McLaren reunion lures original NZ mechanic
Wally Wilmott will be flying the Timaru flag at this month's McLaren Racing employee reunion in England.
Now based in Invercargill, the retired mechanic was one of the original members of the McLaren team, and this week left to be part of a series of celebrations being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing.
There were four in the team in the early days, and while McLaren himself was from Auckland, the remaining three - Mr Wilmott, publicist Eoin Young and McLaren's wife Pat (nee Broad) were all Timaru-based.
Mr Wilmott was looking forward to being back on familiar territory, catching up with some old colleagues, and remembering the man who made it all happen.
"I've got no idea who I might be bumping into at the McLaren reunion, but there will hopefully be some from my era there. There are a lot of people I'd like to catch up with."
Mr Wilmott said the early 1960s were the golden years of motor racing, before television - and the advertising dollars that went with it - changed everything.
"In those days, everybody knew everybody, and we'd all party together, have a good time together. Nowadays, it's so professional."
McLaren's South Canterbury connection came about in 1958, when he was in Timaru to compete in a hill climb. He met Mr Young, who invited him along to a dance at the Caroline Bay Hall. Pat Broad was there, McLaren was smitten, and the couple went on to marry and have a daughter, Amanda.
A later trip to South Canterbury coincided with Mr Wilmott finishing his auto-electrical apprenticeship at Young Brothers, opposite the Hydro Grand Hotel at the top end of Stafford St. The opportunity to work with McLaren was too good to pass up, and Mr Wilmott headed overseas in 1962.
He worked with McLaren Racing until 1968, then moved to Australia with his new wife.
"I retired to New Zealand when I reached retirement age ... but New Zealand has always been home."
He's a regular visitor back to his home town of Timaru; a sister still lives there, as is the workwear company his namesake uncle established in the Royal Arcade.
"I'm quite happy down here [Southland] at the moment. I've always been a bit of a gypsy, but I've been down here now for about four years, and have got my first block of land. I've never owned dirt before."
- © Fairfax NZ News