Sunday, July 26, 2015


Because I worked for Jaguar for nearly 20 years, and Bentley for almost 10, I was fascinated to learn that both companies enjoyed the prodigious skill and energies of a remarkable engineer, Walter (Wally) Hassan. I well remembered Hassan's importance to Jaguar from studying Jaguar's history - but Bentley?

Walter was born in London in 1908 to parents of Irish descent. Wally’s dad owned a clothing shop in Holloway, but Wally was always more interested in things mechanical, and he joined Bentley Motors as an apprentice in 1920. He later went to work for Bentley’s racing department, and eventually became its top mechanic, working exclusively on Chairman Woolf Barnato’s racing cars.
Woolf Barnato's Speed Six, Le Mans 1929

In 1929 and 1930 he prepared Barnato’s Speed Six with which the Chairman won the 24 Hours of Le Mans both years. In 1931 he built the Hassan Bentley for Barnato, which raced in the Brooklands 500.
The Hassan Bentley 1931
In 1936 he joined ERA (English Racing Automobiles) where he developed both engines and chassis. Then in 1938 he moved to Coventry, to join William Lyons at SS Cars Ltd (later to become Jaguar Cars).

When WW2 broke out he went to work for Bristol, developing aero engines, and after the war, he returned to Jaguar to work on engines.
Jaguar XK 4 cylinder engine
Together with Bill Heynes, Hassan developed both a 4 cylinder, and a 6 cylinder engine.

The 4 cylinder was loaned to Major Goldie Gardner for an MG Special which he used to set a speed record in Belgium.

Walter Hassan (L) with Major Goldie Gardner (in flying cap) with MG Special. in Belgium
Unfortunately the engine showed signs of imbalance, and Lyons felt it was more important to focus on the larger 3.4 litre six, so Jaguar could successfully attack the American market.
Jaguar XK120 (Chassis Number 1) testing the XK six cylinder engine at Silverstone
The XK engine won at Le Mans in 1951, 1953, 1955 and 1957. However, in 1950 Hassan had moved on to Coventry Climax to work on lightweight engines for fire tenders, and later racing cars. Together with Harry Mundy and Claude Bailey he developed the FWMV V8 engine which twice powered Lotus and Jim Clark to world champion.

Harry Mundy (L) and Walter Hassan with the FWMV Coventry Climax F1 engine
 Coventry Climax was acquired by Jaguar in 1963, and Hassan, Heynes and the Coventry Climax team developed Jaguar’s famous V12 engine. In addition to its commercial success in Jaguar road cars, a 7-litre version of the V12 carried Jaguar to victory at Le Mans in 1988 and 1990.

Jaguar V12 winning Le Mans 1988

Margaret and (son) Richard Hassan with Walter in 1995
Looking back on British motor racing history it’s hard to find a single individual who's had more influence on race-winning engines, between 1929 and 1990 than Walter Thomas Frederick Hassan, OBE.
He died in 1996.

(Hassan-Jaguar photos courtesy of JAGUAR MAGAZINE)

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