Bruce Halford

Bruce Halford only completed half a lap of the 1959 Monaco GP. He explains why it still means more to him than any of his more conventional successes

1959 Monaco Grand Prix

I don’t think there’s any doubt about my greatest race and it only lasted a single lap. It was at Monaco in 1959, when I qualified my 1 1/2-litre Lotus for the Grand Prix; only two other 1 1/2-litre cars qualified, and they were both works cars. In fact, everything else on the track was a works entry, so I was delighted to get into the race at all, beating some pukka works cars. But all three of us 1500s crashed on lap one.

I was driving a Lotus 16 with a Formula Two Coventry-Climax engine. It belonged to John Fisher, who later became the Lord Mayor of Bristol, and it was the first time I had been able to drive a car as hard as I possibly could, because it belonged to someone else. I couldn’t afford to break my own Maserati 250F; I’d always kept the revs down to 7100rpm instead of 7800, so I was never able to show what I could do. Mind you, I often used to finish somewhere in the mid-field in it, which wasn’t bad.

We saw the Lotus 16 when it was first shown at the Racing Car Show in London, and John ordered one straight away. That was about the last period a private owner could buy a car that was eligible for F2 and Grands Prix. It was very quick but also extremely unreliable; I did 16 or 17 races in 1959, and I don’t think it finished any of them except its first one at Goodwood. But I was able to drive it as hard as I could in as many races as I could. We went wherever anyone would pay us to go. Not that organisers were desperate there was plenty of competition, and you were only invited if you had a track record, as I had in F2.

Monaco was a long-shot; we just hadn’t thought we would qualify. There were no reserved places for F2 cars, and we hadn’t thought about fuel loads or tactics. And it wasn’t down to clever chassis tweaks; there really was nothing you could alter apart from tyre pressures. You just drove it the way Chapman designed it. But it handled nicely, and it certainly suited Monaco’s twists.

The two other F2 qualifiers were Cliff Allison in the Ferrari 156 and Taffy von Trips in the Porsche 718. Just before the start, Huschke von Hanstein, Porsche’s competition manager, told me that they had never run the car on full tanks before, so they did not know what would happen. As we approached Ste Devote I was lying last, which was where I’d qualified, but only just behind Allison. In those days Louis Chiron marshalled at Ste Devote, which was blind. I saw him signal, so I knew something had happened. When I got there it was Taffy von Trips who had spun the Porsche. There was not much we could do except try not to hurt Taffy, so Cliff hit him at the front and I hit him at the back. When I stopped I felt something trickling down my throat, and I thought, “Bloody stroll on, I’ve gone forward so far I’ve cut my throat on the windscreen.” So I asked Cliff “Am I alright? I’ve got something trickling down my throat.” He said, “it’s sweat, you fool, get out.”

I think I could have finished reasonably well if it hadn’t been for the smash; there’s always a high rate of attrition at Monaco. What is especially satisfying to me was that many years later, in 1982 at the last single-seater historic race they held before this year’s Historic do, I won a race in the same Lotus. I think that must be unique, for the same driver to have raced in the same car on the old circuit with the Gasworks hairpin and the new one with the swimming pool and La Rascasse.

I still think that was my best ever effort, even if it only lasted one lap, but there is another race which remains fixed in my mind: Le Mans the same year. Brian Naylor and I were driving the first Lister-Jaguar to race there, and it was the only one to finish. We were running a 3.4 and sometimes beating the 3.8-litre cars. But that 1959 Le Mans finish was a real achievement. We had so much trouble: it rained for about 22 of 24 hours, so hard I couldn’t find the pits entrance at one point, and we broke a camshaft, but we got back to the pits and fixed it. Then at about 10am the gearbox stuck in neutral while Brian was driving. He struggled with it at the trackside in the rain, and then hit it with a King Dick wrench, the only tool we carried apart from a screwdriver. It went into gear, so he drove back to the pits without even bothering to put the lid back on there was oil everywhere. In the pits we managed to select fourth -or was it fifth? and we knew we could get it going but there could be no restarts. So we filled it to the gunwales with fuel and sent Nobby Taylor out about midday to cruise round.

We’d had a fright in practice about our consumption, which seemed to be about 7.5mpg instead of the 10mpg we’d planned for and the 12mpg Jaguar had told us to expect. I had a very good mechanic, who had also looked after my 250F, and he rigged up an extra tank in the fin, held in place with bungees and connected with beer piping. It held 2 1/4 gallons, I remember. Brian just rolled around in top for four hours; he was smoking fags on the straight. But he finished, and they paid up. I’ve still got a finisher’s award.