At the 2018 Sportsman’s Lunch the ‘Peter Collins’ Trophy and replica was presented to our guest speaker, motorsport legend, Brian Redman by his long term friend Mike Wood. Several people asked about the Trophy and its history.
There is a nice tie in to Brian in that the Trophy was won by Peter Collins in 1958 shorly before his career was tragically cut shot and Brian’s own career was just begining.
So here is some information about the career of Peter Collins and the Trophy itself.
The Lancashire Automobile Club is proud to present the ‘Peter Collins Trophy’ annually. It is presented to a member of the Club adjudged to have shown the most meritorious performance during the year. Some people may wonder who Peter Collins was and how the Club came to be in possession of such a prestigious trophy.
Firstly the man. Peter Collins was born in Kidderminster on the 8th November, 1931 to well known motor trader, Pat and wife Elaine. Young Collins got his first racing car, a Cooper Mk II, in 1948, apparently a birthday present from his parents. His father’s bought Stirling Moss’s old Mk II, and the pair would make their debuts early in 1949 at the Goodwood Easter Meeting.
The Mk II wouldn’t last long, by June it had been sold to Bill Cox and replaced with a long chassis Mk III, initially fitted with JAP twin for hillclimbs. For 1951, he used a JBS, which had looked set to genuinely challenge Cooper, but his 500 career was almost over, having been spotted by the big teams. Peter won the SUNBAC race at Silverstone in September and his cup is still presented annually for the most meritorious drive of the season.
On the recommendation of Reg Parnell, Collins had been taken on by John Wyer for the Aston Martin sports car team. He was a fine endurance racer, taking the Aston to victory in the 1952 Goodwood 9 Hours race, the 1953 TT, and second places at Le Mans in 1955 (with Paul Frere) and 1956 (with Moss). He would also appear in sports cars for Ferrari and Mercedes.
Peter was already a grand Prix driver, having made his debut at the age of just 20 (and only two seasons of racing) with the HWM-Alta. Spotted by HWM founders John Heath and George Abecassis (both also early Cooper customers), young Collins had partnered Moss and Lance Macklin through the 1951 European F2 season.
When F2 was adopted as the World Championship category for 1952, he found himself a Grand Prix driver. His best Championship finish that year was a sixth place in the 1952 French Grand Prix.
For 1954, he was recruited by Tony Vandervell to drive the Thinwall Special. This 4.5 litre, Ferrari-derived beast ran in the popular Formula Libre class, where Peter embarrassed the high profile BRMs.
That same year, he was also the first to drive the original Vanwall Special that was designed for Formula 1. Peter was entered in three Grand Prix, but this original car was not a pacesetter until Colin Chapman reworked the chassis and Frank Costin clothed it in the aerodynamic bodywork to create the classic Vanwall. Peter would never drive this car, having been poached by BRM for 1955. This proved a mistake as he raced the V16, and was left kicking his heels waiting for the new Grand Prix Type 25. He made two World Championship appearances in the Owen Maserati and a works 250F drive in the Italian Grand Prix but this was good enough to land him the prize of a works Ferrari drive for 1956, partnering Fangio. Peter was, in fact, recommended by his great friend Mike Hawthorn, who wanted to return to Britain to support his recently widowed mother.
Partnering Fangio, Peter matured dramatically as a driver, he won at both Spa-Francorchamps and Reims, and went to the Monza finale with a chance of taking the title. What followed has become legend. When Fangio retired with steering failure, it was clear that taking the win and extra point for fastest lap could deliver Peter the Championship. By lap 30 of 50, he was into second place, and whilst Moss’ Maserati was some way ahead, it was not impossible. Indeed, on lap 45, Moss ran out of fuel, only for his team-mate Piotti to tuck in behind and shove him back to the pits. Fangio, meanwhile was expected to take over Luigi Musso’s car, to seek the one point that would retain him the title. But Musso ignored all instructions to hand over his car. When Collins came in on lap 35 for a tyre check, he spotted Fangio on the pit wall, and voluntarily offered his car, so giving up any chance of the title. A remarkable gesture of sportsmanship. This is the kind of spirit which deserves the Lancashire Automobile Club awarding the Peter Collins Trophy!
For 1957, Fangio was replaced by the returning Hawthorn. The Lancia-Ferrari was rather outclassed by Fangio’s Maserati, and the Vanwall, but whilst seeing no wins, Peter again played his part in history. At the German Grand Prix, Fangio delivered one of the greatest drives of all time as he fought back from a botched fuel stop, passing both Collins and Hawthorn on the penultimate lap. Also in February of that year, Peter married an American girl, Louise Cordier, an actress playing in the “Seven Year Itch” and daughter of the assistant to the United Nations Secretary General and they were the golden couple of the time, living on a yacht in Monaco harbour.
For the 1958 season Ferrari entered the Dino 246, and a titanic battle developed between the Ferraris of Peter and Mike on one side, and the Vanwalls of Moss and Tony Brooks on the other. Peter suffered reliability problems in the early races, but it all come together at the British Grand Prix, and he scored his third win. Peter found time to compete in ‘club’ events and it was at the Daily Express meeting at Silverstone he won the International Trophy Race and was awarded the Daily Express Trophy.
On the 3rd August 1958, Peter and Hawthorn were leading at the Nürburgring, just as a year previously, this time being chased down by Tony Brooks. Brooks took the lead early on the eleventh lap, but Peter was fighting back. Peter’s got the car loose through the twisty Pflanzgarten sequence, he tried repeatedly to collect the car, but clipped a ditch. The car somersaulted, throwing Peter out, head first into the one tree standing clear of the forest. Peter Collins died later that evening in hospital. Though just 27 years old, he had won three Grand Prix, and would undoubtedly have been a championship contender for many more years.
Mike Hawthorn, who had seen the accident unfold, was devastated at the loss of his friend. Although he completed the season to become the first British World Champion, he was ready to retire from the sport. Of course, just a few months later he was also killed, driving his road going Jaguar near his home in Farnham. The story of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn is told in Chris Nixon’s book “Mon Ami Mate”.
Peter Collins’ grave is in Stone Church grounds, near Kidderminster. There’s a stained glass window in the church to commemorate his life.
And finally the Trophy.
As a lasting tribute the Collins family passed many of Peters trophies to leading motor clubs. The Lancashire Automobile Club was honoured to receive the Daily Express Trophy awarded for his win at the International Trophy Race held at Silverstone in 1958. This trophy is awarded annually by the Club to the club member adjudged to have show the most meritorious performance during the year to reflect in some small way not just Peter Collins achievements but the manner in which he achieved them.