A young Anglo-Portuguese racing enthusiast, Abecassis started competing in club events in 1933, where he discovered his passion for speed. He would soon become one of British motorsport’s fastest rising stars and in turn, helped to catapult Stirling Moss into the F1 spotlight as part of the successful HWM works team. However, the car that started it all was the 1937 Alta Supercharged Voiturette Racing Single-Seater – one of just three cars of its kind – which Abecassis purchased in 1938 and raced to great success.
The car, chassis number 61 IS, was originally developed by Geoffrey Taylor’s Alta Engineering company for aspiring driver Philip Jucker, who was due to take it to the Isle of Man for the RAC International 1 ½-litre race. During practice, Jucker lost control of the car and crashed into a pole on the Douglas seafront – sadly losing his life.
The car came back to England where Taylor decided to try and find another customer for it. Abecassis spoke to him and offered to buy it, asking Taylor to rebuild it as well. Taylor agreed and Abecassis purchased 61 IS for £415 – a quarter of the price of an ERA. He made his debut in the Alta at the 1938 Brooklands Opening Meeting and at the following Easter meeting, earned his first race win.
Abecassis proceeded to dominate the British motorsport scene in the Alta throughout 1938, setting course records at Prescott Speed Hill Climb, earning top prizes at the Lewes Speed Trials and placing on the podium at Brooklands. And at Crystal Palace, he beat several stalwarts of the era, including Prince Bira, to claim the Imperial Trophy, establishing Abecassis as one of British motorsport’s fastest-rising stars.
When war struck in 1939, Abecassis put racing on hold and joined the Royal Air Force, where he became a bomber pilot. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a squadron leader, earning himself a reputation as a fine pilot and good instructor. On 7 October 1944, he was shot down on a mission over Denmark, and although his co-pilot was instantly killed, Abecassis managed to safely land the burning plane and save the lives of the rest of his crew. Although four members of his crew returned to Britain safely, Abecassis was captured and spent the next seven months as a POW – first in Stalag Luft III then at Stalag IIIA in Luckenwalde. When Stalag IIIA was turned over to British control, Abecassis escaped and returned home, where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As soon as Europe was at peace, he was desperate to get back on the race track. With business partner John Heath, he created HW Motors Limited, whose successful works team thrust Stirling Moss into the F1 spotlight. Abecassis continued to campaign 61 IS throughout the 1940s, earning a class win at Shelsley Walsh and taking part in the 1946 Grand Prix des Nations. For the Grand Prix des Nations, he created a new tail for the Alta, removed its headrest and painted it green, and although he reached the final with the car, Abecassis chose to sell it on 1947 in favour of newer, faster machines.
Abecassis’ legendary Alta now belongs to Ian Baxter, who coveted 61 IS for almost twenty years after narrowly missing out on purchasing it at auction. He purchased another car to campaign in between, and when the car resurfaced at auction recently, he wasn’t going to let it get away again.
The Alta had been undergoing an extensive restoration before it went to auction, but sadly, the death of the previous owner had left the car unfinished. Ian was determined to get it into shape for the next hill climb season, and after just 18 months, had it ready to compete in a number of different events – including the inaugural Chateau Impney Hill Climb.
“The car hadn’t been racing since about 1992, and a succession of owners had been trying to restore it for many years – myself included,” said Ian.
“The Alta had eight meetings last year and the list of things that needed tweaking just kept growing. We had to stop at August and strip the thing down again. But I have hope that this season will be longer than the last one.”
Much like Abecassis, Ian has taken 61 IS to a number of sprints and hill climbs, where he hopes that the car will live up to its spectacular pedigree.
“When George Abecassis had it, the car had 38 starts pre-war – out of those, it was on the podium 12 times and finished first on eight different occasions, so it had the capability of showing the ERAs the way home, especially at a hill climb,” continued Ian. “I beat a couple at Chateau Impney last year so that’s spurred me on to take on the rest!”
Rod Spollon, event director of the Chateau Impney Hill Climb, is thrilled to welcome a car with such impressive history back for the 2016 event: “At the inaugural Hill Climb, Ian certainly brought the spirit of Abecassis with him as he battled valiantly against five different ERAs, each as competitive as they were in that pre-war period.”
“Following a winter of hard work to make sure the car is fighting fit for 2016, we look forward to following Ian and the Alta throughout the season and have no doubt that Ian will be bringing a real competitive edge to the Chateau.”