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NOTICE OF DEATH - ALAIN DE CADENET (1945-2022)

We very much regret having to inform Members that Life Member Alain de Cadenet died last Saturday 2 July. He was 76 years old and had been suffering from cancer for some time. Alain had been a Full Member since 1977.

Racing driver, racing team owner, racing car constructor, raconteur, connoisseur of fine wines, collector of fine cars and historic aircraft, philatelist, television and film presenter, photographer, motor racing historian and a most knowledgeable member of the Alfisti, were just some of the roles in which De Cad, as he was generally known, illuminated the world. However, the interest in cars only began in his early 20s after a visit to Brands Hatch when his girlfriend was whisked away from him by a racing driver whereupon, as he used to tell the story, he decided that he needed to enhance his appeal to the opposite sex by becoming a racing driver himself.

At the time Alain was working a freelance photographer for the pirate radio stations Radio Caroline and Radio London. His road car was a Ford Zephyr-engined AC Ace 2.6, a rare machine and the forerunner of the AC Cobra. In the mid ‘60s it was not uncommon to drive to race circuits in your racing car, compete in a couple of races, and then drive home, assuming no accident or mechanical damage had intervened. The Ace-Zephyr fulfilled this role admirably but was soon replaced by a Porsche 904 which was much more a purpose-built racing machine although eminently driveable on the public highway. In his quest to become a racing driver, the 904’s attributes appealed to Alain although Porsche had replaced it with the 906/Carrera 6. The 904 gave way to a Ferrari Dino 206S towards the end of 1968 as Alain became more ambitious and started racing internationally. This was the era when good start and prize money were on offer from race organisers throughout Europe, attracting many British teams armed with Ford GT40s, Lola T70s, Chevrons and Porsches. In July 1969 Alain, with Mike Walton as his co-driver, finished a class-winning sixth in the Vila Real 6 Hours, a race won the Porsche 908/02 of David Piper/Chris Craft from the Lola T70 Mk 3B Gt of Mike De Udy/Frank Gardner.

The 908/02 replaced the Dino for 1970 as Alain formed a partnership with American steel heir David Weir to become Ecurie Evergreen. Fifth place in the Buenos Aires 1000 Ks in January, with local driver Carlos Pairetti, was the best result with the 908 while the team also ran a 2-litre Lola T210 and a Ford GT40 with limited success apart from an outstanding second place for Chris Craft in the Lola T210 to the Porsche 917 of Jurgen Neuhaus in an Interserie race at Thruxton. Alain started 1971 by sharing a North American Racing Team Ferrari 312P with Nestor Garcia-Veiga and Luigi Chinetti Jr to second place in the Daytona 24 Hours. In early May Alain crashed the little Lola quite heavily in the Targa Florio in which a blow on the head temporarily cost him the sight in one eye. He had done a deal with Ecurie Francorchamps to share a Ferrari 512M with Baron Hughes de Fierlandt in the Le Mans 24 Hours, an opportunity which he was determined not to miss so he succeeded in fiddling his way through the pre-race medical with less than perfect vision. The car retired in the 18th hour with a broken gearbox, but Alain would be back. 

A month or so after Le Mans Alain took fourth place in the Watkins Glen 6 Hours round of the World Sports Car Championship, sharing the Ecurie Francorchamps 512M with German-American Can-Am front runner Lothar Motschenbacher. However, the season’s excitement was not over yet for Ecurie Evergreen had acquired one of the ex-works F1 Brabham BT33s which was entered in the non-championship Oulton Park Gold Cup for Chris Craft who finished fifth. The car was then entered for the last two F1 World Championship races in Canada and the USA, engine failure precluding a start in the former and suspension and tyre problems bringing about an early retirement at Watkins Glen.

Alain’s involvement with contemporary Formula 1 concluded with a short spell as team manager for Graham Hill’s newly-established F1 team in 1973 when he was fired during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend for driving the team’s Shadow DN1 from the paddock to the pits, a not untypical practice at the time, but the Brabham BT33 itself was playing a significant role in the next phase of Alain’s career. He had been well and truly bitten by the Le Mans bug. With a 3-litre capacity limit being imposed on the World Sports Car Championship, Alain explored the possibility of acquiring a state-of-the-art Ferrari 312PB only to be told by the factory that a private team like his would not be capable of running such a specialised machine. So why not build your own car to win Le Mans? One of the Brabham factory employees was a young South African – Gordon Murray- who was recommended to Alain as someone capable of designing a car capable of winning Le Mans. The result was that, working in his spare time, Gordon created what came to be known, at least initially, as the Duckhams LM in deference to its principal sponsor, Duckhams Oil, who had contributed £500! The engine was a second-hand Cosworth DFV which was fettled by an aspirational young Kiwi, John Nicholson, while the F1 Brabham was relieved of its suspension and various other components to create a serious Le Mans contender in about six weeks. After running as high as fifth, with a couple of hours remaining, Chris Craft, who was sharing the driving with Alain, was caught out on slicks by a sudden downpour and hit the barriers in the Dunlop curve. He dragged the car back to the Pits where it was repaired sufficiently to take the flag in 12th place. 

Over the next couple of years, the De Cadenet was developed with victory at Le Mans remaining the principal goal before being disposed of to Colin Hawker who converted it into the DFVW Super Saloon. Alain acquired a Lola T380 with which he and Chris Craft took third place in 1976 behind only the factory Porsche 936 of Jacky Ickx/Gijs van Lennep and the Harley Cluxton Mirage M8 of Jean-Louis Lafosse/Francois Migault. The Lola T380 was replaced for 1977 by another Lola-derived DFV-powered chassis into which Gordon Murray again had significant input, Alain and Chris bringing it home in fifth place overall. With backing from the British Post Office, Alain took this latest De Cadenet Lola to the 1978 Can-Am series, achieving a best result of fifth at Trois-Rivieres. In 1979, with Francois Migault as co-driver Alain finished second in the Silverstone 6 Hours round of the World Sports Car Championship to the Porsche 935 of John Fitzpatrick, Hans Heyer and Bob Wollek while better was to come the following year when Alain, now with Desire Wilson as co-driver, won both the Monza 1000 Ks and the Silverstone 6 Hours WSC rounds, having started the year with third place in the Brands Hatch 6 Hours. With these results behind them, the De Cadenet/Wilson pairing went to the 1980 Le Mans as one of the favourites only for Desire to be excluded from the race when the official timekeepers ‘lost’ her better (of only two) lap times. With Francois Migault as his only co-driver, Alain finished seventh.

When his newly-acquired Ford C100 could not be prepared in time for the 1981 race, Alain gave the De Cadenet Lola one more Le Mans outing in unfamiliar Belga livery, sharing with the Belgian brothers Jean-Michel and Philippe Martin. They were running as high as fifth overall in the middle of the night before being delayed by fuel pump problems, the car eventually retiring with engine failure. With his keen appreciation of motor racing history, Alain drove to Le Mans in 1982 in his Alfa Romeo 8C-2300, the very car with which Sir Henry Birkin and Earl Howe had won the race 50 years earlier in 1932. A few years earlier, with the little team’s single Transit van showing the strain of transporting the necessary equipment to Le Mans, Alain had eased its burden by deploying his 1928 Bentley Speed Six to tow the trailer carrying the De Cadenet through France. 

For his 14th Le Mans in 1983 Alain teamed up with Yves Courage, very much a man after his own heart who passionately wanted to win the Great Race, but their Cougar C02-Cosworth DFL, with third driver Michel Dubois, hit problems early on from which it never really recovered before retiring in the middle of the night. In 1984 Alain and Chris Craft were invited by Paul Vestey to share a Porsche 956 with Australian touring car superstar Allan Grice although they missed the first practice session after being asked to show HM the Queen Mother around a display of historic Le Mans cars at a nearby Abbaye. Come the race, a steady run after early problems seemed to be paying off with the car knocking on the door of the top 10 in the 22nd hour when the engine failed. For his last two Le Mans 24 Hours Alain returned to Yves Courage’s team to finish 20th in 1985 and 18th in 1986 in his 16th race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

By the late 1980s Alain had called time on racing contemporary cars but he continued to be a very active competitor in historic racing, often being entrusted with some very rare and valuable machinery. At some time or other he probably raced most of the F1 cars of the 2.5 litre era including a Vanwall, Aston Martin DBR4, BRM P25, Cooper-Climax T51 and the rest. That said, he was strongly of the view that the races which really mattered and made history were those for modern machinery, the Le Mans 24 Hours being a prime example, while historic racing was enjoyable but of no great significance in the overall scheme of things.  

In his later years Alain was much in demand as a television presenter for amongst others Speed Channel, ESPN, Velocity Channel and making the Legends of Motorsport and Victory by Design series of programmes. His punctuality may have been less than perfect but his performance once in front of the camera was invariably perfect.

Alain was married twice, first to Anna with whom he had a daughter Amanda and a son Alexander, and then to Alison with whom he had a second son Aidan. Note the preponderance of the initial letter ‘A’! The BRDC offers its most profound condolences to Alain’s family and many friends at the loss of a remarkable enthusiast – truly a Renaissance Man.  In lieu of flowers, donations are welcomed to the Royal Marsden Hospital via the following link https://alfaman.muchloved.com/

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