Bruce Kessler


Carroll Shelby, Stirling Moss and Bruce Kessler

It has been written that Bruce Kessler had a short but sweet career from 1953 to 1959. It started with borrowing his mothers XK - 120 Jaguar at age 17 and entering a California Sport Car Club race and ended in January, 1959 with a red flag, race stopping crash in the Examiner Grand Prix in Pomona, Ca. driving the Sadler Special that ended his professional career. 

By the time he became legally old enough to compete in SCCA events in March, 1957, he was an established driver on the west coast. He had his first appearance on the east coast in May, 1957 at the inaugural Lime Rock Race for Luigi Chinetti, driving a 2 liter Testa Rossa Ferrari, winning the under 2 liter race and defeating local favorite, Bob Holbert, who was driving an RS Porsche. Bruce then moved up to the main event (over 2 liter). Starting from the back row, he proceeded to split up the Cunningham team drivers, Walt Hansgen and John Fitch, in Momo’s factory prepared 3.8 Jaguars. Sports Illustrated called Bruce “Daring young Bruce Kessler” and Frank Blunk, motor sports editor for the New York Times, wrote that when Bruce was asked where he learned to drive like that, he said “Everyone in California drives like that”.

Here are some of the things that he participated in between the age of 17 and 22:

In 1954, after graduating from Beverly Hills High School, he decided college was going to slow down his racing career so he became a crew member, driving the parts car  for Porfirio Rubirosa’s Ferrari in the last Mexican Road Race.  

In 1955 and 1956 he raced successfully in the  production class, driving Lance Reventlow’s 300SL, which was one of the two aluminum bodied SL’s running in the US at the time. The other one was competing on the east coast, driven by Paul O'shea and owned by George Tilp. In the modified class, he drove everything from an MG TC powered by a V8 60 Ford to Ferraris including winning the 500cc Club of America Championship in a Mark IX Cooper Norton prepared by Warren Olson. Warren was the west coast distributor for Cooper and Bruce worked for him as a parts boy.  

In 1957, after Lime Rock. he was sent to Le Mans to drive for Porsche and he tested for Centro Sud F1 250F Maserati in Modena. Auto Sport said “The young American’s test was very impressive turning lap times very close to Jean Behra’s lap time in the same car”. He finished the season at Nassau winning the 2 liter modified class driving for Chinetti.

In 1958 he was deeply involved with the development of the Scarab and was a team driver. In addition to that he drove for NART in the Cuban GP, won the Nassau Classic in John Edgar's 4.9 Ferrari, won the GT class at Sebring with Paul O'shea in a NART 3 liter Ferrari Berlinetta, ran fifth in the Silverstone Daily Exprees GP in a Formula II Cooper owned by Rob Walker, drove Bernie Ecclestone's Connaught at the Monaco but did not start and the list goes on. Other drives with NART included LeMans co driving with Dan Gurney and Bruce ended up 3rd in the USAC Sports Car standings for 1958. 

Than came the 1959 Examiner Grand Prix at Pomona. A bad crash, a decision to stop racing and a new career. In Feb. ’59, he was hired as a technical advisor on and ABC Pilot called the Racers that did not sell. This got his foot in the door and the rest is history. 

Bruce's success as a director includes episodes of "The A Team", "Rockford Files", Knight Rider, "The Monkees", "McLoud", "Chips" and many more

A few years ago, Bruce and wife, the actress, Joan Freeman, circumnavigated the globe in their 64 ft. Northern Marine Cruiser, "Spirit of Zopilote" and has been active in speaking on Passagemaking with powerboats.

He retired in 1997 and now lives, with his wife, actress Joan Freeman, on the  ”Spirit of Zopilote” currently in Ft . Lauderdale, Florida and and at their condo in Marina Del Rey, CA.


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