I don’t usually spend too much time on preamble prior to getting into the nitty-gritty of the subject car. However, in this case, I believe it is totally warranted to explore the background as this piece is a, if not the, pivotal point where not only a new marque of car was born, but this is where and when much of the groundwork of British motorsport as we know it today was instituted. The bloodlines, successes and failures of many of our post war racing cars and teams are built on the foundation stones laid by the individuals responsible for the conception, design and building of the E-type ERA.
When asking about those who made the biggest impact on British motor racing there would be many differing views dependant on the age of the person you’re talking to. In the main it’s a generational perception, my youngest son, in his thirties, would offer the likes of Nigel Mansell and Ayton Senna, my eldest son, some ten years older, would mention James Hunt and Mario Andretti, for me it would be Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. Time has that certain characteristic that draws a veil over those who have gone before, no matter their contribution, feat, or particular endeavour they almost become forgotten. Only scholars, or true enthusiasts in the field can bring to mind many of those stalwart individuals of yesteryear, many others fail to remember, or recollect their existence.
In 2002, I helped organise a charity dinner for the 45th Anniversary of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks winning the British GP at Aintree in a Vanwall – the first time the British GP had been won by British drivers in a British car (Moss retired his ailing car and took over Brooks’ car as Brooks was unwell). The Motor Sports Association allowed me to borrow the Fred Craner Trophy, presented to the highest placed British, or Commonwealth driver, for the event. In 1957, for whatever reason, the trophy hadn’t been presented to Messrs.
Moss and Brooks, so I had the honour and privilege of doing this at the dinner. Thinking it may be of interest to many readers of a certain monthly motor racing publication (I’ll mention no names), I called their editorial office to ask if they like to cover the event. I mentioned to the guy who answered the phone that the trophy was no longer presented and had not been since 1967, Denis Hulme being the very last recipient. ‘Don’t even go there’, was the remark I got from the individual, ‘I haven’t a clue who you’re talking about’. I was simply astounded that someone from this popular publication hadn’t a clue who Denis Hulme was. Unfortunately, it’s the reality of life. Today, more than ever, we live in the moment and sadly many great men and women who have helped forge our sport, even our society are anonymous.
Having said that, it was during my research for this piece that a certain character shone bright on the radar – Humphrey Cook. Cook was a wealthy individual whose family were involved in warehousing, textiles and drapery. From first impressions he seemed he was a young man from an extremely wealthy family, born with a silver spoon in his mouth who’d had an Oxbridge education; ‘poor little rich boy’, you may say. He particularly liked travel, collecting porcelain and was part of the elite group of racing drivers who campaigned his Vauxhall, amongst other vehicles, at Brooklands and other venues both nationally and internationally. The Brooklands ‘set’ were all part of the ‘right crowd and no crowding’ brigade who thought racing cars was a pastime and delight for the rich and famous. The great masses, or ‘unwashed’ members of the community had no place at such a venue, unless required for formal duties.
On further investigation, my initial partial disdain for Cook completely evaporated as I began to understand his selfless act and the great contribution he’d made to British motor racing. He was a very modest gentleman who was acutely shy and patriotic beyond measure. He failed to understand why Britain was lacking in the sport he loved with the successes of former national marques fading into the background. There seemed no answer to the might of the German, Italian and French manufacturers in Grand Prix, or Voiturette racing, although we did have talented drivers who could beat the best given the right car. Whilst many of the European competitors during the late 1920s and early ‘30s had the benefit of government funding, the British government were simply not investing, they couldn’t envisage a return, or the prestige motor racing had to offer.