Ian Stewart, the last remaining founder member of Ecurie Ecosse passed away at his home in Crieff on Sunday of last week. Though he retired from racing in the spring of 1954 his interest in motor racing never waned and he was as opinionative and enthusiastic about modern motor racing as he was in his short racing career, which started in 1951.
Ian’s forebears were crofters on the hills behind Loch Tay. Early members of the family, the McCallum’s eventually launched themselves into the whisky business producing D & J McCallum’s Perfection Scotch Whisky.
The Stewart branch of the family stayed in farming and Ian was sent to Agricultural College to become a farmer. By this time his father and grandfather were well known in the cattle rearing business but had absolutely no time for Ian and his ideas of racing. As the McCallum side of the family died off the Stewarts inherited not only the farms but also the whisky business that Ian’s father sold off to the Distillers Company in 1936.
In the late 1940s he did a few rallies but after seeing the 1949 British Grand Prix at Silverstone he was keen to go racing. He had an MG TA and then an MGTC but shared a Jaguar SS100 from an Edinburgh enthusiast, Noel Bean and did a few sprints. His first new car was a Healey Silverstone and raced it at Scotland’s first motor race at Winfield in October 1950.
However 1951 was his key year as he managed to buy an early Jaguar XK120 and took it to Edinburgh to be serviced by Merchiston Motors run by ex-grand prix driver David Murray. The service director was Wilkie Wilkinson . At the end of the season David Murray had the idea of forming a team of Scottish drivers to race nationally and possibly internationally. Ian was the cornerstone of the idea as his superb driving had been noticed by no less a person than Stirling Moss who tipped off Jaguar competitions manager Lofty England. Initially David Murray had a Jaguar XK120 and he would join Ian but his wife disapproved so he sold it to the son of a local Haulier, Bill Dobson who was also keen to race. David now had two drivers for his Ecurie Ecosse team and needed a third as Esso had offered a substantial cheque if the team ran three identical cars in racing. The third man was to be Sir James Scott Douglas a Scot living in London who also had a Jaguar.
The 1952 season saw Ecurie Ecosse arriving on the scene and winning races. Not only that, but Ian Stewart was chosen to race a factory C type Jaguar at Le Mans that year. Sadly that was the year Jaguar used a low-nose, long-tail version of the C type and the cars retired due to overheating. As a factory driver Ian was offered the chance to buy one of the customer C types that were being built and he bought chassis 06 and ran it in the Jersey Road Race having run in the engine on the drive from Coventry to the ferry to Jersey. He won first time out and had his greatest win in the car at Charterhall when in his drum-braked C type he beat Stirling Moss driving one of the new C types with disc brakes. He was again selected for the Jaguar team for the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours and finished 4th overall sharing with Peter Whitehead. By now he had been joined in Ecurie Ecosse by Ninian Sanderson and Jimmy Stewart and they were a formidable combination and one of the most successful privately entered sports car teams in period.
During 1953 Ian ran in his only World Championship Grand Prix, the British at Silverstone in the Ecosse Connaught but retired when the engine failed.
An invitation to race in Argentina in 1954, was taken up and Ian was to share one of the ex-factory C types with disc brakes in the race with Jimmy Stewart. It so happened that Ian’s father was in Argentina buying cattle for his pedigree stock in Scotland and was not interested in seeing his son race. He took a cargo boat back to Britain.
In the race Ian came up to lap the Porsche Spyder of Jaroslav Juhan who, in turn, was trying to overtake an even slower car. As Stewart arrived at the corner Juhan moved over and rather than hit the Porsche Ian tried to avoid Juhan and hit a wall breaking his collar bone in the accident. He was taken to hospital, but unfortunately news of this was passed on by radio to Ian’s father on board ship and by mistake was told that Ian had been killed. Needless to say he was relieved to find that Ian was not only alive, but arrived back home. At this stage Ian was given the ultimatum, give up motor racing and take over the family business or face the consequences.
As he was the only son he felt his responsibility rested with the family business and he retired from racing and never actually raced again.
Ian later married his American first wife, Wendy, and they lived on a farm near Comrie but they were later to divorce. At that time Ian threw himself into slot car racing and built up the biggest and finest slot car circuits in Scotland taking up an entire room in his house. He used to enjoy visits from people like Roy Salvadori and Innes Ireland and they had full length, two-hour- grand prix races with wives and girl friends spaced around the circuit to replace cars that shot off the table.
He also became Scotland’s first Ferrari dealer, but that was a short-lived adventure and settled down to not only the pedigree herd of cattle he kept on an isolated farm near Killin, but to a group of public houses in prime sites in Edinburgh which the family still own today.
Ian’s second marriage to Alex, who at one time had been Secretary of the Birmingham Branch of the Ecurie Ecosse Association, was a very happy one and produced his two sons Christian and David. When she took seriously ill Ian nursed Alex for many years and she died a few years ago.
Ian Stewart, then, was truly Scotland’s first great racing driver of the modern era and his success spurred on the interest of Jimmy Stewart and Innes Ireland who were to be examples for Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart to follow. Ian’s place in the history of Scottish motor racing will always be secure as not only one of the founding members of Ecurie Ecosse but also as the man who chose the team’s iconic metallic blue livery and as the designer of the famous Ecurie Ecosse badge. Those of us who knew him will have many fond memories of Ian.
Credit: Graham Gauld