Ecurie Ecosse, part 1: From garage squad to global brand

11th August 2017
Paul Fearnley

Right time, right place; right team, right race. Consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victories from 1956 put a cobbled Edinburgh mews on the motorsport map and turned a tightly knit outfit with a strong national identity into a global brand.


Founded in November 1951 by a charismatic chartered accountant/publican/wine merchant called David Murray, and based along the lines of the formative Scuderia Ferrari – a conglomeration of wealthy amateurs and their sports cars – Ecurie Ecosse tapped into a rich seam of local talent and reaped the benefit, without ever becoming rich.

Its winning style was set by Ian Stewart, a driver capable of upstaging Stirling Moss in equal equipment – a feat he achieved at Berwickshire’s Charterhall in October 1952 – and of impressing the hell out of a young and impressionable Jackie Young Stewart – no relation – with his insouciance at the wheel. This Perthshire farmer/publican was one of Ecosse’s original three, the others being Bill Dobson and Sir James Scott Douglas, a Bunter-esque Baronet burning through the first of his inheritances. All drove identical blue Jaguar XK120s.

Stewart, however, was a cut above. Not only did he choose that striking colour – Flag Metallic Blue – and later sketch the team’s Saltire crest for his subsequent C-type, but also he won on his debut with that step change car, having collected it from Coventry and run it in on the drive south to the BARC’s Jersey International of July 1952. Though he bent to his disapproving family’s will and returned to its businesses after a crash early in 1954, he had widened the team’s horizons – he finished second in the 1953 Nürburgring 1,000km, co-driven by Roy Salvadori – and helped strengthen its link to Jaguar, by whom he had been occasionally employed on a works basis. 

Not that Murray wasn’t ambitious. The same spirit that saw him contest four world championship Grands Prix – a tree-based practice accident at the Nürburgring in 1951 persuaded this forty something that his driving days were mostly done – would cause him to stretch the shoestring ever tighter. The £5000 start-up he coaxed from Esso and subsequent donations from fans worldwide – more than 2000 members across 39 countries – were very welcome but little more than sticking plasters for a team with world championship outgoings thrust upon it in 1957 and fond of ‘self-inflicted’ adventures that raised its profile while draining its portfolio.

A seemingly unstoppable momentum had been gained due to the availability of ‘fast cats’ off Jaguar’s peg – D-type replacing C-type in 1955 – as well as Dumbarton’s Jimmy Stewart – Jackie’s quick but accident-prone elder brother – Edinburgh’s Ron Flockhart, Glaswegian Ninian Sanderson and, from Aberdeenshire, Jock Lawrence, plus Paisley-born prototype Paralympian Archie Scott Brown and Desmond Titterington, a Scottish-schooled Ulsterman with a Scottish mother. Murray wasn’t averse to hiring ‘incomers’ – Cheltenham garage owner Ivor Bueb or Masten Gregory, aka ‘The Kansas City Flash’ – but his stable was fundamentally chock-a-Jock and all the better for it. 

Urbane Flockhart and the more urban Sanderson combined to beat Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, a faster pairing in a slower Aston Martin, to give Ecosse its first Le Mans win and save Jaguar’s face after the dramatic collapse of its works effort. Awarded semi-works status the following year – running two D-types instead of one – it then beat the might of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Maserati to score a fantastic one-two, Bueb having replaced Sanderson in the lead car and the latter now partnering Lawrence in the second. There was no rancour in the ranks, however, and the victory was due to excellent preparation, swift pit work and a realistic strategy rigorously applied.

Results elsewhere were harder to come by. The slippery D, with its heavy live rear axle, was perfectly adapted to the long straights and smooth surface of Le Mans, but less competitive on less amenable circuits; it shook itself into retirement when Flockhart contested the 1957 Mille Miglia on the pockmarked roads of Italy.

Switching to the lighter spaceframe designs of Cambridge’s Brian Lister and Portuguese-born John Tojeiro helped at national and international Libre levels, but their XK ‘six’ did not sit comfortably at the world championship’s new 3-litre limit. The Toj, however, did provide Jim Clark’s only Ecosse outing, co-driver Gregory ejecting fractions before the car folded expensively against a Goodwood earthwork during the 1959 RAC TT.

By the time Ecosse signed Clark’s natural successor Jackie Stewart – his first driver’s contract: £500 for 1963, plus 50 per cent of prize money and bonuses, plus expenses – Murray was feeling the pinch. The cost of building a one-off single-seat Lister-Jaguar for the 1958 Race of Two Worlds at Monza and the commissioning for 1962 of two prescient but ugly mid-engine GT coupés by Tojeiro – powered initially by a Coventry Climax ‘four’, later they received Ford and Buick V8 muscle – had come to roost. That both projects were unsuccessful, added to the pain.

Murray was caught between two stools. Those Le Mans wins had raised expectation to an unsustainable level – i.e. several points beyond miraculous – whereas the running of an Austin Healey Sprite in 1961 had been beneath it. That his team was by now as famous for its admittedly fabulous Commer transporter was indicative of its on-track struggles. With standards and loyal staff to maintain, Murray was digging more deeply into his own pocket to do so, at a time when racing was becoming increasingly commercial and expensive. Threatened with bankruptcy – some say blackmail about his illegal (until 1967) proclivities – and unwanted by his garage business’s new owners, he did a flit in 1969 to Gran Canaria to escape the mess. Pride, both personal and national, had come before a fall. He would never return, suffering a fatal heart attack in 1973 three weeks after, and while apparently recovering from, a bad road smash. 

Ecurie Ecosse had continued without him. Diversifying to contest the European Formula 2 championship, it met with little success before disbanding in 1972. Wrong place. Its time, however, would come again. For Murray’s greatest legacy was the reviving whisky warmth – Scotch courage – he had instilled in the team and its staunch supporters who dared to dream.

Photography courtesy of LAT Images

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