AS regular readers will know, I am always on the lookout for subjects to write about in this column, and I am also always susceptible to flattery.

So when I recently received an email thanking me for the short series of historical sports articles that I penned during the summer, I was immediately taken with the reader’s suggestion that I do more – after all, sport is a vital element of Scottish life and has been for centuries. We invented golf, curling and football, while the rules of boxing were compiled under the supervision of John Sholto Douglas, the ninth Marquess of Queensberry.

By coincidence, a second email arrived in the last few days asking for information on the great Scottish motor racing team Ecurie Ecosse, the legendary double winners of the Le Mans race in the 1950s. As it happens, I have always been fascinated by Ecurie Ecosse – whose name means “Scotland stable” in French – ever since I saw a model of one of its early cars many years ago. I believe it is still in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland.

There’s another two reasons for telling the story of our Scottish racing team. This year is the 70th anniversary of its foundation and to celebrate, the present-day Ecurie Ecosse are bringing out seven hand-built replicas of one of their most famous cars, the Jaguar C-type.

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Even for a non-petrolhead like myself, it is easy to describe these replica cars – absolutely gorgeous. But I’ll leave news on them to last.

The story of Ecurie Ecosse began before the Second World War when an Edinburgh accountant, David Murray, began motor racing, taking part in rallies, hill climbs and also Le Mans, the world’s greatest sports car 24-hour endurance race. He entered a BMW in the 1937 race, but his co-driver Patrick Fairfield was killed in a mass pile-up. It was the only Le Mans in which Murray would drive.

After the war, Murray eventually raced a Maserati in grands prix. In 1950, he became the first Scottish driver to race in a post-war F1 race when he took part in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

The following year he crashed at the Nurburgring in practice for the German Grand Prix, and, now in his 40s, apart from one more unsuccessful tilt at the British GP, he retired from driving.

Successful in business – he owned a wine merchants and bar as well as his accountancy business – Murray persuaded the famed mechanic Walter “Wilkie” Wilkinson to join him in a garage business he set up in Edinburgh called Merchiston Motors. But the real motivation for Murray and Wilkinson was racing, and they set up Ecurie Ecosse as an independent team along with garage customers Ian Stewart and Bill Dobson.

The partnership was straightforward – Murray did all the arranging, Wilkinson tuned the cars to perfection and Stewart and Dobson drove them, with Sir James Scott Douglas joining as the third driver. Murray, Stewart and Scott Douglas owned their own cars, Jaguar XK20s, but competed as a team in the Flag Metallic Blue colours and Saltire badge that would became famous.

Sponsored by Esso and brilliantly prepared by Wilkinson, the Ecurie Ecosse team first competed at Charterhall in Berwickshire. Dobson and Scott Douglas were soon successful with their Jaguar XK20s but it was Stewart who “found” the car that would shoot Ecurie Ecosse to fame.

Jaguar had raced the Coventry-built C-type as a work team but its engine was unreliable, though Stewart raced it at the 1952 Le Mans and though Wilkinson was the man to prepare it. Jaguar decided to offer C-types to private drivers and Stewart snapped one up. He famously made his way to Coventry, picked up his C-type and carried on to Jersey for the island’s then-famous Road Race. He won, and Ecurie Ecosse had their first major international victory.

Ecurie Ecosse had a few attempts at the British Grand Prix but were simply outpowered and having notched up several wins in sports car races, Murray decided that this sort of racing, and especially Le Mans, would be their target. Without the backing of a major marque, Ecurie Ecosse were what were known as “privateers”, and they were by no means the biggest team in that class. The Scottish underdogs prepared to take on the giants of motor racing, but at least they had powerful weapons in their armoury.

The C-type may have been beautiful, but it was its successor, the Jaguar D-type, that had the power to win, and with its bigger engine, innovative construction and stunning aerodynamic design, the first private D-type was bought by Ecurie Ecosse and once again Wilkinson’s mechanical genius came into play.

With Stewart and Dobson both having retired, Murray secured the services of several other drivers, including Jimmy Stewart from Dumbarton who would later bring his younger brother into the team – the man the world knows as Sir Jackie Stewart. The team would also help the careers of the legendary Jim Clark and another F1 driver, Innes Ireland.

FOR the 1956 Le Mans, Murray had two Scots, Ron Flockhart from Dalkeith and Glaswegian Ninian Sanderson, as co-drivers. The Circuit de la Sarthe had been considerably altered since the disaster at the 1955 race in which driver Pierre Levegh and 83 spectators were killed.

Up against Flockhart and Sanderson were the cream of full-time professional racers – Stirling Moss in an Aston-Martin, Mike Hawthorn in the works Jaguar, and Maurice Trintignant and Phil Hill in Ferraris, to name but a few.

Sadly, the race suffered an early tragedy when local garage owner Louis Hery was killed when his French car crashed. Flockhart showed terrific early speed and put the Ecurie Ecosse car into the lead as early as the seventh lap of the 8.4 mile circuit, but Sanderson knew he had to conserve the car and was happy to sit behind other leaders until the middle of the night, when he went into the lead only to lose it when rain started.

By the morning, however, the more powerful Jaguar was able to build up a considerable margin, and when the flag fell at the end of the 24 hours, Ecurie Ecosse had won by a lap over the Aston Martin.

The David and Goliath nature of the victory captured the attention of press and public alike, and Ecurie Ecosse returned home to a heroes’ welcome. How to better that? Murray was already planning for the 1957 edition of the great race and this time Ecurie Ecosse entered two Jaguar D-types, both of them again prepared to perfection by Wilkinson.

Some rule changes were introduced for safety reasons, but the limitation on driving time to 14 hours suited Ecurie Ecosse. They did not have the talents such as Hawthorn of Ferrari and Moss of Maserati, but Flockhart and Sanderson were both back, the former with Englishman Ivor Bueb as co-driver and the latter with John “Jock” Lawrence from Hamilton. In a remarkable performance, the lead car of Flockhart and Bueb went into the lead during the night and never relinquished it. So perfectly prepared was the engine that the car spent just 13 minutes in the pits and some of that was to change a light bulb.

At 4pm, when the chequered flag fell, Flockhart and Bueb were seven laps ahead of their nearest rivals, and they were Sanderson and Lawrence. Ecurie Ecosse had won a spectacular 1-2 for Scotland, and the winners had set a new speed record, averaging 113mph over the course of their 327 laps – some 2732 miles in a day.

Murray said the cars had been “at the peak of their perfection”, and so it proved, because Ecurie Ecosse never won Le Mans again – indeed both their cars suffered engine failure early in the 1958 race, and no Ecurie Ecosse car made it to the finish line in the next four runnings of the race.

THE team continued racing and had a three-year unsuccessful stint in Formula Two after which it ceased operating in 1971. Facing financial problems, David Murray had gone to live in Tenerife in 1968, and died there from a heart attack after a car crash in 1973. Ecurie Ecosse was revived by Hugh McCaig in the 1980s, and had success in the 1980s and 90s, and Hugh’s son Alasdair is now in charge. Ecurie Ecosse is still very much in existence and its website states: “Nurturing young Scottish talent has long been an interest for the team with names such as Alan McNish, David Coulthard, David Leslie, John Cleland and 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti proudly wearing the Ecosse shield.

“Ecurie Ecosse currently support young Scottish talent Colin Noble who won in his LMP3 car at Portimao and is hopeful to fly the flag back at Le Mans. A new chapter is now emerging, again with their own cars but focused on road going models with the introduction of the magnificent LM69 and breathtaking LM-C.”

At just 24, Noble is already a proven winner, and is the best hope for Ecurie Ecosse to get back to the top.

Now about those new replica cars which Ecurie Ecosse have created to pay homage to their past success. Alasdair McCaig said of the new car: “How better to celebrate the historic success of the Ecurie Ecosse C-types than to manufacture a batch of cars in their honour? The seven priceless chassis raced in period still exist today, coveted by their lucky owners, occasionally seeing the light of day for race or concours events. We are paying homage to these cars by creating a numbered sister car to each one. Meticulous in their detail, like their forebears, hand-built in Coventry and tuned by Ecurie Ecosse technicians.”

Ecurie Ecosse say they have retained “all the key elements that contributed to the roaring success of the 1950s Jaguar racer while, in the true spirit of co-founder Wilkie Wilkinson, making considered improvements.”

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The ultimate petrolhead might like to know these specifics: “The aerodynamic shape remains, still crafted from thin-gauge aluminium alloy and mounted to a steel spaceframe chassis, but wider and stiffer than before, laser-cut for accuracy. The sonorous Jaguar straight-six XK engine remains too, although capacity has been increased to 4.2 litres and fuel injection fitted to bring power up to 300bhp.

“The suspension and disc brakes have been uprated to cope with the additional performance and a five-speed gearbox added to maximise acceleration and top speed. The detail of the car is breath-taking, with the hand-crafted aluminium bucket seats clothed in supple blue leather by Crest, hand-airbrushed Ecurie Ecosse shields adorning the car’s flanks, and Tag Heuer ‘Master Time’ stopwatches on the dashboard.”

A price tag has yet to be announced but some pundits say one of the cars will set you back more than £200,000. But if you wanted to buy one of the seven originals you would have to pay probably 60 to 70 times that sum – C-type chassis XKC 052, winner of eight races for Ecurie Ecosse in 1954, sold at Sotheby’s for $13.2 million (£9.7m) in 2015.

Ecurie Ecosse may not enjoy the success these days that it did back in the 1950s, but for a brief period a small outfit from Scotland ruled the world of sports car racing.