Adrian Hamilton obituary 1947-2021

Road Cars

Adrian Hamilton's enthusiasm and passion for cars, displayed in his extensive dealership success, was matched only by his kindness and willingness to help others within his world

Adrian Hamilton

After training as a merchant navy officer, Adrian Hamilton (right) entered the family car dealership with his retired racer father Duncan (left)

James Martin

The classic and Historic car world was rocked to its foundations on Le Mans weekend by the shocking news that Adrian Hamilton – classic car dealer son of 1953 24-Hour race winner Duncan Hamilton – had died suddenly, at the age of 74, following a devastating stroke a few days before.

Just like his racing driver father before him, ‘Hammy’ was a genuine 1950s-style character, a genial, friendly, bouncy ball of energy – as personally engaging as he was commercially hard-nosed – and a star player who lived exactly as he habitually drove – absolutely flat-out.

“Bought a Jaguar Mark VII for £150, sold for £200 – I was clearly a genius!” Adrian Hamilton

He played a leading role within the classic car market for over 40 years and was in many ways the archetypal ‘British gentleman’ wheeler-dealer. He was a blazered Barney Bear of a man, hugely extrovert – so genuinely big-hearted and generously inclined that if anyone within his world was in trouble or in need, or hurting, Hammy would instinctively just wade right in and help – often without being asked, and quite regularly without a thought or any fear of unforeseen adverse consequences.

He was five years old when his father, Duncan, co-drove the 1953 Le Mans-winning works Jaguar C-Type at Le Mans with Major Tony Rolt. ‘Hammy’ grew up with the Major’s similarly racing-minded son Stuart as a friend from childhood, while another was Patrick – now Sir Patrick – Head, son of fellow contemporary Jaguar owner/driver Col. Michael Head.

Hamilton child

Adrian’s passion for cars evident early on under father Duncan’s watchful eye


‘Hammy’ would almost certainly have raced on his own behalf but for the disapproval of his father Duncan. “One racing driver in the family is quite enough” he decreed. Young Adrian was no great shakes academically – proudly claiming in later life “I have never ever failed an exam” before explaining (with equal pride) “My teachers knew I was too thick ever to take one!”. In consequence, and partly to keep the boy away from the high quality and high-performance cars which Duncan was trading through his company Duncan Hamilton Ltd, Adrian was sent to sea as a trainee officer in the merchant navy.

He would recall his two years afloat on the MV Crystal Gem – “of which it was neither” – as tough but life-enhancing. He certainly learned the world – not least on the dockside one night in Valparaiso “…but we won’t go into that” he would guffaw…

From the archive

And once opting for life ashore in 1968-69, he began work for his father, in their quality car business on the High Street, Bagshot, just south-west of London. He first had to clean cars “properly – which took four days, right down to polishing the tool kit”, under his father’s critical gaze, brandy glass by his side…

The first car Adrian actually bought for the business was a 1956 Jaguar Mark VII with sliding invalid passenger door – “Bought for £150, sold for £200 – I was clearly a genius!” – and in engaging wheeler-dealing, negotiation and deal-sealing, he pretty much proved to be just that. Duncan quickly recognised as much and took a back seat in the business, letting the boy spread his wings and fly.

During his career Adrian became almost literally a titan of the global classic and Historic car market as – standing well over 6 feet tall, seemingly as wide, with a booming cultured voice and relentless up-and-at ’em energy – he handled or helped negotiate the sale of no fewer than nine Ferrari GTOs, literally dozens of Ford GT40s, numerous Porsche 917s and more and more over succeeding decades… He sold D-Type and C-Type Jaguars in volume, bought Duncan’s 1953 Le Mans-winning C-Type from Briggs Cunningham in the USA and kept it – so proudly – for many years.

Hammy and the C-Type then featured in many classic car tours and rallies around the world, from Colorado in the USA to Cudlee Creek, South Australia, on the Classic Adelaide event. He was often navigated by D-Type owning friend, the diminutive Willie Tuckett. The sight of Hammy and little Will in the C-Type was described as looking like “The King of Tonga and his lunch”.

Duncan Hamilton

Hamilton Sr won famously won Le Mans in 1953 with Tony Rolt at the wheel of a Jaguar C-Type


Hammy’s business style varied dependent on client. “Buy the right motor car and it will look after you” was a favourite saying, meaning that if both the car’s provenance and quality were impeccable its investment value will soar. Having sized-up another client Hammy could be bluntly direct – “If you don’t buy this car you’re a bloody fool – you’ll never get another chance!”.

Some American contacts nicknamed him ‘The Duke of Bagshot’. His impeccable British tones worked superbly when telephoning a restaurant reservation in the USA – “It’s Lord Bagshot hyar – please reserve me a table for ten”. It always seemed to work. No trip with Hammy could be other than fun.

He still operated discreetly – and sometimes far less than discreetly – for all manner of owners, racers, companies, teams and collectors spanning the motoring world. He sold the only 1955 Mercedes-Benz W196 free of institutional captivity to collector Jackie Setton for a long-lasting world record $20-million. In more recent years, after securing a Gulf-JW team Ford GT40 for German oilman Roald Goethe, he was asked to think about a theme for the private collection that Roald was keen to assemble. ‘Hammy’ conceived the notion of acquiring one of each Gulf-sponsored racing car and after acquiring some 42 such pale-blue-and-orange classics the ROFGO Collection exists today as perhaps Adrian’s proudest car-world achievement.

He was always a frustrated racing driver, but when a road car race was organised at Thruxton he entered a company Grosser Mercedes 600 from which the hub caps had been removed “to lighten it”. Friends spectating at the chicane with his delightful Mum, the long-suffering Angela, marvelled at his car control – repeatedly wrestling that great monster back into line after lurid corner entries wreathed in billowing clouds of tyre and brake smoke.

He also ran the family ex-Girling GT40 that Duncan owned for some 13 years, not only in the Brighton Speed Trials and Blackbushe Dragfest – but also as his wedding car. And as entrant-cum-team manager he ran several cars at Le Mans, including his great friend Paul Vestey’s Porsche 956. When driver Alain de Cadenet brought it skewing into the pits to report a puncture, it was ‘Hammy’ who looked around it, snorted, and told Alain “Some bloody puncture – you’ve only got three wheels!”.

He became what some of us used to rib him about as being the only known hereditary member of the BRDC. And there he was a very popular, involved and concerned presence. And he was an early and immediate supporter of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival events – really formulated one evening on his first Hamilton Tour classic car event, to the Loire…


One of Hamilton’s proudest achievements was assembling Roald Goethe’s Gulf collection – including this 1968 Hawinks/Hobbs GT40


Hammy lived his life precisely the way he drove – absolutely FLAT OUT! He was a genuine force of nature, and we will really miss him. His first wife Judy died some 13 years ago, after they had divorced and he had married second wife Laura. Despite another divorce they remained on good terms, and we extend our sincerest condolences to her, and to his children Dominic and Emily, to Katalina, professional racing driver/instructor Archie, Eddie and Henry and to all his many friends throughout the entire world of quality and collectible motor cars…

Above all else, anyone passengering Hammy would instantly realise the foolishness of ever exhorting him as the driver: “Go on, then – floor it!”. Once done – never repeated. That was simply in the Hamilton genes. God speed Hammy. We are proud to have known you…