zzlzmQo1 Kenneth McAlpine feature pic
Kenneth McAlpine feature pic

Grand Prix drivers who lived to 100

ONLY three people deserve a very special place in the history of Grand Prix racing: Kenneth McAlpine, Paul Pietsch and Louis Gerard.

They were the only ones among the many drivers who competed in the top echelon of motorsport to reach the magic age of 100. 

Kenneth McAlpine OBE, reached 102 when he passed just a few weeks ago.

France’s Louis Gerard made it to 101 before passing in May, 2000 and German driver and journalist Paul Pietsch died just short of 101 in May, 2012. 

He passed just 19 days before his 101st birthday and was the first Grand Prix driver to reach the age of 100. 

McAlpine was a quiet achiever.

He privately provided most of the money for the Connaught Grand Prix team back in the 1950s, while working for the family civil engineering company started by his grandfather. 

He also established a successful helicopter business and was one of the founding fathers of the English wine industry.

He went to the US during World War II, where he was trained to be a pilot and in 1944 and went on to become an RAF flight instructor. 

However, he had a strong interest in cars and motorsport and when the war was over he bought a brace of Maserati 8CMs which he used in hill-climbs, sprints and races from 1947-49 to good effect — with victories at Prescott, Luton Hoo and Goodwood. 

In 1951, McAlpine made a move to 500cc Formula 3 with a JBS Norton but also started to race a Connaught A1 Formula 2 car.  

He gave the car its debut at Castle Combe in 1950, finishing second behind Stirling Moss in an HWM. 

For the next three years, as well as racing in British Formula Libre and F2 events, McAlpine competed occasionally in the world championship. 

He made his debut in the 1952 British Grand Prix at Silverstone and finished 16th while the team also went to the Italian GP with three cars, although Kenneth retired. 

The following year he took in four grands prix – Holland, Britain, Germany and Italy, retiring at all bar the Nürburgring where he placed 13th. 

His final grand prix was back at Aintree in 1955 driving the streamliner.

Again he retired. 

However, despite his part in running the McAlpine Construction business, he helped build Connaught into a considerable force.

His best result was third in Goodwood’s 1954 Glover Trophy in the Grand Prix car and second in the British Empire Trophy sports car race at Oulton Park the following year, behind Archie Scott-Brown in the Lister-Bristol.

McAlpine, with Eric Thompson, also raced at the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours but their Connaught’s engine blew after six hours. 

His last race came a few months later at the Goodwood 9 Hours, as he fulfilled a promise to retire from racing ahead of his impending marriage.

Still, the end was near for Connaught, despite Tony Brooks’ sensational victory over the Maseratis in the Syracuse non-championship race to record the first win in a Grand Prix by a British car and driver since 1923.

In 1957 Connaught announced it was closing its racing division and the cars and equipment were sold at auction.

Bernie Ecclestone bought two of them.

Kenneth McAlpine moved on to his new business interests and in 1974 set up the Lamberhurst Vineyard, which became Britain’s foremost wine maker.

He sold the company in 1995.

He also established McAlpine Helicopters in 1988, which he later sold to Eurocopter and continued to be a director of Sir Robert McAlpine Enterprises Ltd until his passing.

So few know of the industrialist, entrepreneur, F1 team owner and pilot who so very quietly made motor racing history.

Paul Pietsch was another motoring star of the time. 

Born in Freiburg in 1911, he worked for the family brewery and in 1932 bought a Bugatti Type 35 to drive in the German GP at the Nurburgring.

He managed to start from the front row of the grid, but retired with a radiator problem.

The race was won by a trio of Alfa Romeos piloted by the famed Rudolf Carracciola, Tazio Nuvolari and Baconin Borzacchini. 

Pietsch then bought an Alfa Romeo Monza and had a grand time, winning several hillclimbs and also the Norwegian and Swedish ice races.

He also did well at the Avus and Eifelrennen circuits and his talents were noted by Auto Union team manager Willy Walb, who invited him to try his hand at an Auto Union at the Nurburgring, along with another promising youngster in Bernd Rosemeyer. 

Both were hired as junior drivers alongside Achille Varzi and Hans Stuck Sr.

Pietsch and Rosemeyer ran third in the Italian GP of 1935, behind the Auto Union of Hans Stuck and the Alfa Romeo of Tazio Nuvulari and Rene Dreyfus.

The Type B Auto Union was not an an easy car to drive and while Rosemeyer quickly came to grips with it, Pietsch struggled with its handling and left the team and went racing in the voiturette classes with Maseratis in 1937 and 1938. 

In 1939 he was entrusted with one of the 3.0-litre Grand Prix Maseratis, causing consternation among Nazi officials by leading the silver cars in the German GP at the Nurburgring — but he spun twice, lost time in the pits and finished third.

Also in 1939 he, with several leading English and Italian drivers, plus Frenchman Louis Gerard, headed south for the South African Grand Prix at East London and another race in Cape Town.

Pietsch, driving a Maserati 6CM, completed just one lap at East London before one of his car’s pistons melted. 

The top three spots were filled by the similar Maseratis of Luigi Villoresi, Franco Cortese and Mario Massacuratti.

WWII robbed Pietsch of what would have been his greatest period as a driver, but he raced again in the post-war years, campaigning Alfa Romeos. 

He was still racing when the World Championship began in 1950 and made his F1 debut at the age of 40 in the 1950 Italian GP to become the first German to drive in the FIA-controlled Formula 1. 

His last race was in a Veritas the German GP in 1952.

It must have been a tough time, since the results show only 12 finishers in a field of 30 starters. He was among the latter. 

Race winners were Alberto Ascari, Nino Farina and Rudi Fischer, all in Ferraris.

Pietsch was a fine writer-turned-publisher and founded the highly-respected Das Auto magazine in Stuttgart.

Until his death from pneumonia, Pietsch was the oldest surviving Formula 1 driver, and the last  of the pre-war GP era.

Before him was Louis Gerard, a late starter in motorsport and a colourful character who started racing at the age of 38.

Born in Arres, Pas-de-Calais in 1899, he served in the French artillery during World War 1 before trying to establish a tailoring business, then did some time driving a taxi and later made a great success of a slot machine business.

He had no interest in cars until his son spotted a beautiful Delage coupe in a shop window and got his dad to have a look.

He was smitten by the car and bought it, paying for it in countless coins gained from his slot machines – then got word that it had been specially prepared for competition.

That was the start of his romance with motorsport and it turned out he was blessed with some serious driving talent.

He entered the 1937 24-Hours of Le Mans, and with co-driver De Minardiere, finished fourth outright, behind the Wimille/Benoist Bugatti and two Delahayes.

He had another go at Le Mans in 1938, but without success, then finished a strong second in the Spa 24-hours and followed it up with a win at the Tourist Trophy at Donington.

Then came his trip to South Africa, but that’s another story.

Suffice for the record hat he remains one of the trio to have raced to the age of 100 years-plus.

There will never be a fourth member of that exclusive club.


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