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NOTICE OF DEATH - KEITH GREENE (1938 - 2021)

With great regret we have to inform Members that Life Member Keith Greene suffered a fatal cardiac arrest last Monday 8 March. He was 83 years of age and was one of the longest-serving Members of the BRDC, having been originally elected in 1959. Although he progressed to Formula 1 as a driver, it was for his expertise as a team manager at the highest level that Keith became best known in later years.

Keith’s father Sydney Greene, through his company Gilby Engineering Ltd, had been a successful entrant of a Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica, with which Stirling Moss won the 1951 BRDC British Empire Trophy in the Isle of Man, and subsequently a Formula 1 Maserati 250F and Maserati A6GCS sports car with which Roy Salvadori enjoyed considerable success in the mid-1950s. It was no surprise therefore that Keith grew up infused with the passion for the sport which his father had but which was compromised as far as Syd was concerned by the loss of his left arm in his teens when a bus collided with his bicycle although he still competed until, in those pre-karting days, Keith was old enough to race cars.

Keith’s first car was a Cooper-Climax T39 ‘Manxtail’ in 1955 with which he enjoyed increasing success over the next few years including his first victory which came in a Goodwood Novices Handicap in early 1956. The following year Keith also had his first taste of single-seater racing, in the Gilby Maserati 250F no less, bringing the car home in fourth place in a formule libre race at Snetterton behind Archie Scott-Brown’s Lister-Jaguar and the Formula 2 Cooper-Climaxes of Brian Naylor and George Wicken. Most of his racing in 1957 was centred on Goodwood where his good results earned him runner up status in the prestigious Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy to Lotus Eleven driver Innes Ireland.

For 1958 Keith switched to a Lotus Eleven and continued to go well in the very competitive arena of 1100 cc sports car racing, taking wins at Goodwood, Snetterton and Brands Hatch. After a season-long battle he again finished second in the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy. Winner of the Trophy in 1959 was the late Michael Taylor, also with a Lotus Eleven, with whom Keith shared his car in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, the final round of the World Sports Car Championship, to finish 10th overall and second in the 1100 cc class. Keith had already tasted world championship sports car racing earlier in the year when sharing David Piper’s Lotus Eleven to 15th place and fifth in the 1100 cc class in the Nurburgring 1000 Kms.

The Eleven was replaced for 1959 by the latest Lotus offering, the Type 17, designed by Len Terry. Up against the new Lola-Climax Mk 1, the 17 struggled with Keith’s version tending to be the best of the non-Lolas. An early season trip to the Gran Premio di Napoli at Posillipo was rewarded with third place behind the OSCAs of Giulio Cabianca and ‘Wal Ever’ (Walter Breviglieri). A month later Keith returned to the ‘Ring to share David Piper’s Lotus Type 15 before he headed for Le Mans where he shared a Team Lotus 750 cc Coventry-Climax-engined Type 17 with works driver Alan Stacey. Midway through they were running rings round the French opposition in the very valuable Index of Performance only for a distributor fault to cause loss of water and overheating which led to retirement of what proved to be the fastest ever 750 cc-engined car seen at La Sarthe.

Single-seaters also beckoned for 1959 when Gilby Engineering acquired a 1500 cc Formula 2 Cooper-Climax T43, another car which started its career in Keith’s hands very promisingly when he finished sixth overall and second in the F2 class of the strongly-supported Aintree 200. First and second were the Ferrari Dino 246s of Jean Behra and Tony Brooks while best of the F2s was Keith’s good friend Michael Taylor. When Keith returned to the Liverpool circuit for the British Grand Prix in July armed with a 2.5 litre Coventry Climax engine in his Cooper, he unfortunately failed to qualify. Another good result came at the short-lived Whitchurch airfield circuit near Bristol where Keith finished second to the similar car of Henry (no relation of Michael) Taylor. A 2.5 litre Cooper-Maserati T45 was a not particularly successful attempt to make a mark in Formula 1, second place in a national race at Snetterton to the similarly-powered Cooper of Brian Naylor being the best result. Continuing the two-car strategy, Syd Greene commissioned Len Terry to design a Climax-powered sports-racing car to take on the Lola Mk 1s which usually prevailed although the Gilby Mk 1 as it was known won at Brands Hatch at the end of the season in Keith’s hands. Keith’s season with the Gilby Mk 1 was only briefly disrupted by a major accident at the May Daily Express BRDC meeting at Silverstone when he crashed heavily on the opening lap at Abbey from which he emerged relatively unscathed with just minor cuts and a headache. This did not deter Keith from racing the following weekend in the Nurburgring 1000 Ks with Doug Graham in the latter’s Lotus Type 15 with which they finished 18th from 67 starters. The Gilby was soon back in action achieving success in the hands of rising Formula Junior star Peter Arundell when Keith was racing elsewhere.

The advent of the 1.5 litre Formula 1 for 1961 presented many privateers with the opportunity to  tackle the top single-seater category, many in Cooper chassis but some, Gilby Engineering being one, opting to build their own cars. Once again Len Terry was the designer but the engine was the inevitable 4-cylinder Coverntry-Climax FPF unit.  During a test session at Goodwood Bruce McLaren tried the car and lapped within a tenth of the lap record for the class. Without the resources to tackle a full F1 world championship season, Keith raced the Gilby principally in British events including the British Grand Prix in which he finished 15th with a best result of 4th in the Lewis-Evans Trophy, a late-season national F1 race at Brands Hatch, and a win in a formule libre event at Snetterton. The one venture overseas, to the tiny circuit at Roskilde for the Danish Grand Prix, produced a sixth place on aggregate across three heats. During the year Keith also tried his hand at some GT racing both with a Lotus Elite and a Porsche Carrera 356B with mixed results.

With the writing on the wall for the 4-cylinder F1 cars in 1962, Syd Greene agreed with BRM to supply one of its new V8 engines which was installed in a revised version of the same Len Terry-designed chassis. However, the engine took time to arrive and the car was not ready until the German Grand Prix in August so that Keith started the season still with four cylinders behind him. In fact the results in non-championship races were good with three fourth places in succession at Bruxelles, Snetterton and Goodwood against quality opposition followed by third place at Naples (shades of 1959) behind the works Ferrari Dino 156s of Willy Mairesse and Lorenzo Bandini but ahead of a mixed bag of privateers. The BRM venture was not a success, at least as far as Keith was concerned. He reckoned that the V8 engine was certainly no match for the factory cars and probably no better than his 4-cylinder Climax unit. The car retired from the German Grand Prix, struggled to the finish but many laps behind in the Mediterranean Grand Prix at Enna-Pergusa, and failed to qualify for the Italian Grand Prix. The car was then sold to Formula Junior privateer Ian Raby who achieved a few finishes during the 1963 season, the best of which by far was third place in the Gran Premio di Roma at Vallelunga, albeit against a less than formidable entry.

With his Formula 1 aspirations abandoned, Keith reverted to sports car racing for 1963 and acquired a new Lotus 23B, a car which was proving so popular that Lotus could not turn them out fast enough. The Normand team cars of Mike Beckwith and Tony Hegbourne, joined on occasion by none other than Jim Clark, and Frank Gardner’s Ian Walker Racing Brabham BT5, provided the main opposition but Keith was regularly ‘best of the rest’ in a confidence-boosting campaign after the Formula 1 disappointments and frustrations. It was also in 1963 that Keith was invited by Dick Jacobs to join his team of MG Midgets, usually for the longer races where two drivers were required for each car. This arrangement continued into 1964 with a best result of sixth overall and third in the 1300cc GT class in the Nurburgring 500 ks sharing with Alan Foster. The same overall result was achieved the following year in a Donald Healey-entered Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite with Clive Baker. Sharing Bob Ellice’s Uptune Lotus Elan 26R in the 1966 Brands Hatch 500 miles, Keith finished fifth while the following year he was invited to co-drive the late Chris Barber’s Lotus 47 with John Hine in the Nurburgring 1000 Ks and the Brands Hatch 6 Hours although the car retired on both occasions.

As Keith’s career as a driver wound down, he still remained very much involved in the motor racing industry. As Competitions Manager for Armstrong shock absorbers, used by the majority of F1 cars in the mid 1960s, he attended most Grands Prix before joining Alan Mann Racing as team manager for Frank Gardner’s Ford Falcon which won the British Saloon Car championship in 1967. From there Keith moved to Broadspeed where his old friend from schooldays Chris Craft was one of the drivers. Second overall and a 1300 cc class win was the reward in 1969. Whilst at Broadspeed Keith oversaw the installation of a Cosworth DFV engine in Alain de Cadenet’s Ecurie Evergreen McLaren M8C. In 1971 he ran wealthy American David Weir’s Ferrari 512M to 4th place at Le Mans with Chris as the lead driver.

Over the years which followed Keith became one of the most highly regarded team managers in the business. In 1972 he was asked by Bernie Ecclestone to manage his newly-acquired Brabham Formula 1 team with Graham Hill, Carlos Reutemann and Wilson Fittipaldi as the drivers before moving over to run the Hexagon of Highgate Brabhams driven by John Watson. The list of teams for which he worked subsequently contains many of the best known names in endurance racing: Spice, Rondeau, Richard Lloyd Racing, Nissan, Toyota and of course Alain de Cadenet’s Ecurie Evergreen. Later there was a move back to the BTCC with Vic Lee Motorsport in Tim Harvey’s championship-winning year (1992) and the Renault Dealer Team with Alain Menu as driver. Keith’s experience as a driver himself coupled with his training as an engineer enabled him to see and deal with situations from various angles.

Until he chose to retire to the Isle of Wight where he sailed, Keith was always in demand to bring his skills and experience to various aspects of the sport in which he had been steeped from childhood thanks to his father’s passion. An entertaining raconteur, Keith always had something amusing, interesting and pertinent to say about the sport. It is a supreme irony, so sad for their many friends that Keith has passed away just 17 days after his lifelong mate Chris Craft. To his wife Fiona, his family and many friends the BRDC offers its deepest condolences. 

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