John Heath

1/6/1914 - 1/5/1956

Record updated 01-Jun-20

John Heath started racing just after the Second World War. In 1946 he bought a garage with George Abecassis and started HWM. Credited with giving Moss and Collins early breaks in their careers, Heath was killed in the 1956 Mille Miglia.

John Heath
John Heath started racing just after the Second World War at the wheel of a supercharged 2 litre Alta. Aa both an engineer and a designer, in 1946 John Heath and George Abecassis bought a garage together and went racing with Alta engined cars as HWM (Hersham & Walton Motors).

The company first made its mark with a modified sports Alta in 1948. They fitted it with this streamlined body. After Heath raced it in Jersey, they fitted a Jaguar engine instead of the original Alta power unit. In 1949 they built a new car, using the Alta engine and a tubular chassis. This was a two-seater and was able to run as a sports car or, stripped of road equipment, as a Formula 2 car. Heath drove this to victory in the Manx Cup and to second place at the GP de l'ACF at Comminges.

Through the early 1950s they carried the banner for British motorsport. Through the years their cars were raced by many household names, including Stirlign Moss, Heath and Abecassis themselves, Duncan Hamilton, Lance Macklin, Paul Frere, Peter Collins, Jack Fairman and the American John Fitch.

After a successful season with the Formula 2 HWM-Alta in 1949, Heath and his chief mechanic Alf Francis built a team of cars for the 1950 season. These were more or less the same, but he dropped the Alta from the name. Abecassis and Heath raced them for the first time in the Lavant Cup at Goodwood on Easter Monday. They continued to produce single seaters from 1950 until 1954 and travelled around Europe entering as many races as they could.

The F2 HWMs were lighter and faster in 1951 which made them more competitive and in 1952, when the World Championship switched to Formula 2 regulations, Abecassis and Heath signed up Peter Collins to drive for them. But budgets were tight and there were no new cars for 1953.

From the start of the 2.5 litre formula in 1954, the team found itself completely outclassed and began to concentrate on sports cars using Jaguar power. They also built a Formule Libre single-seater, using a similar engine in a Formula 2 chassis.

Sadly Heath was killed in one of his own cars in the 1956 Mille Miglia. The twenty-third Mille Miglia was marred by a number of bad accidents. In the end three drivers and three spectators died and another seven drivers wre injured. Heath's accidents happened in the wet near the village of Glorie di Mezzano at around 8.00 AM. He died two days later at in the hosptial at Ravenna.

Abecassis gave up racing to concentrate on running the business but by the end of the 1950s HWM had faded from the scene.