Richard “Dick” Seaman was a young Englishman, in love with motor racing and with substantial family wealth behind him to support his enthusiasms. His mother had even given him a country house for his 20th birthday! Dick Seaman started racing in 1934 with an MG K3 Magnette and won his third race, the voiturette category support race for the Swiss Grand Prix at Bern. After another two years of outstanding success in ever-faster machinery, Seaman was noticed by Alfred Neubauer, the team manager of Mercedes-Benz, and was invited to race for them in 1937.
In this rare prewar color photograph (The ASA speed of color film was then 8!) Dick Seaman is driving a Mercedes W154 at the 1938 Swiss Grand Prix where he set the fastest time in practice and then in the race, probably following team orders, ran second to his team leader Rudolf Caracciola. This race was just a month after Seaman had stunned the racing world by winning the German Grand Prix on the challenging Nürburgring circuit. At this point Seaman was the fastest of all the Grand Prix drivers. However, his then enthusiasm for Germany and some of the policies of Hitler, plus his marriage to Erica Popp whose father was the head of BMW, began to raise some questions in Britain.
On June 25, 1939 Seaman was leading the Belgian Grand Prix with his Mercedes on the ultra-fast circuit at Spa-Francorchamps in wet conditions when he made a small mistake, slid off the road and crashed into a tree, rupturing a fuel pipe. Seaman, knocked unconscious, was very badly burned in the resulting fire. Although he would come round later in time to tell his shocked wife, “I am afraid you must go to the cinema alone after all,” he was in great pain and died during the night. He was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London where each year thereafter a large wreath of flowers has been left by Mercedes-Benz on the anniversary of his death.
There is a superb book about Dick Seaman, “Dick & George: The Seaman Monkhouse Letters 1936-1939” by Doug Nye (Palawan Press, 2002) which is well worth reading.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection