Unlucky Jim

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Brother Jackie eventually took all the plaudits, but it was Jimmy Stewart who first staked a claim to racing success. Eric Dymock recalls life with the fastest fraternity in Scotland

A wintry day at Oulton Park in 1962 seemed unlikely to be the stuff of racing history. The chill wind of recession was biting. Club events had yet to feel the warmth of sponsorship and there was little prospect of anybody making a living out of racing. Only a handful of drivers had shown it was possible to supplement a day job with fees or starting money — if you were any good.

Jimmy Stewart, now 31, had been very good. A works driver for Jaguar and Aston Martin, he was lapping Oulton in an Aston Martin DB4GT with the consummate smoothness and skill that had seen him running sixth during the 1953 British Grand Prix at the wheel of a Cooper-Bristol.

Now, nearly a decade later, he was trying to set a lap time that his brother Jackie might match. Two years earlier, aged 21, Jackie had lost his place in the British shooting team for the Tokyo Olympics. He decided to see if he was any good at being a racing driver instead, and if he could approach Jimmy’s times, he might have a go.

In the small Scottish motor racing community where everybody knew everybody else, I came to know Jimmy Stewart. Jackie and I had driven to Oulton in a Mark IX Jaguar; Jimmy brought the demonstrator E-type FSN1, with one of an endless succession of girl-friends, singer Dorothy Paul.

Oulton Park. Hallowed turf We were rustics well outside the threshold of the big time. But Jimmy Stewart had been in the big time, not only in cars but before that as an accomplished boy soprano, with recording contracts and a broadcasting career that foundered only when his voice broke. He had shown such promise in a Healey Silverstone that David Murray invited him to join Ecurie Ecosse.

It was not like being asked to join a team nowadays. Dumbuck Garage had stumped up for the Healey, and the way team patron David Murray worked, it had to stump up for a C-type Jaguar, painted in the team livery of metallic blue and under Murray’s direction. In ’53 one of the advantages of being with Ecosse was that you qualified for the latest factory tweaks such as disc brakes.

With it, Jimmy enjoyed success, not quite the run of victories that his (unrelated) contemporary Ian Stewart had in 1952 with Ecosse’s XKC 006, but he had two wins at Thruxton, second places at Charterhall and lbsley, and two thirds at Snetterton. He had a full season driving XKC 041, KSF 181, and he finished second with John Lawrence at the Nürburgring, in another of the team’s C-types, in addition to three more good wins at Goodwood. He was doing National Service at the time, getting leave with the help of a compliant CO.

Jimmy’s career then stalled at Le Mans in 1954 when he crashed one of John Wyer’s Aston Martin DB3S Coupés. The ascetic Wyer was put out when his new driver told him during practice he wished he were in a C-type. Jimmy wrote the Aston off at White House, shattering an arm that doctors told him he might lose if he did it again.

In 1955, invited into the works Jaguar team for the Daily Express production car race at Silverstone, he finished second to Mike Hawthorn in one of the aluminium Mk VlIs. Lofty England wrote inviting him to drive at Le Mans with Hawthorn, “because I believe the pair of you can match the speed of Fangio and Moss in the Mercedes.”

But it was not to be; at the Nürburgring in May 1955 he crashed his D-type, XKD501. Jimmy was trapped upside down in it, drenched in petrol, and because the hedge closed up again after he went through it, it was some time before rescuers found him.

After this second accident, combined with the fact that Jimmy’s mother never liked him racing, he gave it up. He always hoped that Jackie might carry on where he had left off, and when the time came to set the lap speeds at Oulton, Jimmy was part of the conspiracy to conceal the venture from their mother.

We knew Jackie would be quick. We had seen him drive the E-type at Charterhall and the Stewarts always did things well. When we went ten-pin bowling, Jackie equipped himself with a proper pair of bowling shoes while the rest of us wore the rink’s plimsolls. He left nothing to chance, and was invariably a winner.

Jimmy was much the same. His BRDC badge set him apart as somebody special. He was professional to his fingertips, well groomed, handsome, more sensitive than Jackie but probably more vulnerable. I clicked the stopwatches that bleak day at Oulton Park; Jackie was two or three seconds a lap faster. Not much, but enough to encourage him to raise his sights from the strictly amateur to the semi-professional.

Jimmy was delighted, but after that it was downhill. The family business was run by managers and eventually turned over to lifelong friends of Jackie’s who run it as a successful Vauxhall franchise. Jimmy sold Rolls-Royces in Glasgow and Edinburgh but as Jackie rocketed to fame and fortune, Jimmy’s career went into decline, his marriage broke up, and his health deteriorated.

Gentleman Jim. He could charm the birds out of the trees and he was at the Jaguar F1 launch in January smiling as expansively at 69 as he had at 30. Perhaps as his rival Ian Stewart said, “Jimmy was a match for, if not better than his brother, but I think Jackie was lucky and Jimmy wasn’t…”

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