Arthur Gill

Arthur Gill

Arthur Gill passed away in November 2008. Here are some thoughts by Jonathan Gill

In some ways it was a miracle that Gill ever made it to the half-litre starting grid, let alone to the 82 years that he lived until his passing in November 2008.

Back in 1950, when aged 24, he survived an horrendous accident when co-driving for Leonard Potter on the Alpine Rally. Nearing the Monte Croce Pass in the north eastern of Italy, Potter lost sight of the mountain road in the swirling dust being thrown up by a Jaguar XK120 that he was trying to pass; he totally missed a corner and plunged off the road and into a 500ft ravine at more than 70mph. Somehow both Gill and Potter escaped with cuts, bruises and the odd broken bone. Their 3-seater V12 Lincoln-engined Allard, though, was quite so lucky – it was totally destroyed. The story then goes that having been rescued from the wreckage, the badly concussed and unconscious Gill woke up a couple of days later in nearby Italian hospital in Tolmezzo to find a priest and nun standing at his bedside – for a minute, he genuinely thought he’d passed through the Pearly Gates!

No longer happy to trust others with his life, a fully recovered Gill then purchased a Cooper Mk IV-JAP and went F3 racing at the start of 1951. He was quickly in the thick of the half-litre action, too, mixing it with the likes of Stirling Moss, Les Leston, Don Parker and Eric Brandon. At what was only his second race meeting, he finished runner up behind Bernard Charles Ecclestone at Brands Hatch (8th April). Gill’s first win came later in his debut season at Brough; more notably, perhaps, he then finished third in the far more competitive Grand Premio de Madrid – a race won by Brandon, the newly crowned F3 champion.

Arthur at Silverstone in 1951

John Cooper was certainly impressed as, at the end of the season, he offered Gill a chance to test in the new prototype Cooper-Bristol. Gill, however, didn’t think he was ready for a step up to F2 after just one season’s racing and, as the history books record, the drive subsequently went to a Mike Hawthorn.

In truth Gill was probably more of a gentleman driver and didn’t want to take his racing too seriously. Back then there was a hot bed of young car enthusiasts frequenting the White Hart in Cobham, Surrey (near Compton House where Gill grew up) and it was here that he not only met Potter but also other racers including Aston racer Eric Thompson, Godfrey Messervey (who built his advanced Jason 500cc car in Gill’s garage) and the influential Robin Richards, later of TV commentary fame. For all of them racing was far more a thrilling post-WW2 pastime than a serious career move.

Arthur after his podium in Madrid

Indeed, Gill used to travel to events with the family butler, Courtney, and their presence in the 500cc paddock wasn’t without its lighter moments. At one meeting Gill was parked next to a newcomer, Peter Jopp, whose car was suffering from transmission troubles. Seeing Joppie’s plight, Courtney was summoned: “pour Mr Jopp a Pimms and then fix his clutch”, was the order. Peter used to recall the moment with a big grin and say he knew he was in the right sport from that moment onwards!

Having turned down the Cooper opportunity, Gill opted to stay in the 500cc scene but for 1952 was persuaded to switch to the new lower and sleeker Mackson chassis being designed by Gordon Bedson and ‘Mac’ McGee. It was, in his words, a dreadful decision. Although Gill managed to finish second in his heat and fifth in the final on the car’s debut at Castle Combe, the Mackson was never a match for its rivals and by midway through 1953, Gill had given up racing to concentrate on family affairs and a new found love for agriculture. Although he purchased a farm initially just to run an expense account, farming quickly took over his life, firstly near Alton in Hampshire and more recently close to Abergavenny on the edge of Wales.

Arthur and the Mackson at Luxembourg, May 1952, Peter Collins follows in the JBS. Photo courtesy Jonathan Gill

Despite this he never lost his love for motor sport, maintaining close links via his active role as a BRDC board member for more than 20 years between 1971 and 1992 and, more socially, via his annual “racing drivers’ shoot” – regular invitees included Jack Sears, Graham Hill, Peter Jopp, Derek Bell, Eric Thompson and a host of other familiar faces and old friends.

Here are some of Arthur's Results

Brands Hatch, 8th April 1951, 3rd in Heat 1 of the Junior Championship, 2nd in the Final

Brands Hatch, 21st April 1951, 3rd in Heat 1 for the Open Challenge Race

Brands Hatch, 24th June 1951, 3rd in Heat 1 for the Open Challenge Race, 3rd in Heat 2 of the International Trophy

Ibsley, 4th August 1951, 4th in Heat 1

Silverstone, 18th August 1951, 5th in the Commander Yorke Trophy

Brough, 7th October 1951, 1st in Heat 1 for the Handicap Race, 1st in the Final

Retiro Park, Madrid, 21st October 1951, 3rd

Castle Combe, 12th April 1952, 2nd in Heat 1, 5th in the Final

Ibsley, 18th April 1953, 4th in Heat 1, 5th in the Final