HEROES: ROY SALVADORI
Loyalty to Aston Martin probably cost him a shot at the Formula 1 title
Roy Salvadori was born in 1922 to parents of Italian descent in Dovercourt, Essex and began his racing career at the age of 24 after the Second World War was over. He proved to be highly adept – and if he had never done anything more than partner Carroll Shelby to Aston Martin’s historic win at Le Mans in 1959, then that would still have been more than enough to make him a hero to fans of the marque.
But there was much more than that famous victory that elevated Salvadori to the status of an Aston Martin legend – including the likelihood that his loyalty to the marque cost him his only real chance to become Formula 1 World Champion.
Not that Roy ever seriously chased the Championship – he was making far too much money staying in England. At a time when a Member of Parliament’s salary was £1000, Roy was often earning more than twenty times that thanks to a £10,000 a year retainer from Esso and his share of the start and prize money with the various teams for which he drove!
Throughout the 1950s, Roy was a busy man, racing most weekends each season and winning as often as not in UK national F1 and F2 events for Connaught, Vanwall, BRM, Aston Martin and Cooper, as well as in privately entered Ferraris and Maseratis. Then there were sports car races with Frazer Nash, the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C-types and, of course, Aston Martin. He even found time to race saloon cars like the Jaguar 3.4.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Roy was one of the best-known and most popular of British racing drivers of the period. And no surprise that he was one of the drivers that Aston Martin team manager Reg Parnell wanted for his 1959 Grand Prix team. The other was Jack Brabham, with whom Roy had driven an Aston Martin DBR1 to second place in the 1958 RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood.
They had also been driving as team-mates in the 1958 Cooper Grand Prix team. And that season had been Roy’s best-ever in Formula 1, when he finished fourth in the World Drivers’ Championship behind Mike Hawthorn’s Ferrari and the Vanwall team of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks. He was the leading driver of a rear-engined car that year, driving what was really a Formula 2 car with its 1500cc Coventry Climax engine bored-out to just under 2 litres to qualify it for the 2500cc F1.
Driving the little underdog, Roy twice made the podium that season, with a second place behind the Vanwall of Tony Brooks in Germany and third place in the British GP at Silverstone behind the Ferraris of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn.
With the promise of a full 2.5-litre engine from Coventry Climax for 1959, John Cooper wanted both Salvadori and Brabham to stay with his team and made an offer which, coupled with that from Aston Martin, presented them with a difficult dilemma. In the end, Brabham took his chances with the new Cooper while Salvadori remained with the Aston Martin team for which he had first driven in 1953.
When the 1959 Formula 1 season started with the Silverstone International Trophy race, the odds seemed pretty much even between the Aston Martin and Cooper F1 teams, though shaded somewhat towards the latter as Brabham won the race with Salvadori second.
After that, however, Brabham’s season got better and better as he went on to win his first World Championship. Salvadori’s, meanwhile, got worse and worse. Sixth places in the British and Portuguese Grands Prix and four retirements made his 1959 Grand Prix season a truly dismal one.
Thankfully, Roy’s sports car season with the Aston DBR1 in 1959 was more rewarding. By mid-year he had scored wins in the sports car races at the Aintree 200 and Silverstone International Trophy meetings as well as at Crystal Palace.
Then came the Le Mans 24 Hours, where he drove to victory with Carroll Shelby, the colourful American with whom he had already won the 1956 12 Hours of Sebring in a DB3S. Their win at Le Mans was a success that, in the eyes of company owner David Brown, more than made up for the failure of the F1 effort. Especially as it was a major contribution towards making Aston Martin the 1959 World Sports Car Champions.
Salvadori’s final works Aston drive came with the team’s swansong in the 1963 Coppa Inter-europa at Monza. This was a World GT Championship round and another of Roy’s most memorable races. Driving the Aston Martin DP214, he battled wheel-to-wheel throughout the three-hour race with Mike Parkes’ works Ferrari GTO until he lost him amongst the backmarkers while cutting through traffic in the final laps.
Aston Martin’s legendary team manager John Wyer regarded it as the finest victory of Salvadori’s career and undoubtedly it was a most fitting way to climax his ten years of faithful service to the marque.
Roy retired from racing in 1965 but remained close to the sport. Very close, in fact. His motorsport career had been rewarding enough for he and his wife Susan (daughter of John Hindmarsh, the 1935 Le Mans winner) to retire to an apartment overlooking the start-finish straight of the Monaco Grand Prix!
After a long and happy retirement, Roy died in June 2012 at the age of 90, barely three weeks after the passing of his 1959 Le Mans-winning Aston team-mate, Carroll Shelby.