You are here:

Tim Parnell 25 June 1932 – 5 April 2017

To those of us who knew Tim Parnell over the years this tall, bluff, Derbyshire driver with the sometimes oblique sense of humour will always be remembered as a good friend and tireless worker. That he should succumb after a long illness was not a great surprise but Tim was a fighter, through and through and a staunch member of the Grand Prix Drivers Club.

Tim Parnell, left with Jean-Pierre Beltoise at a Club luncheon at St Paul de Vence

Tim Parnell, left with Jean-Pierre Beltoise at a Club luncheon at St Paul de Vence

It is often difficult when you are born with a famous father and in Tim’s case his father, Reg Parnell’s, chequered and successful racing career which included tow BRDC Gold Stars, and the only British racing driver to race for the legendary Alfa Romeo grand prix team, was a hard act to follow.

Reginald Harold Haslam (Tim) Parnell was born in Derbyshire and as he later remarked with a twinkle in his eye: “My father thought my name was shocking, in fact I don’t think he was even present at my christening, because he couldn’t believe the family had given him all these names – so he always used to call me Tim”.

From the start he was immersed in racing and he told the writer that his father took him to Brooklands one time when Reg was racing and when they reached the gates of Brooklands Reg told Tim  “….Look you will have to get under this blanket as I have no tickets to get you in. So I was covered up with a blanket”.

During World War II Reg Parnell bought around thirty racing cars that nobody wanted any more and they were stored away in the farm sheds much to Tim’s delight as he used to bring his school friends home with him and they all chose a different racing car to sit in and imagine they were racing. Tim’s favourite was the ex-Hans Reusch Alfa Romeo 8C. “Father would come home and go absolutely bananas”.

As Reg wanted Tim to be a farmer he was sent at the age of 18 to Scotland and Fenton Barns the famous Scottish dairy farm complex. There was no motor racing, however, as Reg was not keen for Tim to go racing and also Tim also complained that his father was very hard with money and trained Tim to remember that  “ If we are taking a profit we will never go broke.”

Be that as it may, Tim managed to scrape together enough money to buy John Young’s Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica but only drove it a couple of times before trading it in and buying a Cooper Bobtail on hire-purchase – Reg was still unwilling to help.  However after taking the Cooper abroad and getting some good start money and a little prize money Reg relented and helped him out from then on.

When he went to buy his Lotus 18 from Colin Chapman it looked like he would have to wait a long time but Chapman was helpful: “Typically, Colin had a brand new one ready to be sent to the USA the next day and said ‘ seeing it’s you you can have that one’ and to this day I don’t know when that poor American guy ever got his Lotus 18”.

Tim had many stories to tell such as when he was arrested in Bridget’s Bar at Reims by a French policeman who stuck a machine pistol at his stomach …..”Of course I didn’t offer too much resistance…..our black maria set off at high speed and there was an enormous crashing sound as the entire rear bumper was torn off because some of the lads had tied it to a solid tree”.

Tim’s dad’s old mechanic Stan Elsworth led a deputation of other mechanics and drivers to storm the prison to demand that Tim be let loose. The police quickly hustled Tim out of the back door of the police station then invited Stan and the rest of the mechanics into the prison to show Tim was not in jail!

Tim in his Formula II days joined forces with Andre Pilette and Gerry Ashmore to form “The Three Musketeers”

Sadly Reg Parnell died after surgery at the young age of 53 and Tim took over the Parnell Racing Team. He forged a strong bond with Tony Rudd at BRM when he put Tony Rudd’s protégé Richard Attwood, into one of the Parnell team cars.

One of his greatest thrills came at the 1966 Italian Grand Prix when, at the suggestion of Eugenio Dragoni paid Tim for them to run one of their Lotus-BRM’s for their new protégé Giancarlo Baghetti. During practice Dragoni introduced Tim to Enzo Ferrari – whom he had already met with his father many years before – and as the Lotus-BRM was not performing well Enzo Ferrari offered Tim the loan of one of the 2.4 Litre Dino interim cars to use in second practice and in the race. At that time Ferrari were using the new 312 car but the car loaned to Tim  was a 246 Dino. It was totally outclassed in the race.

Tim Parnell, like his father, has been a member of the Grand Prix Drivers Club for many years and with his second wife, Liz has attended nearly every event until recently when he became seriously ill. Last July Tim arrived at Silverstone in his wheelchair and this was his last public visit to a motor sporting event and he died peacefully at home on Wednesday April 5.

We will miss his cheery smile and waspish sense of humour.

Some of the Club members have added their own comments below:

Derek and Misti Bell:

“How sad, he was such a wonderful character, unique personality and such a strong supporter of our sport in so many ways. I shall never forget his presence and sense of humour. The BRDC suite will never be the same again.”

Teddy Pilette ( Vice-President, Grand Prix Drivers Club):

“ I was very close to Tim since 1960 first with his father Reg and I was given a Formula 1 test with their Cooper in 1962. He, Gerry Ashmore and my father Andre formed The Three Musketeers racing team in Formula 2 and my father used Reg’s farm as a base when racing in England.  I also remember after a German Grand Prix I joined Tim with his mechanics and drivers for dinner. The hotel had beautifull glass plates and at the end of dinner Tim stood up and smashed his plate against the wall and we all followed. The next morning Tim had to pay the damage but I think his sponsor paid for all the damage

Tim loved my father Andre and I have always had great respect for Tim who helped me retain my faith to keep on racing.and I was always happy to share so many great moments with Tim at all our club meetings”.

Mike Wilds:

How sad it was to hear that poor Tim has passed away.

A lovely man who always made me laugh each time we met.

It was a privilege to have known Tim and my thoughts are with the family and the many friends of a true legend in motor sport.

Tony and Pina Brooks

Pina and I wish to convey our great sadness at the passing of Tim Parnell. He was a unique, bluff, affable character who epitomised the camaraderie and well-being of the Fifties, a chat invariably involving a chuckle, his experience at the wheel and as a team manager providing invaluable experience which he utilised in his retirement. We extend our condolences to his wife, Liz, family and many friends and we hope to be able to convey them personally at his funeral.

Gerry Ashmore:

Dear friends and fellow members ,

It is very sad that my friend Tim Parnell has passed away. I knew him from the age of ten and we spent some time playing together , our fathers Reg Parnell and Joseph Ashmore had been friends and business partners from before the war , which meant that Tim and myself were brought up with racing cars. It just seemed the natural thing to do and try to be racing drivers and follow our fathers , Tim was such a gentleman in every way and his racing history is well known but he did more than drive being Team Manager for BRM. Just over a month ago I spoke with Tim on the telephone , he sounded very frail but was happy to talk to me for a few minutes , then Elizabeth his dear wife sent me an e.mail to say he was in Hospital , she has now to be brave and she knows we are all thinking of her at this time .

 Rest in piece dear Tim you are now out of pain and you will always be remembered .

 Gerry Ashmore Tim Parnell Andre Pilette ” THE THREE MUSKETEERS ” What great memories I have.

Tony Brooks:

Pina and I wish to convey our great sadness at the passing of Tim Parnell. He was a unique, bluff, affable character who epitomised the camaraderie and well being of the Fifties, a chat invariably involving a chuckle, his experience at the wheel and as a team manager providing invaluable experience which he utilised in his retirement. We extend our condolences to his wife, Liz, family and many friends and we hope to be able to convey them personally at his funeral.

 Bob Bondurant:

So sorry to return home to learn of the sad news of Tim’s passing.

He was such a kind man to me and my European racing days.

I shall never forget his talent of being a driver and a good person.