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The last surviving drivers of the 1950s

Only a few hours left before we enter 2023, it will be our sports 73th birthday. A sport that saw hundreds of drivers crossing the finish flag. Some of them only drove a handful of races in one season, other are still driving in the Formula One for over twenty years. Our beloved sport, there are only a few of the drivers left that were on the grid in the 1950s. In ten years, they will probably not among us anymore. So who are those drivers who saw the early days of our sports?

For me in the early days also the non-championship races that were held count. In the early days, the non-championship races were a big part of the sport. Like in the late 1930s and after the war these races were dominant on the racing calendar. Also the Indy 500 races are count in this one. It was really a hard search as for many there ain’t much info.

Kenneth McAlpine (102) – Born 27-09-1920 – Cobham United Kingdom
Kenneth McAlpine is the oldest Formula One driver alive that raced in the 1950s. Born in 1920 he made his debut in the Formula one in July 1952. You read it correctly 70years ago!  He is one of the last persons on this planet that could have seen Raymond Sommer and Rudolf Caracciola. Kenneth started his career in the hill climb races and local sprint races. Before he would appear in the sports car races in Europe. He mostly drove them with Connaught L3 Sports car.

Kenneth made his debut in the Formula One in 1952 with the Connaught team. He drove the Connaught Type A during the British Grand Prix where he finished 16th. The following race would be in Italy, sadly, he retired. In between the seasons, he became a financial backer for Connaught. For 1953 he arrived with a slightly modified Connaught Type A. His first Grand Prix was the Dutch Grand Prix, which he had to retire. The same happened during the British Grand Prix. In Germany he managed to finish 13th and in Italy he was not classified. In 1954, he did not appear on the grid. It seems he did test for Connaught.

A year later Kenneth arrived with the new Connaught Type B, this time powered by the Alta L4, on the starting list for the 1955 British Grand Prix. Sadly, for him he retired during the race due to oil pressure issues. This was his last race. Later in the season, he retired from the autosport to get married, and to work for the family company. 

Paul Goldsmith (97) – Born 02-10-1925 – Parkersburg United States
Besides one of the oldest Formula One driver he is also the oldest living Indy 500 veteran at the moment. Born in the 1925 he started his career on a young age on the motorbikes. In the 1940s, he started to make a name for himself in the A.M.A. Grand National Championship. He would race in the series until the 1950s. While winning races on two tyres he started to race with stock cars.
In 1958, he appeared for the first time on the grid for the Indy500. He qualified though due to an accident in the first round he retired.

In 1959, he had more luck with his Epperly-Offenhauser. He qualified on the 16th place to finish the race as fifth. A year later, he would finish the Indy500 as third! Paul continued to race in the NASCAR before he retired at the end of 1969. In 2018, he was inducted in the USAC Hall of Fame.

Hans Herrmann (94) – Born 23-02-1928 – Stuttgart Germany
Since the death of Tony Brooks earlier in 2022 Hans became the last surviving F1 podium finished of the 1950s. He finished as third during the Swiss Grand Prix in 1954 when he drove for Mercedes in the Formula One. Sadly there isn’t much info available about Hans his earliest year with motorsport. Born in 1928 he had to suffer the insanity of Nazi Germany. His mother had a patisserie/coffee shop. Although he was to take over the business he always dreamed about to become the new Rosemeyer. It seems that he started to race in rallies after the war and in sprint races. Before he appeared at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1953 with a Porsche 550 Coupé from Porsche KG. He would finish the race as second!

That same year Hans made his debut in the Formula One. He joined the paddock during the German Grand Prix of 1953 with a Veritas Meteor fitted with a Veritas 2.0 L6. He finished the race as ninth. It seems he impressed Neubauer from Mercedes as he offered him a drive for 1954 with the team. It would be his best season as he finished 3th during the Swiss Grand prix and finished fourth on Monza.
The years after 1954 he drove sporadic in the Formula One. Mostly for privateers. His racing blood was with endurance races.

Hans was successful in races such as the Mille Miglia, Targo Florio and several 12 hours events. Especially with Porsche, he was very successful in the mid and late 1960s. Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall with the Porsche 917K was his masterpiece. However, the Formula One kept appearing on his path. It seemed that his Grand Prix career was over after 1961, he came back in 1966 with the Brabham BT18 for the 1966 German Grand Prix. He was also on the starting list for the 1969 German Grand Prix with a Lotus 59B.

After retirement in 1970, he kept around in the autosport. He started a company in automotive supplies. He would also stay around in the historical racing doing many demonstration runs for Porsche.

André Milhoux (94) – Born 09-12-1928 – Bressoux Belgium
You might say that André Milhoux is one of those forgotten drivers of the 1950s. A side note in the history of Formula One. A side note that is one of the last survivors of the 1950s. Said that, André started his career in the Motocross. In 1948, he won the European Motocross Championship.
During the 1950s, he started to race with Plymouths and Fords on several Belgium circuits. In 1953, he managed to win the 2 Litre class in the Mille Miglia, with Paul Frère, in a Chrysler Saratoga.

From 1953 on it is a bit vague in with cars and series he drove. What is known is that he drove a lot of 12 and 24 hours races. His last race would have been the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1959. There was also one Formula One race in 1956. He drove Gordini in the Type 32 during the German Grand Prix. While he had no time set in the qualification he would start in the race. In Lap 15, he retired his car due to engine failure.

Bernie Ecclestone (92) – Born 28-10-1930 – Suffolk England
Perhaps the well-known veteran is Bernie Ecclestone. Most of you know him as the F1 supremo during a couple of decades. Ecclestone appeared for the first time on a start list in 1949 when he entered the F3 series, which drove with 500CC engines. While in the 1950s he kept his racing ambitions low, as he was already a businessman in those days, he couldn’t help himself purchasing two chassis from Connaught in 1957. In the meantime, he was also the manager from Stuart Lewis-Evans. The team abandoned their Formula One activities.

Ecclestone appeared with his Connaught-Alta in the paddock during the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix. During the qualification, he failed to set a proper time on the clocks. Together with Luigi Taramazzo, Louis Chiron and Paco Godia he would not start in the race due to no time set. For the British Grand Prix, Bernie appeared on the starting list as reserve driver for Jack Fairman might he failed to appear at the start of the race.

After his attempts to become a Grand Prix driver, he continued managing Stuart in his career. However, this would end abruptly during the Moroccan Grand Prix of 1958. Stuart suffered severe burns when his engine exploded. They rushed him to the hospital where he would die six days later. Ecclestone was shocked and abandoned the sport instantly. Only to return in 1970 as manager of Jochen Rindt. The rest is history.

Hermano da Silva Ramos (92) – Born 07-12-1925 – Paris France
Known as a Brazilian driver he grew up in Paris before he went with his parents to Rio de Janeiro as his father had the Brazilian nationality. After the war he started to compete in local races and sprint races. However, these races were more for the fun then serious.

His career really started when he went to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952, he felt the vibes as a spectator and knew he would race on Le Mans himself. In 1953 he bought an Aston Martin DB3. The same year he won a couple of races. He would race that year also in the 24 hours of Le Mans. It is a period where you could just start racing if you had the money, the connections or just a car. He was very successful in rallies and endurance racing. In 1955 he would made his debut in the Formula one.

He made his debut with the Gordini Type 16 during the 1955 Dutch Grand Prix held on Zandvoort. He finished the race as eight. During the Grand Prix’s of England and Italy he retired due to oil pressure and the fuel system.  In 1956 Hermano reappeared on the grid for a couple of Grand Prix’s. In Monaco he managed to finish fifth which gave him two points. He drove 7 races for Gordini.

He would make another comeback with the Gordini Type 32 in 1957.He raced two non-championship races. Where he finished fourth during the Grand Prix of Pau. Hermano would compete in several endurance races until his retirement in November 1960.

David Piper (92) – Born 02-12-1930 – Edgeware United Kingdom
David started his career in the early 1950s when he appeared at sprint and hill climb races. His career on the circuits started in 1955 when he got himself an Lotus Eleven which was a good choice. He started to win races and that was not unseen by others. For 1956 he would appear at the start of the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and the 12 Hours of Reims. In 1959 Piper would made his debut in the Formula One with the Lotus 16 from Dorchester Service Station during the British Grand Prix. He retired in lap 19 because of overheating.

In 1960 he would appear on the grid for the British Grand Prix as well. This time he drove the Lotus 16 for Robert Bodle Ltd. He finished the race as twelfth. It were not the only Formula One races he drove. Between 1959 and 1962 he competed in 13 races. After 1962 he left the single seater racing and focused his career on endurance and saloon racing. In 1968 he drove in the 24 Hour of Le Mans with the Ferrari 250 LM and finished 2nd in his class. Sadly in 1970, during filming for Steve McQueen’s Le Mans film he lost part of his lower leg during a crash. He retired racing after 1978, when he incidental drove. Later on he would appear in historical racing.

Peter Ashdown (88) – Born 16-10-1934 – Danbury United Kingdom
Peter Ashdown is one of the youngest veterans of the 1950s. He started racing with his a Ford Ten-engined Dellow around 1953 in local sprint and hill climb races and trials. In 1955 he purchased a Lotus IX sports car when he started to win races. In 1956 Ashdown appeared more on the circuits. During most of the races he managed to finish on the podium. It was also the year that he would race on the continent appearing in Sweden. For 1958 he received an offer from Colin Chapman to become a works driver for the Lotus team. This opportunity was halted when he sustained a broken collarbone during a crash at Rouen-Les-Essarts. A year later he would appear on the starting list of the British Grand Prix. He drove with the Cooper T45 from Equipe Alan Brown. He finished the race as twelfth.

While he declined an offer for more Formula One races for Frank Nichols, as he went for Lola to drive with the Coventry Climax. in 1960 he would drive a non-championship race for G.G. Smith in a Lola during the Lombak trophy. In 1960 he won the BRSCC Formula Junior series. His last race would have been the 1000km of the Nürburgring in 1964 with the Lola Mk.1.  Though he did not arrive.

A.J. Foyt (87) – Born 16-01-1935 – Houston United States
Foyt his first taste with speed was as a five year old boy when his father built him a toy racer from a lawnmower engine. He began serious racing in the USAC Midget Cars series in 1953. He would stay in the championship for a couple of years winning a lot of races. Foyt left the series at the end of 1957 to focus fully on his career in the Sprint Car series which he debuted in in 1956. He won his first Sprint Race.

He also made his debut in the Championship Car, what is called today the Indy Car Series.  In 1958 he made his debut on the Indy500 with the Kuzma Offenhauser from Dean van Lines. He finished the race as 16th. A year later he would appear again at the Indy500 also racing for Dean van Lines. In the 1950s the Indy500 was official a race in the Formula One.

Eventually A.J. Foyt would become the driver that had the most starts at the Indy500. In total he would compete 35 times and won the race four times. His last race would be in the NASCAR Winston Cup Races. He later formed his racing team A.J. Foyt racing. As of 31 December 2022 he is the oldest winner of the Indy500.

Bruce Kessler (86) – Born 23-03-1936 – Seattle United States
Bruce Kessler is the youngest 1950s veteran that is still alive. At the age of 16 Kessler started racing in the Jaguar XK120 from his mother in the Sports Car Club America his only race was the Santa Barbara race for production Jaguars. He was entered for five more races however he never arrived at the races. For 1954 and the following seasons we see a similar road in his career. He would enter a lot of races though failed to arrive for some reason.

In 1958 he was entered by Bernie Eccelstone for the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix with a Connaught Type B. The cars Ecclestone obtained from Connaught when they stopped with Formula One a year earlier. He managed to have the 21th fastest lap out of 28. Though it was not enough for him to qualify himself for the Grand Prix. However, he would appear at one Non-championship race the 1958 BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone. He drove with the Cooper T43 from Equipe Alan Brown. His last season in the Autosport would be in 1960. After his Autosport career he went into the film industry becoming a director.