by Tony Cotton
I first met Cyril Kieft when he was in his late 70’s. He was a guest of honour at the 500 Owners’ Association AGM and I lived about a mile from his home so was asked to accompany him. My first impression was of an immaculate gentleman. His Mercedes S-Class was pristine, as was his home, and this was reflected in his manner and personality. He was precise, considered and accurate in his conversation, but a smile and an anecdote were rarely far away. As is widely known, car manufacture and racing formed a relatively short interlude in an immensely successful career in the steel industry, beginning in South Wales and ending in Wolverhampton. However, he kept a thorough archive of his racing activities and had an excellent memory for those days, tempered with modesty.
One of his proudest sporting moments was breaking 350cc and 500cc world speed records with his single seater at Montlhéry. An unexpected cost was blowing up the engine of his Cadillac which was used for high speed testing around the bowl. One of the drivers was Stirling Moss, and this was the start of the association which was to prove highly beneficial to both Moss and the Kieft Car Company in the early stages of their respective careers.
Cyril Kieft’s great strengths were, like Ferrari and Ecclestone, as a manager, facilitator and broker. His experience in running steel companies in his twenties and thirties taught him that success needed the best men in key positions and so in his racing car company he used talented designers and drivers, and presented his team with a professionalism and flair which was new to the lower formulae of motor racing. In many ways this became the model followed by successful "customer" racing car manufacturers from that time to the present day. The approach led his company to be a great innovator, looking for the inbuilt advantage – the swing axle 500, the central seat sports car, glass fibre sports cars, use of Climax 1100cc engines and a motor cycle powered lightweight sports car are examples.
After the loss of Meg, his wife of many years, Cyril moved to Spain where he had spent an increasing amount of time as the climate suited his health. His youthful, optimistic attitude was emphasised when I spoke to him last year and he told me he could not find a house he liked so was having one designed and built to his specification.
When his health allowed, he enjoyed seeing his cars. An exhibition of Wolverhampton-made vehicles at the Black Country Museum where one of his sports cars took centre stage was one proud moment, but I think his greatest joy came in 2002 when Bill Morris debuted his painstakingly rebuilt Kieft Grand Prix car at Silverstone – a car that had never previously run. Cyril spent the full day, aged 90, with the team, answering questions from a succession of visitors, watching the race from the BRDC suite and celebrating the car’s successful completion of the race. He was treated with a respect and courtesy by the VSCC and Bill’s team which he found both touching and exciting. After the race, he was helped into the cockpit of his car and sat surrounded by the team, friends and admirers, with a glass of Champagne, and received a rousing round of applause. Suddenly, he wasn’t 90, he was back 50 years ago.
On the loss of a charming, lively gentleman with a unique record of achievement our condolences to his family.