2012 – Treasures from the archives – the 1953 450 team.

2012 – Treasures from the archives – the 1953 450 team.

We’re still sorting through the HT  archives and our acquisitions subcommittee (Thanks, Dave)  is adding to them with new purchases. This job will become a lot easier when we develop and improve the database so that we, and  all our subscribers, can have a quick visual reference to existing material.

One item I was looking at the other day was a small red pocket sized exercise book.  This contains  a handwritten list of drivers and team members as well as other useful contacts for the 1953  Le Mans 450 works team. Jack Fairman and Lance Macklin are recorded on the front page with details of their blood groups and (cheerfully) their next of kin.

Lance Macklin , it seems, had rather a reputation as a playboy. Described as a good-looking, smooth-talking charmer, Macklin was easily distracted by female company. To quote from his obituary,“If there was some blonde in the picture he would not turn up to practice”. He had a list of those allowed  to visit his bedside in France should the worst occur. He had chosen the Comtesse de Caraman, of Chateau de Courson for a French bedside visit, and Mrs Hindmarsh of Westbourne Park Road should an English disaster occur. Who was this mystery French aristocrat? The Comtesse de Caraman is an ancient and prestigious title with impressive connections to the worlds of literature and art. But this wasn’t, it transpires, an illicit liaison. I see that the  Duc de Caraman’s first wife was  Nada Esmée Macklin (b.Cobham 23 Nov 1917) so the Comtesse was likely to have been Lance’s next of kin, his sister rather than her redoubtable, 90 year old mother in law the Dowager Duchess.


P. Sumner Wilson , Tommy Wisdom  (well known in motor racing, rallying and motoring journalism circles) and Mike Keen are  mentioned as is the Garage Moderne of Arnage (telephone 8) and the Hotels Central and Les Charmettes. (telephone 893 and 23) Finally Solex  are included , headed by Baron de Montesquieu and M. Rossat, their Chief Test Engineer, based at Hotel de l’Hippodrome, on Les Hunaudieres.

Macklin  was co-driver of  car no 37 with Graham Whitehead. Tommy Wisdom and Jack Fairman drove number 38. A third car was held in reserve.

Macklin’s father, Noel Macklin founded both the Invicta and  Railton companies, as well as Fairmile Marine, a manufacturer of  spectacular wartime motor gun- and torpedo-boats.  (The Fairmile D  was propelled by quadruple Packard engines, developing 5000bhp…)

Lance won the BRDC International Trophy, at Silverstone in 1952. In.  He drove an Aston Martin to third place at Le Mans in 1951 (with Eric Thompson), but Macklin felt   the £300 retainer he was paid by Aston Martin was not enough, and when offered £1,000 to lead the Bristol sportscar team in 1953, he jumped ship.

There was an agreement between AFN (Aldington) and the car section of Bristol Aeroplane Co. (George White) to supply Bristol engines solely to AFN for 5 years (1946-1951). I was heavily involved in racing at the time (1946-1955) with a 328 BMW and 2.9 litre Alfa Romeo and then the Bristol engined Frazer Nash, then Cooper Bristol, also the odd production saloon races with Bristol 400, 401. 403 and 405. George White

originally wanted to make a car to enter the big time Grand

Prix races but I pointed out the huge financial injection

and administration costs. A sports -car would be the better bet.

A small desk model of an open wheeled Bristol sports car rather on the lines of the Frazer Nash was made. When Lewis and Silverton suddenly removed me from the Bristol board in July 2007 I left this and other similar sized prototype models in the cellar at Kensington. I have no idea who has them now! Nor have I any idea of what happened to all my personal possessions left in the cellar for over 50 years because I was not allowed in. Nothing came of the “open wheeled” racing sports car and the G type ERA was purchased. In spite of the usual brilliant driving of my friend Stirling Moss who could get the best out of the worst car, it not been successful.For instance, ERA had fiddled with the   engine and in order to place it as low as possible they had a dry sump.

Unfortunately for Bristol in 1953 at Le Mans both cars broke down before half distance. In each case the balance weights became detached from the crankshaft. The rear wheels then locked at high speed, making both cars veer off the road and catch fire. However, before this happened Jack Fairman posted a new lap record for the 2 litre class.Astonishingly, the cars were rebuilt and back competing  on the track at Reims 3 weeks later.

In 1954 Macklin moved on and  joined the Austin-Healey team, finishing third overall in the Sebring 12 Hours, with George Huntoon.

For 1955,  Macklin had entered the Austin-Healey 100 S Prototype at Le Mans.  This had a 140-horsepower twin carb four-cylinder engine with a massive cam, but Macklin was lapped by the much faster sports-prototypes from  Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. As the Austin-Healey came past the pits, contemporary film shows Mike Hawthorn’s disc braked  Jaguar D-Type appearing to slow abruptly as it came in for fuel, forcing Macklin to swerve out of the way.

His Austin-Healey was  then struck from the rear by Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. The Mercedes-Benz catapulted into a retaining bank and disintegrated into the crowd .  84 died, including Pierre Levegh, the driver of the 300SLR. 120 were injured, and the crash prompted international revision of safety precautions. Incredibly, the race was not stopped, as Police apparently felt the resulting congestion would prevent emergency services tending to the injured. Perhaps only 10 years after the war the authorities were inured to such mass casualties. I think it was right to continue the race even after the appalling loss of life amongst the spectators. This enabled the rescue crew to do their best rather than being handicapped by crowd panic and dispersement. Meantime, the Bristol 450 team ran like clockwork, with only 15 minutes pit time in the 24 hours,  and  won their Class finishing in line astern formation 1-2-3.  Sadly, after this tragedy  the company decided not to continue motor racing.

Later, Macklin sued his former friend Mike Hawthorn for libel after the latter implied Macklin might be to blame for the tragedy.  Following a later incident in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, in which Macklin crashed his Austin-Healey 100S avoiding an accident in which Jim Mayers and William T. Smith were killed, Macklin retired from motor sport .

The Healey survived the shunt and was sold last year for $1.3 million in barn find condition. And one of  Mike Hawthorn’s D Types, later driven to sixth place at Le Mans in 1956 and third at Sebring with the ill-fated Bueb, was recently priced at $11 million.

Reference the dreadful Le Mans disaster in 1955, even to-day much is being written about the involvment of Macklin and Hawthorn.The Mercedes rear view must have been restricted by the massive airbrake which rose like a car boot opening when braking. In 1955 George White and I had not acquired Bristol Cars (until 1960) but on my advice that it would look bad for the company to allow the 450s to be  outclassed in the short distance or twisty course races entered by amateurs with limited maintenance facilities, two of the three cars were literally sawn up. I kept the third one for many years.

 Somewhere I still have a photo of the first Bristol 450 next

to my 401 at Goodwood. It looked quite slinky but after I had pointed out that I thought there would be cooling problems, holes were cut all over the body.

When George White and I discussed drivers, the obvious choice would be my friend Roy Salvadori who was my racing partner in Frazer Nashes, Bob Gerard a highly successful ERA and Frazer Nash driver and me. The snag was that Salvadori and I were under contract to drive for Esso and Bob Gerard under contract to drive for Shell. Bristol chose  BP. It would not have been profitable for Roy Salvadori, Bob Gerard and I due to these fuel contracts to give up all races except  Rheims and LeMans. I also said that the best policy for Bristol would be to have semi-professional or amateur   drivers to drive in those long distance events. There would be two advantages a) low payment to the driver, who might anyway love the opportunity to drive for a works team and b) to show off the reliability of Bristol engined cars   being driven long distances by good but not necessarily highly experienced drivers.

Lance Macklin I knew very well, as he was driving HWMs

with Stirling Moss for my friend George Abecassis in my

Frazer Nash days.  Macklin and Fairman were very experienced drivers. I remember well when he won the BRDC Internationl Trophy at Silverstone in 1952. I competed in that in a stripped down Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. The car was only a week old but ran well. In the first heat my FN was amazingly holding 4th place amongst the best cars leaving me 6th. In the final , Hawthorn (green Cooper Bt) was well away at the start followed by Manzon’s and Behra’s Gordinis. The Final was of course splendidly won by Macklin. Motorsport said it was largely without   except that “Tony Crook s “sports” Frazer Nash discarded its  undershield and seemed to have done some cross country motoring”. In fact, as in the heat, I again on the final spun on oil damaging the underneath of the car and a wheel. I plodded on but was given the black flag as bits of the underneath were causing sparks on the track.

I had a long pit stop but decided not to retire and finished

last. That day May 1952 was for me a very busy one. In addition to the heat and final of the International Trophy race I finished 2nd in my Frazer Nash to Ray Salvadori in the sports car race ahead of Roll’s C type Jaguar and 1st in the

production saloon race 2 litre class in my 401 Bristol and

Salvodori, Buckley and I won the team prize gleefully beating the works Jaguar team. 

Incidentally, on the internet “conceptcarz” insulted me by saying that I just toured around looking at the scenery! That may well have been true after the fateful pit stop, but  Autosport said (in heat 2) “Tony Crook drove superbly in the Frazer Nash well ahead of Bob Gerard (Frazer Nash) and McAlpine’s Connaught.”

Graham Whitehead 1922 – 1981) participated in one Formula One World Championship Grand Prix, on July 19, 1952. He finished 12th, scoring no championship points. He also competed in several non-Championship Formula One races.

He began by racing his half-brother Peter‘s ERA,  1951 and then drove his Formula 2 Alta in the 1952 British Grand Prix. He finished second at 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans only weeks before the accident on the Tour de France in which Peter was killed. Graham escaped serious injury and later raced again with an Aston Martin and Ferrari 250GT before stopping at the end of 1961.

Graham Whitehead I knew well, he was the stepbrother of

Peter Whitehead and drove well but not in the same league

of Peter who drove ERA’s, Ferraris etc in GP s etc.

I first met Peter Whitehead in the 1946 Isle of Man BRDC and Manx Cup races when he drove ERA and I drove a 328 Frazer Nash BMW. I have a photo of my 3 year old daughter Carole sitting in his ERA. She had been fed up with appearing in press

photos in my 2.9 Alfa at Brighton Speed trials and elsewhere.

Tommy Wisdom, founder member of the HPC, was well known in motor racing, rallying and motoring journalism. He competed with success in several Grand Prix as well as at Le Mans. He  competed in the Monte Carlo Rally 23 times. He won the Grand Turismo Class of the Mile Miglia three times. He was involved with Capt George Eyston and John Cobb in successful world record breaking attempts and also wrote books on road driving.  Tommy Wisdom was an eminent journalist and did not drive many sports cars in racing. I remember in 1950 the 3 hour TT in Ireland. Wisdom was down to drive a Jaguar 120 but handed this over to Sirling Moss who won brilliantly on the eve of his 21st birthday. I remember that race and his win so well.

 The race was in cloud bursts, thunder and fog for 3 hours. I

was third in the two litre class in my Frazer Nash at the

Time;  the policy of having amateurs, especially a journalist

like Wisdom, in the team worked well.

Prewar, Jack Fairman drove an Alvis 12/50 in trials and hill climbs from 1934. He also raced at Brooklands  .

Postwar, Fairman achieved many successes in sports car racing, particularly in endurance events. He drove for a number of top-rank teams during this time, including Bristol, Jaguar, Ecurie Ecosse, and Aston Martin. It was with Aston that Fairman won his most significant events, partnering Stirling Moss in the 1959 Nürburgring 1000 km, and Tourist Trophy at Goodwood. He also made a brief Formula One debut at the 1953 British Grand Prix, driving and retiring an HWM 53.

Jack Fairman was a  professional driver. I drove in many races with him such as Crystal Palace in 1954 when he came 2nd to me in the main (2litre) race in quite an unknown car. He was a good friend of mine throughout 1946-1955.

He was a  test driver during the development of Connaught’s Formula Two and later Formula One cars.   Following Bernie Ecclestone‘s purchase of  Connaught in 1958, Fairman continued with his sporadic Formula One career in a wide variety of machines.  He became  the last man ever to start a Grand Prix with a front engined car and the first to drive a four-wheel drive car, at the 1961 British Grand Prix in the experimental Ferguson P99,  run by the Rob Walker Racing Team. Fairman’s last Formula One race was in  1963 at Imola , driving a Porsche for Ecurie Maarsbergen.

In the 1970s he was to be found running a minicab office for Mike, an ex FN apprentice – alas, racing exhausts had deafened him and the job didn’t last.

Mike Keen was a founder member of the ‘Monkey Stable’ sports car team. Besides his success at Le Mans with the  1953 Bristol 450 team Mike Keen did well in a variety of cars which included a single seater HRG, Cooper-Bristol sports and Formula 2 Cooper-Alta. He also appeared in 500cc formula three races with a Cooper-Norton. Mike crashed while leading the 2 litre Class in the 1955 Goodwood 9 Hours. Tony Crook was injured in the same race and they were brought into hospital together. Tony survived, but sadly Mike did not.

Of course we later employed two other Monkey Stable members in the Bristol team. I knew and liked Mike Keen very much as he also drove Cooper-Bristols  and Cooper Alta’s. I often raced against him, for instance in the BRDC Empire Trophy Race at Oulton Park in 1954 or 1955 and at Crystal Palace and elsewhere. Mike Keen crashed on lap 55 in the afternoon of the 1955 (20 August) 9 hour race at Goodwood while leading the 2 litre class in his Cooper B ristol and I, at 10.30 pm on lap 214, spun on oil dropped from the engine of Ken Wharton’s Ferrari and was  unavoidably rammed byStirling Moss leading the 1.5 litreclass in a Porsche. Mike sadly did not survive whilst I was in Chichester Hospital for 2 weeks with head and neck injuries. That was my last race having competed between 1946 and 1955 in 400 sprints, hill climbs, long distance records, Formula 1 and sports car races. 46 of these had been at Goodwood, from the very first race there in 1948.

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Telegraph obituary, High Performance Club archives. Tony Crook’s comments in italics

Stefan Cembrowicz, with the assistance of Tony Crook. July 2012