The Celebrity Race

This is a lovely late spring day at Silverstone with the sky details beautifully caught by Tom March’s camera. Note also the crowd sitting on the grass along Hangar Straight with absolutely no protection from an errant racing car.

This was the May 10, 1952 International Daily Express Trophy Meeting at Silverstone where there was a sort of racing celebrity exhibition event which was called The Race of the Champions. This was a format which would be used as a spectator attraction at various races down the years to come.

These three cars formed the tail end part of the field, which consisted of six Jaguar XK120s which had been supplied by Jaguar Cars Ltd. Here they approach the right-hand very quick Stowe Corner at the end of Hangar Straight. The leading car is being driven by Prince Bira for the five lap affair. Bira was joined by Stirling Moss, Baron Emanuel “Tulio” de Graffenreid, Paul Pietsch, Tony Gaze and Johnnie Claes. Moss went off to win, as expected, followed by de Graffenreid. It was interesting that all these XK120s were left hand drive – destined no doubt for the American market – which some of the drivers may have found off-putting. Indeed, when cornering these XK120s displayed the extreme body roll of the standard production car when pressed into racing service.

Baron De Graffenreid was a very popular Swiss “gentleman driver” who had real racing ability, having won the 1949 British Grand Prix in his Maserati 4CLT/48 at this same circuit. Paul Pietsch was a journalist and publisher from Germany who had driven Grand Prix cars with respectable results both before and after the War. Tony Gaze, from Australia, had been a fighter pilot during the War and then raced a mixture of sports and formula cars into the mid-1950s. Octave Jonathan “Johnnie” Claes was British by birth but moved to Belgium and raced as a Belgian, often partnering with Jacques Swaters the local Ferrari importer. Claes played the trumpet and had a band called Clay Pigeons during the 1940s. Then he took up motor racing and became one of four drivers to start every race of the first two F1 championship seasons. He also raced sports cars, finishing third at Le Mans in 1955 with a Jaguar D-Type.

This was the fourth race and the fourth win of the day for the indefatigable Moss. He had begun by winning the F. III race with his Kieft-Norton 500 and then the Touring Car Race with a Jaguar Mk. VII, followed by another Jaguar win with a C-Type in the Production Sports Car Race.

Photo by Tom March ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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  1. Ah, racing in the ’50s. But, so dangerous for the unsuspecting spectators. 30 feet from the speeding racers with nothing like the herculean strength we had with our protective snow fences. Wonderful period piece.


  2. Jim sitz · · Reply

    So pleased to see comment on new Jaguar XK 120
    as dollar earner, The US Air Force fly boys did buy
    them in England and raced them.

    .so many journalist claim it was MG TC that
    Yanks in UK bought from World War
    but i doubt this and yet to learn of anybody who did so.!

    jim sitz


  3. Many thanks to both of you for your comments. I though it was an unimportant image but one that gave a wonderful impression of another time in racing.


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