Duncan Hamilton

Jaguar Racing Driver and Winner of 1953 Le Mans with Tony Rolt

1951 Le Mans
Duncan Hamilton
in C-type Driving Seat

Though he died over twenty years ago, Duncan Hamilton is still remembered as one of motor racing’s most colourful characters and one of Jaguar’s ablest works drivers.

Early Years Racing

Duncan Hamilton was born in Ireland in April 1920 but the family moved to Britain in 1926 and he was brought up in London.  From an early age he was keen on cars and when he was old enough to drive he obtained an Austin Seven, which he crashed on the first drive.  Undaunted, he had progressed to a Vauxhall 30/98 by the outbreak of World War Two, when he joined the Fleet Air Arm.  Hamilton gained his wings and flew various types including the naval variant of the Spitfire, the Seafire. 

Following demobilisation in 1946 he joined the motor trade as a salesman with the Henlys Group, then one of the largest motor dealerships and the biggest distributor of Jaguar cars in the UK.  Like many young men who had seen action during the War he was drawn to the world of motor sport and bought a supercharged MG R Type from Leslie Hawthorn (Mike Hawthorn‘s father).  A Bugatti Type 35B followed and for the 1948 season he raced a Maserati 6CM.  Donald Healey asked Tony Rolt to drive the works 3.8-litre Nash-Healey in the 1950 Le Mans 24 hour race and Rolt asked for Hamilton as co-driver. 

They drove the American-engined car into fourth place behind two French 4.5 litre Talbot-Lagos and a 5.4 litre Cadillac-powered Allard.  In 1951 Hamilton acquired a 4.5 litre Talbot-Lago Grand Prix car and he and Tony Rolt drove the modified Nash-Healey at Le Mans to sixth place.  Peter Whitehead and Peter Walker drove the works-entered Jaguar C-type to win. 

Racing Jaguars

Meanwhile, Hamilton had bought a new Jaguar XK120 roadster which he drove to third place at the Daily Express one-hour production car event at Silverstone in 1951.  Stirling Moss took first place with a works-prepared XK120 and Charles Dodson second in another XK120.  Out of the 29 cars entered, 11 were Jaguar XK120s and 7 of the top 10 were XK120s.  That year, Hamilton and Rolt finished sixth at Le Mans in a Nash-Healey Coupé. 

He also became the first private owner of a C-type (XKC004) registered MDU 214, which he took to the Isle of Man to compete in the British Empire Trophy race.  He was in second place when a bracket in the rear suspension broke forcing him to retire. 

1953 Le Mans
Hamilton Climbing into The C-type

Jaguar Works Driver

1953 Le Mans
Hamilton Leaving The Pits

Jaguar had seen the Rolt-Hamilton partnership at work and for 1952 they were invited to join the works team for Le Mans.  However, the C-types had been given new bodyshells with sloping noses and long tails; they did not fare well and serious overheating problems put all three out of the race with Hamilton and Rolt lasting longest on the circuit. 

However, Hamilton had his own C-type at Le Mans and he had it sent to Oporto, Portugal, where he drove it in the Grand Prix but had to retire due to mechanical problems.  Later that year he drove the C-type at Goodwood and elsewhere in the UK but without winning any events, although he was second to Moss at the International Daily Express meeting in August.

For Le Mans 1953, Jaguar fielded a team of three C-types, with thin gauge lightweight bodies, Dunlop disc brakes and Weber carburettors.  By the end of the first hour Stirling Moss and Peter Walker were in the lead, then Hamilton and Rolt took over and, apart from a short period, they stayed in front for the remainder of the race.  Lofty England had laid down some strict lap times for the team and following these Hamilton and Rolt gave Jaguar a Le Mans win in the Coronation year. 

1953 Le Mans
Stirling Moss,Peter Walker,
Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt

That same year Hamilton drove his C-type once more in Portugal and shared Peter Whitehead’s C-type in Italy before returning to race at Goodwood with the work’s team; here both Hamilton/Rolt and Moss/Walker retired leaving Whitehead and Stewart to survive and take third place.  By now the C-types had reached the end of their racing career with Jaguar and made their final appearance at Dundrod in Northern Ireland; they were plagued with gearbox problems and none of the C-types finished the race. 

However, Hamilton continued to champion the C-type, now with the replacement XKC038, which he drove at Oulton Park to fourth place, a win in the Coupe de Paris at Montlhéry and a win at the first race held at the new track at Aintree, Liverpool.

1954 D-type debut

1954 Le Mans
Hamilton in OKV1
with Tony Rolt

Jaguar entered the new D-type for the 1954 Le Mans 24-Hours Race with Hamilton/Rolt, Moss/Walker and Peter Whitehead and Ken Wharton as drivers.  Unfortunately, the cars suffered engine misfire problems which were cured but Moss/Walker and Whitehead/Wharton had other problems and retired, leaving Rolt and Hamilton driving in torrential rain.  It was during this race that Ferrari breached several rules during a pit stop and went on to win with Hamilton coming in second.  Jaguar was urged to lodge a protest against Ferrari but Lyons decided against it as he felt Jaguar should win ‘on the road or not at all’. 

Hamilton took to the D-type and after Le Mans he drove with Rolt as one of three works-entered D-types at the Reims 12-Hours race.  This winning D-type was driven by Whitehead and Walker but despite being shunted by Jean Behra, Hamilton and Rolt secured second place. 

Their D-type had been badly damaged by Behra – a sub frame member had punctured the differential casing – but despite the noisy rear axle they managed to finish the race. 

1955 – 1956

In January 1955 he bought his first D-type (XKC402) registered OKV 1 and first raced it at Agadir, Morocco in February 1955, but retired with gearbox problems.  The car was repaired and he entered the Dakar Grand Prix, which was always a trial to any car.  Hamilton drove the D-type hard and fast, achieving a top speed on the straight of around 180 mph and finished in third place.

In June 1955 he bought a second ex-works D-type (XKD406).

Hamilton and Rolt were selected once more for the 1955 Jaguar works team and drove the long-nose D-type at Le Mans.  They retired after their car lost its first and second gears and it was left to Mike Hawthorn to win the unhappy race that year.  The race partnership was broken-up when Tony Rolt retired from racing at the end of the 1955 season to pursue his business interests, which included work with Harry Ferguson on a four-wheel drive system.  Lofty England teamed Duncan Hamilton with Ivor Bueb for the 1956 Sebring 12-Hours race, in which four D-types were entered jointly by Jaguar and Briggs Cunningham.  Unfortunately, the works Jaguars did not win – Hamilton and Bueb retired with overheating brakes – and it was Ferrari that took the first two places. 

Later in the year, Hamilton drove OKV 1 to win the Coupe de Paris at Montlhéry and returned home to drive one of the new Jaguar 2.4-litre saloons to third place in the Touring Car race at Silverstone.  A few weeks after this race, Hamilton was in Belgium for the race at Chimay, where he drove his D-type to second place.  He was unlucky with a works D-type at the Nürburgring 1000 km race in which he was partnered by Paul Frère.  Unfortunately during practice Frère crashed the car and the replacement which was sent from Browns Lane fared no better; after just five laps of the race Frère experienced gearbox trouble and had to retire the D-type.  Hamilton did not get to drive in the race.

While driving a D-type at Snetterton in September a tyre burst as he was about to cross the finishing line.  He said it was the only race he could remember  winning while pointing the wrong way….. 

In early 1956 he bought his production D-type (XKD510).

Team Orders

Jaguar entered three D-types for the 1956 Reims 12-Hours race with Frère/Hawthorn, Desmond Titterington / Jack Fairman and Hamilton / Bueb driving.  The D-types dominated the race and as it drew to a close the three leading cars were Frère / Hawthorn, Hamilton / Bueb and Titterington / Fairman.  They were signalled by England to hold position and cross the finish line in that order but Hamilton could not resist speeding up to set a new lap record and in doing so overtook Paul Frère coming in first.  England was not pleased and while Hamilton tried to make light of the fact that he ignored a team order, Lofty England sacked him on the spot.  Jaguar could not have someone who treated the business of racing in such a cavalier manner, Hamilton was out, though he and England remained friends.

Independent Racing Again

Without the safety net of Jaguar, Hamilton went on his own to Le Mans in 1957 with an ex-works 1956 D-type (XKD601), which he bought and had fitted with a 3.8-litre engine.  Driving in partnership with Masten Gregory they experienced electrical problems and a burnt floor caused by a fractured exhaust pipe.  Hasty repairs were carried out, including a new floor, and they finished sixth.  Hamilton continued to champion one of his D-types at different venues, including Le Mans in 1958 (the car had a 3-litre engine installed); his co-driver was Ivor Bueb and though they led at some stages they were destined to remain in second place, behind a Ferrari, for much of the race.  Heavy rain on the Sunday caused problems for several of the cars and one, a DB-Panhard had to be abandoned in the middle of the road.  Poor visibility meant that Hamilton did not see it until he was almost on top of the Panhard; he tried to avoid it, swerved and braked, the D-type spun into a bank and overturned into a ditch.  Hamilton was bruised but not badly hurt, but he was out of the race.  The D-type was repaired and he drove at Silverstone, Mallory Park and in the Goodwood Tourist Trophy Race (with Peter Blond as co-driver) in September 1958 to sixth place. 

This was Hamilton’s final race and early the following year he announced his retirement from racing.

Race Results – Jaguar Related





Car / Co-driver

Entrant / Team
(if not himself)

1950 25 June Le Mans 24 hours – Hamilton’s first Le Mans 4th Nash-Healey Silverstone with Tony Rolt Donald Healey
1951 5 May Silverstone International 1 hour 3rd Jaguar XK120 with
Philip Fotheringham-Parker
  17 June Circuito do Porto, Portugal DNF Jaguar XK120  
  11 August National Boreham 1st Jaguar XK120 – 1st in 2 separate races  
  18 August Goodwood BARC 2nd Jaguar XK120 – 2nd in 2 separate races  
1952 29 May British Empire Trophy, Isle of Man DNF Jaguar C-type  
  15 June Le Mans 24 hours DNF Jaguar C-type XKC001 with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  22 June Circuito do Porto, Portugal DNF Jaguar C-type  
  2 August Boreham International 2nd Jaguar C-type  
  16 August Goodwood 9 hours DNF Jaguar C-type XKC001 with
Tony Rolt
W Lyons
  23 August National Turnberry 2nd Jaguar C-type 2nd in 2 separate races  
  6 September Wakefield Trophy, Curragh, Ireland DNF Jaguar C-type  
  27 September Goodwood International DNS Jaguar C-type  
1953 6 April Goodwood Easter 5th Jaguar C-type  
  9 May Silverstone International DNF Jaguar C-type  
  14 June Le Mans 24 hours 1st Jaguar C-type XKC051 with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  21 June Circuito do Porto, Portugal DNF Jaguar C-type   
  18 July Silverstone, British Grand Prix DNF Jaguar C-type  
  15 August Pescara 12 hour, Italy DNF Jaguar C-type with
Peter Whitehead
  22 August Goodwood 9 hours DNF Jaguar C-type with
Tony Rolt
W Lyons
  5 September Tourist Trophy, Dundrod, Northern Ireland DNF Jaguar C-type with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  26 September Goodwood International Handicap 
2 races
10th Jaguar C-type – 10th in one race and 4th in second race  
1954 10 April British Empire Trophy, Oulton Park 4th Jaguar C-type  
  25 April Coupes de Paris, Montlhery, Paris 1st Jaguar C-type  
  1 May Goodwood BARC 2nd Jaguar C-type  
  15 May Silverstone International 6th Jaguar C-type  
  23 May Hedemoraloppet, Sweden 3rd Jaguar C-type  
  29 May Aintree International 1st Jaguar C-type  
  13 June Le Mans 24 hours 2nd Jaguar D-type XKC402 with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  27 June Circuito do Porto, Portugal Grand Prix DNF Jaguar C-type  
  4 July Reims 12 hours, France 2nd Jaguar D-type with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  25 July Monsanto, Portugal 5th Jaguar C-type  
  15 August Zandvoort International, Holland DNS Jaguar C-type  
  22 August La Baule, France 4th Jaguar C-type  
  28 August Wakefield Trophy, Curragh, Ireland 5th Jaguar C-type  
  11 September Tourist Trophy, Dundrod, Northern Ireland DNF Jaguar D-type with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  10 October Coupes du Salon, Montlhery, Paris 3rd Jaguar C-type  
1955 27 February Agadir Grand Prix, Morocco DNF Jaguar D-type  
  13 March Dakar 2 hours, Senegal 3rd Jaguar D-type  
  4 April British Empire Trophy, Oulton Park 7th Jaguar D-type  
  12 April Goodwood Easter 3rd Jaguar D-type  
  17 April Coupe de Paris, Montlhery, Paris 2nd Jaguar D-type  
  7 May Silverstone International 5th Jaguar D-type Jaguar Cars Ltd
  30 May Goodwood International 1st Jaguar D-type  
  12 June Le Mans 24 hours DNF Jaguar D-type XKD506 with
Tony Rolt
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  26 June Circuito do Porto, Portugal 3rd Jaguar D-type  
  24 July Monsanto, Portugal DNF Jaguar D-type  
  20 August Goodwood 9 hours DNF Jaguar D-type with
Tony Rolt
  17 September  Silverstone National 6th Jaguar D-type 6th in 1 race and 1st in second race  
  25 September Snetterton National 1st Jaguar D-type  
  1 October Castle Combe International DNF Jaguar D-type  
1956 11 March Dakar 2 hours, Senegal DNF Jaguar D-type  
  24 March Sebring 12 hours, Florida, USA DNF Jaguar D-type with
Ivor Bueb
Jaguars of New York
  2 April Goodwood Easter DNF Jaguar D-type  
  29 April Prix de Paris, Montlhery, Paris 1st Jaguar D-type  
  20 May Grand Prix des Frontieres, Chimay, Belgium 2nd Jaguar D-type  
  27 May Nurburgring 1000 km, Germany DNF Jaguar D-type with
Paul Frere
Jaguar Cars Ltd
  30 June Reims 12 hours, France
His last race for Jaguar Cars
1st Jaguar D-type with
Ivor Bueb
Hamilton’s last race for Jaguar Cars Ltd
  14 July Grand Prix Silverstone 10th Jaguar D-type  
  22 July Grand Prix Bari, Italy 6th Jaguar D-type  
  7 October Coupes du Salon, Montlhery, Paris 2nd Jaguar D-type  
1957 22 April Goodwood Sussex Trophy 4th Jaguar D-type  
  12 May Grand Prix Spa, Belgium 5th Jaguar D-type  
  30 May Forez 2 hours, St Etienne, France 3rd Jaguar D-type  
  23 June Le Mans 24 hours 6th Jaguar D-type XKD601 with
Masten Gregory
  20 July Aintree International 3rd Jaguar D-type  
  14 September Silverstone International DNF Jaguar D-type  
  28 September National Open Goodwood Trophy 5th Jaguar D-type  
1958 7 April Goodwood Sussex Trophy 3rd Jaguar D-type  
  12 April British Empire Trophy, Oulton Park 4th Jaguar D-type  
  19 April Aintree 200 6th Jaguar D-type  
  3 May Daily Express Silverstone 7th Jaguar D-type  
  26 May Goodwood Whitsun Trophy 2nd Jaguar D-type  
  22 June Le Mans 24 hours DNF Jaguar D-type XKD601 with
Ivor Bueb
  13 June Goodwood Tourist Trophy 6th Jaguar D-type with
Peter Blond

Life After Racing

Duncan Hamilton was one of the real characters in motor racing that only Britain seems to produce; he drove hard and fast and lived life to the full, he enjoyed a good party and loved meeting and talking with friends in and out of the motor business.  He spent his years away from the circuit running a motor business and sailing whenever he could. 

In 1970 he retired to Somerset where he carried on sailing and entertaining.  His health started to deteriorate and he suffered some heart problems, then early in 1994 he was diagnosed with cancer of the lung (he was a lifelong non-smoker). 

Very soon he weakened and went into a coma on 11 May, he died in his sleep on 13 May aged 74 years.


Author: François Prins and Tony Merrygold 

Race results from www.RacingSportsCars.com 

© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust


Sources and Further Reading: