Letter From Europe: Maurice Leggett Passes...Car Guy Extraordinaire
Letter from Europe
By Andrew Frankl, European Bureau Chief
November 20, 2003; There are car buffs, auto racing buffs and people who regard 4 wheels simply as ways of getting from A to B.
Then there are the ultimate fans. One of these very special people was my greatest mate, Maurice Leggett who passed away earlier today.
Johnny Maurice- as he became known to his God children (Nicholas and Annabelle) was just such a person. A man of principles he spent part of his youth fighting Mosley’s black shirts in the East End of London, England before WW2.
Later he lived in India where he met his wife, Sheila….Maurice, who believed in hard work and hard-play was at a party in Bombay…under the influence of the local gin (Bombay Sapphire) he was zooming across the room sitting on top of a mobile contraption full of ice, En route he knocked a lady off her feet and within days asked to marry her…50 years later Sheila was holding him in her arms as he joined Ayrton, Graham Hill , Jim Clark, Fangio and all his other heroes in that great motor racing circuit in the sky.
Maurice loved Ferrari, loved Michael and although already very ill cheered up considerably when Schumacher clinched his sixth title. The icing on the cake just days before he died was the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup in which England comprehensively stuffed their great rival-the French! We were hoping that he would live long enough to see the final but it wasn’t to be.
Of the many, many stories and memories that come to mind the greatest has to be an unofficial, totally illegal car race in Bombay a good 40 years ago. Maurice and his chums simply turned all the STOP and NO ENTRY signs round and had themselves an instant race track. The Morgans and MG’s rocketed up Malabar Hill and back to the harbour and as you would expect Maurice won.
On another occasion he and Sheila got into their red Mini and drove non-stop to Monaco for the Grand Prix. It was raining all the way so when they finally got there and opened the door the camera and various other belongings simply floated out on to the pavement. I should add that in those days Minis tended to leak, unlike the present one which he bought, drove and loved. (Especially as it came from Damon Hill’s garage.)
Some years ago we agreed that he would come skiing in Avoriaz after the Geneva Motor Show, I waited at the top of the funicular and watched in amazement as he appeared in a grey business suit clutching a copy of the Financial Times. Apparently British Airways lost his suitcase but that didn’t stop us from having fun. When my partner and I ran CAR Magazine and TRUCK magazine we had a stand at the Birmingham Motor Show. Sheila would look after the stand and Maurice would go walkabout only to return with several plastic bags full of automotive literature. He had a subscription to absolutely every car magazine under the Sun and in recent years sent me cuttings at least twice a week to San Francisco to help keep me informed of the most recent developments whenever I wasn’t in Europe.
On one unforgettable occasion M&S -as they were known within the family- came to the Hungarian Grand Prix. They took Nicholas and Annabelle on a boat trip down the Danube. By boat, and I mean just that- a small boat which ran out of gas! There they were, drifting down the not very blue Danube on their way to the Black Sea when someone came to their rescue, not a minute too soon!
Johnny Maurice, my old mate, thanks for 40 years of friendship and for all the fun. You wouldn’t want me to end with some stupid cliché so we will just have several large G&Ts and reminisce about Dagenham, Silverstone, Monaco, Fobello and some of the more memorable watering holes we’ve frequented over the years. Yeah, yeah.