His childhood was complicated by a number of illnesses that rendered him unfit for any form of military service. However his courage and spirit shone through and he made a full recovery only to worry his parents further with his love of speed, making his racing debut in 1950, riding a 500cc BMW motorcycle, breaking his arm in a crash in one the races.
Due to his mother's concerns he started racing under the pseudonym of Axel Linther and though his early career was beset with crashes, he was never the less a fearless and skillful driver, proving his ability in the mid-fifties racing Porsche and Mercedes sports cars.
In 1954 he won the 1300cc class (33rd overall) in the Mille Miglia driving a his Porsche 356 Super with Walter Hampel and took second in the 1600cc class in the ADAC-Eifel-Rennen at the Nürburgring. He also finished 5th in the Berlin Sports Car Grand Prix at Avus.
The following year he finished well in the Mille Miglia again, taking second in the GT class before winning the 1300cc class in the ADAC-Eifel-Rennen at the Nürburgring with a Porsche 356. He took another win in a Porsche at the Nürburgring in the 500Km race before driving a Mercedes 300SLR to third in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod with Claude Simon.
The British crowds named him Count Crash but ultimately he was know almost universally as Taffy. A name bestowed upon him by Mike Hawthorn. Taffy was a name the Welsh immigrants to America gave to their bravest and most fearless men after the River Taff that flows through Cardiff.
He started 1956 with a class win for Porsche at Sebring with Hans Herrmann in a Porsche 550 and a 1st in the 1500cc class (4th overall) in the 1000Km race at the Nürburgring in May driving with Umberto Maglioli. He made his Grand Prix debut that year in the Italian Grand Prix where Enzo Ferrari had given him an opportunity in the Lancia-Ferrari. However he didn't start as he crashed heavily in practice. The car was later stripped down for examination and it was revealed that the steering had broken. He made the trip to Le Mans as well finishing 5th overall and taking the 1500cc class win.