The crowds loved him, because he drove dramatic sports cars with unrivalled panache. But what made Archie so worthy of adulation was the way he overcame physical disabilities that could have reduced some men to a wheelchair. The long-awaited biography of this Boy's Own hero has just been published. Its author, Robert Edwards, was a month short of his third birthday when Archie died.
William Archibald Scott Brown was born in Paisley, Scotland, on Friday 13 May 1927. His father, Bill, had served in the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War, and made his fortune in the coal industry. He and his wife, Jay, were talented drivers.
Jay's pregnancy was punctuated by an apparently minor illness. Fifteen years passed before the relationship between German measles and unborn children was established. The baby's left arm was normal, but the right ended just below the elbow, where a thumb extended from the vestigial palm. There were no shin bones in the tiny, twisted legs. The right foot was turned outwards at almost 90 degrees while the left was nearly back to front. There were no visible toes.
The Scott Browns eventually made contact with Naughton Dunn, an eminent orthopaedic surgeon. He could do nothing for the arm, but straightened the legs, made the feet point in the right direction and teased three toes from one foot, four from the other. Dunn worked on Archie for two years - the child underwent 22 separate operations and had his legs in plaster for a third year.
Bill Scott Brown, who had raced at Brooklands before the war, encouraged his son to start driving as soon as he could reach the pedals. His garage built a little runabout, powered by a motor bike engine, in which Archie practised car control on the gravel roads near his home.
Archie raced just about everything from saloons to grand prix cars, but was at his best in the Lister-Jaguars. He was a great exponent of the crowd-pleasing "four-wheel drift" in which a really good driver with an exceptional sense of balance maintains control by slight movements of the steering wheel and equally precise use of the accelerator. The idea is to make the car slide in such a way that the nose is pointing in the right direction as it comes out of a corner. He braced the wheel with thumb and palm when changing gear.
The Lister-Jaguar made its debut at Snetterton in March 1957. By the end of the season, Archie had won all but three of 14 races, and finished second once. In the others he was sidelined by mechanical problems.
A modified version kept the ball rolling in 1958 and morale was high when the team reached Spa, Belgium, in time to celebrate Archie's 31st birthday. Paul Frere, the local hero, identified a road sign on the edge of a very fast corner as a potentially lethal hazard, but it was not removed. Five laps into the race, Archie was leading when his Lister-Jaguar lost adhesion in the wet, hurtled off the road and hit the sign. The car blazed.
Archie was dragged from the wreck and spoke to his father. "I think I must have been going too bloody fast," he said before being taken to hospital. He died two days later.
`Archie and the Listers' by Robert Edwards is published by Patrick Stephens at pounds 17.99.Reuse content