HIGHLANDER by Ian Young
lan Young boards one of the great ships in motor racing history, the Ecurie Ecosse transporter
It was quite reliable,” says Stan Sproat. “Only the engine was a disaster; we would be lucky if we got 50mph out of it.” I have to agree with him: even today, shining in the wake of a better-than-new restoration, the official racing transporter of Ecurie Ecosse really doesn’t look up to much. In fact, as I approached this famous bus for the first time in my life, I only barely resisted the impulse to reach into my pocket for a library card.
However, Stan Sproat is in a better position than most to comment. As one of the longest-serving members of Ecurie Ecosse (he joined David Murray and Wilkie Wilkinson in 1952), he travelled all over Europe in the Commer-based carrier, riding shotgun with the late Sandy Arthur at the wheel and a three-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, supercharged two- stroke engine at his feet. Stan’s memories include trips from Scotland to Sicily, and to Sweden, Germany, Belgium — not forgetting the team’s annual tours of the UK circuits.
“To catch the morning ferry at Dover”, Stan recalls, “we would have to leave Scotland in the middle of the night… if the weather was good we would go across the Alps into Italy; if there was snow, then we would go down to the Riviera and along the coastal road. At a rough estimate, we tended to cover about 100 miles every three hours.
“There was only one nasty incident that Stan can remember, and that was on the road to Le Mans in 1962 – with two Tojeiro-Climaxes on the roof: “Sandy slipped up there! We shot across the road – I suppose he left his braking too late – and demolished a garden wall somewhere near Sevenoaks. “Then we had fresh air for the rest of the journey!”
Stan still lives in Edinburgh, and it would be nice if he were re-acquainted with his former travelling workshop: “Our previous carriers were converted touring buses with heavy ramps and cables, this was very light in comparison; I can still remember discussing possible design ideas – I suggested that it should be like the Ferrari transporter, which I particularly liked.”
The final product was the work of aircraft designer and Bentley enthusiast, Selby Howgate, who had recently taken up a position as Design Manager of a large coachbuilding company based in Falkirk called Walter Alexander. According to motoring historian and Ecurie Ecosse authority, Graham Gauld, nobody knows quite how much the transporter cost to build: “Like all engineers who are perfectionists he kept re-designing it, sometimes when the building had started – so his staff had to tear the vehicle apart and start again. The chassis was a basic Commer bus chassis, but specially modified. The frame, floor and bodywork were built of alloy to give as much strength as possible with as little weight.
Today, it belongs to Historic racing enthusiast Dick Skipworth, and the restoration was completed by the Sussex-based company Lynx Motors. Motivation behind such a project seems to centre around the beauty inherent in the beast, and possibly a certain mistimed comment from Skipworth’s wife: “You stupid thing, you don’t want a great big transporter – you want a trailer!” The extensive work has included several ‘modernisations’, all carried out with safety in mind; an important factor since this leviathan has been resurrected for active service.
The trailer itself, for example, had a wooden floor – most of which remains in the Lynx workshop – while the ramps were made of thin-gauge aluminium with a wood-base. Lynx’s John Hay, who was in charge of much of the restoration, shudders at the thought of the accidents that could have happened: “The locking mechanism for the top ramps was a single bolt punched through the side wall of the trailer; we have fitted spring-loaded locks, and there are securing straps for the skids The floor had been replaced with quarter- inch tread plate, held together with some 600 bolts. The hydraulics were also completely overhauled: “That was one hell of a fiddly job!”
There is plenty that remains original, however. The trailer’s vast, cavernous den is lined with the original mahogany strips along each wall, and the same circular lamps and light fittings remain in working order throughout. So much history surrounds this vehicle, one almost expect to see a little sign proclaiming: “These are the lights that Stan Sproat would have used’ – at Le Mans, perhaps, or during the final laps of the Goodwood Nine Hours. Even the Continental bulbs remain, in the same Lucas case; while the Ecurie Ecosse logo on the side of the carrier has been repainted using a tracing from the original, much-faded lettering.
Now it sits behind the pits again, between a pair of rather younger workhorses – the Source Historic Formula I team and Candy Tyrell – and it draws knowing smiles and misty eyes from all corners of the paddock. A peek inside the living area behind the cabin will reveal a few changes from past days. The interior has been made more practical, with everything from bench seats to a wicker basket and a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky, and a pair of framed photographs on the wall. One depicts the Ecurie Ecosse D-type of Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb winning at Le Mans; the other is of the official handing-over of the transporter, from Lord Bruce (President of the Ecurie Ecosse Association) to David Murray. Stan Sproat explains: The cabin was only a box with a bench and a welding clamp we would never sleep in there.”
Sensible active service is the plan; a trip to Le Mans, the Thruxton Anniversary meeting and the Coys Festival at Silverstone – where there should be an opportunity to see a collection of famous racing transporters – are planned. A perfect opportunity for a wonderful, nostalgic re-enactment of the halcyon days of sports car racing, and the perfect physical riposte to a jocular comment made to Dick Skipworth’s son a while ago: “I see your Dad’s re-built a rusty old lorry…” Maybe so, but what a lorry!