Les Leston

Les Leston Portrait.jpg (17113 bytes)Les Leston was born Alfred Lazarus Fingleston, in December 1920, near Nottingham. His father, a coal and general merchant, moved the family to London and anglicised their surname in the 1920s. Les was an accomplished jazz musician and played drums for the Clay Pigeons alongside Johnny Claes until his musical career was cut short by the war during which he server as a gunner in Lancasters. Post war, Les and his father started trading aircraft spares, he briefly raced a Jaguar SS100 in 1949 before turning his attention to 500s racing, initially with an outing in a Mk I Kieft at Goodwood in May 1950 where he failed to finish his heat. He took things more seriously for 1951, acquiring a JBS and finishing on the podium several times in the heats, if rarely in the final, to leave him tenth overall for the year. The highlights being a second, ahead of John Cooper, in the all-comers race at the Commander Yorke meeting in August and a win in the second 100 mile race, giving him second on aggregate to Alan Brown. in the Ecurie Richmond Cooper Mk V.

Les started a new business, initially as a spin off from Aero-Spares, selling motor accessories based in High Holborn, London. Helped by the publicity from his racing, Leston's Motor Accessories  soon became a thriving business selling all the go faster gear that any sporting motorist could want and soon branched out into marketing safety equipment. Fire was the biggest fear for racing drivers and Les experimented with various fire retardant chemicals before Nomex became available. His cause was helped by the support of Peter Proctor who had been badly burned in an accident.

For 1952, Les often used the Leston Special, originally his JBS, modified by Ray Martin to adapt the rear suspension to swing axle and rubber bands which he ran with distinctive white wall tyres. Confusingly, he also ran a Cooper Mk VI which was sometimes entered as the Leston Special. Leston had a number of wins during 1952 including Castle Combe in May, Brands in June, Prescott in July, Silverstone in September and Prescott in the same month, Brough and Silverstone in October to finish second to Don Parker in the National Formula 3 Championship and take the Seaman Trophy. He also won the Grand Prix at Luxembourg in May beating Carter, Collins, Coombs, Parker and Moss.

A green cover for Autosport to honour Les' international win at the Luxembourg Grand Prix. Derek Wyborn is in the check shirt and Ken Carter in the suit. 

Les in his Cooper passes the Kieft of Charlie Headland at Silverstone in September 1952.

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The Leston Special. at Crystal Palace.

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More success followed in '53 with wins at Brough, Brands Hatch (three times) Crystal Palace, the Oulton Park Inaugural Meeting, and Silverstone.

Nearly all were in the Leston Special for which Les earned the Light Car Trophy and took second in the overall championship, again to Don Parker, with Reg Bicknell in his Revis in third. Cooper's had a poor season by their high standards so for 1954, Leston joined the marque as a works driver, alongside Stuart Lewis-Evans in the new Mk VIII.

Coopers had always taken a conservative approach to new car development but, stung by their lack of success in '53, the new car was rather more radical, featuring a new space frame chassis and establishing their trade mark curved chassis tubes to enable a far more bullet like profile. The 1954 car was certainly a step forward but Les and Stuart would now have things their own way. "The Don" was now in his final and definitive Parker Kieft, Reg  had an aerodynamic nose on the Revis, "Ivor the Driver" acquired a Mk VIII as did up and coming Jim Russell and Moss would guest in the Beart-Cooper.

Leading Jim Russell through the Bomb Hole at Snetterton in Spring 1954.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les invites you to his Modern Motorists Store in High Holborn. All top quality stuff!

1954 would prove to be the most competitive season of Formula 3 with five leading drivers fighting for the podium and no one driver establishing a clear advantage. Les netted eight major wins, including the Earl of March Trophy plus numerous podiums and heat wins but the title was only decided at the final race of the year on Boxing Day at Brands Hatch. A last minute addition to the calendar, Les used the brand new Cooper Mk IX, he was beaten by Ivor and Stuart in older Mk VIIIs but, crucially,  stayed ahead of Don Parker to clinch the title by the slenderest possible margin.

Some results for Les in 1954:

Castle Combe 3rd April 1954, 2nd in heat, 4th in final,

Goodwood 19th April 1954 Earl of March Trophy, 1st

Snetterton 24th April 1954 1st

Brands Hatch 1st May 1954, 6th in senior race, 3rd in Whitsun invitation

Ibsley 8th May 1954, 1st

Prescott 9th May 1954, 1st

Silverstone 15th May 1954 Daily Express Meeting, 2nd

Nürburgring 23rd May 1954, 6th

Orleans 30th May 1954, 2nd

Goodwood 7th June 1954 Whitsun Meeting, 6th

Oulton Park 12th June 1954, 1st in race 2

Bo'ness 26th June 1954, 2nd

Shelsley Walsh June 1954, 1st

Brands Hatch 4th July 1954, 4th in open challenge heat, 1st in final, 5th in senior race

Rest and be Thankful July 1954, 2nd

Oulton Park 10th July 1954 Francis Beart Trophy, 3rd in heat, DNS in final

Porrentruy, Switzerland 18th July 1954, 2nd in heat, 3rd in final

Brands Hatch 2nd August 1954 Daily Telegraph Meeting, 4th in open challenge heat, 3rd in international challenge heat, DNF in final

Oulton Park 7th August 1954 Gold Cup, DNF

Snetterton 14th August 1954, 3rd

Silverstone 21st August 1954 Commander Yorke Trophy, DNF in first 100 mile race

Castle Combe 28th August 1954, 3rd in senior race 1, 3rd in senior race 2

Shelsley Walsh August 1954, 3rd

Charterhall 4th September 1954, 1st

Crystal Palace 18th September 1954 Redex Trophy, 1st in heat, 6th in final

Prescott 18th September 1954, 6th

Goodwood 25th September 1954, 5th in race 1

Aintree 2nd October 1954 Daily Telegraph, 3rd

Brands Hatch 3rd October 1954, 2nd in open challenge heat, 3rd in final, 2nd in senior race

Snetterton 9th October 1954, 3rd

Stapleford Tawny October 1954, 1st

Brands Hatch November 1954 Sporting Owners Sprint, 1st (FTD)

Brands Hatch 27th December 1954, 3rd in Christmas trophy

The new Cooper Mk IX for Les to try on Boxing Day 1954.

In 1955, Les raced in a variety of formulas as works driver for Connaught and his own Cooper sports car as well as occasional Formula 3 outings. He continued to race into the 60s with drivers for Aston Martin, BRM, his own Cooper in Formula 2 and Lotus Elite (DAD10, a reference to his jazz drumming days) plus works rallies for Rootes and Volvo, before retiring to live in Hong Kong in the early '70s. Les was also a Director of the British Racing and Sports Car Club, successor to the Half-Litre Car Club, and instrumental in the first racing car show held in London in 1960. Les Leston passed away in May 2012.

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Cartoon of Les, published by Shell in 1956

 

Driving his Lotus Elite

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