John Surtees, The Only World Champion On Two Wheels And Four, Dies At 83

Surtees in a Ferrari, 1966. Photo: Getty Images
Surtees in a Ferrari, 1966. Photo: Getty Images

In 1964, John Surtees won the Formula 1 World Championship of Drivers behind the wheel of a Ferrari. This, coupled with his seven titles in two different motorcycle racing classes he’d collected over the past few years, made him the only person to take world championships in cars and bikes at racing’s top levels. It’s a feat that stands still today. Surtees has died at the age of 83.


The Henry Surtees Foundation shared the news on Facebook recently:

10th March 2017 - A statement from the Surtees Family

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our husband and father, John Surtees CBE.John, ‪83, was admitted to St Georges Hospital, London in February with an existing respiratory condition and after a short period in intensive care he passed away peacefully this afternoon. His wife, Jane and daughters, Leonora and Edwina were by his side.John was a loving husband, father, brother and friend. He was also one of the true greats of motorsport and continued to work tirelessly up until recently with The Henry Surtees Foundation and Buckmore Park Kart Circuit.We deeply mourn the loss of such an incredible, kind and loving man as well as celebrate his amazing life. He has set a very real example of someone who kept pushing himself at his peak and one who continued fighting until the very end.We would like to thank all the staff at St George’s Hospital and The East Surrey Hospital for their professionalism and support during this difficult time for us. Thank you also to all of those who have sent their kind messages in recent weeks.

Funeral details will be announced in due course.

A smiling figure in the racing scene for years, the man will be missed. I will take this time to put in a little anecdote of how Surtees got into car racing, as recorded by 8W some years ago:

Of course, the story of John Surtees is well known by now. The only man to win world championships on both two and four wheels got in touch with car racing purely by accident. It was during the 1958 Sportsman of the Year event at the Dorchester in Park Lane, London, that “Big John” met up with newly crowned F1 World Champion Mike Hawthorn and F1 team owners Reg Parnell and Tony Vandervell. Mike was a keen motorcyclist himself, owning a trials bike. In fact, John and Mike that night agreed to go head-to-head on a press trial in the near future. It was never to happen, as Hawthorn got killed one week later in a road accident. Tony Vandervell, who was about to be honoured for winning the inaugural Manufacturers World Championship with Vanwall, was also involved in bike racing through his part-ownership of Norton, whose motorcycles Surtees used to ride in British events. The links between the Norton and Vandervell companies were so close that the Norton engine design was to form the basis for the Vanwall F1 powerplant.

The four joked about a blossoming F1 career for Big John, who was raking in one motorcycle world championship after another for Count Agusta. “You must try cars, John”, Mike said at the dinner table. “But I love my motorcycles,” Surtees replied. “Yes, they stand up easier,”Hawthorn quipped. 

Six years later and the man had won the F1 driver’s title. Unreal.

It’s a piece of a more cavalier time, one that’s sadly now a bit more distant.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.


Rickster3rd ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Godspeed John. may the halls of Valhalla welcome you as a hero and a flagon of mead be raised in your honor.