Damon Hill takes a step into his father’s world with Jaguar E-type ECD 400 at 1961 Silverstone

Damon Hill takes a step into his father’s world with Jaguar E-type ECD 400 at 1961 Silverstone

On April 15 1961, Graham Hill served notice of the Jaguar E-type’s potential by giving the model a debut race victory at Oulton Park. Sixty years on, we reunite Graham’s son Damon with the same car. Simon Arron reports. Photography: Lee Brimble.

The coolest of cats

Damon Hill takes a step into his father’s world with Jaguar E-type ECD 400 at Silverstone – the same car raced by Graham in 196

I­t looked like nothing else on earth and cost a fraction as much as a comparable Ferrari. It wasn’t conceived with competition in mind, yet had scored its maiden race victory within a month of being launched at the Geneva Motor Show – and that just a couple of days after the winning car had rolled from the production line. The Jaguar E-type remains one of the most striking products from a decade ripe with innovation – and the car here, ECD 400, is among the most significant of the breed.

Damon Hill takes a step into his father’s world with Jaguar E-type ECD 400 at Silverstone – the same car raced by Graham in 1961

It might have shared a few styling cues (and disc brakes) with Jaguar’s Le Manswinning C- and D-types, but the E’s suspension and torquey 3.8-litre straight six were designed to complement touring rather than cut-throat combat. It was suitable, though, for the FIA’s newly introduced Production GT class, so Jaguar earmarked a batch of seven cars for relatively gentle modification (including higher compression, gas-flowed head, bespoke trumpets, lightweight flywheel and closer-ratio ’box). Equipe Endeavour and John Coombs Racing entered one car apiece for the 1961 Fordwater Trophy at Goodwood on April 3. They would have been driven by Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori, had the cars yet been fully assembled…

They were barely finished by the time the BARC’s Spring Meeting came around two weeks later at Oulton Park. Despite the lack of preparation time, Hill took Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour car to victory, with Salvadori an increasingly brakeless third, Innes Ireland (Aston Martin DB4 GT) between them and Jack Sears (Ferrari 250 GT SWB) fourth. Salvadori had led initially, but as he told Motor Sport in November 2001: “The brakes were probably fine for touring, but not track action, not even on a qualifying lap. A decision was made to rush the Jags back to Coombs to sort the brakes. For some reason, Graham’s Equipe Endeavour car was given new pads and discs, but I was just given pads. Eventually the ridges on my discs from the day before just chewed up the new pads, so Graham got past me at about half-distance.”

“Does any car define timelessness so effectively as an E-type?”

It was a flying start to a relatively brief career in the racing mainstream, because ECD 400 did not compete significantly beyond that first season.

Current owner Paul Vestey acquired the car the best part of 20 years ago from Pink Floyd’s late former manager Steve O’Rourke, who had been present at Oulton to see the car win in 1961. On the occasion of its reacquaintance with the Hill family, it is – appropriately – driven 80-odd miles by road, with Jaguar specialist Michael Ballard at the helm. It’s a hot day, but the roof is raised – the configuration in which it usually competed (though Warwick Banks apparently drove it al fresco in a Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, because he was too tall to fit comfortably otherwise).

Damon Hill was just seven months old when his father won at Oulton, so has been informed only by what he has read or else been told. “I was around cars and racing cars growing up,” he says, “but really my interest started off with bikes. My experience of car racing was great – big crowds, with lots of noise and kerfuffle, but something was triggered when I saw a couple of guys playing around on a monkey bike here at Silverstone. I think it might have been an International Trophy meeting. Anyway, they asked whether I wanted a go and I just remember turning the throttle and thinking, ‘That’s it, this is where I want to be.’ From then on I badgered my dad to get me a monkey bike and he bought me one for passing my 11-plus, though I’m not sure I’d any idea that I had passed! I like cars and I understand their history, for instance in the case of this Jaguar or the 250 GT SWB that Stirling Moss raced for Rob Walker, but for all that I appreciate them they have never had the same draw for me as motorbikes.

“That said, I’m very attached to my dad’s racing legacy – and of course his history is attached to this car, because after he won with it on its debut the E-type went on to become one of the most famous cars in the world – which is why we’re here talking about it 60 years later. Remember those silly jokes you’d hear at school? ‘What’s fast and yellow? An E-type banana…’ The car became part of the everyday lexicon when we were growing up in the 1960s.

“I don’t remember my dad ever owning an E-type, though he did have a Jaguar Mark 2. One day he took it out with Jo Bonnier and Jackie Stewart. I was at home and when they came back the windscreen was all smashed. We lived in Mill Hill, near the bottom of the fairly new M1, so they’d probably been for a blast up there to see how fast it would go, but I never found out exactly what they’d been up to.”

Damon’s own career was more diverse than some – he won a club-level motorcycle championship on a Yamaha TZ350 before switching to cars, competed in the 1989 Le Mans 24 Hours and shared a Ford Sierra RS500 with Sean Walker in a two-driver British Touring Car Championship race at Donington Park that summer, before his single-seater career regained impetus. When he looks back at his father’s broad CV, does he wish he’d had more similar opportunities?

“I think the objective was much clearer in my day,” he says. “In his era, a racing driver was someone who drove whatever and wherever – Formula 1 was just another category. They were more like jockeys – someone would phone up, ask you to drive and it was a matter, of, ‘Okay, where is it and how much do I get paid?’ Things had changed a great deal by the time I started – everyone was just trying to find the most direct route to Formula 1, through FF1600, F3 and so on. It was very single-minded – and if you’d gone off to do anything else it would have been presumed you were giving up on the dream. I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it, because their versatility was a part of what made some racing drivers great.

“I know there was more of a social side in my dad’s day, too – for me, Formula 3 was about as close as it came to that, with Johnny Herbert, Martin Donnelly and so on. We had a period in our 20s when we were friends as well as people who raced against each other, but there were half as many people on the planet in the 1960s and very few of them ever travelled. Guys like my dad, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Jack Brabham were on a world tour in a way that we simply can’t conceive any more. I think that was probably part of the appeal – it was a halcyon age when people were a lot freer. F1 drivers certainly were, but the downside was that it was much, much more dangerous.

“Am I looking forward to driving the E-type? Absolutely. I might not be a petrolhead who can reel off serial numbers or individual racing histories, but I really appreciate any chance to get behind the wheel to savour the sound, smell and attitude of older cars.”

ECD 400 looks absolutely pristine when it pulls in to the largely deserted Silverstone paddock, but curator Ballard and colleague Steve Hawke give it a quick polish “just in case there are a few specks of dust”. Does any car define timelessness quite so effectively as an E-type, no matter how spotless?

Hill settles into the red leather upholstery, asks some questions about using the Moss gearbox and sets off for a few fairly gentle laps, top now retracted for the same reason Warwick Banks preferred it so.

“The first thing that strikes you is the size of the steering wheel,” he says, “but you need a lot of leverage because the steering is quite heavy. And in cars like this you had to drift, to use the mass of the car to float it through the corners and then come back. And it was probably a bit scary. Once they’d started moving, if they’d gone off line I imagine it would be tricky to get them to change direction at high speed – and Oulton Park is a fast circuit.”

The steering is not as heavy, presumably, as the set-up Nigel Mansell preferred during his Williams F1 days, when Hill was the team’s test driver. “No,” he says. “That was the ultimate iteration of heavy steering. I remember feeling sorry for Al Unser Jr, who tested for Williams without having been warned about that steering set-up, which nobody but Nigel could actually turn. I tried it once, but ran out of energy within a lap… “Going back to the E-type, it has quite a lot of power, accelerates well and sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s gorgeous to sit in, albeit very cramped for somebody of my height, particularly in terms of legroom.

I think I’d have a pretty sore back if I had to drive one of these for any distance as I had to slump down a bit. But it’s beautiful – and it was wonderful to have been flying along in it at Silverstone on a hot summer’s day. It’s always interesting to get an insight into the cars my dad drove – I’ve had a run in quite a few of them now. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was emotional, but I feel very lucky to be given such opportunities. I love the wood-rimmed wheel, too, and the fact it has a cigar lighter on the dash. Not a cigarette lighter, note, but cigar… It doesn’t have a radio, but, that apart, looks every inch a standard production car. Which, of course, is more or less the case.

“The gearbox is a bit crunchy and requires a certain technique – Paul had warned me to give the clutch a double dip on the upchange from first to second, because there is no synchro, but the others didn’t seem to have synchro either! Obviously this hasn’t been an exercise in driving flat out, but I was able to push a bit through Stowe a couple of times and was impressed by how much grip there seemed to be.

“You can read the history books, and you can look at the fabulous pictures from back in the day, but I say the same thing every time I drive a car such as this: these things are time capsules, because they don’t change but we do. They capture a moment. This is a car of its era and was a gorgeous, ground-breaking creation. The lines are iconic and absolutely ingrained on our consciousness, even today. There can’t be too many people in the world who don’t know what an E-type is. As I was driving around, I was thinking about just how many of them would covet a chance to be given a go in something like this…

“I do appreciate the scale of the privilege.”

TECHNICAL DATA ECD 400’s 1961 track record

  • April 15 BARC Spring Meeting, Oulton Park Graham Hill 1st
  • May 14 Spa Grand Prix Mike Parkes 2nd
  • May 21 Norbury Trophy, Crystal Palace Jack Sears 2nd
  • June 3 Peco Trophy, Brands Hatch Graham Hill 3rd
  • July 8 British Empire Trophy, Silverstone Graham Hill rtd
  • July 15 British GP support, Aintree Mike Parkes rtd
  • July 23 Scott Brown Memorial, Snetterton Mike Parkes 1st
  • August 7 Peco Trophy, Brands Hatch Graham Hill rtd

BRDC marking on the bodywork. Below, from left: Michael Ballard, Steve Hawke, Damon, our own Doug Nye and the E-type’s owner Paul Vestey.

“It’s gorgeous to sit in, albeit very cramped for somebody of my height”

Its 3781cc straight-six engine is in immaculate condition. Right: the driving position favours the smaller form. The smile says it all.

Left: red interior; no radio but there’s a cigar lighter. The start of the British Empire Trophy at Silverstone in 1961, with Hill and Roy Salvadori’s E-types side by side. On familiar territory: Damon started eight Formula 1 races at Silverstone in the 1990s, and won on a similarly hot day in 1994. Hill competed at Silverstone in ‘ECD’ for Equipe Endeavour in 1961.

Above: Graham in practice at Oulton Park before his historic win. Switches, dials and wooden steering wheel – Damon is transported back to his father’s world.

Damon Hill was months old when father Graham flung ECD 400 around Oulton Park for the E-type’s first ever victory.

“The car became part of the everyday lexicon in the 1960s”

Rescued from oblivion

The rocky road to salvation for Graham Hill’s racer After its successful first season as part of Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour stable, ECD 400 was sold on and is thought to have been used in club racing events. It resurfaced thanks to Jaguar specialist Robert Danny, who says: “In the late 1960s a lot of vehicles of historical interest were ending up in the crusher. It was left to me and other enthusiasts to seek out and preserve as many cars as possible before it was too late.

“ECD 400 was one of the cars I rescued. I was alerted early in 1970 by my late friend Joss Davenport, a member of the Jaguar Drivers’ Club and its XK Register. We drove to a location in Hertfordshire and confirmed that it was 850005 from its factory chassis plate.

“The car was in a very poor state, having become a boy racer’s dream in the late 1960s when it was sprayed a mixture of blue and gold with red stripes. Even die-hard Jaguar enthusiasts will admit that early E-types were not built with a long life in mind and ECD 400 was almost certainly heading for the scrapyard when we pulled it from a garden.”

Danny kept the car until 1976, when he sold it to insurance broker Michael Scott… who contacted Pink Floyd’s manager Steve O’Rourke. In 2001, O’Rourke said: “I paid £600 and gave it to Michael Cane of EMKA Engineering to restore. The only non-original item is the bonnet, that was in a bad way, but the engine, chassis and rear end are original.” O’Rourke was its owner until shortly before he died in 2003, when the current custodian Paul Vestey stepped in.

ECD 400 will be on display as part of the E-type’s 60th anniversary celebrations at the Silverstone Classic, July 30-August 1. Three-day general admission costs £125 per adult, £12 for 11-15s and there’s no charge for accompanied under 11s (though tickets must be booked). As well as a full weekend of racing, the price includes paddock and grandstand access, fair rides and music. silverstone.co.uk

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