DRIVERS: GEORGE ABECASSIS

Name: George Abecassis
Nationality: Great Britain
Date of birth: March 21, 1913 - Chertsey, Surrey
Date of death: December 18, 1991 - Ibstone

Abecassis was British, although his name may suggest a more exotic background. In fact he was born in 1913 in the comfortable London suburb of Chertsey in Surrey, just down the road from the great oval at Brooklands. Racing quickly captured Abecassis's attention and at the age of 22 he began to compete in a modified Austin Seven. But it was only when he got his hands on one of Geoffrey Taylor's Altas, built in nearby Tolworth, that he began to make a name for himself - and for the Alta company.

Abecassis really hit the headlines in 1939 when he won the Imperial Trophy Formula Libre race in 1939. Unfortunately his career was then interrupted by the war. Abecassis joined the Royal Air Force and became a pilot. He ended up as one of the elite group of pilots working with the Moon Squadrons, secret units which flew to and from Occupied France, taking and collecting secret agents.

After the war Abecassis went back to racing, initially competing in the old pre-war machinery, but then decided to go into business with John Heath of Hersham and Walton Motors in Surrey. This company started out building an Alta-engined sports car in 1948 and this was followed by a second machine which could be raced in either open-wheeler or sports car specifications. Heath drove this to victory in the Manx Cup in 1949 and to second place at the GP de l'ACF at Comminges the same year.

The company expanded in 1950 into Formula 2 and gave a young driver called Stirling Moss his first outings in Formula 1. The team tended to go from European event to European event and there were a variety of drivers used. The first victory went to Johnny Claes in the GP of Chimay in Belgium. Abecassis drove in several Grands Prix but the team relied more and more on Moss and another youngster called Lance Macklin. Abecassis also raced sports cars for Aston Martin with some success, winning his class with Macklin at Le Mans.

There were lighter and faster F2 HWMs for 1951 which made them more competitive and there was a similar step forward in 1952 when the World Championship switched to Formula 2 regulations. Moss had moved on but Abecassis and Heath found another youngster called Peter Collins and once again HWM tried to take on the big European teams with occasional successes such as Macklin's victory in the International Trophy. But HWM struggled for budget and there was no money to build new cars in 1953. Abecassis continued his own career and finished second in the Sebring 12 Hours, partnered by Reg Parnell.

With new F1 regulations in 1954 HWM tried to build a new Grand Prix challenger with a 2.5-litre version of the Alta engine but this was not a success and HWM decided to concentrate on sports car racing. There were a few minor successes but disaster struck in 1956 when Heath was killed on the Mille Miglia. Abecassis decided to give up racing and concentrate on running the business and by the end of the 1950s HWM had disappeared from the racing scene. Abecassis later married the daughter of Aston Martin's chairman Sir David Brown and ran a successful business for many years before retiring.

He died in 1991 at the age of 78.

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