F1Biography: “Carry On Without Them, Old Boy”

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Join me in welcoming Tony Greene’s new feature at F1B–F1Biography. Tony will be offering a monthly look at some of the drivers you may or may not have heard. We hope you enjoy this new feature because the history of the sport is the road map to its future.

Few drivers can lay claim to having won their first Formula One race. Granted, Archie Scott Brown’s victory in the 1956 Grand Prix at Brands Hatch was a non-championship points event which lacked all of the big name stars of the day. In fact, of the twelve drivers taking part in this particular race, none would ever be winners of a points paying Grand Prix.

Scott Brown’s only start in a true Grand Prix, earlier in 1956 at Silverstone, would come from a promising tenth place grid position, only to retire sixteen laps in with a transmission failure. Seven weeks later came Monza. In the first practice session at a track that he had never seen, Archie set a time that was fast enough for pole, edging out Juan Manuel Fangio. His race entry was then promptly turned down, his name dropped from the entry list and his practice times were declared void, all on the grounds of safety.

Though few drivers have indeed won their first Formula One race, fewer still surely have overcome such physical adversities. As a result of German Measles during his mother’s pregnancy, Archie was born with severe deformations to his limbs. He had no right hand, only a thumb and palm which were located just below the elbow. Both legs lacked shinbones, containing only fibula, and were twisted and bowed. Completely lacking toes, his right foot twisted outwards at 90% and the left faced the wrong direction altogether.

Scott Brown

Following some twenty-two operation during his childhood, Archie’s feet were virtually removed and replaced the right way around and his legs were straightened as much as possible for the technology of the time. Some toes were even found by a doctor to help Archie’s sense of balance.

It would become clear that, whatever his physical difficulties, Archie in fact had unusual balance. This uncanny sense was later heightened by riding a vicious, retired pit-pony to school. When he was eleven, Archie’s father built him a small car with a lawnmower engine in order to further his mobility, thus innocently beginning a career in motor racing.

In his early twenties, Archie bought an MG, which he raced at local events. It was during one of these races when Scott Brown met fellow enthusiast Brian Lister. They became fast friends and Brian, on becoming an entrant in his own right, dutifully handed over his own Tojiero-JAP Special to Archie, who he knew to be the faster driver. By 1954, Lister had become a manufacturer and Archie Scott Brown was his main works driver.

During the British Empire Trophy Race of that year, Archie was banned from competing following the protests of another entrant who, oddly enough, had lost an arm in a previous accident. His competition license was revoked for two months, only to be reinstated following persistent lobbying from the press. Scott Brown would return to win the Empire Trophy Race in 1955.

For 1956, in addition to driving sportscars for Lister, Archie was hired by Connaught to drive in a number of non-championship open wheel races. At Goodwood in his first event, he qualified second between Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorne. In his second race, at Aintree, he qualified on pole and, as mentioned previously, he won the final non-points race of 1956, the first in which he competed with Formula One cars.

Back in sports cars, the Listers would win a number of national and international sports car races over the coming years, with powerplants ranging from Bristol to Maserati, culminating in the powerful Lister-Jaguars of 1957 and 1958. When once asked about the possibility of the car’s inadequate brakes failing, Archie responded that he would just “carry on without them, old boy.”

The 1958 season would lead to fierce battles between Scott Brown in the factory car and Masten Gregory in the Ecuric Ecosse team’s customer Lister-Jaguar. Gregory had uncharacteristically beaten Scott Brown rather handily at Silverstone, leading to an embarrassed Archie heading into the next race at Spa-Francorchamps. Though he had never driven the daunting Belgian circuit before, Scott Brown was determined not to be beaten again.

As per usual at Spa, the weather was a combination of dry and wet around the far reaching corners of track. On the sixth lap while leading over Gregory, Archie was pushing harder that he possibly should have been in the mixed conditions. As he entered a corner that had previously been dry, there was now standing water at the apex and Archie found himself in a huge drift from which he was unable to recover.

The front right wheel of the Lister clipped a road sign which organizers had failed to remove, causing the axle to snap. Now uncontrollable, the car left the track, rolled into a ditch and exploded. Two local policemen were able to pull Archie from the wreckage, but his injuries were too grave to survive.

In 2006, a new scrutineering bay and VIP area, christened the Archie Brown Scott Center, opened at Snetterton with a plaque inscribed with, “He represented everything that is best in the sport.” His determination to overcome adversity may well have led to seventy-one victories from a short racing career of just seven years, but the character of Archie may have been summed up best with his reaction to having been banned from the 1956 Italian Grand Prix…he merely shrugged his shoulders, flew to Geneva and bought himself a fine watch.

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