Duncan Hamilton (1920 - 1994) - Irelands Larrikin Racer

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Duncan Hamilton (1920 - 1994) - Irelands Larrikin Racer

Duncan Hamilton
Duncan Hamilton enjoyed good living, as his ample waistline revealed, but beneath the external veneer was a dedicated racing driver of great skill, exuberance and, above all, stamina, as he was able to drive many long-distance races without showing signs of tiredness.

Born in 1920 in Ireland, Hamilton learned to drive in the ubiquitous Austin Seven, and was soon immersed in the atmosphere of Brooklands. He was too young to take a serious part in pre-war motor racing, but after war-time service with the Fleet Air Arm he bought an R-type MG, followed by a Type 35 Bugatti. These he used mostly in local sprints and hill-climb events before he invested in a 60 Maserati which he used for gaining experience in circuit racing.

The Maserati was not particularly competitive and Hamilton was already indulging in the tail-out driving technique which gained the crowd's attention, but often ended in a spin. Hamilton really came to public notice in 1950, when he drove a Healey Silverstone in the 1950 Production Car race at Silverstone and soundly beat the works Aston Martin team, led by Reg Parnell.

This led to an invitation to drive a Nash-Healey at Le Mans in 1950. Partnered by Tony Rolt, he finished fourth and followed up in 1951 by taking sixth place with the same driver. He also purchased from the Belgian Johnny Claes a Formula One Talbot Lago, with which he had a great deal of amusement, although not much success. He drove one excellent race with the Talbot; he was holding second place in the rain-lashed British GP, at Silverstone, when it was stopped after only six laps.

Hamilton also occasionally drove a Formula Two HWM in 1951, taking second place in Dublin. He also drove for HWM in 1952, but he preferred big-engined sports cars and did not get on too well with the small HWM and its 2-litre Alta engine. In 1952; Hamilton bought a C-type Jaguar from the Coventry factory and began a long association with the marque which lasted until his retirement from racing in 1958. A second place at Turnberry in Scotland was his only decent placing with the car, but he was invited to join the works team at Le Mans and the Goodwood Nine Hours.

The cars failed ignominiously, but Hamilton gained valuable experience. For 1953, Jaguar again signed Hamilton to drive a C-type and, although he retired in most races, he had the satisfaction of winning at Le Mans, partnered by his long time co-driver Tony Rolt, leading a Jaguar 1, 2, 4 rout of the Ferraris. Hamilton also drove his own C-type in various races, but injured himself at Oporto when he collided with an electricity pylon. In typical Hamilton fashion, the pylon he chose was a vital link in the city's electrical system, with the result that the electricity was cut off for several hours.

Hamilton again drove for Jaguar in 1954, this time using the new D-type model. The Hamilton/Rolt car held second place in the early hours of the morning at Le Mans and Hamilton was put into the car in streaming wet conditions to try and catch the leading Ferrari. He drove frantically to finish only three miles behind. He and Rolt finished second in the Reims 12 hours, but retired from the TT. Hamilton had also acquired a D-type of his own, which he raced in many club events.

Goodwood and Silverstone

He was once again in the Jaguar team for 1955, but did not have much success, as this was the year of the Le Mans tragedy and there was little international racing after June. He and Rolt both retired at Le Mans, but in his own car he won the Coupe de Paris at Montlhery, as well as various smaller races - at Goodwood and Silverstone, and finished third in both the Dakar GP and the Portuguese GP.

Duncan Hamilton in action during the 1951 British GP
Duncan Hamilton in action during the 1951 British GP.

For 1956, he remained with Jaguar. He started off the season by winning the Coupe de Paris again, followed by second place in the Frontieres GP at Chimay. Then he and Ivor Bueb won the Reims 12-hour race, but the irrepressible Hamilton was sacked from the team after the race because he had refused to slow down to orders when holding a clear lead.

Hamilton was signed on by Ferrari, but had little luck with them, apart from a third place in the Swedish GP. It was back to his own D-type Jaguar for 1957, together with outings in a 3.4-litre Jaguar in saloon-car events. He once again won several club events and picked up places in foreign events. At Le Mans, where he entered his own car for himself and Masten Gregory, they finished sixth behind a string of other Jaguars. It was yet another Jaguar season for Hamilton in 1958 with the usual crop of good places and wins in both the D-type and Jaguar saloons.

Touch Wood

At Le Mans he fitted a 3-litre engine to the D-type he shared with Ivor Bueb, but after getting into the lead during the night Hamilton overturned the car at Arnage, while-avoiding a slower car, and received severe injuries. Upon his recovery he decided to hang up his helmet and retire - to his garage business in Byfleet, Surrey. He co-wrote an autobiography called Touch Wood!. Duncan Hamilton died in Sherborne, Dorset. His son Adrian Hamilton, a classic car dealer, runs his father's garage today. Duncan's grandson Archie Hamilton is also a racing driver.
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