Chris Palmer Interview
We sit down with SCD member Chris to chat about owning some of the most iconic cars of all time.
Written by: Matt Parker
We love featuring SCD members and their cars, whether it be their first Porsche or a scarcely believable collection of rarities. Today, we’re focusing on the latter with Chris Palmer, who has, over the years, probably owned at least one of all our dream cars, from the McLaren F1 GTR to the Ferrari F40 LM and even a road-legal Porsche 962.
With a car history as eclectic as that, we can’t wait to chat with Chris about his stories behind some of the most iconic cars of the past 30 years. In fact, there’s so much to talk about that we’ve done a four-part series where Chris speaks in-depth about his cars, but for now, let the words and images in these pages give you a brief introduction.
“I’d seen them and heard the hype about the F1 when they first became available, then I saw a one coming up for auction in Paris, and it was pretty much a spur of the moment thing. Myself and a pal of mine jumped in a 911 I had at the time and drove through the night to get to Paris. We got there the next morning looking slightly dishevelled in trainers, jeans and white t-shirts, and they basically didn’t want to let us in.
“We managed to get in, but when we asked them for a cup of coffee, they didn’t want to know, so we stood at the back looking like two janitors and eventually, the car came up. I watched it getting close to my limit, and fortunately, it calmed down, I waited for him to almost drop the gavel and put my paddle up at the back. About a hundred people turned around wondering who it was at the back, we managed to get it, and they got us a drink after as well!
“Some people will tell you now that there’s still nothing to compare to a McLaren F1, but there is because obviously the car has dated and aged, and technology being as it is, things have moved forward. There are cars that handle better, but it’s the overall package of the McLaren F1, there are very few cars that come close to it.
McLaren F1 GTR
“I sold the F1 road car in around 2001, and then about three years later, one of the Cottingham brothers rang me and asked if I’d fancy another McLaren F1. I said yeah but not a road car, a GTR, and he said he knew where there was one if I’d be interested. The car came over to the UK and we did a deal; I gave them an F40, a Zonda and some money, and ended up owning a McLaren F1 GTR.
“A group of us used to go down to Le Mans in various Porsches, Lambos and Ferraris, and I always preferred, and still do, the Le Mans type cars, the sports cars to the Formula 1 Cars. I was there when 16R raced with Steve Soper and Nelson Piquet, one of my all-time favourite drivers, and I never even dreamed that I’d one day own it! It had already been painted in historic Papaya when I bought it, but it raced in the red, white and blue Team Bigazzi colours in period.
“In comparison to the road car, the GTR has a straight-cut ‘box, so you have this really loud gearbox noise up to about 5,000rpm until the exhaust and induction noise takes over, hence the headphones inside the car which you really do need to wear if you’re going to do any miles — it is tremendously loud inside.
“Tom Walkinshaw Racing produced six XJ220S cars to celebrate winning the GT class at Le Mans in 1993. There was a lot more downforce and it was a lot lighter. I think they removed about 300kg from the car by removing things like the huge electric seats and using kevlar carbon body panels. It had bigger brakes, but the biggest difference was the power, with the XJ220S reputed to be 680bhp instead of the normal car’s 550. From memory, it was difficult for the car to put that amount of power down!
“For me, the 220 is such a good-looking car. It has beautiful curves, it’s just physically too big. If you scaled it down 10%, it would be pretty much spot on, but when you’re comparing it to one of the all-time greats, it’s always going to be in the shadow of the F1, and in terms of build quality, the F1 is in another league”.
Ferrari F40 LM
“The guy who bought my first F40 from me, unfortunately, crashed it, but then he said to me he had the opportunity to buy an F40 LM, so I asked him if he ever wanted to sell it, would he give me first chance on it, and true to his word, he did.
“From memory, it had five boost settings. I think number one was around 600bhp, which was basically wet weather, then all the way around in qualifying mode was 780bhp in a car weighing 1,050kg. If you look at one at the side of a normal F40, it’s so much more than an F40 with spoilers. It’s wider, it’s almost a totally different car and it’s a hell of a thing to drive. What an adrenaline rush, it’s like nothing you’ve ever driven.
“The Enzo was the latest, hottest thing from Ferrari and I absolutely loved the look of it, but at the time, you pretty much couldn’t get them for love nor money in this country. I had a company that sold footwear, and we used to deal with a company down in Monaco when Puma were sponsoring Ferrari. We went down there, and it turned out two directors of the company we worked with had an Enzo apiece coming, so we very quickly managed to do a deal on one. He never drove it, so I was really its first owner.
“I had that car for three or four years, did the usual trips up to Scotland in it and took it to Le Mans. I really liked it, and for me, I would still take an Enzo over a LaFerrari, I think it’s a more unusual car. The only downside I’d say to the Enzo is the gearbox, being sort of first-generation paddles, and they’ve really come on since. That’s nitpicking though; in its day, it was a great car.
“It was the Zonda C12S which was the 7.0-litre version. A couple of my friends had been on a Lamborghini day and Horacio arrived with the original 6.0-litre car, the C12. They both drove that car and said it handled like a giant go-kart and the build quality was fantastic, but no one had heard of it. Of course everybody has heard of them now and knows about Horacio’s history.
“I was fortunate enough to have the Enzo and F40 at the same time, and if you put the cars side by side, the Zonda made them look like kit cars in comparison, in terms of build quality. Even in places where you wouldn’t see the carbon fibre, the weave was perfectly symmetrical. To my mind, it’s almost like a Fabergé egg of cars, and they’re a fabulous thing to drive”.
Porsche Carrera GT
“I know different people have different opinions on these cars, but sadly most haven’t been fortunate enough to drive them, so it’s more based on how it looks or folklore if you like. As far as I’m concerned though, the Carrera GT is the pick of the bunch. More so than an F40. More so than an F50. It’s like an F50 plus 20%; it’s better built, it’s faster, has better brakes it sounds better, the roof comes off just the same, it has equally good provenance with the racing engine.
“My first Carrera GT was red which Porsche Reading then painted white for me. I sold that car and always regretted it, so when I eventually saw this silver one a few years ago, I decided I had to have another. It really is a special car; to me, that is the last and greatest analogue supercar, the book closes with that”.
“The 962 came about from a guy I knew who raced Porsches at the time, and he told me he had quite an interesting car, the Derek Bell signature car. It was an IMSA car but it had never raced. It was a spare chassis, and the build quality was second to none. The only thing it didn’t have was the 962 engine, because you wouldn’t want to run a 962 engine in a road car, but it had the next best thing, it had a 993 GT2 engine which was putting out similar power. It had about 580bhp and immense torque from the twin-turbo engine in a car that weighed next to nothing, less than 1,000kg
“If you drive that down the road, it’s like you’re on the Mulsanne straight, you have to pinch yourself. It had no livery on it, it was just gloss black and it really showed off the lines of the car for me. There’s not a lot of room in them, they’re reasonably claustrophobic and really they’re made for one, although it did have a small seat at the side for some unlucky passenger who you wanted to terrify! If Batman went racing, it’d be in that 962”.
I really had to be ruthless when taking snippets from Chris for this article, as he has so many fascinating stories about all these cars, cars I can hardly believe one man has owned and driven on the road. If you enjoyed that, you really must head over to the SCD YouTube channel to hear the man himself tell the full tales.
You can watch the full interviews with Chris Palmer on our series below: