Leslie Johnson (racing driver) : biography
Leslie George Johnson (22 March 1912 – 8 June 1959) was a British racing driver who competed in rallies, hill climbs, sports car races and Grand Prix races.
Review of competition career
Key: FTD fastest time of the day; DNF did not finish; DNS did not start
Johnson’s involvement in motor sport began and ended with rallying. Results included:
- 1937: Winner, Scottish Rally. Winner, Torquay Rally, BMW 328.
- 1938: 3rd, RAC Rally, BMW 328.
- 1939: 3rd, RAC Rally, BMW 328.
- 1952: 3rd, RAC Rally, Jaguar XK120. Later disqualified after a protest for running without rear spats, despite the scrutineers having noted and agreed their removal.
- 1953: Winner, Team Prize, Monte Carlo Rally, with Stirling Moss and Jack Imhof, Sunbeam-Talbot Mk. IIAs.
- 1954: Winner, Team Prize, Monte Carlo Rally, with Stirling Moss and Sheila van Damm, Sunbeam-Talbot Mk. IIAs. Johnson suffered a serious heart attack during the rally but insisted on his co-drivers completing the event (to secure the Team Prize) before taking him to the Monte Carlo hospital that saved his life.
Johnson competed in numerous British hill climbs in 1946. Notable results included:
- First and second, Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb International meeting June 1; Talbot-Lago T150C and BMW 328. John Eason Gibson reported: “It was noticeable that Johnson was one of the select few who deliberately slid their cars into the swerves, in preference to waiting for a centrifugally inspired slide to compel them to dice a bit…the high praise poured on Johnson by Sommer and Chiron, for his driving at Brussels, has been confirmed elsewhere.”
- 4th and 5th, Bugatti Owners Club Prescott Speed Hill Climb June 23; Talbot-Lago and BMW 328.
- 2nd, Bugatti Owners Club Prescott Speed Hill Climb July 28; Talbot-Lago.
- First, FTD and course record, Scottish Sporting Club Bo’ness Speed Hill Climb September 7; Talbot-Lago. Achieved on his first acquaintance with the course.
- 3rd in class (to Sydney Allard’s Allard), Jersey Motor Club Bouley Bay Speed Hill Climb October 17; Talbot-Lago.Motor Sport, December 1946, Page 284.
Racing: sports cars
Johnson’s early races were with a BMW 328 and a Talbot-Lago T150C sports-racing car. Louis Chiron had driven the latter to victory in the 1937 French Grand Prix. Johnson fitted extra fuel tanks in the tail and cockpit for long-distance racing.
- 1946: 2nd overall and fastest lap, Brussels International Sports Car Race, Spa; BMW. The Motor reported his performance as that of "a budding Dick Seaman" and added: "Sommer and Chiron danced with fiendish glee as Johnson took the esses in a single controlled slide. Chiron said he had the flair of Nuvolari. Sommer, inarticulate with emotion, kissed the poor chap."Maréchal, Christian: "Learning Curves" Classic and Sportscar June 1966 p.92
- 1948: Winner, Spa 24 Hours; prototype Aston Martin shared with St. John Horsfall. Aston Martin’s first postwar victory.
- 3rd, Spa 24 Hours; Aston Martin DB2, partnered by Charles Brackenbury.
- Winner, Silverstone National Allcomers Race; Bentley 8 Litre owned by Forrest Lycett
His name is closely associated with Jaguar; particularly the XK120 model. The extraordinary competition history of his white car, road-registered as JWK 651, made it the world’s most valuable XK120 when it sold at auction for £230,000 ($350,000) in 2001.
His various successes with XK120s included the model’s first-ever victories in Europe and the United States:
- 1949: Winner, Daily Express International Sports Car Race, Silverstone, the XK120’s first race, after an early collision with a spinning Jowett Javelin dropped Johnson to fifth.
- 1950: Winner in class, 4th overall, Palm Beach Shores, Florida, SCCA sports car race – the XK120’s first American race – despite losing the brakes.Porter, Philip (1998). Jaguar Sports Racing Cars, p.14. Bay View Books. ISBN 1-901432-21-1 Johnson was granted an American racing licence for the event, as his entry was not sanctioned by the RAC, and the Jaguar was unmodified from standard specification. Jim McCraw wrote, “In rain and high winds, the Jaguar finished fourth in a race that included three giants of American sports-car racing – Briggs Cunningham in a Cadillac-Healey, second; Phil Walters in a Healey, fifth; and Miles Collier in a Riley-Ford, sixth. Sam Collier finished eighth in one of the XK 120s, and Bill Spear DNF’d with no brakes in the third car.” The success launched Jaguar in the U.S. market.