Fast and loose

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 37, Winter 2013

Page 60

David Murray liked a stiff drink and a speedy car. He was also the engine behind Scotland's first racing team. Richard Williams tracks its history from a mews to Le Mans

David Murray was the life and soul of any party, not necessarily the sort of figure springing to mind when the words 'Edinburgh accountant' are uttered. No pillar of Presbyterian rectitude, Murray was a chap who liked a stiff drink and a fast car. When he finally fled his native Scotland for the Canary Islands, it was with a posse of creditors in pursuit, amid rumors of darker deeds under investigation by the police. But he also left behind the memory of Ecurie Ecosse, the founding legend of a Scottish motor-racing scene that would produce two great Formula One champions.

The exploits of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart were in the distant future when Murray and a group of post-war chums dreamed up the idea of a Scottish racing team. In those days the British tended to take their cues from the more glamorous Continental scene, so it was no surprise that Murray called his fledging outfit Ecurie Ecosse: literally, the Scottish stable. A single-owner collection of seven of its most celebrated cars, plus its famous transporter, all finished in the team's distinctive livery, will be sold by auction at Bonhams New Bond Street in December.

Murray's numerous business interests included a chain of pubs and off-licences and a wine-importing company; among his friends were one or two, such as the shipping magnate Major E.G. Thomson, happy to divert some of their wealth into his project. Further financial assistance came from Esso and from a body calling itself the Ecurie Ecosse Association, effectively a supporters' club.

Murray, who was born in Edinburgh in 1909, grew up as a genuine sporting car enthusiast and – in the post-war years – he generated the means to go motor racing, first in a humble MG. In 1950 he raced a Maserati at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix, but retired with a blown engine. After crashing the car heavily in practice for the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in 1951, he bought a supercharged 1.5-liter Ferrari, before his wife's disapproval began to act as a curb on his ambition to be a Grand Prix hero.

But it was in the field of sports-car racing – and with other, better-qualified drivers – that Ecurie Ecosse built its reputation and eventually made an international impact. As they drew up their plans in the final weeks of 1951, Murray's circle of enthusiasts included a trio of would-be aces: Ian Stewart, Bill Dobson and Sir James Scott-Douglas, each of whom owned a Jaguar XK120, the ideal car for their purposes. Taking their inspiration from the way Enzo Ferrari ran his team in its earliest days, Murray and his engineer, Wilkie Wilkinson, made a deal with the three owner-drivers: a small cadre of expert mechanics would prepare the cars at the team's headquarters in an Edinburgh mews, readying them for competition in events at home and abroad.

Each machine was repainted in the team's chosen shade of blue; later there would be one, two or three white bands across the nose to identify the individual cars. Blue was Scotland's racing color, but the shade in question was a very special one: 'flag metallic blue', a color that, after it was discontinued by the manufacturers, Ault & Wiborg, would drive later owners of Ecurie Ecosse cars to distraction as they tried to match the original hue while restoring their historic machines to pristine condition.

It was not long before that special blue made an impression on the racing scene. In the summer of 1952, during the sports-car race supporting the French Grand Prix at Rheims, Scott-Douglas, an amply proportioned bon vivant who drank champagne from half-pint tankards, finished an impressive third behind two men with Grand Prix experience: Stirling Moss in a much faster C-Type Jaguar and the French driver Guy Mairesse in a Talbot.

For William Lyons, the chairman of Jaguar, the sole objective of his firm's competition program was to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race with a unique appeal to the motoring public, and they succeeded on three occasions, in 1951, 1953 and 1955. He could hardly fail to be impressed, however, by the efficient way the private Scottish team was going about the business of competing wherever there was starting money to be earned, prize money to be won and bonuses to be had from
the manufacturers of petrol, oil, tires, spark plugs and brake linings.

Half-hearted attempts by Ecurie Ecosse to go Grand Prix racing included Murray's brief appearance with a Cooper Bristol in the 1952 British Grand Prix, but it was in the world of sports-racing cars that they left their mark. In 1953 Murray talked the fathers of two of his drivers, Ninian Sanderson and Jimmy Stewart, into purchasing Jaguar C-Types. Scott-Douglas, then aged 23 and working his way through the first of two inherited fortunes, decided to follow suit.

The team performed respectably wherever they raced, the quality of their drivers improving season by season. (Scott-Douglas, tiring of his hobby, soon dropped out to pursue his playboy life.) In 1956, having taken delivery of the aerodynamic new D-Type Jaguar, Ecurie Ecosse achieved the astonishing feat of outperforming the works team at Le Mans, winning with Sanderson and Ron Flockhart at the wheel, while the works cars fell by the wayside. A year later Murray's team returned with two cars and repeated the victory, this time with Flockhart and Ivor Bueb sharing the cockpit of the winning car, and Sanderson and John Lawrence finishing second in the team's other entry.

Ecurie Ecosse had written its name indelibly into the history of motor racing, but those victories would represent the zenith of the team's success. A year later they were back at Le Mans, again with two cars, but neither lasted an hour, and between 1959 and 62 their single entries never finished. The D-Type was obsolete, money was getting tighter and their standing as Scotland's flag-bearers had been challenged by an outfit calling itself Border Reivers – named after the outlaw bands of the 17th century – which could call upon the talent of Jim Clark, a brilliant young farmer.

The D-Types were replaced by Tojeiros powered by Jaguar, Coventry Climax and Buick engines, handsome cars but outgunned by the competition. The team also raced a modified Austin-Healey Sprite and a Cooper Monaco in which the young Jackie Stewart won regularly in 1963 before bending it badly, after which bits of it were used in Ecosse cars, one of which Bill Stein destroyed at Brands Hatch.

Almost as famous as the cars was their transporter, a Commer with bodywork by Alexander's of Falkirk. It will be joined in the sale by a C-Type, a D-Type, an open Tojeiro-Jaguar, a Tojeiro-Buick coupé,
the 'Sebring' Sprite, the rebuilt Cooper Monaco and the XK120 that originally belonged to Sir James Scott-Douglas, who once bought a destroyer and had it converted to a yacht. That second fortune had evaporated and the team's most colorful driver was reduced to providing gossip from northern society to the Daily Express's William Hickey column when a seizure in his bath ended his life in 1969, at the age of 38.

Murray ran the team until he hastily decamped to the Canary Islands in 1968, fleeing demands from the Inland Revenue. Following a car crash in Las Palmas in 1973 he died of a heart attack, aged 63. The tax inspectors may still be bearing a grudge, but motor-racing fans north of the border owe a debt of gratitude to the man whose enthusiasm and gifts of persuasion made the dark blue of Scotland a sight to be feared on the world's race tracks.

Richard Williams writes about sport in The Guardian.

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