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It is with great sadness that we must notify Members of the death of Life Member Tony Dron last Monday at the age of 75. He had been suffering from chronic pulmonary obstructive disease for some time. Last month he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia, then partially discharged with the prognosis that recovery should be achieved within a couple of months but sadly it wasn’t to be.

Tony combined race driving with journalism and excelled at both. In 1968 he was one of the many aspiring young drivers who saw the newly-introduced Formula Ford as an affordable route to Formula 1 stardom. A kindred spirit was James Hunt and they became great friends although their friendship almost ended prematurely when Tony spun his Titan Mk 4 at Oulton Park’s Cascades corner across the bows of James’s Alexis Mk 14. Tony could only watch as the future World Champion flew into the nearby lake, happily to emerge after a short while with water pouring from him. In his first 12 months with the Titan Tony took part in 45 events, finishing eighth in the national Les Leston Formula Ford Championship with a best result of second. Shortage of funds meant that the Titan had to be sold partway through 1969 when Tony was running third in the national championship.

It was also in 1968 that Tony was awarded the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Sir William Lyons Scholarship as the most promising newcomer to motoring journalism under the age of 23. At the time he was contributing race reports to Autocar magazine. With his racing career temporarily on hold Tony found employment with motor sport entrepreneur Nick Brittan who was promoting the European Formula Ford series. The inaugural champion in 1969 had been Gerry Birrell and, while the talented young Scottish driver moved on to Formula 3, Tony was able to spend part of 1970 in Gerry’s Crossle 16F.

In January 1971 Tony moved into mainstream motoring journalism when he became Road Test Writer for Motor magazine, being elevated two years later to become Sports Editor. By then, however, he had re-launched his racing career by persuading a couple of London Ford dealerships that they should back him in the recently-announced Ford Escort Mexico championship. In 1973, Tony’s second full year in tin tops, supported by Strakers of Wimbledon, he finished third in the national championship including his first race victory - in the rain at Oulton Park.

For 1974 Tony was offered the opportunity by Ralph Broad to become team mate to fellow Formula Ford and Escort Mexico star Andy Rouse in the British Saloon Car Championship for which the regulations had substantially changed from the highly-modified Group 2 to the closer to production specification Group 1, thus admitting such as the Broadspeed Triumph Dolomite Sprints. Although Tony enjoyed less success than Andy in the British Saloon Car Championship, when they were able to share a car in the Spa 24 Hours, fifth overall and third in class was the result. In the RAC Tourist Trophy at Silverstone, which attracted a very strong entry despite not having championship status, and which lasted well over three hours, Tony drove solo to finish third overall behind only two Chevrolet Camaros. For this he was awarded the Challenge Paul Frere and the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Rootes Gold Cup.

Having committed himself to a full time career as a professional driver when the offer from Broadspeed came along for 1974, Tony found himself displaced by political machinations at the end of the year although it was far from the last time he would be seen at the wheel of a Broadspeed Dolomite. It was also at this time that Tony was elected as a Ful Member of the BRDC. He spent 1975 in the BSCC at the wheel of a relatively uncompetitive Alfa Romeo 1600 GT Junior entered by Roger Clark, perhaps the highpoint of the season being a class win and 13th place overall on the Tour of Britain in a Fiat 128 Coupe 1300SL. A return to single-seaters for 1976 promised much but delivered little. One day the full story may be told but suffice it to say that the Holbay-tuned Dolomite engine in the Unipart-liveried March 763 was not particularly competitive, Tony only occasionally scraping into the top six.

A return to touring cars and the Broadspeed Dolomites for the next two years brought Tony some of his most successful racing years. By 1977 the American V8s had been sent packing but the 2-litre Dolomite still had to contend with a swarm of 3-litre Capris. In his first year back in the BSCC, Tony won seven of the 12 races outright, won the 2.3-litre class on 10 occasions and only just lost the championship by one point to the Chrysler Avenger of Bernard Unett in the class below. An unforgettable highlight of the year was Tony’s victory in the BSCC race supporting the British Grand Prix at Silverstone when he saw off a veritable galaxy of star drivers in Capris to win the race by 12 seconds from the best of the Capris driven by the late Chris Craft. British Leyland couldn’t have asked for more in front of a Grand Prix crowd. The following year (1978) was much the same in the sense that Tony and the Dolomite dominated the 2300 cc class although, apart from a win in the wet in the opening round at Silverstone, the Capris now had the performance to see off the Dolomite.

It was also in 1978 that Tony had his first racing acquaintance with a sports car when he won the Porsche 924 Championship. With British Leyland no longer supporting the ageing Dolomite, Tony had to look elsewhere. The success with the Porsche 924 led to the chance to share an example with Andy Rouse and Win Percy to win the Commander’s Cup at Snetterton, in the process setting a British 2-litre 24-hour record. Also with Andy, Tony took ninth place in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Silverstone in an Opel Monza while he drove a BMW 323i to three wins from four races to help Nottinghamshire win the BMW County Challenge. The first of Tony’s four visits to the Le Mans 24 Hours came in 1980 when he shared a Porsche 924GTR, again with Andy Rouse, to finish 12th overall, fifth in class but second (to the race-winning Rondeau M379B) in the financially-rewarding Index of Energy Efficiency. Tony also joined forces with enthusiastic club racer Richard Cleare to share the latter’s Porsche 934 in rounds of the World Championship of Makes in the 6 Hour races at Silverstone (8th overall), Vallelunga (10th overall) and Dijon (11th overall).

A return to Le Mans in 1981 with Richard Lloyd to share the latter’s Porsche 924 Carrera GTR Turbo was a major disappointment when the factory-fresh engine lacked the performance to enable them to qualify. A full season in the World Championship of Makes with Richard Cleare was planned for 1982, producing some decent results including fifth overall and first in the IMSA GTO class in the Nurburgring 1000 Ks on the Nordschleife, 13th overall and first in the Group 4 class at Le Mans (sharing with both Richard Cleare and Richard Jones) and 14th overall and a first in the Group 4 class in the Brands Hatch 1000 Ks. The Guild of Motoring Writers awarded Tony the Rootes Gold Cup for the second time; he was to win it again in 1990.

Richard Cleare acquired the Group C, Porsche-derived Kremer CK5 for 1983 but the car proved troublesome for the small team, the only result of note being sixth overall in the WCM race at Brands Hatch. This was the year in which Tony was appointed editor of Classic Cars magazine, a post which he held with distinction and deep knowledge for the next 11 years. The old team of Andy Rouse, Win Percy and Tony, joined by Phil Dowsett, won the Willhire 24 Hours at Snetterton in a Porsche 928S and he joined the Caterham Seven team for the Birkett Six-Hour Relay at Silverstone which brought victory on handicap.

After 1983, until he hung up his helmet in 2011, Tony raced and rallied a great variety of cars, principally in historic racing where owners were very happy to allow him to show what their cars were capable of and in the process, of course, enabling those looking on to appreciate them.  He was one of the select few, along with John Surtees and Jochen Mass, to be entrusted by Mercedes to demonstrate the 1930s Silver Arrows. Among the many memorable historic car races in which Tony competed, those which particularly stand out are his victory in the 1996 Eifel Klassik with the Ferrari 330LMB, driving solo, and his three successive wins in the Sussex Trophy at the Goodwood Revival in the Ferrari Dino 246S. In total Tony reckoned that he had won races in 24 different makes encompassing 41 different models.

After retiring from Classic Cars Tony continued to write eruditely for various magazines although he didn’t write that many books. He collaborated with Alan Mann and Raymond Baxter on their autobiographies, both of which are of the highest quality. In retirement, and despite his chronic illness, Tony maintained a keen interest in the motor racing world. The meticulous journalist was always present, ensuring that facts were correct and wincing when errors were perpetrated. Journalists who can race to the same high standard as they can write are few and far between. Tony was one of those very few and will be very much missed.

The Club extends its deepest condolences to Tony’s partner Charis, to his children Amy, Will and Katy, and to Tony's brother Peter. Funeral details will be shared on the BRDC website once they are known.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Neville Hay, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1993
The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
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