Number Plates


The HWM team of single-seater Formula 2 cars made a good name tor themselves in European racing in 1951 and 1952, but as Formula 2 began to forge ahead they got left behind by more powerful cars, like Ferrari and Maserati, and lighter cars like Cooper-Bristol and Connaught. The initials HWM derived from Hersham & Walton Motors Ltd. the motor business being run by John Heath and George Abecassis, in New Zealand Avenue at Walton-on-Thames. By the middle of 1953 the once successful HWM Formula 2 team was beginning to fade and with a new 2 1/2-litre Formula for Grand Prix racing due and the imminent entry of Mercedes-Benz, Lancia, BRM and Vanwall it was obvious that there would be little room for what was essentially an amateur team.

Looking for new competition fields the two partners turned their thoughts to sports car racing and they were encouraged by the performance of one of their old 1950 Formula 2 cars that Oscar Moore had fitted with a Jaguar XK engine. In the workshops at Walton-on-Thames they still had the prototype chassis for their 1951 single-seater team, so they took this and used it as the basis for a new HWM-Jaguar sports car. Jaguars let them have an ex-works 3.4-litre C-type Le Mans engine and this was installed with a C-type Jaguar gearbox and an American Halibrand final drive unit, incorporating drop-gears to get everything as low as possible. Previously they had built a Jaguar powered HWM-Alta for hill-climb exponent Phil Scragg, and had supplied a full-width, all enveloping body for the car, but Scragg did not use it, preferring a simple lightweight body with exposed wheels and separate mudguards. HWM retrieved the unused aluminium body and it was fitted to the prototype Formula 2 chassis by welding outriggers to the large-diameter tubular ladder-frame. The Jaguar engine was set up with new camshafts designed by Harry Weslake and used three double-choke Weber carburetters and when complete the car weighed 2,072 lb., with a wheelbase of 92 inches.

While the car was being built the Southport registration authorities in Lancashire were just starting to issue the number plates HWM and an enthusiastic official in the local licensing department wrote and asked Abecassis if they would like HWM 1 for their new car. Naturally they accepted the offer gratefully and it was not until much later that they realised they should have taken an option on HWM 2,3 and 4 as well. However, the new car was painted green and duly registered HWM 1 and it made its competition debut at the June 1953 Shelsley Walsh hillclimb where Abecassis finished 2nd to Wicke’s Allard in the big sports car class. The following month the car was driven to Reims where it took part in the 12 hour sports car race preceding the French Grand Prix. It was driven by Abecassis and Paul Frere and was running 3rd when a locating bracket for one of the torque arms for the de Dion rear axle broke away and forced their retirement. Abecassis continued to appear in events in Britain and elsewhere and he shared the car with Graham Whitehead in the Goodwood 9 hour race but a broken timing chain forced them to retire. It failed to start at the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod when a driveshaft broke in practice, but it did manage to win a short race at Goodwood. At the end of the season Lance Macklin borrowed it for the Coupe du Salon at Montlhery and was challenging for the lead on lap 2 only to stop on the far side of the circuit when the main lead came off the ignition coil. After the race I had the pleasure of retrieving the car and driving it back to the paddock and the performance for those days was very impressive.

During the winter months plans were made to run the car in the 1954 Mille Miglia so during the rebuild the aluminium body was removed and a steel one made of similar shape, the better to stand the battering of 1,000 miles of normal Italian roads. The original aluminium body was sold and the new owner fitted it to an HWM-Cadillac V8 that he built up from spare parts, this car being registered 2 BMF. The rebuilt HWM 1 started the 1954 season with races at Castle Combe, Oulton Park and Goodwood and was then driven out to Italy for the Mille Miglia. Once again I came into contact with this famous car for George Abecassis agreed to let me ride as passenger with him in the Italian road-race. Our number was 613 which meant we left Brescia at 6.13 a.m., the last car away, and we had a comfortable cruising speed of 5,200 r.p.m. in top, which represented 142 m.p.h. Unfortunately a rear shock-absorber broke and then the rain started and the car became uncontrollable over 100 m.p.h., so that we were 20 minutes behind schedule at the first control point (200 miles). We had averaged 87 m.p.h. and that was too slow to justify carrying on. We drove across country to Bologna where we lunched and watched the leaders pass through, and then rejoined the course and had a good run back to Brescia, albeit with a limit of around 100 m.p.h. Just before the final control we turned off the course, much to the puzzlement of spectators, and returned to our base.

After repairs to the shock-absorber the car was driven back to England and Abecassis finished 2nd at Silverstone to Froilan Gonzalez in a works 4.1-litre Ferrari. It was raced throughout 1954 winning small events but usually failing in the more serious races, though it did manage 4th overall in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod when Jim Meyers shared the driving with Abecassis. It raced in such faraway places as Sweden and Portugal and led a pretty hard life as it was always driven to and from the races, so that it did many more road miles than racing miles. At the beginning of 1955 John Bolster borrowed it to do one of his famous road-tests for Autosport. With the low 4.11 to 1 axle ratio fitted he timed it to do 0-100 17 seconds and with a high 3.48 to 1 axle ratio he recorded a maximum speed of 145.1 m.p.h. Abecassis continued to race the car in 1955 and on occasions it was lent to other drivers, Mike Keen driving it at Snetterton, Johnny Marshall and Dick Protheroe finishing 8th in the Goodwood 9 hour race and Noel Cunningham-Reid driving it into 3rd place at Castle Combe. John Heath also drove it on occasions as Abecassis had a new car.

By now HWM were concentrating solely on sports cars and for 1956 an entirely new HWM-Jaguar was built as a works car and the registration number HWM 1 was transferred to this new car. The old original HWM-Jaguar works car was sold to Ray Fielding and it was re-registered YPG 3. The new HWM 1 had a more bulbous body shape and the tubular chassis had all four wheels independently sprung by coil-spring/damper units, whereas the original HWM 1 had used i.f.s, by a transverse leaf spring and a de Dion rear end sprung on torsion bars. The second-generation HWM 1 made its debut in the 1956 Mille Miglia, driven by John Heath, but with tragic results for he crashed and died from his injuries, and with his death Abecassis lost the taste for racing. HWM 1 was rebuilt and used by a number of drivers to fulfil various commitments for the firm and then in 1957 it was sold to John Bekaert who used it extensively in club racing. It passed through various amateur hands until it disappeared in the nineteen-sixties. It was subsequently dug up and restored in the nineteen-seventies and used in Historic racing and today is owned by Kirk Rylands. The original car, still carrying its second registration YPG 3 lives in North London. — D.S.J.

(I am indebted to Doug Nye for much of the information on the two cars carrying the number plate HWM 1. He did a great deal of research on the cars for his book “Powered by Jaguar”, MRP Ltd., 1950. £10.95.)