of us used our long lenses to shoot profile panning which flattens the perspective and then short lenses for front three quarter panning which offers up a movie like view
Thankfully this year’s Goodwood Member’s Meeting was blessed with better weather than the snow we endured in 2018. As well as the fantastic wheel to wheel racing Goodwood always manages to pull some exceptional special features out of the bag for the Member’s meeting.
This year one of these was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Porsche 917. The Goodwood circuit closed in 1966 ,just three years too early to have ever seen the awesome Porsche 917 race here so it was an amazing sight to see five of these Le Mans winning monsters roaring down the main straight in a 50th anniversary tribute.
1970 Le Mans winner Richard Attwood drove the green and white chassis 001 recently out of restoration by the Porsche factory. Australian driver Mark Webber piloted the final iteration of the 917/30, the Sunoco Can /Am car which delivered, via its twin turbochargers, over 1500BHP.
One of the greatest surviving banked circuits in the world is at Montlhery, south-west of Paris in France.On a misty November morning we arrived to photograph an icon of pre-war motor racing, the Bugatti T51 .
One of the highlights of my job is that I often get to ride alongside to shoot a driving image and this time I got three laps, one with the mechanic on a warm up lap and two more with journalist Mick Walsh .The feeling of speed is greatly enhanced by the bumpy ride,exposure to the wind and glorious sound and smells of a pre-war Bugatti at full chat…..truly magical. Riding up the banking is harder than it looks and a battle with the steering ensues to keep the car running straight around the track.No sooner had I put my camera down ,it’s time to come into the pits and we peer under the bonnet at the beautiful twin cam engine. The story goes that Ettore Bugatti saw the American Miller racing twin cam block and copied it back in 1929 and the T51 was born.
One of the largest props I’ve ever worked with was recently featured in a Classic and Sports car magazine feature shoot I organised at Cotswold airport with a Citroen Maserati and an Oldsmobile Toronando.
We wanted a period 1970’s feel to the shoot and what better then the iconic Boeing 747 for a background.It helped that our cars were the same colour for it can be tricky to photograph cars with such a large subject.
Working on an airport requires public liability insurance and often a fee for a minder .The results can be seen in the January 2019 issue of Classic and Sports Car magazine
Every year since it’s inception twenty years ago I have taken black and white images using various cameras and film at the Goodwood Circuit Revival Meeting.
Goodwood Circuit Revival 1998-1st race
I started out using my 1950’s Linhof Technika large format camera and Type 55 Polaroid black and white 5 X 4 inch sheet film which, as well as offering up the expected instant print ,gave a very fine negative too and this is what I printed from.Sadly Polaroid stopped making film and I got fed up looking at everything back to front and upside down on the back of the ground glass screen as well as carrying the necessary tripod around all day.
P51 Mustang pilot
So I moved onto a much more manageable 1960’s Hassleblad 500C that I had lurking in the back of my camera cabinet and found it didn’t need the tripod anymore and although images in the waist level viewfinder were still back to front they were at least the right way up. These early ‘blads are simple to use and were the choice of NASA to send with the Apollo astronauts to the moon…in fact a number of them were left there as they only brought back the film.
In the olden days photographers were allowed to stand in the craziest of places such as on the apex of the actual track as cars raced through it.This made for great pictures but was frankly bloody dangerous so whilst I do sometimes hanker for the good old days, getting run over by a Maserati 250F, isn’t on my wishlist. This leaves plenty to photograph with all of the atmosphere and characters wandering around the superb racing scene.
This year was no exception and with glorious weather all weekend I shot off my five rolls, with twelve frames on each, most of which appeared on my Twitter feed so if you want to see them follow me and scroll back a bit .Here are a few of the best characters I photographed in the old fashioned way.
GWCR 2018-Glam Cab
JM @ Goodwood Revival 2018
Credit for this last one of me using the Hasselblad : Dominic James
Every two years a little bit of magic happens on the Cote D’Azur of the Mediterranean Sea when the tiny Principality of Monaco hosts the Grand Prix Historiques. The event reflects the long history of the most famous road racing circuit in the world with cars from pre-war Bugattis and Alfa Romeos right up to McLarens and Brabhams that dominated the Formula One scene in the late ’70s and early ’80’s.
James Mann at Monaco
One of the best things about the event as a photographer is that the marshalls and Automobile Club de Monaco are pretty relaxed about where you can take pictures around the circuit and you can get really close to the action. The city is a maze of tunnels and hidden escalators that have taken me nearly all of the 20 years I’ve been coming to the event to navigate and each time I visit I discover somewhere new to shoot.
This is one of the classic views in Casino Square De Tomaso leads March 711 in the 1966-72 race. Weather this year was mixed with the rain arriving just in time for the sports car race.
I love the grid walk at Monaco. They still have very elegant grid girls and it’s so atmospheric.Here’s Marc Devis in the 1980 ATS on pole position with an Arrows A3 in second place.
In the harbour-side paddock the ex-Jim Clark Lotus 25 gets a thorough pre-race check by Classic Team Lotus. This car finished 8th here in 1963.
This view makes a great establishing shot with the Alpes Maritime towering above the city of Monte Carlo shrouded in mist. Here’s Belgian driver Christophe D’Ansembourg in the Mclaren M26 chasing a pair of Shadow DN8s in to the harbour chicane.This is where Jenson Button had his nightmare accident coming out of the tunnel in the BAR Honda in 2003.
Monaco always draws out the star drivers and it was great to catch up with two-time F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen who drive the stunning McLaren M14A in the Heritage parade.
The only thing missing from the weekend was good friend and motor racing commentator Henry Hope-Frost who loved the event. Henry was killed in a mortorcycle accident earlier this year. I shared many a fine time in Monaco with him as he regaled us with stories of long gone racing battles that he brought to life with sound effects that only improved with each bottle we ordered.