12 September 2013

Wolf made impact on Formula One, Lamborghini

Name was associated with cars, motorcycles and aftershave

If you’re a die-hard Formula One motor-racing fan and followed the series in the ’70s, the name Walter Wolf should be familiar to you.

There was a time when the Walter Wolf brand name was attached to cars, motorcycles, aftershave, cigarettes and watches.

Wolf, an astute self-made multimillionaire, has always had a passion for cars and motor racing, so when he was in a position financially, he entered the world of motor racing.

Having never done anything in half measure, he naturally started at the top. Wolf took control of the Williams Team in 1975 and later purchased the assets of the Hesketh Team. The next four years proved to be exciting for Wolf as he assembled an “A” team of F1 professionals, including designer and engineer Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite, team manager Peter Warr and top-flight drivers, including Jacky Ickx, Arturo Merzario, Keke Rosberg, Jody Scheckter, James Hunt and Bobby Rahal.

If you’re not familiar with the name James Hunt, you will be in a few weeks when the Ron Howard movie, Rush, is released, which features the ‘life and death’ battle between Hunt and Nikki Lauda for the 1976 Formula One title.

The first time Wolf’s team of two cars entered a Grand Prix, Scheckter crossed the finish line first in the Argentine Grand Prix (something never done before or since). Two more victories followed in the same year, including the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Wolf also supported Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve in a Can-Am car effort in 1977 and supported B.C. racer Kees Nierop in his challenge for the British Formula Three Championship.

The Wolf Racing Team came to an end after the U.S. Grand Prix in 1979, which I attended. Wolf sold it to Brazilian driver Emerson Fittipaldi.

Wolf was also very involved with the Lamborghini car company, and has never really been given the credit he deserves for keeping the doors open and paying the bills when the Italian sports car manufacturer was on the verge of bankruptcy. I mentioned this to Stephan Winkelmann, the CEO of Lamborghini, a few weeks ago in California. He replied there are lots of stories about Lamborghini, some true and some not so true!

I could not have been in a better place to have Winkelmann’s remark put to the test. On stage at The Quail in Carmel Valley, an armchair interview with two longtime Lamborghini employees and legends was part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Lamborghini Company. The two guests were Ubaldo Sgarzi (General Sales Manager 1964-1994) and Valentino Balboni (Chief Test Driver 1968-2008).

I met them both after the interview and asked them about Wolf’s involvement with Lamborghini.

Sgarzi’s eyes lit up at the mention of his name and he said, “where is he, do you know his phone number?” It was very clear Wolf had been the company’s saviour and was indeed solely responsible for keeping things going during those troubled times.

If you attend the Luxury Supercar Weekend at VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver Saturday or Sunday, you might have a chance to hear stories of those exciting days when Donald Osborne, the co-host of Discovery TV’s What’s My Car Worth, presents two seminars.

On Saturday, Osborne will discuss the values of the Porsche 911. On Sunday he will focus on Lamborghini and as a special guest of the event will interview Wolf, who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1997.

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