Jim Russell

Jim Russell

Jim Russell was born and lived most of his life in Downham Market, Norfolk. After serving with the RAF, he became a garage owner aided by his brother Peter. Jim came to motorsport fairly late in life, at the age of 32, when a friend invited him to go to Snetterton and  he immediately made plans to join in. He began in 1952 with a new  Cooper Mk VI fitted with a JAP engine and performed quite well within the JAP class, without troubling the established stars. Things improved when Jim persuaded a sceptical Steve Lancefield to provide and tune a Manx Norton which was fitted by Don Parker at Steve's insistence.

During 1953, he achieved a number of good performances including winning the handicap race at Brough on 3rd April, third in the Easter 20 and fifth in the handicap race at the Brands Hatch Easter Meeting, third in the Junior Final and second in the Juniors V Seniors handicap at Brands on the 24th May. At Snetterton, his local track, he took joint third with Les Leston on the 27th June, fourth on 11th July, with Ken Tyrrell winning, and finally a win of his own on the 1st of August. At the Commander Yorke Trophy meeting in August Jim took a respectable fourth in the Silverstone 100 Race.

Jim in action in the Cooper Mk VI in 1952

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Before the off at Boreham in 1952.

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Jim with engine tuner Steve Lancefield, who would change his fortunes.

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For 1954, Jim acquired a Cooper Mk VIII and started to make his mark, beginning with a win in the Open Challenge and a fourth in the Senior Race at Brands on Easter Monday, second to Les Leston in the works car at Snetterton on the 2nd April. In May, he gave best to Moss and Leston in the Daily Express race, Silverstone, third again at Aintree on the 29th, this time to Moss and Don Parker. Second to Don at Snetterton on the 5th June and again on Whit Monday, Brands Hatch and finally a pair of wins in the USAF Trophy on 19th June.

July brought a second to Les in the Open Challenge at Brands, second to Parker in the Beart Trophy at Oulton Park on the10th and a slightly disappointing sixth in the Grand Prix on the 17th.

The Daily Telegraph meeting at Brands on the 2nd August brought third in the Open Challenge and a win over Moss in the International Challenge. A week later at Oulton for the Gold Cup, Jim took a fine second in the 75 Mile Race, only losing out to Moss when rain fell, and returning to Snetterton, he beat Parker and Ivor Bueb then won the Commander Yorke Trophy on the 21st and finished a busy month with second in the Seniors at Castle Combe. Finally, at Brands on the 5th September Jim took a double win in the Open and Senior races. All in, a fine year which would be rewarded with a works Cooper for the following year. Jim sold his Mk VIII to new boy David Heath for '55.

Jim exits the tunnel complete with laurels, Brands Hatch 5th September 1954. Photo Robin Fairservice.

Jim and Ivor discussing carburettors

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A portrait of Jim, by Ian Frost, taken on the grid at Brands Hatch in 1955.

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From 1955 he received works support and a Mk IX, although he generally built and maintained his own cars at the Downham Market garage. Jim maintains that he actually preferred the Mk VIII Cooper, never being entirely happy with the rear only disk brake. Jim's team mate and good friend would be Ivor Bueb and between them, they would dominate the year. Ivor took first blood at Kirkistown on 19th March and Jim responded with a win at Snetterton on the 26th. They both lost out to new boy Cliff Allison at Brough, then Jim finished second to Don Parker at Castle Combe on the 9th April. On the 11th, Ivor went to Goodwood to win the Earl of March Trophy while Jim took the Senior win at Brands, this time beating Allison. The pair dominated at Ibsley, Jim coming out on top, then Ivor returned the compliment in the 50 Mile Race at Silverstone on the last lap. Russell won again at Snetterton on 30th but only after Allison spun off on the last lap, and the prestigious Grand Prix at Aintree on the 16th July after a dual with Stuart Lewis-Evans, Ivor failing to finish. On the 30th, he beat Bueb, Allison, Dennis Taylor, Lewis-Evans and Parker in a thrilling Senior Race at Crystal Palace and two days later, took the Daily Telegraph Trophy, fending off Les Leston. Jim won at Aintree on the 3rd of September, beating David Boshier-Jones and Allison, and the Francis Beart Trophy at Brands the following day. Honours were even for the works drivers in the Avon Trophy at Castle Combe with a win a piece on the 3rd of October then Jim took the Sporting Record Trophy at Brands a week later. Ivor won the Yuletide Trophy to complete the year but it was not enough and Jim Russell became the Formula 3 Champion for 1955. At Montlhéry in October 1955, Jim also set new class G records for 50, 100 and 200 km, 50 and 100 miles and 1 hour, all in an 1,100cc Cooper Climax.

Jim salutes the crowd after winning at Brands Hatch in August 1955. Photo Ian Frost

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Things continued in a similar vein in '56, while Coopers had introduced a Mk X, it was almost identical to the Mk IX so Jim continued with the older car for most of the year and Ivor ran his under the Ecurie Demi-Litre banner. Nearly all the top contenders were running Coopers by now including Stuart-Lewis-Evans, Tommy Bridger, Cliff Allison, George Wicken and David Boshier-Jones. Even Don Parker adopted a Cooper mid season, a combination which made for a very competitive season where every place counted.  Jim took a win at Kirkistown in March, then suffered a number of DNFs before winning the First Final at Brands on 29th April and taking the Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone on the 5th May. He won again at his local Snetterton on the 19th, travelled down to Brands to win the Sporting Record Trophy the following day and on to Goodwood for a final win of the weekend! 

Russell won the Midsummer 100 at Aintree on 23rd June, was awarded joint first with Lewis-Evans at Mallory on the 7th July and a week later took the Grand Prix at Silverstone, then Snetterton on the 22nd. August brought the Daily Telegraph Trophy at Brands, a second to Stuart in the John Bull Trophy, Oulton Park. To Jim's favourite Snetterton for a win on 2nd September, again at Goodwood on the 8th, storming through after a poor start, and a second to George Wicken in the Rochester Cup at Brands the following day. In the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting, Jim won the People Challenge from Lewis-Evans and Bridger then another win at Snetterton on the 7th October and finally a second to Stuart at Brands on the 14th. Russell's second Formula 3 Championship was won.

Also in 1956, Jim set up the first motor racing school at Snetterton, his local circuit. It was a huge success and the Jim Russell Racing Driver Schools have played a major role in the development of many young drivers including World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, Indianapolis 500 Winner, Danny Sullivan and TV personality Tiff Needell. The school was also responsible for fostering the career of Ralph Firman and his Van Diemen concern. Ralph was a school mechanic and Jim's brother in law. The Jim Russell Racing Driver School was the first major customer for Van Diemen cars.

All crossed up in 1956. The rear half shaft had failed. Photo Ian Frost.

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The Jim Russell Racing Drivers School at Snetterton (Jim is second from left). Photo courtesy of Ralph Swift.

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1957 began with a home win at Snetterton on 31st March but he failed to finish the Earl of March Trophy on the 22nd April then bounced back with a hat trick of wins at Snetterton on the 18th and 19th of May. June brought the Sporting Record Trophy at Brands, a second to Lewis-Evans in the Redex Trophy at Crystal Palace, then third to Trevor Taylor and David Boshier-Jones at Mallory on the 6th July, a win in the Commander Yorke Trophy on the 27th and Snetterton on the 28th. On 5th August, Jim took second to Stuart in the Daily Telegraph Trophy, Brands Hatch followed by the inevitable win at Snetterton on 1st September then second to Lewis-Evans in the International Trophy, Silverstone and the same result at Goodwood on the 28th. He turned the tables in the Gold Cup at Oulton to take his third and final Formula 3 Championship.

Jim won the Daily Express Trophy in May 1958, in front of 100,000 spectators and Snetterton on 1st June but he was very much involved in the senior categories and the school by this time. Between 1953 and 1959 he won 64 Formula 3, 11 Formula 2 and 6 sports car races. He also took 22 second places and 19 third places resulting in an overall record of 121 top three places out of 135 starts. Jim set over 50 fastest laps and 20 lap records.

Jim Russell's career in the cockpit was effectively over in 1959 when his Cooper Monaco crashed at Le Mans. He returned briefly to the cockpit  in 1961 and, after proving that he could still match the youngsters, quit.

In 1966, Jim and his crew was responsible for the cars and much of the action in John Frankenheimer's film, Grand Prix, starring Yves Montand and James Garner. The team followed the real Formula 1 circus for the season using modified Formula Juniors made to look like Formula 1 cars. The result was a successful film which has become a classic.


Jim advises James Garner at the Downham Market garage, prior to filming. Garner was a little tall for the Formula Junior chassis, which had to be modified, but became a good driver all the same. Photo courtesy Jim Russell.

Handing over the first Alfa Montreal, photo courtesy Eastern Daily Press.

Jim's biography by Norman Greenway

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Our thanks to Jim and Amanda Russell for their help.

Jim Russell's garage in Downham Market was demolished to make way for housing in November 2007. Click here to see the full story courtesy of the Eastern Daily Press.