Aston Martin drivers - Roy Salvadori

Aston Martin drivers - Roy Salvadori

Roy Salvadori was one of Aston Martin’s most important drivers throughout the Fifties. We look at his long and successful career.

Although not a household name like Sir Stirling Moss is today, Roy Salvadori still enjoyed a successful career in motor racing, much of it spent with Aston Martin. The highlight of his time with the company was undoubtedly winning Le Mans 24 Hours in 1959. Born in Dovercourt, Essex, in May 1922 to parents of Italian descent, Salvadori became interested in motorcycles as a child. A serious accident in 1940 while riding a friend’s BMW meant he missed military service.

It was maybe due to his injuries that he later turned to cars and in 1946 bought a MG R-Type single-seater with a supercharged 745cc engine. He entered it in the UK’s first post-war motor race held at Gransden Lodge Airfield, ten miles west of Cambridge, on 15 June 1946, finishing second behind the man who would later design the Mini, Alec Issigonis, in his Austin Seven-based Lightweight Special. “I had been thoroughly bitten by the motor racing bug,” he admitted in his 1985 autobiography, Roy Salvadori Racing Driver.

Salvadori quickly progressed to even quicker cars including a Riley 2-Litre singleseater that was followed by the ex-Tazio Nuvolari Alfa Romeo P3 Monoposto. Wanting to enter Grand Prix, he raced a Maserati 4CL that was owned and prepared by Prince Birabongse’s famous Whitemouse garage in Hammersmith. Unfortunately, Salvadori was hit by another car at the Curragh Road circuit in Northern Ireland which ruptured the fuel tank, setting the car alight. Thankfully he escaped uninjured, but due to financial reasons couldn’t complete a full season in 1950.

He bought a Frazer-Nash the following year that was quickly swapped for a Jaguar XK 120, which he raced with great success. He was also occasionally asked to drive a privately owned Ferrari 2.7-litre sports car. Roy and the car’s owner, Bobby Baird, were contenders for overall victory at the Goodwood Nine Hours in August but eventually finished third after being black-flagged late in the evening when the Aston Martin team complained that one of the Ferrari’s lights was out. “I had driven throughout as though the race was a tenlap sprint,” continued Salvadori in Racing Driver, “and it was the best performance of my career to date.”

Due to the strength of this and other strong performances, in early 1953 Aston Martin’s team manager, John Wyer, asked Salvadori to become part of the team. They’d known each other since the Forties when the garage Wyer had worked for at the time had prepared Salvadori’s Alfa Romeo. “That was the beginning of an association which would bring us both considerable success,” wrote Wyer in a forward to a chapter in Salvadori’s 1985 biography.

From Snetterton to Goodwood, Salvadori soon started to win races up and down the UK, earning himself the nickname ‘King of the Airfields’. One event he had no luck at, though, was the Le Mans 24 Hours having retired every year between 1953 and 1958. That changed in 1959 when he and his American teammate, Carroll Shelby, took the victory in their DBR1. Admittedly many of their main rivals, including Ferrari, Ecurie Ecosse and Lister, had all retired, yet it was still a fi ne victory and vindicated Salvadori’s place as one of the UK’s fi nest drivers.

“On that circuit, on that particular day, he proved himself to be the best driver around,” continued John Wyer in Racing Driver. “No team manager could have asked for a greater performance.” Salvadori had also raced in Formula 1 throughout the Fifties, first for Connaught and then Cooper. Although his results were patchy and he never won a race, when Aston entered the World Championship in 1959 with its first single-seater, the DBR4/250, it was natural he became one of its drivers. Yet the car wasn’t a success and he finished only twice, both times in sixth place. Aston pulled the plug on the project at the end of the 1960 season. After two further lacklustre seasons with the Yeoman team, Salvadori retired from F1 at the end of the 1962 season.

He continued to enjoy great success in sports cars including with the Jaguar E-types of both Briggs Cunningham and John Coombs plus the Aston Martin’s DB4 GT. His final victory for the marque, that he enjoyed so much success with, came in September 1963 when he won the Coppa Inter-Europa at Monza.

Salvadori retired from driving in 1965. After briefly acting as a team manager for the Cooper F1 team between 1966 and 1967, he left motorsport for good to focus on his own business in the motor trade. He later moved to Monaco, passing away on 3 June 2012, aged 90.

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