1959 RAC Tourist Trophy, Goodwood

In the second of our occasional series, we remember how Aston Martin blazed a trail to sports car world title glory
By Doug Nye

We will soon see the 50th anniversary of Aston Martin becoming the first British manufacturer ever to win the FIA Sports Car World Championship. The decisive race was run on September 9, 1959 – the RAC Tourist Trophy, at Goodwood. It sticks in the memory for many reasons. It was run in typically Goodwood Indian Summer sun, and it was the title decider in a
three-way fight between Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche. Less than a year previously, Vanwall and Mike Hawthorn had become the first British marque and driver ever to win Formula 1 world titles. The following weekend would see Cooper Cars make it two in a row, while the 1959 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship then lay between two British drivers – Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks – and Australia’s Jack Brabham. For any flag-waving fan – which most of us then had been brought up to be – it was a heady time indeed.

But of course, the British way was to make it difficult; like standing up in a hammock. And, sure enough, Aston Martin did its best – setting fire to the leading car in otherwise scheduled refuelling. BBC TV covered the event, and although they had left it for some horse race or a round-ball game, many recall the scrambled hand-back to Raymond Baxter at Goodwood – and the images of mushrooming smoke as his cut-glass tones reported “The Eston Martin pits are ON FIRE! It’s the leading car of Moss and Selvedori…” Lord, it was exciting!

But after 50 years’ perspective, was it really such a big deal? I’d guess not quite. Thirty cars took the start of that six-hour race. Attrition was so great that only 14 finished. And was the Sports Car World Championship such an important thing? Again, perhaps not by modern standards. After all, it comprised only five qualifying rounds – but what rounds they were!

Sebring 12 Hours, the Targa Florio, Nürburgring 1000Kms, Le Mans 24 Hours, and finally this six-hour TT.

Ferrari had won at Sebring. Porsche had dominated the Targa Florio. David Brown of Aston Martin had actually ruled against a World Championship challenge that season, on cost grounds. But Stirling Moss wangled one DBR1/300 works car to win the Nürburgring 1000Kms, with Jack Fairman. At Le Mans, the Astons of Roy Salvadori/Carroll Shelby and Paul Frère/Maurice Trintignant finished one-two! So David Brown’s company simply had to field a full three-car team in what had become the title-deciding TT.

And not only the big names starred. The Mark I Lolas shone, Elvas did well, a Lotus 17 survived, as did Masten Gregory and David Piper after big accidents…

To record it all, my late photographer pal Geoff Goddard would have been grumbling (typically) all the way to Goodwood – which he actually loved – as he see-sawed through the country lanes. And he and his colleagues then recorded the majesty, drama and glory which ensued, in another truly memorable Day at the Races.

Sparring partners

“You didn’t pay for the big Meccano set then?” – pre-start levity, with Moss no doubt deriding the works Lotus-Climax 15, poised in the starting echelon for Graham Hill (left) and one-legged Alan Stacey. I’ve no doubt that Colin Chapman, dapper as ever in the cap, shirt and tie, would have given every bit as good as he got from Aston Martin’s illustrious number one. Graham would certainly have waded in – but not necessarily on the same side as Colin…

Lead Aston’s fiery end

Around 2.38pm – the Aston Martin pits with the leading Moss/Salvadori DBR1, which Roy had just brought in to refuel, well alight! Design engineer Bryan Clayton had been appointed by pit manager Reg Parnell to wield the fuel hose. It had a simple on-off cock rather than a ‘dead man’s handle’. As he reached to open the car’s filler flap, the fuel cock was knocked open, and ‘WHOOMPH!’ a blowback from the side exhaust ignited the spill. He dropped the hose and ran – before pulling the gushing hose towards him, and shutting off the cock. Post-race he would approach team chief John Wyer, literally trembling, to apologise. To his astonishment, ‘Death-Ray’ replied: “I’ve forgotten it, now you forget it!”

Hill raises Lotus hopes

Graham early on the power, nose-up, accelerating the very fast 2-litre Lotus 15 through Madgwick Corner. He came past the pits third overall on the opening lap, only headed by the twin Aston DBR1s of Moss and Carroll Shelby. Sadly the Lotus’s race would end in the bank at St Mary’s after Alan Stacey had tangled with promising newcomer Chris Bristow, who was sharing a works Porsche RSK with Hans Herrmann.

Still in one piece…

Pitstop for the ill-fated Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro-Jaguar. Sweat-stained Masten Gregroy kneels on the pit counter, awestruck young Jimmy Clark seems to be seeking his right glove. Team patron David Murray – in sunglasses – presides as a churn of Esso glugs into the funnel. Masten will later survive an almighty shunt in this car at Woodcote, being hurled high over the bank as the Toj folded in two. He broke a leg and his shoulder, and reported the steering had failed “and cut a brake pipe – so I got out”…

That’s how you do it…

Reg Parnell bawls orders as Shelby prepares to take over the works Aston, chassis DBR1/2, which he was sharing with Fairman. But after the team singed both the lead car (DBR1/3) and driver Salvadori, Moss took over this car from ‘Jolly Jack’. Private owner/driver Graham Whitehead withdrew the sister car (DBR1/5), freeing his intact pit for the works team. At 3pm Bonnier’s Porsche led from Moss, closing. At 3.30pm, through St Mary’s, Stirling retook the lead. Salvadori, hand and arm bandaged, offered to take the last stint, but Moss drove on to the title.

Ferrari fights on

It wasn’t Ferrari’s day. After the Phil Hill/Cliff Allison Testa Rossa broke its engine, the works drivers played musical chairs in the two surviving cars. Gurney’s first UK outing saw a rousing drive in the works Testa Rossa 0770 (below), initially co-driven by Brooks. After Phil and Cliff were re-teamed with Gendebien in the third 250TR (0766), Phil brought it in at 4.52pm for a final stop, in third. Tony went out to catch von Trips in the second-placed Bonnier Porsche. By 5.43pm he’d closed to 6sec. On the pit apron Bonnier and Tavoni of Ferrari made wild ‘Slow Down’ signals, to each other’s car! At 6pm the flag went out and Trips took the place – by 2sec. It had been Aston’s day – and Goodwood’s glory…