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.

12 responses to “Unseen 50s Racing Footage: Torrey Pines’ Last Hurrah”

  1. Richard Scroggs says:

    Is that Phil Hill making final adjustments to the OSCA, beginning at the 38 second mark?

  2. Kurt O. says:

    Yes, that’s Phil checking over the Ferrari Mondial 500. It also looks like Stirling Moss wearing the Mickey Mouse ears.

  3. Edmund says:

    LOL, Read the text guys!

  4. PieterA says:

    Thanks a o lot for this unique sneak peak back in to time.

  5. Jon says:

    Remarkable. I guess it goes without saying, but the cars back then were beautiful. I live near Torrey Pines, and even if it could be converted back to a proper track I don’t think we could really recapture the glamour of those years.

  6. John McClure says:

    Yes, Torrey Pines is historic. During WW II it was an Army base training anti-aircraft gunners along the cliffs…as a young kid I watched them from the beaches in La Jolla..then the Army left many paved streets, so us SD Chamber of Commerace sports car owners suggested the race track idea and it was a real task organizing it..with as many as 40,000 spectators sometimes….picturing a green grass golf course where we raced, is hard to grasp :”)

  7. John McClure says:

    P.S. I owned one of the first Austin
    Healeys, which I bought from Walt Warren, the editor of Road & Track…he had brought it over from England to test for a magazine article, and I was lucky enough to get it….ah, those were the days, with thousands of sports car on the roads,,waiving at each other, and many other races accross the country…Palm Springs, Riverside, Santa Barbara, etc, etc. Sure glad I can view my old films
    (8mm converted to CD’s)…as long my wife lets me 🙂

  8. Mike Jacobsen says:

    Thanks John for another film! Love it. Ah time! You meant to say Walt Woron. But he was no longer associated with R&T by this date. In the film, the first race car we see is Rex Huddleston’s Lotus IX, which is vintage raced today. At .57 or so Phil passes John Von Neumann, wearing a raincoat, the owner of the Mpndial and who was stationed at Camp Callen–Torrey Pines–during WW II! Then we see Josie Von Neumann arrive in a Karmann Ghia. Moss got a speeding ticket on the way to the track and had to be bailed out. He drove a few “demonstration laps” in the Healey. also nice footage of Murphys’s Kurtis and Sunday’s race winner Masten Gregory in a Parravano Maserati 300s (Masten is also seen along side Moss in the pits).

  9. Dawn says:

    Anyone know the names of some of the guys in the video.
    I’ll bet we have a couple of those cars in our club.
    GREAT video

  10. Wonderful, John. I must have been very close to you when you were filming from outside Turn 1. I made a few photos, even fewer of which have survived, but you can see them at:
    et seq.

    The dark D-type is the one that inspired my wonder at his continual honking of the horn in left-hand turns: the horn button was to the right of the driver’s knee, but not quite visible in the film.
    Absolutely a magnificent era in Southern California auto racing.

  11. […] people may remember that race, but footage of the event in January, 1956, marks the end of a venue that had an illustrious history, replete […]

  12. […] people may remember that race, but footage of the event in January, 1956, marks the end of a venue that had an illustrious history, replete […]

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