Did Gordon Wilkins and Alan Brinton watch Fangio win the 1954 German Grand Prix? Bonhams’ picture advertising the sale of the Mercedes-Benz W196 Fangio drove shows them, I think, on the infield by the South Curve at the Nürburgring on 1 August 1954.
Brinton was motoring correspondent of the News Chronicle and chairman of the Guild of Motoring Writers in 1967. He wrote a few books, one ostensibly in collaboration with Jim Clark for a sponsor, but as he got older and commissions dwindled he grew embittered and standoffish. Gordon Wilkins (1912-2007) had a distinguished career of more than 70 years. On the way back from the 1939 Berlin motor show, he and a colleague attempted to achieve 100 miles in the hour in a Lagonda V12. “Sadly we couldn't quite make it, because Hitler hadn't made enough road. It was almost in the bag until right at the end we ran out of autobahn.” They achieved something over 98 miles in the hour.
Gordon went to the opening of the Volkswagen factory at Wolfsburg in 1938 and remained active as a motoring writer well into his 90s. During the war he joined the research department of the Bristol Aeroplane Company and in 1944 worked with Sir Roy Fedden on an ill-starred and difficult car with a rear-mounted sleeve-valve radial engine. The Fedden project foundered in 1947 and Gordon joined The Autocar, where he became technical editor. In 1949 he drove a Jowett Javelin in the Monte Carlo Rally, and in 1951 driving a works Jowett Jupiter (as below) finished tenth overall and second in its class. At Le Mans in 1952 Wilkins won his class in a lightweight Jupiter. Fluent in French and German Gordon left The Autocar in 1953 for a prolific career in Europe, notably as English editor of the authoritative Automobile Year.
His career as a racing driver included driving at Le Mans in 1953 a Special Test Car Austin-Healey NOJ 391 – chassis No SPL 224/B with Belgian Marcel Becquart. Just after scrutineering it was rammed by a truck, suffering damage impossible to repair in time, so its engine, brakes and all scrutineer-stamped components were transferred to spare Special Test Car, NOJ 393 - chassis SPL 226/B, which the Healeys brought to Le Mans “as insurance”. They finished 14th. Bonhams is selling its twin NOJ 392 in the same sale as the Mercedes-Benz.
Between 1964 and 1973 Gordon was a presenter on BBC2TV Wheelbase. I count writing voice-overs for him and colleagues Maxwell Boyd and Michael Frostick as a career highlight.
From 1980 to 1992 Wilkins and his wife, the formidable Joyce his professional partner, moved to rural France. Afterwards they lived in a palazzo in northern Italy, thanks to their friendship with an Italian count. The Guild of Motoring Writers honoured Gordon on his 90th birthday and was treated to a somewhat rambling speech, which is remembered with affection. Affable, urbane and with an engaging modesty Wilkins was a doyen of the profession.