Joseph Gibson "Joe" Fry (October 26, 1915 - July 29, 1950) was a British racing driver and distant member of the Fry's Chocolate family, who only took part in the first ever championship Formula One race, the 1950 British Grand Prix, where he shared a Maserati 4CL with Brian Shawe-Taylor. The pair finished 10th. Along with Peter Walker and Tony Rolt, Fry and Shawe-Taylor were the first drivers to share the same car.
In only his third ever circuit motor race, having completed two races in Formula 500, Fry would start his third ever circuit race in racing's premier category, Formula One. Amazingly, he would go on to qualify third for the 1949 Goodwood Trophy.
Fry rose to prominence in British Hillclimbing where he and his family built Freikaiserwagen competed successfully in between 1936 and 1950. Fry's greatest achievement was beating Raymond Mays record in the 1949 Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb by 0.02 seconds. Mays record had been unbeaten for eleven years.
Fry narrowly missed out on winning the 1949 British Hillclimb championship, losing to Sydney Allard by a single point. Fry was the championship favourite for 1950, however was killed on July 29, 1950, in an accident during the Blandford hillclimb. He was 34 years old.
- 1 1949-1950: Formula One Career
- 2 Formula One Statistical Overview
- 3 Non-Formula One Career
- 4 References
1949-1950: Formula One Career[edit | edit source]
In 1948 Fry purchased a two year old Maserati 4CL from Enrico Platé to compete in Grand Prix events. His first Formula One category race was at the 1949 Goodwood Trophy. Astoundingly, Fry's two races in the support events for the British Grand Prix in 1948 and 1949 were his only previous circuit experiences. In only Fry's third circuit race, he was racing in the premier category of the sport.
With the support of his cousin, David, whom engineered the car, he proved impressively quick in qualifying to go third fastest behind Stirling Moss and Brian Shawe-Taylor. In the five lap race, Fry got a massive amount of wheel spin and dropped to fourth behind Kenneth McAlpine, Reg Parnell and David Hampshire.
For the main event, Fry got a poor start and dropped down the field. He couldn't match his qualifying performance and dropped four places in the race down to seventh. Nonetheless he succeeded in remaining on Reg Parnell's lead lap throughout the race.
His next race came at the 1949 BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone. In this event, Fry for the first time would be exposed to racing against the continental Formula One fraternity. Fry performed well in his heat, finishing eighth out of eighteen cars which qualified him for the event final. His old Maserati didn't see him have much chance against the newer machinery, however he remained the fastest of the Maserati 4CL runners that included Roy Salvadori and David Murray. Fry went on to finish the final in fifteenth and three laps down on race winner, Alberto Ascari's Ferrari.
Fry's next Formula One race would come at the opening round of the very first Formula One World Championship. His entrant into the 1950 British Grand Prix was not only his first true Grand Prix but also bared the significance of entering a World Championship for Drivers'. Fry would also enter the British Grand Prix support race for the third time to which during the practice, he would swap interchangeably between his F3 Arengo and his F1 Maserati.
Fry whom was still unfamiliar to circuit racing as well as running an uncompetitive car and switching between two different cars during practice meant that he could only manage twentieth on the grid, ahead of only Johnny Claes. In competing in two separate races throughout the day, unlike the other drivers', Fry agreed with Brian Shawe-Taylor that he would take over his car at the end of the race. Shawe-Taylor had his entry revoked after his ERA car was deemed too old to race.
Whilst Claes behind him got a lightning start in the race, Fry was conservative off the line. However he overtook Leslie Johnson and Peter Walker, both of whom had problems with their cars. Fry ran in last for the first quarter of the race, however he remained close behind the two Alta cars of Geoffrey Crossley and Joe Kelly ahead of him. On lap 29, Fry overtook Kelly and on the following lap he had also moved past Crossley. He would run until lap 45 when at the pit-stop, Shawe-Taylor took over the car. Shawe-Taylor finished the share car in tenth position.
Formula One Statistical Overview[edit | edit source]
Records Currently Held[edit | edit source]
|Highest Tenth Place Finishing Ratio (100%)||N/A||1950 British Grand Prix|
Records Previously Held[edit | edit source]
|Record||Predecessor||Race||Held Until||Total Races||Succesor|
|Most Tenth Place Finishes (1)||N/A||1950 British Grand Prix||1952 German Grand Prix||20||Johnny Claes|
|Most Tenth Place Finishes in a Season (1)||N/A||1950 British Grand Prix||1953 German Grand Prix||29||Louis Rosier|
|Most Twentieth Place Qualifications (1)||N/A||1950 British Grand Prix||1951 German Grand Prix||12||Pierre Levegh|
|N/A||1950 British Grand Prix||1954 Spanish Grand Prix||40||Louis Rosier|
Formula One Record[edit | edit source]
|Year||Entrant||Team||WDC Points||WDC Pos.|
Career Statistics[edit | edit source]
Career Results[edit | edit source]
|Complete Formula One results|
|3rd||DNQ||Did not qualify|
|5th||Points finish||DNPQ||Did not pre-qualify|
|14th||Non-points finish||TD||Test driver|
|NC||Non-classified finish (<90% race distance)||DNS||Did not start|
|Italics||Scored point(s) for Fastest Lap||[+] More Symbols|
Non-Formula One Career[edit | edit source]
Management[edit | edit source]
Fry was born in Winterbourne, Gloucestershire on the 26th October 1915. He was born as a member of the famous family run chocolate business, J.S Fry & Sons. The company was known for producing the world's first solid chocolate bar. Joe shared his namesake with his ancestor, Joseph Fry whom founded the company in 1761. The Fry family would since turn their innovative spirit from chocolate into motorsport.
In his youth, he was described as "more interested in fast cars and parties than living the conventional/respectable life expected of him as part of a very established and well known family." Nonetheless, Fry was a highly intelligent individual whom had nurtured his interest in motor cars whilst at University. It was noted, "He went to Cambridge University, which is where he met his cousin David Fry – and because they weren’t allowed cars at the University, both rented an illicit garage where they could tinker with cars and indulge their passion for speed."
David had the inspiration to use the family money to build their own motor car for competition. The technical design was completed by Dick Caesar with assistance from Robin Jackson and Hugh Dunsterville. The car which was completed in 1936 took the chassis of a Frazer Nash and modified it to be a mid-engined car that mimicked the design of the dominant Auto Union in Grand Prix racing.
The car was affectionately referred to as the "Porsche" due to its comparisons to the designs of Ferdinand Porsche, however it was officially named the Freikaiserwagen. Due to the car's German influence, it was named as a German rendition for Fry, Caesar and wagon.
Fry was also involved in the secret motor racing club, CAPA which was co-founded by Freikaiserwagen creater, Dick Caesar. It was described as an organisation that was "membership by invitation, if one had the right temperament and attitude."  Fry had a significant role in the organisation as it was on his estate near Lulsgate that a private hillclimb testing ground was set up for its members. It was said that the reason for such secrecy was "intentionally low key in an effort to prevent the RAC getting upset about it's 'outlaw' nature and withdrawing competition licences from those who took part, which they threatened to do."
At the conclusion of the war, CAPA became the main instigators in persuading the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) to run a new Hillclimb championship series in which motor regulations would be restricted to a total of 500cc. The 500 class would restrict the engine type to that of a motorcycle engine which was aimed at reducing the dominance of manufacturers such as ERA and Alta. Motorsport was left in a bad way at the end of the war and Formula 500 was the first series to commence racing once again in the country.
In an article for the magazine, Iota, which was owned by CAPA, Fry authored the operational history of the Freikaiserwagen between 1936 and 1947.
In 1947, alongside Jim Bosisto and Dick Caesar, he founded the Gordano Car Company. The company produced and ran the prototype for their first Gordano sportscar in 1948. However the project collapsed upon Fry's death in 1950.
During 1950, another car project that the Fry's were developing was the secretive "1864 job". Robin Jackson was designing a new competition Hillclimb car which would include a Citroën chassis with an Alfa Romeo engine. The car was expected to dominate British Hillclimbing upon its completion, however after Fry's death, the project fell apart.
1939-1945: Second World War[edit | edit source]
At the outbreak of war, Fry joined the British Army in 1939. As he was highly educated he was placed into the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). During his time with the OCTU, he was stationed at Shorncliffe. Upon his graduation on the 18th January 1941, he was placed into the Corps of Royal Engineers as a 2nd Lieutenant. At the war's end, Fry received the 1939-1945 War Medal and the 1939-1945 Star.
1937-1950: British Hillclimb[edit | edit source]
Both Joe and David were the Freikaiserwagon's initial drivers, however it quickly became apparent that Joe was the fastest of the two. Due to David's large frame, he turned his attention to engineering the car with Joe becoming the primary driver.
The Freikaiserwagen demonstrated early form at the hands of Hugh Dunsterville and David Fry, before Joe whom until that point had a development driver had a run in the car. His first time trial came at the 1937 Shelsley Walsh where he ranked sixth fastest. At Boness, Fry broke the record during the practice, however noted "some nonsense with the gear selection spoiled the official run."
The Freikaiserwagen rose to prominence in 1938, at its first meeting Fry broke the record at Syston Park, only for Ian Connell in the Grand Prix ERA car to go immediately faster. At Shelsley Walsh, Joe set an astounding time to go fifth fastest, only slightly slower than the Grand Prix ERA, Frazer Nash and A7 cars. Joe appeared set to go even faster, however an engine misfire on his second run spoiled any improvement. Nonetheless Joe was commended for driving with "great calmness", although the day belonged to Raymond Mays in the ERA whom smashed the track record.
Fry then set the record at Prescott, however the results "did not count officially." At Wetherby, Fry set the fastest time for his class and was only four tenths slower than the winning, GP class Bugatti. At Backwell he achieved second fastest time of the day before at the final round of the championship, to which he noted "very stupidly drove into the woodwork on the inside of Orchard corner with a resounding smack on a practice run, doing no good to the front suspension and badly lozenging the chassis. So a successful season (literally) came to an end." It was an unfortunate result as he was described to have "unofficially bettered" the time of the event winner, George Abecassis in the Alta.
With the Freikaiserwagen out of action, Fry competed at the Backwell Hill Climb in 1939 with a Delahaye. However he notably struggled for competitiveness in this event. During the war he continued to compete in small events organised by the 750 Club in Gloucestershire in a Delahaye and an SS1. Fry promised the Freikaiserwagen would be more "potent" than ever before if he had the time to repair it.
During one of the first post-war hillclimb meetings at Prescott, Fry whom had an accident in practice had struggled to repair his Freikaiserwagen in time for the start. Most daringly and most impressively, he would compete in a car with no brakes for the main event. In doing so, Fry won the event and set a time 0.2 seconds faster than the lap record.
With motivation from Fry's wife, Pat, there was a decision to update the Freikaiserwagen chassis for 1947. The Freikaiserwagen was described as one of the fastest accelerating cars, however the brakes were described as being ineffective. 1947 was described as the year "everything went wrong", the car being notoriously unreliable.
The car was withdrawn from Prescott due to unreliability and then at Shelsley Walsh, the fly-by wheel had failed. At Brighton, "the car threw second-gear chain on both runs" whilst at Poole, Fry finished third behind Dennis Poole and Kenneth Hutchinson. Fry may have gone faster, however "the car was spun around on its second attempt and failed to finish the course."
The car made improvements for 1948, however was unable to consistently beat the Cooper-JAP's, as was demonstrated by Fry's defeat against John Cooper at Shelsley Walsh in 1948. Nonetheless, there were some strong performances, Fry setting the lap record and took victory at Prescott. In a later meeting at Shelsley Walsh, Fry with a new suspension from Robin Jackson looked fastest in practice, however before the start, his clutch failed bringing an end to hopes of taking victory.
Further improvements were to come as was underlined by Fry's most reputed performance in motorsport at the 1949 Shelsley Walsh hillclimb. Raymond Mays, the double Hillclimb champion whom had won both the opening seasons in 1947 and 1948 had since had an untouched record of the Shelsey Walsh Hillclimb since 1938. Mays dominance at the circuit had meant he was since dubbed the "King of Shelsley".
Although Fry faced stiff competition in the event, particularly the Coopers of Stirling Moss and John Cooper, he would carry out an extraordinary feat in his little Freikaiserwagon. On his first run, his car looked wildly out of control and hit a bank at the start of his run. Nonetheless, he underlined his performance when the run was only a second off the lap record.
On his second run, Fry put in a wild run performance to beat Mays's eleven year record by 0.02 seconds. It was an awe inspring performance to which the double hillclimb champion exclaimed to Fry in a beer tent after the event, "Joe, I simply can't go any faster." Fry featured on the cover of the July 1949 edition of Motor Sport  to which it was commented "His second run was a model of how to do it, leaving, one suspects only a very slender safety margin! The Freikaiserwagen's acceleration up the straight, tyres nearly alight and the two stage, air cooled V-twin Blackburne sounding absolutely right, had to be seen to be believed and could only just be believed even then. This is the sort of praise that brings exclamations of joyful praise from even the most blasé pressmen."
Fry continued his strong form when he took victory at Prescott, improving the lap record to which he had set the previous year.  His run was described as "a series of frightening slides, fairly fighting to maintain control on the final bend of the Esses and experiencing vast powerslides all the way from there to the semi circle."
At the Brighton International Speed Trials, Fry took victory, however in the process he pushed the limits of his machine to which he sheared a fly-by wheel. It was a bittersweet victory, as his car was being towed away, the Mayor of Brighton and Hove asked him "How much did it cost you?" to which Fry angrily replied, "£1000 plus".
Heading into the International Prescott Speed Hillclimb, Fry alongside Dennis Poore and Sydney Allard were left as the final contenders for the 1949 British Hillclimb championship. However, he would continue to be plagued by the Freikaiserwagen's notorious unreliability. He had been lucky at Brighton, however during practice he once again had a failure on the fly-by wheel. He, his cousin, David and Robin Jackson worked furiously to repair the problem before the timed event, however shortly before the start, his magneto failed. Having failed to take the start this had meant that Fry lost the championship to Allard by only a single point. It was reported "The sympathy of everyone on the hill went out to him." 
Although he had lost the championship to reliability, Fry continued to demonstrate the Freikaiserwagen as the fastest car in Hillclimbing when he won the second Shelsley Walsh meeting, ahead of Stirling Moss's Cooper. At Weston-Supre-Mare, despite further mechanical troubles to which he was 'doused in methanol" during his run, he would once again take victory.
Ahead of 1950, to the disbelief of many, the Fry's planned to add even more power to their already very unstable but incredibly quick Freikaiserwagen. The updates for the new season include a faster changing gearbox and an added cylinder to the car's Cross engine.
Furthermore there were reports of a secretive project known as the "1864 Job" in which the Fry's had recruited Robin Jackson to design a new Freikaiserwagen that would run with a Citroen chassis and Alfa Romeo engine was expected to be, if completed, "Unbeatable in Fry's capable hands."
During practice for the 1950 Shelsley Walsh, Fry in the updated Freikaiserwagen was much faster than his peers and looked set to follow on his victory from the previous year's event. However during the time trial, Fry ever racing on the edge hit a bank and rolled his car. Amazingly, he emerged unscathed apart from a badly cut hand. Whilst he was being bandaged by the nurse, he reportedly asked for a "brandy and soda" as his prescribed treatment.
Sportscars[edit | edit source]
Fry took part in the Lulsgate Bugatti owners sportscar races for the Light Car Club in 1949. Fry took victory in the second heat in the 2 000cc class to which it was described he "built up a handsome lead, to the surprise of those that thought [J.M] James would win." However he would lose the final to Leslie Onslow-Bartlett.
Shortly afterwards at a Bugatti owners meeting at Prescott, Fry took victory ahead of Chink Whincop "in a rivalry that was known to be intense." Although Fry won the event, he was described not to have been in his record breaking form that he had demonstrated in the Hillclimbing events at Prescott and Shelsley Walsh.
1948-1950: Formula 500 / Formula Three[edit | edit source]
Whilst Formula 500 was initially set up for Hillclimbs, drivers and teams of the category began to use these cars to be involved in circuit racing. Fry, whilst being a Hillclimb specialist also made the move into circuit racing at the late age of 33 in 1948. Fry would compete in Dick Caesar's Iota chassis which was essentially his Freikaiserwagen modified for circuit racing.
He competed in the opening races at the Silverstone Circuit as well as the support event for the 1948 British Grand Prix. Among his circuit F500 competitors were John Cooper and his fellow Cooper drivers, Stirling Moss and Eric Brandon. During practice at Silverstone, the Iota notably blew its Cross engine and for the race it borrowed a JAP from John Cooper whom was running the highly successful Cooper outfit.
Formula 500 had become extremely popular and fielded the support races for the British Grand Prix in 1948 and 1949. The cars were running not far off the pace of the Formula One cars and made an excellent feeder series. In 1950, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) officially announced F500 as an international racing category and was thus renamed Formula Three for 1950.
Ahead of the new F3 season, Fry dispensed with what was deemed an uncompetitive Iota for the newly formed constructor, Arengo. Fry immediately impressed, in his first race with the car, he took his first F3 win at Lulsgate. He took the lead on the second lap and subsequently dominated the race. Fry affectionately called the Arengo, "his pet." 
Fry's final F3 race came at Silverstone, to which for the third time he entered the support race for the British Grand Prix. Fry was unable to distinguish himself from the midfield in an event that was dominated by the nimble Cooper cars.
Death[edit | edit source]
A month after his outing at the British Grand Prix, Fry returned to Hillclimbing where he survived a massive roll at the 1950 Shelsley Walsh. Fry was looking extremely competitive and was looking to improve on his lap record from the previous year when he had his accident. In 1949 he was described as "leaving safety to a very slender margin", however in 1950 he had pushed the boundary too far and crashed.
Fry was lucky to survive the incident with nothing more than a cut hand, however he had lost the race to rival, Raymond Mays when he needed to win. At the next round at Blanford, once again, during practice, Fry was described to have taken a corner near the end too wide which caused him to spin. He somersaulted multiple times whilst still trapped in the vehicle. He was left severely injured, to which he succumbed to his wounds only a few hours after his accident.
Fry's death had also meant the end of the Freikaiserwagon which had accompanied him throughout his motorsport career. The wreckage of the car was not repaired and the small amateur constructor would disappear along with its primary driver. The Gordano Car Company also went into dissolution and the much hyped "1864 Job" nor the Gordano sportscar never materialised.
Raymond Mays payed tribute in stating, "The death of Joe Fry, from injuries whilst practicing at the Blanford hillclimb, was a great blow to me and British motorsport in general."
In his obituary it was noted "It was always an experience to watch Joe in that car, he never gave away a fraction of a second anywhere and his technique was of the most fearless. He did not scorn mechanical instruction from his cousin, but as a driver he was his own master and master of his car."
Legacy[edit | edit source]
Following his death, Blandford was immediately shut down as a circuit for motor racing.
His largest contribution to motorsport was his role in CAPA which pushed for the creation of the Formula 500 category in motorsports. Only shortly before his death, the FIA made F500 an International motor racing series to which it was renamed Formula Three. A championship for Formula Three was established in 1953 to which it continues to be one of the most prominent Formula One feeder series into the contemporary era.
He was commemorated in motorsport with the Joe Fry Memorial Trophy. The race held at Castle Crombe ran between 1952 and 1954. It was held to Formula Two specifications in its first two years before becoming a Formula Libre event in its final race. The race winners were Roy Salvadori, Bob Gerard and Horace Gould.
Although his cousins death meant the end of Freikaiserwagen and Gordano Car Company, his cousin, David Fry continued to operate in motor racing. In 1958 he established the Fry-Climax team for Formula Two which ran Mike Parkes as race driver. The Fry-Climax attempted to compete among the Formula One runners in the 1959 British Grand Prix, however the car failed to qualify for the event. Although the Freikaiserwagen was never rebuilt, his widow commissioned a model to be created as a trophy.
The winner of the Wiscombe-Park Hillclimb has since been presented with the Joe Fry Freikaiserwagen Trophy every year since 1960. The Wiscombe-Park Hillclimb was established to replicate the Shelsley Walsh run to which Fry rose to prominence in 1949. He would remain the all-time record holder for the original Shelsley Walsh run before the track's resurfacing and modification in 1952.
In 2008, 94 year old Hugh Dunsterville and his son, Rob, published the book Freikwhich told the story of the Freikaiserwagen. Joe and his cousin, David's story was thereafter published to the world. It was reviewed as "One of the most interesting technical books I have ever read".
In 2016, a member of the Fry family put Joe's racing memorabilia up for auction. His archive of photographs, newspaper cuttings, presentation trophy cups, ephemera, film reels and other items were sold by Duke Auctioneers for £1 300. During the auction, he was referred to as "a motor racing pioneer and complete daredevil."
On the 67th anniversary of his death, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association payed tribute to Fry in 2017 by posting on Twitter "Another sad day for F1 with the fatal crash of Joe Fry (1915) in 1950." The tribute also mistakenly references him as being killed in the first Formula One race and being the first Formula One driver to die in a Formula One race.
References[edit | edit source]
- Mintz, Sydney (2015). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets
- Split Seconds: My Racing Years, by Raymond Mays