Walt Hansgen

Jaguar Racer and Four Times SCCA Champion

Walt Hansgen was an American racing driver from the 1950s and 60s, and though while not very well known in the UK he is well remembered in the US as he won four Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) championships and was one of the main drivers for American team owner Briggs Cunningham. 

He started his racing life, fairly late aged 31 driving his own Jaguar XK120 which he turned into the hand-built Hansgen Special, then went on to race XK120s, XK150s, C and D-types and Jaguar’s Prototype E2A for a number of other car owners/racing teams.

Hansgen drove one of the cars in the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust’s Collection – our 1956 Jaguar D-type – chassis XKD605, registered 393 RW, which won the Reims 12 hour race and then went on to race at Le Mans, finishing sixth. It was then shipped out to the US where it was one of the D-types in Briggs Cunningham’s stable.

He died in April 1966, four days after an accident while testing a Ford GT40 for that year’s Le Mans 24 Hour Race.

This article deal’s primarily with Hansgen’s time driving Jaguar cars (and Jaguar engined cars – including his own Hansgen Special and Jaguar engined Listers), and related events, and is not meant to be an exhaustive review of his whole life and career. For full details of his life and career read his very comprehensive biography written by Michael Argetsinger – Walt Hansgen – His Life and the History of Post-War American Road Racing.

Early Days Working for His Father

Walt Hansgen was born on 28th October 1919 in Westfield, New Jersey, into a family that was already working with motor vehicles. His father Fred (F K) Hansgen had been running a carriage repair business from horse drawn days and this progressed into mechanical and body repairs as the automobile industry expanded in the US. While at school he was very sporty and a bit of a speed demon keen on football, ice skating and body surfing. He helped out in the family business and his first drive was an unauthorised foray in his fathers’s Model T Ford derived beach buggy. He progressed into working for his father after graduating from high school, and started learning his trade. 

When he was called up into the Army during World War II he was assigned to the motor school where he quickly became bored with the lessons as he wasn’t learning anything new, but found his metier when he was assigned to the motor pool. When his time came to be shipped abroad for active service he was moved sideways as he was far too valuable being in charge of the motor pool as he kept a higher proportion of vehicles running than any of his predecessors.

Jaguar XK120 and Hansgen Special

September 1951 Hansgen driving his XK120 'Quicksilver' at Watkins Glen

After the war he returned to the family business and started racing in 1950 in local car gymkhana events. In 1951 he bought himself an XK120 with a loan from his mother, much to the annoyance of his wife. He nicknamed it Quicksilver and, then to the annoyance of both, started racing it at the age of 31.

His early racing can best be described as somewhat maverick leading to a suspension of his racing licence, although over time he was to develop a very smooth, consistent, fast driving style. After a fairly successful first year driving Quicksilver he hankered after a faster car. Jaguar had announced their new C-type but there was very limited supply, and even if he could have found the $5,860 needed to buy one he almost certainly wouldn’t have been allocated a car.  

He set about dismantling the XK120 to make a new car. He kept the engine and running gear but discarded the steel chassis and the bodywork. He made up a tubular steel space frame (similar in concept to that of the new C-type) and his father’s body man, Emil Hoffman, worked with him on the sheet metal, all-enveloping body, shedding about 600 lbs (272 kgs) in the process. 

The Hansgen Special emerged about a year later, during which period Hansgen was fortunate enough to have secured drives in Don McNought’s XK120 Coupe. The Special’s first outing in May 1953 at Bridgehampton NY was marred by the race being abandoned part way through. Hansgen came 2nd in its next race at Thompson on 4 July and then he won his first race two weeks later in the 100 mile race at Cumberland, Maryland.

1953 Hansgen Special at Thompson Raceway

Racing Jaguar C-types and D-Types

1954 Hansgen and daughter Bev in XKC022 at Thompson

After campaigning his Special in nine races from May to October 1953, he drove a Jaguar C-type (chassis XKC022) belonging to Masten Gregory, which he bought that same weekend. 

Unable to persuade his father to lend him the money he took out a second mortgage on his house, much to his wife’s annoyance. He had it re-painted from Gregory’s colour of electric blue to crushed strawberry, and went racing.  

He sold the Hansgen Special to his good friend and fellow racer, Paul Timmins on a gentlemen’s agreement that Timmins would pay for it when he could.  

Hansgen failed to finish his first few races in XKC022, before taking a 2nd and then a 1st at races at Thompson in September and a 5th in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix.

He never did receive payment for the Special as Timmins died in a road accident in Pennsylvania in March 1955 and Hansgen decided that Timmins’ estate should not be pursued for the outstanding debt.

In 1956 Hansgen started racing a Jaguar D-type for Auto Engineering, run by Lindy Hansen and John MacPhee. He claimed two wins, at Thompson and then Cumberland, where he beat Briggs Cunningham’s three factory prepared D-types, prompting Cunningham to offer him a job. He honoured his contract with Auto Engineering competing in three more races for them in 1956 and two in 1957, at events where the two teams did not clash.  

He raced D-types for Cunningham four times in 1956, seventeen in 1957 and twice in 1958 before Cunningham started racing Jaguar engined Listers which were his preferred cars for most of the 1958 and 1959 seasons. The long nose D-type in the Jaguar Collection, chassis XKD605, which won Reims and came 6th at Le Mans in 1956, was bought by Cunningham and raced by Hansgen nine times during 1957 and 1958. 

1956 XKD605 at Reims

Jaguar Dealership

D-type XKD605 in display in Hansgen's Jaguar Dealership

Throughout most of the 1950s motor racing was an amateur sport which stretched Hansgen’s finances despite the improving income from the family business. On 1 January 1957, with sponsorship from Cunningham, F K Hansgen & Son became a Jaguar dealership. Three of the workshop bays were converted into a showroom and as his racing successes continued, Jaguar used him for public appearances which helped drive customers to his new dealership. In between races he would often display one of Cunningham’s D-types in the showroom.

Within a year he was also contracted to Jaguar Cars as a technical advisor writing reports on the Cunningham cars. The combination of the dealership and his paid work secured Hansgen’s financial situation allowing him to concentrate on his racing until the sport would become professional generating prize money. 

Jaguar E2A and Le Mans

After they had ceased production of the D-type, Jaguar worked on two experimental cars, E1A and E2A, as part of the development of what would become the E-type. The Experimental Department commenced building E2A on 1 January 1960. It was very much like the D-type with a slightly longer nose and the rear monococque adapted to take the independent rear suspension unit. The body had an open cockpit with two doors, unlike the D-type, and there were air intakes in the body above the rear wheels for cooling the brakes. It was fitted with a 3-litre fuel-injected XK engine developing nearly 300 bhp and driving an aluminium-cased five-speed gearbox. Ted Brookes, who was in charge of the building of the car, tested it on Saturday 27 February 1960 and the next day it was driven around the factory site, along Browns Lane and up to the by-pass and back. Brookes appeared satisfied and the E2A was taken to the MIRA track early on the Monday morning.  

Norman Dewis was not that impressed with the first drives at MIRA and had a long list of suggestions on how the E2A could be improved. At this stage, Briggs Cunningham entered the picture. He was in England with Hansgen and his exceptional mechanic Alfred Momo and the trio met with Dewis that Monday and discussed various racing matters. In the past, Jaguar had supplied or loaned Cunningham D-types which had all been carefully prepared by the factory. Cunningham wanted to compete at Le Mans in 1960 but had no suitable car, he asked Lyons if he could help out and in turn Lyons asked Heynes to see what he could do. 

The upshot was that it was decided to loan Cunningham the E2A, which would now be prepared for the notoriously taxing 24-hours race and testing shifted into high gear to resolve all the problems in time for the race.

Jaguar E2A
E2A unpainted

Intensive testing at MIRA was carried out during February and March and gradually the hand-built E2A was improved. The troublesome five-speed gearbox was changed for a four-speed all-synchromesh D-type unit and the original engine, which had been prone to misfire at 5,000 rpm was replaced. Tyres, suspension, anti-roll bars and a myriad of smaller items all came under scrutiny and were all tested to the limit. With the Le Mans practice scheduled for the weekend of 8 April, the E2A was not as race-prepared as it should have been but it was taken over to France in its unpainted state. 

E2A in Cunningham Team Colours with rear fin fitted

By this time the raised headrest had been given a D-type fin, which was taken off for some of the practice straight line runs for comparison purposes. 

At Le Mans practice, Hansgen reached 190 mph down the Mulsanne straight and achieved a lap time of 4 min 8.4 secs in E2A, this against Phil Hill’s Ferrari at 3 min 58.5 secs. 

Initially, Ed Crawford had been teamed up with Hansgen for Le Mans, but he was replaced by Formula 1 BRM driver Dan Gurney for the race. Norman Dewis was now put down as a reserve driver. 

Once the practice weekend was over the E2A was returned to Browns Lane and painted in Briggs Cunningham’s US racing colours of white and blue.

At the race itself, initially, Hansgen took the Jaguar into third place but it had to make a pit stop after the third lap and could not get back with the race leaders. After 89 laps the E2A retired after fuel injection problems led to head gasket failure and a burnt piston. 

Dan Gurney recalled: “The drive in that Jaguar was a big pearl for me, and it was a privilege to be sharing it with Walt Hansgen, one of my heroes. But we had had some difficulty with the car’s handling. It was new, this was its first race, and the Jaguar engineers running it regarded Le Mans as their specialty.

But at first that car had been difficult to drive just down the straightaway. The least disturbance would send it into a series of tank slappers. My co-driver Walter Hansgen was such a faithful Jaguar man he didn’t criticise, but I guess I was only interested in trying to win. I felt that if we left the car the way it was and it rained, we’d be in real trouble. So I made myself unpopular by tenaciously asking ‘Can’t we find why it is doing this?’ with Walter standing quietly like it didn’t bother him. Through my constant questioning we finally found that they’d set up the car at the MIRA test ground with a fair amount of toe-out on the rear wheels. If the car leaned just a little, one way or the other, it was leaning on a wheel which would direct the tail in a different direction. We got them to change it, and it became a normal, good handling car.”

Following Le Mans, E2A was shipped back to Browns Lane and although he was disappointed not to have won in France, Cunningham liked the car and asked Heynes if he could borrow it for a race in the USA. Jaguar fitted it with a 3.8-litre XK engine and in August it was dispatched to New York. To accommodate the taller engine the bonnet acquired the long central bulge which later became the signature of the E-type. 

Cunningham immediately entered it for a race at Bridgehampton, Long Island, which Hansgen won. The car was then prepared for the Road America ‘500’ on the Elkhart Lake circuit in Wisconsin. A larger fuel tank was fitted with only one fuel stop planned. Hansgen was soon in second place behind Augie Pabst’s Ferrari but sadly E2A lost a place and finished third, with six gallons of fuel remaining. This was Hansgen’s last race in E2A.

Hansgen driving E2A at Bridgehampton

Le Mans and Other Races 

As well as driving Jaguars, Hansgen drove virtually every make of racing car in period: Aston Martin, Austin Healey, Cooper, Ferrari, Fiat-Abarth, Ford, Lola, Lotus, Maserati, MG, Porsche, and participated in virtually every form of racing on the calendar.

He drove at Le Mans on five occasions, four of them for Cunningham but failed to finish in all five races. He drove a Lister Jaguar there in 1959 for Brian Lister and then E2A in 1960 for Cunningham. For 1961 and 1962 he drove Cunningham’s Maseratis before taking a seat in a Lightweight E-type with Augie Pabst in 1963, but only managing to complete 8 laps.

He drove in Formula One in 1961 for Momo Corporation and in 1964 for team Lotus.

He drove for Kell Qvale at the Indianapolis 500 in 1964 and 1965 finishing 13th and 14th respectively.

He introduced Formula Junior to the USA from Italy, by importing the first Stanguellini in the country and campaigning it at four races in 1959, encouraging others to follow suit. 

Race Results – Jaguar Related including Jaguar Engined

YearDateRaceResultCar / Co-DriverEntrant / Team
(If not himself)
195126 MayBridgehampton, New York
Hamptons Cup
(His first race)
DNFJaguar XK120 Walt E Hansgen
 15 SeptemberWatkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen Grand Prix
9th overall
2nd in class
Jaguar XK120 
 20 OctoberConvair Airport
Allentown, PA
2ndJaguar XK120 
19523 MayKeene, NY
Mountain House Hill Climb
2nd Jaguar XK120 CoupeDon McNought
 24 MayBridgehampton, NY
Hayground Cup
2ndJaguar XK120 CoupeDon McNought
 17 AugustThompson Raceway, Connecticut3rd Jaguar XK120 CoupeDon McNought
19538 MarchSebring, Florida
12 Hour Race
12th
5th in class
Jaguar XK120Don McNought
 18 MayBridgehampton, NY
Bridgehampton Cup
Race abandonedHansgen Special 
 4 JulyThompson, CT
SCCA Regional
2ndHansgen Special 
 19 JulyCumberland, Maryland
100 Mile Race
1stHansgen Special 
 29 AugustBrooklyn, NY
Floyd Bennett Cup
2ndHansgen Special 
 6 SeptemberThompson Raceway, CT
SCCA National
2ndHansgen Special 
 19 SeptemberWatkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen Grand Prix
1stHansgen Special 
 11 OctoberThompson, CT
SCCA Regional
DNFHansgen Special 
 25 OctoberAlbany, Georgia
Sowega International Races
King George Cup 75 miles
6th Hansgen Special 
 25 OctoberAlbany, GA
Sowega International Races
C Modified 250 miles
10th Hansgen Special 
19547 MarchSebring, FL
12 Hour Race
DNFJaguar C-type
(XKC022)
 
 9 MayWesthampton, NY
SCCA Regional
2ndJaguar XK120 
 16 MayCumberland, MD
Cumberland Cup,
SCCA National
DNFJaguar C-type 
 15 AugustNew Hampshire
Mount Washington Hill Climb
DNFJaguar C-type 
 5 SeptemberThompson CT,
Thompson Raceway
2ndJaguar C-type 
 5 SeptemberThompson CT,
Thompson Raceway (Open)
1stJaguar C-type 
 18 SeptemberWatkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen Grand Prix
5th Jaguar C-type 
195622 AprilThompson CT,
Thompson Raceway
SCCA Regional
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 20 MayCumberland, MD
Vandergrift Memorial
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 3 JuneFort Worth, TX
Eagle Mountain 40 miles
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 3 JuneFort Worth, TX
Eagle Mountain 100 miles
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 24 JuneElkhart Lake, WS
June Sprints
DNFJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 2 SeptemberThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 3 SeptemberThompson, CT
Thompson One Hour
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 7 OctoberThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 28 OctoberThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
195724 MarchSebring, FL
12 Hour Race
5thJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 28 AprilLime Rock, CT
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 19 MayCumberland, MD
Vandergrift Memorial
2ndJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 26 MayThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
DNFJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 9 JuneLime Rock, CT4thJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 23 JuneElkhart Lake, WI
Road America, June Sprints
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 14 JulyMarlboro, MD
Marlboro Prelim
10 lap ‘Tobacco Road’
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 14 JulyMarlboro, MD
25 lap ‘Lavender Hill Mob Trophy’
1stJaguar D-typeAuto Engineering
 4 AugustDanville, VA
Virginia Intl. Raceway
SCCA Prelim
2ndJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 4 AugustDanville, VA
Virginia Intl. Raceway
SCCA National
2ndJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 18 AugustMontgomery, NY
SCCA National
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 1 SeptemberThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 2 SeptemberThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
SCCA National
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 8 SeptemberElkhart Lake, WI
Road America 500
DNFJaguar D-type with Phil FornoBriggs Cunningham
 21 SeptemberWatkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen Grand Prix
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 29 SeptemberBridgehampton, NY
SCCA National
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 27 OctoberDanville, VA
Virginia Intl. Raceway
President’s Cup SCCA National
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 16 NovemberRiverside, CA
Riverside Intl. Raceway
5 laps SCCA Qualifying
3rd Jaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 17 NovemberRiverside, CA
Riverside Intl. Raceway
President’s Cup
4thJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
195812 JanuaryMiami, FL
Orange Bowls National
8 lap Prelim
3rd Jaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 12 JanuaryMiami, FL
Orange Bowls National
25 lap SCCA National
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 22 MarchSebring, FL
12 Hours
DNFLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 20 AprilMarlboro, MD
President’s Cup National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 27 AprilLime Rock, CT
New England Championship
3rd Jaguar XK150SBriggs Cunningham
 4 MayDanville, VA
Virginia Intl. Raceway
30 minute Prelim SCCA
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 4 MayDanville, VA
Virginia Intl. Raceway
One Hour SCCA
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 18 MayCumberland, MD
Cumberland National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 1 JuneBridgehampton, NY
SCCA National
3rd Jaguar XK150SBriggs Cunningham
 1 JuneBridgehampton, NY
SCCA National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 14 JuneLime Rock, CT
Class C Prod. SCCA National
3rd Jaguar XK150SBriggs Cunningham
 14 JuneLime Rock, CT
SCCA National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 21 JuneElkhart Lake, WI
June Sprints 5 Lap Prelim
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 22 JuneElkhart Lake, WI
June Sprints C,D,E Prod.
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 5 JulyLime Rock, CT
SCCA National
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 19 JulySilverstone
Saloon Car Race
1stJaguar 3.4 Litre SaloonJohn Coombs
 19 JulySilverstone
BRDC International
DNFLister JaguarBrian Lister
 27 JulySnetterton
Over 2700 cc
1stJaguarBrian Lister
 27 JulySnetterton
Formula Libre
1stJaguarBrian Lister
 17 AugustMontgomery, MD
Montgomery National
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 31 AugustThompson Raceway, CT
SCCA 10 Lap
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 1 SeptemberThompson Raceway, CT
SCCA National
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 7 SeptemberElkhart Lake, WI
Road America, 500 mile 
DNFLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 13 SeptemberBridgehampton, NY
SCCA Regional
2ndJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 14 SeptemberBridgehampton, NY
SCCA Regional
1stJaguar D-typeBriggs Cunningham
 20 SeptemberWatkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen Grand Prix
SCCA National
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 4 OctoberDanville, VA
Virginia International Raceway
SCCA Prelim
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 5 OctoberDanville, VA
Virginia International Raceway
President’s Cup
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
195921 MarchSebring, FL
12 Hour Race
12thLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 18 AprilMarlboro, MD
Marlboro SCCA
DNFLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 19 AprilMarlboro, MD
SCCA National
2nd Lister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 3 MayDanville, VA
Virginia International Raceway
SCCA National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 17 MayCumberland, MD
SCCA National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 31 MayBridgehampton, NY
Bridgehampton National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 21 JuneLe Mans
24 Hour Race
DNFLister Jaguar with Peter BlondchassisBrian Lister
 4 JulyLime Rock, CT
SCCA National
DNFLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 9 AugustMontgomery, NY
Governor’s Cup
2nd Lister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 6 SeptemberThompson, CT
Thompson Raceway
SCCA Prelim
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 7 SeptemberThompson, CT
Thompson National
SCCA C Mod
4thLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 13 SeptemberElkhart Lake, WI
Road America 500 mile
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 26 SeptemberWatkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen Grand Prix
SCCA National
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 14 NovemberDaytona Beach, FL
Daytona Intl. Speedway
SCCA 4 lap Prelim
1stLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 15 NovemberDaytona Beach, FL
Daytona Intl. Speedway
2ndLister JaguarBriggs Cunningham
 12 DecemberSebring, FL
Sebring Compact Car Race
1stJaguar Mark IIBriggs Cunningham
196026 JuneLe Mans
24 Hour Race
DNFJaguar E2ABriggs Cunningham
 28 AugustBridgehampton, NY
Bridgehampton National
1stJaguar E2ABriggs Cunningham
 11 SeptemberElkhart Lake, WI
Road America 500 mile
3rd
1st in class
Jaguar E2ABriggs Cunningham
 20 NovemberRiverside, CA
Riverside Sedan Race
1stJaguar Mark IIBriggs Cunningham
196114 OctoberRiverside, CA DNFJaguar Mark IIBriggs Cunningham
196211 FebruaryDaytona Beach, FL
Dayton Continental 3 Hour
17thJaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
 2 JuneBridgehampton, NY
Bridgehampton Prod. Race
DQJaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
 16 SeptemberBridgehampton, NY
Bridgehampton 400k Intl.
6th
3rd in class
Jaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
196317 FebruaryDaytona Beach, FL
Daytona 3 Hour
 DQJaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
 23 MarchSebring, FL
Sebring 12 Hour
8thJaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
 16 JuneLe Mans
24 Hour Race
DNFJaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
 8 SeptemberElkhart Lake, WI
Road America 500 mile
11th
3rd in class
Jaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
 14 SeptemberBridgehampton, NY
Bridgehampton 500 km
3rd Jaguar E-typeBriggs Cunningham
19663 AprilLe Mans
Testing
Fatal AccidentFord GT40Holman Moody

Racing Summary

While relatively short, Hansgen’s racing career was very successful both as an independent and then as a team driver, scoring podiums (top three) in 66% of his races and winning 43%.

Race Starts244
Race Finishes190 (78%)
Race Wins106 (43%)
Top 3 Podiums162 (66%)

Main Teams

Auto Engineering, Briggs Cunningham, Brian Lister, Don McNought, Holman & Moody, John Mecom, Momo Racing, Team Lotus, Kjell Qvale,
Jaguars Driven XK120, XK150S, C-type, D-Type, E-type, E2A, Lightweight E-type, 3.4 Litre Saloon (Mark I), Mark II
Jaguar engined cars Hansgen Special, Lister Knobbly, Costin-bodied Lister 
Other makesAston Martin, Austin Healey, Cooper, Corvette, Ferrari, Fiat-Abarth, Ford, Lola, Lotus, Maserati, MG TD, Porsche, Scarab, Stanguellini
SCCA Championships1956, 1957, 1958, 1959

Death while Testing at Le Mans

Hansgen died in hospital following an accident during April testing for the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour Race. In 1966 Ford were determined to beat Ferrari with Ford GT40s from their own works team and that of Holman & Moody. They succeeded, taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.  

Hansgen was driving for the Holman & Moody team and took his Ford GT40 Mk2 to Le Mans for testing on 3 April. It started raining hard and he was advised by team manager Carroll Smith to take it easy. The rain eased slightly but the track remained waterlogged and despite this Hansgen kept improving his lap times, until at one point he lost traction and the car aqua-planed. He tried to steer onto an escape road, only to find out too late it was blocked with piles of sand, which he hit at around 150 mph and the car flipped end over end before coming to a halt. It took twenty minutes to extract him from the wreckage and he was helicoptered to a US Army hospital in Orleans. 

Hansgen’s wife received a phone call in the US telling them to come over and she and their son Rusty boarded the plane quite unperturbed, as over the years he had survived a number of crashes and hospital visits and they expected a similar outcome. He never recovered consciousness and he died on 7 April after the decision was taken to turn off his life support. 

Post Script – Visit to Gaydon by Rusty Hansgen

In September 2023 Hansgen’s son, Rusty arranged a visit to the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust archives at Gaydon with his own son Ashley. They were in England as the restored Hansgen Special was appearing at Goodwood weekend and he wished to take the opportunity to see if there were any of his father’s technical reports in the archive, that he did not already have in the family collection.

They had a productive time in the archives and then over lunch regaled us with stories of his father’s life and racing exploits. He remembered our D-type (XKD605) stored in the family Jaguar dealership between races and occupying the passenger seat while his father drove the car to the local races. 

Following lunch we wheeled the car out of the workshop and invited Rusty to re-occupy the passenger seat. The car was then started and our technician took him off around the south Warwickshire countryside re-appearing about 20 minutes later with a huge grin on Rusty’s face. As Rusty exited the car with his memories refreshed, Ashley took his turn in the passenger seat and they set off around the lanes for a second time. 

Seeing the car again, hearing it, and most of all riding in it, again for Rusty, and in a D-type for the first time for Ashley, turned their visit to the archives into a trip they say they will remember all their lives.

September 2023 Walt Hansgen's son Rusty (right) with his own son Ashley re-united with Jaguar D-type XKD605 at Gaydon

Author: Tony Merrygold with additional information from François Prins.

Race results from Walt Hansgen by Michael Argetsinger and www.RacingSportsCars.com

© Text and Images – Jaguar Cars, JDHT, Hansgen Family Collection and others.

Sources and Further Reading:
  • Argetsinger, Michael, Walt Hansgen – His Life and the History of Post-War American Road Racing (David Bull Publishing, 2006)
  • Automobile Quarterly Volume 27, Number 4 – Gross, Ken, Walt Hansgen – Hard Charger. AND Stein, Jonathan, The Hansgen Jaguar Special (Automobile Quarterly Inc, 1989)
  • Roe, Geoff, Bert Hadley A Son of Birmingham: A Tribute (The Pre-War Austin Seven Club Ltd, 2013)
  • Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and foreword by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, Jaguar (Quiller Press, 1997)
  • Mennem, Patrick, Jaguar: An Illustrated History (The Crowood Press Ltd, 1991)
  • Parker, Chas, Jaguar D-Type: Owners’ Workshop Manual – 1954 Onwards (All Models) (Haynes Publishing, 2017)
  • Whyte, Andrew, Jaguar: The Definitive History of a Great British Car (Patrick Stephens Limited, 1990)
  • Porter, Philip, Jaguar: E-Type The Definitive History (Porter Press International, 2015)
  • Thorley, Nigel, Jaguar in Coventry: Building the Legend (Breedon Books Publishing Co Ltd, 2013)
  • Porter, Philip, Jaguar: Sports Racing Cars (Bay View Books, 1995)
  • Clausager, Anders Ditlev, Le Mans (Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1982)
  • Skilleter, Paul, Norman Dewis of Jaguar: Developing the Legend (PJ Publishing Ltd, 2017)
  • Porter, Philip and Skilleter, Paul, Sir William Lyons: The Official Biography (Haynes Publishing, 2001)