Caffeine&Machine cultofmachine Cog in the Machine No half measures: Ben de Chair

No half measures: Ben de Chair

Meet the man who looks after Pink Floyd star Nick Mason’s incredible car collection.

For as long as rock music has existed, its stars have indulged in their automotive passions. Beatle George Harrison and his love affair with the McLaren F1. Rolling Stone Charlie Watts’ enviable collection amassed despite a lack of driving licence. Eric Clapton and his numerous Ferraris. The list goes on, and it’s apparent that the allure of the car becomes irresistible when combined with the lavish lifestyle afforded by being part of a hugely successful band.

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, though, has taken things further than most. A die-hard car enthusiast, he’s accrued a vast collection over the years. Not only that, but he regularly campaigns his classic racers at historic meets, along with wife Annette, daughters Holly and Chloe, and son-in-law and pro racer Marino Franchitti.

With a collection of high-maintenance classics numbering in the high 30s, most of which are regularly used as intended, it’s a big job to keep everything maintained and ready to race. This is why Ten Tenths Racing exists – as the name suggests, compromise isn’t an option.

Ben de Chair is Ten Tenths’ chief engineer, effectively the man in charge of looking after the fleet. Like so many in this industry, Ben’s fascination with cars started early. “My car background started at age five,” he says. “I got in a go-kart in the garden and started horsing about. My dad was a car nut and he raced a lot.”

A two-year college course in car restoration led to a fully-fledged career. “I started at a one-man band in Ludlow in 2001, doing vintage and classic restorations – everything from an Alfa 8C Zagato to run of the mill stuff like MGBs.” A stint at another small outfit followed before Ben moved on to work under Martin Stretton, one of the most successful and respected names in historic racing. “That was full on, but a lot of fun – going here, there and everywhere… lots of circuits, lots of cars, lots of testing.”

Ten Tenths, meanwhile, had been rumbling on since long before Ben’s career got started. It began primarily as a company through which Nick’s collection could earn some extra cash by loaning the cars to filming companies, especially for adverts. As the Masons’ racing activities expanded, it gradually shifted focus.

With his exhausting schedule with Martin Stretton beginning to take its toll, Ben got involved around 12 years ago, and now runs the workshop. As glamorous as it sounds, these are still ‘just’ cars, and require all the usual, mundane things that cars need: “My day-to-day involves some boring bits – making sure the vehicles are taxed, MOT’d, serviced, all that sort of stuff,” he says. This is especially the case early in the year, when everything’s getting prepped ahead of the historic racing season kicking off.

“We’ve always got a couple of cars in restoration – at the moment, we’ve got a TZ1 Alfa from 1964, and a Maserati Birdcage from 1960.” Both of these cars are currently being prepared for a return to the racetrack, although motorsport isn’t Ten Tenths’ sole endeavour. “As the year goes on, more people ask us for cars for shows, cars to go to events in… it’s busy.” There’s also the annual Open Garden event at Mason’s Middlewick House estate in Wiltshire, where the public has a rare opportunity to get amongst large parts of the collection. “You can look around the gardens, and bump into a 250 GTO or a McLaren F1,” Ben says.

It’s the racing, however, that keeps him and the team busiest, and it’s always the highlight of his annual calendar. “We do all the Goodwood events, and we like to try and get to things like the Silverstone Classic, Le Mans Classic, and historic rallies. I just love getting out and about with the cars and seeing them used as they were built to be used.”

Ben’s personal highlights of the job? One of his first tasks at Ten Tenths was rebuilding Nick’s Lola T297 Group 6 racer. “In Nick’s life, that’s been a very important car – he did Le Mans twice in it [in 1979 and 1980, finishing second and third in class respectively]. It’s had different liveries, body changes… it’s got a really cool racing history, and Nick loves it. I’m fond of that car.

“Then there’s a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM. It was built for the Carrera Panamericana that year, and it’s just a beautiful thing. It’s nine years previous to the 250 GTO, and you can see the development process – it’s very similar in many ways, but it’s also quite crude.

“You become attached to them all, really, because you spend so much time around them and know them inside out.”

Speaking to Ben, what really shines through is his unbridled passion for classic cars. There’s a sense that as long as he’s preparing cars for racing and overseeing restorations, he’s happy. Getting to do it for one of the most notable collections in the world, though, is an added bonus, and he’s a vital cog in making that machine function.

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