Jim Clark was arguably the top driver during a golden era for Formula 1. To mark 50 years since his passing, Richard Webber takes a Lotus Evora to Scotland to trace the formative years of the world’s fastest farmer
There’s an archetypal personality in the Scottish Borders, the verdant wedge of rolling lowland abutting England’s northernmost reaches. Innocent of motorways and barely skirted by rail, the region preserves an identity shaped not only by agriculture but also centuries of cross-border conflict. It’s an archetype that’s modest but steely, cautious of strangers and reluctant with an audience but boisterous among friends. I grew up surrounded by it. You’ll find it from Burnmouth to Buccleuch. Nothing unusual, then, about James Clark, Jnr, the young farmer from Chirnside. Except that he was the greatest racing driver in the world.
Clark was Formula 1 world champion in 1963 and in 1965, when he paused from winning six consecutive grands prix to triumph at Indianapolis. He narrowly missed three more F1 titles, was twice runner-up at the Brickyard and claimed the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship. On 7 April 1968, Clark was killed when his Formula 2 Lotus-Cosworth crashed in the woods at Hockenheim. In the subsequent issue of Autocar, the accident’s cause eluded editor Peter Garnier, as it eludes today. Garnier’s eulogy concluded: “Though most of us will see him in memory, garlanded and waving after some great victory, it is perhaps the thought of his less glamorous, simpler background in his native land that endeared him to us all so much.”
Senna paid homage to a plaque in a chapel at Clark’s old school
That is why we’re making a pilgrimage to see the places, meet the people and drive the cars that helped shape a champion, when motorsport for Clark was still a local, amateur affair. We’re armed with a Lotus Evora GT410 Sport, the latest machine from the marque that carried Clark to his greatest triumphs, liveried in dark green with yellow calipers in tribute. We’ll be guided by my father’s 1965 copy of Clark’s autobiography, At the Wheel – the book that inspired Webber the Elder growing up in Hawick as it
did a teenage Steve Cropley kicking up dust in the Australian Outback. Such was the global appeal of this local hero; the man the French christened ‘Superjim’ and the Italians ‘Clarkissimo’.
Our first call is not Chirnside but Kilmany, the Fife village where Clark was born in 1936 and spent his first six years. There we visit the commemorative statue by local sculptor David Annand. Set on a peaceful lane next to the babbling Motray Water, it shows the distinctive 5ft 7in frame in racing overalls, mid purposeful stride. It’s a beautiful piece and, I’m told, an uncanny likeness.
A chance meeting with Rob and Susan Whiteford, current owners of the farm at Wester Kilmany, lets us draw the Evora in front of Clark’s sturdy but homely birthplace. (Long before Indy, his first victory milk was taken behind the upper right-hand window, if you’re interested.) Rob’s father acquired the tenancy from the Clarks when they moved south in 1942.
The Evora’s ‘GT’ prefix points towards a racing-inspired spec, including lightness-adding carbonfibre panels, Eibach springs, Bilstein dampers, four-piston AP calipers and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, not to mention the charge-cooled Edelbrock supercharger that helps mine 410bhp from the mid-mounted, Toyota-sourced 3.5-litre V6. But as an ensuing dual-carriageway sprint shows, it can tour too. The ride is slightly animated but far from uncomfortable and the steering settled, while impressive tractability lets us engage sixth and leave it there. Even the dual-mode exhaust becomes unexpectedly civil.
Which is just as well because an art exam is happening as we simmer between the ochre-walled buildings at Clark’s alma mater, Loretto in Musselburgh. The 191-year-old school has added wings, girls and day pupils since Clark’s time as a boarder between 1949 and 1952, but its courtyard – and the red-blazered, tieless throng milling through it – has changed little. On one side sits the chapel, which houses a plaque marking Clark’s achievements in racing. Ayrton Senna paid homage in 1991.
“I couldn’t see what use Latin would be for a farmer,” wrote Clark. He frequented the library for other reasons: “I read the three books on motor racing in the school library from cover to cover several times, and remember those special mornings when it was time to collect my weekly motoring magazines.” Today, books about Clark inspire the students.
A coast-hugging cruise down the A1 leads into the Borders and Chirnside, where there’s a memorial to Clark designed by Ian Scott-Watson, the friend who started Clark in racing and managed him through the early years. We’ll meet him tomorrow. For now, we’ve a short drive to the family farm that Clark left school at 16 to manage.
Similarly traditional to Wester Kilmany, the house at Edington Mains is larger, and the acreage only a little diminished from when Clark tended crops and livestock here. Current owners Dave and Tanya Runciman relay that a young Clark would jump from his first-floor bedroom onto his father’s truck before tearing off in whatever vehicle he could lay hands on. The first of these illicit forays was in an Austin 7, when he was aged just nine.
It was from here that Clark and pals pedalled six miles to the disused military airfield at Winfield – briefly a motor-racing Mecca for 50,000 spectators, now just gravel and tall grass – to peek through the hedges at the Ecurie Ecosse team in testing. The spectacle stayed with him.
A young Clark would jump from his first-floor bedroom and tear off in any vehicle he could find
Aside from late, fiscally motivated stints in Paris and Bermuda (income tax hit 91.25% in 1967), this remained Clark’s home and it’s where he wrote the book I’m carrying. The house became filled with trophies, although it remained simply furnished, the occasional rogue sofa spring known to keep visitors alert. Such antithesis to the glamour and danger of professional racing weighed heavy on Clark: “There is a constant tug between the sport and attractions of returning to life on the farm, not to mention allaying the constant and understandable anxiety of my parents.”
We break towards Hawick. On the quiet, narrow, helter-skelter back roads, the Evora comes alive. Sport mode sharpens the throttle and opens the exhaust valve wide, smothering the supercharger’s hum with a full, racy yowl, the engine doing tremendous work between 3750rpm and the 7000rpm redline. The aluminium gearknob shifts neatly, crisp throttle response abets heel-and-toe and the brakes give that delightful, sandpapery racing feel under duress.
The Evora never feels like grounding out or springing skyward, its suspension and aero relentlessly forcing the lightweight alloy wheels and Cup 2s into the grit-seasoned surface. It’s near freezing, but only the standing water and tractor-dragged mud give cause for pause. Otherwise, both ends are tacked down, the Evora’s nose obedient to the swift and transparent hydraulic steering.
On this road, a young Clark came face to face with Ecurie Ecosse’s three dark blue Jaguar C-Types, line astern and squirming into a hairpin: “I remember thinking what a shower of madmen they were. But at the same time, I felt a twinge of envy.” We strafe on past Kelso, where years later a typically flat-capped, betweeded Clark attended the ram sale five days after winning the 1963 title.
Although Clark had earlier runs in rallies, gymkhanas and autocrosses, the opening entry in Scott-Watson’s detailed record of his friend’s achievements is a sprint meeting at Stobs Camp, near Hawick, on 3 June 1956. The 0.8-mile hillside circuit surrounds half of what was once a military training facility turned POW camp. Up to 5000 Germans were detained here in WW1. D-Day preparations took place during WW2. The family of owners Nicky and Sandra Ewart returned it to farming in 1960.
The now gravelly perimeter road that once traced the barbed wire was still neat tarmac when Clark arrived to compete in the Sunbeam Mk3 passed down by his father. That the almost identical Sunbeam-Talbot 90 that Kevan Younger of Coldstream Classic Cars has brought along is now hired for weddings tells you how unsuitable it seems for motorsport – yet a Mk3 won the Monte Carlo Rally the year before, and Clark raced his successfully.
It almost didn’t happen, though, as Graham Gauld noted in his 1968 biography, Portrait of a Great Driver. Following practice, the stewards “felt sure that if he ran in the event he would have the world’s biggest accident”. Perhaps the narrow, twisty track, cursed with mad cambers and edged by trees and ditches, explains why Clark was the only finisher in class – and therefore the winner.
Gauld reported: “His driving was at times heart-stopping, the car clearing the ground completely on the downhill stretch.” Having edged around the crumbling circuit in a 4×4, slithered the Evora up the soundest stretch and then tried Younger’s car – which he barely dares take above 40mph on the road – I can confirm that prospect is frightening.
With Younger is Bob Smith, who serviced the Sunbeam for Clark (until he wrote it off, that is). The young farmer’s speed was locally infamous by then. Smith tells of Clark giving his terrified shepherd a lift back from a livestock sale. “How many sheep did you count?” asked Clark as they pulled into Edington Mains. “Sheep?” said the shepherd. “I could barely count the fields!”
On to Charterhall, another wartime airfield turned circuit. Clark watched his first race here, in 1952, back when this remote, two-mile track – now desolate save for the resurfaced main straight – attracted international stars. Racers that day included 1950 world champion Giuseppe Farina in the Thin Wall Ferrari, Prince Bira and Stirling Moss.
The names were glamorous, but the facilities were not: a double-decker for the timekeepers and long-drops for loos. Still, thousands came, and Clark himself soon become a draw. In autumn 1959, he raced Scott-Watson’s Elite here, fresh from 10th place at Le Mans – a remarkable result for a group of holidaymaking farmers who’d collected only a partially prepared car from Lotus mere days before.
This was the gung-ho Border Reivers team that indoctrinated Clark into serious racing, including third at Le Mans in 1960 in an Aston Martin DBR1. Two years earlier, the team’s Jaguar D-Type had thrown Clark in at the deep end during testing at Charterhall, providing one of the many pushes he needed en route to greatness: “I thought they were daft asking me to drive it. All I did was take it up and down the straight, and it scared me to death.”
The team was named for the area’s plunderous, mounted gangs of the Middle Ages, and marked by the badge you see on the delicious blue Elite that joins us on that very straight. It belongs to Doug Niven, cousin of Clark and a successful racer himself. Its fizzy little fire-pump-derived Coventry Climax 1.2-litre straight four makes just 72bhp but moves the GRP-bodied Elite along smartly, its exhaust rasping away. There’s a tiny shifter for the ZF four-speed, yet an enormous steering wheel. The suspension is soft, but nimbleness comes from a mere half-tonne kerb weight. Petite, unconventionally engineered and lightweight, it’s pure Colin Chapman.
We stop by the Jim Clark Museum in Duns, a compact but rich collection of trophies and mementos, from Charterhall’s tiny silver cups to the cache of trophies and trinkets from Indianapolis. The Jim Clark Trust works to maintain Clark’s legacy and recently raised funds to expand the museum to house cars as well as artefacts as of next spring. The trust marked Clark’s passing with a range of local events on 7 and 8 April.
Then we visit Scott-Watson, who warmly and generously shares stories of ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Mossy’, Chapman and more. He invested huge amounts of faith, encouragement and, indeed, personal funds to get Clark racing. Read excerpts from our chat with him on the previous page.
Before leaving the Borders, we call on Eric Bryce, a local lensman who photographed his friend Clark over a decade. By the fire, we pore over countless images, from his first photograph of the Sunbeam at Charterhall to post-win celebrations at the 1967 British Grand Prix, Clark garlanded as Garnier described. “That was the final picture I took of Jimmy,” says Bryce, thoughtfully.
“It was the last negative on the roll of film.”
The gung-ho Border Reivers team indoctrinated Clark into serious racing
Our final leg leads west of Edinburgh to the only one of our three Clark venues still hosting competition. Created in 1932, Bo’ness Hill Climb was Scotland’s first purpose-built track and nowadays hosts the Bo’ness Revival – a classic car show combined with historic motorsport each September. At 0.35 miles, the course is shorter than before but retains its charming feel, climbing among thick woodland and then snaking through a pretty courtyard. It’s a delightful place to enjoy old cars.
Clark competed in three Border Reivers cars here in 1959, including the highly successful white Porsche 356A 1600S he’d recently bought from Scott-Watson for both racing and daily driving. We’re lucky to be joined by Simon Whittley and his 356, identical in all but colour. From within that bulbous yet graceful form, its perky, responsive, rear-mounted four-pot boxer warbles beautifully. Its steering is keen, its gearshift long but silky, and the brakes work too. I can see how the 356 helped Clark earn his stripes.
Within a year, Clark was racing for Lotus in F1. A 1961 entry at Charterhall was his final race in Scotland, and for the Border Reivers. But in his introduction for At the Wheel, Clark’s next patron, Chapman, recognised the “trait of Scottish character” that helped Clark become a champion, calling it “a certain dourness and a very strong determination to succeed”.
Chapman went on: “There are other racing drivers who have to generally attract attention to themselves to make up for lack of ability; but Jimmy has not had to do any of that, and if he left racing tomorrow, he would leave it with an example which others would find hard to follow.”
I think that’s just as true 50 years after the fact. A
PHOTOGRAPHY LUC LACEY
WHAT WE SAID IN 1968
Innes Ireland was a fellow Scottish F1 driver and a team-mate of Clark’s at Lotus before becoming Autocar’s sports editor. This is part of his obituary of Clark, which we published on 11 April 1968.
“He had a great love for his heritage, which was the basically simple, rustic life of farming; but his dedication to motor racing was even greater, for he forced himself to leave all this behind to concentrate on his chosen profession. It is in this light that we must regard him, for he died as he lived, giving his all in a racing car.”
WHY DOES SCOTLAND PRODUCE SO MANY RACE ACES?
Alongside the likes of Flockhart, Ireland, Stewart, McRae, Cleland, Coulthard and Franchitti, Jim Clark is one of a plenitude of world-class drivers to emerge from Scotland. So why does the country punch above its weight when it comes to producing racers? We quiz two of them to find out.
Hailing from Dumfries, McNish competed in 17 F1 races and had a successful career in endurance racing, topping the podium at Le Mans three times, including twice for Audi, for which he is now Formula E team principal.
“I don’t believe it is just driving talent, good luck or the roads, but also inspiration, determination and support. It takes a lot of commitment just to reach an event, never mind compete, so when you get the chance, you give it your all. Sitting in the back of a van for seven hours after a kart race is a much happier ‘debrief’ if you have won a trophy, so you do everything to achieve that.
“We also support each other: Jim supported Jackie, Jackie supported, guided and pushed me, David Coulthard and Dario Franchitti, and we try to do the same for the next generation, be it a word in the ear of someone that matters or supporting programmes such as Scottish Motor Sports. We are proud of our heritage, but also know the future does not happen by luck.”
Born in Edinburgh, Shedden followed in Clark’s footsteps by winning the national touring car title, taking top BTCC honours three times. He’s now an Audi Sport driver in the new World Touring Car Cup.
“Living in Scotland certainly has plenty of challenges. The location inevitably means that anyone who wants to succeed in motorsport either has to move down south or be prepared to cover plenty of motorway miles. Either way, it takes dedication, commitment and sheer doggedness when the cards are stacked against you. Growing up in Scotland also means you can see four seasons in a day, so racing and learning in nasty conditions is part of life. It makes the nice days a breeze in comparison.”