- March 22, 1912
- June 08, 1959
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Leslie Johnson (1912-1959) was a British businessman and team owner, rally and racing driver, who was active in the late 1930s and then after the World War II until 1954. He was the owner of the English Racing Automobiles (ERA) since 1947. Five years later, he sold a company to Bristol Aircraft Company.
Johnson participated in various motorsport disciplines, mostly in sports car races. His greatest results were the victory at 1948 Spa 24 Hours and then the third place overall and class victory at Le Mans 24 Hours in 1952. In single-seater racing, Johnson participated in the first ever F1 World Championship Grand Prix, the 1950 British Grand Prix, driving an ERA Type E.
First successful businessman, then a rally driver
Born in March 1912 in Walthamstow, one of the poorest London's districts, Leslie George Johnson inherited a company from his late father, converting it into the successful furniture manufacturing business. His was funding his first racing attempts with his earnings.
Johnson's first motorsport involvement was in rallying. He was a member of Rootes factory team but also raced in a BMW 328. His most notable pre-war result was a victory at 1937 Scottish Rally in a BMW 328. He also scored two podiums at RAC Rally in 1938 and 1939.
Expanding to various racing disciplines after the war
After the World War II, Johnson intensified his racing activities in hill climbs, sports car races, and open-wheel competitions. In 1946, the highlight of the season was the podium in the sports car Belgian Grand Prix in Bruxelles, where he finished second in a BMW 328, behind Jock Horsfall in an Aston Martin. In the same event, Johnson was driving a Talbot-Lago T150C in a bigger class, not finishing the race.
During 1946, Johnson participated in numerous British hill climb races, scoring few wins and podiums. In the same year, he also tried an old Delage race car at Ards circuit, not finishing the race.
Three Grand Prix attempts with old Talbot-Lago in 1947
In 1947, Johnson participated in three Grand Prix events with ten-year-old ex-Louis Chiron Talbot Lago T150C. He raced both in the sports car and single-seater races, simply modifying a car by removing mudguards.
His best result was the sixth place at Jersey International Road Race. He finished seventh in the Belgian Grand Prix and retired in the Swiss Grand Prix.
Johnson bought English Racing Automobiles (ERA) in November 1947
In November 1947, Johnson purchased English Racing Automobiles company, together with one of their pre-war Type E single-seaters. He fielded that car in two Grand Prix races in 1948. In the Grand Prix du Salon at Montlhery Circuit, he was fastest in qualifying and fastest in the race but mechanical failure stopped him.
In October 1948, he participated in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Airfield, retiring after just one lap with a broken transmission.
Victory at Spa 24 Hours in 1948
While he had no luck in Grand Prix races in 1948, Johnson scored one of his greatest results in sports car racing. In July, he was driving the #54 Aston Martin DB1 at Spa 24 Hours, sharing a car with Jock Horsfall. They won a race, bringing the first post-war victory to Aston Martin.
In the same year, Johnson participated in one more endurance race, driving a Healey at Paris 12 Hours and not finishing the race. His co-driver was Nick Haines.
DNF at Le Mans 24h debut in 1949
Leslie Johnson made his debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 1949, driving the #19 Aston Martin DB2. He was sharing a car with Charles Brackenbury, retiring during the first hour because of the broken water pump.
Later in the year, Johson was pretty successful in sports car races, finishing third at Spa 24 Hours in an Aston Martin DB2 and winning two races at Silverstone. He won National Allcomers race in a Bentley and Silverstone International in a Jaguar XK120.
Participant of the first ever Formula 1 Championship Grand Prix
In Grand Prix racing, Johnson continued to drive ERA Type E in 1949. He participated in five Grand Prix events, scoring two podiums by finishing third at Chichester Trophy and British Empire Trophy.
In May 1950, Johnson participated in historic British Grand Prix, the opening round of the inaugural Formula One World Championship. Driving the #8 ERA Type E, he was 12th in qualifying but ended a race early, after just two laps, due to the broken compressor.
1950 – fifth place in Mille Miglia debut
In sports car races in 1950, Johnson continued to race in a Jaguar XK120. In January, he was fourth in the SCCA race at Palm Beach. In April, he finished fifth in his first appearance at Mille Miglia, sharing a car with John Lea.
In June, Johnson recorded one more DNF at Le Mans, sharing the #17 Jaguar XK120 with Bert Hadley. They were in a race for 220 laps but clutch broke down. In September, Johnson brought Jaguar to 7th place at Tourist Trophy at Dundrod Circuit.
Overall podium and class victory at 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours
In 1951, Johnson retired both at Le Mans and Mille Miglia, driving a Jaguar XK120 in both races. His co-driver in Italy was John Lea while in France he was sharing a car with Clemente Biondetti.
A year later, Johnson was successful in both races with Nash-Healey race car. At Mille Miglia, he finished seventh with Daily Telegraph corespondent Bill McKenzie as his passenger. At Le Mans 24 Hours, Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdom finished third overall and the first in S2.0 class in the #10 Nash-Healey.
In April 1953, Johnson and McKenzie returned to Mille Miglia in a Jaguar C-Type, not finishing the race. In June 1953, Johnson recorded his fifth and last attempt at Le Mans. He was sharing the #11 Nash-Healey 4-Litre Sports with Bert Hadley, finishing in 11th place overall.
Leslie Johnson and Stirling Moss were the record breakers
Besides participating in racing events, Johson was also known for his record-breaking attempts. In 1950, he and Stirling Moss set the 107.46 mph average speed during 24 hours in a Jaguar XK120 at Montlhery circuit's oval track, as the first to have averaged over 100 mph. In 1951, Johnson himself set a record of 131.83 miles in one hour. In 1952, Johnson, Moss, Bert Hadley and Jack Fairman drove a Jaguar XK120 for seven days and seven night with 100.31 mph average speed.
Finally, in December 1952, Johnson participated in the 3,380-mile long run over 15 countries in just 90 hours, sharing a Humber Super Snipe Mark IV with Stirling Moss, David Humprey and John Cutts.
Ending a career in rallying
Leslie Johnson ended his career in 1954 in the same discipline in which he started – in rallying. He reactivated himself in rallying in 1952, finishing third at RAC Rally in a Jaguar XK120 but was later disqualified. In 1953, he participated at Rallye Monte-Carlo as a member of Sunbeam-Talbot team together with Stirling Moss. They won a Team prize. Later that year, Johnson also drove Sunbeam at Alpine Rally.
In 1954, Johnson returned to Rallye Monte-Carlo with Sunbeam-Talbot, again with Stirling Moss in the same team. During the rally, Johnson suffered a heart attack. His co-driver John Cutts witnessed that Johnson was unconscious when they arrived at Monte-Carlo and that he nearly died that night in a hospital.
Johnson died five years later, in June 1959, at the age 47.
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