Ecurie Ecosse

After Ecurie Ecosse finished first and second in the 1957 Le Mans 24 Hour Race with their D-type Jaguars the membership of their supporters club, the Ecurie Ecosse Association, leapt dramatically and all of the members were keen to give any support they could to further Ecurie Ecosse success. One area was obvious, transportation. At that time Ecurie Ecosse had two ageing transporters which had served the team well for over five years. Indeed I remember being picked up by Stan Sproat and Sandy Arthur back in 1952 with the original team transporter, an ageing Albion coach.

Amongst the members of the Ecosse Association were many people involved in the Scottish motor trade and the first to step forward was Alastair Cormack, managing director of James Ross & Sons Motors, the Rootes agents. Alastair was no stranger to motor racing as he had been a factory driver for Alta before the war and raced at Brooklands and Donington.

Ronnie Alexander, managing director of Walter Alexander and Company of Falkirk was also a member of the Association and he offered to have a one-off transporter designed and built at his factory which specialised in truck and bus coachbuilding. In turn a number of other companies offered to help including British Aluminium who offered the panelling, Dunlop, Joseph Lucas and Wilmot Breeden all chipped in. Other companies, like John Gibson & Sons, offered to do some of the engineering on the chassis and fittings and so the transporter was commissioned in 1959 with additional funding coming from the Ecurie Ecosse Association. The chief designer at Walter Alexander was one of Scottish motor sport’s characters, Selby Howgate who was a true dyed in the wool Bentley enthusiast with a particularly rapid 4 – litre which he drove with vigour. Selby was full of good humour, sported a thick toothbrush moustache and usually drove in heavy tweeds. He had worked in the aircraft industry and was Design Manager at Alexanders.

Howgate got down to the job and was full of ideas. His assistant, Ian Johnston recalls that had this been an actual commercial project the transporter would have cost a fortune as the ebullient Selby kept changing his mind but in the end what he came up with was nothing short of stunning in concept and execution. Many people have commented on the upward sweep at the rear of the bodywork which Ian Johnston explains was the answer to Selby’s rhetorical question, ” What is the most streamlined thing in nature – a fish”

The transporter has a lower deck enclosed at the front with sleeping accommodation and space for one car. Then there were hydraulic ramps to raise a further two cars to the upper level where the cars stretched out over the cab.

Eventually the transporter was finished in time for the 1960 motor racing season and made its debut at the Scottish circuit, Charterhall, on May 29 1960.

Wherever it travelled the Ecurie Ecosse transporter was admired and when Ecurie Ecosse was wound down early in 1971 the transporter was sold to well known historic racing driver Neil Corner who actually owned one of the ex-Ecurie Ecosse D-type Jaguars. It later passed through many hands and was discovered in a terrible condition in the 1980s.

Today the Ecurie Ecosse transporter is as resplendent as it ever was thanks to one of Ecurie Ecosse’s greatest supporters, Dick Skipworth.  Dick commissioned the total rebuilding of the transporter and he uses it to carry as many as three of his ex-Ecurie Ecosse cars.

At the Scottish Classic race meeting at Knockhill last year (2008) there was a remarkable reunion. Dick Skipworth had brought the transporter along with the ex-Ecosse Austin Healey Sprite, his D-type and the Tojeiro-Jaguar. On the Saturday Ian Johnston, who had worked at Walter Alexander came to see the transporter and the following day brought with him Adam Burrell, now in his eighties, who had had built the aluminium body. Hugh McCaig, the present patron of Ecurie Ecosse, was thrilled that Adam had managed to come along and he in turn was emotional about seeing his creation for the first time in fifty years.

Today, nearly fifty years since it was commissioned, the Commer has not yet come to a full stop!

Categories: Historic, News

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