Albrecht Graf von Schlitz, genannt von Goertz von Wrisberg (1914-2006), signed my menu at BMW’s dinner celebrating the 1996 Monterey Historic Automobile Races. Since this is Pebble Beach week I looked at souvenirs of my visits to the sunlit coast of California and one of the world’s best classic car events. It was a match for Goodwood even then. They’re different now. Pebble Beach and Monterey have gone up-market; witness the 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 sold there by Sotheby’s at the weekend for $22,550,000. Goodwood’s feet are on firm, slightly wider ground.
Goertz was a charmer. A second son from Lower Saxony he was said to have adopted rather than inherited his aristocratic titles when his brother Eberhard died. He certainly introduced himself as “Count”. His mother was Jewish so he left Germany in 1936, settling in Los Angeles where he got into the early days of Hotrods.
A chance meeting with industrial designer Raymond Loewy (think Coca-Cola vending, streamlined locomotives and Lucky Strike) brouht them together. Loewy’s Studebakers were deeply controversial but Goertz’s BMW 503 and 507 of the 1950s were notably well-proportioned and successful. His claim to have designed the Datsun 240Z its makers carefully contradicted, but he embarked on a wide range of projects including clocks, refrigerators, sportswear and furniture. He was open and friendly at Pebble Beach although I found that, like so many designers and engineers in the industry I encountered over the years, his self-belief was profound.
The menu signatories were Jeremy Walton, notable BMW author and driver who got married the other week, Robert Coucher, classic car magazine editor, Alun Parry of BMW PR who organised us and Denise McCluggage doyenne of American motoring journalists, author, car historian and contributor to Automobile Quarterly. I had admired Denise’s writing for years. She knew my books and when I told her I was working on Jim Clark’s biography, wished me well signing a copy of her own newest book.
Denise had broken many stereotypes and I was saddened when she died aged 88 in 2015. She established Autoweek magazine and edited it in the 1950s as America’s first motorsports weekly. An accomplished skier and sportswriter for The New York Herald Tribune, at 80 she was still lapping the Infineon Raceway in an Audi R8. A notable racing driver since 1959 she won the GT class at Sebring in Florida in 1962 with a Ferrari 250GT and was the only female in the Sebring International Raceway Hall of Fame. She was fifth in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1960. Phil Hill (1927-2008) American world champion driver in 1961 with Ferrari, who wrote the Foreword to Denise’s book, enthused about the first edition of my Jim Clark Tribute to a Champion. Presented with the new book at Goodwood the following year his wife Alma told me he read it all at once, in bed till 3am.
Viennese Dieter Quester was still a very active racer when he signed the menu. Ray Hutton a long-time friend former editor of Autocar, chairman at the time of the Car of the Year jury and Charlotte’s godfather signed along with fellow Fleet Street Group member the late Brian Laban. Final name below that of Goertz is Eoin Young, the New Zealander who was Bruce McLaren’s secretary, Autocar columnist and keen rival who died in 2014.