Leslie Johnson (racing driver)

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Leslie Johnson (racing driver) : biography

March 22, 1912 – June 8, 1959
  • DNF, Grand Prix du Salon, Montlhéry. Lap record and pole position, but the fuel tank split in the race.
  • DNF, British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Autosport magazine reported that he posted fastest lap in the opening practice session, "good enough for Johnson to be a front row man, and a potential winner!" He was 5th on the starting grid. In the race, de Graffenried’s Maserati 4CL was fastest off the line. Before Woodcote, the first corner, Chiron’s Talbot-Lago T26C took the lead, followed by Parnell’s Maserati 4CLT and Johnson’s ERA. Entering Woodcote, Johnson drew level with Chiron. Then there was a "crash and a bang"’ and the ERA "rolled to a standstill . . . leaving a trail of flame and smoke in its wake." A driveshaft universal joint had failed.
  • 5th and fastest lap (shared with Parnell’s 4CLT Maserati), British Empire Trophy.

1949 saw three promising results from five entries:

  • DNF, British Grand Prix, Silverstone — Britain’s first World Championship Grand Prix.
  • 5th, Richmond Trophy, Goodwood.
  • 3rd, Chichester Trophy.
  • 3rd, British Empire Trophy, despite broken rear shock-absorbers.
  • DNS, Jersey Road Race. Second fastest to Italian champion Luigi Villoresi’s Maserati in practice, but engine bearing failure kept the car out of the race.

But in 1950 Johnson again found himself repeatedly sidelined by the car’s unreliability:

  • DNF, British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Started from the fourth row. The supercharger disintegrated after two laps and the car caught fire.

Other outings ended in steering failure and another split fuel tank.

Johnson’s ambitious and technically advanced E-Type successor, the G-Type ERA, was designed to race in both Grands Prix and Formula 2. The anticipated development funds did not materialize, and the car was unsuccessful even in the hands of Stirling Moss.

In 1951 Johnson was to have driven the new 600 bhp V16 BRM in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but he was unable to reach the circuit in time for a pre-race test session in the very early morning. Hans Stuck took the drive but the car blew up in practice and did not race.Ludwigsen, Karl (2007). BRM V16, p. 59. Veloce Publishing. ISBN 1-84584-037-2.

Record-breaking

Johnson set numerous world records with Jaguar and Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine sports cars at the Autodrome de Montlhéry, the banked oval track near Paris; most notably:

  • 1950: 107.46 mph for 24 hours, including stops for fuel and tyres, in Johnson’s Jaguar XK120 roadster JWK 651; co-driver Stirling Moss. The first time a production car had averaged over 100 mph for 24 hours. Johnson and Moss, driving in three-hour shifts, covered 2579.16 miles, with a best lap of 126.2 mph.
  • 1951: 131.83 miles in one hour, with a best lap of 134.43 mph; Johnson solo with the XK120. "No mean feat…driving at almost twice today’s maximum (UK) speed limit into a steep turn, assaulted by the g-force induced by 30 degree banking twice every minute, using Forties technology, leaf spring suspension and narrow crossply tyres…Johnson remarked that the car felt so good it could have gone on for another week, an off-the-cuff comment that sowed the seed for another idea. Flat out for a week…
  • 1952: 100.31 mph for 7 days and 7 nights; Jaguar XK120 coupé; co-drivers Stirling Moss, Bert Hadley and Jack Fairman.

For the week-long 1952 marathon Jaguar’s founder, mindful of the considerable kudos and advertising mileage that had already accrued from Johnson’s efforts, commandeered a brand new gold-colored XK120 FHC for him: it was Jaguar chief engineer Walter Hassan’s car, the second right-hand drive coupé made.

Moss recalled:

"…in mid-summer Leslie Johnson had another of his ideas. Having averaged 100mph for 24 hours at Montlhery he now talked Jaguar into attempting 100mph for a week!…We again drove in three-hour spells. The speedbowl lap was under a minute at 120mph, so it was quite a strain. After each straight we hit the banking high up near the lip, then plunged off, twice every fifty seconds, night and day. In each spell we would cover about 2000 laps. It was impossible to keep one’s mind occupied on a job like that. We had a two-way radio which helped keep boredom at bay. We talked all the time, called each other names, even told stories. One dare not let the mind wander, because we were running within four feet of the banking lip at around 120mph. One had to concentrate on something. I worked out how many million revs the engine made in a day, how many times the wheels turned, things like that.