Aged 18 John Surtees finished 6th aboard his Norton 500 on his debut in Grand Prix Motor cycle racing at the 1952 Ulster Grand Prix.
In 1955 John won his first and only 250 cc Grand Prix aboard an NSU at Ulster which helped secure a ride with MV Agusta with whom he would remain for the rest of his motorcycle racing career up until the end of 1960.
Now focusing on the 350 and 500 classes John won his first World Championship in the 500 class in 1956, the year in which today’s featured Mercedes Benz 300 SL Coupé was built, with three wins from three starts.
1957 was not such a good year for the partnership netting just a single win in the 500cc Dutch Grand Prix, but they bounced back in 1958 and 1959 by sweeping all the Grand Prix races in 350cc and 500cc classes to give John 25 Grand Prix wins and four World Championship titles.
In the final year of their partnership John, who by now was known as “figlio del vento” son of the wind, won two 350 cc Grand Prix and 5 500 cc Grand Prix to secure two more World Championship titles and became the first man to win the Senior Isle of Man TT three times in a row.
MV Agusta were reluctant to supply bikes for John to race in UK, when not Grand Prix racing, so he became involved with racing on four wheels making his debut in Formula Junior and then quickly progressing to Formula One making four Grand Prix appearances with team Lotus in 1960 that culminated with a second place finish behind Jack Brabham in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
With seven World Championships to his credit on two wheels John switched all of his attention to racing on four wheels from 1961 electing to decline an offer to be Jim Clark’s number two at Lotus in favour of a two year spell with Reg Parnell’s Yeomam Credit team which ran Climax powered Cooper T53’s in 1961 and Lola Mk4’s in 1962.
Two second places in Britain and Germany and 4th in the final Championship standings with the Lola aroused the attention of Enzo Ferrari who signed John for the 1963 season.
John finished the 1963 season 4th in championship again, but this time with his first Grand Prix win on four wheels at the German Grand Prix.
In 1964 with the Ferrari 158 the team were resurgent with wins in Germany and Italy backed up by second place finishes in Holland, the USA and Mexico were enough for John to become the first and so far only man to win World Championships of two wheels and four.
Lotus and BRM gained the upper hand again in 1965 when John finished the Championship in fifth behind Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Brabham driver Dan Gurney.
Ferrari looked to be best prepared for the start of the 3-Litre era of Formula One and a win in Belgium looked to confirm John as the most likely candidate to win the title, but then a disagreement with Ferrari management at Le Mans saw John walk away from Marranello and into one of the only other 3 litre cars available the Cooper Maserati T81.
Over the remainder of the season John finished 2nd in Germany, 3rd in the USA and first in Mexico, finishing second in the Championship to Jack Brabham who became the first and so far only driver to win the World Formula One Championship in a car bearing his own name.
During the second half of 1966 John drove a works supported Lola T70 in the Can Am Championship and became it’s inaugural champion with 3 race wins.
In 1967 started a two year spell with Honda in Formula One that brought John’s final Championship Formula One win at the 1967 Italian Grand Prix after John had introduced Lola’s Eric Broadley designed chassis to the team.
John spent one year at BRM, with whom he finished a best third in the USA, in 1969 before turning the Surtees Racing Organisation, SRO, in Edenbridge in to a constructor of racing cars that in Formula 2, Formula 5000 and Formula One.
Fellow motor cycle world champion Mike Hailwood won the 1972 European Formula 2 Championship driving a Surtees TS10 in 1972, the same year that Gijs van Lennep drove a Surtees TS 11 in all but one round of the 1972 Rothmans European Formula 5000 Championship which he won.
The Championship highlight of the SRO challenge in Formula One, which lasted until 1978, was Mike Hailwood’s 2nd place finish in the 1972 Italian Grand Prix the year the team finished it’s all time high 5th in the constructors championship.
John also won the non Championship Gold Cup at Oulton Park driving a TS7 in 1970 and a TS9 in 1971, the following season the debut of the TS14 at Monza would be his final Grand Prix start before retiring, though he added a further Gold Cup win in 1981, when the race was run for historic cars, driving a Maserati 250F.
Today’s featured 1956 Mercedes Benz 300 SL Coupé # 198 040 65 00279, originally sold to a customer in the USA, was bought by John in the early 1990’s and registered in the UK on the 23rd of June 1992, he kept it until 2008.
The car, seen at a recent Edenbridge Fun Day, was bought by it’s current owner at the Coy’s Techno Classica 2011 Auction for just north of half a million dollars.
Thanks for joining me on this “Figlio Del Vento” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me again tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !