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NOTICE OF DEATH - TOMMY SOPWITH (1932 TO 2019)

We regret to advise Members that BRDC Life Member and former Director Tommy Sopwith passed away last Saturday. He was 86 years of age and had been ill for some time. The son of the aviation pioneer and America’s Cup challenger Sir Thomas Sopwith, who was also involved in the early days of motor racing at Brooklands, after completing his National Service Tommy went to work for Hawker Siddeley and its car subsidiary Armstrong Siddeley in the Development Department in 1953.

Tommy began racing, principally at Goodwood, in 1953 with his Jaguar XK120, achieving a couple of second places behind sports-racing cars. To become more competitive against purpose-built racing machinery, Tommy created his own sports-racer, the Sphinx, so called after the sphinx mascot which was carried by Armstrong-Siddeley road cars. Based on an Allard J2R, the Sphinx was fitted with an Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire engine and enjoyed considerable success against the Jaguar C-types during the 1954 season in British sports car races including outright victories at Davidstow, Silverstone and Snetterton. Tommy formed his own team to run the car under the name Equipe Endeavour in honour of his father’s America’s Cup yacht while both the Sphinx and the team’s subsequent cars were invariably painted in Sir Tom’s very attractive dark blue yachting colours.

At the end of 1954 the Sphinx was sold without its specially-prepared Armstrong-Siddeley engine to Brian Croot who installed a Jaguar engine and enjoyed considerable success for many years. The engine was fitted to a Sapphire saloon which Tommy raced on a few occasions, including the first of his memorable battles with Mike Hawthorn in a race at Ibsley which Mike won in his Lancia Aurelia GT. Tommy turned his attention to the products of the Cooper Car Company acquiring both a Manx-tail Coventry Climax-engined T39 and a Cooper-Jaguar T38. The cut off tail of the T39 was devised and developed in the drawing office of Hawker Aircraft, the company of which Sir Thomas was chairman, and Tommy took delivery of the first production version for the 1955 season. There were race wins at Goodwood and good placings at other British circuits. However, Tommy succeeded in overturning the car at Oulton Park towards the end of the season, ending up in hospital and being denied the chance of winning the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial trophy for which he had been very in contention.

Family pressure meant that Tommy reduced his racing activities as a driver although he managed to convince his parents that saloon car racing was safe. Acquiring one of the new Jaguar 3.4 saloons, Tommy won all bar one of the nine rounds of the inaugural BRSCC Saloon Car Championship in 1958 to be equal on points with Jack Sears and his class-winning Austin A105 Westminster. The tie was famously resolved in a shoot-out at Brands Hatch with Tommy and Jack in a pair of Riley One Point Fives which Jack won by 1.6 seconds. In a non-championship race at the Daily Express International Trophy meeting earlier in the year Tommy had his second notable battle with Mike Hawthorn, both in their Jaguar 3.4s, which has produced some classic images epitomizing saloon car racing of that era. Again Mike prevailed but only just and after considerable side by side dicing. In the British Grand Prix support race in July Tommy was leading American star Walt Hansgen in John Coombs’s car until a wheel came off.

Tommy retired at the end of the 1958 season after winning his last race, for GT and saloon cars at Snetterton ahead of Jack Sears’s Austin-Healey 100/6. Over the next few years Equipe Endeavour became one of the leading entrants in British racing in both the saloon and sports car categories. The Jaguar 3.4s were succeeded by the 3.8 Mk 2s driven by the likes of Ivor Bueb, Jack Sears, Mike Parkes and Gawaine Baillie while the GT machinery enabled British racegoers to see the cream of the contemporary crop including Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta, Ferrari 250GTO, Aston Martin DB4GT and of course one of the first two Jaguar E-types to race, Graham Hill winning at Oulton Park first time out in the Equipe Endeavour car. Mike Parkes and Jimmy Blumer won the Motor Six Hours saloon car race at Brands Hatch in October 1962 to bring down the curtain on Equipe Endeavour’s time as one of the top teams in British racing outside Formula 1.

Tommy subsequently pursued his interest in off short power boat racing, having won the first Daily Express International Offshore Power Boat race from Cowes to Torquay in 1961. He retained his involvement in motor sport, being one of the instigators and organisers of the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon. In 1993 he agreed to become a Director and Chairman of the BRDC in the wake of the Walkinshaw affair and devoted considerable time and effort to resolving the Club’s problems. The BRDC extends its deepest condolences to Tommy’s wife Gina and his two daughters Samantha and Bean. There will be a private family funeral in the coming weeks with a service of thanksgiving in September. Details will be shared as they are given to the Club office.  Donations are welcomed to the Blue Cross Animal Charity.

In tribute to Niki Lauda who was elected as an Honorary Member in 1975
The Club regrets to report the death of Jim Russell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1954
An update on the funeral details of Charlie Whiting
NEWS ARCHIVE
Notice of Death - Tommy Sopwith (1932 to 2019) | 07-May-2019
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