James Stewart was born in the village of Milton, on the banks of the River Clyde, not far from Dumbarton, in 1931. His father Bob was the son of the head gamekeeper on the Eaglesham estate, owned by the Weir family, in Renfrewshire. As a youngster Bob had worked as a draughtsman with the Weir family’s engineering company at Cathcart in Glasgow and had raced motorcycles as an amateur, but then in 1928 he set up a garage near Dumbarton and secured a concession to sell Austins and later Jaguars.
James, known as Jimmy – like the Hollywood star – grew up surrounded by automobiles and regularly tested customers’ cars on the roads around nearby Loch Lomond. When he was 17 he acquired a MGTD roadster and he began to compete in local hillclimbs. After a couple of years in different machines, he managed to convince his father that he ought to buy a Jaguar C-Type so that Jimmy could join Edinburgh businessman David Murray in a new sports car team called Ecurie Ecosse. As a result in 1952 Jimmy Stewart became a rising star on the British scene, although his career was disrupted somewhat because of National Service, during which he served with the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME).
Once that was done he resumed his career and in 1953 Ecurie Ecosse entered him for the British Grand Prix at the wheel of a Cooper-Bristol. He qualified 15th and was running sixth in the closing laps, in the wet, when he spun off.
He continued to be successful in Ecurie Ecosse sports cars but in the summer of 1954 at Le Mans, while driving a factory Aston Martin DB3S coupé, which he was sharing with Graham Whitehead, he suffered a fractured elbow when the car went out of control at Maison Blanche during the seventh hour of the race. He was thrown out and slid down the grass verge, watching his car somersaulting to destruction. He was out for the rest of the season but returned with an Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-type in 1955. He did well, but at the Nurburgring suffered a brake failure and crashed into an earth bank, the car flipped upside down, trapping him inside, obscured from the track by a thick hedge. Fortunately, 10 minutes later Stirling Moss arrived and spotted the tyre marks and stopped and was able to release Stewart from the car. He had broken his arm again.
His mother wanted him to stop racing and when warned that another fracture might permanently damage his arm, he took the decision to retire from racing. He was just 24. He went back to the family garage. His younger brother, eight years his junior, was encouraged to take up clay pigeon shooting. But then one day, quite by chance, young Jackie Stewart discovered car racing…