Martin Tomlinson: The Art of Racing

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 09/2016
  • posted in: Great Garages

Martin Tomlinson has had many, many brushes with the racing world.

The English artist has exhibited paintings at Silverstone, Le Mans, Goodwood Festival of Speed and in London’s West End. He’s also had wheel time, too, at Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Snetterton and Llandow during his long career in motorsports. He lives just outside of Duxford, England, a site of an Imperial War Museum branch, with its many historic planes and artifacts.

His limited-edition prints have been signed by great drivers Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Chris Amon and Roy Salvadori and others, and his works are and have been owned by industry celebrities such as John Surtees, four-time 500cc motorcycle World Champion, the only man ever to win World Champion- ships on two (seven times) and four wheels (once); Zak Brown, who has the world’s largest motorsport marketing agency; Theo Paphitis, retailer and entrepreneur; and Carroll Shelby.

H&H Classics, the specialist auto auction house based in Warrington, Cheshire, invites him into its events eight times annually to paint and sketch before and during each sale.

“We are delighted to have Martin Tomlinson as our artist in residence. All of us who love cars have fallen in love with them originally through our eyes. The sheer beauty of the best car design will stand the test of time,” says Simon Hope, chairman of H&H for 23 years.

His racing passion started up when he went to an auto-related meeting at the Crystal Palace in London during the early 1950s. More than six decades later, Martin recently drove us into his “gallery” and chatted:

•Carroll Shelby –– In 1996, Tomlinson was commissioned to paint five cars connected with Carroll Shelby. He completed a limited-edition print for each painting; each was signed by Shelby and the driver depicted in the painting.

These were a Cobra (Phil Hill), Ford MkII (Chris Amon); Daytona Coupe (Bob Bondurant); Mustang 350GT (Stirling Moss); and Aston Martin DBR1 (Roy Salvadori).

Sales of the prints were donated to The Shelby Foundation which raises money for medical research. Shelby suffered from heart problems since childhood; these curtailed his extraordinary racing career.

“As a result of this project, I got to know Carroll well and talked of many things including his war years flying P51 Mustangs, his time travelling in Africa and obviously racing and the characters in it,” Tomlinson recalls. “I also got to meet (except Bondurant) the drivers as they signed the prints.”

•1964 Shelby Cobra Roadster –– The legendary American racer is powered by the Ford 289-cid V-8, with 271 brake horsepower and a top speed of 185 mph.

Tomlinson’s painting depicts Phil Hill leaving the village of Cerda in the 1964 Targa Florio race in Sicily. Hill and his co-driver retired with suspension problems.

“To me the scene is almost one of a throwback to earlier times even than 1964,” he explains. “Classic road racing had almost been consigned to history by the mid-sixties and to have seen a car such as this, driven by a World Champion, must have made the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand up!”

Hill liked the painting, he says, calling it “nice work,” when they met at a Silverstone race meeting. “We talked of art and music –– a man of great culture,” he recalls.

“Some time later we met again at the Goodwood Festival of Speed where he was able to drive a sports racing Ferrari up the hill in a manner which belied his age.”

•1966 Ford GT MkII –– The “Ferrari slayer” has the 427 Ford V-8, rated at 485 bhp with a top speed of 210 mph.

This painting shows Chris Amon, who with fellow New Zealander Bruce McLaren won the 1966 Le Mans 24 hours. The car was prepared and entered by Shelby American. “The win ended six years of Ferrari victories at the event and must have brought an even larger grin to Shelby’s face,” Tomlinson says.

In 1958, when Shelby first arrived in Europe, he befriended Italian Ferrari driver Luigi Musso. “Enzo Ferrari used to play psychological games with his drivers, often putting them under unnecessary pressure and encouraging them to greater risk-taking,” he says.

“At the French Grand Prix that year held on the ultra-fast Rheims circuit, the pressure was on Musso. On the 10th lap, he summersaulted into a ditch and was killed challenging for the lead.”

Shelby realized the pressure that his friend had endured and vowed to get even with Ferrari. That took a few years, but he did it in 1965 when his Daytona Coupes beat Ferrari to win the 1965 World GT Championship. “And to rub salt in Ferrari’s wound, he beat them at Le Mans in 1966,” Tomlinson adds.

•1962 Lotus 25 –– Powered by a Coventry Climax V-8, with just 91 cubic inches, the Colin Chapman-produced car had 195 bhp with a top speed of 185 mph.

The Lotus 25 was the mainstay of Team Lotus for the 1962−1964 F1 seasons. In 29 Grand Prix starts, the great Jim Clark won 13 times, had 18 pole positions and set the 15 fastest laps, Tomlinson says.

His painting shows Clark winning the British GP at the Aintree circuit on July 21, 1962. “In typical Clark style, from pole position he led throughout and set the fastest lap on the way.”

“Such a great driver, with a very modest disposition,” adds Tomlinson, who first met Clark at a ‘clubbie’ event at the Full Sutton circuit.

•1954 Ferrari Tipo 555 –– Also known as the ‘Squalo’ or “shark” because of its appearance, the car has a four-cylinder, 152-cubic-inch engine with 260 bhp and a top speed of 175 mph.

The Ferrari won at the 1954 Spanish GP driven by Mike Hawthorn, who became the United Kingdom’s first Formula 1 racing driver in 1958.

Tomlinson’s painting shows Hawthorn in the pits at Monza in 1955. He retired with gearbox trouble, but his teammate Eugenio Castellotti finished third behind two of the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz W196s. Hawthorn was killed four years later in a horrific racing incident.

“When I was a youngster, all British racing enthusiasts were either a Stirling Moss or a Mike Hawthorn supporter. I was one of the latter. So you can only imagine my delight in meeting Hawthorn at Brands Hatch (six months before he was killed in a road accident in January 1959) and getting him to sign my autograph book.

“As if it couldn’t get any better, Hawthorn then called over Graham Hill and got him to sign my autograph book, too. At the time, Hill was eating a popsicle and he asked me (I was 8 years old!) to hold it whilst he signed. However, the popsicle started to melt, and it ran all over my hand.

“Hill noticed this, and suggested that I get cleaned up. So he took me to the drivers’ changing room in the paddock where I used soap and water to do just that. Whilst in the changing room, Hill ‘told’ Stirling Moss and American Harry Schell, who were also in there, to sign my book, too, and they did.”

•1966 Lola T70 mkII –– A few years ago, Tomlinson was testing a kart with his son, and they met John Surtees doing the very same with his late son, Henry: “Can you imagine? Here is a man who has won seven world titles on motorcycles and also a F1 world championship for Ferrari, ‘spannering’ for his son and loving the idea of ‘getting some grease under my fingernails.’

They decided to do a series of prints signed by him that would be sold, with the profits benefitting a local children’s hospice. Surtees, now 82, decided that the car he should paint should be his Can-Am Championship-winning Lola T70 from 1966.

His car is powered by a Traco Chevrolet 327-cid V-8 producing 500 bhp, with a top speed of 196 mph. The event depicted is his win at now-razed Riverside, where he beat Jim Hall’s Chaparral after a race-long dual.

This was the car that “nearly, bloody killed me!,” he has said. While practicing at Mosport Park, Canada, suspension failure forced the car into a barrier, eventually landing on top of Surtees. He was out of racing for seven months and fortunate to be alive, Tomlinson says.

When he returned to the factory at Maranello, he was greeted by a group of tearful mechanics. Although struggling with crutches, he was lifted into a waiting Dino 246. He repaid this kindness with a comeback win in the Monza 1000kms.

“Whilst signing the prints, I asked John who were his greatest opposition in F1 during the 1960s. He replied: “Dan (Gurney), Jack (Brabham) and Jim Clark –– and Colin Chapman as an entity.”

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