Leslie George Johnson (22 March 1912 – 8 June 1959) was a British racing driver whom competed in Formula One between 1946 and 1950. He most notably took part in the first ever round of the Formula One World Drivers' Championship when he raced at the 1950 British Grand Prix in an ERA E-Type. Johnson also has the accolade for being the first driver to retire from a world championship motor race.

He never raced in Formula One again, however was a regular contender in post-war grand prix racing from 1946 to 1950. He first gained prominence in Formula One in putting in some very successful performances in a Talbot-Lago sportscar throughout 1947.

He was dubbed, the "Businesslike Performer", being an incredibly successful businessman when he was not motor racing. In 1947, he was considered one of motorsports great "Brains".

He poured his business interests into Formula One when he purchased the ERA constructor from Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon in October 1947. Throughout 1948 to 1950, Johnson unsuccessfully raced and developed the ERA E-Type.

He thereafter retired from Formula One racing and instead focussed on running the business interests in the team. For 1952, Johnson announced the new ERA G-Type to which he recruited Britain's rising star, Stirling Moss to race for him in the new season.

Johnson had been critical of Moss in his earlier career, however had developed a great respect and friendship for Moss whilst they were teammates at Jaguar in sportscars. Although the ERA project in 1952 was not a success and Johnson sold the company at the end of the season, Johnson was renowned as one of Moss's early mentors.

Johnson had been afflicted by heart and kidney problems since he was a child, which largely prevented him from making a full-time motor racing career. Albeit, he gained a reputation as a great-all rounder in being able to be competitive in any kind of motorsport from Hillclimbs, time trials, Formula One, Sportscars and Rallying. His most noted motorsport success was winning the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps at the wheel of an Aston Martin in 1948.

1946-1950: Formula One CareerEdit


An accomplished driver in rallying, time trials and sportscars, Johnson turned his attention to Grand Prix cars for the first time in 1946. Having participated in the unofficial "Belgian Grand Prix" [1]in a sportscar race in Brussels,[2]. Having been likened to Britain's best pre-war racing driver, Richard Seaman,[3]Johnson had purchased Seaman's old 1928 model, Delage also driven by Earl Howe and Prince Bira.[4] Johnson's first race was the 1946 Ulster Trophy and during practice whilst in his first outing in an old outdated G.P car, Johnson broke the lap record.[4] His race performance was less memorable, however he was noted to have overtaken David Hampshire for third before retiring from the race.[5] 

1947: Racing a Sportscar in Formula OneEdit

His first race of the season came at the 1947 Jersey Road Race.[6] He had been snubbed ahead of the event for "entering what was a basically a sportscar" into an F1 event.[6] Johnson had simply taken off the mud gate in order for it to be classified as a G.P car.[4] Johnson impressed everybody in putting his car fourteenth fastest in qualifying.[6] It was noted "that 'Johnson went fast in practice' is something of an understatement."[7]

Johnson would start in the midfield among cars that should have been vastly superior.[6] He then went on to drive a consistent race and where others dropped out due to reliability, Johnson finished sixth.[6] However it should be noted that after he lost sixth gear, he had to halt his hard pressed challenge on Henri Louveau's Delage.[6]

He then entered his first Grandes Épreuves at the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten.[8] Aside from Johnson's sportscar entry, there were a number of Delage and Delahaye sportscars as well as Louis Rosier whom entered the newest model Talbot-Lago T150C.  Johnson had a lot of expectation following his strong showing at Jersey.[8] He looked to be one of the few sportscar racers to make it into the final heat. however devastatingly for Johnson, during the qualifying heat, only a few minutes after Achille Varzi had run over and killed a child whom had run onto the circuit, Johnson ran wide off the circuit to which he hit and killed two spectators.[8] 

A devastated Johnson immediately withdrew from the race to which it was commented on the incident, "he had a brake lock on, to which he slid onto the grass, killing two spectators whom had no right to be there, having defied the police. It is a thousand pities to Johnson, who, a decent chap, retired at once."[8]

Johnson would overcome this traumatic experience to which he would return to race at the next Grandes Épreuves at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix.[9] Johnson would finish the race eighth, six laps down on race winner Jean-Pierre Wimille and last of the classified finishers.[10] Rosier whom finished a lap ahead of Johnson in his newer Talbot-Lago was the only other sportscar runner to finish.[10]

Johnson would enter one final F1 event in his sportscar, the 1947 British Empire Trophy at Douglas.[11] However his car caught fire before the end of the first lap and he was forced to retire from the event.[11]

1948-1950: ERA Edit

1948 Edit

Johnson had been rumoured to be involved with ERA since January 1947.[12] However it was not until October 194 that Johnson took ownership of the company.[13] The deal would have been completed much sooner, however "the business papers had been lost and were never found."[14]

Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon were committed to setting up BRM, Britain's first government-funded racing team to which they no longer had any use for their inactive ERA organisation.[15] Johnson whom immediately sold his Talbot-Lago sportscar was now responsible for the development of the ERA E-Type.[16]

Now a racing driver and team owner, it was reported that one of Johnson's challenges for 1947 would be getting over the ERA's "various malaises".[16] Regarding Johnson's restructuring process it was noted "When he acquired ERA Ltd and re-established it at Dunstable he employed a number of old lags from pre-war racing who were looking for a job postwar." [17]

At what would be his first race with the ERA at the 1948 British Empire Trophy, Johnson was described as being "very happy to have got his Zoller-blown E-Type ERA at last and to be permitted to run although he had not practiced." [18]

Johnson's revival of the ERA brought a lot of curiosity to which it was noted "When he drove the E-Type, I think in the Isle of Man, Reg Parnell wandered over for a chat with Johnson, and absent-mindedly gave the car's steering wheel a tweak, to discover VAAAST free-play. 'You can't race this Leslie, you'll kill yourself'. 'Oh yes, well, it takes a bit of getting used to but you know, the boys have worked so hard to get it ready I really feel I ought to give it a go...'."[17]

Starting from the back of the grid, Johnson's ERA engine was described to have "started rather reluctantly" off the line.[19] However, coming from the back of the field, Johnson scythed his way through the midfield. He had climbed to fifth when after hitting the bank at Cronk-ny-Mona corner, he lost the position to Duncan Hamilton.[19] However after Hamilton retired, he reclaimed the position.[19] Johnson went on to set the equal fastest lap of the race alongside Parnell[20], it was an impressive opening performance for Johnson whom considered the race merely a "try out" for his new ERA E-Type.[21]

Johnson was one of the select few British racing drivers selected to be invited to the opening race at the Circuit Park Zandvoort by the Royal Netherlands Automobile Club.[21] Although now considered one of Britain's leading race drivers, Johnson did not participate in the event.[21]

Johnson was once of the drivers to participate in the very first British Grand Prix and the opening races at the Silverstone Circuit.[22] During practice it was described that Johnson held a "slide" through Copse corner before shortly afterwards being forced to avoid a major accident when "Baird" spun out of control at Seaman.[22] At the end of the first day of practice, Johnson was fastest.[22] However the following day he dropped down to fifth on the grid, behind Chiron, Emmanuel de Graffenried, Philippe Étancelin and Bob Gerard's old ERA B-Type.[20] The car then retired shortly after the start of the race.[20]

At the Sulon Grand Prix at the Autodrome de Montlhéry, Johnson was described to have "repeated his Silverstone tactics".[23] He took the pole position, however predictably his unreliable ERA would retire shortly after the start.[20]

1949 Edit

Heading into the new season, Johnson was considered one of the drivers whom would be able to mix with the leading Ferrari's and Maserati's.[24] Although there was much anticipation for the new BRM project, Johnson and the ERA remained the leading British manufacturer in Formula One racing.[24] Johnson was described as "doggedly persevering with the E-Type ERA."[24]

His old 'GP2' chassis had been sold to Taso Mathieson at the end of 1948[24], thereafter Leslie Brooke had come to him with an idea for an ERA F-Type, however Johnson "doubted its validity." [25]Nonetheless, Johnson permitted, his friend, Brooke to begin construction, albeit the project went nowhere.[25]

The F-Type debacle had cost ERA significant progress throughout 1949, Johnson had significantly reduced attendance during the 1949 season.[26] In April 1949, Johnson had finished the race in fifth position to which he raced the old 'GP2' chassis even though it was now under Mathieson's ownership.[27] He then withdrew his entry into the 1949 Jersey Road Race[28] and thereafter, following the failed F-Type development was not seen in Formula One for the remainder of the season.[26]

Johnson's diabolical Formula One season came to a close when he travelled to Montlhéry where he would attempt to break the lap record with the ERA E-Type.[29] However the car's notorious unreliability would strike again when the fuel pump broke before the start of his running.[29] Johnson was described to have left the track, "leaving the E-Type ERA behind."[29]

1950 Edit

Johnson was in attendance for the very first world championship Formula One at race at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix.[30] He would once again use his old E-Type, now under the ownership of Taso Mathieson.[30] He would qualify the ERA in twelfth position, however was outmatched by Peter Walker whom had managed to qualify an E-Type in tenth.[30]

However, notably both Walker and Johnson would fall fate to the E-Type's tragic reliability very early on in the race.[31] It was described that "Past Woodcote corner Johnson sees flames amid the smoke and steers the car onto the grass, stumbling from the cockpit before the car has stopped."[31] Johnson became Formula One's first retirement in its world championship history. [30]

Thereafter Johnson never entered a Formula One event again as a driver, however he was requested by Raymond Mays to replace their driver Ken Richardson at the 1951 Italian Grand Prix in the BRM as Richardson didn't possess the correct license.[32] However he was unable to reach the circuit in time and so the drive went to Hans Stuck.[32]

1948-1952: Non-Racing Formula One Career Edit

ERA Ownership Edit

Johnson, whom was considered one of the "brains" of motorsport was invited in early 1947 to take part in the Remembrandt meetings.[33] This particular meeting was for Britain's best motor racing minds to come together to discuss the future of motorsport.[33] Other notable members included Raymond Mays, Peter Berthon and Earl Howe.[33] When queried whether women should be allowed as pit attendants, Johnson was an advocate so long as they were the "right type".[33] He also was doubtful of closed cockpits being developed on GP cars and noted that teams and drivers should not take advantage of loopholes in regulations as it is "unfair and embarrassing for the organisers, who are doing their best to please."[33]

After his success in the furniture industry, Johnson expanded into starting businesses in the timber and nuclear power industries which is where he began to truely expand his wealth.[34] In October 1947, his business interests expanded into motorsport when he acquired English Racing Automobiles (ERA) from Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon.[15] Having taken over the ERA brand, Johnson produced a road car in partnership with Javelin to which the ERA-Javelin was released in November 1949.[35] The car was not a success and it was estimated that only half a dozen ERA-Javelin's were ever produced.[36]

Whilst also ERA's lead race driver, Johnson was also expected to lead development for the creation of a new ERA Grand Prix car.[37] In 1949, Johnson hired Prof.Dr Robert Eberan von Eberhorst, the former lead designer of Auto Union to lead developments on the F-Type.[37] However these failed developments throughout 1949 led Johnson to replacing Von Eberhorst with an engineering graduate, David Hodkin in 1950.[37] Johnson was led to believe that Hodkin was a "genius".[38]

Hodkin was placed in charge of the technical design of the ERA G-Type to which had been expected to be the leading British car in Grand Prix following the failure of the BRM project.[37] Johnson had also successfully managed to convince his friend and Jaguar sportscar teammate, Stirling Moss to switch from the HWM team to join Johnson's revival of the ERA works team.[37] With the signing of Britain's best young racing talent in Moss, Johnson would focus on management rather than driving in 1952. [37]

Johnson had entered Moss into the Daily Express Trophy where the new car was expected to make its debut.[39] To the disappointment of all, the car was not race worthy and failed to be delivered to the circuit in time.[39] The car instead was debuted at the Belgian Grand Prix. [37]

Upon its unveiling, the G-Type's aesthetics was not marvelled to which Ken Gregory, Moss's manager noted "I am sure, had visualized a really beautiful racing car, something on the lines of, say, a Mercedes or the E-type ERA, both of which were quite classics in appearance. Then, just before practice was due to begin, I saw a rather rough-looking green machine coming down the road, and was horrified to learn that this was the ERA. I wasn't watching Stirling's face closely at the time, but I think that he, too, was bitterly disappointed. Not only was the car squarish and ugly; it wasn't even a true single-seater, yet here it was, turning out for the GP of Europe!" [40]

The car was not only unattractive but it did not prove to be fast or reliable either. Moss's qualifying time to thirteenth on the grid was 14 seconds slower than polesitter, Alberto Ascari's Ferrari.[37] The car's Bristol engine had also proven unreliable during qualifying. Nonetheless Moss maximised the car's performance and climbed to as high as fifth before the Bristol engine exploded pitching him into an accident to which was noted "It was one of his luckier escapes, for just beyond the point where the ERA finished up was a great mass of barbed-wire fencing."[40]

The car being wrecked had meant the ERA would not be repaired in time for the next round of the championship at the French Grand Prix. An angry Moss would note "While I was having these problems Mike Hawthorn was making his name in his cheap and cheerful and uncomplicated but effective Cooper-Bristol."[37]

At the Daily Mail Trophy, Moss provided a good result for the car, however was once again overshadowed in British motorsport by the Cooper to whom Hawthorn and Alan Stacey had finished on the top two steps of the rostrum.[37] Then at the Dutch Grand Prix, Moss failed to set a time in practice before another engine failure saw him retire from the race.[37]

The team withdrew from the National Trophy, before competing in three final races at the Madgwick Cup, Joe Fry Memorial Trophy and the Newcastle Journal Trophy.[37] The car proved to be one of the fastest British cars to which Moss set the second fastest time in practice at the Madgwick Cup, only to be shunted off by Dennis Poore's Connaught at the start.[37] At the Joe Fry Memorial Trophy and the Newcastle Journal Trophy, Moss was the fastest car, however had to retire from both races due to steering problems to which had struggled to be repaired after Moss's incident in the Madgwick Cup.[37]

By the end of 1952, the ERA G-Type whilst it was quick, it was often outclassed by the British cars of Cooper and Connaught, as well as being well off the pace of the Ferrari's and Maserati's.[41] Johnson had also run out of development funds which deteriorated the car's reliability throughout the season.[37] In October 1952 with no more money, Johnson sold ERA to Bristol. Moss remembering the ERA project noted, "It was, above all, a project which made an awful lot of fuss about doing very little."[37] 

The aerodynamic design of the G-Type was used for Bristol's success in taking three successive victories for its class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans from between 1953 and 1955.[37]

Formula One Statistical OverviewEdit

Formula One RecordEdit

Year Entrant Team Pts WDC Pos. Report
1950 United Kingdom T.A.S.O Mathieson ERA 0 NC Report

World Championship Career StatisticsEdit

Entries 1
Starts 1
Pole Positions 0
Race Wins 0
Podiums 0
Fastest laps 0
Points 0
Laps Raced 2
Distance Raced 9 km (6 mi)

Career ResultsEdit

Complete Formula One results
Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Pts Pos
1950 Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of Monaco 48-star U S flag Flag of Switzerland Flag of Belgium Flag of France Flag of Italy 0 NC

Symbol Meaning Symbol Meaning
1stWinner Ret Retired
2ndPodium finish DSQ Disqualified
3rd DNQ Did not qualify
5thPoints finish DNPQ Did not pre-qualify
14thNon-points finish TD Test driver
NCNon-classified finish (<90% race distance) DNS Did not start
[+] More Symbols

Non-Formula One Career Edit

Early Life and Business ManagementEdit

Leslie George Johnson was born in Walthamstow, London on the 22nd March 1912.[42] Unlike most racing drivers, Johnson was not born into a family of privilege.[34] Instead the suburb, Watlhamstow, to which he grew up was renowned as one of the poorest suburbs in all of London.[34] Johnson had a rough start to life, as a child he suffered from nephritis and acromegaly which severely damaged his kidneys and lungs.[34] 

Although he survived this childhood trauma, the consequences of these ailments would have a major impact on his physical strength throughout his life.[34] Nonetheless, even as a child, Johnson's demonstrative willingness to survive and succeed would prove indicative of his character throughout his life.[34]

There would be further difficulties to come, during his teenage years.[34]  Johnson's father, a cabinet maker had finally managed to achieve the finances to start his own furniture manufacturing business.[34] Although his new business had finally meant he was able to sustain a comfortable income for his family, tragically the elder Johnson died shortly after founding the business[42].

Leslie whom had been learning his father's trade was thereafter forced to take control of his father's business.[42] Now having to provide for his widowed mother and younger brother, Johnson was forced into a business management role whilst still only in his teens.[34] 

For Johnson, his business interests were always his primary concern in life.[34] Although his feats in motorsport are what he is most remembered for, Johnson never saw his motor racing exploits as little more than a part-time hobby.[34] Whilst he was a naturally gifted racing driver, Johnson was also an astute businessman.[34] 

Despite the death of his father, Johnson from an early age was able to successfully grow his furniture manufacturing business into a highly profitable venture.[34] He was described as having philanthropic approach to his business management and was described by as "Quite the most charming, friendly, unassuming and courteous man in motor racing... His furniture factory was an extremely paternalistic, caring concern, in which long-term employees were looked after virtually to the grave. When they became too old for their regular work they might be put onto lighter duties for a lesser wage, but there'd always be something for them, Johnson made sure of that."[17]

Time Trials Edit

During the early 1930's, Johnson had expanded his business interests and now ran a garage business in North London.[14] His early motor racing exploits were that apart of motorcar club events.[14] His first known racing events were in 1934 where he competed in the MCC Land's End and Edinburgh Trials with an Aston Martin.[14]

In 1936 he was noted to have taken part in the Land's End with an MG and during the 1937 Exeter Trial, he competed in a Ford.[14] Thereafter he purchased a Frazer Nash-BMW Type 55 for competition.[14] The car was considered one of the top line sportscars to which it was noted "Most of us wanted one."[14] Thereafter he took victory in the Frazer Nash-BMW at the Coventry Cup Trial before using his Ford to take fourth place in the Boxing Day Ford Enthusiasts Trial.[14]

In 1938, he was observed to have "made a very rapid and spirited drive up Fingle Bridge... mostly using second gear" at the Exteter Trial.[14] He gained further notice at the Buxton Trial[43] where he 'smote a tree"[43], however more positively at the Lawrence Cup Trial he narrowly defeated Kenneth Hutchinson to take the victory.[14] He was also noted to have taken part in the 1938 Shelsley Walsh.[14]

For 1939, Johnson upgraded from a Type 55 model to a 328 model of the Frazer Nash-BMW which was uniquely described as "left-hand drived" .[44] In February 1939, Johnson entered the the Colmore Trial to which he was described to have "blipped" his rival, K. Delingpole at the start.[45] Further success saw him win take victories in the Bosom Trial, the Bernard Norris Cup as well as taking the Club Team Trophy alongside overall winner, Sydney Allard.[45]

At the Kentish Trial in 1939, Johnson was described to have modifications to his BMW-Frazer Nash to which he was described as "steadily succesful - its exhaust outlet is now led to a gap in the leading edge of the rear wheel flairing."[46] Johnson's efforts in the event were applauded to which he was awarded the First Class Awards.[46] In a time trial organised by the Junior Car Club at Brooklands, Johnson took an equal second position alongside Hugh Hunter.[47]

At Prescott, Johnson put in some spectacular driving in a time trial that took place in very wet conditions.[48] In setting the fastest time on his first run, he was described as "sliding so much once that he grabbed the door to steady himself."[48] However Johnson's spectacular sliding would cost him on his second run as he failed to improve.[48] Then at the very last moment of the trial, Johnson had his fastest time pipped to which he frustratingly finished second after leading the event throughout the day.[48] At the Horndean trial, taking place shortly after the commencement of the Second World War, Johnson took second position behind one of his lead rivals, Sydney Allard.[49]

At the conclusion of the war, Johnson was appointed vice-captain of the North-West London Motor Club (NWLMC).[50] Johnson would be responsible for organising and racing in events within the club.[50] The first of the club events was the Lawrence Cup Trial.[51] However his car's first race in seven years had teething trouble and he retired with gearbox problems.[51]

Johnson began to consider replacing his entry with a 1937 model Talbot-Lago T150C for the Elstree Trials.[52] However before the event he reconsidered and opted to enter his old Frazer Nash-BMW.[52] Johnson handed his Talbot over to Peter Monkhouse whom most frustratingly for Johnson went on to win the event in a car that Johnson had entered.[52] Johnson entered the Frazer-Nash-BMW at one final event at Ballyclare to which he finished fourth.[5] He thereafter sold the car to Oscar Moore.[44]

Dispensing with his old car proved to be a strong decision, in his first trial with the Talbot-Lago, Johnson took victory at a hillclimb meeting in Prescott.[53] Johnson was said to be "excellent" in the wet conditions to which he went third fastest.[53] In the second round, in the dry conditions, Johnson took a dominant victory.[53] In another wet weather performance, Johnson took victory at Bo'ness.[54]

His most significant wet weather performance of the season was when he took victory at the International Shelsley Walsh meeting.[14] It was noted " Leslie Johnson treated us to his usual sliding technique into the corners and removed some soil from the landscape leaving the 'S'" .[55] Johnson achieved the fastest time for sportscars in his Talbot-Lago.[55] It was noted that Johnson was cautious to make sure he did not spray the spectators in the wet conditions.[55] After the event, Denis Jenkinson remarked to him "Rev the engine, that will scatter them". To which Leslie replied, "That would hardly be fair today, would it?"[14]

However at the International Prescott he finished second to Sydney Allard by less than half a second.[14] Johnson was described as "trying really hard" however he could not find a way to better Allard's time.[56] He was consoled though in taking victory in the smaller category against a hard-pressing Geoffrey Crossley.[56]

As a part of his role as the vice-captain of the NWLMC, Johnson was personally responsible for organising a Time Trial at Shelsley Walsh to which he announced only "Aces" would be eligible to compete.[57]

At the Bouley Bay Hill Climb in late 1946, Johnson was set to take victory in his Talbot-Lago, however he was pipped to victory by Sydney Allard once again.[58] At a night event at the Knock M.C.C Night Trial, Johnson achieved a First Class Award. [58] At the final Shelsley Walsh meeting of the season, Johnson was described as "neat but not rapid enough."[59]

Johnson entered the 3-litre class for the 1947 Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb to which he gave another spectacular display in which he was described as "going very, very fast through the 'S' just touching the outside bank." [60]Johnson in his Talbot-Lago finished the event third behind Dennis Poore and Ken Wharton.[60]

At the Summer Prescott meeting, Johnson was involved with another showdown with Sydney Allard, however this time Johnson would be declared the victor.[61] Johnson whom had beaten Allard's 1939 record was described as "the model of consistency."[61]  Later in the year, he and Allard would do battle once again at the International Prescott meeting.[61] Johnson once again took victory to which it was noted "he experienced vicious slides into and out of the Esses in the wet but held them in his usual style."[61] He had also taken the class record in the process.[62]

Following his acquisition of ERA at the end of 1947, Johnson's first event in competing with the ERA E-Type was at a hillclimb at Prescott in early 1948.[63]

However, it was here that he was first exposed to the fragility of the E-Type as he was listed as failing to take the start.[63] His following attendance at Shelsley Walsh saw him fail to start once again.[64] Then for the third time that season, Johnson failed to attend his entry at the Weston-Super-Mare.[23]

In the 3 000cc class for the 1949 Shelsley Walsh, Johnson in his Bentley came within 0.28 seconds of the class record despite "all not being well beneath the bonnet of his magnificent car."[65] Thereafter he was described that Trials were now "Totally abandoned for racing".[14]

Rallying Edit

Johnson first rose to prominence when he proved a successful rally racer whilst competing with the Frazer Nash-BMW. He was the winner of the 1937 Scottish Rally[4] and then got best performance at the MCC Torquay Rallyhad further success in Britain's premier Rally event, the Welsh RAC Rally.[4] During 1938, Johnson put in an excellent performance to finish third in his Frazer Nash-BMW.[4] Like the previous year, Johnson once again took victory in the Scottish Rally.

The following season, Johnson took victory in the 1939 FEC Croydon Rally.[66] His best time of 13 seconds was 0.2 seconds faster than his nearest rival, Kenneth Hutchinson.[66] Heading into the Welsh RAC Rally, the Frazer Nash-BMW cars were expected to be favourite for the victory.[67] Johnson was described as "fastest of all", however he was observed as "spoiling what would have been a very fine time by sliding before the second turn."[67] His mistake likely cost him victory, as his time saw him equal his performance of the previous season in finishing third.[67] For the third successive year, Johnson took victory in the Scottish Rally.[14] 

Despite only participating part-time, Johnson had already established a reputation as one of Britain's best rally racers.[68] It was noted during a wartime retrospective analysis of the British Rallying scene, "To name two successful rally drivers of recent years, Leslie Johnson nor Walter Norton has any connection with the motor trade, but by force of superior skill and experience, they will always beat the average motorist in the same type of car."[68]

During the war, whilst official motorsport had largely been crippled, Johnson was one of a number of rallying enthusiasts whom took part in the unofficial Chessington Rally of 1941.[69]

He participated in the 1950 Monte Carlo Rally with a Jowett-Javelin.[70]

In 1952, Johnson entered his Jaguar X120 for the RAC Rally.[71] In the warm-up, Johnson had posted the fastest time, however during the official running, his car came stuck in first gear for much of the first leg.[71] Nonetheless, he put in an impressive performance to finish the rally in third position.[71] However, unfortunately he was subsequently disqualified when he was allowed to start the race without rear wheel spats. [71]

In 1954, Johnson entered a Sunbeam-Talbot into the Monte Carlo Rally.[72] It was during this event that Johnson suffered a serious heart attack behind the wheel.[72] Amazingly, despite his heart troubles, it was noted by his navigator, John Cutts and passenger, Norman Garrad that "It was altogether typical of Johnson that he somehow persuaded his colleagues to get to the end of the event before committing him to hospital in Monaco."[72] He was thereafter described to have been "absolutely unconscious" upon his arrival at the hospital.[72]

Commenting on the Alpine Rally, Johnson was one whom held the belief that it was "worse than any Mille Miglia, more exhausting than Le Mans and more dangerous than any Grand Prix."[73]


With motorsport being decimated due to the Second World War, Johnson was reported to have taken up "motorcycle scrambles" during 1941 to keep the racing spirit of Great Britain alive.[68] 


His first known entrance into sportscar racing was at the 1939 Stanley Cup, an event organised for BMW-Frazer Nash drivers at Crystal Palace.[74] Johnson finished fourth in his heat, however ran in third for most of the event before being overtaken on the final lap.[74] He then had further success when he finished a race in second position at Prescott.[14] Further racing at Crystal Palace in 1939 saw him take fourth position in the Crystal Palace Plate[75] before then going on to finish second behind the Alta of George Abecassis in the Imperial Plate.[76]

Johnson attended the Bruxelles Grand Prix, the first major international sportscar race after the conclusion of the war.[2] He looked set to win the event, however further reliability troubles dropped him to second behind St. John Horsfall's Aston Martin.[2] He lost the event, however gained some satisfaction in winning the Winston Churchill Cup for fastest lap.[2] The race was unofficially dubbed "The Belgian Grand Prix."[1]

Johnson's performance in Bruxelles was likened to that of "a budding Dick Seaman." [3]It was further added, "Sommer and Chiron danced with fiendish glee as Johnson took the esses in a single controlled slide. Chiron said he had the flair of Nuvolari. Sommer, inarticulate with emotion, kissed the poor chap."[77]

In 1947, Johnson was set to enter the Mille Miglia for the first time with Eason Gibson as his co-driver.[78] However neither he or his Talbot-Lago arrived to compete at the event.[79] Johnson did however compete in the Gransden Trophy at the Grandsden Lodge airfield.[80] In the event, Johnson drove a steady race to finish fourth behind Dennis Poore, George Abecassis and Roy Salvadori.[80]

Having sold his Talbot-Lago at the end of 1947, Johnson would start 1948 without his own personal sportscar.[16] In the Manx Cup, the support race for the 1948 British Empire Trophy, Johnson borrowed an Alvis to which he started from the third row of the grid.[81] Johnson led for most of the race, however he tired in the last leg of the race and dropped down to third.[81]

For the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, St. John Horsfall requested Johnson to partner him in his Aston Martin DB1 works entry for the event.[82]The duo survived treacherous wet night conditions to take a dominant victory at the wheel of the DB1.[83] Following this success he was described as being "tipped for stardom"[84] and the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) awarded both he and Horsfall with the ERA Trophy for their achievement.[85]

He subsequently entered a Healey alongside Nick Haines into the 12 Hours of Paris, however failed to finish.[86] At the Middlesbrough Sand Races, Johnson took the line in first place at the wheel of a Ford, however was subsequently disqualified for receiving outside assistance when he had spun off the track.[87]

After his success at Spa-Francorchamps, Johnson would rejoin the Aston Martin team for the 1949 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 1948 running of the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. [88] Johnson would enter the first running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1939.[89] Johnson was running in ninth to which his tyres were described as "whining" before coming into the pits, "conferring with the mechanics" and then opting to retire the car due to a lack of water in the engine.[89] The team had agreed it would be "illegal" to enter more water at that stage.[89] Johnson and his co-driver, Charles Brackenbury then had a much better performance at the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps to which they finished third.[90]

At the National Silverstone Allcomers, Johnson took victory in his privately owned Bentley.[91] Thereafter Johnson would enter the Bentley once again for the 5 lap race.[92] However his gearbox blew and he failed to start. [92]

For the main production car race, Johnson had joined Jaguar and would race their new XK120.[91] He was described as "one of the few owners lucky enough to buy one." He notably was the reason that Jaguar did not sell an X120 to Stirling Moss due to Johnson's "dismissive opinion of him".[93]

Johnson took an early lead, however dropped to third after damaging the front of his car after colliding with some straw bales.[94] Now stuck behind his Jaguar teammates, B Bira and Peter Walker, Johnson was hard-pressed to catch his tyres.[94] He quickly overtook Walker and when duelling Bira for the lead, the Thai Prince's tyre blew putting Johnson back into the lead to which he thereafter took an unchallenged victory.[94] An excellent race was marred by the death of his friend, St John Horsfall in the Formula One race.[94]

At the beginning of 1950, Johnson traveled to the United States for a sportscar race at Palm Beach.[95] Although the hydraulic brakes on his Jaguar X120 failed after 20 laps, Johnson still put in an impressive performance to finish the race in fourth position.[95] However it was thereafter noted "because he drove it on an American license, Johnson cannot compete in British national event this year - perhaps he doesn't care anyway!"

Upon returning to Europe, Johnson entered the Jaguar X120 alongside John Lea for the 1950 Mille Miglia.[96] He put in an impressive performance to be the fastest British car, finishing fifth behind the Ferrari's and Alfa Romeo's.[96] It was described as the best ever result in the race for a British driver in a British car.[97] However the race was marred for the death of his friend and rival, Peter Monkhouse.[98]

He then entered the Jaguar into the 24 Hours of Le Mans.[99] His car, co-driven by Bert Hadley survived for 21 hours when most disappointingly they retired with clutch failure.[99] The result was most bitterly disappointing as it was noted "Leslie Johnson ran as high as second during the middle portion of the race, but, in order to save brake wear he kept downshifting the transmission at high speeds and eventually blew the clutch, which prompted the substitution for a solid-disk clutch plate from then on."[100] Although he had failed to finish, Johnson's impressive performance had convinced William Lyons that Jaguar should invest in Le Mans for the future.[97]

His issue in licensing his Jaguar in Britain appeared to resolve itself as he was entered into the sportscar race for the Silverstone International.[101] However he could only manage eighth to which he was last of the classified Jaguar X120 runners.[101] At his next race for the Tourist Trophy, Johnson took an early lead, however having been overtaken by Jaguar teammate, Stirling Moss, he thereafter mysteriously fell back down to seventh position. [102]

Johnson then closed the season with a strong performance at the Goodwood International at the wheel of a Bentley. [103]Johnson whom finished second despite mechanical troubles and was described as "catching such modern machinery as a Connaught, Special Alvis Speed Twenty, a blown Alta and so on, and easily disposing of a 'Silverstone' Healey."[103]

Johnson once again entered the Jaguar X120 into the Mille Miglia for 1951.[104] John Lea would once again partner him, however the duo could not match their performance of the previous year and retired from the race.[104]

At the International Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone, the race was noted for its domination by the Jaguar X120's.[105] The Jaguar's occupied the top five at the finish to which Johnson finished fifth. [105] For the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Johnson made an interesting decision to partner Clemente Biondetti in his personally modified Jaguar, the Biondetti Special.[106] Unfortunately, whilst running in the top three the car failed to make it to the finish.

For the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, Johnson whom was racing the new Jaguar C-Type for the first time, opted to hand his car over to Tony Rolt after the practice.[107] Johnson was no longer matching up to pace, however Rolt in the share car brought Jaguar home in fourth.[107]

Johnson had another successful outing at the Mille Miglia in 1952 where like in 1950 he was once again the highest finishing British driver in a British car.[108] Johnson, and co-driver, William McKenzie finished their works Nash-Healey in seventh place, behind only that of the Ferrari's, Mercedes and Lancia's.[108] Nash-Healey were notably the "direct rivals to Jaguar."[109]

He was also due to enter the Monaco Grand Prix sportscar event in his Jaguar X120C, however failed to attend the event.[110] Johnson would once again drive for Nash-Healey, this time alongside Tommy Wisdom in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.[111] He would equal his 1949 performance in finishing third in the event, however victory was overshadowed by the dominance of the Mercedes cars.[111]

His second entrance for Jaguar of the season at the Boreham International once again saw him fail to attend the event.[112] He returned with Jaguar in the 1953 Mille Miglia to which he once again teamed alongside William McKenzie. Unfortunately he retired from the race with a split fuel tank.[113]

He then returned to Nash-Healey for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, however he and Bert Hadley could only manage eleventh in a race that was dominated by the Jaguar's. [114] It was described as a difficult race for Johnson whom was described to have pulled into the Jaguar pits for repairs. It was described "Johnson- driving a Nash-Healey- arrived looking totally lost and forlorn. There was nobody there to help him. He was obviously at a complete loss, so I beckoned him in and we refuelled him. We had a couple of tyres, the same size as his , which I gave him and sent him back into the race. He made it to the finish."[115]

He was due to enter the 9 Hours of Goodwood in a Jaguar, however he notably failed to take the start.[116] Then at the Tourist Trophy where he was due to enter for Jaguar, he failed to arrive at the event.[117]

Following his heart attack in 1954 at the Monte Carlo Rally, Johnson made a complete retirement from motorsport. His outing at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans turned out to be his last race in a sportscar.[118] He had planned to make a racing comeback by entering a Jensen 541 into the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, however his death only 13 days before the race had prevented it.[119]


In October 1950, Johnson and Stirling Moss attended the Montlhéry circuit to which they had the intention of breaking the record for the highest average speed in Johnson's Jaguar X120.[120] Johnson and Moss, driving in three-hour shifts, covered 2579.16 miles, with a best lap of 126.2 mph.[120] The duo averaged 107.46 mph for 24 hours, including stops for fuel and tyres to which it was the the first time a production car had averaged over 100 mph for 24 hours.[120] It was noted "This is a very fine demonstration of Jaguar reliability-eurnspeed and it seems very unselfish of a private owner to have submitted his car to it."[120]

In March 1951, Johnson returned to Montlhéry with his Jaguar X120 where he attempted to break the total speed record.[121] Although he clocked a total speed 130.38mph, Johnson failed to outright beat the record set in a Bugatti in 1936, however he was commended for his efforts.[122]

However he wasn't discouraged, the following year he returned to Montlhéry with the intention to complete the highest speed endurance test for a car in history.[123] The idea being described as coming from Johnson's "fertile brain" would see Johnson "sponsor" an event in which, he, Stirling Moss, Jack Fairman and Bert Hadley would attempt to a set a new endurance record.[123] Johnson's Jaguar X120 averaged 100.31 mph and covered 16 851 miles on the circuit over a period of 7 days and nights.[123] The only reliability trouble was that of a broken spring, however Johnson despite the trouble drove the last 9 hours and maintained the average despite the persisting problem.[123] Johnson was unwilling to put his co-drivers through added risk in his own car and that of an event of his own design.[123] The success had significantly boosted Jaguar's credibility, their feat being publicized by British newspapers across the country.[124]

Johnson was an advocate for the road car, the Humber Super Snipe.[125] During 1952, he and Stirling Moss drove the Super Snipe from Oslo to Lisbon, driving through fifteen European countries in 3 days, 17 hours and 59 minutes.[125] The run was a publicity stunt to demonstrate the efficiency of Humber's latest family centric vehicle.[125] It was noted that he nearly publicly referred to the car as a "Sunbeam-Talbot".[126]

Johnson notable tested the Sunbeam-Talbot at Montlhéry to which it was remarked "Leslie Johnson covered a staggering 111.20 miles in one hour, on an occasion when Stirling clocked an average of 115 mph. That boy, Moss, just had something a bit special didn't he?"[127]

The Jowett Car Company had used the design plans for a chassis of their sportscar, the Jupiter that were originally developed by Johnson during his time collaborating with Prof.Dr Robert Eberan von Eberhorst.[128] Johnson was described to have had "no money" and had to rent out Von Eberhorst's employment through a contract with Jowett.[129] His contract was terminated with the company following his heart attack in 1954.[130]

Personal Life Edit

In his final years, Johnson married the widow of his friend, Pierre Maréchal whom had been killed in the 1949 24 Hours of Le Mans. He then became the stepfather to Pierre's son, Christian whom would become an advertising copywriter, UK ultralight aviation pioneer and freelance journalist.


His debacle with the ERA project in 1952 had left him "tired and ill". He had a reduced presence in sportscar racing during 1953 and then in 1954 his heart attack at the Monte Carlo Rally had forced him into retirement. He was described as "a heavy smoker, his health deteoriated which forced him to give up motor racing."[14]

His health did not improve in retirement, however although his health was steadily worsening, Johnson had pledged to make a motor racing comeback in 1959 by entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Jensen 541.[119] However this comeback never occured as only 13 days before the event, Johnson succumbed to heart failure in his home in Gloucestershire.[131]

Legacy Edit

Johnson featured as one of the main protagonists in the 1976 book, "Jaguar Sports Cars". [132]

Johnson was remembered in 1980 as one who was known for using his Frazer Nash-BMW as being "a remarkable all-rounder" whom and was noted for how he used the car in "every imaginable type of motor sport".[133]

In 1988 he was remembered as a "competent racer who raced Jaguars and Nash-Healey's in the 1950's."[134] He was thereafter noted to have had one of his greatest drives at the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans in which he lapped faster than the entire field before breaking down whilst closing in on the leader.[134]

In 2002, he was remembered by Bill Boddy in an article which labelled him the "Businesslike Performer". He was described as Not particularly tall, always neatly dressed, hair parted, Johnson looked like a serious and determined businessman, not a racing driver. But he would rank as a first-class racing driver in the immediate aftermath of the war."[14]

In 2008, it was remarked that Johnson's feat in achieving fifth place in his privateer Jaguar X120 at the 1950 Mille Miglia was a "Seemingly impossible mission."[135]


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Motor
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5
  5. 5.0 5.1
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3
  10. 10.0 10.1
  11. 11.0 11.1
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 14.14 14.15 14.16 14.17 14.18
  15. 15.0 15.1
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Guy Griffiths
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2
  23. 23.0 23.1
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3
  25. 25.0 25.1
  26. 26.0 26.1
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3
  31. 31.0 31.1
  32. 32.0 32.1
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 33.4
  34. 34.00 34.01 34.02 34.03 34.04 34.05 34.06 34.07 34.08 34.09 34.10 34.11 34.12
  37. 37.00 37.01 37.02 37.03 37.04 37.05 37.06 37.07 37.08 37.09 37.10 37.11 37.12 37.13 37.14 37.15 37.16
  39. 39.0 39.1
  40. 40.0 40.1 Ken Gregory
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2
  43. 43.0 43.1
  44. 44.0 44.1
  45. 45.0 45.1
  46. 46.0 46.1
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 48.3
  50. 50.0 50.1
  51. 51.0 51.1
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2
  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2
  56. 56.0 56.1
  58. 58.0 58.1
  60. 60.0 60.1
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 61.3
  63. 63.0 63.1
  66. 66.0 66.1
  67. 67.0 67.1 67.2
  68. 68.0 68.1 68.2
  71. 71.0 71.1 71.2 71.3
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 72.3 ↑ Robson, Graham. Rootes Maestros. Mercian. p. 14. ISBN 9781903088463.
  74. 74.0 74.1
  77. "Maréchal, Christian: "Learning Curves" Classic and Sportscar June 1966 p.92
  80. 80.0 80.1
  81. 81.0 81.1
  84. The Autocar
  89. 89.0 89.1 89.2
  91. 91.0 91.1
  92. 92.0 92.1
  94. 94.0 94.1 94.2 94.3
  95. 95.0 95.1
  96. 96.0 96.1
  97. 97.0 97.1 Nevinson, Tim: "Flat out for a week" Thoroughbred and Classic Cars June 2008 p. 84.
  99. 99.0 99.1
  100. "Jim McCraw, Jaguar XK120C – Brief History Behind Jaguar European Car Magazine".
  101. 101.0 101.1
  103. 103.0 103.1
  104. 104.0 104.1
  105. 105.0 105.1
  107. 107.0 107.1
  108. 108.0 108.1
  111. 111.0 111.1
  119. 119.0 119.1
  120. 120.0 120.1 120.2 120.3
  123. 123.0 123.1 123.2 123.3 123.4
  125. 125.0 125.1 125.2
  134. 134.0 134.1
v · t · e Teams and Drivers
1950 Teams and Drivers
Teams Alfa Romeo • Maserati • ERA • Talbot-Lago • Alta • Cooper • Simca • Ferrari • Milano • SVA
Engines Alfa Romeo • Maserati • ERA • Talbot • Alta • JAP • Gordini • Ferrari • Milano • Speluzzi • Jaguar
Non-works Entrants Scuderia Ambrosiana • T.A.S.O. Mathieson • Peter Walker • Joe Fry • Bob Gerard • Ecurie Belge • Enrico Platé • Joe Kelly • Geoffrey Crossley • Scuderia Achille Varzi • Horshell Racing Corporation • Philippe Étancelin • Ecurie Rosier • Cuth Harrison • Peter Whitehead • Ecurie Bleue • Raymond Sommer • Ecurie Lutetia • Antonio Branca • Charles Pozzi • Clemente Biodetti • Paul Pietsch • Guy Mairesse • Pierre Levegh
Drivers Fangio • Farina • Fagioli • Parnell • Sanesi • Taruffi • Murray • Hampshire • Johnson • Walker • Rolt • Fry • Shawe-Taylor • Harrison • Gerard • Giraud-Cabantous • Rosier • Étancelin • Martin • Levegh • Sommer • Claes • Chiron • Rol • De Graffenried • B. Bira • Crossley • González • Pián • Pagani • Branca • Schell • Manzon • Trintignant • Chaboud • Pozzi • Biondetti • Pietsch • Mairesse
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