In 1953 Collins and Griffiths finished second to Reg Parnell and Eric Thompson in the next Goodwood Nine-Hour race, driving with the Aston Martin DB3S team, exuberant as ever. Then it was off to the Dundrod circuit near Belfast for the Tourist Trophy to win, which took the pair a total race-time of 9hr 37min 12sec, well ahead of Parnell and Thompson.
I described the circuit as narrow and highly exacting with no room for a single mistake to be made, and bad driving stood out noticeably. So a tough circuit, difficult for grand prix drivers, let alone novices. Indeed, in 1950, when Stirling Moss had won the TT brilliantly in a Jaguar XK120 in pouring rain, company principle Sir William Lyons wrote to me saying that Motor Sport’s report of the event was the only one he had seen which gave a realistic picture of it. But Dundrod, a true closed-public road venue, proved to be tragically dangerous in 1955, seven cars being involved in one crash which killed two drivers.
For the 1954 TT, Collins was again partnered by Griffiths in an improved Aston Martin, but Peter’s propeller shaft broke and Salvadori crashed, and the best the Peter Whitehead/Dennis Poore Aston could do was 13th. Before this Tony Vandervell had begun his valiant attempt to build cars that could win GP races for Great Britain, as he eventually did. In 1954 he took on Peter Collins to experimentally drive the Vanwall Special, which in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone retired with claimed cylinder-head gasket failure.
Next, Collins was second in class for Aston at Silverstone to Roy Salvadori’s sister car, and, driving the Thinwall Ferrari for Tony Vandervell, he beat Ron Flockhart in a V16 BRM by 15.4sec at Goodwood in the Whitsun Trophy, with a fastest lap of 93.30mph. At the opening of the Aintree circuit in this 4½-litre car he was second to Parnell’s Ferrari in Heat One of the Formula Libre event, with fastest lap of 79.88mph. In the final the Thinwall had a long lead until it stopped on lap 19 for a plugs change; the engine then refused to restart for six minutes. Collins retired on lap 28 of this 34-lap race. He then took the Snetterton Libre race at 91.32mph.
Collins on the front row (closest to camera) alongside Moss, Brooks and Hawthorn at the Nürburgring in 1958
Grand Prix Photo
For the 1955 TT, still at Dundrod, Collins was paired with Tony Brooks in one of the 3-litre Aston Martins. There was great excitement because Mercedes-Benz had entered three of its 300SLRs, to be driven by Moss and Fitch, Fangio and Kling, and von Trips and Simon. They finished the 633-mile race in that 1-2-3 order, but before retiring Collins had passed both Trips and Kling.
Indeed, at Silverstone he was second in an Aston Martin DB3S in Heat 3 of the BRDC International Sportscar race. He then drove for Aston Martin in the Mille Miglia which Moss and Jenkinson won so convincingly for Mercedes-Benz, but he was unplaced. However, in the Daily Express International Trophy race meeting at Goodwood he was third in the sports car class and won the main Trophy after an intense duel with Salvadori. Both were in Maseratis, Peter passing inside on the corners to gain an impeccable victory by 0.57sec, although with less effective brakes Salvadori made the fastest lap at 98.48mph. Bira’s Maserati was third.
Collins showed his all-round skill, now allied to endurance, by coming second in the Le Mans 24-hour race with Paul Frère in the 2.9-litre Aston Martin, beaten only by the 3.5-litre Jaguar D-type driven by Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb.
At Whitsun 1955 in the Essex CC’s Snetterton National meeting Collins was second to Archie Scott-Brown in the Lister-Bristol, the Aston Martin DB3S 9.3sec in arrears, but in a V16 BRM he spun off in the Formula Libre contest. However, at Crystal Palace, Collins came home with an easy win in a Maserati.
The sports car race on British GP day at Silverstone produced another second place for Peter in a disc-braked Aston Martin DB3S, when his friend Hawthorn was fifth behind the AMs in a works Jaguar D-type; the 1954 Aston Martins were outclassed. At Snetterton Peter was a non-starter as the Owen Maserati was still in pieces after Aintree; Peter missed an AMOC Silverstone day as he was flying to Milan to obtain a new gearbox for the car. This busy racer was back for the Goodwood Nine-Hours, taking third place with Tony Brooks for Aston Martin.
Collins drive to victory in his crash-damaged 300SLR at the 1955 Targa Florio
Collins then entered grand prix racing. At Monza in 1955 he drove a Maserati 250F but retired after 23 laps. At Aintree he won a Libre race in a V16 BRM from Salvadori’s Maserati and Tony Brooks in a Connaught.
At Oulton Park the new four-cylinder BRM let Collins down after a meteoric drive in the 54-lap Gold Cup Daily Despatch race, with lack of oil pressure after 10 laps. It was significant of his abilities that after Stirling Moss had gone off the road in the Targa Florio in his 300SLR Mercedes, it was Peter who drove the somewhat bent M-B, and outclassed Kling’s Mercedes, Manzon’s Ferrari 750S and Fitch’s Mercedes in four laps, to bring the Moss car to victory in this hot 936km classic fixture.
Collins, in the smooth style now attributed to Jenson Button, opened his 1956 season with a fifth at the Mendoza GP in a works Ferrari. At the Monaco Grand Prix Collins was determined in the Lancia-Ferrari team and annoyed Fangio by holding him up, but after the great man had damaged a wheel in an ‘off’ and was having clutch slip, he let Collins take over his car for a dual second place behind Moss’s Maserati 250F.
Collins with Fangio in 1956: he would hand over his Ferrari at Monza and give up his shot at the World Championship
Grand Prix Photo
Next it was off to Silverstone for the Daily Express International Trophy race. A multiple crash – not his fault – put the Aston out of the sports car event, but in the 100-mile 60-lap F1 race, Peter was only 12sec behind Fangio when the Argentinian’s engine died. He took over Peter’s Lancia-Ferrari but the clutch gave out. However, in the Mille Miglia, after almost 12 hours driving with Louis Klemantaski as the intrepid passenger, he was second to Castellotti’s V12 Ferrari in a 3½-litre four-cylinder Ferrari and in front of Fangio’s V12 car.
Collins won the 1000km Giro de Sicilia in a 3.5-litre Ferrari, in spite of having to make his four pitstop restarts on the starter as the clutch was useless. At Syracuse he was third for Lancia-Ferrari in an ordinary D50, behind Fangio and Musso.
Collins’s true form was amply seen when he won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in a Lancia-Ferrari, ahead of Paul Frère in the other team Lancia-Ferrari and Moss’s Maserati. The Lancia-Ferraris were geared for 165mph at 8200rpm, but later the absolute limit was 9000rpm.
It was then off to the Nürburgring 1000Km race in which Collins was fifth in a DB3S shared with Tony Brooks. So to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in which Collins’s Lancia-Ferrari overheated and lost oil pressure when he was driving a steady race behind in third place. Amends were made in the French Grand Prix at Reims, when the young driver finished as the winner, with Eugenio Castellotti coming second in the V8 Lancia-Ferrari.
The Grand Prix of Rouen was a sports car race Aston Martin had hoped to win with a strong team of the new Le Mans cars. Moss changed his with that of Collins’s as he preferred drum brakes to discs; Moss was second to Castellotti’s Ferrari, but Collins’s engine gave up.
Collins had a 12-cylinder Ferrari for the Swedish Grand Prix at Kristianstad with ‘Taffy’ von Trips, and in spite of going off on an oil patch, they were second to Trintigant and Phil Hill in the other V12 Ferrari with fastest lap by Collins at 100mph. His cornering was truly professional…
For the Le Mans 24-hour race of 1956, Moss and Collins took the Aston Martin DB3S home in second place, a sure sign of top driver recognition. But a broken fuel pipe put Collins out of the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. He maintained top form in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where Fangio’s and his Lancia-Ferrari was second to Moss’s Maserati 250F.
It was with Mike Hawthorn that Collins shared the Monza sports car race to win in a 2-litre Ferrari at over 122.5mph, with Moss/Pedosa second in a 2-litre Maserati, Peter having made fastest lap at approximately 125mph.