Vintage Racecar was immensely saddened to hear of the passing of “Gentleman” Jack Sears following a long fight with cancer. Jack was born into a farming family in Northampton. His love of cars came through his father Stanley’s interest and participation in motoring events. Jack first took part in the 1948 Brighton Speed Trials in his Morgan, and his first circuit race was at Goodwood in 1950 in an MG TC. In those early days, he was also seen at the wheel of his father’s 1914 TT Sunbeam in other racing and speed trials. Early racing successes led to him being accepted as a member of the prestigious British Racing Drivers Club.
He will be remembered for many things, but becoming the first British Saloon Car Champion was quite remarkable. After a season-long battle in his Austin Westminster against Tommy Sopwith’s Jaguar 3.4, the pair finished the 1958 series equal on points. Organizers of the series wanted to resolve the championship by a simple toss of a coin, but both drivers agreed it was a very unsporting way to end the inaugural series, and elected instead to take part in a shootout in identical 1.5-liter Rileys at Brands Hatch. The rules were that the drivers would have five laps in one car and then swap for another five laps, with the aggregate time determining the winner. Jack won by 1.6 seconds. Five years later, in 1963, Sears took the series crown once again aboard a John Willment-prepared Ford Galaxie, defeating the dominant Jaguars.
I had many a happy time talking to Jack, who was always approachable. He enjoyed his time racing with Willment, indeed he said one of his best races was at the 1964 European GP at Brands Hatch. “I drove the Willment Cobra roadster in the Grand Touring Car support race. At the end of the first lap I was black-flagged for starting on the wrong row of the grid. I restarted at about 30 seconds behind the leader, Jackie Stewart in a lightweight E-Type Jaguar, but managed to carve my way through the field to pass him and win the race!”
He also enjoyed recalling stories about his good friend and racing hero, Archie Scott Brown, and told a particular tale of the 1956 Monte Carlo Rally: “We set off from our starting point, Lisbon. We drove all across Spain in the pouring rain. We hit Paris; meeting up with a number of other competitors and followed a ‘common route’ all the way down to the French Alps and on to Monte Carlo. We qualified for the Mountain Circuit as we were among the top 100 finishers. On the journey, I was able, at first hand, to witness Archie’s truly amazing driving skills. He was well balanced, and able to drive around any problems the car would throw at him. Of course, he drove around his own disabilities. It was a tremendous experience, quite remarkable to be sitting literally inches away from him. Personally, I had great fun being around Archie. Our friendship was very special. He was godfather to my son, David. I have many happy memories of him coming over to our farm in Norfolk for dinner parties and reminiscing.”
Like many drivers of the day, Sears took part in many disciplines of the sport including racing saloons and GTs, and rallying, initially in association with the British Motor Corporation and later with Ford, driving the bigger engine cars.
In 1963 he was invited to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 330LMB with Mike Salmon. The pair didn’t disappoint, taking a class win and 5th overall. Sears’ last season of racing proved to be 1965, following a dreadful testing accident at Silverstone in a Lotus 40. So bad were his injuries that he nearly lost his left arm — almost severing it in the crash. However, prior to that he’d once again won his class at Le Mans, this time with American driver Dick Thompson in a Shelby Daytona Cobra. He also had many races with the same car in various GT races with Sir John Whitmore as his teammate. Sears was also seen at the wheel of a Lotus Cortina with Whitmore and Jimmy Clark as co-drivers.
While his accident obviously curbed his racing, in 1968 Jack Sears was part of the planning and organizing team for the London to Sydney Marathon, even taking part in the initial recce. Over the next years Jack took on many administrative duties within motorsport, including serving as a Steward of the Royal Automobile Club, Chairman of the RACMSA race committee and Chairman of the Ferrari Owners Club. He became a Director of the BRDC and worked tirelessly promoting the Club and the sport he loved. More recently, the modern era of the British Saloon Car Championship — the British Touring Car Championship — honored Jack and his contribution to the sport by presenting a trophy in his name, awarded to the Independent driver who achieves the greatest improvement from their respective grid positions over the entire season.
As his nickname suggests, Jack Sears was a true gentleman of our sport, a very rare quality. His enthusiasm never waned, as he was still attending events just weeks before his passing. VR offers sincere condolences to Jack’s wife Diana, son David and daughters Suzanne and Jennifer.