We make no excuses for reprinting this feature, written by Mark Howson back in 2013 to look back at the racing career of Colin Blower.
Colin passed away yesterday at the all too young age of 69 after battling Parkinson’s disease for several years.
There is an obituary in preparation but for now please enjoy the tales of a real racer that, for several reasons, was a big part of the early years of Dailysportscar
In 2004, DSC sat down with Colin Blower with the intention of producing a team feature on his British GT Cup Class programme that year. Unfortunately, due to an administrative snafu, that item was never published, but it has remained in the back of this scribe’s memory ever since. Recently, however, an invitation from DSC’s David Lord – who has known Colin (who turned 65 this week) for many years – provided the perfect opportunity to rectify this oversight and bring the story up to date over a curry in deepest, darkest Hinckley.
From 1974 to 1982, Colin enjoyed his first association with TVR and raced 3000Ss, 3000Ms and Tasmins in various Production Sports Cars championships, taking two championships and many wins in the process.
“One of the usual questions I’m asked is ‘How did you ever get into racing?’ began Blower. “Well, living so close to Mallory Park I used to go there to watch racing and one day I was up there and there was MGBs, TR6s, Porsche Carreras, a De Tomaso; and I thought – I’d got an MGB at the time – ‘I can do this!’, so I went down and asked and was told to write to the RAC to get my license and then join the BRSCC, because they ran the championship. So I did that and by the end of the year I’d got my license, the rules to the championship. I stuck a rollcage in the MGB, took the exhaust off it and off I went. The first race was at Llandow. I did qualifying and I was amazed! I thought they were all mad heads, coming past me sideways and sliding round corners. Anyway, I came last in the race and realised that I knew nothing about racing.
“The next race was at Oulton Park and I did much better, third in class I think. The last race was at Silverstone on the Grand Prix circuit and I finished second in class.”
Was he in the motor trade at this point? “Yes, from the age of ten I used to go to the local garage, Bill Jackson’s, and was there every evening after school and during holidays. I then left there in early ’73 and set up on my own in a wooden shed, which the council kicked me out of because I didn’t have planning permission. Fortunately, I had a few customers come with me after I left Bill’s garage and they kept me going through the first three years, which were very difficult.
“So I was a roadcar mechanic, not a racing mechanic; but then my friend Rod Gretton started racing in ’74. I sold my MGB and we bought a Lotus Europa apiece. Rod was good at getting sponsorship and managed to get some from Riley Supermarkets, so one of the cars was sprayed purple as that was their colours. I nearly won the BRSCC production Sports Car Championship – sponsored by CAV, which was an arm of Lucas – in ‘74. I needed to win the last race to win the championship; Peter Taylor was leading the championship – he was a test and development driver for Jaguar – and had an E-type. Anyway, it rained and the Europa – which had the engine in the back and was a brilliant car – wouldn’t stop in the wet and somewhere near the end of the race I braked too late, locked up the wheels and put it into the barrier!
“That same day, we had a TVR on trial. I’d spoken to the TVR boss Martin Lilly about racing one in the championship – it was fibre glass, so was light; it had all independent suspension; it had a Ford 3 litre engine; and we thought it’d do well – and I finished second in another race with it. After I crashed my car, I said to Martin, “I’m going to have to repair the Lotus and it’ll cost me a few bob, so I can’t afford to buy a Lotus; so will you give me one?” and amazingly he said yes! So he gave me a brand new 3000M. The deal was that I had to prepare and look after it and through that I learned a lot about racing.
“Between ’74 and ’82 I won quite a lot of races and won the championship in 1980. So I did quite well, but the car I always had difficulty beating was always Chris Meek – he had the latest Europa; he was good, no doubt, and it taught me quite a bit watching him.
“In 1982 we switched to TVR’s new car, the Tasmin, and it was crap, hopeless; and I went from the front of the grid to the back. So at the end of the year, I said that they could have their cars back.”
1983 saw him purchase Tony Lanfranchi’s Porsche 911 and he went on to win the Production Sports Cars Championship that year with the car. He also came third in the Willhire 24 Hours at Snetterton (one of the six Willhire races he competed in), sharing with Tiff Needell. “I rang Tiff just after he’d left Formula 1 to see if he wanted to drive with me in the Willhire, and he said yes. We were leading the race before a driveshaft joint went, which dropped us to 20th. We fixed it and got going again and finished third! We should have won, really, but what it made me realise was just how unfit I was! Tiff could keep going for lap after lap at the same pace, but I couldn’t; I was worn out! So it made me determined to get fitter and I took up running. After that I ran every day for 20 years – five or six miles per day.”
His association with Porsche was short-lived, however, and from 1984 to 1989 he raced Mitsubishis in saloon car championships, again with great success. Running the Mitsubishis gave Colin Blower Motorsport great experience in running turbo cars and the workshops expanded as the company prepared various customer cars, such as the Sierra Cosworths. “I had BF Goodrich as a sponsor – I was the first person in the UK to do this – and thought it would be good to go saloon car racing. I had a look around and decided that the Mitsubishi Starion would be the best car. I won 28 races and two championships with it and then Mitsubishi gave me a new car. The Starions proved to be my most successful cars – we were clocking up something like 20 races per year with them.
“The Ford Sierra began to dominate saloon cars in the late 1980s and then Mitsubishi decided that they were pulling out. We were getting massive budgets from them by this time – in 1986, it was something like £110,000, with engine rebuilds after every race, etc. – and it had allowed us to begin prepping customer cars as well as our own. But when they pulled out, I didn’t do anything for the best part of a year.”
With the turbo-era ending, 1989 saw Colin returning to TVR, first as driver, then later as car owner and preparer, in the TVR Tuscan Championship. In 1992, Colin won the championship and was runner up in 1993 and 1994. In all, he recorded 19 wins in Tuscans.
He still has the helmet he wore that day, complete with the grooves that show just how close he came to appearing in the Motoring News obituary column In 1995, Colin was to survive a terrifying accident at Silverstone while qualifying in the wet. The throttle on his TVR jammed open at 150mph and the car careered through the bottom two rails of the Armco causing him to suffer extensive injuries.
His involvement with Tuscans continued up to 2003, but by then he was also heavily involved with the British GT Championship. The team’s first foray into the championship was with a TVR Cerbera in 1997 and 1998, Colin sharing with rising sportscar star, Jamie Campbell-Walter. Despite racing in the lower division, the car scored an outright victory at Donington in its first year.
“I was driving with Jamie Campbell-Walter and we were leading when the car caught fire and caused a red flag. The car was burned out, but because the result was taken from the end of the previous lap, we won – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!”
Returning to the championship in 2001, Colin had a new approach. Having looked around at what was available to race in the top category (GT2), he could see that the few ‘off-the-shelf’ cars that existed were hugely expensive beasts and so he searched for alternatives.
Being based in Hinckley, Colin didn’t have to go far to check out the Ultima factory and he liked what he saw – a mid-engined, extremely low and light car. More importantly, it also had a big engine; a necessary requirement due to the restrictor rules. He thus set out to build a ready-to-go car for around £150,000, with the intention being to eventually sell customer cars.
Despite having to finance the project entirely out of his own pocket, Colin showed the potential of the GTR at several races in the 2001 and 2002 season but it never got the funding it needed (and deserved) for full development. At the end of 2002, the GT2 category died and the project was mothballed.
Undaunted, Colin sat out 2003 (after opting not to convert the Ultima to N-GT spec) and looked around for a suitable project for 2004. He soon found one.
He identified the British GT Cup Class as having the most potential due to its cost-effectiveness. The power-to-weight formula of the class was a good leveler and he soon identified the Vauxhall VX220 as the most promising vehicle – as light as a Lotus, and with better handling and brakes than a Porsche (the handling was, in fact, developed by Cup-rival Gavan Kershaw in his day-job at Lotus). The challenge would lie in getting the power out of the 2.0ltr engine and the mid-range torque that the turbo would supply. Again, the intention was to sell customer-cars once development was complete and Blower had high hopes of seeing at least four cars running in the series.
“I phoned up Vauxhall and asked if they would give me a car, and they gave me two! They said that if we finished on the podium in the first year, they’d sponsor us in the second year. We did this, but then Vauxhall told me that because SEAT had increased their BTCC programme they would have to do the same and so couldn’t sponsor us.”
This brought an end to Colin Blower’s participation in British GT, although the VX220 still resides in his workshop and indeed is still being developed. After this, his racing attention switched to Historics – looking after and racing a Lola T70 and various other classic sportscars, including DBR1, DB2, DB3, DB3S, DB4, DB4GT, DB5 and Project 214.
Sadly, Colin’s biggest challenge was to come from another direction entirely, although the first indications of its existence were noticed in competition; “The first time was at Rockingham, when I raced the Ultima in British GT – I got out of the car absolutely knackered and couldn’t work out why; like I said, I ran every day and was a fit guy. Then, in 2005 or 2006, I found myself having trouble with heel and toeing during a race in Portugal; my coordination had gone. Not long after that, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.”
But while the illness has brought an end to his racing career, Colin is still active in the workshop and is working towards starting his son on his own racing career, “Sam has been karting for a few years now and says he wants to race cars, so we’re looking at him possibly going into Ginetta G40 Juniors – I have some budget, but not a huge amount and this looks like the best value. After that I might give him the Vauxhall – there are still various places he can race it.”
The full history of Colin Blower’s remarkable racing life can be found on his website – here. Even though he has reached retirement age, however, Colin is likely to remain active for as long as his condition allows. We wish him well in his endeavors.