This portrait photograph from the Club Archives is of the accomplished British racing driver, Peter Collins in 1956. Peter John Collins (1931-1958) was widely admired as the best driver of his time. This year marks the 60th anniversary of his death in 1958.
Collins was tragically killed in an accident on 3 August 1958 racing in the German Grand Prix at the notorious Nürburgring. At 100 mph, the 27-year old drove into the Pflanzgarten section of the circuit too quickly encountering a ditch. Collins lost control of his Ferrari, which somersaulted in the air and landed upside down. Tony Brooks, racing driver from the Vanwall team, recalls his death, ‘I think Peter made a simple mistake, went into the corner a little bit too quickly, perhaps a bit off line. And if you went off at the ’Ring’, of course, you were in the hands of the gods, because it was all ditches and trees’.
Collins’ passion for motoring was demonstrated by his involvement in all types of motorsport including sprints, hill climbs, rallies, races, and even the Sunbeam Alpine Rally in 1953 and 1954. Collins drove predominately for Ferrari and during the short period from 1949-1958, he achieved 56 positions in 1st, 2nd or 3rd position. He won Pole position in 22 of these races.
Collins was not academic and left school at the earliest opportunity. By the age of 16 he became apprentice for his father at his family garage. His five-year apprenticeship also allowed him to defer his National Service and concentrate on his racing career. His father supported his motoring interests and would be play an important part in Collins’ career. The motor racing commentator and filmmaker, Neville Hay, knew Collins well as described his aptitude for problem solving:
‘Peter would try to solve the problem, peter had honed his skills in driving those three seasons in 500 c.c. F3 and he had learned to race against the best… His attitude towards the business of driving a racing car for a living was 100% professional…It is very easy if you have an immense personal ability, bordering on genius, to play a very good game of rugby. But if you are not very fit…you are going to have trouble’.
Collins was highly sociable and confident, yet he was determined and extremely professional regarding his racing and would never drink much the night before driving. Even though Collins may have liked to charm the girls, he did eventually meet Louise King, who he fell in love with instantly and married one week later. Louise King recalls fondly how:
‘Peter simply loved life, motor racing, his family and me. He was full of fun and joy but very serious about his racing and the cars he drove. We had a great marriage, even though it took a lot of people by surprise. We met on a Monday and were married the following Monday. It led to the happiest year and a half of my life. We were very, very close through every minute of it so we packed a lot of living into a short eighteen months’.
Being a team-player was also extremely important to Collins, who thrived on team spirit as Louise Kings recalled, ‘it was important, above all [to him], that someone in a Ferrari won the championship’.