Ron Frost

Ron Frost

RWA Frost -MBE was a man of great energy and besides his racing he was actively involved in business and community affairs and was a driving force in developing international motor sport in New Zealand. His influence on motor sport in New Zealand was huge - so much so that one wonders whether the McLarens, Hulmes and Amons would ever have reached the heights they did were it not for this remarkable man?

“The sport obviously owes him a lot. To my way of thinking he had one blind spot, namely a fixation that spectators liked to see a little car beat a big one. He later became head of the New Zealand Motorsport Association. ” Recalls Scott Thomson, the New Zealand historian and author of Up to Speed , an excellent history of motor sport in New Zealand, woven around the exploits of Ron Roycroft. Taking this observation into account it is little wonder that Frost played a major role with the 500 ‘movement’ in New Zealand when he imported a trio of JBS cars in 1952 – the beginnings of what was to become a successful racing team. He certainly became the “Mister 500” down under before he became “Mister Motor Sport – New Zealand”. But that was by no means all there was to Ron Frost. Frost played an enormous role in not only New Zealand motorsport but in World motorsport as well during an involvement of over 40 years as competitor, organiser and administrator.

1938 – Ron Frost racing at Brands Hatch before the circuit was built.

Frost was born in 1918 and by the age of 20 he was a keen motorcycle racer and competed at Brands Hatch (when the circuit went the ‘other way’ round) but his involvement in motorcycle racing was terminated by World War II. After joining the Royal Artillery Field Embodied Service he was captured the day after ‘Dunkirk’ at St Valery en Caux in 1940 and apparently spent 4½ years as a POW in various camps including a labour camp at Silesia before escaping at his 12th attempt after recovering from pneumonia!

He spoke French fluently and during his incarceration developed an excellent command of German. This was to serve him in good stead. The German was to come in useful when he arranged ‘escapes’ from the concentration camp and the French when he was later to serve on the FIA.

Ron had set up a garage in Bexley Heath in Kent selling Hillman cars and Shell fuels but after the war he became fed up with rationing in the UK and moved to New Zealand where he set up a motor business in Levin with an agency for Rootes Group and Chrysler cars and David Brown tractors and then expanding to include a used car operation. He arrived in New Zealand with a sound racing pedigree after the 1951 season in the UK and the continent. - having pedalled his JBS to a few podium finishes at Brands Hatch against the likes of Stuart Lewis-Evans and Alan Brown and taking a second spot to Eric Brandon during a foray to Spain, the JBS passing to Dennis Taylor

Retiro Park, Madrid 21st October 1951

1953 – Frost shows the JBS to New Zealand enthusiasts at Ohakea. Photo: courtesy Graham Vercoe

But his racing career in NZ started on a sour note. Apparently his feathers were severely ruffled when in order to take part in his first New Zealand event at Ohakea in March 1953 the organisers required his driving to be ‘observed’ before granting him a competition licence. Handicapped in mid-field he climbed through the field to finish a respectable 7th on handicap and 5th overall. He soon proved his mettle when he brought his JBS-JAP home in 3rd place overall in the New Zealand Championship Road Race at Dunedin. Then, a year later, on a Cooper Mk. VII Norton, he ran 2nd overall in the Ohakea event behind the potent vee twin Cooper of Bob Gibbons - which must have satisfied his ego to some extent.

Frost wasted no time in setting up the beginnings of a type of team arrangement with himself, fellow Englishman Arnold Stafford and star Kiwi motorcyclist Syd Jensen. They were equipped with a trio of JBS cars – one of them apparently the ex-works Curley Dryden car and another the prototype 1952 car. He would later import a number of ‘up to date’ little Coopers to New Zealand as the racing seasons went on.

Ecurie Pomme line-up amongst a varied field that includes a pre-war monoposto Alfa and an Austin-Healey: #14 Arnold Stafford (Mk IX) and #15 Ron Frost (Mk IX). Syd Jensen in white helmet behind Stafford is #5. (Photo: Courtesy of Alexander Turnbull library)

Frost is credited by being the driving force behind the famous circuit at Levin. By mid 1956 his ambition to create a permanent racing circuit was realised and a one mile long track was built inside a horse racing facility. The track was designed along the lines of Brands Hatch, drawing criticism from some quarters that the layout favoured the small ‘cyclecars’ but so popular did racing become at this venue that crowds of 20 000 people would swamp the township of some 8 000 residents during championship events

The Levin layout resembled Brands Hatch.

Ron Frost was a qualified engineer and his racing cars were meticulously prepared, as the results of his team shows. He was also genuinely interested in furthering 500 racing and he authored a number of highly informative articles on driving technique, car preparation and engine tuning. These articles are still most useful for those who in ‘modern times’ race and prepare 500 racing machines.

During the 1956 and 1957 seasons the highlights of every meeting at ‘his’ Levin circuit were his battles with Syd Jensen, one or the other usually winning. He scored a significant win for the half-litre cars in February 1956 at Mairehau when he won the CWF Hamilton Trophy in his Cooper Mk. IX Norton but by 1957 the tiny Coopers were becoming outclassed against the larger engine machines in the formula libre event and Ron switched to a ‘bigger car’, a 1460 cc Cooper-Climax T41 that his friend Syd Jensen had been using. He scored a decent 7th overall in the 1958 New Zealand Grand Prix but soon after, on his ‘home’ track at Levin had a nasty accident that may have prompted him to retire from driving at the end of the season.

Hard at work in his Mk IX Norton during a race in October 1956 at Levin. Photo courtesy Roger Herrick

He finished his racing career in a ‘blaze of glory’ after winning four races from four starts at the April 1958 Levin meeting in the F2 car.

He then devoted his considerable energy to organisation and administration of the sport and became “Mr New Zealand Motorsport”. His negotiating skills and contacts played a major role in the emergence of the International Tasman series as well as the raising the profile of New Zealand rallying in the World Rally Championships. Frost had a business arrangement and spent ‘half the year in the UK’ where he had an audio visual business and negotiating for racing teams to visit New Zealand for the Tasman series and International rallies and the other half in New Zealand attending to his motoring business and running NZ motor sport.

He was President of the Association of New Zealand Car Clubs (later MotorSport New Zealand Inc) from 1958 to 1977 and took an active part in the international scene as a member of the FIA and the World Council of Motorsport. “I got to know ‘Frosty’ quite well in the ’70s. Unpopular - in many quarters – what administrators aren’t? – but he was a charming man away from the circuits, involved in amateur dramatics, and a very amusing raconteur.” remembers David McKinney. McKinney rated him a driver of considerable ability – “he was Jensen’s equal.”

After retiring from driving he involved himself in the Levin Amateur Operatic Society and produced shows such as “Rose Marie, a romance of the Canadian Rockies”. “South Pacific” and “New Moon”.

Despite its worldwide popularity motor sport is somewhat unique in that very few achievers were appointed to the Order of the British Empire as an acknowledgment of their contributions to the sport and country. This recognition was well deserved. His citation in the NZ Hall of Fame reads “Ron Frost MBE was a person of great passion and vision for the sport and through this vision and commitment the Tasman Series became an international success. He also applied the same creativity to ensure that permanent race venues became a reality in the North Island. His efforts were recognised by the sport with admittance to the Motorsport Wall of Fame and an Award of Merit and by the NZ Government and Royal assent an MBE for services to motorsport.”

Ron Frost died in 1997.

Thanks to Rob Young, Max Fisher, Suzy Frost, Jan McLaren, David McKinne, Richard Hodges and Scott Thomson for help with this story.