A tribute to Ecurie Ecosse and Lotus Engineering
by Denis Jenkinson
A great deal is heard about personal triumphs, but probably the outstanding achievements by individuals during 1957 were the efforts of David Murray and Colin Chapman at Le Mans. I use the term individual loosely, for both gentlemen are the first to point out that their successes at Le Mans were entirely due to the work of a team, and the only possible credit they can take is in having brought together the groups of people to form these teams.
The name of David Murray, a 47-year-old director of a wine importing business in Edinburgh, is familiar to those of us who follow the sport of motor racing, for it is synonymous with the Ecurie Ecosse, the racing team which he formed and runs as a hobby, even though it tends to take up more time than his real work.
Similarly, 28-year-old Colin Chapman is at heart a motor racing enthusiast who started out just like the many clubmen who race at Silverstone and such tracks every weekend, but now his name means to us Lotus Engineering and Team Lotus, the name given to the small racing sports cars that his firm build, race and sell.
While this story is by way of a tribute to the successes gained by these two concerns, and is instigated by the Esso Petroleum Company, whose products both teams use for their cars, there is little point in going through the details of the 24 hour race, for that has been done many times already and has now gone down in history. Suffice to say that Ecurie Ecosse won 1st and 2nd places in the General Classification for the Grand Prix d’Endurance, setting up new records for the distance covered in 24 hours on the Circuit of the Sarthe, outside the French town of Le Mans, and that Team Lotus won the 750 c.c. class, the 1,100 c.c. class and for the first time in the history of the race won the Index of Performance, or general handicap, with a British 750 c.c. car; not content with this, the 1,100 c.c. Lotus took 2nd place in the handicap, so that the two teams between them achieved the maximum possible success with the four cars they entered. Ecurie Ecosse started two cars and finished 1st and 2nd, Team Lotus started two cars and finished 1st and 2nd on handicap. All these successes were achieved against strong opposition, not only from other private teams, but from many of the great racing manufacturers from Britain, France, Germany and Italy. It was a fine achievement for British built cars, but an even finer achievement for the two small groups of people that comprise Ecurie Ecosse and Team Lotus.
As is well known, the Petrol and Oil companies who are interested in racing like to support certain individuals or groups who show promise of achieving some success, and it has long been the principle of the Esso Petroleum Company, and particularly their competition manager Reg Tanner, to give a helping hand to the small up-and-coming teams, and it is not surprising, in view of the many years of experience that Esso have in racing matters, that they can often pick winners from a very early date. In giving support, both financial and in the way of supplies of fuel and oil, to Ecurie Ecosse and Team Lotus over the past few years, 1957 saw them reap their reward in a manner that few would have dared to prophesy.
I have mentioned the leaders or moving spirits behind these two successful teams, but there is much more to it than that. Before a driver or drivers can receive the chequered flag and the winner’s laurels there must be weeks of work and preparation going into the cars, the organisation, the planning and the actual control of the race. No one individual can take the credit for a 1st place in an event like Le Mans, though for practical purposes the head of the team often has to receive the credit on behalf of his fellow workers. Considering first of all the Ecurie Ecosse, when David Murray started the idea of the Scottish team, to be operated from Merchiston Motors in Edinburgh, of which he is the owner, he began by employing full time W. E. (Wilkie) Wilkinson to attend to the tuning and maintenance of the racing cars. This was back in 1951 when Murray decided to give up active racing after a rather lurid crash in a Grand Prix Maserati, and when he and Reg Parnell were racing a team of Grand Prix cars with Wilkie as their chief mechanic. Over the years he has gathered together a loyal and hard-working little group of people and from the start decided that the only way to go into racing as an entrant instead of a driver, was with a team of cars and to run the whole thing on strict business lines. After racing their cars in minor events the team gradually spread as it became stronger and more experienced and in 1956 they tackled Le Mans for the first time with a single car as an experiment, this being their first venture into such long distance racing. Due mainly to their competitors having trouble, the lone Ecurie Ecosse car achieved a surprise win and this encouraged them to return in 1957 with two cars and make a win their objective. Both cars were D-type Jaguars, prepared and tuned by Wilkie and his three mechanics, Stan Sproat, Ron Gaudion and Pat Meehan, for surprisingly enough there are only these four behind the tuning of the Ecurie Ecosse cars. Stan and Pat are true Scots, while Ron is an Australian who joined the team after working at Jaguars. The Coventry firm of Jaguar has always supplied the sports-racing cars for this team, though Wilkie and his boys always take them apart and re-assemble them themselves, making many small but important modifications to their own ideas, some of which even the Jaguar firm know nothing about. Jaguars having stopped building D-types the only cars left at the Coventry firm for David Murray to buy were last year’s factory team cars and this he did, being supplied with a new enlarged engine for one of the cars a week before the Le Mans race, giving it 3.8 litres against the normal 3.5 litres; this larger engine was also fitted with a special Lucas system of fuel injection in place of the normal Weber carburetters. Although Wilkie has only the three skilled racing mechanics to help him prepare the cars, in time of crisis he can draw from the normal garage and service mechanics of Merchiston Motors, but once away from the Edinburgh headquarters he has no reserves. There is, however, a fifth member of the team who is as important as anyone and that is Sandy Arthur, another Scot who has been with the team since the beginning. It is all very well having cars ready to race, and all the equipment for a 24 hours event, or any other event, but they must be taken to the circuit and for this purpose the Ecurie Ecosse use two Leyland single decker buses, suitably modified to carry two cars each if necessary. It is Sandy’s job to look after these transports and also any other road cars needed for the transporting of members of the team or equipment. Appreciating the importance of getting to meetings on time if you are to race successfully David Murray decided right from the start of his project that one man should be put in charge of transport and be kept solely for that purpose and Sandy Arthur was given that responsibility, though of course, he is always ready and willing to help the mechanics when they are in trouble, especially if the transporters are not in need of attention. These diesel coaches must always be ready to set off on a trip of a 1,000 miles or more, non-stop if needs be, and Le Mans was just one of the races during the season that the Ecurie Ecosse had on their calendar. It is interesting in passing to recall that these two Leylands date back to 1929 when one was on a local Glasgow bus service and the other was on a long-distance coach run, though never as long as some of the runs it did during 1957, such as to Sweden or Italy.
Having got the cars and preparation in hand the next problem is drivers to race the cars, and always aiming to keep the team essentially Scottish if possible, the four drivers concerned with the 24 hours race were Ron Flockhart, Ninian Sanderson, John Lawrence and Ivor Bueb, the first three being as Scottish as bagpipes or haggis and the fourth joining the team just for this event, at the suggestion of the Jaguar Car Company. For an event of this length there has to be strict race control, for it cannot be left entirely to the drivers as can a short sprint-type race, and to increase the staff of administration David Murray co-opted his ever-willing wife Jenny, and her friend Kay Bryant to keep a lap chart throughout the 24 hours, working in shifts, and Bob Gibson-Jarvie and Hugh Langrishe taking shifts on time-keeping, while on the far side of the circuit, connected to the pits by telephone, Pat Meehan and Sandy Arthur were taking turns with the signalling boards, letting the drivers know exactly what was needed and how they were doing. Naturally, in covering nearly 3,000 miles in 24 hours the cars needed to be refilled with petrol (they were running on Esso Extra) and to have the oil level topped up with normal 40/50 Esso Extra Motor Oil, while tyres would need changing and possibly repairs made should anything go wrong. To look after this part of the work Wilkie, Stan Sproat and Ron Goudion remained on duty at the pits for the whole 24 hours, the two mechanics taking turns to snatch a quick meal or 15 minutes sleep, though Wilkie stayed in the pit the whole time. Anyone who watched the pit work of these three, even if it was only a routine refuel and oil and water check, while drivers changed over, must have realised that the smooth way in which they worked together was born of much practice and careful planning. While Wilkie filled the tank with the refuelling hose, the other two went quickly through a series of routine movements, never at any time getting in each other’s way, and making the absolute minimum of movement to achieve the maximum amount of work. Long before the event, routine pit stops were practised by the three of them, working out between themselves and David Murray, who always watched over the proceedings, the quickest and most efficient way of doing the various jobs. The result was that fuel, oil and water could be added, and the rear wheels changed in a little over 60 seconds. David Murray pointed out that timing all the movements with a stop-watch during practices was most enlightening and it was possible to observe faults that neither Wilkie nor his two boys were conscious of, so that they could be put right and speed up operations, for it need hardly be mentioned that every second that the car remains stationary at the pits is valuable time during which distance could be covered in order to raise the total for the 24 hours. Many times Murray would not be satisfied with the practice pit stop and would call for modification and a re-run, not realising how much energy was being expended by the trio of workers, until after three runs in a row they were unable to tackle a fourth without a slight breather. Standing aside, studying a stop watch made you forget just how much was being accomplished in a few seconds. Another interesting observation during these pit stop trials, was that a driver who was slow in getting in the car, starting it up, putting it into gear and moving off, could waste 15 seconds or more, so drivers also came under the team chief for practice runs at getting in and out of the car.
This overall control of the team by David Murray was exercised throughout the whole of the 24 hours, there never being time off for sleeping or rest, a watchful eye being kept on every aspect of the team as Murray expressed it, “when your cars are 1st and 2nd, you could ‘na sleep if you wanted to.” Although he was acting as director of this little band, he had to have the full co-operation of everyone of them, for a mistake by one individual would have put the whole working of the team out of gear. That nobody made mistakes, especially the drivers, is shown by the results, while the efficiency of the preparation of the cars was proved by the complete freedom from trouble throughout the 24 hours, and equally there could not have been anything wrong with the petrol and lubricating oil supplied by the Esso Company, for even the most carefully prepared engine can fail if the oil is not up to its job, while inconsistency in petrol can cause engine failure at racing speeds in a very short space of time. Remembering that the Ecurie Ecosse used Esso Extra petrol and Esso Extra Motor Oil, as sold in any Esso garage, their results at Le Mans, and elsewhere for that matter, pay silent tribute to the satisfaction given by the products of the Esso Petroleum Company Ltd., for racing will find fault in any product that is not 100 per cent. If a petrol or oil proves itself capable of giving satisfaction under racing conditions, especially for 24 hours, it is surely a guarantee that it will give adequate satisfaction for everyday use by the normal motorist.
A very similar story can be told of Lotus Engineering, the small North London firm run by Colin Chapman, where he builds small sports cars for sale to the public and for racing purposes. Having tackled Le Mans in the past with a 1,100 c.c. sports car he this year ventured into two further classes, the 750 c.c. and 1,500 c.c. As is well known the Lotus car uses a Coventry-Climax engine and B.M.C. transmission and gearbox, and after much discussion with the Coventry engineers Chapman at last extracted a special 4 cylinder 1,100 c.c. engine fitted with a short-stroke crankshaft to reduce the swept volume down to 745 c.c., but only on the agreement to accept full responsibility for this unit as it was very new and untried in racing. He also bought two further engines, a normal 1,100 c.c. one and a new 1,500 c.c. twin overhead camshaft one, on which much store was placed by the Coventry firm of engine manufacturers. As so often happens when preparing cars for racing, time ran short and even though the mechanics who were building the cars worked day and night, with only two or three hours off for sleeping, leaving the factory at 5 a.m, and returning to work again at 8 a.m., it was not until the last moment before scrutineering that the team arrived at Le Mans, and even then the cars were not wholly complete.
Only the 750 and the 1,500 were entered for the 24 hours race, the 1,100 being first reserve, but during practice the engine on the 1,500 suffered valve damage and could not be repaired so it was withdrawn and the 1,100 took its place, which was unfortunate for the two drivers nominated to the car for it meant that the drivers of the damaged 1,500 c.c. car took over their job. The original pair for the 1,100 car, Alan Stacy and Peter Ashdown had to spend the whole 24 hours standing by as reserves, for the two American drivers Jay Chamberlain and the late Mackay-Fraser did a first-class job of driving during the race. The little 750 was running perfectly and the drivers Keith Hall and Cliff Allison were both capable of lapping faster than any of their rivals in the class, while there was every possibility of leading the handicap class which favoured the small engined cars. Having worked almost continuously since arriving at Le Mans the Lotus team had to start the serious business of work at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 22nd, for the whole team was needed to ensure that the two cars were kept running on their schedules. Mike Costin and Bill Griffiths (better known as Willy) did the job of attending to the cars at the routine pit stops, checking oil, water and tyres, aided by Phil Butler and Dave Warwick, while Graham Hill looked after the refuelling and these five played as important a part in the Lotus success story as did the drivers, for any mistakes at the pits would have upset the even tempo of the race, which would have spoilt all hopes of winning anything. Ian Smith and David Yorke, together with two friends attended to time keeping, knowing throughout the 24 hours exactly where the cars lay in the race and at what speed they were running, while on the far side of the circuit, on the end of the telephone system sat two friends of Team Lotus, roped in for the occasion, ready to communicate to the passing Lotus drivers any instructions that Colin Chapman decided were necessary, for he, like David Murray in the Ecurie Ecosse pits, was keeping a watching eye on the whole scene, including the opposition, and deciding whether to speed up the cars or slow them down, in order to stay ahead on the ever changing handicap calculations.
One cannot stress too strongly the importance of the efforts at Le Mans being directed as a complete team, which includes drivers, mechanics, time-keepers, signallers and others behind the scenes who ensure that such things as food and drink for the workers is not forgotten, for 24 hours is a long time. In the case of the Lotus team this was being looked after by Colin Chapman’s wife, Hazel. By careful planning before the race and each man, or woman, doing his or her job quietly, quickly and efficiently, a few people can achieve a great deal, and pit stops as carried out by the Lotus team were every bit as efficient as those of the more experienced competitors.
In spite of being new and untried, the little 750 c.c. Coventry-Climax engine ran perfectly throughout the 24 hours, never being headed in its class and it won the Index of Performance by a large margin. Not content with this effort the Lotus team really clinched matters by bringing the 1,100 c.c. car into 2nd place in the Index of Performance, as well as winning the 1,100 c.c. class. While at the lower end of the Le Mans pits David Murray and his tired, unwashed, unshaven team of willing workers watched Flockhart and Bueb finish 1st and Sanderson and Lawrence 2nd in the overall classification of the 1957 Le Mans 24 hours race, at the top end of the pits Colin Chapman surrounded by a similar happy band of people achieved equal success with 1st and 2nd in the overall handicap category, and up on top of the pits the Competition Manager of the Esso Company, Reg Tanner, and Pierre Boudin, Competition Manager of Esso France, felt justifiably satisfied, knowing that not only had Esso once more backed some winners, but also that the large team of scientists and chemists who work behind the scenes to produce Esso petrol and oil, were still doing a first-class job of work. Neither the Jaguars of Ecurie Ecosse nor the Lotuses of Team Lotus could have run virtually non-stop for 24 hours had the Esso products been lacking in quality or ability to do their jobs.
A more complete British victory at Le Mans has not been seen for many years and anyone who had helped with either team during the preparation of the race, deserves the highest praise, and to Ecurie Ecosse and Lotus Engineering everyone should pay tribute for showing fine examples of team work and individual effort, for though a team can be viewed as a complete entity it can only be as strong as its weakest member. One need hardly add that the Esso Company appreciate the efforts of these two teams, for that is shown by their continued support and encouragement which materially assists both Ecurie Ecosse and Lotus Engineering to go on to bigger and better achievements.
While the Lotus team returned home to prepare for further races, the Ecurie Ecosse went on to another big race the Saturday after Le Mans, June 29th. This was the 500 miles race round the banked track at the Monza Autodrome in Italy, and ever since the idea of a full throttle high-speed race was mooted, David Murray had thought it would be an interesting event in which to run his team of very fast D-type Jaguars. Immediately after the Le Mans race the team set of for Italy, but this in itself was no easy task for just at that time heavy storms in the Alps had closed many of the passes into Italy, so David Murray and his wife, in their 3.4 litre Jaguar saloon and Wilkie and John Lawrence in an XK140 went on ahead to seek out the best route for the transporters which Sandy, Stan, Ron and Pat were taking turns to drive. It was arranged that the transport team should call at the Automobile Club in Lyons to receive a message telling them which way the advance party had gone. This message was never delivered and local information said the only way into Italy with a lorry was round the foot of the mountains, through Nice and Menton, so this the transport team had to do. It meant driving continuously throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in order to arrive at Monza Wednesday night, taking brief stops for meals, but no time for sleeping, and added to this general strain was the necessity to replace a broken spring on one of the buses. It was a very tired set of lads who arrived at Monza, but still there was no time for rest, for the two Jaguars that had completed the Le Mans race and a third car already at the track, had to have a routine service check, there was no time for more, and have any surplus weight such as starters, dynamos, lights and windscreens removed, ready for this track race. While Wilkie and the mechanics prepared the cars, David Murray had to deal with the formalities of entries, insurance, drivers, team plans, race strategy and so on, and all this while, and even at Le Mans, he was undergoing severe opposition from various quarters, trying to prevent him from running his cars in this event. A certain section of the European racing element did not approve of this race, to which 10 Indianapolis cars and drivers had been invited, and David Murray’s decision to compete did not meet with general approval from many people, even the Jaguar company themselves.
All these difficulties made the hard bitten Scot more determined than ever to succeed in this race, and when one of his drivers said he would not be able to drive, Murray sent a telegram to Ninian Sanderson, who had returned home to Glasgow after Le Mans, saying “come at once,” which he did. Still in Le Mans tune, the Jaguars seemed hopeless opposition for the American cars, but Ecurie Ecosse were prepared to do their best and all those present admired their determination and spirit. The Jaguar engines were untouched since the Le Mans race the previous weekend, still being tuned to run on Esso Extra petrol, and in fact, they were filled up from the public Esso garage in the grounds of the Monza track, while their rivals were running on alcohol fuels. In spite of tyre limitations, for they had to run on ordinary road-racing tyres, all three cars, driven by John Lawrence, Ninian Sanderson and Jack Fairman were able to lap at well over 155 m.p.h. and though this was not fast enough to challenge the Indianapolis cars it was creditably fast for a production sports-racing car. The race was run in three heats of 167 miles each with the final placings decided by adding the total times for the three heats. The Jaguars could not hope to keep up with the very fast pace of the leading American cars, but they ran to a pre-arranged schedule of as near to one minute per lap as possible, and this kept them in the picture at the tail end of the field. The great thing about the Ecurie Ecosse team was that all three cars completed all three races without the slightest trouble, lapping consistently at well over 155 m.p.h., and this after two of the cars had raced successfully for 24 hours the previous weekend. One by one the fast American cars ran into trouble, until at the end of the third heat only three were left, yet still the three dark blue Jaguars were running as regularly as clockwork, nothing needed to be done between the heats in the way of maintenance, for so well had Wilkie and his boys put the cars together that nothing came adrift. In the final results the three Jaguars finished 4th, 5th and 6th and while unable to compete on terms of sheer speed, they had more than proved their remarkable reliability, for never before had a Jaguar engine been run for so long on full throttle, the average for the 500 miles being substantially higher than any single lap average on any other circuit in recent years, and higher than the maximum speed of many racing cars.
Once more Esso Extra Motor Oil looked after the lubrication of the Jaguar engines, gearboxes and rear axles, and as if the Le Mans epic had not been sufficient test of the worthiness of the properties of the oil, this 500 miles race, held under terrific conditions of heat and with sustained loads on the bearings, was yet another proof that Esso products can stand up to abnormal conditions without causing the slightest anxiety to drivers or mechanics.
After the Monza race the Ecurie Ecosse prepared to return home, having to retrace their wheeltracks down to the Mediterranean and round the foot of the mountains, for the passes were still blocked. However, the mechanics life, is not an easy one, for just as they were turning one of the Leylands round to head southwards a pin in the steering box sheared and it being Sunday, with all the garages closed, there was nothing to do but push the bus back into the side of the road and set to and effect a repair. While the Italian weekenders returned from the mountains and lakes back to Milan, the cheery lads of the Scottish team removed the radiator, took out the broken steering box of the stricken Leyland, dismantled it, and within a few hours had it repaired and back in place again. Then after a quick wash and a meal they set off for the English Channel, where they arrived many days later. Even after they had crossed on the ferry-boat and disembarked at Dover their journey was not over, for their destination was Edinburgh, and whereas to many people the sight of Dover is like setting foot on the doorstep, to the Ecurie Ecosse it was merely another phase in the journey back to Scotland. Not until many hours later when they passed Scotch Corner, did they really feel they were in sight of home and a return to their families, but not for long, however, for after giving the Jaguars a thorough and well-deserved overhaul they were to point the Leylands southwards from Edinburgh once more and start a journey to Sweden, to take part in more races, but that is another story.
While the Esso Petroleum Company Ltd. wish to take this opportunity of showing their appreciation of the efforts and successes of the Ecurie Ecosse and Team Lotus, I know that this appreciation is reciprocal, for the Esso Racing Service, under the able direction of Reg Tanner has played no small part in the 1957 successes of these two teams. That Esso feel their support has been justified by the results, and that Ecurie Ecosse and Team Lotus have been satisfied with the petrol and oils they have used, is one of those happy endings to a mutual benefit arrangement, that is not easy to achieve. However, when such a thing does happen, as we have seen during the 1957 racing season, then the results are all the more convincing and everyone is happy and contented and there is no better way of bringing a racing season to a close, or for that matter, of ending this brief recap of two successful team ventures.