Nick’s Boogie

Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason talks about his collection, his love of Ferrari and the dark side of the 275 GTB/4.

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September 2, 2011

Nick Mason, now 67, found fame and fortune as co-founder and drummer of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. While it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t heard his music, even die-hard fans might not know about his other life-long passions: Nick Mason is both a racer, with five entries in the 24 Hours of Le Mans to his credit, and a tifosi.

He currently has eight Ferraris, including a 250 GTO he has owned for nearly 40 years, a Sebring-winning 512 S and an ex-Gilles Villeneuve 312 T3 Grand Prix car. There are many other marques represented as well, ranging from a 1901 Panhard B1 to a 1935 Aston Martin Ulster (his first race car), from a 1957 Maserati 250F to a 1983 Tyrrell 011, and to modern supercars such as a McLaren F1 GTR and an Alfa Romeo 8C.

“There’s certainly a competition element running through the collection, particularly the sports GT cars,” says Mason. “The rest are just cars that I always wanted to race myself, which is why there are cars like the Birdcage Maserati, Bugatti T35B and so on. Some cars have history, some don’t, some came ready to roll and some took five years to build. I have always liked the thing of using the cars myself.”

Mason thinks his love for Ferrari came from watching the Prancing Horses race at Goodwood when he was a kid. “They had that magic, they just seemed so special and just that much more exotic than Jaguar or Aston Martin or any of the others,” he remembers. “Years later, at Goodwood, I remember seeing something like a ’64 GTO, and I looked in the back and saw some luggage and realized that someone actually had this car and used it. I thought, ‘What sort of life is that, and how do you get there?’ I just couldn’t quite connect how one ever got to the point where you had one of these cars and drove it.”

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He also likely picked up a few motoring genes from his equally enthusiastic father, Bill, who was a vintage-car competitor and motoring film maker for Shell. In the latter guise, the elder Mason rode shotgun in a Ferrari 166 in the 1953 Mille Miglia, movie camera in hand.

The son went a different route, studying to become an architect. Then, in 1963, Mason and classmate Roger Waters heard about someone wanting to put together a band.

“I had been playing the drums since I was 13 or 14, and Roger played guitar,” says Mason. “So we put this band together just to do one thing, but ended up doing something else.”

That something else was Pink Floyd, which went on to record 14 albums, starting with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967 and ending with 1994’s The Division Bell. In between, of course, were such classics as Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. The band sold more than 200 million albums worldwide.

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“I was really lucky,” Mason adds. “I had a year master who said, ‘Take a year out. We’ll have you back.’ No one had heard of gap years then. I can’t say how grateful I am to him because he made it easy for me. I wasn’t chucking it all away.”

Mason’s first few years of motoring were spent tinkering with vintage Austin 7s and a second-hand Mini Cooper S. Then, in the early 1970s, he bought his first Ferrari.

“It was a 275 GTB/4, and I bought it because it was the closest thing in terms of looks to a 250 GTO,” Mason recalls. “I infuriate 275 GTB owners because I am always enormously critical of it. It was a wildly difficult car in terms of looking after, I suppose: The brakes were frightful, and it was very prone to wetting the [spark] plugs. I can remember spending time in a hotel kitchen cooking the plugs to heat them up and get rid of any moisture.”

IT WAS AN INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNING to his Ferrari fantasy, but in 1973 Mason purchased the real deal: the 250 GTO (s/n 3757GT) that had finished third overall at Le Mans in 1962. The car cost £35,000, a lot of money at the time, but Mason says he’s never regretted the decision.

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“You need four or five ingredients to make a car truly special,” he explains. “The reason the GTO is so special is because it looks beautiful, it has the history and, with it, you can do almost any motorsport or motor fun you like. It will also carry more luggage than most of the other GT cars. It is a very well balanced car, which makes it particularly good news for the amateur driver.”

Today, GTOs are worth many millions of dollars. Mason admits he had no idea that would be the case when he bought it, and adds that investing is not the focus of his collection. “All the good cars I have got I have bought with the heart not the head,” he says. “The GTO is a perfect example of a car that no one 30 or 40 years ago thought for a minute they would do the things they have done in terms of value.”

Mason’s 512 S (s/n 1026) started life as a closed-cockpit berlinetta. Run by the factory team in 1970, it finished third at Daytona, first at Sebring and fourth at Monza and Spa. Later that year, it was sold to Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions and used in the filming of the movie Le Mans, during which it burned to a crisp. The car languished with the film’s producers until 1980, when Mason bought it.

“It was a real basket case,” he recalls. “I went with Vic Norman to see Herbie Muller, who had a huge grotto of 512 parts, all of which he would sell at factory retail. It didn’t matter if it was something unbelievably hard to find that was worth its weight in gold or whether it was a bag tank that had actually gone a bit scruffy. I bought a lot of stuff from him to finish the car.

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“I loved the car, but I didn’t want to do ten-lap races in a closed car; I like the visibility you get in an open-top car, so I decided to run it as a short-tail Spyder. I had to make the body anyway, because the original had been destroyed, so I did it for me.”

Mason’s bright yellow Daytona Competizione (s/n 15373) is an ex-Ecurie Francorchamps car that finished eighth overall at Le Mans in ’72, driven by Derek Bell, Teddy Pilette and Richard Bond. Mason has a soft spot for Daytonas, having owned a few.

“I’ve had lots of fun in them,” he explains. “I had a road version when they were quite cheap, and I took it to the South of France when we were recording The Wall [in ’82]. I was staying with Roger Waters, who was a good driver, and we used to commute to the studio at the top of the Alpes-Maritimes. The last ten miles or so were proper mountain passes. It was great fun, but we went through an awful lot of tires. The Daytona is long-legged and fast. We saw 170 mph on the clock through France in the days when the Gendarmerie hadn’t got very interested in stopping anyone from doing anything. Terrific.”

THE SOLE FORMULA 1 FERRARI in Mason’s collection is the 312 T3 raced during the ’78 season by Gilles Villeneuve. The car carried the French-Canadian driver to victory in the Canadian Grand Prix.

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“I am a big fan of Gilles Villeneuve and the car was so special,” says Mason. “I tend to like the drivers that produce something magical. I was phoned up with the offer of the T3, and while it hadn’t really crossed my mind, I thought it would be a lot nicer than a couple of road Ferraris that had somehow ended up in the collection. I certainly don’t want to campaign the T3, in terms of cost or commitment, but it is fun for events like Goodwood. Cars like the T3 and the 512 S are full of exotic materials and that can be a problem. We have to have parts crack-tested, remade in different materials like aluminum or just remade [like the originals].”

Mason’s 512 BB/LM (s/n 27577) was first fielded by Ecurie Francorchamps, raced at Le Mans by Pink Floyd manager Steve O’Rourke to 12th-place overall in ’79 and 23rd in ’80 (one place behind Mason in a Lola T297 Ford, his best result there). O’Rourke later sold the car to Mason, who has since driven it in vintage events.

“I raced against it [in period] on a number of occasions,” he says, “mainly with Steve in it in ’79 and in ’80 when it had a crash [at Le Mans] and finished the race with the half red, half green bodywork on it.”

In the context of this collection, Mason’s 1989 F40 and 2003 Enzo stand out—but not necessarily in a good way. “Modern supercars are interesting and they are fun,” he says, “but quite often they date quickly. Supercars are often factory mules for what they are going to do a bit further down the line.

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“The Enzo is really interesting, but the Bugatti Veyron took all those electronics a stage further,” he continues. “The Enzo’s actually not my favorite. Sight lines are a problem with it, and because of the way it sits so low it’s just that bit tricky to get it around town and do things with it. The F40 definitely comes before the Enzo for me. To drive the F40 really quickly, you need to be pretty good, actually; the way the power comes in, it’s not an easy thing to deal with. But it’s a great car.”

Mason’s final Ferrari is a modern-day California, which he keeps at home for every-day use. “It’s impossibly practical by Ferrari standards,” he says. “My wife loves it, and I think the way it works is brilliant in terms of what amounts to a proper sealed body for winter driving. But it’s not the adventure you get with an F40.”

MANY OTHER FERRARIS HAVE COME AND GONE over the years, including a Dino 246 GTS which became a part exchange for a Lancia Stratos. “I am really sorry I sold the Lancia,” Mason says. “It was a very tricky car but really exotic and an extraordinary idea.”

Less extraordinary was a Ferrari 412, which Mason says seemed like a good idea at the time. “A number of cars one regrets selling, others you don’t,” he notes. “That one wasn’t really destined for greatness.”

So what’s next for Mason? “I want to do more of what I do now, really, rather than new ambitions or other achievements,” he says. “I do some charity work, which takes up a fair bit of time. I’d like to have a restoration project, and maybe an early Ferrari, like a 166, would be nice.

“I like the idea that every day is going to be different and that there will be some element that will be really interesting or really fun,” he concludes. “There might be a point at which one thinks it might be nice to just laze around all day. You want to do a few exciting things and then a few days off. Maybe frighten yourself and go motor racing, and then go and visit a chocolate-pudding factory.”

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