|Born||George Edgar Abecassis
21 March 1913
Oatlands, Surrey, England, UK
|Died||18 December 1991
Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
George Edgar Abecassis DFC (21 March 1913 – 18 December 1991) was an English racing driver who showed no fear, on the track, in the air as a World War II bomber pilot, or as a Prisoner of war. Abecassis, who through sheer determination and skill made the transition from the amateur to the professional in motor racing – and helped to create a new marque, HWM, along the way, he was one of the last amateur drivers whose experience and dedication to the sport made him a self-professional, and whose success and effort both sides of the WWII, made him a household name. His accomplished and courageous driving of his cars such as Altas and Bugattis, and in the Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, and HWM teams, made him an important figure in British racing in its own right.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Pre-War Racing
- 3 The War Years – Bomber Pilot and POW
- 4 Post-1946 – Starting All Over Again
- 5 The Birth of HWM
- 6 With HWM and Aston Martin
- 7 1954–1956 racing HWM Sports Cars
- 8 in retirement
- 9 Achievements
- 10 Racing record
- 10.1 Career highlights
- 10.2 Complete Formula One World Championship results
- 10.3 Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results
- 10.4 Complete 12 Hours of Sebring results
- 10.5 Complete Mille Miglia results
- 10.6 Complete Spa 24 Hours results
- 10.7 Complete 12 Hours of Reims results
- 10.8 Complete 12 Hours of Hyères results
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
George was born in the village of Oatlands, Surrey. Both his parents were American citizens, his mother, Marie being born and raised in California, while his father was born in Portugal and had come to England, as a young man with his parents. Together with his sister, Ghita, they lived happily in Oatlands, but inflation, increased tax and poor markets returns meant that in 1918, they relocated to the United States, whose economy was unaffected by World War I.
The family lived in Stamford, Connecticut, for a short time before leaving for Brazil, as his father, David was posted as the representative of the American leather industry. They did not stay long, as David died of a heart attack, while on a business trip to Argentina, and they returned to Stamford in a hurry. By 1921, Marie and the children were back in England. They lived in London, George went to preparatory school in Pyrford, and then on to Clifton College, Bristol.
He left college in 1931, did not start his City & Guilds course until the following year. Soon after that, he crashed his motorbike and to raise the money for a car, he used the salvage value of the bike, and blackmailed his mother for the difference. That car was a standard Austin 7 Chummy, and obtained his driving license.
After leaving City & Guilds without any qualifications in 1933, Abecassis entered the London to Gloucester Trial, followed by the London to Land's End Trial in 1934. He took on a small petrol station at Cranford to finance his racing. During this time, he also entered some club events and those arranged at Brooklands by the Junior Racing Drivers Club, whose instruction he took very seriously. It was not until May 1935, he entered his first national level race – at Donington Park, in a modified Austin Seven which became known as The Einsitzer. During that season, he would enter a few more national events without any success. As the Einsitzer proved to be unreliable and not fast enough, he sold it early in 1936. He contented himself with racing an offset single-seater Alta a couple of times at Brooklands.
After taking 1937, as a year away from the track, to get married and start a family, and developing his new garage business, he acquired an Alta. He bought a wreck of the latest Alta that Philip Jucker had had a fatal accident with on the Isle of Man. The car was rebuilt by Alta's founder, Geoffrey Taylor, and with this more competitive racing car, he made a name for himself in English national racing during the 1938 and 1939 seasons. His first race win, was the First Easter Road Handicap at Brooklands, April 1938, he then went to the Lewes Speed Trials, where he walked off with three trophies. The Alta had remarkable acceleration, and therefore good for speed trails and hillclimbs: it only really had a problem with circuit racing. Thus encouraged, he captured the hill record on his very first visit to the Prescott Speed Hill Climb, with a climb of 47.85 seconds in his supercharged 1½ litre Alta, and followed this up with another victory at Brooklands, when he won the British Trophy. He first major win came when in the shape of the Crystal Palace Cup, after a tremendous scrap with Tony Rolt, in his ex-Prince Bira ERA, Remus. His next triumph also came at Crystal Palace circuit. He took second in the Imperial Plate for Sport Cars in a borrowed Alta 2.0 s/c, and then won the Imperial Trophy, against the likes of Bira and Rolt, in their ERAs, despite the very wet conditions. In beating Bira and his ERA known as Romulus, in a wet race, "that being the only time it was beaten by a 1,500 c.c. car in the British Isles."
He started 1939 with high hopes, but retirements and poor performances followed one after another. Despite this, Abecassis took part in a couple of races on the continent, the Alta retired in the Coupe de la Commission Sportif; and then in the Grand Prix d'Albigeois, the engine seized on the Alta, causing a nasty crash from which he and Leslie Brooke were lucky to survive. He consoled himself by borrowing the Alta 2.0 s/c again to retain the Imperial Trophy for Sports Cars. This was, in fact, the last race in England before war was declared. George would not race again until 1946.
The War Years – Bomber Pilot and POW
Abecassis was keen to join up once war was declared, and there was just one service for him: it had to be the Royal Air Force. However, because of his American parents – he was told at first to join the USAF, so it was not until 1940 that he finally succeeded in passing through the selection process. By then, the Battle of Britain was over and the need was for fewer fighter pilots and far more bomber crews. And so it was that George became a bomber pilot.
On receiving his wings he was posted to 51 Squadron, where he flew Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys on operations over Occupied France and Germany. Between July 1941 and March 1942, George survived 26 such missions. He took part in the infamous mass raid on Berlin on 7 November, as well as the famous and rather more successful raid on the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt on 3 March 1942. After that he was rewarded for surviving his first Tour with a flying instructor's job. During this time he earned the reputation of being a fine pilot and a good instructor, and so when he sought a change of duties in 1944, he was an obvious choice for the elite 161 Squadron, based at RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire.
The squadron were engaged in ferrying secret agents in and out of occupied countries in Europe with specially-modified Halifax and Stirling aircraft, flying as fast and as low as they could, especially at night required remarkable navigation and airmanship skills. By now, George was of Squadron Leader rank and took over as Flight Commander of one of the flights of 161 Squadron after his arrival in June 1944.
Midway through his second Tour, on 7 October 1944, he was shot down over Denmark. His co-pilot was killed by cannon fire, but Abecassis managed to safely crash land the Stirling, saving the lives of the six other crew members. Four of them evaded capture and returned to England: George and one of his colleagues were not so lucky, and together they endured seven months of incarceration as POWs. First, they were taken to Stalag Luft III, and then transferred in January 1945. This meant marching west in freezing weather, then two days in an overcrowded cattle truck, before arriving at Stalag IIIA at Luckenwalde. Amongst that part of POWs was the South African tennis player, Eric Sturgess. Abecassis escaped the camp, after it had been turned over to the British control, by bicycling to Hildesheim, where he met the advancing American Army, and was quick repatriated. On arriving home, he discovered that he had a second daughter, and been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Post-1946 – Starting All Over Again
Together with his friend John Heath, they form a business. George bought into John's existing company, H W Motors Ltd. Come 1946, racing started up again in England, and the partners wanted to be part of it, partly for fun, but partly to advertise their new business. With George being an experienced driver, and John being an experienced engineer, who raced in Sports Altas, they made a good team, and supported each other.
Abecassis went back to racing, initially with pre-war machinery. He won a race at Gransden Lodge in a Bugatti Type 59 on 15 June 1946, during the only race meeting on England that year. At month later, he took an Alta to Geneva, for the prestigious Grand Prix des Nations, although he qualified for the final, he sadly had to retire from the final with a failed carburettor. He finished the season, with class win at Shelsley Walsh, aboard this Bugatti.
In 1947, he kept the Bugatti and entered the inaugural British Hill Climb Championship, eventually finishing second to Raymond Mays with his well-prepared ERA. He also bought an ERA R2A, and raced that in Swedish ice races, and in the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man; this car gave him mixed success, his best result being 2nd in the Stockholm Grand Prix. The Bugatti then let him down with a split fuel tank in the Grand Prix des Frontières, and wrecked what had begun to look like a certain win; but in June in the Circuito di Caracalla, his drive in a Cisitalia brought him an impressive second place to Piero Taruffi and an invitation to permanently join the Cisitalia team – an offer he politely refused.
The Birth of HWM
With a completely new design of the Grand Prix Alta not being ready in time for the Jersey International Road Race at the end of April, Abecassis took a Maserati 6CM to that race instead. Against all expectations, he came second, after a magnificent race against Bob Gerard's victorious ERA. But then, Grand Prix Alta appeared for the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man. The car gave trouble in practice and broke down in the race, causing the first of many retirements. There were gearbox problems and suspension problems and carburetion problems and the car retired at the Grand Prix de l 'Europe and the Prijs van Zandvoort, the only other times he raced it that year. His only other race that year was in the 24 Heures du Spa, when he raced in Heath's new HW Alta Streamliner, but he ran off the road while leading the race and had to retire.
The next year was hardly better. The Grand Prix Alta did at least finish on three out of its six races, but well down the order, and its best performance was seventh at the British Grand Prix in May; but when it let George down at the Grand Prix de l'ACF in July, George had had enough of the car, and he abandoned it forever. Heath had built another HW-Alta, a sports-racer with which he had had a most encouraging season, and he persuaded George to support him in this venture. George's racing career was therefore saved by Heath, as the new HWMs gave George an exciting new car to drive in 1950. He also became co-patron of Britain's first post-war continental racing team, which was to blaze an exciting path in Formula B (Formula 2 as it became known) that year, and coincidentally gave Stirling Moss his chance to break into the world of continental racing.
With HWM and Aston Martin
1950 was a wonderful debut season for HWM, although Abecassis only achieved poor results in a year dogged with retirements; the best he managed was a fourth place in a handicap race at Goodwood. HWM was outclassed by the superior machines from Ferrari and Gordini. But HWM kept him on track, and he enjoyed the wider role as co-patron with Heath, thus sharing in the team's remarkable success on the continent. Abecassis received an invitation to join Aston Martin, to race at Le Mans. With their regular team member, Lance Macklin, he drove a fine race in an Aston Martin DB2, coming fifth overall, winning their class and the Index of Performance. This led to John Wyer, Aston's team manager, inviting George to join the team, which he accepted. Meanwhile, Macklin was asked to join HWM, which he also accepted. Abecassis and Macklin began a long association. In was only other significant race for Aston in 1950, Abecassis finished second in class, and fifth overall in the RAC Tourist Trophy, at Dundrod. The year saw the HWM expanded into Formula 2, and gave Moss his first outing in Formula 1, but the team's first victory went to Johnny Claes in the Grand Prix des Frontières.ref>
In 1951, he had better reliability with his HWM, bring him several podium places, and a race win at Castle Combe. He also finished second at the Scottish circuit, Winfield where let team-mate Moss through to win, repaying him for the tremendous effort he had put in for the team. Although George's interest in Formula 1 was waning, his interest in Sports Car racing was rising. With Aston, Abecassis's best result was again at Le Mans, where he finished fifth overall in a DB2, but had to settle for second in class instead.
It was with his own HWM cars that Abecassis raced in his only two Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, both at the Bremgarten circuit, in the 1951 and 1952 Großer Preis der Schweiz. 1952 would also be Abecassis's final season of monoposto racing, gaining two seconds in HWM's Formula 2 car, although he did continue to test for the team for another two years. Meanwhile, he races sports car again for Aston Martin. He made his Mille Miglia debut, but was forced to retire his DB2. In the new DB3, Abecassis managed a couple of third places. He had become a valued part of the team and was often asked to act as test driver, as well as race driver.
Abecassis would open his 1953 season at the 12 Hours of Sebring. This race was the inaugural World Sportcars Championship, where he partner Reg Parnell in a DB3. They came a very creditable second overall and first in class. The championship moved on the Italy, for the Mille Miglia, where he retire for the second year running, this time with steering failure, which left his DB3's nose struck into the front of a bar! For Le Mans, Aston rolled out their new DB3S, and Abecassis was paired with Roy Salvadori. After a dice with team-mate Parnell, which was not to the team manager's liking, the Abecassis/Salvadori was withdrawn with clutch failure. This was to be his last race for Aston Martin, as he had been having an illicit affair with the daughter of the marque's owner, David Brown. Wyer decided that he could not handle this and expelled George from the team. By now, HWM had got their new sports car ready for racing. The car, registered for road use, HWM1, was reliable, but was rarely able to overcome the handicap by 3.4-litre Jaguar engine received. In scratch races, Abecassis and HWM1 won at three different meetings at Snetterton, Goodwood and Shelsley Walsh (Class win).
1954–1956 racing HWM Sports Cars
Apart from racing a Daimler in a production car race, Abecassis race exclusively in 1954, abroad the HWM1. After another DNF on the Mille Miglia, he come on to have six podium visits during the season, one of which was second to José Froilán González and his Ferrari in the Daily Express International Trophy race at Silverstone. His year was to be affected by marriage troubles. By the following season, he put these issues to one side. He had been invite to join the Austin-Healey team for the Milla Miglia, to race their 100S sports racer, at the suggestion of Macklin. Despite running short of petrol to the north of Rome, Abecassis drove the race of his life, winning his class, the first British car back to Brescia and 11th overall.
After returning from Italy, his new HWM Sports was ready, and he raced this car for the remaining of his career. In 1955, he would take six wins, a second and a third – not a bad debut for the new car. He also started 1956 well, but in May, tragedy struck. His business partner, John Heath crashed a sister HWM during the Mille Miglia, and would die as a result of the injuries sustained. Abecassis decided to give up circuit racing – although he did a few sprints, the last being the Brighton Speed Trials, where he finished second in class, before hanging up is helmet and goggles for good.
For the rest of his life, Abecassis devoted himself to three quite different areas in his life: his marriage to Angela Brown, and their children; to his business; and to his new hobby, power boating. His business, HW Motors Ltd., who ended their racing in 1957, saw many ups and downs, he was the Facel Vega importer for Britain, while his motor industry connections were aided by the fact that he was married to Angela, who was the daughter of Aston Martin chairman Sir David Brown. Meanwhile, he tended to be a little reckless at sea, but survived. As age took its toll on George, and on 18 December 1991, he died at his home at Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, of a heart attack.
George was not a driver who just kept his experience to himself. He was elected to two influential positions – memberships of the governing Committee of the British Racing Drivers' Club, and the Council of the British Automobile Racing Club. His contributions there tended to be strongest when safety was the topic under consideration, although as a strongly patriotic man he was always found advocating British interests whenever continental matters were on the agenda. Perhaps his greatest example to others was one of extraordinary courage on the track. He was always a skilled driver who strove to drive just below his limit of control, even if he lacked the remarkable genius of a Moss or a Hawthorn. He simply knew no fear, and so could emerge psychologically unscathed from some horrific accidents: his motto was always ‘if the bullet’s got your number on it, the bullet’s got your number on it’. Being under fire in a slow and ill-defended aircraft during the war had taught him that fortune favours the brave.
|1935||Aston Clinton Speed Trails||1st||Austin 7 "Einsitzer"|
|1938||Easter Road Race||1st||Alta 2.0 s/c|
|Lewes Speed Trials||1st||Alta S|
|British Trophy||1st||Alta S|
|Crystal Palace Cup||1st||Alta S|
|Crystal Palace Grand Prix||2nd||Alta 12/50|
|Crystal Palace Plate||2nd||Alta 2.0 s/c|
|Imperial Trophy||2nd||Alta 12/50|
|Imperial Plate||2nd||Alta 2.0 s/c|
|1939||Imperial Trophy||1st||Alta 12/50|
|Imperial Plate||1st||George Abecassis||Alta 2.0 s/c|
|Crystal Palace Plate||3rd||G. E. Abecassis||Alta 2.0 s/c|
|1946||MAC International Hill Climb||2nd||Alta S|
|Gransden Lodge Trophy||2nd||Alta|
|1947||Bo'ness Hill Climb||1st||Bugatti Type 59|
|British Hill Climb Championship||2nd||Bugatti Type 59|
|SAK Stockholm Grand Prix||2nd||ERA A-Type|
|Prix de Rome||2nd||Cisitalia-Fiat D46|
|Gransden Trophy||2nd||Bugatti Type 59|
|JMC & LCC Hill Climb||2nd||Bugatti Type 59|
|KAK Winter Grand Prix||3rd||ERA A-Type|
|Ulster Trophy||3rd||ERA A-Type|
|Craigantlet Hillclimb||3rd||Bugatti Type 59|
|1948||Jersey International Road Race||2nd||Maserati 6CM|
|1951||Winfield Formula 2 Cup||2nd||H. W. Motors Ltd.||HWM-Alta 51|
|Madgwick Cup||3rd||H. W. Motors Ltd.||HWM|
|Hastings Trophy||3rd||H. W. Motors Ltd.||HWM|
|1952||Ibsley Grand Prix||2nd||H. W. Motors Ltd.||HWM-Alta 52|
|Silverstone International||3rd||David Brown||Aston Martin DB3|
|Jersey International Road Race||3rd||David Brown||Aston Martin DB3|
|1953||Goodwood International||1st||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|Grand Prix, 12 Hours of Sebring||2nd||Aston Martin Ltd.||Aston Martin DB3|
|1954||Silverstone International||2nd||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|Hedemoraloppet||2nd||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|Goodwood International||3rd||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|1955||AMOC USAF Trophy||1st||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|BM Trophy||1st||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|RedeX Trophy||1st||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
|Brighton Speed Trials||2nd||H. W. Motors||HWM-Jaguar|
Complete Formula One World Championship results
|1951||HW Motors Ltd||HWM||Alta Straight-4||SUI
|1952||HW Motors Ltd||HWM||Alta Straight-4||SUI
Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results
|1950||Aston Martin Ltd.||Lance Macklin||Aston Martin DB2||S3.0||249||5th||1st|
|1951||Aston Martin Ltd.||Brian Shawe-Taylor||Aston Martin DB2||S3.0||5th||2nd|
|1953||Aston Martin Ltd.||Roy Salvadori||Aston Martin DB3S||S3.0||74||DNF
Complete 12 Hours of Sebring results
|1953||Aston Martin, Ltd.||Reg Parnell||Aston Martin DB3||S3.0||172||2nd||1st|
Complete Mille Miglia results
|1952||Aston Martin Ltd.||Pat Griffith||Aston Martin DB2||GT+2.0||DNF
|1953||Aston Martin Lagonda||Pat Griffith||Aston Martin DB3||S+2.0||DNF
|1954||H.W. Motors||Denis Jenkinson||HWM-Jaguar||S+2.0||DNF
|1955||Austin-Healey 100 S||S+2.0||11th||5th|
Complete Spa 24 Hours results
Complete 12 Hours of Reims results
|1953||H.W. Motors||Paul Frère||HWM-Jaguar||S+2.0||DNF
|1954||H.W. Motors||Lance Macklin||HWM-Jaguar||S+2.0||DNF
Complete 12 Hours of Hyères results
|1954||H.W. Motors||Tony Gaze||HWM-Jaguar||DISQ
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- Motor Sport, June 1948, cover.
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- David Abecassis. A Passion for Speed: the life and times of George Abecassis. P J Publishing.