Monday, 4 June 2012

Michael Alan (Mike “Ginger”) Giddins

As Sara, Mike’s second wife said of him and I quote, “Mike made the ordinary extraordinary. For a minute, or an hour, or a day; to be near him was magic.”
Mike left school as soon as possible with the least amount of education you could possibly have. I remember following him through senior school and the headmaster created a special “D” stream for his class, (A, B & C being the norms), as they were so bad! Mike and his pals were always working on cars for their teachers, which is how they got by.
Mike “Ginger” Giddins started his working life at the tender age of 15 and joined AFN because his mate worked there and he wanted to work somewhere with someone he knew! He cleaned up, made tea and was paid two shillings and thrupence a week! When he started on Porsche 356 and 911 models, he went to the wrong end to work on the car’s engine, probably not the first to do so, and certainly not the last.
He was nicknamed “Ginger” for his flaming red hair and stories he told today would smack of workplace harassment in today’s world; such as being pinned under a car by anchoring his overalls at all four corners under jack stands over lunchtime or having his private parts covered in engineer’s blue ink, then scrubbing himself raw for days to get it off!
Ginger went on to become a well-respected and trusted mechanic at AFN and supported Bjorn Waldergard on the RAC Rally, who drove a works Porsche 911 and he looked after cars for Vic Elford and David Stone amongst others.
He left AFN and joined Sports Cars Switzerland and had an extremely successful career running Porsche 908 & 910 sports cars all over Europe, Africa and South America with Masten Gregory, Richard Broström, Reine Wisell, Dr Helmut Marko and Ronnie Petersen.
In 1973 and 74, he went on to work for Weisberg running McLaren M8 and M20 Can Am cars in the Interserie, driven by Helmut Kelleners.
In 1975 he joined Willi Kauhsen Racing winning the World Sports Cars Championship for makes with Alfa Romeo, driven by Henri Pescarolo and Derek Bell. The Alfa Romeo factory had unsuccessfully tried to win this championship themselves for several years, but politically at that time because of Fiat ownership, saw the benefit of Anglo/German team and engaged Kauhsen to do it for them with factory backing.
Ginger also had a successful time in Formula 2 with Keke Roseberg, Fred Opert and Bobby Rahal in American CART racing.
Ginger spoke excellent German, French, and Italian and of course English his mother tongue, which he was the least accomplished in!
He had two daughters, Robin and Michelle. Robin died of a very rare brain cancer aged 6 and he had given up work for nearly two years to help look after her. He knew nothing of medicine but all the doctors and hospital knew him after this as he made it his mission in life to find out what he could.
In the latter part of his career, in 1979, upon the death of his daughter Robin, he established Robin Automotive at Sears Point Raceway in California, named after her.
The business offered specialist vintage and racecar transportation across the USA in his John Mozart 18-wheeler Peterbilt truck, and they also restored vintage and classic racecars. He was well known for restoring concourse classic Bugatti’s, Ferraris, Porsche, Jaguar and other classics.
Some of these he still looked after at race meetings including his old Denny Hulme McLaren M20, which he worked all night long one weekend at a vintage sports car race. His dedication was faultless, even in his semi-retirement and the McLaren went on to win again the following day!
Mike transported many race cars to Southern Mexico to the Carrera Panamericana, which usually had most wealthy visitors stopped by the highway patrol for an alleged traffic violations (or taxes). Mike was not into paying such “taxes”, so he met and befriended the head of the Mexican Highway Patrol. From them on Mike took this man’s son along with him in his truck, every time he was racing in Mexico as his insurance against taxes! 
Mike or Ginger was known everywhere, was walking around the pits with his wife Sara at Elkhart Lake, Can Am series one day and bumped into Tony Dean who was there with his Porsche 917. Tony told Sara that everyone new Mike or Ginger.
Our mother died with me in Scotland in 1993 after a long illness. Prior to her death I called Mike to come and visit her and say goodbye. I picked him up from Glasgow airport and by the time he saw mum she had passed away. Mike said, “Do you mind if I don’t wait around for mum’s funeral?” and I told him, “No”, assuming he was thinking of the pain of losing his daughter Robin. He told me it was not that, but he had a biopsy on a lump on his leg just a few days earlier, and he wanted to get back to find out the results. Mike called me the following week to tell me he had melanoma cancer, which was devastating news for all of us.
I visited Mike a few times in California before he was very ill, so that I could spend some quality time with him during his final years and months. The first time I arrived at his house in Mill Valley, I saw a blue RAC road sign to Silverstone, which he said he, “borrowed” from the roadside in England, many years earlier on route to Silverstone.
On one occasion, we took the Peterbilt 18-wheeler truck down the freeway towards Los Angeles after putting 800 gallons of fuel in it first, and delivered some vintage racecars along the way to his customers.
Ginger had overhauled this truck himself and modified the engine so that it really went well. He had radar evaders, which were illegal, hidden in the air vents in the dashboard. My job was to watch for “Bears in the air” or flying police as they are known to most of us.
He had driven this truck all over the USA and Sara his wife learnt to drive it too, so she could share her life with him.
After a long and determined fight based upon natural remedies, Mike died of melanoma at his home in Mill Valley, Marin County, California on 15 September 1997. Sara called me to tell me Mike wanted to say goodbye to me, but all I heard was a “gurgling sound” over the telephone.
Shortly before his death, Mike was awarded the Roberts Harrison Trophy at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races for his significant contribution to vintage car racing.
John Mozart has added a specially engraved plaque to his Peterbilt truck in memory of Ginger.

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