A star is born

Despite an inauspicious last-place finish in a humble DKW, Jim Clark’s career was in the ascendancy
By David Ross

Odd-looking and totally out of place in an event for sports-racing cars the DKW Sonderklasse might have been, but could anyone ever have imagined that the driver in the wacky little German two-stroke saloon would go on to win 25 Grand Prix races, two drivers’ World Championships and become recognised as one of the finest single-seater drivers of all time?

When he arrived at Crimond, the old wartime airfield between Peterhead and Fraserburgh where the Aberdeen & District Motor Club ran races for cars and motorcycles on the same day, Jim Clark didn’t have the slightest inkling that he was about to experience his first race.

He had set off from his home near Duns on the Scottish borders with his friend Ian Scott Watson and thought he was simply going along for the ride. “Jimmy loved to go to Crimond,” Ian told me. “We stayed at a bed and breakfast near the village and there was always a barn dance somewhere nearby. He never wasted any time in ferreting out the best-looking girl.”

So, while Scott Watson was well aware of his young friend’s success with the ladies, he also knew Clark was pretty good behind the wheel of a car. The two had competed in rallies, sprints and autotests in a Sunbeam Talbot and, living as they did near the Charterhall circuit, had revelled in the sight of the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C-types with Ian and Jimmy Stewart – the two not related but Jimmy the elder brother of future Grand Prix ace Jackie Stewart – at the wheel.

Scott Watson and Clark had even been there when Giuseppe Farina, the first driver ever to win a Formula 1 World Championship, set the fastest lap at the wheel of a Thinwall Special in October 1952.

The DKW’s 896cc engine could muster only 34bhp and it would have taken them about five hours to reach the northern tip of Aberdeenshire, including a ferry crossing as the Forth Road Bridge had not yet been built.

But the ‘Deek’ had an impressive sporting heritage. Walter Schlüter had won the 1954 European Rally Championship in one and another had taken third overall in the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally. So Ian had no hesitation in entering his little saloon for the event on Saturday, June 16 1956. Running in Class E, an eight-lap race for Production Cars, he faced the likes of the Morris Minor driven by Ray Fielding of Forres, Aberdonian Peter Gordon in his Austin A90 and Ernie Allan, a driving school owner from Aberdeen, in his Fiat.

There were road-going sports cars on the grid too, including bookmaker Duggie Duncan in a Jaguar XK120, ID MacDonald and Canadian Bruce Allan in Jaguar XK 140s, Charlie Davidson in a Triumph TR2 and J O’Hare in an MG but, in a race where handicaps were awarded by the organisers based on the morning’s practice times, the DKW didn’t have to be the fastest car on the track.

In the end, my scribbled notes show that number 17, WPS Melville in a Citroën, won, followed home by Peter Gordon in his Ecurie A90 and well known Highland Car Club member and Monte Carlo Rally competitor, Kenny McLennan in his Standard 10. Where Scott Watson finished, he can’t remember as the handicapping system was never easy to fathom.

Clark was not to know that his friend had secretly filled in an entry form for him to compete in the sports car race. Clark’s parents would not have approved so the car was entered under the Ecurie Agricole banner. It had little meaning other than that the duo were farmers.

Typically, Clark was three seconds a lap faster than the car’s altruistic owner. Scott Watson knew it would be that way and it was good of him to let the youngster outshine him in his own car, but that was only the beginning. Scott Watson was to go on to become Clark’s mentor, entering him in his Porsche and Lotus Elite and encouraging Jock McBain’s Border Reivers team to put Clark in its white Jaguar D-type.

In that sports car race at Crimond, there was no handicap. It was a scratch race and the DKW was hopelessly outgunned. Clark did pass one car and was delighted to do so. But his joy was short-lived – the tail-ender was heading for the pits with a broken half-shaft and the DKW finished firmly in last place.

The photographer who took the picture reproduced here knew nothing of the driver in the little DKW. Scribbled on the back of his print was: ‘Drivers jockey for position at the start of the Sports Car race up to 1500ccs at Crimond. On the right is well known Aberdeen motor trader JBG Campbell in his MGA.’ No mention of Jim Clark, and why should there be? He was just a young lad having his first race and he didn’t even own the car he was driving.

My notes indicate that the race was won by Brian Naylor, a late entry in a Maserati-engined Lotus. Jimmy Somervail finished second in his Lotus Eleven and JL Fraser, pictured in his Lotus Eleven, registration HGS 6, ended up in third.

According to Eric Dymock’s marvellous book on his friend Clark, Scott Watson paid dearly for his generosity. With Clark so much quicker in the same DKW, the organisers thought Scott Watson was sandbagging in practice in an effort to get a better handicap. So, for his race, he was re-handicapped out of contention.