15th April 2024 – 1960s Motor Sport – Martin Rowley

Our speaker Martin Rowley made a welcome return following his earlier talk to us on The Sheffield Gang Wars in August 2023. This week Martin gave us a talk on not only motorsport in the 1960s but extended this to include commentary on The Goodwood Festival of Speed held annually at the stately home of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, as well as the Mille Miglia 1,000-mile race and the exploits of Stirling Moss.

The Festival of Speed is held on the original 1948 course in the grounds of Goodwood House, the circuit which had been closed in 1966 by a previous duke but re-opened in 1998 as the home of the now well-established festival for classic cars with displays and races together with a variety of entertainments over a four day weekend in July. The historic car race has in the past had vehicles worth more than £380 million on the grid ready to race, with crowds of 100,000-plus over the weekend consuming, in the 2023 25th event, in excess of 1875 bottles of champagne!

Many famous drivers from the Grand Prix world have raced at the festival across many different classes including F1, touring, and classic cars. In addition to the cars there are also air displays utilising the original runways dating back to WW11 which are still in place and motorcycle races in particular the Barry Sheene Memorial Race. Attendees are most usually decked out in period costumes from across the ages including impersonations of the likes of Dad’s Army.

Martin followed this with a hair-raising description of the Mille Miglia road race in Italy, a round trip from Brescia in the north, south to Rome and back in under twelve hours with Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson (below) averaging a speed of over 100 mph in their Mercedes 140 300SLR. Six hundred and sixty two cars started, but only 281 completed the course with Stirling Moss finishing 31 minutes ahead of the second placed driver, the legendary Fangio. Compared with prize money available in today’s motor sports the winner’s prize of £12,000 was severely reduced by taxes to £1,400 – not much when you consider the risks involved. During the 1955 race four people were tragically killed which is perhaps not so surprising considering the race was on open roads, with little concern for health and safety and spectator numbers measured in the millions. The race continued until 1957 a year in which tragically 11 people were killed and hundreds injured after which the race was permanently cancelled and now runs as a Classic Car Run with no actual racing.

Two years earlier, the most catastrophic incident in the history of motor racing occurred in the Le Mans 24-hour race when 83 spectators were among those killed.

Stirling Moss had a glittering career as a successful motor sports driver not only in F1 but also other styles of racing. He was leading the F1 championship in 1962 when a crash which left him in a coma for a month and partly paralysed for six months ended his competitive racing career. But he remained a prominent personality in the motoring world, renowned for being a bit of a ladies’ man and bon viveur.

Martin then asked for some audience participation by way of describing and illustrating several in-demand classic cars, and after giving the assembled membership an indication of initial price and asking for bids including a 1929 Mercedes SSK Tourer bought as a gift but unappreciated and sold in 1939 for £400. After some competitive bidding up to circa £2 million in the room it was revealed that in 2019 the very same car sold for £4.2 million. A Le Mans Ferrari 250 GTO bought from the profits of Dark Side of the Moon by Nick Mason, the drummer of Pink Floyd, who produced this strong-selling album in the early 1970’s, fetched £33,000 with a similar model sold recently for $44 million. Even more spectacularly, a Ulenhaut Mercedes 300 SLR from 1955, of which only nine were built, sold in 2022 for £115 million.

It was an informative and entertaining look into this era of classic cars and sport car racing.

Moss/Jenkinson pic © journal.classiccars.com