The passing of Duncan Hamilton earlier this year at the age of 74 closed a chapter of motor racing history, for the carefree era to which he belonged will not be repeated. He was one of the pioneer postwar British drivers who came back from the war blooded in danger and out to repeat the thrills on the racing circuit. Like many he started out with an R type MG and a 35B Bugatti but later graduated to a variety of racing cars.
Duncan liked the wet where he could wring the best out of any car. A typical example was his first British Grand Prix in 1951 with a Lago Talbot where he mastered the Silverstone downpour and was running in second place ahead of the favoured Continental drivers.
However it was his success in sportscars for which he will be remembered. Outstanding among these was his outright victory, with Tony Rolt, in the 1953 Le Mans 24 hour race at the wheel of a factory C-type Jaguar. He was second the following year at Le Mans and he remained with the team until a difference of opinion saw him briefly join the Ferrari sportscar team. Loyal to Jaguar he raced his own C-type and D-types gaining many successes.
Hamilton was never the classic driver in the style of Moss, he went out there and wrung the most out of any car he drove and then afterwards caroused with the best of them. Indeed he even claimed to have won Le Mans in 1953 with considerable help from one of the leading gin factories. On another occasion, when in court for drink driving, he claimed that the six double gins he was alleged to have drunk before the incident had been his daily intake for the previous 23 years! He got off with this defence.
These were different days from today and despite the killjoys Duncan was still his amusing affable self whenever you met him. He represented the fun that was once the highlight of motor racing.
Le Mans 1953 Duncan arrives at Le Mans only to be disqualified on Saturday morning.
So off he goes into local village eats and gets legless Jaguar plead with officials and Duncan gets reinstated. A mechanic finds him in town - so he starts. Each time he pits they give him black coffee to sober him up.
But Duncan complains that it is making him too shaky so they give him brandy to settle his nerves. In 1953 the main driver would do far more than half 24 hours unlike now.