Brian Shawe-Taylor was one of Formula One's figures that definitely knew someone of importance, but he also had the skill behind the steering wheel to make him competitive no matter where he raced.
Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1915, Shawe-Taylor was the son of a magistrate and high-sheriff for the county of Galway, who also happened to be an English owner of Irish estates. Shawe-Taylor was related to the playwright and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, Lady Gregory and a cousin of Sir Hugh Lane who founded Dublin's gallery of modern art.
By the time he had turned five, Shawe-Taylor had already faced tragedy when his father was killed during the Irish Civil War. The up-tick in violence led the family remnant to decide to move to England.
When Brian was in his mid-twenties he met Bob Ansell of the Midlands brewing family. At the time of their meeting, Ansell was quite involved racing his ERA in most of the British voiturette races between 1938 and '39. The two gentlemen struck up a friendship. Ansell then offered to share one of his cars with Shawe-Taylor at the 1939 Nuffield Trophy race.
The Nuffield Trophy race took place at Donington Park in June. It was a 64 lap race over the 3.12 mile road course and totaled 200 miles.
The race organizers intended to lure Mercedes and Italian voiturettes to take part in the race. The German company had not prepared its voiturettes racers in time and Alfa Romeo had only 'talked' about coming. Therefore, the only real interest in the race came from Maserati.
The costs associated with shipping a car from the continent to England was still a rather expensive ordeal. Therefore, Maserati had decided it would not send any cars to the Nuffield Trophy race, despite the good prize money waiting for the top finishers. Therefore, the starting grid was largely made up of local British talent.
Prince Bira set the pole time for the race. Ansell and Shawe-Taylor were futher down in the starting grid. At the start of the race, Bira was slow to get away. Ansell came up through the field straight-away and looked good until he suddenly retired from the race on lap five due to gearbox problems.
Bira reassumed the point and controlled the race from then on. Shawe-Taylor turned over the drive of the ERA B-Type he had been piloting to Ansell for the rest of the race. Ansell recovered nicely and was able to run as high as 5th. Then, with five laps remaining, Hanson, who had been running 4th, was forced to retire. This handed 4th place to Ansell, in which he would hold onto until the end of the race. Ansell and Shawe-Taylor would share the 4th place finish. Bira won the race with Raymond Mays finishing 2nd, over a minute and a half behind. Peter Whitehead finished 3rd.
With the Second World War staring at Britain from across the English Channel, motor racing came to a halt. Shawe-Taylor was commissioned into the Royal Artillery during the war and served honorably.
The auto racing bug had bitten Shawe-Taylor, and after the war, he opened his own garage in Cheltenham. This wasn't a run-of-the-mill garage for everyday repair work. Shawe-Taylor's garage focused primarily on tuning and preparing grand prix cars. Once again, Robert Ansell came calling.
After the war, Robert Ansell immediately got back to grand prix racing and had purchased a new car in order to do just that. This meant there was an ERA B-Type chassis sitting idle with nobody to drive it.
By the end of the war, Brian Shawe-Taylor was in his early thirties, but, went right back to motor racing. His first race back would come in 1947 at the 9th British Empire Trophy race held on the Isle of Man toward the end of August.
Shawe-Taylor's ERA B was one of a number of the chassis entered for the race. Prince Bira took the pole in his new Maserati 4CL. As the 40 lap race got underway a battle developed amongst the front-runners. In time, Bob Gerard and Peter Whitehead checked out, leaving the rest of the field to battle amongst themselves. Shawe-Taylor was running a good race, but, ended up being relieved by George Bainbridge. While Gerard went on to win, followed by Whitehead in 2nd, Robert Ansell was able to take his new Maserati 4CL and finish 3rd, one lap down. Bainbridge was able to carry-on after taking over the reigns. The two drivers shared a 6th place finish.
Shawe-Taylor focused on preparing and tuning cars for 1948, and therefore, didn't compete in any events. By 1949, grand prix racing was becoming an organized series offering top-notch competition and prize money for drivers and teams. Unfortunately, this meant the separation between older and newer technology was widening. This fact, and the costs associated with racing, led Shawe-Taylor to stick around the homeland.
In 1949, the British driver took part in just two races; one at the beginning of spring and another at the beginning of the fall.
The first race in the spring of '49 was the 3rd Junior Car Club Jersey Road Race. Twenty-one drivers qualified for the 55 lap race. Luigi Villoresi had the pole in a Maserati 4CLT/48. Shawe-Taylor qualified for the race in a much older ERA B-Type chassis. The ERA couldn't provide Shawe-Taylor the performance needed to mount a serious challenge amongst the front-runners. He had to count on attrition to help him out. It wouldn't at Jersey.
Only nine of the twenty-one starters failed to see the finish. By the end of the 55 lap event Bob Gerard had won another race with Emanuel de Graffenried and Raymond Mays following in 2nd and 3rd. Though still running, the best Shawe-Taylor could do was to finish the race 11th, five laps down.
Toward the middle-part of September, eleven drivers were randomly drawn to determine starting positions for the 1st Goodwood Trophy race.
More of an exhibition than a race, the 1st Goodwood Trophy race was only 10 laps of the 2.38 mile Goodwood Circuit, located in Chichester, England. The short race began with Stirling Moss on the pole in a Cooper/JAP. In a little over two minutes his race came to an end. In only a few extra minutes the whole race was over. Reg Parnell was able to take the victory in a Maserati, followed by Peter Walker and Bob Gerard. Shawe-Taylor put together a splendid performance on the higher-speed track and was rewarded with a 5th place finish.
Headed into 1950, Brian Shawe-Taylor's racing schedule picked up the pace. He would end up racing at least one time each month, with the exception of May. And the season started out with a bright spot.
In the early part of April, Shawe-Taylor was back at Goodwood to take part in the 2nd Richmond Trophy race. Once again, the race was short. In all, the race was only 12 laps. T.C. Harrison started the race from the pole. Peter Whitehead and Reg Parnell started 2nd and 3rd. Shawe-Taylor started in the middle of the pack with a 7th place grid position.
Reg Parnell jumped toward the front right from the start. With Peter Whitehead unable to start the race, Parnell was able to apply pressure straight-away. Harrison stumbled and fell down the order. De Graffenried, however, was on a charge from dead-last. Even Shawe-Taylor was putting in a very solid performance and steadily coming up through the field.
By the end of the race, Parnell had won for Scuderia Ambrosiana. Emanuel de Graffenried drove an incredible race after starting 13th and ended up finishing an astonishing 2nd. Shawe-Taylor earned his first-ever podium finish by being able to hold on and finish the race 3rd.
Over the next two races in which he entered his own car, Shawe-Taylor was able to finish in the top-five. Interrupting his own racing schedule, Shawe-Taylor joined fellow-Brit Joe Fry to take part in his first-ever Formula One race. During the middle part of May, Formula One kicked off its existence with the British Grand Prix.
Shawe-Taylor arrived at the race with Joe Fry. The plan was Fry would drive a majority of the race, and then, turn the car over to Shawe-Taylor for the finish. This seemed to be a harmless decision considering Fry's Maserati started the race from second-to-last place on the grid. However, the race would prove to be rather exciting for both drivers.
Over the course of the 70 lap race half of the field would fall foul to problems. This would only favor Fry and Shawe-Taylor. Fry completed the first forty-five laps, and then, handed the wheel over to Shawe-Taylor for the final laps of the race. Shawe-Taylor drove steady and was able to finish 10th, albeit six laps down to race winner Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Fagioli and Reg Parnell. After starting an almost laughable 20th, Fry and Shawe-Taylor only missed finishing in the points by five places.
In the middle-part of June, Shawe-Taylor finished the 12th British Empire Trophy race in 4th place. He had started the race from 5th and was only beaten by Gerard, Harrison and de Graffenried over the course of the 36 lap race.
The next top-five result came one month later at the 4th Junior Car Club Jersey Road Race held on the island of Jersey. Shawe-Taylor started the race 6th. Over the course of the 55 lap event Peter Whitehead, who had started 2nd was able to take over the lead when David Hampshire suffered magneto problems in his Maserati 6CM. Reg Parnell charged from a 7th starting spot to settle into 2nd. And, Emanuel de Graffenried was able to also move up from starting 5th to sit in 3rd.
By the end of the race, Whitehead had managed to lap the entire field. Parnell came home a distant 2nd for Scuderia Ambrosiana and de Graffenried followed in 3rd. Bob Gerard was able to hold off Shawe-Taylor and nudged out a 4th place finish. Shawe-Taylor was able to make it three-straight top-five finishes with his 5th place.
After a retirement at Dundrod in August due to a magneto problem, Shawe-Taylor was able to get back to scoring good results. Two races remained on the Brit's calendar for 1950. The first of those two was the 2nd BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone. The race was 35 laps of the 2.88 mile road course and the field was filled with plenty of competition, including Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio for Alfa Romeo SpA, Reg Parnell, Bob Gerard and Stirling Moss.
Throughout the entire race-weekend, Shawe-Taylor was in a whole different league. The race consisted of two 15 lap heat races and a 35 lap final. The British driver was in the second heat and set a time during practice that enabled him to start the heat 6th. During the race providence saw fit to clear the road in front of Shawe-Taylor with the exception of one stubborn Argentinean by the name of Fangio. The British driver finished 2nd in the heat. Those who had qualified and started in front of him suffered from accidents or failures that dropped them out of the final race. Therefore, heading into the 35 lap final, Shawe-Taylor's ERA occupied the 3rd place starting spot on the grid, right next to the 158 Alfettas of Farina and Fangio.
Despite being in an outclassed ERA B, the Brit proved his ability as a preparer of race cars and as a driver. Throughout the course of the final race, Shawe-Taylor just could not mount a serious challenge for Farina and Fangio, but even Peter Whitehead and T.C. Harrison had managed to get by. However, Shawe-Taylor was anything but slow. He managed to click off a number of laps with a pace even faster than that of Fangio, but, he just couldn't sustain the pressure. Shawe-Taylor was, however, able to hold off a charging Stirling Moss to finish the race 5th.
Shawe-Taylor's final race of 1950 was the short, 12 lap 3rd Goodwood Trophy race. This short run provided Shawe-Taylor the perfect opportunity to keep his run of top-five finishes going. However, the race was also just short enough that if he put a foot wrong at any point in time, the chances of recovery were dramatically lessened.
Johnny Claes had the pole driving a Talbot-Lago T26C for Ecurie Belge. Brian Shawe-Taylor continued to prove his pace as a driver as he started the race from 6th place on the grid. He had qualified better than some names like Moss, de Graffenried, Parnell and Bira. Unfortunately, all but one of them was able to get by Shawe-Taylor during the race.
While Johnny Claes fell out of the race, Parnell, Bira and Gerard had been on a charge up through the field and were able to take over spots at the top. By the end of the race, Parnell had achieved the victory. Prince Bira and Gerard finished 2nd and 3rd. Shawe-Taylor was able to finish 5th once again.
1950 turned out to be a rather successful season for the British driver. Shawe-Taylor had managed to keep himself from many retirements throughout the season. In fact, he suffered only one failure. Of the remaining five grand prix races. Shawe-Taylor's successful grand prix season was accented by his first-ever victory he scored in October of 1950 at the Formula Libre National Castle Combe race.
1951 saw Shawe-Taylor compete in one-less race than he had the previous year. It also saw him take his place in Formula One history, and also, suffer an accident that would cause him to walk away from racing.
The season started earlier for Shawe-Taylor in 1951 than the previous year. Organizers of the 3rd Richmond Trophy race moved the date of the race up into the later part of March. Once again, the race was 12 laps in length.
Similar to what he had done the year before, Shawe-Taylor took a 6th place starting spot. Graham Whitehead had the pole driving his own ERA B. 2nd place starter Fred Ashmore was unable to start the race. Pole-sitter, Whitehead, faltered at the start of the race and Reg Parnell's race came to an end on the 5th lap due to engine problems. These problems all helped Shawe-Taylor improve upon his best-ever finish in the higher-class grand prix races. Prince Bira would go on to win the race, but, Shawe-Taylor was able to wield his old-school ERA B around the 2.38 mile track to finish 2nd.
Shawe-Taylor kept his incredible string of top-five results going with a 4th place finish at Goodwood in a Formula Libre race in May of '51. He then followed with another trip to the podium in the 5th Ulster Trophy race held at Dundrod, Northern Ireland in early June. Giuseppe Farina took the victory in his Alfa Romeo SpA 159. Reg Parnell finished 2nd in a G.A. Vandervell Ferrari 125. In a drive worthy of great praise, Shawe-Taylor managed to finish 3rd after holding off competitors over the course of the race around the high-speed 7.41 mile road course. This result undoubtedly helped the Brit's confidence heading to Silverstone and the British Grand Prix a little over a month later.
Prior to taking part in the British Grand Prix, Shawe-Taylor would be asked to take part in what would be another historic race for the Brit. John Wyler had been noticing that Brian had become truly talented behind the wheel of a race car. Therefore, Wyler offered Shawe-Taylor the opportunity to drive an Aston Martin DB2 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the end of June. Shawe-Taylor jumped at the chance.
The 24 Hour race began with a tragedy as French driver Jean Larivière crashed and died in the early stages of the race. Despite the dark clouds hanging over the track as a result, Shawe-Taylor was experiencing some silver-linings.
After completing 267 laps, Peter Walker and Whitehead won the race in a Jaguar XK120C. However, Shawe-Taylor, and co-driver George Abecassis, had reason to celebrate themselves. The pairing managed to finish 2nd in class and 5th overall. This was further testament to Shawe-Taylor's ever-improving form behind the wheel.
Shawe-Taylor arrived at Silverstone to take part in only his second Formula One race and was surely under no false illusions. The fact was both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo SpA brought four cars each to the race. Forget a top-five. To finish in the top-ten, if not Ferrari or Alfa Romeo, was going to be a splendid achievement. However, Shawe-Taylor would show his true abilities as a racing driver when the pressure was on.
As expected, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo occupied the first-eight spots on the starting grid. Despite the presence of many other more-experienced and successful drivers, Shawe-Taylor was able to put together a lap fast enough to enable the privateer, in the old ERA chassis, to start the race 12th.
During the race, on the mild and dry day, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo both lost drivers to mechanical problems. Farina fell out of contention, after setting the fastest lap of the race, due to clutch problems. Alberto Ascari fell out after fifty-six laps with gearbox problems. It really didn't matter all that much. Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Fangio were in a league all their own. The two Argentineans managed to lap the rest of the field twice by the end of the 90 lap race. By the end of the race, Shawe-Taylor had put together a performance of his own.
Shawe-Taylor was the highest finishing ERA driver and private entrant. Though he was six laps down to Gonzalez and Fangio, he, himself, had managed to lap the next-highest ERA driver twice. At the waving of the checkered flag, Shawe-Taylor had managed to finish an impressive 8th place; only three places away from the points. This had been a remarkable result from the man.
After what had to be a euphoric result at the British Grand Prix, Shawe-Taylor enjoyed scoring what had been only his second victory ever at the National Boreham, which was a Formula Libre race held in the early part of August.
Despite the fact he was now in his mid-thirties, Shawe-Taylor was getting better with age. However, at Goodwood, in September of '51, Shawe-Taylor's world would come crashing down around him, literally.
Brian Shawe-Taylor was truly riding a wave of momentum as he went to Goodwood at the end of September for the 4th Goodwood Trophy race.
The race distance that year had been further increased to fifteen laps. After qualifying for the race, Shawe-Taylor seemed poised for what could have been a very surprising result. Tony Rolt had managed to take the pole. Shawe-Taylor was right beside him starting the race from 2nd place. He had managed to beat out Giuseppe Farina in his Alfa 159 and Reg Parnell in a Ferrari 375.
While Shawe-Taylor may have been looking forward to a great result, after the first lap, he became more concerned with just living. On the first lap of the fifteen lap race, Shawe-Taylor and Antonio Branca came together in a terrifying crash. Despite being seriously injured, Shawe-Taylor managed to escape with his life. He took the hint and decided to escape altogether.
Brian Shawe-Taylor competed in two Formula One races throughout his career. He had managed to put in a couple of really impressive performances, especially at the British Grand Prix in 1951. However, he would end his career in the World Championship having never won a race, led a lap, or, score a single championship point.
While Shawe-Taylor would continue to prepare racing cars at his Cheltenham garage, he would leave actually racing the cars after that terrifying accident at Goodwood. By his own admission, Shawe-Taylor believed he had missed out on his best years due to the Second World War. But, given his performances later on in his career, it seemed all but obvious he would have experienced more success had he been driving one of the more competitive cars of the time.