27/6/1916 - 0/8/1979
Bill Spear was a wealthy amateur racing driver who drove at Le Mans with Briggs Cunningham. Runner up in the SCCA National Championship in 1952 and 1954, he won the title in 1953.Bill Spear died 43 years ago, he was 63
From Westport, Connecticut, USA, Bill Spear was not ideally built to be a racing driver however his 6'2", 240 lbs frame was pretty good at it. He started racing in 1950, at the age of 34, with a Jaguar XK120. In the first Palm Beach Shores Road Race at Sebring he finished 25th. However he then acquired a Ferrari 166MM Barchetta Touring (0054M) which he used to good effect finishing 6th at the Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix. In the Sam Collier 6 Hour Memorial Race at Sebring in December he went one better, finishing 5th sharing the car with George Roberts, Jr.I
In1951 he traveled to Argentina in March to race in the General Peron Grand Prix in Buenos Aires at the Castanera Norte Circuit. He finished 8th. He then bought a Ferrari 340A Spyder Touring (0118A) and raced it at Le Mans with Belgian driver, Johnny Claes, but failed to finish going out with a burned clutch after 132 laps. He took the car back to the USA and raced it at Elkhart Lake in August finishing fifth. At the Seneca Cup at Watkins Glen on September 15th he was not classified in his Ferrari 166MM but, later in the day, drove in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix for sports cars in the 340A, finishing third. In December he was fourth in the Riviera Beach Trophy in Palm Beach in the 166M.
In March 1952 he raced at Vero Beach in Florida driving the 166MM with Phil Walters finishing third overall and first in class. At Sebring he lent his 166MM to Robert O'Brien and Richard Cicurel, opting to drive his 340A with Briggs Cunningham. Unfortunately they retired but not before Spear had set the fastest lap. With the legendary Alfred Momo as his mechanic, he then took his first win, the Bridgehampton Cup on Long Island. Briggs Cunningham lead but dragging exhaust pipes forced the Cunningham out on the twelfth lap. Bill Spear was then involved in a battle with Fred Wacker Jr.'s Allard Cadillac. Spear led until the 16th lap, when Wacker got past but on lap 21 Spear re-took the lead. Wacker made one more bid. The last lap was wheel to wheel with Spear just pulling ahead in the closing stages to win by a couple of car lengths. He followed the win with another victory at Grand Island, New York.
At Le Mans that year he partnered Briggs Cunningham in a Cunningham C-4R, finishing 4th overall and 1st in the 5001 - 8000cc class. However Cunningham had to drive 20 of the 24 hours without help as Spear was taken ill shortly after the start. In September he won the Queen Catherine Cup at Watkins Glen on his debut outing in a new Osca MT4 which he bought from Alfred Momo. At Bridgehampton he took a win in the 340A and another at Grand Island, New York. He had intended to finish the year by driving in the Carrera Panamericana but his car was not ready. He ended the year runner up in the SCCA National Championship behind Sherwood Johnston.
In February 1953 he entered the first big race to be held at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the Six Hour Collier Memorial race. Bill drove with Phil Hill and had the race won in his new Ferrari 340 Mexico (0228AT) until a wheel broke, handing victory to John Fitch’s Cunningham C–4R. Hill and Spear still came home second overall and first in the C-Modified Class. Jim Kimberly and George Huntoon were third in Kimberly’s Ferrari 225.
Next up was Sebring, once again driving with Phil Hill, they retired with brake problems on lap 36. He was in the entry list to drive an Osca MT4 with Ritter von Kreidner but opted to just drive the Ferrari.
In early April he won at Bergstrom Air Force Base and then, later in the month, finished 2nd to Phil Hill in the Del Monte trophy at the Pebble Beach road races. At Le Mans he partnered Briggs Cunningham again in a Cunningham C4-R, finishing 7th over all and 2nd in class behind Phil Walters and John Fitch in the Cunningham C5-R.
In July he raced at Silverstone in the UK driving a Ferrari 340MM 0324AM. He finished fourth behind Reg Parnell, Roy Salvadori and Peter Collins all driving Aston Martin DB3S. 5th, 6th and 7th were the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar XK120Cs of Ian Stewart, Jimmy Stewart (older brother of Sir Jackie) and Ninian Sanderson.
Back home he took another win on an Air Force Base, this time at Lockbourne in July and in August he was second at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn. He ended the year with second at Pebble Beach and the SCCA National Championship.
In 1954 he bought a Ferrari 4.5–liter V12 375MM Spyder PF (0382AM). In January he raced it at Hunter Air Force Base finishing second and then raced at Sebring where he posted his normal DNF with Phil Hill but not before a little glory. When the Lancias of Taruffi and Rubirosa made their pit-stops, Spear went into the lead. He handed over to Phil Hill who then held the lead until the gearbox gave up.
A second place at the Savanah National was followed by a win at the Andrews Air Force Base. This was followed by his annual trip to Le Mans where he partnered Sherwood Johnson in the Cunningham C4-R Chrysler (R5217) to third overall and a win in the big displacement class.
Back home he won a couple of races at the end of the year at the March Air Force Base in November and Savanah in December. Bill ended up second in the 1954 SCCA National Championships behind Jim Kimberly.
He won the inaugural President’s Cup that year. This was a two-foot silver bowl presented to the driver demonstrating ability, competitiveness and success at the National Championship Runoffs. Selected by the Stewards of the Meeting and the Chief Steward of the National Championship Runoffs, the presentation in 1954 was preformed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
He finally had a good result at Sebring in 1955 finishing third overall and second in class with Sherwood Johnston in a Maserati 300S (3053). At Le Mans drove one of Briggs Cunningham's Jaguar D-types with Phil Walters. They failed to finish. He was second in the non-championship Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix again in the Maserati later in the year.