“Le Papillon”

Homage to Mike Hawthorn, Britain’s first Formula 1 World Champion

The January 22 anniversary of Mike Hawthorn’s death is usually marked with relatively modest fanfare, especially considering that he was Britain’s first Formula 1 world champion and that he died so young. Having retired from racing after the 1958 season, he was killed in a road accident in his beloved Jaguar 3.4 just months later, aged 29, perhaps dicing with team manager Rob Walker’s Gullwing.

There’s a small memorial marking the crash site on the Hog’s Back section of the A31, just south of Guildford, but the true shrine to Mike Hawthorn is further afield, at Nigel Webb’s private museum of Hawthorn artifacts. It’s occasionally opened up to Jaguar club members, and you may have seen mention of it over the years – but rarely does Nigel throw open the doors like this.

The collection is a true labor of love, dating back over forty years, as Nigel explains. “In 1979 I was working as a flight engineer and making a reasonable amount of money, so I bought a house and then decided I wanted to buy another car. My dad, who was born in the 1920s and was a Hawthorn fan, suggested, ‘Get yourself to Browns Lane and do a thesis on Hawthorn’s Mk1.’ So I did, and they were really helpful, but they said I should talk to Lofty [England, the revered former Jaguar engineer and manager].

“Lofty had retired by then, and he assumed I was a journalist – he didn’t like journalists – but the Browns Lane people contacted him and said: ‘This guy’s a nut, he really wants to build this Mk1.’ So I went to Austria to visit Lofty. I thought he might be against it, but he was really keen on the idea.”

The further Nigel delved into the project, the more he realized how well-loved Hawthorn had been by the general public, and that encouraged his own interest, passion and “thrill of the chase.” At a local plating company, the owner recognized the bumpers Nigel had brought in as MkI Jaguar items and mentioned Hawthorn even before Nigel had explained what he was up to. The chromer then offered to replate all the trim for free because “he was my hero.”

This admiration for Hawthorn, and for Nigel’s project, became a running theme – at least, in most cases… “A few women slammed the door in my face when I asked if they were connected with Mike Hawthorn, saying: ‘He shagged my daughter!’”

Despite those setbacks, the project to build the Hawthorn replica Jag cemented Nigel’s interest in – and admiration for – the racer, and he began to look out for more memorabilia. Forty years on, he still has that Mk1, along with Hawthorn’s Le Mans-winning D-type, a replica Tourist Trophy Garage van, several steering wheels and hundreds of items of poignant memorabilia – including the few remaining personal effects that weren’t destroyed by Hawthorn’s distraught mother after his death.

It’s said that when Sir Stirling Moss visited a few years back, he took one look around and exclaimed: “No one’s done this for me!” And that’s a good point.

Cap and keyring

Hawthorn’s trademark corduroy cap and personalized Tourist Trophy Garage keyring came via racer Duncan Hamilton. He and Hawthorn were great friends, and they made a pact that if either one was killed racing, then the other would identify the body rather than their mothers having to do so. After Mike’s death, Hamilton duly identified him, and as a thank-you Mike’s mother gave him the cap and keyring.

Steering wheels

Hawthorn insisted on driving with a four-spoke wheel, and kept several of them. The TT Garage secreted these away after Hawthorn’s death to avoid his mother destroying them. They include: the wheel most used during his 1957-58 Ferrari stint, fitted to the 246 Dino in the Moroccan GP that secured his World Championship; the remains of the wheel from when his Ferrari 625 turned over in Syracuse in 1954; the Lotus XI wheel damaged when Mike and Colin Chapman collided at Goodwood in 1956; and the wheel from his early Riley Imp race car.

BRDC Gold Star

Since 1928, the BRDC has awarded Gold Stars – initially just one a year, but that soon became several a year, for both “outstanding performance” and on a points-earned basis for both track and road racing. Hawthorn earned two – the first (pictured here) for his initial season with Ferrari, and the second for his World Championship win in 1958.

Alarm clock

This went everywhere with Mike. At the time of his death, it – along with a watch, a few pipes, an ashtray and some coat-hangers – was at his girlfriend Jean Howarth’s flat, and so escaped being destroyed by Winifred, Mike’s mother, who had always struggled to deal with the press attention her son received. Upon his death she demanded that all his possessions were brought to her, whereupon she burnt them on a huge bonfire. Jean Howarth had met Mike in 1958 and the two were due to marry, which they had planned to officially announce on his birthday in April 1959. Jean later married racing driver Innes Ireland, with whom Mike had been great friends.

Dorrie Parker

Mike Hawthorn met Dorrie Parker in around 1955 at a petrol station where she worked as a pump attendant – and he continued to see her until his death, unbeknownst to girlfriend Jean Howarth. This portrait of Dorrie was found in the Mk1’s boot.

A few years ago, Dorrie donated to the collection one of Hawthorn’s bow ties which he’d been known to wear while racing – earning him the nickname in France of “Le Papillon,”  the butterfly – and a pendant in the shape of an Arabian khanjar knife, which Hawthorn had bought in a Casablanca souk while there for the Moroccan Grand Prix.

Jaguar D-type

Mike joined Jaguar for 1955, winning that year’s fateful Le Mans 24 Hours in the long-nose D-type, chassis XKD 505, running the Coventry trade-plate registration 774 RW.

The car was later crashed, and the owner of another D-type, XKD 504, bought XKD 505’s damaged frame to repair his own car. By the late 1970s, restoration techniques had improved to the point that specialist Chris Keith-Lucas was able to repair and reinstall the original XKD 504 frame. This allowed a new car to be built around the original XKD 505 frame using genuine parts – and that’s the car you see here.

Royal Automobile Club plaque

There is no shortage of 1958 Formula 1 World Championship memorabilia in the collection, and this is one of the nicest pieces, depicting St. Christopher, the RAC crest, Great Britain and the inscription “JM Hawthorn First British World Champion Driver.” The Formula 1 World Championship had begun in 1947 and by 1958 it was easily the most important motor racing worldwide – which meant the kudos in winning the championship was immense.

Jaguar hip flask

There’s a lot more memorabilia for Jaguar than for any other marque in the collection. That may be because Nigel Webb is first and foremost a Jaguar man, but also because the marque was a huge part of Hawthorn’s life, and it’s known that he felt more relaxed racing Jaguar sports cars than any single-seaters. This hip flask is one of several Jaguar pieces that belonged to Mike, and it’s unusual for its engraving of the D-type on the front.

World Championship trophy

This is all that’s left of Hawthorn’s 1958 trophy, secured by just one point over Stirling Moss. This is the top of the trophy, decorated with four cars cast in bronze. It would have been supported by four columns extending from a circular base. It’s truly moving to think of Hawthorn holding the trophy in celebration just months before his death.