1951 HWM Alta

By Guy Jenner

As featured elsewhere on our website, HWM has a remarkable racing history that hit peak productivity in the first half of the 1950’s.We were a team that punched well above our weight on the Grand Prix scene and only reduced our racing activity after the death of one of our founders, John Heath. Sadly, John lost his life racing a HWM two seater sports car in the 1956 Mille Miglia road race.

Nevertheless, despite not actively racing since the late 1950’s, we still own one of our HWM single seat race cars. It is a 1951 HWM Alta, a model that was campaigned across the 1951 and 1952 season.

Having gained considerable success on the racing circuits of Europe with our offset F2/sports car chassis, HWM made the switch to real single-seaters, and in the Walton-on-Thames works five cars were built. Lead drivers were 21-year-old Stirling Moss and Lance Macklin, and during the 1951 season HWMs scored seven wins, seven seconds and ten thirds. At the end of the season one of the five was sold to Australia, where it still resides, and three were later converted by the works into Jaguar-powered sports cars. Our HWM race car is the only 1951 single-seater that remains in its original form.

The engine is the four-cylinder twin-cam Alta unit, driving through a pre-selector gearbox, with independent suspension by coils and wishbones at the front and trailing quarter-elliptics and de Dion tube at the rear. The driver sits with one leg each side of the gearbox, with the throttle and the brake on the right and the gearchange pedal for the pre-selector on the left. The gear selector is on the steering column. The aluminium body was made by a local firm, Leacroft, and turned out in HWM's works colours of metallic light green.

After the works sold this car it was raced by amateur drivers Ted Whiteaway and Alan Mann. It was the last HWM to enter for a World Championship F1 race, the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix – it didn't qualify – and the last to run in any F1 race, the 1957 Naples Grand Prix. In the 1970s and 1980s it was raced in historic events by Ray Potter, and it became a works car again when it was purchased by our long-time chairman, Mike Harting. Mike sadly passed away in March 2021 at 90 years old. He loved this car and spent many wonderful days racing it.

We are proud to still own the HWM Alta and continue to use it when we can. It is often entered into the Goodwood Revival and normally continues the tradition of both being the plucky under-dog with some wonderful performances and the odd challenging mechanical issue, which is all part of the experience. With a life that has lasted with little interruption for over 70 years, we will continue to cherish this wonderful piece of our racing history.