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Ecurie Ecosse group (Bonhams)
Ecurie Ecosse group (Bonhams)

Classic cars: Great Scots

Seven Ecurie Ecosse cars - and their transporter - headed for auction Add to ...

Enthusiasm for old cars is defined by different perspectives, the many ways they appear and appeal to the eye, how they are physically experienced on a variety of personal levels and, of course, the monetary means available.

Collectors of miniature model racers, for example, might happily contemplate buying one of the 1960s Corgi Toys 1/43-scale editions of iconic Scottish racing team Ecurie Ecosse’s famous flag-blue transporter on eBay, in play-worn condition, for about 40 bucks, or pay hundreds more for a still-in-the-original box example.

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Those with bigger ambitions, and with more bountiful budgets, might think about bidding on the real thing, when British auction house Bonhams puts one of a handful of survivors of these pioneering purpose-built race-car haulers, now fully restored, on the block in early December.

If they want the cars that Ecurie Ecosse team drivers – Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Innes Ireland, Roy Salvadori and Masten Gregory, among others – “played” with in the 1950s and 1960s, to haul around in it, some of them will also be going under the gavel. They’ll cost a bit too as, like the transporter, they’ve been returned to “mint” condition.

British collector and vintage racer Dick Skipworth is making room in his personal toy box by disposing of not only the transporter, but seven of the cars the famed Scottish team raced to national and international glory. The lineup includes a 1952 Jaguar XK120 roadster, 1953 Jaguar C-Type, 1956 Jaguar D-Type, 1959 Tojeiro-Jaguar, 1960 Cooper Monaco, 1961 Austin-Healy “Sebring” Sprite and a Tojeiro-Buick. The fiscal tally for this lot will be in the millions.

Skipworth put his collection together after earning more than a few bob developing a new business model for distributing semiconductors in the early 1970s, then founding electronics supply giant Memec, selling it, buying it back and then flogging it again. He frittered away part of the proceeds on ocean-racing yachts, but spent some more sensibly, to acquire vintage competition cars to race and rally.

Among them were the Ecurie Ecosse racers, some of which he’d watched race as a youngster at the Cadwell Park circuit in Lincolnshire, after reportedly sneaking in under the hedge, while growing up on the nearby family farm.

Ecurie Ecosse – it was felt this would sound classier to the continentals than Team Scotland – was created by David Murray, an Edinburgh accountant, pub and wine shop owner and racer, late in 1951. He’d been the first Scot to compete in a Grand Prix after the war, and was recovering from a career-ending crash in a Maserati at the German Grand Prix.

He also owned a small garage in the city’s Merchiston Mews, partnered with legendary Brit race mechanic and tuner Ernest “Wilkie” Wilkinson. It was here a plot was hatched to create Ecurie Ecosse as a private team, in which drivers would own their cars, but be managed by Murray, and their racers prepped by Wilkie.

Customers Ian Stewart, Bill Dobson and James Scott Douglas were the team’s first three drivers and, as Esso support hinged on all driving the same model, each ordered a Jaguar XK 120. The team’s first outing, resplendent in distinctive flag-blue team paintwork, was at the Charterhall circuit in 1952, and Dobson won. It was the first of 68 victories this low-budget back-alley operation would score over the next decade.

These included its two remarkable wins in D-Type Jags at Le Mans, a small team of Scottish privateers against the best in the world. Scots Ron Flockhart and Ninian Sanderson drove to the win in 1956, and Flockhart and Englishman Ivor Bueb in 1957, with Sanderson and Jock Lawrence coming home second.

Up until then, the team had relied on ancient Albion and Leyland buses to haul cars to the tracks, but riding high on these successes, and with increased backing from the motor trade and Scottish fans, it commissioned the transporter in 1959. It was designed and built of aluminum on a Commer “lorry” chassis by Falkirk coachbuilding firm Alexanders, to carry two cars in the open on top and one below, with room for a workshop. It is powered by a Rootes-built TS3, three-cylinder, six-piston, horizontally opposed, supercharged, two-stroke diesel that shrieks like turbine, but lets it cruise economically at 55 mph.

It was completed in 1960, but the decade would see the team face increasing difficulties, and the team was wound up in 1971.

The Ecurie Ecosse name reappeared in the 1980s under the wing of Scottish enthusiast Hugh McCaig, another schoolboy who fell under the team’s spell back in the day, and went on to win sports and touring car championships. As the original team had, it has provided seat-time for a new generation of great Scottish drivers, among them Alan McNish, David Coulthard and Dario Franchitti.

The transporter went through a number of increasingly callous hands, before ending up as virtually scrap when rescued by Skipworth, whose deep pockets funded a 3,000 -hour restoration completed about 10 years ago.

Since then, its appearances at vintage events have re-fired memories of the greatest team in Scottish motorsport history for countless racing fans who, like Skipworth and McCaig, long ago traded in their school days billed and badged caps for tweed flat hats.

Back in 1959

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globedrive@globeandmail.com

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