1. 1913 – 1933 Early Life
George was born on 21st March, 1913 in the village of Oatlands, near Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. His parents were both American citizens; his mother, Marie, was born and bred in California, but his father, David, had been born in Portugal and had come to Britain as a young man with his parents. His paternal grandfather was a successful Jewish financier, and had settled in London in the 1890s. George was born into a household that was very comfortably off, and the following year his only sister, Ghita, was born. The family of four lived a happy, middle-class life in Oatlands during the Great War, but inflation, increased tax and poor market returns meant that in late 1918 his father took the family to America, whose economy was unaffected by the war and where things were actually improving.
The family lived in Stamford, CT, for a couple of years, before leaving for Brazil when George’s father was posted as the representative of the American leather industry. They did not stay long, as tragedy struck when David died of a heart attack while on a trip to Argentina, and they returned in a hurry to Stamford. The next year, 1921, saw Marie take her children back to Britain, where George remained for the rest of his life. He lived in London but went to preparatory school in Pyrford, Surrey, and then to Clifton College in Bristol. It was here, under the influence of his study-mate, that George’s already-nascent passion for speed flowered.
He left Clifton in 1931 with the intention of reading engineering at City and Guilds in London, but he did not start his course until the following year. Soon after he started at City and Guilds he crashed his motorbike and thus blackmailed his mother into providing the difference between the salvage value and a four-wheeled motor car (deemed to be safer!). That motor car was a standard model Austin 7 Chummy, and he got a licence and learned to drive as one did in those days – by terrifying the locals!
2. 1934 – 1937 Getting Going on the Track
1933 saw him leave City and Guilds without taking a degree or diploma, and entering the London to Gloucester Trial, followed next year by the London to Land’s End Trial. At this time he also entered some club events and those arranged at Brooklands by the Junior Racing Drivers Club, whose instruction he took very seriously.
It was not until May, 1935 that he entered his first national level race – at Donington, in fact, and in a new Austin 7 Special which came to be known as the Einsitzer, because it was a true single-seater modelled upon the Works cars of the days. During that year he entered a few more national races without any success, partly because he was still rather green, and partly because the Einsitzer was unreliable and not nearly fast enough! He finally took the right decision and sold it early in 1936. But this left him without a racing car, and George looked around for something else rather more competitive.
He would have liked to buy an ERA, of course, but despite having come into an inheritance in 1935, he could not really justify spending several thousand on such a car (a luxury which was not beyond Bira, though, who went on to buy three of them). So in 1936 he contented himself with racing Robin Jackson’s offset single-seater Alta a couple of times at Brooklands, and entering his own road car, a Chrysler 77, in three races in September. The Alta was for George an electrifying experience, and he decided that if he could lay his hands on one at a price he could afford, that is what he would do.
In 1937, George did not race even once – instead, he attended to his domestic life, marrying, becoming a father, developing his new garage business, and keeping his eyes open for a competitive racing car. The circumstances giving rise to him fulfilling his desire to buy an Alta were tragic: Philip Jucker was killed in practice at the isle of man, and George was able to buy the wreck of his new car from his estate. Geoffrey Taylor, the manufacturer, rebuilt the car to 1938 specification in time for the start of the season, for a total investment of £425 – about a third of what a new racing Alta would have cost him! George was on his way.
A glance at Race List will show that, despite experiencing huge reliability problems with the new car, George had a stunning season with the Alta in 1938. For the first time, he had a competitive car (particularly over short distances) with which to take on the cream of British cars and drivers, who at that time included Earl Howe, Raymond Mays, Bira, Tony Rolt, Johnny Wakefield, Angus Cuddon-Fletcher, Percy Maclure, Reggie Tongue, Arthur Dobson and many others. They drove an assortment of ERAs, Altas, Rileys, Maseratis, Alfa-Romeos, Darracqs, MGs and Specials: George was definitely the newcomer among them.
All were amateur owner-drivers who were passionate about the sport and many of whom had a great deal of money to throw at it. George did not – right at the outset of his career, he was running on a shoestring, and needed to win prize money to recoup some or all of the cost of running a racing car and paying the entrance fees. Geoffrey Taylor, who like George was a public-school educated man, made his cars for love, not money, and also ran his small company on a shoestring. Together, they went racing in 1938, with Geoffrey providing mechanical support and pit staff, and George driving like there was no tomorrow. They made names for themselves, and put one another firmly on the map of British motor racing.
The first race George won in his career was the First Easter Road Handicap at Brooklands on 18th April, 1938. While this was no doubt a great moment for him, the big race of the day was the Campbell Trophy, which followed – it had attracted Luigi Villoresi and Baron Toulo de Graffenreid in their Maseratis, as well as all the British luminaries. But George’s Alta did not perform for him, and he came nowhere. After a few more such disappointments, his challenge started to flag; but then he went to the Lewes Speed Trials, where he walked off with no less than three pots! The Alta had remarkable acceleration and was a good Speed Trial and Hill Climb car: it only really had a problem with circuit races that were long.
Thus encouraged, George ran fourth in the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in June and captured the Hill record on his very first visit to Prescott in July – now he was on his way, and he followed this up by winning the British Trophy at Brooklands in early August. But it was not until 13th August that he had his first really big win – the Crystal Palace Cup became his after a tremendous scrap with Tony Rolt in his ex-Bira ERA, ‘Remus’. This was a triumph for George and Geoffrey Taylor, and they both hoped that more glory would follow soon.
But as so often happens in motor racing, it did not. The car was off song for the next four events entered, and it was not until the last meeting in September that things picked up and George got 2nd FTD at Prescott. The last Crystal Palace meeting was on 8th October, and it turned out to be a great triumph for George. He took second place in the Imperial Plate for Sports Cars in a borrowed Sports Alta, and won the really big prize of the day, the Imperial Trophy, against stiff opposition which included Bira, Tony Rolt, Arthur Dobson, Johnny Wakefield, N G Wilson and Ian Connell, who were all in ERAs. George had twin rear wheels fitted to the Alta, which suited the twisty track and very wet weather. George went off well, ahead of Bira, chasing the smaller cars with their 100 seconds-plus advantage. By lap 7, both George and Bira had passed the leading car (Cuddon Fletcher’s MG Magnette); George’s twin wheels and independent suspension gave his car much-needed stability on the wet surface and he led from lap 9. Bira, try as he did, failed to make any impression, until, with just three laps to go, George nearly gave his supporters heart failure when the Alta came past the stands with a spluttering engine. But the car rose to the moment, and managed to come round with two laps to go with the same lead over Bira. George drove with calmness and precision throughout the race – he was to become famous for his fine driving in the wet – and finally beat the Bira by a convincing margin of 25½ seconds.
This was a great triumph indeed! The race had been broadcast on the BBC’s new television service, and George had at last beaten the most successful driver of the day, when on all their previous encounters it had been the other way round. The fact that he had beaten Bira was hot news and the national press and motoring journals made a fuss of him. George had arrived. He was now a force to be reckoned with, and a young man to watch.
Having won enough prize money in 1938 to cover his expenses, George was able to have Geoffrey Taylor give his Alta some serious attention over the winter period. All of Europe began to realise that war would come, and the only question was when. This did not stop race organisers going ahead with a full programme, and George decided to have another full season – for as long as it lasted.
He started out with high hopes, but the work Geoffrey Taylor had done on his car over the winter did not bear fruit, as Race List shows. Retirements and poor performances followed one after another, with the car experiencing all kinds of trouble, although many were associated with the carburetion. His only decent finishes were in two sports car races, both in the borrowed Sports Alta with which he had twice done well in 1938. When the time came for him to defend his Crystal Palace Cup title in July, George could only manage fourth place. On his first foray onto the continent, the Alta retired in the Coupe de la Commission Sportif; and in the Grand Prix d’Albigeois, his engine seized up solid and caused a nasty crash from which he and Leslie Brooke were lucky to escape alive. Although the car was repaired in time for his defence of his Imperial Trophy title in October, he retired again, and all he could do was console himself with a win in the Imperial Plate for Sports Cars, when he drove another borrowed Alta Sports model. This was, in fact, the last race before war was declared on 3rd September, and the whole world began its long, terrible plunge into death and destruction. George was not to race again until 1946, nearly seven years later.
George was keen to join up once war was declared, and there was just one service for him: it had to be the RAF. His passion for speed saw to that! He had difficulty with his application because of his American parents – he was told at first to join the USAF! - and so it was not until 1940 that he finally succeeded in passing through the selection process. By then, the Battle of Britain was over and the need was for fewer fighter pilots and far more bomber crews. And so it was that George became a bomber pilot.
On receiving his wings he was posted to 51 Squadron, which then was based at Dishforth in Yorkshire, where he flew Whitleys on operations over Occupied France and Germany. Between July 1941 and March 1942, George survived 26 such missions – survival being the word, as the toll of losses was very heavy indeed. He took part in the infamous mass raid on Berlin on 7th November, whose massive losses cost the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command his job, as well as the famous and rather more successful raid on the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt on 3rd March, 1942. After that he was rewarded for surviving his first Tour with a flying instructor’s job, which he performed at various bases around the country for the next two years. During this time he earned the reputation of being a fine pilot and a good instructor, and so when he sought a change of duties in 1944, he was an obvious choice for the elite 161 Squadron, based at Tempsford in Bedfordshire.
The Tempsford Squadrons were engaged in flying materials and spies to Resistance groups for the secret services. For most drops they used specially converted bombers, one of whose special features was to dispense with the forward and dorsal guns common on front line bombers and also to strip out all the internal armour, save that behind the pilot. These Tempsford planes flew with only a rear gunner and they flew as fast and, when over enemy territory, as low as they could. Flying fast and low over enemy territory at night required remarkable navigation and airmanship skills, and so only the crews deemed to be the best were selected. George was by now of Squadron Leader rank and he took over as Flight Commander of one of the flights of 161 Squadron soon after arrival in June 1944.
He was half way through his second Tour when he was shot down on 7th October, 1944 on a mission over Denmark. The young Australian pilot sitting next to him in an unarmoured seat was killed by the cannon fire of the JU 88, but George managed to safely to crash land the burning Stirling and save the lives of the six other members of the crew. Four of them successfully evaded capture and returned to Britain within a month: George, unfortunately, was captured, together with one of his colleagues, and together they endured seven months of incarceration as POWs. At first, they were sent to Stalag Luft III, the famous camp from which the Great Escape and the Wooden Horse escape had taken place. Then, in January 1945, they were forced at a mere hour’s notice, to march west in freezing weather for 7 days to escape the Russian advance, and then to endure two days in an overcrowded cattle truck, before finally arriving at a run-down camp called Stalag IIIA at Luckenwalde, south-west of Berlin. George escaped after the camp had been turned over to British control by bicycling to Hildesheim, where he met the American advance and was quickly repatriated. When he got home, he discovered that he had a second daughter and a DFC!
George lost no time in getting together with his friend John Heath to form a new business. George bought into John’s pre-existing company, H W Motors Ltd; the company bought a large premises at New Zealand Avenue, Walton-on-Thames, and by the end of 1945 they were trading in used cars of every description, but mainly at the high-performance end of the spectrum. Times were hard in post-war Britain, but the market in used (and, when available, new cars) was buoyant, and for the rest of the decade they prospered. Come 1946, racing got going again in Britain and the partners decided to go racing together, partly for fun, but partly to advertise their new business and to cover their costs with the prize money they hoped to win. George was an experienced driver and John was an experienced motor engineer who started racing in Sports Altas, so they made a good team and supported each other in various ways.
A glance at Race List will show that he raced a number of cars that year: he got the old pre-war Alta out of storage and refurbished it; he bought a magnificent 1933 Type 59 Grand Prix Bugatti and he also raced an Alta Sports model and, on one occasion, a 2.6-litre supercharged Alfa Romeo roadster. There was only one circuit race meeting on the British mainland that year, at Gransden airfield near Cambridge, and here George won the big race of the day in the Bugatti. Next month he took the re-styled Alta to Geneva for the prestigious Grand Prix des Nations, as part of a British contingent of mainly ERAs with drivers such as Raymond Mays, Reg Parnell, and the Thai prince, Bira. He knew he would be outclassed by the continentals in their Alfettas and Maseratis, but he did well enough to qualify for the final. Sadly, his carburettor float punctured and he retired on lap 23, but at least he got his all-important starting money! His 1946 season ended with George winning his class at Shelsley Walsh in the Bugatti, a fitting end to a good start in the new world of racing after the war.
In 1947 he kept the Bugatti and entered the new British Hill Climb Championship with it, eventually running second to the enormously experienced and gifted Raymond Mays with his well-prepared ERA. He also bought ERA R2A, and raced that in Swedish ice races, at Ballyclare and in the British Empire Trophy in the Isle of Man; this car gave him mixed success, his best result being 2nd in the Stockholm Grand Prix. The Bugatti let him down with a split fuel tank at Chimay in May in the Grand Prix des Frontières, and wrecked what had begun to look like a certain win; but in June in the Prix de Rome his drive in a Cisitalia brought him an impressive second place to Taruffi and an invitation to permanently join the Cisitalia team – an offer he politely refused. With 17 starts, three retirements and 11 podium places, 1947 was a successful season for George, and he looked forward in 1948 to breaking into the world of the International Grand Prix with Geoffrey Taylor’s new Grand Prix Alta.
Geoffrey Taylor had been labouring since the war on a completely new design of Grand Prix Alta with a 1½-litre supercharged engine. George was his first customer and both had hoped that the car would be ready as early as 1947. But shortage of materials and money meant that Taylor was unable to complete it until 1948, and even then it was not ready in time for the Jersey International Road Race at the end of April, so George took a Maserati 6CM to that race instead. Against all expectations, he came second, after a magnificent race against Bob Gerard’s victorious ERA. But then, next month, the long-awaited Grand Prix Alta appeared for the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man. The car gave trouble in practice and broke down in the race, causing the first of many retirements. There were gearbox problems and suspension problems and carburetion problems and the car retired at the Grand Prix de l’Europe and the Prijs van Zandvoort, the only other times he raced it that year. When John Heath drove it at the Grand Prix de l’ACF at Rheims, it also retired. The car was just insufficiently developed to be reliable. George’s only other race that year was in the 24 Heures du Spa, when he raced in John Heath’s new HW Alta Streamliner, but he ran off the road while leading the race and had to retire. As a result, 1948 was an almost total wash-out for George, and his hopes of breaking into the big time were frustrated.
The next year was hardly better. The Grand Prix Alta did at least finish on three out of its six races, but well down the order, and its best performance was at the British Grand Prix in May; but when it let George down at the French Grand Prix in July, George had had enough of the car, and he abandoned it forever. With it, his hopes of becoming an international grand prix driver in the top rank died, and he began to wonder about his future direction.
For 1949, John Heath had built another HW-Alta at Walton, a sports-racer with which he had had a most encouraging season, winning first the Manx Cup and then his class in the highly prestigious Grand Prix de l’ACF (run for sports cars that year) - and also coming second overall in the latter race. This encouraged him to lay down a full team of new cars of his own design for the 1950 season, and he persuaded George to support him in this venture. George’s racing career was therefore saved by John Heath, as the new HWMs gave George an exciting new car to drive in 1950. He also became co-patron of Britain’s first post-war continental racing team, which was to blaze an exciting path in Formula B (Formula 2 as it became known) that year, and co-incidentally gave Stirling Moss his chance to break into the world of continental racing.
1950 was a wonderful debut year for HWM, but the team were dogged by a heavy dose of retirements – 5 out of 9 starts – and George only achieved poor results in races he managed to finish. In a number of those, notably the continental races, he was outclassed by superior machines, but even at Goodwood the best he managed was 4th place in a handicap. John’s new cars were capable of giving the Ferraris and Gordinis a run for their money on the twistier circuits, where there were few long straights and where the cars’ superior cornering worked to their advantage, but on the long fast runs of a circuit like Rheims, they had no real chance of success, as they were too heavy (being two-seaters) and underpowered. But HWM kept George on the track, he had much fun at home and abroad, and he enjoyed the wider role as co-patron with John Heath, and thus he shared in the team’s remarkable success in restoring some British prestige on the continent.
Of even greater significance, however, was the late invitation to race at Le Mans for Aston Martin, due to an unexpected vacancy in the team. With regular team member Lance Macklin (who had suggested the invitation to John Wyer, Aston’s Team Manager), George drove a very fine race in an Aston Martin DB2; they ended up winning their class, the Index of Performance, and coming 5th overall. It was a stunning triumph, and led immediately to Wyer inviting George to join the team. George had enjoyed the race so much he accepted with alacrity, and thus began a new chapter in his racing career. Lance Macklin was, in response, immediately invited to join the HWM team, an invitation he also accepted with alacrity! In this way, George and Lance began a long association and lifelong friendship. George did nearly as well in the only other significant race for Aston Martin that year, the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, when he finished 2nd in class and 5th overall. George’s time in two seats had had an auspicious start, and he looked forward to 1951 with hope and expectation.
In 1951, George did 12 races for HWM in their new model. This time he had better reliability and so had just 3 retirements; his 9 finishes brought him several podium places and one win, at Castle Combe. He also had a second place at Winfield where he let Stirling Moss win in his HWM because he felt he deserved it after the tremendous effort he had put in for the team during the season. But his interest in Formula 2 was waning, just as his interest in Sports Car racing was rising. Out of 5 starts for Aston Martin, George’s best result was again at Le Mans, where once again he came 5th overall in a DB2 but this time second in his class (which was won by Lance Macklin and Eric Thompson).
In 1952, George raced only six times for HWM’s Formula 2 team, retiring in three and gaining two seconds and a fourth. It was his final year in monoposto racing, although he did take an HWM out competitively once in 1953 and in 1954 to test it out. His heart was now firmly in Sports Car racing, and the year saw him drive seven times for Aston Martin. For the first time in his life, he raced in the Mille Miglia, a race which he came to love more than any other, but this year he was forced to retire his DB2 with clutch failure. The new DB3 was something of a disappointment, but he managed a couple of decent third places, in the Production Sports Car Race at Silverstone (where he was also 2nd in class) and the Jersey International Road Race. He was now a much-valued and integral part of the Aston Martin team, and was often asked to act as test driver as well as race driver. That winter, George planned that next year, he would have an HWM Sports Car built, and that he would race in this instead the team’s Formula 2 cars.
1953 was George’s first year of racing only in Sports Cars, as Race List clearly shows. He opened at the Sebring 12 Hours Race in a DB3 with Reg Parnell as co-driver, and came a very creditable second overall and first in Class. At the end of April he was part of the Aston team in the Mille Miglia, and for the second time running had to retire, this time with a dramatic steering failure which left his DB3’s nose stuck into the front of a bar! And then came Le Mans again, and at last the exciting new DB3S was ready – although the cars were hastily-prepared, and this turned out to be his undoing. After a dice with Reg Parnell, which was not to the Team Manager’s liking, he and Roy Salvadori had to retire with clutch failure. This turned out to be his last race for Aston Martin. George had been carrying on an illicit affair with Angela Brown, the daughter of Aston Martins owner, David Brown. John Wyer, the Team Manager, had decided that he could not handle this, and expelled George from the team. George was sad, but philosophical about it – and just got on racing his new HWM Sports Car.
That car, registered HWM 1, had a good opening season, retiring only three times in 12 starts, two of which were in his opening races – the Grand Prix de Roubaix (where he took the lap record!) and the 12 Heures du Rheims. In the other 9, he rarely was able to overcome the handicap his 3.4-litre Jaguar engine received, and so he tended to do best in scratch races – he won at three different meetings at Snetterton, at Goodwood and his Class at Shelsley Walsh, but in none of these was he up against the best opposition. By the end of the season, HWM 1 had shown it was a car with great potential, and this George and John Heath tried to bring out during the winter overhaul. Unfortunately, George planned to run it in the Mille Miglia next year, so had a heavy steel body fitted in a vain attempt to strengthen it for that great race: he thus added to the weight of the car.
Apart from a production car race in a Harry Weslake-tuned Daimler and a competitive test drive in a Formula 1 HWM, 1954 was exclusively a year of racing in HWM 1. This year he had double the number of retirements than in 1953, including that of HWM 1 in the Mille Miglia with Denis Jenkinson as navigator, not all of them being the car’s fault, but he also had the same number of podium finishes (six), one of which was second to Gonzalez’ magnificent 4.9-litre Ferrari in the Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone. Had the race been run in classes, he would have won his class, and of course he had no chance of beating a car with such a huge power and speed advantage over him. He wiped the floor with all the British opposition.
But his racing that year was affected by the trouble in his marriage, which had pretty well broken down, and was in terminal decline. By 1955, he had pulled himself together and had a season of a very different character. His early races in HWM 1 were undistinguished, reflecting the ageing nature of the car. Then came the Mille Miglia, in which he had been invited to join the Austin Healey team of 2.6-litre 100S sports racers, once again at the suggestion of Lance Macklin. His three previous attempts in this race had all ended in retirement, but this time, despite running out of fuel north of Rome, he drove the race of his life, and finished first in one of his classes, first British car home, and 11th overall – an utterly magnificent performance in such a car.
After that, his new design of HWM Sports Car was ready, and he raced in this for the remainder of his career. In 1955, out of 11 starts he had two retirements, six wins, a second and a third – and took three fastest laps too – not a bad debut for the new car.
As the Race List shows, he had a good enough start to the 1956 season, but early in May, tragedy struck. His business partner, John Heath, died as a result of injuries sustained in racing a sister HWM in the Mille Miglia; George had to delay his wedding a week as a result, and when the funeral and his truncated honeymoon were over, he decided to give up racing - although he did a couple of enjoyable sprints before leaving competition for good.
For the rest of his life, George devoted himself to three quite different areas of his life: his new marriage, and the children who came therefrom; to his business; and to power boating. He tended to be a little reckless at sea, but survived all the dangerous scrapes he managed to get himself into. His business, H W Motors Ltd, saw many ups and downs, but after he retired, his new partner, Mike Harting, took over and the business today remains in much-improved form on the very same premises as it had in 1945 – see www.hwm.co.uk. As age took its toll, he stayed more and more at his beloved home at Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, and on 18th December, 1991, he died there of a heart attack, with his beloved wife and daughter present.
George’s achievements are not as immediately obvious as those of more famous and successful drivers, but they are nonetheless solid and important. He was one of an early breed of drivers who demonstrated even before the war that it was possible to do well in motor racing without starting with a huge fortune. One reason why he never reached the front rank was because he lacked the funds to buy the fastest and more reliable machines; so his talent had to compensate. He showed throughout his career that there was a peculiarly British way of doing well enough: keep your costs down and never give up!
After the war, George was an important and motivating part of a trend in British motor racing, which saw increasing professionalism reach into all aspects of the sport. He resisted the temptation to drive for others on a paid basis until the offer fitted into his natural desire to develop – he then moved into sports and production car racing partly because Aston Martin enabled him to do so at their expense rather than his own. As a pre-war amateur driver, his career bestrode two worlds, those of the old amateur ways and of the new professional ones.
Then there was HWM itself, as a phenomenon. John Heath was the driving force behind the construction and the team, but he would not have been able to do that without George’s contribution. George was occasional driver, test driver, and anchor man at Walton; he ran the sales and service business single-handedly during the racing season, he had a lot of input into design and development (such as it was at HW Motors!), and he accepted the drain on resources which the racing operation represented. Without George, John Heath would not have been able to undertake his chosen engineering, driving and team management roles. They were a team, and together their efforts in 1950 to 1952 in Formula 2 racing held up a flag for other British teams to emulate, and gave encouragement to them to carry on the baton. Most of the two dozen cars they built still exist today and they grace the historic racing circuits and hill climbs: there is a significant legacy there.
Last but not least, George was not a driver who just kept his experience to himself. He was elected to two influential positions – memberships of the governing Committee of the British Racing Drivers Club, and the Council of the British Automobile Racing Club (which inter alia organised the meetings at Goodwood). His contributions there tended to be strongest when safety was the topic under consideration, although as a strongly patriotic man he was always found advocating British interests whenever continental matters were on the agenda.
Perhaps his greatest example to others was one of extraordinary courage on the track. He was always a skilled driver who strove to drive just below his limit of control, even if he lacked the remarkable genius of a Moss or a Hawthorn. He simply knew no fear, and so could emerge psychologically unscathed from some horrific accidents: his motto was always ‘if the bullet’s got your number on it, the bullet’s got your number on it’. Being under fire in a slow and ill-defended aircraft during the war had taught him that fortune favours the brave.