British racing driver Sir John Henry Douglas Whitmore has passed away at the age of 79 in the aftermath of a severe stroke. Perhaps best known for winning the 1961 British Saloon Car Championship with an 848-cc Mini he’d bought for £400, Whitmore became one of the top British touring car drivers of his era.
He began to make a racing name for himself in 1959 with one of the first Lotus Elites, an acquisition made possible by his friend Alan Stacey, a works driver for Lotus, who convinced Colin Chapman that Whitmore could do the job. Chapman soon offered him a works drive and paired him with no less than Jim Clark for the 24 Hours of Le Mans the following month. They finished 10th overall and 2nd in class.
Whitmore’s touring car championship led to an invitation to drive a factory-supported Mini Cooper and Cooper S fielded by Ken Tyrrell in ’62 and ’63, and he finished 2nd to Willment Ford-mounted Jack Sears in the championship in the latter year. Ford quickly signed him, and he drove through the remaining years of his career in a succession of Lotus-Cortinas, Ford Falcons and Mustangs, Shelby Cobras and GT40s.
He won the 1600-cc category of the European Touring Car Championship in an Alan Mann-prepared Lotus Cortina in 1964, and the following year helped the Shelby Cobras defeat Ferrari for the FIA GT Manufacturers World Championship. In 1966 John finished 2nd in the Monza 1000 Kilometers paired with Masten Gregory in a GT40, and then took 2nd at Spa Francorchamps, teamed with Frank Gardner in a 7-liter Mk 2. On the only occasion he raced one of Alan Mann’s Falcons, Whitmore became the first driver to lap the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit at more than 100 mph in a touring car.
After the 1966 season, Whitmore hung up his helmet, somewhat dismayed by the number of friends he’d lost to the sport, and turned his attentions to other interests, including flying. In 1990 he let himself be talked into driving a McLaren M8F-Chevrolet in historic meetings, and counted down to the true end of his career with a 3rd at Montlhery and a 2nd at Donington before going out in style with victory at Silverstone’s Historic Festival.
To John’s family — particularly daughter Tina and son Jason — and his friends throughout the sport, Vintage Racecar extends its deepest condolences. Although Whitmore’s funeral will be private, plans are being made for a Memorial event later this year.