Ken Tyrrell was born in East Horsley in 1924. Released from the RAF at the end of the war, he went into the timber business, acquiring the famous timber yard and a number of delivery trucks. At that time, his sport was football. “I didn’t even read about motor racing”, until his club ran a day-trip to Silverstone. “I saw the 500cc F3 race and I thought ‘Well, I’m sure I could do at least as well as him, and him, and him…’
He bought a part-share in an Cooper-Norton, probably a Mk VI and drove it in his first club race at Snetterton in 1952 and finishing second in the Junior race to Ivor Bueb and tenth in the 100 Mile heat at Silverstone in August then failing at Silverstone in September. At Brands on the 21st, he took a podium in the Consolation race then eighth in the heats at Castle Combe on 4th October.
1953 started badly when Ken hit the sandbank in the Earl of March Trophy but at Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy Ken was second to Ninian Sanderson in the first race then won the second Final. In May, he was second to Bob Gerard at Charterhall then fifth at Snetterton on the 27th June and a win at Snetterton on the 11th July.
At the Commander Yorke Meeting in August, Tyrrell took third in the Production Car race and third in the Yorke Yorke Trophy itself. He was third at the Brighton Speed Trials on 5th September then a second at Oulton Park in the 3rd October to end the season. His car carried a small logo of a woodman's axe and he was christened "Chopper" as a result.
Ken acquired the latest Cooper Mk VIII for 1954 and, in March, travelled to Ireland for a third, behind Don Parker and Stuart Lewis-Evans at Kirkistown. At Easter, he won his heat, finished second in the Open Challenge at Brands Hatch, and second again in the Senior Race again to Lewis-Evans "though R.K. Tyrrell gave him a run for his money".
Tyrrell failed to finish in the Daily Express at Silverstone and at Aintree in May then took a third at Goodwood on the 7th June and a slightly disappointing ninth in the Grand Prix in July. He bounced back with a second at Davidstow on 2nd August then a win at Silverstone on the 14th and fastest time at Brighton on the 4th September.
'55 started badly with a DNF in the Earl of March Trophy followed by sixth at Brands on 1st May, eleventh in the International 50 Mile Race at Silverstone then sixth in the Sporting Record Trophy on the 29th and finally a win at Davidstow two days later. At some point in the, he upgraded the car again to a Mk IX Cooper.
Back at Brands in June, Ken took fourth in the Senior Race Final then failed at the Grand Prix at Aintree. Tyrrell travelled to Sweden in August, sadly failing to finish in the Grand Prix at Kristianstad on 7th August after being collected by Hutchinson but winning at Karlskoga a week later. Magneto troubles put paid to Ken's return for Oulton on the 27th then to Silverstone on the 10th September, where he won the first race and finished second, to Tommy Bridger, in the second, then a respectable seventh in the Commander Yorke Trophy. 1955 finished with a fifth in the Yuletide Trophy at Brands Hatch on the 26th December.
For 1956, Ken finished sixth in the Earl of March Trophy in April, then eighth at Aintree on the 21st and that was about it for his career in the cockpit. Having raced against the very best over a four year period, he was well aware that he was not quite quick enough to make it to the very top though his record is more than respectable.
In 1958 he went into partnership with Alan Brown and Cecil Libowitz to run a pair of 1500cc F2 Coopers internationally. Ken would drive one car, while the other would be hired out. But he was rapidly realising that his talents were better suited to running the team and when he was beaten in the last race of that year at Brands Hatch by a youngster named Bruce McLaren, he hung up his helmet. “Some blokes are born racing drivers, I wasn’t one of ’em. You can’t kid yourself and blame the car. You’ve got to face facts” What he did possess was high level of energy and organisational skill and the ability to inspire those around him.
His relationship with Cooper grew and in 1960 the Tyrrell Racing Organisation was established to run the factory Cooper-BMC team in Formula Junior, based at Ken’s timber yard. In 1961 the business expanded to include Mini Coopers. With the introduction of the new Formula 3 in 1964 Ken hired a young Scot named Jackie Stewart to partner Warwick Banks. Stewart won the British title and Banks won the inaugural European Touring Car Championship in a Mini Cooper S. In 1965 Tyrrell entered Formula 2 with a two car team of Cooper-BRMs.
Tyrrell switched to Matra-BRMs in Formula 2 in 1966 for Stewart and Ickx and, after persuading Cosworth to supply his team with the new DFV engine, he moved into F1 in 1967 with the Matra chassis. With Stewart driving, the team won three races and finished second in the World Championship. In 1969 Stewart, who was joined by Jean-Pierre Beltoise, won six times to take Tyrrell’s first World Championship. For 1970 Tyrrell bought a March chassis, while hiring Derek Gardner to secretly design a chassis of his own. Stewart won one race in the March but then struggled and in the late summer the Tyrrell 001 appeared, to everyone's surprise!
The car was further developed for '71 and took Stewart to his second World Champion and Tyrrell won the Constructors' title. Lotus responded in 1972 with the type 72 and Emerson Fittipaldi (a product of the Jim Russell school) won the title but Stewart beat him in 1973 with 5 wins. In qualifying for the final race of the year at Watkins Glen, Jackie’s team mate, François Cevert, was killed and the team withdrew, giving up its chance of winning the Constructors' title. Jackie Stewart had already decided to retire and Tyrrell’s finest period was over.
Tyrrell would never again achieve the same level although the team continued to innovate and developed the Project 34 six-wheeler which had some success.
By this time, Formula one was becoming increasing professional with ever larger budgets from sponsors but Ken failed to change and the team continued to be run on a shoe-string budget, still based at it’s original home in Ken’s timber yard. Inevitably they fell behind and in 1997, having failed to raise the money to continue, Ken and his sons agreed to sell the team to British American Tobacco and Ken’s involvement ceased. The team became BAR, then Honda, Brawn GP, during in which time it won the drivers championship for Jenson Button, and now Mercedes.
Tyrrell was made president of the BRDC and decided to return to his roots by acquiring a Cooper 500. Sadly, he was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to race again. Ken Tyrrell passed away in August 2001.