Merchiston Mews is an ordinary street in an ordinary part of Edinburgh. Neat two-storey houses line the cobbled road, interspersed with a few wooden garage doors concealing sensible family Volvos. There is no plaque or sign to hint at the pivotal role that this tucked-away road played in motorsport, nor any trace of its remarkable former occupants.
While the parking spaces are now filled with XC90s, in the Fifties this road was home to considerably more horsepower. In 1951, Edinburgh-born accountant, publican and gentleman racing driver David Murray founded the Ecurie Ecosse team and chose Merchiston Mews as its headquarters.
Despite having its roots firmly in the Scottish capital, Murray opted for a French team name to lend gravitas to its racing exploits. French was - and, the FIA would argue, still is – the language of motor racing, and Murray felt that European investors were unlikely to put much faith in plain old Team Scotland.
Murray set up shop with a team of three boisterous compatriots and their matching Jaguar XK120s: Bill Dobson, Sir James Scott Douglas and Ian Stewart, the man responsible for the team’s Flag Metallic Blue livery and Saltire crest.
Outings at Charterhall in the Borders and other UK circuits brought early successes, and as the XK120 morphed into the C-Type, the team duly purchased three examples and began to make even greater impact on the track throughout the first years of the decade. Between 1952 and 1955 they attended 58 race meetings and had 93 podium finishes.
In a show of diversification, Murray took to the wheel of a Cooper T20 for the 1952 British GP, aware that the end of his racing days was drawing near. The grid was a formidable one, with the likes of Farina, Moss, Hawthorn and Collins lining up. Murray qualified 22nd, but withdrew after 14 laps with engine issues. Technical issues dogged the team’s GP endeavours, with both entrants in the 1953 race failing to finish: Jimmy Stewart (elder brother of Sir Jackie) spun off in what was to be his only ever Grand Prix race, and co-founder Ian Stewart (no relation) retiring with ignition failure in his Connaught A Type.
But, like Robert the Bruce’s spider, Ecurie Ecosse tried, tried and tried again. Their final Grand Prix attempt came the following year and brought relative success in the form of a finish for the Connaught-Lea Francis A, albeit 12 laps behind the winning car. With Grand Prix racing proving an expensive activity with little return, the team decided to seriously focus on the most exciting automotive race in the world: 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Money was never particularly forthcoming at Ecurie Ecosse, with investment coming mainly in the form of goodwill and self-funded drivers, but their tenacity and skill at the wheel drew admirers from across the globe.
1956 Le Mans was historic in many ways. Following the horrific events of the 1955 event, it saw the introduction of an entirely new set of stringent, unpopular rules. Any “experimental” cars were limited to a 2.5-litre engine capacity, and any car with a larger displacement had to be in standard production, defined in this instance as a run of 50.
There were also new refuelling rules to consider. Cars had to complete at least 34 laps between each refuelling, and could take on a maximum of 120 litres at each stop - not good news for the thirsty big Ferraris and Astons. Horrendous rain caused major issues for the drivers who, unused to driving with the newly-introduced windscreens, spun off at an alarming rate - only 14 cars finished the race from a field of 49. Ecurie Ecosse, perhaps more used to lashing rain than the bronzed Italian and French drivers, stormed to victory in their blue D-Type, emblazoned with the saltire.
The following year brought greater success still. Murray instructed his drivers – Englishman ‘Ivor the Driver’ Bueb and fellow Scots John Lawrence, Ninian Sanderson and Ron Flockhart – to take it slowly and let the power-hungry works teams gradually fall by the wayside. The sharky Ecurie Ecosse D-Types duly held an assuredly elegant pole position for 21½ hours of the 24 hour race having let the Ferraris, Astons and Maseratis exhaust themselves in the initial mad dash to the front. The Edinburgh underdogs had done it again, with a one-two finish.
Unfortunately, the remarkable feats of the 1957 race were not to be repeated. 1958, 59 and 60 saw a gradual decline in the team’s performance with DNFs across the board. The once seemingly unbeatable D-Types were being outstripped by the wailing V12 250 TRs from Ferrari and the DBR1s from Aston Martin, and both Ecurie Ecosse and Jaguar found themselves falling from favour.
The E-Type duly appeared – although never entered by the Scots – to claw back some respect for the big cat at Le Mans, but the European teams were unstoppable. Ferrari and to some extent Maserati and Porsche were the big hitters, while Jaguar continued to slip. Gradually, Le Mans became a battleground between Ford and Ferrari, and technology was moving at lightning speed. British marques simply couldn’t keep up.
Jaguar knew that something had to be done, and the XJ13 idea was hatched with the aim of running it in the 1966 Le Mans. A single mid-engined, 5.0-litre, naturally aspirated V12 prototype was created and tested before being mothballed - a mixture of infighting, changes to regulations and the might of the GT40s and 906s proved too daunting for the Coventry-based concern.
Both Jaguar and Ecurie Ecosse seemed to have given up. The Edinburgh racers toyed briefly with Formula 2 to little avail, and felt rudderless since David Murray had fled to Las Palmas with the taxman snapping at his heels. ‘Ecurie Shoestring,’ as he had affectionately called it, had finally unravelled.
The consecutive Le Mans wins, charming insouciance of the Scottish drivers and the distinctive livery had captured British imagination, and, despite their gradual demise, there is an enduring fascination in all things Ecurie Ecosse. The distinctive Commer transporter in miniature remains one of the most popular Corgi toys created, and the real thing sold at Bonhams for £1.7m in 2013 along with 8 of the team’s cars. The sad fizzling out of such a remarkable team is mourned by many motorsport lovers, and it is of little surprise that many attempts have since been made to re-ignite it.
Indeed in 1982, one man did. Hugh McCaig has keenly followed the progress of Ecurie Ecosse since his school days at Fettes College in Edinburgh, and today is the team’s proud patron. In its modern incarnation, the team has picked up championships and podiums across the world such as the British GT Championship, the British Saloon Car Championship and the British LMP3 championship. It has remained both a tight-knit concern – Hugh’s son Alasdair acts as both team director and driver – and true to its Scottish roots, with the likes of Allan McNish, David Coulthard and Dario Franchitti taking the wheel for their homeland’s team reborn.
Ecurie Ecosse – the legend lives on
This is a project built on speculation, enthusiasm and romanticism in equal parts. To call this car a continuation of an XJ13 would be unfair, and according to JLR, verging on illegal. The sole XJ13 prototype extant is almost invaluable – rumour states that its current owners turned down a £7M offer several years ago - and is an object of fascination for Jaguar lovers across the world. For one man in particular, it became an all-consuming passion.
Neville Swales spent years creating a painstakingly accurate recreation of the XJ13. His endeavour was recognised by The International Historic Motoring Awards where he was a finalist for Car of The Year, which is perhaps where he caught Jaguar’s eye. Unsurprisingly, JLR “encouraged” him to stop making his cars – perhaps they had designs on their own following their XKSS continuation news – and Neville was left downhearted.
Loathe to let his design go to waste, he got in touch with Howard Guy of Design Q, an automotive and aviation design consultancy, and explained his conundrum. To Howard, JLR’s disapproval was simply an interesting obstacle to overcome. He set about planning a car that could include all of the XJ13’s unfulfilled potential and mystique without unleashing legal action.
Enter the LM69, a glorious new car built on ‘what ifs.’ If the Ecurie Ecosse team hadn’t been in dire financial straits, if they had continued their quasi-works relationship with Jaguar, and if they had spotted the XJ13 lurking at the back of a shed in Coventry, could they have produced a Le Mans winning machine? The answer is likely no considering the thundering GT40s that Ford were entering by 1969, but why let fact get in the way of such a fun story? Guy describes the LM69 as a ‘reimagining’ of the XJ13, not a replica. While the engine is as near enough identical, cosmetically the car does appear to be more ‘influenced by’ than ‘copied from.’
For one, it is a coupe rather than a barchetta. The original XJ13 was so low-slung that it would never pass modern regs, and requirements such as fire extinguishers and reliable seatbelts were distant concerns. The aerodynamics have been improved, the safety features enhanced and the materials lightened, but the basis for the LM69’s engineering is all centered around pre-1969 design. This is, theoretically, the best car that the XJ13 could have been, had money been no object.
But what role does Ecurie Ecosse play in a car that they never owned, never mind raced? Howard is refreshingly honest on the matter, and admits that it is an evocative brand that draws people in. It speaks of nostalgia, of underdog success and of glamour. Its livery is up there with Gulf and Martini in terms of recognisability, and its halcyon days never really came to a conclusive end.
There are the team’s obvious links with Jaguar, of course, but it is the sense of an unfinished story that makes the LM69 believable. They were pioneering privateers with technical prowess in the garage and on the track, and there is no doubt that they would’ve made a success of the XJ13.
The LM69 purports to be a road car, and indeed is fully legal in the UK, but if it’s as true to its original design as it claims to be, it is going to be a lethal track weapon in the right hands. The quad-cam V12 stays, and will come in both 5 and 7 litre options. In another nod to the retro regulations, only 25 examples will be built, in line with the 25 cars required for homologation. Pricing is not officially announced, but Howard mentions a million-pound figure, with scope for further customer personalisation. The prototype was unveiled privately at Edinburgh Castle to the assembled drivers on the Ecurie Ecosse tour, and it met with great approval. I imagine orders at Atelier Ecosse are being taken as we speak.
The LM69 was revealed publicly for the first time at the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court on 6th September, displayed next to Neville Swale's painstakingly accurate recreation of the XJ13. JLR can’t be that cross, then. While we may not know how the XJ13 would have fared against the might of Ford and Ferrari, it is certainly fun to pretend.
Do you remember the Ecurie Ecosse racing team or its drivers? And can you think of a more 'iconic' motorsport livery? Let us know in the comments below.