CADOURS, 3rd September 1959/2009
Bill de Selincourt was the first British driver in a British car to win an international Formula Junior race. He did this in a front-engined Elva 100 with Rytune-BMC engine belonging to the Fitzwilliam Racing Team at the 10th Grand Prix de Cadours, deep in South West France in the Haute-Garonne on the 3rd September 1959.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bill’s achievement, a small celebration was held at the circuit organised by John Fielden and Bill’s daughters Jennifer (who accompanied her father at the race tracks even when still at boarding school) and Laura, with enthusiastic support of Isabella Guy of the committee that manages the ‘Circuit Cadours Lareole’. John had been one of two Loughborough College students ‘allocated’ to assist the Fitzwilliam Team on that day, the college well known for supplying free helpers to many British racing teams at that time. Paul Dixon generously lent his Elva-100 for the occasion, it being one of the two Fitzwilliam Team cars, and Marian and I towed it down there. At 10.30a.m. on Sunday 3rd September 2009, fifty years to the day, the Elva appeared over the brow on the main straight and flew past the group of spectators which included the astonished 88 year old Bill, slowing just in time for the following blind corner which had claimed the great French driver Raymond Sommer while driving John Cooper’s 1100cc Cooper-Jap in 1950.
A lap of the 2.5 mile circuit, far from closed to traffic, was quite exciting, a throwback to the period when so many towns across Europe closed their roads for an annual ‘Grand Prix’ of some description. Bouncing along these country roads between the ditches and hedges, barbed wire and sheep I recalled the fantastic atmosphere of such events, which I was so lucky to experience on a few occasions until their demise in the late 1960s.
I pulled up after a lap and met Bill for the first time in over twenty years in the lay-by on the site of the original pits, which led to a small field that had acted as the paddock. The remains of the old timing building lay opposite, alongside which had stood the main grandstand on wheels! The group included Bill’s family, John and Barbara Fielden, an enthusiastic group of Frenchmen mostly sporting berets, and the Mayor who had been a spectator at the race in 1959 when aged thirteen and who had to have a photo taken sitting in the Elva. As only the French can, a nice little ceremony ensued with speeches, presentation to Bill plus laurel wreath and poignantly our National Anthem, which was unavailable fifty years ago as an English victory was unexpected! Afterwards we were all invited by the Mayor back to the ‘Hotel de Ville’ for snacks and wine.
Thanks are due to Bill’s family for keeping it a surprise, John and Barbara Fielden, Isabella Guy, all the local enthusiasts for their help, the Mayor of Cadours for allowing the race car on the public roads, Roger Dunbar for permission to reproduce Bill’s article from the ELVA website and of course Paul Dixon who provided an immaculate Elva, which celebrated by spitting out a pint of brown fluid over the Mayor’s shoes!
Our little celebration at Cadours was not only to commemorate a modest and talented English driver, pioneering team and car manufacturer, but to recall the early days of Formula Junior which continues to entertain half a century later.
Bill de Selincourt
Bill, who worked in the family firm of electrical contractors, had only started racing the previous year, at the age of 37, when both his parents and his first wife died. He had been a spectator at Brooklands before the war, and now to cheer him self up and with money left to him he took himself down to Goodwood with his Triumph TR3.
The following year in 1959 he took to racing in a big way, and apart from success in Marque racing with the TR he also raced a Lotus XI Climax 1100cc sports racer, a Formula 2 Cooper with Climax 1200cc engine and to secure the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy at the end-of-season Goodwood meeting he borrowed the works Mk1 Lola-Climax of Peter Ashdown, with which he won the 10 lap sports car race. Through his Marque racing he had met Richard Fitzwilliam who had been running twin-cam MGAs for several years and asked Bill to join the team for the Nurburgring 1000kms. Partnered by Robin Carnegie (Earl of Northesk) he was running third in class until an exhaust valve broke, a common fault with that engine. Shortly afterwards Fitzwilliam tired of the MGs and bought a pair of front-engined Elvas for the recently introduced Formula Junior race series. Bill’s own account of his races with the team cannot be bettered and is appended below.
For the following year Bill purchased and raced his own Lola Mk1 Climax sports car. Eric Broadley had offered him the ex-works Ashdown car for the same price as a new one, but Bill unwisely opted for new (BR7) and had many problems with it, but he did manage 24th overall and class 2nd in the Nurburgring 1000kms co-driving with his old Marque sports car adversary and creator of the Deep Sanderson Formula Junior cars Chris Lawrence. By the end of the year he was a winner at the final Goodwood meeting.
For the following two seasons he drove more powerful machinery (Lister-Jaguar and Lotus 19 2700cc Climax) although he did share a Lola with John Bekeart in the 1961 Nurburgring race where they finished 17th overall and second again in class. After a particularly expensive blow-up in the Lister, Bill decided to call it a day and concentrate on his business; although later did a few races in his old TR3 and an E-Type Jaguar. Finally, many years later (1973), he was persuaded to join John Quick and one of the Curry family (of High Street fame) to buy two Chevron 2-litre sports cars, a B21 and B23, to form Ember Racing. Bill started in two races, the Spa 1000kms and the Nurburgring 1000kms, where he was next to me on the grid in my awful Dulon LD11-FVC. I put the Dulon out of its misery at the Pflanzgarten and ended up driving Bill’s B23 for the rest of the season. We were not overburdened with silverware!
Fitzwilliam Racing Team
As for the Fitzwilliam Racing Team, they changed the Elvas for three Mark 2 Lola-BMCs for 1960 with John Love as the most successful driver, winning at Chimay and finishing 3rd at Reims, Albi and the Nurburgring. Bill Lacey, Annie Soisbault and Juan-Manuel Bordeau (Fangio’s protégé) achieved little success, despite a desperate effort to have a Fiat engine fitted to one of the cars by what Fitzwilliam’s son Robin believed to be Ferrari, although the books say Stanguellini. For 1961 the Lolas were changed for the rear-engined Mark 3s; the wrecked frame of one of these was left on the lawn when they moved house. After this Fitzwilliam decided to preserve what was left of his large fortune, divorced his wife and took up with a much younger lady. Having lived as they say a ‘full’ life he died prematurely in his fifties and sadly all records, trophies, memorabilia of his Formula Junior team disappeared. Robin is just left with the memories of his father’s riotous life-style as they criss-crossed Europe following the racing team, often in works-prepared 3.8 Jaguars. Robin particularly remembers driving one of the Mark 2 Lolas up a Swiss hill climb whilst still very young, faster than the team driver and being warned off racing by his mother, advice which he surprisingly heeded! On another occasion the Dutch driver Rob Slotemaker, who ran a ‘slipskool’ at Zandvoort, demonstrated how to do a 180 degree spin in the blue coach they used as transporter, on the main straight at Reims. Different times!.
See also Elva Junior Jottings
This feature was prepared by Dr. Tony Goodwin who you will know as a talented and successful driver here in the UK. His contribution is much appreciated together with the huge input by John Fielden and that of friends and family of Bill de Selincourt, who did so much to arrange this celebration. Special thanks to Paul Dixon and Duncan Rabagliati of the FJHRA.