St John Jock Horsfall-Race Car Driver and Secret Agent

May 10, 2011

In late 1943 as WWII raged, the British intelligence agency MI5 launched a covert operation, known as Operation Mincemeat.  This operation involved floating a corpse to shore in Spain. The corpse carryed falsified documents, in hopes it fell into German hands.  It required hundreds of moving pieces, and specifically one that stayed very still, and one that moved very fast.  The corpse would of course stay still but also decompose quickly, so the driver that carried it had to be fast.  In 1943 England, if you needed something moved quickly, you called St. John Jock Horsfall.

St John Jock Horsfall 1

St John Jock Horsfall Secret agent, and Aston Martin Enthusiast

Born in England in 1910, Horsfall quickly developed a love for speed, and engineering.  As young boy he shared a motorcycle with his brother, and often disassembled, reassembled and tweaked the little bike to maximize its speed.  At the age of 23 he met his soulmate, an Aston Martin sports car, and went on to be one of the most prolific drivers of his time.

Horsfall? racing in His Aston Martin

Horsfall? in His Aston Martin

While driving fast was always important to Horsfall, so was looking good. In Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre writes, “[Horsfall] seldom wore racing leathers or a crash helmet, preferring to race in a shirt and tie”.  This is amazing as he crashed almost as often as he won.

Prior to WWII Horsfall’s racing career was booming, and his need for speed landed him on the radar of MI 5 (Britain’s counterintelligence organization) for time sensitive missions most notably Operation Mincemeat.  This operation was instrumental in the allied war effort helping to secure a foothold in Europe.  The entire episode was portrayed in the 1956 film, “The Man who never Was”.  During this time Horsfall also crossed paths with James Bond Author Ian Flemming, who was working at MI 5 at the time.  This may be  Flemming’s inspiration for 007s first ride.

Jock Horsfall Relaxes on Operation Mincemeat's Main Cargo en route

After the war, Horsfall returned to racing and achieved his greatest victory was in the winning the 1948 Spa 24 Hour in Belgium.  For this race he partnered with Leslie Johnson, driving an Aston Martin prototype DB1, which construction had started on just six weeks before the race.  The DB1 went into limited production and limited commercial success. The following year, Horsfall would race the entire 24 hour race solo, still managing to finish in 4th place.

Spa 24 hour Racetrack

Shot of of the Spa 24 Racetrack

Horsfall Competitor in 1948 Spa 24

Horsfall Competitor in 1948 Spa 24

Model Posing with Production Model of the Aston Martin DB1

Production model of the Aston Martin DB1 won the race, but lost in Sales

In 1949 Horsfall was racing at Silverstone in the Daily Express International Trophy Race.  Not racing in his Aston Martin, he raced instead in an ERA (English Racing Automobiles), a car which he held concerns with before the race.  On lap 13 of the race he lost control of the car, and left track and crashed.  Regardless of whether he was wearing proper protective equipment, the impact of the crash broke his neck and age 39 St. John Jock Horsfall died.

Horsfall in ERA Model R5B

Horsfall in ERA Model R5B (back left)

While Horsfalls career came to an unfortunate end, we at the Invisible agent tip our helmets (or lack thereof) to Jock Horsfall, for going fast, saving the world, and doing it in style!

2 Responses to “St John Jock Horsfall-Race Car Driver and Secret Agent”

  1. conch love said

    spies and cars? that’s how youy avoid a loss right there…

    • Timely reminder, thank you, of courage and enterprise of the Britons who saved us all from Nazi tyranny.
      I was privileged to know another ERA charger, much-decorated Charles Martin. I regularly see the daughter of Dubliner Joe Kelly, who raced with Jock at Silverstone.
      Salutations to all of them!
      Brendan Lynch (author Green Dust and Triumph of the Red Devil.)

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