Remembering Adrian Hamilton | Thank Frankel it’s Friday
The voice on the end of the telephone is not one you’d be likely to forget. It was like a fine claret: rich, smooth and plummy. It was also the only one I’d be happy to address me as ‘old bean’. Which it always did.
It belonged to Adrian Hamilton who died last week after a short illness. I knew ‘Hammy’ for 25 years, indeed since I first took the helm of MotorSport magazine back in 1996, and in all that time he was never anything other than a delight to work with.
I first realised he might be one of the better people in this business when early on in my time in the editor’s chair at MotorSport I arranged to borrow a very rare, special and valuable racing car for a track test. Not then considering myself sufficiently qualified to pedal such a machine, I arranged for someone else to drive it, who promptly blew its engine.
This was some years before another well-known freelance journalist was dragged through the courts having been unfortunate to be driving another car belonging to someone else when that unstitched itself, but I was still terrified. The bill could easily have been what I might spend on a year’s worth of editorial contributions. Adrian however could not have been more decent about it. Despite the fact we’d not even discussed liability in such an event, he took the view that we were in the car at his invitation and therefore at his risk. I don’t think it occurred to him that I should pay.
But he was never more kind or trusting of me when some years later I asked if there were any circumstances in which I be able to become acquainted with XKC051, the C-type Jaguar in which his father Duncan and Tony Rolt had won Le Mans in 1953. He had inherited the car and it was then as it remains today far and away the most valuable car of its type in the world.
‘You free next Wednesday?’ he asked.
‘For this? I think I could make myself available,’ I replied heart starting to pound.
‘Come round at 10am.’
And that was that. I turned up, I drooled over all the ridiculous cars he always had in stock – this, after all, was the man who sold nine Ferrari 250 GTOs, seven Porsche 917s and over 20 Ford GT40s – and there was the C-type apparently waiting for me.
Where would we go? How would we get it there? How long did we have?
To which Adrian replied by asking me to be back before they shut the gates that evening. Yes, really. He literally tossed me the key to one of icons of my childhood and said ‘see you later.’ Even now, decades older and having been lucky enough to drive some hundreds of valuable racing cars, I still look back at that as one of the most remarkable gestures of trust that has been shown to me.
So I headed out into Home Counties traffic in the 1953 Le Mans winner, went down to the Longcross test track near Chobham and so far was safe and prudently possible, put the car through its paces until I felt I could learn no more without taking unacceptable risks. I then drove back and returned the car. ‘Have a good day?’ was all Adrian had to say on the matter. It still seems barely believable even now.
I did quite a few stories with Adrian and his cars over the years. Unlike some dealers, he rarely rang up and tried to persuade me to drive and therefore advertise metal he wanted to shift. Usually I’d simply be looking at a magazine ad or surfing around his website and see something. And if he could help, he always would.
The last time was five years ago when I saw he had a gorgeous Alfa Romeo TZ1 for sale. Usual form. Could I drive it? Of course, where would you like it? The car had some hillclimbing history so I ventured Prescott and that was that. The car was duly delivered, I had a riotous day in it and we all went home.
I’ll miss Adrian, a larger than life character who for some reason always regarded me as one of the good guys. And not everyone was: I remember years ago him fulminating after Top Gear borrowed the C-type, who gave it to whoever was playing the Stig at the time who, at least in his view, then totally abused the privilege of being in such an important machine by driving it like a drift car. He was far more careful about whom he let borrow cars thereafter. If it had been my car I’d have never let anyone near it, but that was just Adrian’s way. Our world is a poorer place without him.