Motoring | Features

The legendary Roy Salvadori

With his good looks and charismatic personality, Roy Salvadori was a favourite with motorsport fans, but he failed in finding favour with good fortune on the F1 track

  • By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor, wheels
  • Published: 00:00 June 22, 2012
  • Wheels

Roy Salvadori
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Roy Salvadori made his Formula 1 debut behind the wheel of a Ferrari 500 at the 1952 British Grand Prix.

If you were an active motorsport enthusiast in the Fifties, you'd be considered the luckiest, as you had the chance of seeing all-time greats like Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss in action. But if you were a talented racing driver during the same period trying to make a mark in the world of Formula 1, then you'd be considered the unluckiest, as you'd be up against competition that included these two driving legends. One such highly talented, but unfortunate driver, was Roy Salvadori, who passed away a couple of weeks back, aged 90.

Born in Essex to parents of Italian descent, Salvadori joined his father's refrigeration business before opening his own car dealerships in London and Surrey. This brought him in constant contact with cars, and he eventually bought a 2.9-litre Alfa Romeo P3 for himself, which was previously owned by Italian racing driver Tazio Nuvolari. In 1947, he entered his newly acquired sportscar in the Grand Prix des Frontières in Belgium and finished fifth despite some mechanical troubles. Notwithstanding a series of crashes involving a Maserati and a Fraser Nash, Salvadori persisted with motor racing and worked his way up to Formula 1.

He made his Formula 1 debut behind the wheel of a Ferrari 500 at the 1952 British Grand Prix. He was signed on by the Connaught team, but misfortune followed him in the 1953 season as he had to retire from all the five grands prix he drove in. From 1954 to 1956 he drove a Maserati 250F for Sidney Greene's Gilby Engineering team, taking a succession of good placings in non-championship Formula 1 events.

In 1957 he joined the BRM team, but failed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix. This led him to turn his attention to racing Aston Martin sportscars and Cooper F2 cars. The works Cooper team invited Salvadori to race for them in the 1958 season, which also turned out to be his best. Driving Cooper's two-litre cars, he came fourth in the drivers' championship, after coming second in Germany and finishing third in the British Grand Prix.

The highest point in his career came the next year when, teaming up with the legendary Carroll Shelby, Salvadori drove an Aston Martin DBR1 to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He returned to Le Mans in 1960 in another Aston DBR1, driving alongside Jimmy Clark, to finish third behind two Ferraris.

However, his bad luck on the Formula 1 track continued. In the 1961 US Grand Prix, he was in hot pursuit of the leading Lotus in the closing stages when an engine failure forced him out of competition, and a year later a high speed crash in Australia led him to finally retire from Formula 1 altogether, with 47 starts but not a single title. He continued to race sports and touring cars until 1965, after which he had a short stint at managing the Cooper F1 team. He then went back to selling cars and retired to a flat overlooking the Monte Carlo Grand Prix finishing straight, watching generations of young drivers achieving his unfulfilled dream.

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