Until last year, Professor Adrian Reynard, a graduate of what used to be called Oxford Polytech, was a major shareholder in BAR (British American Racing), the Formula One team, backed by Honda, whose drivers included Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button.
Honda, seeing the potential, have now taken over the team and Jenson Button is continuing as their main driver to produce some excellent results with his first win at the Hungarian Grand Prix this year.
Between 1965 and 1971, while I was at Headington College of Art and Technology, which became Oxford Polytech and is now known as Oxford Brookes University, Adrian Reynard was a student in the engineering department.
We didn’t know each other, but we had a mutual interest in the Oxford Polytech Auto Club which he founded in 1970. The club, known as OPAC, attracted considerable interest, with a few ex-college students like myself being allowed to join as honorary members in order to compete at the club speed trials held at Silverstone towards the end of the season.
One such event, on a cold but dry November 5, 1975, was well attended with both male and female students taking part. Organised in conjunction with the Oxford Polytech Students Union, competitors arrived with road-legal production cars and motorcycles as well as pukka racing machines, representing a wide spectrum of talent from beginners to semi-professionals, yet all having one thing in common — they were there to enjoy the unique social occasion as much as the competitive event.
My watercolour (above) shows one of the Nortons, a Gus Kuhn Commando production racer, a painting which was commissioned in the 1980s. I cannot recall the rider's name, but if it is you, dear reader, please let me know.
After a near collision with another rider at Beckett's hairpin, I decided to paint motorsport subjects rather than take part, and was commissioned to produce a painting which showed Colin Field on his 'Head of The River' (the pub at Folly Bridge, Oxford) sponsored Yamaha.
The picture was inspired directly by the OPAC experience and was subsequently on display in the lounge bar of the pub throughout the sponsorship years.
The photograph (right), illustrating the meeting, was taken by an old friend and fellow student, John Sturt. It shows Oxford rider, Colin Field (250 'Yamaha), closing in on my 500 Suzuki as we crossed the start and finish line. We ended the race in the first four of the production class, with only two 750 Nortons in front of us.
With both cars and motorcycles competing separately at the 1975 Silverstone meeting, one car stood out from the rest. It was a deceptively non-standard Morris Minor, which proved that the innovation of the engineering students knew no bounds. If it were possible to shoehorn a V8 engine into a Morris Minor then they were the ones to try it!
OPAC founder Adrian Reynard also began his racing career on two wheels, taking a number of motorcycle speed records at the Elvington sprint course, with encouragement from another mutual acquaintance Denis Jenkinson. Elvington is where TV star Richard Hammond crashed his jet-powered car in September. Motorcycle competition was part of the Reynard family heritage - grandfather Frank Reynard had raced in the Isle of Man 11 in 1924.
Adrian built his first racing car while studying mechanical engineering at the Oxford Polytech. Graduating with an HND in 1972, he was a competitor in the 750 motor club before going to work as a development engineer at British Leyland.
In 1973, he entered into a business venture with former MARCH production boss Bill Stone to form 'Sabre Automotive' at Bicester, eventually taking over the company and naming it 'Reynard' in 1977. Producing Formula Ford racing cars as well as racing them, it was a classic success story.
In 1979, David Leslie drove a Reynard car to victory in the British F2000 championship and Adrian himself won the Formula 2000 European title in the same year.
In 1994, Reynard was awarded an honorary degree in mechanical engineering at Oxford Brookes University, and continues today as visiting Professor to encourage students in the art of performance engineering.
The Reynard company has been presented with numerous awards, including The Henry Royce Gold Medal for Excellence and The Queen's Award for Export, a fitting tribute to one of Britain's great motor racing personalities, and a fine tribute to Oxford Brookes University of course.
I would be interested to know if OPAC is still a flourishing organization - anyone with information, please get in touch.