Tom Cole (racing driver)

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Tom Cole
Nationality United Kingdom British
Born Thomas Lionel Howard Cole, Jr.
(1922-06-11)11 June 1922
Llandaff, South Glamorgan, Wales
Died 14 June 1953(1953-06-14) (aged 31)
Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, Pays de la Loire, France
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Years 19501953
Teams S. H. Allard, Scuderia Ferrari and Luigi Chinetti
Best finish 3rd (1950)
Class wins 1 (1950)

Tom Cole (11 June 1922 – 14 June 1953) was a British racing driver, who raced on an American racing license, who made a name for himself in the early 1950s, but paid the ultimate price for his love of motorsport.

Early career

Thomas Cole, Jr. was born in Llandaff, in South Glamorgan, Wales, but his family relocated in America in the late 1930s. His family arrived in New York City, August 1939, just a week before World War II began officially in Europe. Tom attended Harvard University for a year, then served in the U.S. Merchant Marine after the US entered the war. Later, he drove an ambulance for the American Field Service. Then, after the war, Tom who was a survivor of polio, he became enamoured of the East Coast racing scene. He started racing a Jaguar SS100 in 1949, later switched to a HRG 1500. His race debut was at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit in the Bridgehampton 100 Mile Race, and was beaten only by the Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 of George Huntoon. He finished the season with a fifth place in the Seneca Cup, and fourth in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix, both in the HRG.[1][2][3][4][5]

Cole’s ability soon exceeded the potential of the Jaguar. After approaching Bill Frick of Frick-Tappet Racing, if a Cadillac engine would fit the SS100. As the answer was no, Cole had his father (who was in the shipping business), to ship over an Allard J2 from England and installed the Caddy engine, and the Cad-Allard was born.[2][5]

Cad-Allard years

The first race for the new car was at Palm Beach Shores in January 1950. He led for two laps before being passed by the eventual winning, Huntoon. Cole finished seventh after a spin, but was disqualified for receiving a push. He also led the Heart Trophy race, at Suffolk County Airport, but following a cracked rear wheel, he followed Briggs Cunningham’s Ferrari 166 home, to finished second. After winning a minor race at Suffolk, he took his first major race victory at Bridgehampton Sports Car Races, leading flag to flag. He would also race at 24 Heures du Mans There, he was partnered by the car-builder Sydney Allard. They co-drove a Cadillac powered J2 to third overall.[2][6][7]

At the start of 1951, Cole’s friend and racing patron, John Perona offered him a Chrysler Hemi powered Allard for the Gran Premio de Eva Duarte Perón – Sport. Due to engine’s massive torque, the car suffered from transmission problems during practice and the race. Ironically, driving Cole’s Cad-Allard, John Fitch took the race win. His adventure in Argentine did not end there. A friend of Cole’s, Vic Franzese (owner of the famous Glen Motor Inn), was sent a letter by Cole; ”He was in a light place that had crashed in the jungle. The pilot had a .45 handgun and a knife. They survived eating snakes. It took them two weeks to find civilization in Brazil. They were found by the natives.” Once back in the U.S., he climbed back into his Chrysler engined Allard, he drove it another win at the Bridgehampton Sports Car Races. He continued with the Chrysler engine at Le Mans, again partnered by Sydney Allard. Following an uneventful race, they retired around the 12-hour mark with clutch problems.[1][2][8]

Cole swapped back to the Cadillac power for the start of 1952, taking second place in the Vero Beach 12 Hour Endurance Road Race. Here his was surrounded by Ferrari drivers on the podium and their presence clearly had an effect on Cole, for he would soon be joining the Prancing Horse brigade.[2][9]

European racing campaign

In the summer of 1952, he launched his European racing campaign, started at Le Mans, with a Ferrari 225 S, belonging to his co-driver ”Pagnibon”, but entered by Scuderia Ferrari. They ran as high as 15th, before retiring with ignition issues. Later that summer, he entered the Targa Florio. Rather than using one of his Allards, he bought his own Vignale bodied Ferrari 225S, which started its life as a factory car. By the time the car appeared it had been repainted in American racing colours, before carrying him to 11th place.[1][2][10]

August 1952, saw Cole returned to Britain, for the Daily Mail International Festival at the Boreham Circuit. He took part in the Sports Car race for cars with engines greater than 2,000cc, finished fifth overall. A fortnight later, he drove the same 225S in the Goodwood Nine Hours, this time partnered by Graham Whitehead. The pair finished second despite fading brakes. He followed this up with another second place at the Gran Premio di Bari.[1][11][12]

Cole returned to Europe for the 1953 season, with his new Ferrari, 340 MM Vignale. Despite having never driven the 1,000 mile course before, Cole and his Swiss navigator Mario Vandelli put on a terrific show to finished in fourth place. During the Daily Express Trophy meeting, held at Silverstone, Tom got to try his hand at monoposto racing, in the Atlantic Stable’s Ferrari 500, during the BRDC International Trophy. Having finished in 15th in Heat 1, and collision with Joe Kelly in Heat 2, he failed to start the final. He went much better in the supporting sports car race, where he took yet another second place, behind the factory 340 MM of Mike Hawthorn. He had earlier in the season raced in the Gran Premio di Siracusa, with a Cooper-Bristol T23, but crashed out. He returned to the Cooper, and finished seventh in the Grand Prix de l’Albigeois.[1][2][13][14][15][16][17]

He returned to sports cars after what turned about to be his only single-seater finish at the Circuit d'Albi. Staying in France, he partnered by Peter Whitehead, to victory, when they won the rainy French International 12 heures d’Hyères, in whitehead’s Jaguar C-Type. Cole had make his mark in Europe and his had high hopes for Le Mans.[2][18]

Death at Le Mans

On 13 June 1953, Cole started his fourth les 24 heures du Mans in his 340 MM, still time co-driven by Luigi Chinetti. The race started well, with the car running as high third during the first three hours, but had fallen back to sixth by mid-race. At 06:14am, while everyone nor driving was contemplating breakfast, a regrettable disaster happened at the Maison Blanche kink, when Cole lose control after passing a slower car. The Ferrari hit a bank and demolished a wooden hut. Cole was ejected from the car during the accident, and died instantly from his injuries.[1][2][19][20]


Cole held one (or more) U.S. racing driver’s license, and his racing log book provided the evidence required for his participation at Le Mans. It was reported by many sources to be American driver; he had applied for U.S. citizenship, but the process had not been completed at the time of his death. Thus, he remained a legal citizen of Great Britain. But Tom’s intent to be an American citizen was clear.[5][21]

Racing record

Career highlights

Season Series Position Team Car
1949 Bridgehampton 100 Mile [3] 2nd Tom Cole Jaguar SS100
1950 Bridgehampton Sports Car Races [22] 1st Allard-Cadillac J2
Heart Trophy [23] 2nd T. L. H. Cole Allard-Cadillac J2
24 Heures du Mans [24] 3rd S. H. Allard Allard-Cadillac J2
1951 Bridgehampton Sports Car Races [25] 1st John Perona Allard-Chrysler J2
Bridgehampton 100 Mile [26] 1st John Perona Allard-Chrysler J2
1952 Second Annual Florida Handicap Vero Beach Endurance Road Race [27] 2nd John Perona Allard-Chrysler J2
Goodwood Nine Hours [28] 2nd Tom Cole Ferrari 225 S
Gran Premio di Bari [S+1.1] [29] 2nd Tom Cole Ferrari 225 S
1953 12 heures d’Hyères [18] 1st P. N. Whitehead Jaguar C-Type
Silverstone International [30] 2nd Atlantic Stable Ferrari 340 MM Spyder Vignale

Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
1950 United Kingdom S. H. Allard United Kingdom Sydney Allard Allard-Cadillac J2 S8.0 251 3rd 1st
1951 United Kingdom S. H. Allard United Kingdom Sydney Allard Allard-Cadillac J2 S8.0 134 DNF
1952 Italy Scuderia Ferrari France ”Pagnibon” Ferrari 225 S Berlinetta Vignale S3.0 DNF
1953 United States Luigi Chinetti United States Luigi Chinetti Ferrari 340 MM Spyder Vignale S5.0 175 DNF
(Fatal accident - Cole)

Complete 12 Hours of Sebring results

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
1952 United States United States Paul O’Shea Allard-Cadillac J2X S8.0 DNS
1953 United States William Lloyd United States Bill Lloyd Ferrari 340 America S5.0 DNS

Complete Mille Miglia results

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Pos. Class
1953 Switzerland Mario Vandelli Ferrari 340 MM Spyder Vignale S+2.0 4th

Complete 12 Hours of Hyères results

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
1953 United Kingdom P. N. Whitehead United Kingdom Peter Whitehead Jaguar C-Type S+3.0 204 1st 1st


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Tom Cole". The AUTOSPORT Forums. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Short, Happy Life of Tom Cole". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b "100 mile Bridgehampton". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  4. ^ "Watkins Glen Grand Prix". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b c "Motorsport Memorial -". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  6. ^ "Palm Beach". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  7. ^ "Suffolk Sports Car Races". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  8. ^ "Buenos Aires National". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  9. ^ "Vero Beach 6 Hours". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  10. ^ "Targa Florio". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  11. ^ "Boreham International [S+2.0]". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  12. ^ "World Sports Racing Prototypes". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Formula 2 1953 - International Trophy". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  15. ^ "Silverstone International". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  16. ^ "Formula 2 1953 - Syracuse GP". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  17. ^ "Formula 2 1953 - Albi GP". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  18. ^ a b "Hyères 12 Hours". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  19. ^ "Le Mans 24 Hours". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  20. ^ "1953 Le Mans 24 Hours report". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  21. ^ Newspaper Traverse City Record-Eagle (Traverse City, MI, United States), issue of Monday, 15 June 1953, page 10, United Press wire service, article "Briton Dies in Le Mans Race"
  22. ^ "Bridgehampton". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  23. ^ "Suffolk Sports Car Races". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  24. ^ "Le Mans 24 Hours". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  25. ^ "Bridgehampton [S+3.0]". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  26. ^ "100 mile Bridgehampton". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  27. ^ "Vero Beach 6 Hours". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  28. ^ "9 h Goodwood". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  29. ^ "GP Bari [S+1.1]". Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  30. ^
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Jean Heurtaux
Marceau Crespin
12 heures d’Hyères
Succeeded by
Maurice Trintignant
Luigi Piotti
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