Memories of Nadeau
When I became involved in racing during the mid 60's Nadeau Bourgeault was making his living designing and building sports racing and formula cars. He probably spent even more time "fixing" problems for others. It might be something like changing the spring rates, shocks and set up on a Formula B Alexis, like he did for me and my car owner Mauricio Gamboa. It might be a full re-body in aluminum to the finest standards imaginable. The man seemed capable of doing almost anything he set his mind to. I remember Stan Peterson (Lotus racer, later vintage racer, machinist, long time friend of Nadeauís) saying to me after Nadeau's passing: "I don't have any one to go to now. Nadeau seemed to always be able to come up with a solution to any problem I could not figure out." To those of us who knew him well, he was truly a magical guy.
I don't know if Nadeau is considered one of the founders of the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America or not? I guess you would have to ask SCCA historians that question? But he certainly was there at the beginning. If I recall correctly, I believe the racing license he was issued carried the number 12. His first racing car was an MG-TC that he highly modified. This goes back to about the same time, or even a bit before, Ken Miles built the first of his two famous MG Specials. Starting in the body shop business, Nadeau was later hired to run the Rolls Royce Body Shop for BMC Motor Car in San Francisco. He worked with Joe Huffacker when BMC Racing was started. They had a falling out and Nadeau went his own way. Nadeauís first shop was in Sausalito adjacent to Bill Breezeís Sports Car Center, he later moved to Healdsburg with his two dogs, Whippy and Fungus Fang.
I am not an historian, so others may be able to add to or correct this list, but here is a go at the Bourgeaults he designed and built that I recall:
1. The Fiat Formula Junior
2. The Bourgeault Coup road car
3. Formula B Cosworth (one only, or two?) - Larry Albedi, John Kuenzli
4. Formula C Cosworth - Nick Renoylds F-II powered car with a 6 speed Hewland
5. Formula B Alfa Romeo - This was Al Bizzardís car and is actually a later design chassis with a new body shape, I think the last Bourgeault built.
6. Under 2 liter Sports Racer, 1.5 Coventry Climax 7. Another Sports Racer, small engine? Lost in the Oakland Hills fire along with Stan Petersonís house.
8. Alan Ladderís 2 liter BRM V-8 sports racer
9. The Webster Special (1/2 credit) - Nadeau built the chassis for the Webster Special, a 2 liter Coventry-Climax powered sports racer that won the SCCA runoffs in 1964 with Jerry Titus driving. The car had an aluminum body by Jack Hagemann.
I know Larry Albedi agrees with the following statement I am going to make, because he has said the same thing. Perhaps Stan Peterson, Willie Stryker and a few others knew and appreciated Nadeau well enough to also agree: I believe if he had ever been properly backed financially, Nadeau Bourgeault might be as famous today as Colin Chapman is, he was that good. In all fairness, I must tell you I actually made that statement to Nadeau once and he disagreed. He held Chapman out as the best of the time. Regardless, both men were genius. I place my argument on two factors. The Bourgeault was a stronger car than the Lotus designs of the day while not weighing more, and I believe easier to drive and faster. Yes, I drove both.
So much for cars, I would like to address the man I knew. The first thing right up front that I would like to address are his detractors. There were many people that found Nadeau to be, well - a bit short with them. Abrasive might be a word that comes to mind. What Nadeau did not have was patience for people who did not know squat, yet still insisted they were right. Anyone that has been around racing knows there have always been some pretty inflated egos involved. Nadeau simply did not make time to pander to them. It was that simple. Once you knew Nadeau, he was one of the kindest, gentlest, giving men you could ever hope to call a friend.
One day I showed up at Nadeauís house in Healdsburg. My racer of the day was in his shop. On days off from my day job I would go there and work on the car. Nadeauís house was small with an alcove about 6 feet wide near the entrance with a small single bed. That was the "guest bedroom" for people like me. This particular day Nadeau was just getting ready to do his first "mouse relocation". The last time I had been there the mouse population had gotten out of control. This was, after all, country property. His house and shop sat on 10 acres. To get there you drove 3 miles out a one lane dirt road at the North end of Healdsburg, through the Foppiano vineyards. While I had been off for a few days working, Nadeau had built a mouse hotel with a one-way door. His hotel had been collecting them during the night and he had been giving them fresh food and water during the day. He had about a dozen by the time I arrived! Off down the road we drove together with the mouse hotel. About two miles from the house, the mouseís got relocated in a nice vineyard. Such was the gentleness of the man.
Nadeau liked to have a drink of Pernod after dinner. Healdsburg not only was home to his favorite bar of the day, but his favorite bartender, Frank. It was not uncommon for us to drive into town for an after dinner libation. One night we were driving back to the house. We were in my tow car of the day, a 69 Dodge, 440 Magnum powered repatriated ex-Highway Patrol Car. They made great tow cars for very few bucks. About 1/2 mile from the house a young spike buck jumps out of a ditch toward the car. We did not hit the deer with the car, the deer hit the car! Head first, right into the side of the right front fender.
We stop and get out, the deer is border-line unconscious. Nadeau is freaked, he wants to put the deer into the back seat of the car and go find a vet! Being itís my car I overrule that one, thinking there could possibly be a downside to having a live buck waking up in the backseat of your car while you are trying to find a vet at 2AM. We ran our hands over the buckís legs, back and neck and did not find any obviously broken or misplaced parts. Slowly, the buck started to regain consciousness. He was a little guy, perhaps only 120 lbs. We stood him up, Nadeau on his left side and me on his right. Slowly we walked him down the road, supporting him from both sides. About 100 feet behind the car we turned him around and walked him back. Following a second turn at the car to head back the other way again, he suddenly realized he had two humans right next to him. Startled, he bolted forward, made a right turn and ran up a little hill. He stopped at the top for about 10 seconds and looked back. I think he said thanks.
Nadeauís house sat under some oak trees, down the hill from his shop. His shop area was very large, his house a small one bedroom with quest alcove. He remodeled the house, adding a kitchen area that was out of proportion to the house. You see Nadeau loved to cook and entertain. There was a beautiful oak table in the kitchen that he had made by hand. With a bit of a squeeze you could sit 12 adults. He loved to have his guests sitting at the table having a drink while he cooked for them. He really could cook, and he loved it. It would take him two days to make a few gallons of spaghetti sauce, it was the best. He would put it in quart jars and freeze it so he would always have something to feed the unexpected guests that seemed to always arrive just before dinner following an afternoon in the wine country. Two of his favorite dishes to prepare were chicken cacciatore and saltimbocca. There were always salads and fresh vegetables, and red wine by the gallon. I cannot count the times after a long day in the shop we would go down to the house and soon somewhere between two and six people would "stop by" to say hello. They always stayed for dinner. Of course I was sent on emergency missions into town for additional groceries while Nadeau entertained. It was the best of times. It is a privilege for me to be able to say he was my mentor and my best friend. May God bless him.