TeamsRoy Salvadori: A Co-Driver to the Very End By Jeremy McMullen
Of all of the famous names that had come and gone throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, one name that many may recognize, and yet, would agonize as to try to remember where, when and how would have to be Roy Salvadori. Salvadori raced with and against names like Fangio, Ascari, Moss, Hawthorn, Clark and Hill. And though he would never achieve the same kind of recognition he certainly wouldn't be begrudged praise for his driving ability.
Mystery and intrigue surrounded G. Caprara. Stories and speculation concerning the owner of a small one car team entering the 1952 British Grand Prix would serve as the background for a certain driver's debut in the new grand prix World Championship. Somehow able to secure the use of the potent Ferrari 500, Caprara would provide this young English-Italian with the best equipment of the day. The beneficiary would be Roy Salvadori. And in his first World Championship race he would take that Ferrari 500 all the way up the order to an 8th place result.
This would be a strong debut for Salvadori. Such a result made it clear why he would rub shoulders and elbows with some of the greatest drivers of the day and of all time. It would also make it clear why he also got lost in their shadows as well.
Born in London in 1922 to Italian parents, Salvadori would come to run a garage in Tolworth, Surrey before the outbreak of the Second World War. The war would put a halt to Salvadori's racing aspirations and the dire state of England after the war, with materials being very expensive and hard to come by, it seemed forever before Roy would ever take part in a race. However, by 1946 he would be racing MGs and Rileys. Then, late in 1946, would come Salvadori's great acquisition. He would come to own an ex-Nuvolari Alfa Romeo P3. And with this car, Salvadori would make his first trip to the European continent to take part in a race.
The Grand Prix des Frontieres would see Salvadori race the Alfa Romeo P3. It would be a remarkable race and a testament to the talent Roy possessed. Running late into the race, Salvadori's Alfa Romeo would remain stuck in its highest gear. Despite the inconvenience, Salvadori would cruise home to an impressive 5th place finish.
Throughout the rest of the 1940s Salvadori would take part in all kinds of races and would race with all kinds of a cars, including an ex-Prince Bira Maserati 4CL. Roy's stock continued to rise but it would come under serious fire when he suffered a terrible accident at the Daily Express race in 1951.
The serious nature of the injuries would not be enough to keep him out of racing and he would find he would be presented his best opportunity to date when approached by the questionable Caprara to drive the Ferrari 500 in the British Grand Prix. Questionable character or not, Salvadori would not dwell on such issues, he would choose to see what the opportunity could do for his own career.
He would soon find out what that 8th place at Silverstone would mean. By the end of the 1952 season, Salvadori will have substituted for Mike Hawthorn in a couple of races and would even win the Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race driving, once again, for Caprara in the Ferrari 500.
The 1953 season would see Salvadori make the move over to the Connaught factory team. While he would go on to secure some front row starting positions and a victory or two, the Connaught still just could not compete with the major factory teams based on the European continent.
While Salvadori's single-seater career would have sporadic moments of greatness his sportscar career is where he would really shine. Throughout 1951 and 1952, while taking part in sportscar races throughout England, Salvadori would become a regular on the podium and would win his first race at the National Goodwood in 1952. He would follow this victory up with another victory in the National Snetterton and another National Goodwood later on in the year. He would then sweep all of the events as part of the National Thruxton in August of 1952.
After a 3rd place finish in the Goodwood 9 Hour race on the 16th of August in 1952 it was clear it was time for Salvadori to take part in the big endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
1953 would see Salvadori battle it out with little success in single-seaters. However, in sportscar races, Salvadori would continue to prove his worth as he would earn a number of podium finishes and a few victories. However, his attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving for Aston Martin would not fare all that well. Co-driving with George Abecassis, the clutch failure in the number 26 Aston Martin would lead to an early retirement for Salvadori in his first Le Mans attempt.
1954 would see Salvadori earn a great opportunity with another garage owner Sid Greene. Greene's Gilby Engineering would provide Salvadori with a Maserati 250F in which to take part in Formula One World Championship and non-championship races. Meanwhile, Salvadori's sportscar performances had earned him a seat with Aston Martin and a drive with Jaguar.
Driving for Aston Martin and for Gilby Engineering, Salvadori would begin to travel the world taking part in some of the most famous of endurance races. He would continue to earn some very solid success and would even win a few races, but he would again come up short at Le Mans retiring in the number 8 Aston Martin DB3S that he shared with Reg Parnell.
Reg Parnell and Salvadori would be regularly mentioned together at races throughout England as they were often the only two in the field driving 2.5-liter Formula One machines. This would set up some titanic battles between the two at such races as the Lavant Cup, BARC and the August Cup. Often at these races Salvadori and Parnell would cross the finish line nose-to-tail.
Unfortunately, when it came to World Championship races, Salvadori would experience the kind of drought that would only have the Sahara jealous. Ever since his World Championship debut in 1952, Roy would experience retirement after retirement. In fact, out of ten races contested between 1953 and 1956, Salvadori would retire early in every single one of them. But after scoring his first World Championship points at the British Grand Prix in 1957, Roy's Formula One career would take something of a turn and 1958 would prove to be his most successful campaign in his Formula One history.
Salvadori's first World Championship points would come after he switched to drive for the Cooper Car Company. While he would follow up his 2 points in the British Grand Prix with two-straight retirements it seemed things had turned for the Anglo-Italian. All of a sudden, Roy would have to work at failing a race in 1958. Over the course of the season he would earn two podium finishes, including a 2nd place at the German Grand Prix and would leave the season 4th in the World Championship standings having earned 15 points.
Over the period of his next three seasons in Formula One, the ratio of retirements to finishes would run about equal. This would be a welcome change given the earlier three seasons in which he never even finished a race. At such races as the German and British Grand Prix in 1958, Salvadori would out-duel the likes of Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren and Phil Hill to earn some of his greatest results. And though he would never go on to score a victory in a Formula One World Championship race his talent and drive would be well respected by his peers.
But while Salvadori's greatest success came during the 1958 Formula One World Championship, there were numerous other opportunities that would be lost to mechanical issues and other events that would dull the image people have of Salvadori. There would be numerous opportunities throughout his 47 Formula One starts when Roy found himself in the lead only to have it all come to naught because of some issue.
Such mechanical woes would absolutely come to ruin some of Salvadori's best performances. One of those incredible, and, yet, forgotten performances would come during the 1961 US Grand Prix held at Watkins Glen in upstate New York. In that race, Innis Ireland was in the lead enjoying a comfortable lead. However, Salvadori was putting together an incredible performance in the Yeoman Credit Racing Team's Cooper T53. When on his game, Roy could challenge even the best to a spirited duel and on this day he would prove it once again. Innis Ireland was well out front but Salvadori began to catch him up hand over fist. It seemed there was absolutely nothing Ireland could do. Roy was in a class unto himself on this day. However, the Cooper could not keep pace with what its driver was capable of doing at the wheel. As a result, mechanical issues would bring an end to the incredible charge and would leave Roy out of the race. Still, it was yet another opportunity in which people got to see the real talent Salvadori possesses. Unfortunately, it would be one of the final opportunities people would have to see Salvadori in all his glory charging toward the front in a Formula One car.
Where most people witnessed Salvadori on his game was in sportscars. Possessing a a keen sense of smoothness, in the arena of sportscar racing, Salvadori would be considered amongst the very best and would be often running amongst the likes of Stirling Moss, Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn for glory and riches. However, it would be while co-driving with a famous Texan that the true talent and ability of Salvadori would be forever cemented in the minds of sportscar racing fans.
Ever since he started racing sportscars in the upper levels during the early 1950s Roy was usually a sure bet to be well inside the top five, even the top three, and that would go for national and international races. However, in 1959, Salvadori would achieve a run of success of which even the best would find themselves envious.
Throughout the first three months of the 1959 season Salvadori would suffer retirement after retirement. In fact, by the end of March Roy would have only finished one race and that would be at Goodwood. Driving a Cooper Monaco T49, Salvadori would finish a rather quiet 4th. However, over the next three months Salvadori would go on an incredible run of success.
The run would start with a 2nd place in the British Empire Trophy race but that would be followed up by two-straight victories in the Aintree 200 and Silverstone International races. And then, after a pair of 2nd place finishes and another victory, this time at the National Open Crystal Palace race around the middle of May, it was on to the Circuit de la Sarthe and the 27th 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Salvadori arrived at the race driving for the David Brown Racing Dept. in an Aston Martin DBR1/300. Salvadori would be paired up for the race with the same co-driver he had had at the 12 Hours of Sebring earlier on in the year. A Yankee and Brit combination of like minds, Salvadori would co-drive with Texan Carroll Shelby. Both men knew what hard work was and both didn't mind getting dirty, and so, the two made a good pair heading into the grueling 24 hour race.
Shelby and Salvadori would have to rely upon their like-mindedness to carry them through a race featuring strong competition from Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar and Lotus. Despite the fact Aston Martin would have three cars in its category, there would be more than enough competition to make life difficult and any result anything but a foregone conclusion.
The start would see the Aston Martins getting away well with Stirling Moss leading the way in his and Jack Fairman's Aston. Salvadori would have the initial driving duties and would be running well right up there near the front of the field. But running fast at the front of the field would not be the way in which victory would come about, at least not this year.
Attrition would be a constant participant and the field would continue to be reduced until only 13 cars are still out on the circuit. Heading the whole of the field would be Salvadori and Shelby in their number 5 Aston Martin. Salvadori would bring the car across the line finally giving himself and David Brown the Le Mans victory each had been longed for for so long.
Before the end of the 1959 season Salvadori would score at least four more victories and a number of other top five results. It truly was his best year in sportscars just as the previous year had been his best in Formula One.
1959 wouldn't be the last time in which Salvadori would score success in sportscars. In fact, he would follow the '59 season up with another spectacular season in 1960. During that season he would race Aston Martins and Cooper Monacos and would go on to score four victories over the stretch of five races and would end the season with five victories. 1961 would see him start out the season with two-straight victories and a number of other podium finishes.
Salvadori would continue to take part in sportscar races right up through 1965. His last sportscar victory would come at the Scott-Brown Memorial Snetterton race held on the 19th of July in 1964. Driving a Ferrari 250LM for Maranello Concessionaires, Salvadori would manage to beat Mike Salmon driving an Aston Martin DB4 by a little more than twenty seconds to take his final victory.
Salvadori would retire from all forms of motor racing toward the end of 1965. He would serve as a team manager for a couple of years with Cooper sharing his experience with such drivers as Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt and Pedro Rodriguez. He would also tutor a young mechanic by the name of Ron Dennis. After a disagreement with the team, Salvadori would leave and would focus on his auto trading business. However, he would not be a stranger to the motor racing world. He would make appearances at races and other special events for years. He would have a front row seat to each every grand prix at Monaco as his apartment sat overlooking the start/finish straight
Though he never scored a Formula One victory he had certainly been close more than he perhaps dared to recall. And with a victory in the most grueling endurance race to his credit it was clearly obvious why Salvadori was as comfortable with the great drivers of the day as they were with each other. And while separated by thousands of miles and being from the old world that Shelby longed to conquer throughout the 1960s, the two shared a common bond, especially having won the famed enduro together in 1959. In fact, this bond would be more supernatural and gripping than many may give credit. This would never be more noticeable than in each of the men's deaths.
Carroll Shelby would pass away at the age of 89 on the 10th of May, 2012 as a result of a lengthy illness. Just four months earlier, Shelby had celebrated his 89th birthday. Just two days after his death, Roy Salvadori would celebrate his 90th birthday. Just a little more than three weeks after his co-driver's death, Salvadori would pass away supposedly suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's. As they did on that 20th and 21st of June in 1959, the Texas Yankee and the Dovercourt Briton would pass into eternity together, forever to be bonded together.
In an age of such giants as Fangio, Ascari, Moss and others it is easy for Salvadori to be overshadowed. However, each of those men, if they were honest, would tell you that when he was prepared to fight, Salvadori could challenge even the very best, and likely, would come away victorious. And if he had not come away victorious, he would have certainly earned the respect of his competitor. It was because of this drive and competitiveness that Salvadori would be considered 'one of the best British drivers of the era'.
Still, it would be in sportscars where the memory of Salvadori would rise in the memories of fans around the world. An extremely talented individual, it would be as a co-driver and teammate that his real talent really shone the brightest and made him as successful as he was. A great competitor, Salvadori truly is another of the greats from the 1950s that has now left us with only memories of his achievements instead of his presence.