Duncan Hamilton was not so much economical with the truth as reckless with it. Jaguar historians don’t believe his story of how he and Tony Rolt won Le Mans in 1953. It is always a shame to let the facts stand in the way of a good story, but it seems the infraction that caused all the trouble was during Thursday practice not, as Hamilton tells it, the day before the race.
The ever-trustworthy Andrew Whyte noted that Lofty England “doesn’t go along with Hamilton’s version … of the incident,” and published a photograph showing that there were indeed two Number 18s in front of the pits during practice, - no big deal but against the rules. Sir William Lyons had to pay a fine for the infringement.
Norman Dewis, the Jaguar test driver told biographer Paul Skilleter how Lyons summoned Jaguar public relations executive Bob Berry in the small hours after Thursday practice, to compose an apology to the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. Lofty spent Friday sorting things out. So whatever prompted Hamilton and Rolt to “go on a bender” the night before the race, it wasn’t the threat of disqualification, which had been lifted.
Nevertheless Hamilton’s version prompted a review of the reissued book, which I have included in the new ebook Eric Dymock on Cars 1991, available to purchase on Amazon at an introductory £1.27.
The Sunday Times 20 January 1991
Racer who lived in the fast lane
DUNCAN HAMILTON is not so much economical with the truth as reckless with it. In an introduction to Touch Wood, his father’s reissued autobiography, Adrian Hamilton cheerfully acknowledges that when first published in 1960, “it just didn’t matter if in places it might be less than nitpickingly accurate — it captured the flavour of a bygone age in which sporting achievement alone was never enough without fun along the way”.
Duncan Hamilton’s idea of fun might not have been everybody else’s even in 1960. Boisterous to the point of delinquency on his own admission during service in the Fleet Air Arm, his high-spirited, perilous career continued after the war in motor racing.
He drove Talbots, ERAs and HWMs with great vigour and his victory at Le Mans in 1953 became the stuff of legend. Partnered by Major A P R Rolt* in the official Jaguar team, his car was disqualified the night before the race on a technicality and, in Hamilton’s own words, they “went on a bender”.
Reinstated the next morning, their only cure for a substantial hangover was the “hair of the dog”. They not only survived one of the world’s most arduous motor races, but won at a record speed, nearly 10mph faster than the winning Mercedes- Benz the year before and for the first time more than 100mph.
On a more practical note, the AA’s books on guiding motorists around Britain have set their own high standards. The latest series, Britain on Country Roads, includes one that helps drivers avoid main roads and encourages them to explore places bypassed by motorways and trunk routes. It describes 96 mini-tours of 50 to 90 miles, illustrating places of interest, and includes careful route directions. The maps are clear and the quality of production is exemplary.
*Anthony Peter Roylance "Tony" Rolt, MC and Bar (1918 – 2008) was more than a motor racing hero. Awarded the MC as a Lieutenant in the Rifle Corps in the defence of Calais, he was taken prisoner and after a number of escape attempts was sent to Colditz, where he planned to escape by glider. Hamilton’s book gained collectors’ status, the AA books have not. Some second-hand bookshops refuse to stock them; they take up so much space. So many were sold and then languished, mostly unread, on bookshelves throughout the land to accumulate on house clearances