Obituary: Popular historic racer Mike Bell - 1949-2020

Mike Bell has died following a short battle with cancer aged 70

Bell was a popular historic racer whose legacy for fastidious engineering and car preparation had previously spanned professional rallying.

Born into a Norfolk farming family which enjoyed motorsport - his parents rallied a rare Connaught L2 sportscar in which they transported him to school as a child - Mike went into the mainstream motor trade, initially on spanners and later in management with dealer group Mann Egerton.

Along the way he owned some iconic classic sportscars. A lifelong bachelor, he rallied a Peugeot 205 GTI to good effect, and built a series of the car, the last of for Richard Burns, who went on to be world champion in 2001.

Mike spent an exciting five years working as a technician for Andrew Cowan's Mitsubishi Ralliart team (then based in Maldon, Essex), into the 1990s.

Thereafter he flew solo, establishing a workshop. Mike 'discovered' historic racing relatively late in life, through Morgan and Jaguar racer James Paterson [partner of Jack Sears' daughter Suzanne] with whom he had attended primary school in the Norwich area in the 1950s.

Paterson was "between helpers" and needed his old friend's help to finish his 4.2-litre E-type, which seeded a new passion.

They shared the Jaguar initially, then Mike bought a part-finished Gilbern GT which he took to the tracks, and was instrumental in building the Sears MGB which 'the three musketeers' loved racing in the HSCC's Autosport 3 Hours retrospective at nearby Snetterton.

He subsequently acquired the pretty Morgan +4 Super Sports 'Baby Blue' for more fun. Bell thrived on projects and challenges so couldn't resist adding a Czechoslovakian MTX [Metalex] sports prototype to his stable.

He also built a couple of superb Ford Escorts, notably the vivid yellow and green "Lairy Canary" a two-litre Ford BDG-powered beauty which he won a race at Portugal's Algarve Circuit with.

Behind his quiet demeanour Bell was excellent company socially, a personable fellow whose friendships, once earned, endured.

Having bought a Formula Ford 2000 Delta to try single-seater racing, he subsequently contested three Spa Six Hours races with "Mr Delta" Iain Rowley co-driving the blue Gilbern, nicknamed 'Gilbert'.

He had also shared Simon Orebi Gann's magnificent ex-Gordon Spice Morgan +4 SLR (one of three) in recent seasons, fulfilling every marque fan's dream.

"Mike lived and breathed motor cars. As well as being a meticulous preparer he was a very good pedaller who had the ability to get on the pace quickly in other peoples' cars as well as his own," said Paterson.

"He had such attention to detail and was so fanatical about putting things away after use that he could go to his toolbox blindfolded and bring out any spanner requested."

Sears added: "Outside racing he enjoyed sailing and music, Snow Patrol being his favourite group.

"Mike was very fit and always watched what he ate. We were devastated when he was diagnosed with cancer [last year] because we always thought he'd get to 100."

Simon and Kate Orebi Gann reflected on his relentless positivity during what was to be their last visit, while he was trying to build his strength for another chemotherapy session: "There were so many things Mike still wanted to do, including get fit to race again, get a dog and buy a Tesla Model 3."

Kind, generous and ever smiling, Mike was one of the prime movers in the annual marshals' supper which Iain Rowley and his pals put on at the Silverstone Classic.

His old school spirit and avuncular presence in the paddocks will be universally missed by the European historic racing fraternity.

To his sisters, Judy and Mary, and the wider family we offer sincere condolences.

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