In little over a week the 73rd Members’ Meeting will be underway. As is the way at Goodwood, races are often named after great racers and this year we have competitions named after Gerry Marshall, Graham Hill, Roy Salvadori, Bruce McLaren, Trevor Taylor, Prince Bira and of course a race for Fifties Grand Prix cars named after the great Mike Hawthorn. Who better then to talk to about the enigmatic Englishman than a man who has dedicated a large chunk of his life to preserving his memory; Nigel Webb.
‘My father was a car man’ he says of his introduction to the world of four wheels. ‘When I returned from a stint in Africa in 1969 I’d saved up some money and dad said “right, buy yourself a car and a house.” I thought to myself that I’d put together a Mk1 Jaguar like Mike Hawthorn’s car …’
John Michael Hawthorn will forever be a key part of British motor racing lore. He was the first British Formula One World Champion and famously was part of the Jaguar team which triumphed at Le Mans in 1955. After his World Championship success in 1959 he retired, having been profoundly affected by the tragic passing of his friend and team mate Peter Collins at the German Grand Prix earlier that season. Within six months Hawthorn himself was dead as the result of a road accident on the A3 in Surrey in his Mk1 Jaguar.
‘I did a lot of research into Hawthorn’s Mk1’ Nigel explains. ‘Jaguar was very helpful and came up with lots of information. So, I bought a Mk1 with the intention of making it into a ‘Specification K’ car as close to Hawthorn’s as possible. It took years and years to collect all the correct parts…’
But collect them he did, and the end result is a tribute car to rule them all, with astonishing attention to detail. In the process of acquiring all the right parts, Nigel even managed to lay his hands on Mike Hawthorn’s BRDC badge which had been fitted to the front of the Mk1 when he had his accident. Ditto the keys and locks. Everything about it is correct save for the registration number, but even then Nigel went as far as he possibly could. Hawthorn’s car was registered VDU 881, Mr Webb’s car bears 881 VDU …
Today it sits proudly with a bevvy of other significant Jaguars, including 774 RW, which historians will recognise straight away as the registration mark ascribed to the D-Type Jaguar Hawthorn drove to victory at Le Mans in 1955 with Ivor Bueb. ‘It was the late-Nineties when that car became available’ Nigel says of the D-Type. ‘I sent it to be restored by (renowned Jaguar expert) Gary Pearson and then intended to put it in my museum with my other Hawthorn memorabilia. But Win Percy convinced me not only that it should be raced, but that he should be doing the driving! I agreed and he raced the car very successfully for 18 months.’ Nigel had the honour of driving the car himself at Classic Le Mans in qualifying, but despite being no stranger to fast cars, he was somewhat taken aback. ‘I tried my best to experience what Hawthorn did… but I couldn’t believe how fast the D-Type was around there!’
Other notable Jaguars in the museum are an XK150, an extremely early ‘semi-lightweight’ E-Type, a 3.5 litre SS100 (a former Jaguar ‘team car’), an alloy-bodied XK120, an amazing Jaguar MK2 GT (an experimental car with three carburettors which was condemned by legendary test driver Norman Dewis as ‘too much of a handful’ for most motorists), a Mk VII which Nigel not only rescued from the scrap yard, but with which he also successfully competed in the Peking to Paris rally, and the oldest C-Type in existence… ‘Yes, you see chassis one, two and three were dismantled after Le Mans’ Nigel explains. ‘This one is chassis number four which may-or-may-not have had parts from the first three cars fitted to it.’ It was ordered new by Duncan Hamilton and still races to this day. Elsewhere is another Mk2 which Nigel describes as a ‘company car… although when the weather’s really good I take the SS100!’
The rest of the museum is full of Hawthorn memorabilia, although that was never the intention, as Nigel explains. ‘It was about 10 years ago when I moved house and only then did I realise just how much Hawthorn stuff I had. There were boxes and boxes full of letters, clothing, documents, car parts… so making a museum from it all appeared to be the right thing to do!’
The fruits of Nigel’s dedication make for a fascinating visit. Although not open to the public, certain motoring groups and clubs are occasionally granted permission to come along and immerse themselves not only in the life of Mike Hawthorn, but also take-in the cars on display. That said, once we’d seen some of the artifacts in the museum, we found ourselves slowly wandering from presentation case to presentation case gazing at letters from the Queen, Hawthorn’s watch, various of his steering wheels, books visors, awards, the cylinder head which was used on the D-Type during its finest hour at Le Mans in 1955 and even one of his famous bow ties!
‘I was contacted by a lady five or six years ago who used to go out with him back in the day. She asked to see me, saying only that she had something I might like to have. It turned out that she wanted to give me his old bow tie which she’d looked after all this time and wouldn’t take a penny for it, even after I explained that it would fetch a good sum at auction!’ A fitting example of the esteem in which Nigel and his incredible collection are held.
Full gallery at top of page.
Photography: Tom Shaxson