It’s 20 years since former Ford Australia Rally Team co-driver, John Dawson-Damer, was tragically killed in a motor racing accident at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK.
We look back on the life of the former Australian Rally Champion navigator.
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Dawson-Damer, aged 59, died when his Lotus 63 sports car veered off the track and through the finish gantry during a hillclimb section at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England.
Dawson-Damer (or "Dee Dee" as he was known to his friends) was a well-known figure in Australian motorsport and is reputed to have owned the world's largest private collection of historic Lotus cars.
Apart from his motor racing connections, Dawson-Damer was a familiar figure in rallying, having teamed as navigator with Colin Bond in a works Ford Escort RS1800 during the 1970s and '80s.
He was Australian Rally Champion navigator in 1978 and continued his involvement in the sport long after Ford retired from rallying, acting as co-driver for Bond in the course-opening cars for Rally Australia.
Dawson-Damer's late entry into motorsport (he didn't really get involved until his mid-20s) was strange, considering that he was a regular motor racing spectator in his mid-teens and early 20s, and it's ironic that he was a regular spectator at the same Goodwood circuit where he was killed, in the days of the Maserati, Vanwalls, BRMs and early Lotuses.
Born in England, The Honourable John Dawson-Damer (to give him his full title) was the brother of the Earl of Portarlington and his grandfather was a Peer. He attended Genoble University in southern France to learn the French language, and returned to England to help in the family businesses, which included sawmilling, a joinery factory and a machinery factory.
After finishing his apprenticeship, he moved to Australia at the age of 24, joining Austral Engineering Supplies in Perth, a part of the family business. It was in Perth that his motorsport interests began to blossom.
In an interview for a motorsport magazine in 1978, Dawson-Damer recalled that rallying in that era was so easy.
"Fifteen miles out of town and you were in the hills," he said.
Although his rallying was generally on a social level at that time, he expressed an interest in continuing in the sport when he moved to Sydney. Some time in the 60s he was offered a ride with Bob Holden in an Alpine Rally, competing against the likes of the late Evan Green and Roy Denny.
The success of that outing obviously created more interest in the sport and over the next few years, when time and business commitments allowed, he spent some time at the wheel of an ex-London to Sydney Marathon Lotus Cortina with Bathurst veteran Bob Holden.
With the interest in the Southern Cross Rally increasing, Dawson-Damer linked up with the Mitsubishi Lancer Rally Team under Doug Stewart and did several 'Crosses and other events, before joining the newly-formed Ford Escort Rally Team, which was put together by Colin Bond.
Enjoying considerable success as a navigator/co-driver with the team, John Dawson-Damer went on to become Australian Rally Champion navigator in 1978. The following year he partnered Colin Bond and Bob Riley in one of three Ford Cortinas entered for the 1979 Repco Round Australia Trial, but the car suffered numerous problems and was retired in Perth during the clockwise trip around Australia.
Aside from rallying, he was a prolific collector of early Lotus cars and was Australia's representative to the FIA for Historic Racing Cars.
Living in Sydney until his death, Dawson-Damer was driving the Gold Leaf-liveried 4WD Type 63 Lotus previously raced by Jochen Rindt and John Miles. The car appeared to run wide onto the grass at the exit of the last left-hander before the finish line of the hillclimb circuit and slewed sideways into the finish gantry.
Two marshalls were stationed there with chequered flags, and one marshall died shortly after the accident, while the other was in a serious condition after having the lower part of his leg amputated.
"Dee Dee' is greatly missed by his many friends and acquaintances in Australia and around the world.
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