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Reg Parnell

2nd July 1911
Derby, Derbyshire
7th January 1964 (Aged 52)
Derby, Derbyshire, after an appendix operation
Most recent race (in database):

Reg Parnell was a mainstay of British racing as driver and Team Manager for the first decades after World War II and he finished third in the very first world championship Grand Prix.

Pre-war controversy

The son of a Derby garage owner, he was a spectator at Donington Park as soon as it hosted car races in 1933. He started racing an old Bugatti two years later although his reputation was tarnished and his licence revoked in 1937. That was after his MG Magnette collided with Kay Petre’s Austin Seven while practising for the BRDC 500 at Brooklands. Petre suffered severe head injuries and did not race again. Despite a wild reputation in his youth, victories at Donington and Brooklands showed he had talent.

Post-war success

His best years came after the war, by which time he was in his mid-thirties. As soon as he could, Parnell was back racing with a variety of machinery acquired during the war – the original ERA, an ex-Johnny Wakefield Maserati 4CL and so on. Victories on Sweden’s iced lakes were achieved with the former in 1947 and he won the inaugural Jersey road race with the Maserati later that year. He added an ERA E-type to his stable but the troublesome car was soon ditched.

Instead, Parnell acquired a Maserati 4CLT/48 with which he finished fifth in the 1948 Italian GP and second in Barcelona. Parnell and the Maserati were frequent winners at Goodwood and regularly placed in other British races over the coming years. Those successful seasons were recognised with award of the British Racing Drivers' Club Gold Star for 1947 and 1948.

Third in the 1950 British Grand Prix

Parnell was invited to join Alfa Romeo for the 1950 British GP at Silverstone – the inaugural world championship race. The four Alfa Romeo 158s were the class of the field and Parnell made the most of the opportunity by qualifying fourth and finishing a popular third in front of his home crowd. His works Aston Martin DB2 was sixth at Le Mans that year and he drove the difficult H16 BRM P15 to victory in the Goodwood Trophy.

He won the six-lap 1951 International Trophy with the Thinwall Special Ferrari 375. Officials were forced to abandon the non-championship event after torrential rain rendered Silverstone too dangerous. He was fourth with the car in the French GP and fifth in Britain when giving the much-hyped BRM its championship debut.

Further career as a driver

A regular member of the Aston Martin sports car team in 1953, he was second at Sebring and in the Tourist Trophy. Armed with a Ferrari 500 for the following season, Parnell enjoyed further national success but retired from his sixth and final GP.

As well as continued success in Britain, Parnell finished second at Dunedin with an Aston Martin single-seater during a 1955 visit to New Zealand. His last major victory also came in that country when his Ferrari 555 won the Formule Libre 1957 New Zealand GP at Ardmore.

Team management

Once retired from driving, Parnell became Aston Martin’s Team Manager during which time the marque won the 1959 World Sportscar Championship. It withdrew from the sport a year later and Parnell then managed the F1 Bowmaker Racing Team before entering as Reg Parnell Racing in 1963 when that benefactor withdrew.

He commissioned Les Redmond to design a Parnell F1 monocoque for 1964 but the project was shelved when he died after a routine appendix operation. "Uncle Reg" was only 52 years old and another sobriquet – "the Emperor of Goodwood" – stood as witness to his many victories at the Sussex airfield venue.