Duncan Hamilton

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We were sorry to learn of the recent death of Duncan Hamilton, one of those men who merited the description ‘larger than life’. He was one who not only went out to meet it, but who embraced it warmly at every opportunity. When people trot out the old cliché ‘they don’t make them like that any more’, it is the Hamiltons of the world for whom the expression was originally coined.

Times have changed, and Hamilton was fortunate to be at his most active in racing in one of the sport’s greatest eras. He was born in Eire in 1920 and after racing at Brooklands in Austin Sevens worked through an R-Type MG and a Type 35B Bugatti in sprints and hillclimbs before racing a Maserati 6C in 1948.

His relationship with the Le Mans 24 Hours began in 1950 when he was offered a works drive in a Nash-Healey on the strength of victory at Silverstone in a Healey Silverstone. Partnered by Tony Rolt he finished fourth that year, and they were sixth in 1951, when Whitehead and Walker won the race for Jaguar in the new C-type. That model would later become synonymous with Hamilton and Rolt, when they won the 1953 race with ease.

They should also have won the 1954 race which was run in a downpour, their works D-type finishing only two miles behind the winning Ferrari, upon which more than the regulation number of mechanics had worked. In the dramatic closing stages, Hamilton’s brio in a deluge saw him more than halve the Gonzalez/ Trintignant car’s lead, but when the track dried the Argentinian was able to pull away again. Hamilton had his own C-type and later a D, and achieved a string of good results, but after a fall-out with Lofty England he transferred to share a Ferrari with Fon de Portago for 1956, though to little avail.

He reverted to his private Jaguars in 1957. In the 1958 Le Mans he suffered nasty injuries after shunting the 3-litre D-type, and with increasing worries about accidents to his close friends he elected to retire from active driving in 1959, although he remained close to the historic side of the sport until his death.

Duncan Hamilton was always better known for his sportscar activities, but he was an enthusiastic campaigner of a Lago Talbot in the early ’50s. The final of the 1951 International Trophy race at Silverstone was run in monsoon conditions, and Hamilton drove brilliantly to finish second behind Reg Parnell and ahead of all the established aces. In the end Parnell’s Thinwall Special won by 21s, but Hamilton hung on to finish second, 49s ahead of Fangio’s Alfa. Financial shortages eventually obliged him to leave the Talbot in a Belgian cellar once too often rather than ship it home after continental races.

When he returned on one occasion to pick it up from its unusual garage, he found that the new owner of the house had unwittingly had her cellar filled with coal, burying the car. We extend our sympathy to his family and many friends. The sport has lost one of its most colourful exponents. – D J T

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