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Bob Berry

Bob Berry

Bob Berry with XK120

It is sad to report that R.E. 'Bob' Berry has died. A fine amateur racer in the '50s, Bob played an important part in the Jaguar story for 30 years, including one starring role.

He was to join Jaguar almost by accident. ‘I was a student at Cambridge reading Modern Languages and had an interest in motoring and motor sport. I was going on holiday in July [1951] on a summer university course in Grenoble and so I wrote to ‘Lofty’ England and said I had noticed they were going to Le Mans, and could I do anything to help. I was just fishing, as many hundreds of people had done before, and have done since.

‘To my absolute astonishment, he wrote back and said, “If you’re passing through Coventry, pop in”. So I found an occasion to go down there, needless to say, and the upshot of the conversation was, “If you are going to be there, come along and I’m sure we can make use of you”.

‘I duly presented myself at the Hotel du Paris in Le Mans on the Monday before the race, and I don’t think I went to bed until the following Sunday night. I shall never forget the sight of people like Bill Heynes, who hadn’t wielded a tinsmith’s hammer in centuries, trying to shape a rear cover for the headlights, as they decided to try Marchal lights instead of Lucas and the backing plates wouldn’t fit.'

As Bob's mother was French, he was fluent in that language, which made him invaluable, as he was rather more than the average gofer. Of course Jaguar’s victory, with Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead in the C-type's very first race, was a massive milestone in the company's history, publicising the name worldwide and particularly in the States.

'As a way of saying “Thank you” they said, “When you have finished your course in France, if you would like to spend the remainder of your holiday working at Jaguar, we would be very happy to have you”. I went there for about two months, at the end of which ‘Lofty’ England said to me, “Why don’t you come and work for us permanently?” - which is what I did.’

With Phil Scragg

Bob with fellow driver Philip Scragg.

Giving up his studies at Cambridge, Berry soon joined the Public Relations department, working under the legendary Ernest ‘Bill’ Rankin, who did so much to build up the image of first SS Cars and then Jaguar. Soon after, Bob started competing in his 1952 35,000-mile XK 120, MWK 120, to which he fitted a spare lightweight, alloy body which was to have been used for one of the three LT cars (LT2 and LT3 were completed but LT1 never was) built by Jaguar in case the C-types were not  ready in time for Le Mans in '51. The 120 was prepared by ex-factory mechanic John Lea who had left to set up a small workshop at Gretton, very near Prescott hillclimb. By 1954, the 120 was said to be the fastest example racing in Britain. A highlight was a third place at the Goodwood Easter meeting, behind the C-type of Michael Head (father of Patrick), and Tommy Sopwith in his Sphinx sports racer.

In the 1954 Wakefield Trophy race at The Curragh, the home of Irish horse racing, Berry finished fifth behind Whitehead's Cooper-Jaguar, the C-types of Duncan Hamilton and Joe Kelly, which tied for second place, and the ageing Monza Alfa (the subject of one of our Great Carsbooks) of Anthony Powys-Lybbe. The concurrent O'Boyle Handicap Trophy saw Bob nearly cause an upset by finishing just three seconds behind a Gordini, in spite of having given away a lap to the sports racer.

That November, with Stirling Moss having left the Jaguar team due to him joining Mercedes-Benz for the benefit of his F1 career, and Mike Hawthorn replacing him as team leader, 'Lofty' England was considering who else to retain or invite to join the team. To assist his deliberations, he held a test session at a cold and murky Silverstone. Present to drive the two D-types were Peter Walker, Jimmy Stewart (recovering from his arm being injured at Le Mans), Ninian Sanderson and Bob. Quickest of the lot was one Bob Berry. Unfortunately for Bob, as an employee, he was not really in contention for a seat in the race team.

lap times

‘Lofty’England’s record of the November 1954 Silverstone test lap times.

In '55, Jack Broadhead, an interesting Lancastrian character and successful businessman with interests in scrap metal, haulage and the motor trade, acquired the ex-Works D-type OKV 2 (XKC 403) and, after he had been recommended by Bill Heynes, Broadhead asked Berry to drive the car.

Bob Berry in OKV2Bob wrote an article about his racing for the Jaguar Apprentices' Magazine, then edited by Andrew Whtye, later a Jaguar author of great distinction. Berry described how the conversation went between Broadhead and himself.

JCB: 'Sithee lad, I'm getting one of them new things – a D-type.'

REB: 'Really?'

JCB: 'Aye, wouldst thee like to drive it?'

REB: 'Yes, but I've not much experience.'

JCB: 'No matter – tha'll learn. That's that settled then.'

Jaguar brochure

Bob’s 1978 book on Jaguar and its racing exploits.

At Goodwood in May, Bob, with the engine down on power, finished second to Hamilton in two races.

Bob Berry racing

At the fateful 1955 Le Mans race, Berry was Jaguar's second reserve driver and did a few laps in practice. In fact, he had presumably been promoted to first reserve after Ivor Bueb took over as co-driver with Mike Hawthorn, after Jim Stewart's last-minute decision to retire from motor racing due to parental pressure, something brother Jackie was not to experience to the same extent.

1955 Le Mans programme

The 1955 Le Mans programme – printed before Jim Stewart’s withdrawal.

On the way to compete in the Portuguese Grand Prix, the transporter broke down at Tours en route, and so Bob loaded the spares into OKV 2 and set off across France, Spain and Portugal to Oporto, some 980 miles, which took almost exactly 20 hours. He averaged 50mph and fuel consumption was a remarkable 30mpg. The only problem was that an oil leak had developed, and this necessitated a quick stop 10 laps from the race finish, dropping the D-type from a fine third to what Bob described as 'an insignificant fifth'.

Starting at the back of the grid, as he was unable to get away from work to practise, Berry did extremely well to finish fifth at the International Sports Car Race at Oulton Park amid a very high-quality field, including Rosier and Gregory in 3-litre Ferraris. The first three positions were occupied by Parnell, Hawthorn and Collins. Bob was in serious company.

For the Nine Hours at Goodwood, Berry was joined by Norman Dewis who shared the driving. With instructions from 'JCB' to make sure they finished, their pace initially was a little too conservative, which they regretted and so speeded up. They finished fifth.

OKV2

For the TT, Ninian Sanderson was to co-drive, but Bob had the misfortune to clip a bank on the notoriously dangerous Dundrod circuit, which caused a tyre to deflate and the D-type to crest a bank and park itself in a field 12 feet below.

The '56 season started for Berry and the 'D' at the Goodwood Easter Monday meeting. The duo finished third behind Moss in a works-supported Aston Martin and Abecassis in his HWM. Berry, though, set a new class record for sports racing cars. Second place followed at the British Empire Trophy race at Oulton Park and at the Daily ExpressTrophy meeting at Silverstone (which I was at aged five!). Berry finished a fine third behind the Astons of Salvadori and Moss. For the Whitsun meeting at Goodwood, OKV 2 was on pole and finished first. Later that day, Berry led the Formule Libre race from Flockhart, Hawthorn and Chapman for three laps until he got it all wrong at Fordwater and had a massive accident. Six weeks in hospital followed.

1956 race seasonThe 1956 Silverstone Daily Express Trophy meeting, taken by my mother. Bob Berry is there somewhere!

Bob was back in the rebuilt D-type for the September Goodwood meeting but, unable to take the Friday off (Lyons was a hard taskmaster), he could not practise and thus gradually ease himself back into lapping quickly. Starting at the back, he did well to finish sixth. Fifth was the result at a wet Snetterton which better suited the smaller cars. Concluding with a club meeting at Oulton, OKV finished first in its scratch race and third, fourth and sixth in three handicap outings.

On the track with OKV2

Bob then received an ultimatum from Sir William: continue with his budding racing career OR concentrate on his role at Jaguar. Subsequently, he did a few minor events in the D-type, a Ford Anglia, a TR2 and the unique alloy-bodied Jaguar Mark VII (which was later owned by Rowan Atkinson, who reunited Bob with the car).

In March 1961, he was entrusted with getting the E-type registered 9600 HP to Geneva in time for the press launch. Late leaving, due to last-minute problems, he famously had to drive absolutely flat out 'like a race' to get to Geneva in time, which he did with 20 minutes to spare. This dramatic drive is described in detail in the forthcoming new, heavily-revised edition of my book on the car.

In the '60s, he took over as PR Manager from Rankin when Lyons's faithful retainer retired. He progressed to become assistant to 'Lofty' England when he was Managing Director. Following the most unfortunate creation of British Leyland, Berry became Marketing Director – International (Specialist Cars) and by 1976 had become Sales Operations Director for Leyland Cars. Under first Geoffrey Robinson and then Jaguar saviour John Egan, he once more became a Jaguar director. Wanting to run his 'own' operation, he later left to become the UK Managing Director of Alfa Romeo. Later still, he became CEO of the Jaguar dealership, Howells of Cardiff before retiring.

In later life

In retirement, Bob and his second wife Alison, spent long periods touring the USA in a motorhome. I met and interviewed Bob on several occasions over the years and he even visited my home to be photographed for a feature on 9600 HP for The Daily Telegraph. He was the most delightful, charming man one could ever wish to meet and helped me enormously in my writing about Jaguar. He was clearly a very fine driver and a true 'Jaguar man' who played a key role there, especially in the great days of the '60s.

With thanks to Suzie Peck (Bob's daughter), Avril Ward (Bob's first wife), Alison Berry (his second wife), Miles Morris, Malcolm Welford and Terry Larson.

By Philip Porter

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Comments

Greg - February 11, 2021

A wonderful tribute. Hadn’t realized that it was Mr. Berry piloting 9600 HP on its epic dash to the Geneva motor show. Legendary.
Many thanks and keep up the good – make that outstanding – work.

Eric Dunsdon - February 11, 2021

I was a big fan of Bob Berry in the 1950’s and have good memories of his drives in the Broadhead D type. A fine driver. R.I.P.

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