- July 02, 1911
- January 07, 1964
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Reg Parnell (1911-1964) was a British racing driver and team manager who had a considerable influence on post-war British motorsport both as a racer and as a manager.
Parnell himself recorded six starts in the Formula 1 World Championship, scoring one podium (3rd place) in the 1950 British Grand Prix. He scored many wins in non-championship F1 races. He was also successful in sports car races, scoring two class podiums at Le Mans 24h and one overall podium at Sebring 12h.
As a team manager, Parnell was leading Aston Martin sports car and F1 team in 1959 and 1960, then managing his own team Reg Parnell Racing until premature death from peritonitis in January 1964.
Banned from racing early in a career
Born in July 1911 in Derbyshire, Reginald Harold Haslam Parnell came from a family which ran a garage business in Derby. He started a racing career in 1935 after buying an old 2-litre Bugatti single-seater, but when he broke a car and spare parts for a Bugatti were too expensive, he switched to MG Magnette K3.
He recorded some good results at Brooklands and Donington Park but his career was interrupted in 1937 when he lost a license following an accident during practice for the 500-mile race at Brooklands. He crashed into Kay Petre's Austin 7. She was seriously injured and never raced again while Parnell was banned from racing for two years.
Developing a business career parallel to racing
During this period, Parnell found that lending the cars to other drivers could be a good business. Parnell himself returned to racing in 1939, driving a 4.9-litre Bugatti single-seater. In the same time, he started to construct his own car, known as Challenger, but the World War II stopped all racing activities.
During the war years, Parnell finished the Challenger but also built up many other cars, including Alfa Romeo, ERA, Riley, Delage, MG and Maserati models. He was selling cars to other racers, making a name in motorsport business.
Recording many notable wins in the post-war era
When racing resumed after the World War II, Parnell was among the most successful drivers, scoring many notable victories in different race cars, most notably in a Maserati 4CL or Era A-Type. He won the last Swedish Winter Grand Prix in 1947 or Goodwood Trophy for three years in a row between 1948 and 1950.
As Britain's most successful racer of that time, Parnell won the BRDC Gold Star in 1947 and 1948. Because of many wins at Goodwood, he was nicknamed as the Emperor of Goodwood.
Third place in the first ever F1 Championship Grand Prix race
In 1950, Reg Parnell participated in the first ever Formula 1 Championship Grand Prix race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It was a season-opening race of the inaugural F1 Championship and Parnell was invited to drive the fourth car for Alfa Romeo factory team.
At the wheel of the #4 Alfa Romeo 158, he finished the race in the third place, behind Alfa Romeo teammates Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Fagioli.
Later that year, Parnell made one more F1 Championship start, driving Scuderia Ambrosiana's Maserati 4CLT in the French Grand Prix and not finishing the race. Outside F1 Championship, he won Richmond Trophy at Goodwood in a Maserati and Goodwood Trophy at the same track in a BRM.
Two class podiums at Le Mans with Aston Martin
Parallel to his open-wheel racing commitments, Parnell joined Aston Martin in sports car races, making a debut at Le Mans 24 Hours in June 1950. He was sharing the #21 Aston Martin DB2 with Charles Brackenbury, finishing sixth overall and second in S3.0 class, five laps behind teammates in the #19 Aston Martin. Later in the season, Parnell scored a class victory at Tourist Trophy in an Aston Martin DB2.
In 1951, Parnell returned to Le Mans with Aston Martin, driving the #24 Aston Martin DB2 together with David Hampshire. They finished seventh overall and third in S3.0 class, behind two other Aston Martins. Earlier that year, Parnell scored a class victory in the International Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone.
Two starts in the 1951 F1 Championship season
In 1951, Parnell was under contract with BRM but raced in a Maserati 4CLT or Ferrari 375 Thinwall Special. His most notable result was a victory in a Ferrari at BRDC International Trophy in May at Silverstone. Tony Vandervell then gave Parnell his Ferrari 375 Thinwall Special for the F1 Championship French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux, where Parnell finished in the fourth place.
Two weeks later, Parnell finally had a chance to drive V16-powered BRM P15 in the F1 Championship race, finishing fifth in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Parnell ended a season by winning the Scottish Grand Prix in a Ferrari.
Racing with Aston Martin as the main job
In 1952, Parnell's main job was to drive Aston Martins in sports car races, including at Le Mans, where he and Eric Thompson didn't finish the race in an Aston Martin DB3. In other sports car events, Parnell was 13th at Mille Miglia, first in class at Silverstone International and Boreham International, and retired at Goodwood 9 Hours.
In open-wheel racing, he made one start in the F1 Championship, driving A.H.M. Bryde's Cooper T20-Bristol in the British Grand Prix and finishing in the seventh place.
Second place at 1953 Sebring 12 Hours
In 1953, Parnell opened a season with second place overall and S3.0 class victory at Sebring 12 Hours, sharing the #30 Aston Martin DB3 with George Abecassis. Next month, Parnell and Louis Klemantaski finished fifth at Mille Miglia despite some technical problems.
At Le Mans, Parnell and Peter Collins retired after an accident. A few days later, Parnell won British Empire Trophy in an Aston Martin DB3S, then British Grand Prix and finally the Goodwood 9 Hours.
One last start in the F1 Championship in 1954
In 1953, Parnell skipped F1 Championship, making a one-off return in 1954. He appeared in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in the #12 Ferrari 500/625 of Scuderia Ambrosiana. He retired after 25 laps with a broken engine.
Outside F1 Championship, he scored five non-champion wins in a Ferrari, two at Goodwood, two at Crystal Palace and one at Snetterton.
Three more DNFs at Le Mans
While racing with Ferrari in F1 events, Parnell continued to race with Aston Martin in sports car races. He recorded three more starts at Le Mans 24h in 1954, 1955 and 1956, recording DNFs in all three attempts. He was sharing cars with Roy Salvadori (1954, DB3S), Dennis Poore (1955, Lagonda DP166) and Tony Brooks (1956, DBR1). He also recorded two DNFs at Sebring in 1954 and 1956.
Some good results in that period were third place at 1955 British Empire Trophy, victory at 1955 Silverstone International or victory at 1955 Oulton Park International.
Winning the New Zealand Grand Prix in 1957
Parnell suffered serious injuries in a crash at 1956 White Monday race at Crystal Palace, at the wheel of Rob Walker's Connaught B-Type. He paused from racing few months and then returned with a victory at 1957 New Zealand Grand Prix, driving a Ferrari 555/860 for Scuderia Ambrosiana.
While at New Zealand, Parnell also won the Dunedin Trophy in a Ferrari 555/860 and then finished second in the New Zealand Championship Road Race. It was his last race as he decided to retire from racing at the age of 46.
Leading teams in Formula One until death
After the retirement from racing, Parnell became the team manager of Aston Martin, taking the famous 1-2 victory at 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. The team also competed in Formula 1 Championship but without any success, ending an F1 programme at the end of 1960.
In 1961, Parnell took over the management of the Yeoman Credit Racing Team, running two Cooper T53-Climax cars for John Surtees and Roy Salvadori in the F1 Championship. In 1962, Surtees collected plenty of points in Lola-Climax and finished fourth in the championship.
In 1963, Parnell continued to run the team under his own name with Chris Amon as team's main driver. Reg Parnell was preparing for the next F1 season with a new car but he died in January 1964 from peritonitis after a routine appendix operation went wrong. Parnell's son Tim, also a racing driver, took over the team management. The team was active until 1969.