Arnold Stafford

Arnold Stafford

Arnold Stafford was one of a pair of British expatriates that played a major role in introducing ‘500’ racing cars to New Zealand in the early 1950s. After retiring from race driving he became involved as a racing mechanic in Formula One and later was part of the management team for the John Wyer Ford team.

Arnold Stafford chasing his Cooper. Photo: courtesy Bruce Sergent

Stafford acquired the ex-Eric Winterbottom Mk. IV Cooper-Vincent during 1951 but after breaking a conrod he fitted a double knocker Norton engine and took the car to New Zealand as he had emigrated there after WW2 and began working for Dunlop. His first big event was the 50 mile Lady Wigram Trophy in February 1952 on the Wigram Aerodrome and he showed a portent of things to come when he finished a steady 6th overall against a field comprising pre-war Italian grand prix cars, large capacity sports cars and a mixed bag of rapid New Zealand specials. When the silver Cooper finished 4th overall, and winner on handicap, two weeks later in a 70 mile trophy race on the wide open spaces of the Ohakea Aerodrome it was clear that the rear engine racing car was going to be a threat in future racing in New Zealand. The 1953 season saw Stafford associated with fellow English expat Ron Frost in Levin where they had a business partnership. By then they were driving two year old JBS cars but despite alternating between Norton and JAP power units there was little in the way of results in the more important races for Stafford’s green car.

Arnold fettles the highly successful and very reliable Cooper Mk. VII (Photo courtesy of Roger Herrick)

For 1954 Frost Motors imported a new Cooper Mk VII (11/53) which it appears was owned in partnership between Frost and Stafford and this turned out to be a marvellously successful racing machine. The Norton powered car finished 8th overall in the January 1954 New Zealand Grand Prix – a race of over 200 miles and it took the likes of Stan Jones’s huge Maybach, Ken Wharton’s BRM, Cooper-Bristols (Brabham and Gould), Gaze in the HWM and Ron Roycroft’s GP Alfa to head the tiny British cyclecar home! Stafford also raced the impressive Cooper to a second place finish in the Richard Webb Memorial Trophy event on the same day. A month later, on the fast Wigram aerodrome, Stafford performed another giant killing act finishing 5th on the road behind Peter Whitehead’s GP Ferrari, the Wharton BRM, an HWM and the Alfa. He averaged 78 miles per hour for the race.

On the 6th March Ron Frost, on his way to winning the handicap trophy, raced the car to 2nd overall behind the 1100 JAP engined Mk V of Bob Gibbons at Ohakea. And, in April, Stafford used it to place 3rd in the 72 mile New Zealand Championship road race in Dunedin after coming out on top after a thrilling duel with Ray Archibald’s Jaguar XK120. These outstanding results are a tribute to top class preparation together with a sound dose of ‘mechanical sympathy’. “11/53” was later raced by the ‘King of New Zealand 500s’ Syd Jensen during the 1955 season finishing 6th in the Grand Prix, the first local finisher, and then taking 3rd at Ohakea. By this time Ron Frost was importing up to date Coopers each season and the grids were beginning to swell with the little British cyclecars and for 1955 the “Frost Stable” acquired a pair of Mk VIII’s to supplement the famous Mk. VII being run by Jensen.

Although he did less racing this season Stafford had notable success with a 3rd in the 70 mile CWF Hamilton Trophy race at Mairehau and fine 2nd overall to Roycroft’s big Alfa in the 60 mile Dunedin Road Race –again only being beaten by much bigger machines. By 1956 the ‘down under’ summer series was becoming much more professional with the likes of Stirling Moss (Maserati 250F), Whitehead and Gaze in 3-litre Ferraris, Reg Parnell (Aston Martin) and other international stars attracted. Frost and Stafford had by now formed Ecurie Pomme – after their British backgrounds – and persevering with the now outclassed 500s had equipped themselves with new Mk. IX’s. The highlight of the season was the strong showing showing at Dunedin, where on a circuit admittedly suited to them, the diminutive racers strutted some impressive stuff. Jensen was sensational in winning pole position from Tony Gaze’s Ferrari but Stafford was also most impressive and took the other front row position. Further back on the grid the field included Peter Whitehead’s Ferrari, the Parnell Aston-Martin, Maseratis and a Connaught!

Tony Gaze (Ferrari) gets the jump on the Coopers at the start of the Dunedin Street Race. Jensen is obscured by the big Italian racer and Stafford is making a careful getaway to protect the chain. Photo TA Thompson courtesy of Scott Thompson.

In the end Jensen ran third and Stafford and Frost 6th and 7th but other than a 3rd place finish in the Selwyn Molesworth Trophy at Ohakea for Stafford there was little success for the team.

Line up for the 8-lap scratch race prior to the 1956 Ohakea Trophy. An amazing field of varied cars. Ron Frost #1 and Stafford #2 sandwich Tom Sulman’s DB3S #22. #25 the De Soto Special is belching smoke and obscures #19 the Austin-Healey of a young Bruce McLaren. On the wide open spaces of the airbase Frost and Stafford finished 5th and 6th, respectively in a race won by the Alfa Romeo P3 of Dave Caldwell. Photo : courtesy of Scott Thompson.

It was by now clear that pitting the 500s against the grids made of modern factory machinery was a lost cause and Stafford retired from serious motor racing. Stafford’s last major race was to be the 1960 New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore. After three years out of the cockpit, at the age of 44, he accepted a last minute ‘rent-a-drive’ in David Piper’s spare F2 Lotus 16. David McKinney recalls “Arnold Stafford was called in at the last minute to drive the Lotus. I guess he would have had a lap or two on race-day morning but did not practise officially. Unsurprisingly perhaps, he finished last in his heat. Not an absolute disgrace, as he had spun during the race, and I think was dicing with one of the 2.0 Cooper-Climaxes at the time.

This placed him 21st on the 24-car grid for the GP. By lap 15 he had improved to 13th place, and the two guys ahead of him went on to finish sixth and seventh, so he could reasonably have expected to finish at eighth at worst. Instead he retired on the 36th lap, coasting to a stop on the back straight when a radius-arm broke at nearly 100mph. So actually, a more than fair showing.” Howden Ganley recalls that Stafford then acted as mechanic for the New Zealand independent driver, Tony Shelly, who participated in a number of European grands prix during 1962 with a four cylinder Lotus 18/21. Ermanno Cuoghi mentions in his book RACING MECHANIC that in 1963, while working for Tony Settember running the Emeryson based Sciroccos, financed by the wealthy young American Hugh Powell , Stafford was a team mechanic and Ian Burgess, a Scirocco driver at the time was full of praise for his the ability of Arnold Stafford as a mechanic.

David Piper has fond memories of Arnold Stafford. “We first met at the NZIGP at Ardmore near Auckland he drove my Lotus 16 with an FPF2.2 litre Climax engine at the last moment as Frank Schuter was due to drive but had an appendix operation on the eve of the race. The Staffords came to England and Arnold helped me with my GTO in Europe, until he joined John Wyer as a time keeper and assistant to John and David York he also kept lap charts and data as well as organising the stores as a buyer for JWA. Arnold and Meg returned to NZ when JW closed down. They were great friends and Arnold loved racing. He was one of the old brigade I had a great deal of respect for when we worked together.”

After a brief but acrimonious association with Carrol Shelby’s organisation Stafford became part of the management team of the JW  Automotive Gulf racing team that achieved so much success in long distance sports car racing from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. John Wyer rated Stafford’s ability as a supply source manager extremely highly and it was a fitting swansong to his long association with motor sport when the team captured the World Championship.

Arnold retired to the scenic Lake Taupo area in New Zealand and passed away in 1997 aged 82. He was a modest and unassuming man according to his friends in the area and never mentioned his racing exploits nor the fact that he served as a major in the British army from 1939-1945 in Burma.