'John, George and the HWMs' - Simon Taylor Book Launch - Event Review

To view images from the night click here

Club members and guests gathered to celebrate a distinctly British underdog story. It was that of the British racing team, HWM, the unforgettable underdogs who blazed the trail for the great British racing teams of today.

After champagne and canapes, guests sat down to enjoy a chat between Club Chairman Ben Cussons and the author of new HWM book, well-known journalist Simon Taylor. Entitled ‘John, George and the HWMs – The First Team to Fly the Flag for Britain’. Simon spent three-years researching the book, with one of his main motivations being to revive the story of HWM which he felt had almost been lost to history.

In Conversation with Simon Taylor
Simon spoke regularly about the intrepid entrepreneurs who founded the HWM team – George Abecassis (an enthusiast who was desperate to race) and John Heath (an enthusiast who was desperate to run a team). These intriguing characters were to pursue their racing dream after the Second World War, but did so on a shoe-string budget and with severely limited resources. The interview with Simon soon highlighted the glaring contrasts between a post-war racing team and the rather more comfortable life which modern professional racing teams enjoy today.

‘No overtime, but fish and chips every night’
The mechanics had a particularly tough time, Simon explained. Mike Heath was notoriously careful with his money, and rather than offer overtime he appeased his mechanics with the offer of a fish-and-chip dinner every night.

The team lived hand-to-mouth. Turning up at each race they had to complete a single lap to earn their ‘starting money’ which would then provide them with enough money to cover the fuel costs needed to travel to the next circuit.

In addition, the team often travelled in conditions that would be completely alien to the modern motorsport outfit. Their trailers were weighed down with the cars and all the fuel and supplies they could carry, capping their maximum speed to 30 mph. This was made even worse by the fact that they had to travel up to 800 miles to reach circuits, meaning some journeys took four days.

The Underdogs
Despite their flaws, the HWM team won over fans as the battling underdogs. Their brilliant young drivers, such as Stirling Moss, managed to adapt to the bulky and often unrefined handling of the HWMs, and on many occasions held their own against the charging Ferraris. In fact, HWM only lost their lead due to the almost inevitable breakdowns experienced due to a lack of replacement parts.

Although short of money, the team’s founders had a talent, particularly for spotting and retaining emerging drivers, including the likes of Stirling Moss and Duncan Hamilton, which Simon cited as a large reason for their success.

Following the team’s time in Formula 2, Simon described its transition into sportscar racing, a move that was almost seamless. By simply giving their existing Formula 2 cars a facelift, they were able to become immediately competitive in sportscar races with their HWM-Jaguar.
The dream was to end after the tragic death of the founder John Heath who was killed on the 1956 Mille Miglia in Italy, but Simon is convinced their successes would have lived on should he have survived.

Rotunda Cars
In celebration of the evening, two HWM race cars were displayed in the rotunda. One was a 1952 HWM single-seater Alta F2 car, and the other was a 1954 HWM-Jaguar VPA 8.

To see more information on the cars and view images of them in the rotunda, click here.

Published by Evro, Simon’s book comes in two volumes, one focussing on the racing history, and the other dedicated to the 19 drivers and the machines which they raced. Both sets include some amazing images from the period. Many members and guests were able to buy signed books on the night.

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