Treasures from the Archives (2)

We’re still sorting through the HT archives and our acquisitions subcommittee 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 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 had, it seems, 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.  He drove an Aston Martin to third place at Le Mans in 1951 (with Eric Thompson), but Macklin had no more real success with AM than he had had with his previous mount, the perhaps underpowered HWM. He 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.

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, Mike Hawthorn’s disc braked Jaguar D-Type apprars to have slowed 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. 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 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.

 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.

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.  

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.

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 – alas, racing exhausts had deafened him and the job did not 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.

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Telegraph obituary, High Performance Club archives

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