Making ‘Blades of Glory’

The behind-the-scenes story of Johnny Blades, the Works Clan Crusader and the Cadwell Park crow.

It was early February 2020, the UK was in lockdown for the second time and I was trudging around a deserted Cadwell Park, armed with a tape measure and clutching a handful of racing car photos.

Location, location, location: The Lincolnshire Wolds

I was about to bring Johnny Blades’ works Mod Sports Clan back to life for the first time since 1973 when it won the Northern Mod Sports Championship. In a manner of speaking.

Having produced a short documentary about Andy Dawson and Alan Conley and their rally successes in the works rally Clan Crusaders a few weeks earlier, I’d had a long discussion with Paul Haussauer, Clan Motor Company MD who had told me the story of the works racing programme he embarked on with Whitley Bay tailor, Johnny Blades.

I was inspired to follow up my rally film by telling the story of Blades’ last plight in the world of motor racing, in 1973. I had access to an unused race circuit, Cadwell Park where I worked as Circuit Manager, and I was in need of a project to boost my spirits after a tough year.

This time, I wanted to bring the story – and the car – truly to life. Cadwell, which nestles in the Lincolnshire Wolds happened to feature in the Blades story as the scene of one particularly visceral battle for glory with a Lotus Elan.

The scene was set. The only thing missing was the car.

Challenge: Shoot a feature-length documentary on an iPhone

I spent a few hours that day measuring various parts of the race track, pit lane and paddock buildings; cross referencing the measurements with video frames and layering over images of my own Clan Crusader in the same locations from a recent photo shoot. This meant I could get the perspective of the car and the framing of the shots right.

I’d driven my brown Clan Crusader to the track to use for positional shots, and in the end I shot some ‘hot laps’ which ended up making the final film edit, linking parts of the story and race track together.

My next challenge was the distinct lack of clear images of Blades’ Heron Furniture-sponsored Clan race car. Coupled with this, I wanted to put the Clan in shot with some of its contemporary Mod Sports racing rivals.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge to get my head around, I wanted to bring Blades’ Lotus 69 F2 car back to life for a shot where I’d demonstrate the origins for the Clan’s suspension set-up, and I also wanted to include a later reincarnation of the Clan when it was raced by Stan Share – “Stan the Clan”.

Against all odds: Bringing back RC002 Clan required the right perspective

I found the best photos of the cars that I could, and set about painstakingly reconstructing them as transparent layers; redrawing sponsor logos, adding detail to suit particular parts of the documentary, and adjusting perspective to match up the cars with the shots.

Having got static images to work, I decided that in order for the cars to be believable I had to be able to interact with them on screen. Another filming set-up day ensued, this time I took my 13 year old son, Mason with me to help with the filming. I’d never done anything this technical before!

I’d put together a shooting list so we knew exactly which parts of the film needed building. Walking round the Blades Clan and Lotus 69 on the track to talk through technical details on both cars was relatively easy. But walking through the middle of a Clan, Ginetta G15 and Lotus Elan, and gesturing towards each car in the right perspective and at the right depth on screen took a lot of getting right.

My final challenge was to create a closing scene where I’d walk past the works Clan in its Stan Share livery, before walking out of shot behind the car. Again perspective was key here, and we must have shot the scene over twenty times.

Two full days of filming at Cadwell Park followed weeks of research

As luck would have it, a crow landed behind where the car would virtually be parked in the scrutineering bay and that helped me position the car in relation to where I’d walk out of shot. The crow even made it into the final film edit!

With the ‘star cars’ built and rendered in video format, I continued my research of the Blades story. The core plotline came from Paul Haussauer, with a variety of Facebook groups, forums and other sources providing useful links and missing pieces of the jigsaw.

Only on pulling the storyboard together did I realise how thin on the ground detailed information about 1970s racing is. I almost had to build the season as I’d built the cars; piece by piece, cross referencing various accounts, magazine articles and first-hand accounts.

The storyboard and script were written as effectively a walk round a lap of Cadwell Park. The first shot is on the start/finish straight, the script then takes me round an entire lap, and back to the paddock where the story concludes with the help of the afore-mentioned crow.

Mason and I returned to Cadwell Park to film the story in sections, spending two full days filming in the cold, atmospheric February sunshine. The temperature was dropping to 3-4 degrees during the late afternoon as the sun started to go down, so numb fingers, toes and noses fill my memories of those two long days.

A new take on the story of the Clan Motor Company’s motorsport heritage

Each piece had to be cross referenced with the pre-built shots of the recreated cars, to ensure the perspective and lighting were aligned. If this had been done in isolation, the edit would have shown up the ‘built’ scenes. Some shots were filmed on both days to give me different lighting options in the edit.

This whole process was produced – from start to finish – on my iPhone, including creating and layering the images of the cars and editing the film.

The biggest challenge though, was still to come.

Having spent the best part of a week editing the documentary together, I realised the file was too big to export to my phone from the video editor app, leaving me with no choice but to re-edit the film in two pieces, before stitching the two together and exporting to an iPad. In order to do this I had to wipe the memory on both devices…completely.

Filming “Blades of Glory”: A journey round Cadwell Park, and one of the most fascinating underdog stories in British motor racing history

I’d scheduled the film to be premiered on Facebook and YouTube at 7pm on 8th March, after which I’d planned a live chat with someone who knew Johnny Blades and had helped with my research.

I spent a stressful couple of hours before trying to get the film to upload in time, and with twenty minutes to spare I finally sat down and wrote out the description for the film post.

My journey was done, I’d managed to tell the story of one of the most fascinating underdog stories in British motor racing, and I’d recognised a lifetime ambition of producing a feature-length racing documentary. I’m really not sure I’ll ever have the time in my life to embark on such an all-consuming project ever again, but deep down I really hope I do.

To my humble amazement and delight, people in the Clan world really got behind the film, and various images emerged, from people watching with their families, to setting up home cinemas with big screens to join in the premiere.

Releasing ‘Blades of Glory’ remains one of the proudest moments of my life, and what happened next completed the picture. I was contacted, first by Julian Blades – Johnny’s son, thanking me on behalf of the family for the work that had gone into telling their father’s story.

Then John Burn, Blades’ mechanic who features so heavily in the story contacted me to let me know that not only did he enjoy the film, but it was almost entirely accurate. Given how many lines I’d had to read between, and blanks I’d had to fill, that was the biggest result of all.

Watch “Blades of Glory” here…

Blades Begins – the first chapter of the Clan Crusader Mod Sports story.

December 13th , 1972.

“Thoughts, John?”

Three men stand in a dimly-lit room at the Clan Motor Company factory unit on the Crowther Industrial Estate, Washington. Two of them in business suits with flared trouser legs.

The third man is dressed in corduroy slacks and a Parka jacket. He considers the question, scanning around the room. Through the door, the Clan Crusader assembly line is visible still, silent.

“I’ll do it Blades, but you both need to let me play. It’s not right as it is, like” says John Burn, race mechanic for Formula 2 racing driver, the flamboyant tailor Johnny Blades.

Burn kneels down beside the translucent lightweight Clan Crusader, the storeroom light glinting through the floor of the car. He anchors his hand on the top of the rear wing, swinging himself slowly under the car for a closer look.

“We need to do something about the suspension. Make the most of how light this shell is. I’ve been working up some designs based on the ’69 – see?”

Burns ducks back out from under the car, reaching into the pocket of his coat. He unfolds a piece of lined paper and hands it to Johnny Blades. The mechanic doesn’t make eye contact with his driver, his gaze still concentrated on the car in front of him. The Clan is sitting on its fat racing tyres, a loose-fitting covering sheet half pulled back to reveal the shape of the car with its striking black wheel arches.

Blades studies the scribbled drawings on the sheet in his hand, annotated to indicate that the numbers are that of the rear suspension geometry of a Lotus 69 Formula 2 car, the ex. Fittipaldi car the driver will race in 1973.

He glances at the third man and grins, running his hand over his head in a ‘whoosh’ movement to indicate to Clan boss, Paul Haussauer that he has no idea what the drawings mean.

Haussauer, who has been quiet until now takes the paper and considers the drawings thoughtfully.

“See it as a starting point, gentlemen,” he says. “We’ll prepare the shell, what you do from there is up to you. But I want Lotus.” He’s still looking at the paper, studying the numbers with an engineer’s eye. “I want us to send a message.”

Haussauer looks up from the unfolded paper in his hand and searches Blades’ eyes for an answer. The Whitley Bay man in turn raises an eyebrow questioningly in the direction of his mechanic. Burn chuckles and knocks his knuckles on the roof of the Clan flippantly. It was already a done deal, he knew that.

He’d realised it on the drive to the factory. Blades had been full of nervous energy, tapping his finger on the top of the ball-shaped gear knob in the Ferrari Dino and saying very little.

It was an energy Burn had felt before from his friend. Just like the year they’d decided to scrap the GTs and pile everything into the F2 programme. Now here they were returning to sports cars. In this – a one-off works entry for Clan. “If we do this John, we’re all in” says Blades, cutting through the mechanic’s thoughts. His tone sincere, voice echoing in the empty factory unit, Blades continues “One season, then that’s it. I’m out.”

John Burns stands, straightening up and dusting off his knees, eyeing the two charismatic men with their shoulder length hair and their sharp suits. Noting their questioning expressions, he nods slowly.

“Aye, we’ll do it. Blaze of glory, like.”

The mechanic takes one last look at the Clan, nods at Haussauer and pats Blades’ shoulder as he brushes past, leaving the room.

“We’ll announce it in morning, Johnny. Thanks for doing this,” says the Clan man, offering his hand to the racing driver.

The two men shake hands, Blades smiles warmly then walks away – his brogues clacking on the factory floor.

“John will be back to collect the car on Monday, Paul” the racing driver calls back over his shoulder.

Paul Haussauer watches the tailor walk past the production line and out of sight, the sharp lines of the half-assembled Clan Crusaders casting odd shadows across the dark unit.

The businessman runs his hand over the roof of the racing car, satisfied. He pulls the cover back over the Mod Sports Clan in a deliberate manner, tucking his prized machine back up, and turns off the light.

Watch the feature-length documentary Blades of Glory, telling the story of Johnny Blades and the works Mod Sports Clan Crusader, here…

John Burn (R) checks out the works racing Clan at the Washington factory.

NEW FILM: Clan Crusader Rally Adventure

Classic Rally Tours are one of the most accessible forms of motorsport, so I entered the brown Clan Crusader and filmed a mini documentary to take you along on the adventure.

Join me, along with my 13 year old Son Mason who navigated for me, on the Border Classic Rally – 85 miles of some of the Lincolnshire’s best driving roads lay in wait.

Coming?

Could this be the NEW Clan Crusader?

Here’s a glimpse at a very interesting prototype under development in the Circa Cars studio in Scotland.

“Evolution Clan”

The ‘Evolution Clan’ is a concept car, and its striking design appears to have the original Clan Crusader shape very much at its heart.

Terry Smith of Circa Cars said “I always liked the Clan Crusader but reckoned that the cockpit shape could be improved, and the doors modified to gull wing or dihedral to aid access.”

The mould has been made (see photo) and we can expect to hear more once the first monocoque has been completed.

Just one question remains – will it come in brown?! 👀🤎

FIRST LOOK: Great British Car Journey

Here in 2021, a new classic car museum is a rare thing. In fact, any car museum is a rare thing. So the opening of a new and interactive experience telling the story of the British motor industry is, we can all agree a very good thing!

This weekend, the Great British Car Journey opens in Amergate, Derbyshire and with it, Drive Dad’s Car launches a fleet of British classic cars for people to get back behind the wheel of the cars that helped to shape their lives.

Forget what you know about car museums. This is not simply an eclectic array of automotive porn, designed to make you gasp and stroke for as long as it takes you to walk through the building.

This is a fully immersive, well curated walk through the history of the car in Great Britain. They’ve called it a journey, and that really is what it is! With a snazzy little tablet and a set of headphones, you set off on an interactive adventure through the passion, politics and people that made motoring in Britain one of our most iconic industries.

You can then choose from a startling fleet of immaculately prepared British classics to take on a low speed jaunt round the industrial estate where the museum is located.

The drive experience itself needs some work to align itself with the remarkable museum experience, but you can’t fault the range, or preparation of the cars.

You’d expect a big smile on the face of Richard Usher, the man behind the project, and his various assembled family and staff members at the official opening. But after the hard work, trials and tribulations, and genuine, heartfelt passion that has clearly gone into this attraction, it’s hard to imagine any of those smiles fading any time soon.

Paul Woodford took the Clan Crusader on a pilgrimage of self-discovery (in car terms!), and joined a host of well-known faces from the world of classic motoring to be one of the first to experience the Great British Car Journey.

Here’s a blog-style video of the adventure…

Join Paul Woodford for a first look at the exciting new Great British Car Journey, with a cameo from Sarah Crabtree!

Classics Driven Films Entered for International Film Festivals

The Clan Crusader documentary, “Blades of Glory” and a newly produced short film about classic British getaway cars, starring the Mk2 Jaguar have been submitted to two prestigious International Film Festivals.

Blades of Glory tells the story of the charismatic Whitley Bay tailor, Johnny Blades and his Northern Mod Sports title-winning season of 1973 in the works racing Clan Crusader. The film has received positive feedback from all corners of classic motoring and motorsport.

The film has been submitted for two awards – ‘Best Documentary Feature’ and ‘Best Independent Film’ in the prestigious International Motor Film Awards, judged by a high profile panel which includes former Top Gear and Fifth Gear Presenter Tiff Needell, and Gumball 3000’s Maximillion Cooper.

Flawed Hero is a short story which visually depicts the plight of the archetypal 1960s movie getaway car, the Mk2 Jaguar and cars like it. The film has been entered in the Depict! short film festival for short films of 90 seconds and less. Telling any story in a film this short is a challenge enough, but Flawed Hero also attempts to tell this story without words or dialogue.

Ahead of both festivals, you can watch both films here…

Blades of Glory

Flawed Hero

Testing, testing – new Group B merchandise

Get the ‘Belga 6R4’ t-shirt for £19.99

‘Belga Team’ 1986 Lombard RAC Metro 6R4 t-shirt design added to the Classics Driven range – because you asked!

After the overwhelming response to the Clan Crusader t-shirt designs, a number of you have suggested various other cars to feature. One which keeps cropping up is the Metro 6R4 – British Leyland’s Group B adventurer which never quite made the cut against its contemporaries, but has arguably outshone them since in the affection of rally fans past and present.

I always start with the question “what would I like myself?” and there was only really one answer to kick us off. So I’m really pleased to announce a new t-shirt design – it’s a re-imagined team shirt from the 1986 Lombard RAC Rally, when Marc Duez took on the establishment in the Belga Team Metro, and with it introduced one of the most stunning Group B liveries there ever was.

I’m testing the water with this design, and if it’s popular I may well add others. For more information, click the button below.

“Blades of Glory” – new Clan Crusader documentary

Blades of Glory is a feature length docu-film about the 1973 Mod Sports season and the success of Johnny Blades in the works Clan Crusader.

A story of drama, intrigue and controversy set against the backdrop of one of the most glamorous eras of motor racing, Clan had old scores to settle when it went up against Lotus on the racetrack.

Register on Facebook or YouTube to join in and watch the premiere this Thursday!

CLICK HERE for Facebook.

CLICK HERE for YouTube.

Blades of Glory premieres this Thursday on Facebook and YouTube

The Car’s the Star: Clan Crusader Cover Feature

The April issue of Complete Kit Car Magazine features a certain brown Clan Crusader that you might recognise from the Classics Driven website and blog, here’s how to get your hands on a copy!

The Clan Crusader project is about more than just a classic car – this is an important mission designed to raise the profile of this fascinating British sports car, and tell its inspiring motorsport stories.

The Clan Crusader is an often overlooked classic, but the 1970s Imp based sports car is not short of kitsch, retro appeal. Jack Wood meets owner Paul Woodford who is on a mission to broaden the car’s appeal by bringing it to the attention of a new generation of car enthusiasts.

Complete Kit Car Magazine, April 2021
Someone looks happy to be a cover star!

The magazine charts the adventure of Paul Woodford and the brown Clan Crusader, and tells the story of this low volume production sports car that is fast becoming a sound classic car investment.

For more information, and to order your copy of the magazine with FREE postage, click HERE.

View the range of Clan Crusader merchandise HERE.

WATCH the story of the Clan Crusader’s rally victories HERE.

Mull 1972: The Clan’s Crusade

This is the story of a fairytale rally victory on the formidable Tour of Mull, a gruelling day and night rally that in 1972 would see Alan Conley and Crawford Dunn emerge victorious in the litte-known Clan Crusader despite fierce competition.

What made Conley’s victory even more remarkable, was that the Clan had made its competition debut just a month earlier, before the factory development car took an impressive second overall on the Manx International Trophy Rally behind Roger Clark’s works Escort three weeks ahead of Conley lining up in this – the first of the ‘factory’ Clan rally cars – in Tobermory.

Victory on Mull changed everything.