Unseen 50s Racing Footage: Torrey Pines’ Last Hurrah

It’s been far too long since we’ve dug into the McClure archives for a look at California’s vibrant racing scene of the mid-50’s. This piece of film is bittersweet, as it captures the January 14, 1956 race weekend: the final race weekend at Torrey Pines before its conversion to golf courses.

John took advantage of this last opportunity to record some marvelous film of some of SoCal’s heroes of the day, Phil Hill prepping his Ferrari 500 Mondial, Jack McAfee strapping on his pudding bowl helmet and climbing into his Porsche 550 Spyder. We see the drivers sprint across the track in a LeMans-style start to begin the 6 hours endurance race. Is that a temporary flame-job on the winning Jaguar D-Type of Jerry Austin? I think he should have sprayed it on, who would have guessed how bad-ass a Jag D-Type looks with flames? The timing is also interesting for hot rod fans, January ’56 puts it right around the same time of the famous Von Dutch flame job on a Gullwing Mercedes.

Some of the most interesting shots, though, aren’t on the track nor in the pits at all. Stirling Moss was scheduled to take part in the endurance race piloting an Austin-Healey 100S. The opportunity was perfectly timed, since Stirling had some time to kill on his way back to England from New Zealand after winning the GP Ardmore in a New Zealand Porsche distributor team 550. Unfortunately, the FIA forbade him from participating for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me—anyone know more about that? Since he was in town, Stirling turned up at the track to take in the race, presumably to cheer on Bill Pringle and Ray Jackson-Moore in the Austin-Healey that Moss was to race (they ultimately finished 4th). That’s not so unusual; after all, why wouldn’t the race-mad Moss take in a race, even if only as a spectator? What makes this footage so valuable though, is that it captures Moss the tourist, donning a set of Mickey Mouse ears fresh from a trip to Disneyland with fellow British driver Roy Jackson-Moore and a pair of American drivers. They took to the Disneyland racetrack ride with vigor—with Moss falling second to Roy’s victorious wife Denise Jackson-Moore. Fantastic!

It was a busy weekend indeed for Moss, as Elaine Bond writes in the January 27 issue of MotoRacing, Moss was inducted into the Women’s Sportscar Club as a lifetime honorary member. She goes on, “he is reported to have said, ‘there is no other club I would rather belong to!’ After all, his affinity for dolls is as well known as his affinity for fast machinery and this is reciprocated on the gals’ part.” Sounds to me like Moss had a great time in California.

Huge thanks again to John McClure for sharing this footage with us, see more film from his collection here. In many ways, this is a remarkably sad piece of film. Bidding farewell to the Torrey Pines track must not have been easy for the racers, I’m glad that John captured the weekend for us to appreciate all this time later.

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