Sometimes you meet someone that – in a roundabout way – has given you a metric tonne of opportunity, but, for whatever reason, you never get to tell them. Keith Ripp was that man.
To me, he was this kind of illusive legend. Three times World Rallycross champion, founder of Ripspeed, and the father of two of the most well-mannered people I’ve got the pleasure of having in my phone book.
Keith Ripp passed away last week, and I shed more than a few tears because his two sons – Adrian and Jason – have always made me feel like family, and I didn’t like to think of them in pain.
I say that, but I am fairly sure that every time I drop into their store, or they see my name pop up on their phone when I call, the three words that come into their mind are probably ‘agony’, ‘torture’ and ‘oh FFS’. OK, that’s more than three words, but Ade and Jason won’t mind, because when it comes to life with the Ripp family, more is always definitely more!
Why? Well, Keith Ripp’s love of life resulted in a seat-of-the-pants ride that embodied never giving up and always smiling. Sounds cliché, but look at this madness.
If you’re a Training Day fan, there’s the scene where Alonzo and Roger test Jake to figure the streets out. And the streets are broken down into ‘smiles’ and ‘cries’. We’ll get back to that in a little while, but fair to say Keith was a master of controlling his cries and smiles, just by his reaction to a monster crash at Lydden Hill racetrack.
A school dropout, Mr Ripp’s love for racing Minis saw him skip any form or formal education and get a proper degree. Instead, armed with a doctorate in making-your-own-rules-up, Keith opened a shop. He didn’t have much stock to begin with, so he would strip his race car at the end of every weekend and put the parts in the window of the shop on Monday. At his first shop, every time he sold a customer a product, he would take it out of the box and keep the empty packaging to make his store look like it had way more stock than it did. A silly man, Keith was not. A smart a natural marketeer? Most definitely.
Property isn’t cheap in London, and you’ve got to work very hard indeed to make a strong business. Parts for making Minis go faster weren’t readily available, but Keith sourced them from all over Europe and made a name for himself as a formidable racer and supplier of Mini tuning parts.
Seeing the opportunity to serve the mainstream car community in London and the surrounding areas, Keith formed a massive store called Ripspeed about 4-miles away from where I currently live.
‘Rippy’ as he became known, was inadvertently starting a tuning revolution. This was the first car tuning store of its kind here in the UK.
Eventually, in 1999, the Ripspeed brand was sold to Halfords, one of the leading automotive parts retailers in the UK. And that’s where I got my break and had my first job in the car tuning industry. In 2000, I started working as one of the first ‘Ripspeed Specialists’. This was one big Training Day for me. I used to sell a hilarious amount of wheels, car stereos and suspension kits over the weekend, and then my mate Alex Harrhy, who now works at Forge Motorsport, would have to come in on Monday and sort out the sh*t-show of paperwork I would leave for him.
Back then I was into Peugeots and had a 106 that was on the cover of Redline magazine. I made friends with the team there and somehow found myself working for the magazine as a staff writer. Without Ripspeed, that would probably have never happened.
My first photoshoot? A Renault Clio V6 on TSW Zenon Pin Drive wheels with the world’s loudest exhaust built by Keith Ripp’s son, Jason, to promote the Ripp family’s newly-founded car tuning store, R-Tec Auto Design, based in St Albans, just outside London. This car found its way into lots of magazines, including Max Power, the market leading car culture magazine in the UK (above).
Before social media, there were four big tuning mags in the UK that sold over half a million copies collectively each month. Revs, Redline, Fast Car and Max Power. If you got the green light to come and shoot an R-Tec Auto Design demo car, that was a big deal. So, the three-hour drive from Redline magazine’s office to R-Tec was super exciting. Especially since Max Power magazine, which sold 250,000 copies or more on a good month, usually got these type of feature cars. That was a good first shoot.
I read a tribute to Keith Ripp from Max Power’s visionary editor of that era, John Sootheran, and it was a perfect description of ‘The Godfather of UK Tuning’.
I don’t cry very often, but quite naturally when I do, it’s either tears of sadness or tears of joy. My best friend’s dad passed in 2014 and I loved him very much, mainly because we’d scour the classified ads together and had a shared love for wasting obscene amounts of money on cars. At his funeral there was a Bob Dylan quote on the order of service booklet which read, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
To be brutally honest, doing a job I love everyday makes me feel like life is one big holiday. I am lucky to do what I enjoy most days. And I owe a lot of that opportunity to Rippy. I never got to tell Keith what Ripspeed meant to me, but he was so laid back, I didn’t think he would have really believed me.
Here’s the thing – what makes a legend to each and every one of us is personal. We all have our heroes and Rippy was definitely one of mine. Whether it was dressing smart, driving fast or even crashing, Keith Ripp knew how to roll.
Legends make you feel alive when you’re around them and, most importantly, when they’ve gone to the next life, they leave behind their trademark infectious energy. Ripp in peace Keith, thanks for the smiles and opportunities. And let it never be said you did anything by halves.
Special thanks to R-Tec Auto Design for the images.