The Story of Duncan Hamilton


Duncan Hamilton (S. 1934-36)
Renowned for his cheery and talkative character, Duncan Hamilton was also a menace behind the wheel of a car

Duncan Hamilton was a prolific racing driver hailing from the wonderful country of Ireland. He had a relatively short career in the motor sport, spanning 9 years from 1950 to 1958.

He took up racing a few years after the end of World War 2, having flown aircraft for the Royal Navy during those 6 bloody years. As with many drivers in the 50s, participation in the bloodiest war in all of history gave them a fearlessness and will to win that you would be hard-pressed to find in the modern day. But Duncan Hamilton was a cut above the rest when it came to his reckless driving spirit and desire to win at all costs.

Hamilton did have a brief stint in Formula 1, entering 5 races between ’51 and ’53 but with no points to his name. It was actually in endurance racing where the Irishman managed the greatest successes.

Undeniably his best achievement was claiming victory at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was no simple feat however, as he was proclaimed winner in some style!

Before The Race

24 Hours of Le Mans 1953 and 2015 - When numbers 18 and 19 came up trumps |
Duncan Hamilton (left) with his co-driver Tony Rolt

The event certainly got off to a poor start for Hamilton and his teammate, Tony Rolt. The pair were disqualified during practice as they mistakenly used the same number as another pairing, which was not allowed in the regulations.

After much persuasion by Jaguar team boss Lofty England, race organisers allowed Hamilton and Rolt to return.

But it appeared to be too little, too late as the two of them had been stumbling from bar to bar by this point and were drunk out of their minds. After all, they were not expecting to be reinstated into the event! The two drunkards teetered over to their works Jaguar C Type and were able to start the race.

The Long Drive

Hamilton muscling his Jaguar C Type (XK120) around the Le Mans circuit

The mechanics at Jaguar tried to reduce the effects of the alcohol by making Duncan drink coffee. He refused however, stating that it would make him jittery and he would find it harder to control the car.

Somewhat counterintuitively, he asked for brandy instead as it would help calm his nerves behind the wheel. Like a true WW2 soldier!

The extra booze may have proved necessary when an unfortunate bird collided with Hamilton’s face at a heady 130 miles per hour (around 210kph), which completely shattered his nose!

The raw pace of Hamilton and Rolt still shone through the thick veil of their drunkenness, and they somehow won the day-long race!

Later Life

File:Bagshot in 2005.jpg
Clive Perrin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Bagshot, Surrey

Duncan Hamilton competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans another 5 times, with a best result of 2nd in 1954 (also with Tony Rolt as partner).

He took off his racing gloves for good in 1959; several injuries had shaken his body to the core and the death of his dear friend Mike Hawthorn had left him mentally distraught.

He spent the majority of his time after this brief foray in motorsport managing a garage in Bagshot, Surrey. The story of Duncan Hamilton at the 24 Hours of Le Mans will never be forgotten, as long as heroic deeds of drunken people continue to warm the hearts of all who hear of their accomplishments.

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