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Lance Macklin and the HWM - Part 1

by Lance Macklin

In 1949 I had one or two drives on the continent in the 6CL. Maserati which I co-owned with John Gordon. On top of this I was a member of the Aston Martin team that participated in three or four major races, mostly on the Continent. The result was that although I was beginning to build up a reputation abroad as an up-and-coming driver, in Britain I was hardly known.

During this same period Stirling Moss was racing his 500cc Cooper just about every weekend up and down the country, and had already established himself as one of Britain's bright new stars. During the winter of 1949-50 John Heath and his partner George Abecassis, built four new sports-racing

cars using the 2-litre Alta engine. The cars were so designed that by removing their mudguards and headlamps, they could qualify for entry in the new Formula 2.

John Heath

Caption: The prototype HWM proudly displayed by John Heath

At the beginning of 1950 they sold one of these cars to Buster Baring, and with the remaining three formed a Works team with which to take part as fully as possible on the Continental circuit.

The advantage of racing abroad then was considerable, because whereas in England you were expected to pay an entrance fee for each race, on the Continent the organisers would pay you starting or appearance money. The amount they paid depended largely on how well-known you were, but also on how good a negotiator you were. It was all very discreet and one was forever trying to find out what the other drivers were getting compared to yourself. Even having agreed an amount in advance, you could not be sure of receiving it after the race. ‘Ah Monsieur Maclean, what a pity your car broke down after only eight laps’, or, ‘what a disaster that it rained all day, the spectators just didn't turn up, and we have lost a fortune’. Or, if there had obviously been a big crowd, ‘Ah but you see there was a hole in the fence and they all got in without paying’. It was a permanent wrangle but it was still better than nothing. 

John Heath signed up Stirling Moss as their Number One driver, he and George were to take it in turns to drive the second car. The third one was to be offered to the various race organisers who would be free to nominate a local driver of their choice. On the whole, the idea worked well, and in fact their first success with HWM was at the Grand Prix des Frontieres in Belgium where hitherto little-known Belgian driver Johnny Claes won.

On the same day John Heath took the other two cars for himself and Stirling to Aix-les-Bains where they appeared to have a chance of doing well. Unfortunately things didn't work out. Stirling, all of 19 years old and relatively new to the joys of Continental food and way of living, got carried away by the fabulous choice of creamy cakes and especially the rich chocolate éclairs in which the French pâtissier excels. The result was that when dawn broke on the day of the race young Moss was in close communication with the lavatory basin in his hotel room.

John Heath was not very sympathetic and Stirling, looking rather green and fragile, duly climbed into the cockpit for the race. As it happened his car broke down after half an hour and he was able to return to his hotel and bed. A local doctor suspected he had a mild attack of jaundice and recommended he return to England and rest for a week or two.

While this was going on I was kicking my heels in the south of France, so when I read in a paper that Stirling would not be able to  drive the HWM at Berne the next week, I jumped in my car, complete with crash hat, racing overalls and so on, and drove up to Switzerland. At that time any remote possibility of a drive had to be investigated and I thought hopefully that there might just be a chance that at such short notice John Heath would have difficulty finding a replacement.

I arrived in Berne a couple of days before the practice and soon located the garage where the HWM team were. John arrived the next day and I offered him my services. He accepted them, but only in the form of general dogsbody around the place, and the only drive I got in one of the racing cars was from the garage out to the circuit and back. Unfortunately John had already come to an agreement with the organisers that a Swiss driver called Rudi Fisher should drive Stirling's car.

I left rather despondently for Paris after the race but at least I had the comforting thought that Le Mans was not many weeks away and I was assured of a drive there with Aston Martin.

George Abecassis had recently been signed by Aston and when I got to Le Mans I found that we were to be co-drivers of the No.19 car. I was pleased at this because although I did not know George very well, I had always regarded him as one of the more press-on of the English drivers.

During the race our Aston was consistently faster than any other in the team, and I turned out to be quicker than George during the spells when I was driving. Anyway, between us we won the Index of Performance which carried the biggest prize, and were fifth overall.

After the race George said to me, ‘Would you like to have a drive in one of our HWM team cars?’ ‘Would I? You bet,’ was my instant reply. So he telephoned John Heath and they agreed to give me the third car to drive in the Formula 2 race which was being run as a curtain raiser before the French Grand Prix at Rheims two weeks later. Naturally I was delighted, and also intrigued to find out for myself just how fast this young Moss was in the same car as me. In motor racing you can only really form an opinion of another driver when you have had the chance to compete against him on a number of different circuits and in varying conditions.

Stirling Moss and MacklinCaption: The Macklin Moss friendship clearly gathering pace in 1950

I arrived at Rheims in high hopes but was rather disappointed after the first day’s practice to find that Stirling had been consistently quicker than me and by quite a margin. One or two people who had seen me driving at Le Mans had been laying bets on whether I would be as fast as Moss, so I was naturally disappointed. Later that evening when I was at the garage chatting to the mechanics, I commented on the fact that I was disappointed at my times. Alf Francis said ‘Well what do you expect? Didn't John tell you that the car you're driving has the sports car engine, which only has twelve-to-one compression, whereas Stirling has the new racing engine with fourteen-to-one, and is about 15bhp up on yours.’

I felt a lot happier after that, but it was to be some time before I had the same engine as Stirling.

Read Lance Macklin and the HWM - Part 2

 

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