In an interview years later, Head recalled he and Barnard “almost falling about” with laughter when they saw this 45-year-old taxi driver with an engine and dreams of competing in Super Vee.
“They thought: ‘Here’s an old boy!’” says Ronnie, remembering the moment.
Fast forward 50 years and the same Patrick Head, who, quite by coincidence, turns up to take him out to lunch, couldn’t be more respectful. Anxious to whisk Ronnie away for a beer, the legendary racing car designer, who, with Frank Williams, founded the Williams Formula 1 racing team for which he served as technical director for 27 years, pauses to admit only to “breathing on Ronnie’s engines”.
“The secret was getting a decent camshaft,” he chuckles as the pair head over the road to the Falcon pub.
Doubtless, Ronnie will bring his old mate up to speed with the latest round in the controversial decision of Network Rail, his landlord that owned the arches he operates from, to sell its commercial property portfolio last year. It included over 4500 businesses located in railway arches around the UK and, as Network Rail was preparing the sale, it told tenants they could expect their rents to rise by 54%.
The deal went through last September when Telereal Trillium and Blackstone Property Partners purchased the portfolio on a leasehold basis. However, this May, the National Audit Office criticised the deal for the absence of any legal guarantees concerning the scale of future rent rises.
“One thing we do know is that our annual rent will more than double over the next three years – from £33,000 to £70,000,” says George, Ronnie’s son, who now runs the family’s garage.
Father and son aren’t taking it lying down. For the past four years, they and their fellow members of tenants’ association Guardians of the Arches have been fighting to protect their rights and interests.