Born in Otahuhu, New Zealand, on the 2nd of September, 1947. To Richards the way to the top was practice and more practice. In New Zealand rarely a meeting went by when Richards didn't have at least two cars to race. In addition, Richards also raced on the speedway and had always competed in as many rallies as his racing program would allow. The biggest rallies were the Heatway Internationals. In 1971
Australian competitors came back with many words of praise for the New Zealander in the Triumph 2.5 PI
who drove at "impossible speeds". Jim led that event against New Zealand's best, as well as the Australian and other overseas stars, until a trip up a wrong road and eventual gearbox troubles dropped him well down the list.
mount was an uncompetitive Morris Marina
but in 1973
he ran an 1800cc Escort RS
four-speed. Jim kept the great Hannu Mikkola, in a works 2-litre Escort BDA
five-speed, well and truly on his toes until Jim's second outright position went west with an excursion off the road on some black ice. Though it was almost a write-off, the car was made drivable again so Jim could contest the last three divisions of the rally. Coming back with no hope of gaining a placing Jim went all out for special stage awards and cleaned up almost every special stage on the North Island, finishing with a total of 18 fastest times to winner Mikkola's 15.
Jim ran a Jerry Clayton Motors fuel-injected 350 Monaro V8 at Auckland's Waikaraka Park Speedway - his first regular season after two or three years of guest appearances in various cars when he could spare the time from circuit racing. As the Monaro was also owned by Clayton there was no ill-feeling when Jim gave first preference to circuit racing. The interrupted program kept Jim from winning any speedway championships but he finished the season with virtually every stock car record in the book. And, of course, in New Zealand you can hold licences in both forms of racing.
Dan Gurney, one of America's greatest race drivers once said "A good driver is a good driver is a good driver". It was as if he were describing Jim Richards. An example is his near-entry into NZ Formula Ford racing. In private practice in a loaned car he was under the FF circuit lap record on his first day, but this project was abandoned as Jim didn't want to jeopardise his efforts with the Mustang by dividing his attentions too much. Of the Formula Ford, Jim said it was good to drive, very precise, but "too slow down the straights. You just sit there all that time waiting for the next corner to come up."
He agreed that the power of big V8 sedans had spoiled him and that now lesser-powered cars seem slow by comparison. After turning pro, Richards rented a house in Melbourne and moved in with his wife and two sons. Jim Richards believed his racing career centred in Australia - and that is exactly what happened. Richards came to notice as Peter Brock's
Bathurst co-driver sharing in a hat trick of victories from 1978
. He left in 1982
to drive for the JPS BMW team and won the Australian Touring Car Championship with BMW. With the disabandment of the JPS team in 1987
he joined Peter Brock's
BMW outfit for one year before leaving for Fred Gibson's Nissan team in 1989
and developing the awesome Group A Nissan GT-R.
After controversially crashing the Nissan in 1992 and still winning because the red flag was shown, the normally 'Gentleman Jim' greeted the jeering crowd with this speech - "I thought Australian race fans had a lot more going for them than this, this is going to remain with me for a long time. You're a pack of arseholes!".
The Kiwi that Flew
The first inkling Australian's had of Jim Richards talent was the 1974 Hardie-Ferodo Bathurst 1000
when he and fellow New Zealander Rod Coppins brought a built-in-two-weeks Torana L34 home in third place - without brakes. It earned them a pat on the back, some praise but not much else as the newspapers were full of how Gossy and KB had beaten the might of the Holden Dealer Team in Max McLeod's Falcon GT
. But New Zealanders who knew him just nodded wisely when they heard the race was run in the wet.
The next opportunity Richards had to show those outside New Zealand how good he was came when three of Australia's top sports sedan drivers visited New Zealand in 1975
supporting the Tasman Series rounds. The first clash was at Bay Park - a warm-up meeting for the Tasman - and Jim Richards won both races in the Sidchrome Mustang - John McCormack in the Ansett Charger and Pete Geoghegan
in the Craven Mild Monaro just scraped into the placings while Allan Moffat
retired his Mustang.
At Pukekohe it rained during one race and Richards won by half a lap. Moffat, the only Australian at this meeting, was third. The other race on the day was in the dry and again Richards won, though not by quite so handsome a margin. Moffat
was fourth. McCormack was able to atone for his earlier defeat by winning the race at the Wigram airfield circuit. Richards hadn't started as well as the Australian and had to fight off the pack before setting off in pursuit, eventually finishing a strong second.
Back in Australia, it was at Sandown Park, in the wet, that Richards won both his races. At Lakeside, in Queensland, Richards had to settle for two seconds behind Pete Geoghegan's rapid Monaro and a third (behind McCormack's Charger) when the Mustang finished with a deflated tyre. At Oran Park he won one race and finished second to Frank Gardner
in the Bob Jane Torana Chev V8 in the other. At Calder, then considered the Sports Sedan Capital of Australia, Jim was fourth in his preliminary heat behind McCormack, Gardner and Bob Jane in the Monaro V8. But in the final it rained and from around sixth or seventh after the start Richards overtook his rivals one by one and splashed home to another victory.
"I didn't think it would be like this ... winning races so soon," he said modestly, looking at his five-year-old Mustang, after the event. That Mustang was similar to the one Allan Moffat had pensioned off in favour of the Capri. The secret to Jim Richards success, according to the man himself, was "practice". He felt that the more you drove, the better you would become and he practised what he preaches. A look at his driving career prior to the huge success he achieved here in Australia reveals a bewildering number of races in many different cars. From karts to the circuits, rallies and even speedway, he had tried it all.
Driving In The Wet
Of driving in the wet, Richards in an interview described his style ... "when it is wet I drive just the same as I do in the dry. By that I mean I a drive as hard as I can possibly go, all the time, without running off the track. If you run off the track you're not going to get anywhere ... other drivers try, but possibly they don't know their limits in wet I conditions. They might not have had enough experience to develop the same skill and sense of feel in the wet as they have in the dry. This is where I have an a advantage - I've driven many different cars in many different conditions. I have had the opportunity to learn what my personal limits are in almost any given situation."
Although much of Jim Richards was thanks to his own tenacity - much of his early success was helped by having an understanding father. A mechanic by trade, who later became proprietor of a small bicycle shop, Jim's father was not wealthy - but he always given Jim the help, encouragement and support he needed in his driving career. Born in 1948, Jim was only seven when his father took him to see the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore. This became a regular annual outing and Jim remembered the likes of Prince Bira, Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren running in these much-publicised international races.
The New Zealand Karting Champion
By the time he was 14, go-kart racing was booming and Jim's father helped by buying the necessary bits to build a kart. They weren't karts as we know them today. These early versions had motorcycle engines, four-speed gearboxes and bigger wheels and tyres, and they ran on dirt. Richards Snr had a kart too and used to race against his son but it wasn't long before the young Jim was outpacing his father and he went on to win the New Zealand Karting Champion ship during a four-year career.
During this period Jim's parents also bought him an old Austin 7
with the idea that with the aid of his father, Jim could strip it down, rebuild it, get a good idea what it was all about and have a car to drive when he was old enough for a licence. It wasn't long before the Austin
was traded on a Morris Minor
- again with some help from his parents - and when Jim was 18 the lure of circuit racing saw both the go-kart and the Morris Minor sold off in favour of a 1200cc 105E Anglia
which gave Jim his introduction to real motor racing.
From that car Jim progressed to a 1300cc Anglia, then a 1300cc Escort. When he was only 21 he'd had three years of racing and used to come up regularly against Whangarei businessman Jim Carney - a man in his mid-50s - racing a twin cam Escort. Despite having only a 1300cc pushrod engine, Jim's Escort was involved in some torrid battles with Carney's car. Carney was so impressed with Richards' driving he offered him the twin cam Escort to drive and for many years to come Jim Richards has drove cars owned by other people. The Richards driving magic attracted sponsor after sponsor and an almost endless succession of offers to drive cars - something of a feat in New Zealand, where the small population kept motor racing from becoming the big business it was in other countries.
The New Zealand Touring Car Championship
Jim drove the Carney twin-cam throughout 1969
and the following year, in a similar imported car, rewarded his backer by winning the New Zealand Touring Car Championship. Driving the same car Jim became champion again the following year - the NZ TCC series based on class placings rather than outright wins, so a consistency placed smaller car could beat the big V8s. At the time, as Jim was campaigning the twin-cam, he was also racing a Series Production 350 Monaro for used car dealer and expatriate Australian Jerry Clayton and used to drive the Monaro to meetings towing the Escort behind.
The Monaro gave way to a Falcon GTHO, also Clayton's, and during the 1971
season Jim won his second NZ Touring Car Championship with the Escort, while he also became New Zealand Production Car Champion with the Falcon. The same year Richards and Formula 5000 driver David Oxton finished second in the Benson & Hedges 500 - New Zealand's equivalent of the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 - in a Triumph 2500 PI, his best result to that time.
By the 1972
season Jim was combining his job as a mechanic with his racing, usually working for whoever was his major sponsor at the time. That year it was McMillan Ford, for whom he drove a Ford Capri V6, but he was also running a devastatingly-quick Hillman Imp in improved touring under the Sidchrome banner - Sidchrome's advertising man being a friend of Jim's. Then Jim teamed with Rod Coppins to run a Charger Hemi Six automatic - this being the fastest eligible car available - in the Benson & Hedges 500 and won. The nationally acclaimed victory spurred Richards into approaching Sidchrome with a proposal to build a Mustang which would be the fastest tin-top in New Zealand, Sidchrome bought the idea and Jim began building the car while still racing the McMillan Capri.
season started with Richards and Coppins repeating their B&H 500 win in another Charger. But with New Zealand Production Car Championships based on class placings Jim, driving a Falcon GT, had to settle for second behind a Fiat 124 sedan. Richards ran into a similar situation with the Mustang when it appeared. Though it almost instantly became one of New Zealand's fastest cars and continued to improve with development, Jim could only lay claim to being NZ Champion of the up to 6000cc class.
Jim Richards Falcon GT - 17 Wins from 17 Starts
Richards and Coppins missed out on taking three B&H 500 wins in a row when their 1974 Charger
lost its rear brakes
with four of the six hours still to run - but they still finished fourth. The defeat was atoned for when Richards' Falcon GT won 17 races from 17 starts to romp away with the 1974
New Zealand Production Car title. Later in the year Richards and Coppins added their great Hardie-Ferodo 1000 third place to their records and with the Mustang Jim gained five wins and a second from six starts but did not compete the season as a decision had been made to ship the car to Australia.
The move came as a direct result of the point-scoring system in NZ Championship racing. Owners and backers of the bigger cars reasoned that they were spending far more on racing then were the backers of smaller cars and while the big cars attracted the crowds, the small cars were going home with the bulk of the prize-money. To Sidchrome and other big sponsors it looked a poor investment. They were happy with things overall - but felt outright wins should gain them more publicity than they were getting. Sidchrome New Zealand began having talks to Sidchrome Australia about the problem and figured that sending the car to Australia could be a good move. To New Zealanders, Australia was the next step up the motor racing ladder.
While the two Sidchrome companies were still trying to find a workable solution to the problem of what to do, Jim's long-time sponsor Jerry Clayton stepped in, bought the car and tied up a deal with Sidchrome Australia to sponsor the car for the season. Clayton was one of the larger NZ car dealers, running an imaginative promotional campaign to back up a huge, beautifully presented yard. In the first weeks of Richards and the Sidchrome Mustang's initial appearances in Australia, the race results and the Press coverage were such that it was obvious Clayton and Sidchrome Australia had pulled off probably the best PR move ever.