By John Swartz
Anyone who has followed a pastime on an online forum has witnessed a conversation thread where someone posts a picture, and then someone else says, “Hey, that’s me!”, or “I was there.” Then everyone else chimes in with variations of, “Yeah, right. Pics or it didn’t happen.”
This happened to Alex Henderson while sifting through pictures on Instagram. He follows an account called valveandpiston, and another called motorsportingpictures. One day he spots a photo of a Jaguar race car parked in front of a Spitfire airplane on #valveandpiston. There was something about the car which reminded Alex of his youth – he had driven that car.
“I just came out of the army and I needed a job. I happened to be walking down the road and saw the cars there and went in to see if there was any work. Mr. Abbot was the foreman and he’s the first guy I saw,’” Henderson said.
“OK, come with me,” said Abbot. They went back into an office and the interview happened right then.
“Are you a mechanic?” Abbot said according to Henderson.
“No, I do this that and the next thing,” Henderson answered. Abbot said, “OK, you’re hired.”
That garage had a name, Ecurie Ecosse, which is French for Scotland Stable. Anyone with a memory and a fan of car racing just got bug-eyed. Edinburgh’s Ecurie Ecosse in the 1950s was a famous backer of European racing cars and drivers and had a bit of success in the 24 Hours of Lemans race. Their cars won it twice in 1956 and 1957. While they owned cars by other manufacturers too, it was with Jaguars, Type Ds specifically, they won with.
Maybe you can see where this is going. The photo in question showed a Jaguar Type D with the serial number RSF 303 on the left front bumper, which happens to be the serial number of the ’57 Lemans 2nd place finisher behind the team’s winning Jaguar (Jaguars took 5 of the top 6 spots that year), which happens to be the car Henderson drove as part of his job.
I made a comment under the picture. I said, “I drove that car in 1959 when I was 21 because I worked at Ecurie Ecosse” “Then I said, “here’s proof,” and I sent him this photograph,” said Henderson.
“The next minute on email, I get this email from Clive Beecham and he says, “what’s the story of you standing beside RSS603?” which is the chassis number of the car?” Henderson said.
This started a back and forth, which lead to Henderson travelling down a road at 140 MPH (225 km/h), sitting in that car with Beecham at the wheel.
“That’s me back in the car again and the guy that owns it,” Henderson said revealing a print of his exploit. It just happened Henderson was going to the U.K., Nottingham, for a wedding in May and Beecham lives 75 miles from where he was going to be.
“He said to me, “would you like to be reunited to your car?””
Henderson said no.
That’s in a parallel universe, of course he said yes.
Beecham is the founder of Kinnerton Confectionery Co Ltd., which may bring to mind memories of Beecham’s gum, that’s a different Beecham, this one makes chocolate. He’s done quite well. The car was sold in 1959 to an American who kept it in museum quality condition for 14 years. It was then sold to Anthony Bamford (now Baron Bamford) in 1972.who kept it for 35 years before selling it. The 5th owner, Beecham, acquired it from a Swiss collector for an undisclosed price.
The Jaguar is only one of the cars Beecham owns. He has enough he has a mechanic, David Brazzell, employed. When it came out Henderson is an artist (you can see his work at Peter Street Fine Arts) Beecham asked for a painting of a photo to give to Brazzell.
“He sent me this black and white picture. That’s in a pit stop during the 1957 race when it came in 2nd,” said Henderson.
The photo showed the crew and chief mechanic Ron Gaudion’s famous tartan hat. Henderson found the proper tartan to replicate the colours.
Isn’t this a wonderful story with a few twists and connections? If you think this is it, there’s more.
Going back to the picture that started everything, it was taken at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
“They had an air show / car show, so they were all together,” Henderson said of the cars and airplanes. Beecham made a startling discovery when he found out the history of the Spitfire from 603 Edinburgh Squadron.
“The guy said, “603? It’s the same as the tracking number of my car,”” Henderson said, necessitating the picture. Well, when Henderson heard that another coincidence from his childhood came to mind.
“The German prisoners used to come down to the park to play soccer. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time. The Spitfires used to come back and when they saw the German prisoners,” and the kids playing the pilots used drop low and wave before landing at nearby Turnhouse Aerodrome.
“When the planes came in they came down my street. I saw that plane during the war, flying,” said Henderson.
What does an artist do when confronted with all this, paint a picture of course.
(Photos Supplied, Main Photo by David Rook)
UPDATED Information: the wrong mechanic had been identified, and the chain of ownership corrected. thanks to Clive Beecham for the corrections.