Border Reivers History

I am often asked about Border Reivers, the motor racing team set up by Jock McBain and his friends in Chirnside, Berwickshire in the early 1950s. The Reivers existed at least a year before the more famous Ecurie Ecosse team.

It was in 1951 that two Borders racing drivers, Jock McBain, who had the Ford dealership in Chirnside, and David Swan joined forces with their two Cooper-JAP Formula 3 cars but were soon joined by other local drivers so that Border Reivers could sport four or five cars at racing events.  They were called the Reivers in memory of the Borderers who used to cross the Border from Scotland to England with the expressed desire to steal sheep and cattle.

Jock McBain was the driving force behind Border Reivers and a great motor sport enthusiast who had started out with an MG before buying a Cooper. All of this enthusiasm was boosted by the introduction of the old Winfield airfield as a motor racing circuit at the end of 1951. There was immediate interest in the area and Jock and David were soon joined by Colin Clark – no relation to Jim Clark – C J Mauritzen and a young driver from the North East of England, Keith Hall. All of them had Coopers and they raced locally with occasional forays across the Border. All the work on the cars was done at Jock McBain’s garage in Chirnside under the expert eye of Bobby Hattle, Ian Matheson and Ian Deans.

Shortly after the team was formed they brought another local farmer into the team Alec Calder who had Brooklands Riley and by the Somervail brothers, Jimmy and John who had bought the ex Prince Bira ERA. Within three years most of the original drivers had retired or moved on, Keith Hall switching to Lotus with Lotus Elevens and eventually Team Lotus.  Alec Calder sold his Brooklands Riley to the son of a Dumfriesshire vet who went on to win the Motor Sport Trophy with the car. That son was Innes Ireland.

In an effort to consolidate the team Jock McBain brought in Alastair Birrell who had been a partner with Ron Flockhart in their team Alba Union. When Flockhart sold out his share of the ERA R1A to Birrell in 1952 to proceed on his own with the ex-Raymond Mays ERA R4D, Alastair started to race under the Border Reivers banner. A Lotus Eleven sports car was bought to replace Jimmy Somervail’s ERA and his brother John Somervail bought an Austin Healey 100S.

By now Ecurie Ecosse were coming very much to the fore and were grabbing the spotlight and were running a new Cooper-Bristol, the sixth in the original Mark 1 series. Alastair Birrell decided to sell his ERA and bought the Ex-Ecurie Ecosse car which he and Jimmy Somervail raced.  It was not a successful time and eventually Alastair Birrell retired from racing in 1957. That same year another local farmer, Ian Scott Watson let his farmer friend Jim Clark drive his DKW at Crimond and it became clear that Clark had talent. This got Jock McBain and Ian Scott Watson thinking and it was decided to buy a car that would be shared by Jimmy Somervail and possibly Jim Clark and Ian Scott Watson. The car they bought was a Jaguar D type that had originally been owned by Gillie Tyrer and Alex McMillan before being bought by the Murkett Brothers. The original plan was for Tony Murkett, the son of the owner of the garage business, to race the car but he found the car overwhelming. Tony’s father was a great friend of Henry Taylor’s father and the suggestion was made that Henry drive the D type, now painted white from its original green. He had a good season with the car in 1957 and then it was bought by McBain and Scott Watson. Then a test day was held at Charterhall where Scott Watson, Jimmy Somervail and young Jim Clark could try out the car. Scott Watson was a competent driver but to his chagrin he found that on the long Charterhall straight he had difficulty with his eyes welling up and there and there stood down. Clark was very quick and it was decided that he and Somerville would race the car in 1958.  Even then, after that test, Jimmy Somerville, the gentleman that he was, offered that Jim Clark should be the main driver and that he would drive it when the need arose. The rest of the story is now history, Clark became the sensation of the 1958 season in British club racing.

Thus inspired, the D type Jaguar was sold to Alan Ensoll and replaced with the ex-Bruce Halford Lister Jaguar in 1959. Once more Jim Clark was winning and  had come to the notice of Colin Chapman at Lotus. Finally, in 1960 the team bought the Aston Martin DBR1 that had been burned out at Goodwood during the 1959 TT and Clark with Roy Salvadori took an impressive 3rd place overall at Le Mans.

When Jim Clark moved on to Team Lotus in 1960 the Border Reivers team dropped out of the motor racing scene but the name was used ten years later by Ian Scott Watson when he and Bernard Buss of Celtic Homes sponsored Douglas Niven – Jim Clark’s cousin – in saloon car racing.

So where are the main Border Reivers cars today ?

The Somervail ERA R12B is owned by David Wenman and is still raced in historic events.

The Reivers  ex-Ecurie Ecosse Cooper Bristol  (CB/6/52): Racing today in the hands of Barry Wood.

The Jaguar D type has been raced almost contiuously and at the Silverstone Classic meeting in 2011 the present owner, Brazilian Carlos Monteverde, had a major win in the car.

The Lister-Jaguar :  Now believed to be still in Italy

The Aston Martin DBR1 is now a prize exhibit in Dr Fred Simeone’s motor museum in Philadelphia.

As for the logo on the side of the Border Reivers cars, this was a silhouette of the statue to the Border Reiver that stands in the centre of Hawick.


18/08/2011 – Reproduced with the kind permission of Graham Gauld

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