Tour the classic car collection of BTCC legend Patrick Watts

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by Mike Renaut |

From a Mini Cooper S to his former British Touring Car Championship Peugeot 406, Patrick Watts’ varied group of cars all provide that key element – oodles of smiles per mile

With a career spanning four decades of circuit racing and rallying, there’s very little that Patrick Watts hasn’t driven. His collection reflects his interest in fast machines that are rewarding to drive.

‘I enjoy all my cars; they were bought with passion and an eye on investment. I think of them as a portfolio as much as a collection. It’s a much more enjoyable than keeping money in a bank account.

‘I’ve been busy with a barn conversion to store the cars,’ explains Patrick. ‘I was painting floors yesterday. The workshop is gradually getting all the equipment I require – a 5000psi compressor for air bottles needed for air jacks and wheel guns, a flat chassis alignment area, corner weight scales for suspension set-up and a two-post lift. Keeping track of spares and equipment needed for each race meeting requires a properly racked-out storage area. I may need a computerised inventory system soon.

‘Being a professional racing driver for many years I no longer need to prove myself. Historic racing is a way of justifying owning the race cars. The Metro and Peugeot I used to race for a living; now it’s for old time’s sake. Winning is still the aim and constant development, within the regulations, is part of the fun and challenge.’

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Old rivals are welcome to re-enact past battles on the Scalextric ©Matt Richardson

There’s an element of play mixed into the work, with a large Scalextric layout in one corner of the garage. ‘I’m trying to find a model of every car I owned or raced,’ explains Patrick, indicating a shelf of Metro Turbos, Porsches, a Mustang and even an Allard. Do other professional drivers pop round to re-enact old rivalries with the miniature racers? ‘Sometimes, but they never win…’

2000 BMW Z8

‘I’d only seen one of these before. A colleague in Germany had one brand-new in 1999 and he was very proud of it. It was 2006 before I found one – the local BMW dealership was asking 80 grand for it, but after driving it I had to have one.

‘This was cheaper and had 17,000 miles on it. It now has 17,500 miles – I’ve barely had time to drive it. With the M5 engine it’s very quick; not the ultimate sports car but a fast road tourer. Journalists said the Z8 was wallowly. That’s rubbish; lower profile tyres and stiffer springs would ruin it.’

1950 Allard J2

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The 5.4-litre Allard J2 boasts competition history going back to 1950 ©Matt Richardson

When I contacted Patrick to arrange our visit he was on the Circuit des Remparts in Angoulême with the Allard, where an unfortunate incident put him out of the event. ‘At about 100mph a leather strap snapped – possibly from exhaust heat – and the Allard’s aluminium bonnet flew backward and hit me on the head as I approached the braking area for a hairpin on the fastest part of the wall-lined old circuit. The bonnet blocked all but a view to the right. I rode up one kerb and spun into another.’ That kerb was six inches high. It severely dented the wheel and smashed the steering box. ‘It only steers left now. I became a spectator for the remainder of the weekend. Lots of French cooking and red wine made up for what could have been a nasty accident.’

Patrick bought the 5.4-litre Cadillac-engined Allard from historic racer Malcolm Verey. ‘I wanted a car eligible for the Mille Miglia, Le Mans support race and Monaco Historic. It’s got competition history back to 1950 and has been beautifully race-prepared by RW Racing. With 50/50 weight distribution there’s excellent traction but typically the brakes are awful.

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After the Angoulême crash the Allard can only steer left ©Matt Richardson

‘The front is a split beam axle. If only Allard had put a decent front end on them. Formula Ford drivers complain about bump steer and I think, “drive this – I’ll show you bump steer!” I’ve campaigned the Allard at Monaco twice and in the 2013 Mille Miglia. At Silverstone or Brands it’s competitive against the quickest C- and D-type Jags and sounds fantastic with straight-through pipes – especially when we drove to Tesco during Goodwood!’

1977 Jaguar XJC

‘I was at the Silverstone Auctions celebrating 50 years of the E-type. Among the hundreds of E-types this XJC stood out. I asked the chap nearest me if I could borrow his catalogue to look up the reserve price. “It’s £15,000 – it’s my car,” he said. He was a retired engineer for Perkins Diesels and he’d home-restored the Jaguar and won loads of concours competitions. The car had done 4000 miles since the 2001 rebuild. There was dust halfway down the propshaft where he couldn’t reach to polish it – otherwise it was better than new inside and out. I paid £22,000 and I think it’s likely the best one anywhere.’

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1977 Jaguar XJC and 1983 MG Metro Turbo Watts raced in 1983-84 ©Matt Richardson

1983 MG Metro Turbo

‘I raced this Metro in 1983 and 1984 for Austin Rover Group under John Davenport. The first event was supporting the F1 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch the day after I married Pam.’ For that, the Metro had ‘just married’ painted on the rear screen.

‘I was leading the BTCC series in ’85 when Austin Rover pulled out due to politics in the TWR Rover Vitesse side of the team.’ Two of the Metros were converted for long-distance races with quick-fill tanks and air jacks; they proved fast but not reliable. ‘I bought it when Motor Racing Legends conceived a race series for genuine Historic Group A cars. It has 200bhp and weighs 900kg so it’s tricky on old, cold slicks. The Metro remains very original; you can see it’s signwritten by hand.

‘RW Racing recommissioned it with new lines and hoses, brakes etc. The engine and gearbox went to Swiftune. With Quaife gears and a few technological updates the car has been made reliable. Modern tweaks include a Lambda gauge and modern Millers oil especially developed for this engine/gearbox.

‘I shared it with Nick Swift in the JD Classics one-hour race at Donington this year and we came second overall in front of the ex-works Rover SD1 and Jaguar XJ-S – beaten by Steve Soper in a Cologne Capri.

‘This is chassis number six. I’ve just found chassis five in Greece – that will join my collection next month.’

1998 Peugeot 406 touring cars

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Peugot 406 number 12: a four-time Super Touring Championship winner ©Matt Richardson

‘Built for the 1998 British Touring Car Championship for Tim Harvey and Paul Radisich, these cost £400,000 each even then. In 1997 I’d left touring cars and in 1999 these 406s were sent to Australia. I was invited to do their Super Touring Championship in number 12, Tim’s old car. The big teams like Audi and Volvo had a transporter for each car but we turned up with a ute and a beer cooler and put it on pole thanks to engineer Paul Grimm. After winning four races I was second in the championship but had to return to the UK. The Peugeots then sat for 12 years.

‘I bought them with my friend Malcolm Harrison when I heard about a race series for Super Touring. After a few races and a couple of wins the car is better than ever. We’re putting a team together and will continue racing in HSCC Super Touring.

‘These are not easy cars to work on – there’s no manual or instructions. It takes a lot of thinking to remove anything because it’s F1 technology crammed into a 406 shell. They had 20 technicians in period, now there’s just two of us. I had to source an old computer because the data logging uses Windows 98. We supported the BTCC this year and got a great response from the current BTCC drivers who watched these as kids, which makes me and my Pug feel old!’

1964 Morris Mini 970S

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Mini 970S is used regularly enough to attract parking tickets ©Matt Richardson

‘My first car was a Mini 850. I started racing in the Mini 850 Challenge and was national champion in 1979. A few years ago I realised how rare the 970S Minis had become. This one turned up at Sussex Sportscars in 2011 for £27,000. It had previously been restored by a bodywork specialist but was in need of mechanical TLC. The rear subframe was misaligned; the hubs and brakes weren’t up to scratch. Nick Swift at Swiftune rebuilt it for me, blueprinted and balanced the engine and put a slightly hotter cam in. Other than having the close-circuit breather removed it’s standard. I use it a lot, hence that parking ticket you’ve just found…’

1965 Ford Mustang

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At one point the fastest pre- 1966 FIA Mustang ©Matt Richardson

‘I’d been competing in historic rallying for about five years with my Sunbeam Tiger, which is currently in pieces being restored, but rallying isn’t very sociable. Pam spent hours travelling to stages to see me drive past just once. The Mustang was my way back into circuit racing. It was already a race car, at one point the fastest pre-1966 FIA Mustang. The 2000lb front springs meant there was no grip. The only give was from the bodyshell twisting – rear bulkhead rivets were popping out. I halved the spring rate with softer coils and leaves.

‘It’s painted for the Goodwood Revival where I shared driving with Steve Soper. I gave it a fictitious livery that’s closer to a Seventies NASCAR. With 420bhp and weighing 1260kg – 60 over homologated weight – it’s fantastic to drive. It steers on the throttle. I could lose that extra 60kg but I’d have to install a titanium exhaust, lightweight modern radiator and do all sorts not permitted in FIA class racing. This Mustang still has a copper radiator to conform to FIA rules.’

1973 Jaguar E-type

Unrestored with 25,000 miles on the clock, a four-speed manual gearbox and factory right-hand drive, it’s easy to see why Patrick bought this roadster. ‘A friend had one and

I always coveted it. It’s the first E-type I’ve owned. The seller looked at hundreds and I trusted his judgement since his business dealt in top-quality cars. I wanted one that was totally rust-free and it’s had no expense spared. Whenever I buy a car I’m looking at the previous owner just as much as the car.

‘It’s what I call a dinner-party car; perfect for a meal in the country with my wife. Pam loves this Jaguar. It drives like a limo; it’s my “tour the south of France car”. I don’t actually like the colour but it’s a totally original car – I can’t make changes to original cars like these, except maybe adding a phone charger. It’s a car I can have a lot of fun in at sensible speeds.’

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The 1973 E-type is for gentle use. Watts isn’t keen on the colour, but prefers to keep it original anyway ©Matt Richardson

Patrick is certainly happy with his collection and feels he has about the right number of cars. Is there anything missing?

‘I would like a Formula One car – especially a JPS Lotus. For me to enjoy a car it’s the faster, the better.

‘But I look on my cars pragmatically; I won’t buy one if it means changing my life to accommodate it. I enjoy the historic racing – it’s far more ferocious now than when the cars were new. If you pick your series carefully you can have a really good competition out on track. It’s vital to me that a car is perfect mechanically. When you’re queueing at the start of a rally stage on a narrow track with cars front and behind you don’t want to be under the bonnet trying to find an electrical short.’

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