The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away: Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason on the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 that saved him from prison

by Charlotte Vowden
22 March 2023 6 min read
The One That Got Away: Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason on the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 that saved him from prison
Photo: Nick Mason

“I sold the 8C about twenty five years ago because I had to pay rather a lot of income tax. What I should have done was gone to prison and kept the car. It had been owned and raced by Enzo Ferrari and as the seventh car built, the chassis being 2111007, it had a lovely history. It was the most I’d ever paid for a car and although I made a little profit on it, I imagine it would be worth about £20m now. But, it would have been far worse if I’d sold my [Ferrari 250] GTO.

People ask which came first, music or cars? Cars, because no one had even heard of Rock & Roll when I was a boy. I was brought up in a motoring family, my dad worked for Shell as a film director and made movies about Le Mans and the Mille Milia, but he particularly liked racing his vintage four-and-a-half litre Bentley, which is still part of the family. The ultimate treat and day out was going motor racing with him, I would sit in the back of the Bentley wearing a crash helmet, it was incredibly comfortable. 

How much is your car to insure? Find out in four easy steps.
Get a quote

Cars have always been a very special part of what I do outside the band, and the great thing about motor racing is you don’t need three other people to take part. It’s you on your own in the car, testing your ability, and asking yourself, can I do this better? Escapism for me involves pressure so my raison d’être for most of my car shopping, particularly when I was doing big tours [with Pink Floyd], was that I wanted to race the car I’d bought, whatever it was, and that played some part in letting the 8C go because I wasn’t using it enough.

All those what we might call ‘important cars’ like the 1931 8C are very well known within the automotive world. It’s quite alarming how much the experts do know, if Simon Kidston starts talking to me about one of my cars he knows much more than I do, but I think history is undervalued, if you can find the car you’re looking for with a great or continuous history that beats shiny paintwork, low mileage or that sort of thing. Knowing the story of a car is a really nice thing but it also helps you make the call if you have to choose between more than one car. The 8C had done the Mille Miglia with Enzo [Ferrari]. I think it was his last race as a driver.

I rarely drive a car before I buy it – I certainly never drove the GTO or the 250 MM – and I’ve very rarely been disappointed. The 8C was absolutely as good as I’d been led to believe, it felt good on the country roads around Gloucestershire near my workshop, but if a car doesn’t immediately feel brilliant, you can make it brilliant.

The 8C was one of the best cars made in the late twenties and early thirties. It was a remarkably sophisticated sports car, an early version of the GTO, and really easy to drive; my dad’s Bentley in comparison is such a heavy thing but you can put both into fourth gear and go all day. The Alfa had a 2336cc supercharged engine with a double overhead cam that produced around 150bhp, and with light responsive steering, excellent brakes and a smooth gear change it was a delight to drive. It was also great looking; it had a long bonnet, elegant lines and was elegantly finished. Mine was an open car, a red one, with a leather interior, but I don’t think I ever put the roof up. It had the obligatory and lovely wood-rimmed steering wheel with cord wrapped around it to give it more grip.

In the year I had the Alfa I took part in a couple of events – I was doing my helicopter licence at the time and thought I’d use a rally in Ireland as an excuse to fly while the 8C got transported over there – but I didn’t race it. When a car has got a bit of motorsport history there is a feeling that you don’t want to see your car humiliated by not being driven well enough, I wouldn’t want to let the car down by backing off if the car actually would go quicker, but occasionally you sign up to be cannon fodder. My [Jaguar] D-Type will never keep up with the ones raced regularly at Goodwood because there are too many mods I’d need to do on the car to make it competitive. A few years ago Martin Brundle was in the GTO and said to me, ‘How do you want to play this?’ and I said ‘Battle damage is fine but I don’t want you to roll it three times.’ But, of course, if you’re going to race the car, race it. My daughters race, my wife races and I’ve got a son-in-law [Marino Franchitti] who races professionally.

I realised almost as soon as I waved it goodbye that selling the Alfa was a mistake but I had to find some money to pay the ‘Revenue. Car prices were going up and I didn’t read the market properly, I just thought I’m not using it so it’s the one that has to go. The reality is, when you are selling a car, if you let it drop that you’re worried about where it’s going, people will go through the motions of saying how much they love it and put together a story; you will then see it for sale in the Exchange & Mart a few months later!

What was nice with the 8C was that I sold it to a really good gentleman who looked after it; I kept it running, he rebuilt it. He sent it to a specialist, but would go and work on the car himself under supervision which I thought showed exactly the right attitude. I really like the idea of working on my own cars, I have my own tool kit and like to pretend that I know what I’m doing, but Derek Edwards, my original Obi-Wan Kenobi of cars, always said ‘An interesting thing with you Nick is you are absolutely brilliant at stripping the car and then going on tour.’ I’ve still got a Morgan 3 Wheeler that I bought in 2014 waiting for me to do something to it.

If you’re interested in the business of whether cars should be restored or preserved, I recommend a book called The Archaeological Automobile by Miles C. Collier. Opinions change over time but I think at the moment preservation  is more prevalent than restoration, which is a good thing; I like dark blue cars, but if a car was red originally, it should remain that way. I think more and more vintage cars will go into museums, it’s inevitable because people buy what they had on their bedroom wall when they were growing up and for the next generation that’s hypercars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The hope is that museums will run these vintage cars so they can be appreciated for what they were at the time of manufacture. The Bentley, which has been in the family since the late forties, comes out for any big family event and occasionally my oldest grandson, he’s 17, drives it around the airfield [that Mason’s Ten Tenths, which runs his cars, operates from, near Cirencester] which is lovely to see.

The other problem is money. In the middle of the last century, motor racing was cheap – the 750 Motor Club modified hundreds of Austin Sevens – but Stirling [Moss] and all those people came at the sport through cheap cars rather than race schools. I’m beginning to think going on tours is probably where I’d like to be rather than on the grid, but going out in a car for real for the first time at Le Mans was unforgettable. [Mason raced his first 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Lola T297 in 1979, together with Steve O’Rourke, Pink Floyd’s manager.] I remember the smell of fried onions coming from the fairground mixed with the smell of the brake pads as I hit them before going onto the main straight. To be overtaken by Paul Newman and Derek Bell was the ultimate experience; I was out there with the big boys.

I don’t think I’d buy the 8C back if I had the chance because I’d come back to this problem of what am I going to do with it? I’ve always felt that it’s important to run and race old cars, I like people saying it’s good to see a car out and being driven in anger, but with values on some of them now, I can’t say that anymore because it’d be foolhardy to risk smashing a Ferrari that’s worth zillions. When one gets older, you rethink things, there are children and grandchildren to consider and sooner or later that car will be translated into schools, health care or whatever. It’s a very good thing that I’m very bad at selling cars.

Read more

The One That Got Away: Former racing driver Peter Sutcliffe’s Ferrari 250 GTO
Wheeling and dealing in the fastlane: ‘You couldn’t sell a Ferrari 250 GTO because it was too slow to win races’
The One That Got Away: Simon Kidston’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

You may also like

Future Classic: Alfa Romeo Giulia
Future Classic: Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo Milano 3
New Alfa Romeo Milano to Pick up Where the Mito and Giulietta Left Off
Classic Convertibles That Won’t Break the Bank
Classic Convertibles That Won’t Break the Bank
A story about

Your biweekly dose of car news from Hagerty in your inbox


  • Nigel says:

    Lovely and wise comments from a man who knows his cars. I’m a dedicated Alfisti and super passionate about Alfa’s early racing cars; there are none finer. Every petrolhead (and certainly Alfisti) should visit the Storico Museo Alfa Romeo at Arese, Milano – it’s simply the Holy Grail.

  • Serena Miller says:

    As a female growing up with a father who had a vast collection of cars. I have a great appreciation of both the history of cars & craftsmanship of them. I have many wonderful memories of watching my dad/grandfather working on them plus the joys of countless moments of fun days out at shows & driving. Now I am in my 40’s I still have many of my father’s cars which I inherited when he passed away. I also have added a few including the buggatt Veyron which I have great respect for & is a pleasure to drive.

  • Melven Macilwraith says:

    I was standing by the harbour in Castletownbere in West Cork in Ireland one summer in the 90’s when Nick drove into town in AUL 488. He parked by the quay and he and his partner hopped out and walked up town leaving the Alfa in no other company than the curious stares of half a dozen passers-by. Have the photo to prove it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic
Hagerty Newsletter
Get your weekly dose of car news from Hagerty UK in your inbox

Thanks for signing up!

Your request will be handled as soon as possible