Of all the drivers we’ve been lucky to speak with, this story really will take some topping. If winning the Touring Car Championship, racing with Jim Clark for Colin Chapman at Le Mans, then going on to drive GT40′s for Ford and going to NASA to experience a full simulation of a moon landing (yes really!) Sir John Whitmore also got a call from the agent of an American actor he’d never heard of……Sir John takes up the story
“I was driving a mini in the British saloon car championship which I obtained from the BMC works team in Didcot. It was an ex-Rally car and a bit of a wreck for £400 and I started to drive and won the championship. Marcus Chambers, BMC’s competition manager said that he had had a call from an American racing driver who was going to be in Britain and wanted to borrow a racing car.
He asked if I had heard of him, someone called Steve McQueen. Neither of us had but as I was on my way to London anyway, Marcus suggested I pop into his hotel to check him out, find out if he was serious and a real racing driver. I met Steve in his hotel and we chatted for about three hours and he spoke about his enthusiasm for cars.
I managed to get him an Austin A40 which I borrowed from a friend and a drive in a club race at Oulton Park. He got on ok and at least he didn’t crash the car.
Then, driving in the British Touring Car Championship (1961) I had won the championship on the eleventh race and there were twelve races in all. So even if someone had won the twelfth race with full points I couldn’t have been beaten, so I was ahead of the game. The last race was going to be at Brands Hatch in my 850 Mini and I didn’t have to do it. So I thought, hang on, why don’t I let Steve drive. So Steve drove at Brands Hatch against Christabel Carlisle and Vic Elford. The three of them finished the race very close together in the mini race. Steve was bloody good. He had never raced at Brands Hatch and hardly knew the way round. I gave the cup away and I have a picture of the three of them together at the end of the race. Steve and I became very good friends after that and I used to stay with him in Hollywood. Steve did go on to race at Sebring and various other places but his real thing was Motor Cycles.
He and I would ride motor bikes together in Mulholland Drive in California which was a wonderful dirt road then.”
Sir John Whitmore