Parnell Racing 1964 & 1965

I joined the Parnell workshops early in 1964 after a call from the Belgium racing driver Andre Pillette to say “You always said you wanted to be in F1, well I have a drive in a Sirocco, would you like to join me again this season? The car is at the Parnell workshops in Hounslow, I have arranged it all”, I had worked for Andre on his Formula Junior Merlyn Ford, during 1962, we had got on well so it was great opportunity for me and great to be working for Andre again.

With an offer like this it wasn’t long before I was introducing myself to Tim Parnell, his father Reg had died on the 7th January so Tim had taken over the team.

Reg had negotiated a deal with Colin Chapman of Lotus to buy the 1963 Lotus 25 GP cars, part of the deal was that he got only the cars but not the engines and he was not allowed to use Coventry Climax V8 engines, Chapman was no fool, he didn’t want anybody beating Jim Clark in his own cars.

The only other engine that was available was the BRM V8 1.5 litre engine, now Tim had to find enough BRM engines to cover two Lotus 25’s for Mike Hailwood and Chris Amon and another engine for the Lotus 24 to be driven by Peter Revson plus spare engines. This Lotus 24 was at sometime during the season replaced by a 25. The 24 being sold to someone in America.
There were two Sirocco BRM cars available, which were either bought by Tim or a chap called Ron Carter who was technically employing me. 

I was supposed to rebuild the two Siroccos but there wasn’t enough time to do this as the BRM engines were now going to the Lotus cars, and I was given a Climax V8 to put into the Sirocco, I never did see the second car, presumably it remained in Derby, Tim’s home town.

Looking back, it is odd that I should be fitting a Climax engine into a car designed for a BRM and the other lads were fitting BRM engines into cars that were designed to take Climax engines, such is F1!

Parnell Racing consisted of Tim as team principle and his wife Jinny, a secretary whose name I think was Jill. Ray Lane was the Chief Mechanic, Jimmy Potton was on Mike Hailwood’s car, Trevor Orchard was on Chris Amon’s car and John Bliss was on Peter Revson’s car. There was also a part time mechanic called Barry Mason, his day job was at Air Traffic Control at Heathrow, due to the shift work pattern Barry used to join us at all the big meetings as well as occasionally at the workshop at Hounslow. There was also an older man called Joe who was responsible for keeping everything tidy, and as an Ex Petty Office in the Royal Navy the place was always kept to a high standard of polish and tidiness.

The first race was at Snetterton where it snowed, it was a job getting the cars warm enough to race, we then all went to Goodwood for the Easter meeting, it then went something like this, a very long drive to Syracuse in Sicily for the GP there and the back to race at Aintree the next weekend.

I remember I was still working for Andre then but it had become obvious that the Sirocco was uncompetitive, it was a heavier car than the Lotuses and was running four downdraft Webber carbs, whereas everybody had changed to the new Lucas fuel injection system, at about this time Jimmy Potton had decided to leave Parnell’s and go and work for John Surtees, he had been his mechanic last year, I think also John was wanting him back as he was now running his own car. Tim then asked me if I would like to take over Mike’s car, which of course I very much welcomed, I was then a Parnell Racing employee, which gave me more security as well, I was sad about Andre - he ran the car for a few more races with a chap Tim had taken on, whose name I can’t remember, but I think he left when the Sirocco was retired.

The season continued at a pace, at that time there were a lot of GP races those that counted towards the Driver’s Championship and those F1 races that didn’t for example the Easter Goodwood meeting, Snetterton and other race meetings like those.

There were always two races at Silverstone one was the European GP and the other the British GP, there were races at Rouen, Reims and Clermont Ferrand in France, Nurburgring and Hockenheim in Germany. In Italy there was Monza, Syracuse and also Enna in Sicily, this is in the centre of Sicily around a lake, at this meeting I don’t know how Mike did it but he span out and reversed into the lake at great speed, a drenched Mike walked back to the pits still smiling! I was the one that had to retrieve the car - only the nose was sticking out of the water and lots of wriggly things amongst the reeds - there was nothing for it but to wade in up to my chest to attach a rope to the car and Tim dragged it out with his Zodiac.

Other races were Spa in Belgium, Zandvoort in Holland, and a race in Austria but I cant remember the name of the circuit. We then went to Watkins Glen for the U.S.A. GP, after that race the cars were taken by road to Mexico City for the Mexican GP, this always resulted in us all getting a weeks holiday in Acapulco as one got a free flight from Mexico City to Acapulco if you flew from New York to Mexico by Mexican Airlines.

I remember Tim once saying that we did 25 races per year, these were not necessarily all driven by Mike but he drove in most of the races which would have included all the Drivers Championship races, but other drivers would appear on the scene from time to time, they were Mike Spence, David Hobbs, Paul Hawkins, Dickie Attwood, Bob Bondurant and Innes Ireland sharing the three cars, if I am correct Innes only drove for us in 1965 after leaving Lotus.

On paper the potential of the cars was good, Reg Parnell had bought the latest state of the art Championship winning cars and BRM engines were also Championship winning engines, but marrying them together was rather difficult, the flow rates for both the water and oil were higher on the BRM engines which presented plumbing problems, plus an increase in radiator sizes. Another factor was the gearbox, it was not possible to get a BRM gearbox into the chassis, it would have meant a complete redesign of the rear bulkhead and rear suspension even then is was not considered possible, we were then left with using the Hewland gearbox, we experienced some trouble with these gearboxes.

I know this was very frustrating for Mike, after all, he had come from a sport where he was at the top of his game, he had the best machinery available and many World titles to his name.

I remember Mike as a happy-go-lucky fellow with a ready smile who took life very much as it came despite our troubles, but it wasn’t all bad the team had a great lift when Mike finished in the points at Monaco despite putting it into the Armco just before the tunnel in practice the day before and took out the left side suspension, but there was time enough to put the car back together for race day. and he was never boastful of his considerable success, a quiet pleasant man.

When we were on holiday in Acapulco he told us that he had never ridden a flat out lap of the Isle of Man, “ I know I can go quicker” he said, “one day I will go back and go faster”, and sure enough he did just that some years later.

It was a great shock to read in the papers one day that “Mike the Bike” had died in a car accident, it was really unbelievable, here was a person with incredible talent who had travelled at speeds that most men only dream about and then one day he was gone, then and now I still don’t have words to say how I felt at this awful news.

If you ever get a chance it is worth reading the obituary that was written by Dennis Jenkinson the former racing motorcyclist and journalist, I used to meet up with him occasionally and I just had to thank him for that fine piece of journalism, it was either in the daily papers or Motor Sport perhaps, I wish I had kept it.

Ted de la Riviere

Through the wonders of the modern internet here is the Mike Hailwood obituary that Ted refers to above.