That’s how Bill Stone summed up his early life in New Zealand – and it wasn’t long after he left school that he became involved in motor racing. Another Stone, Jimmy (no relation), spannered for Bill and the two became friends. When Bill crashed his car Jimmy helped him fix it, before they travelled to the South Island in March 1968 on the Wahine ferry, to sell the car. Bill was keen to travel to England to prove himself on the track against other would-be world champions. Jimmy was eager to go too but had to wait until he was twenty-one and, following his coming of age, in May 1968 the pair set off to the UK with their tools.
The plan was that Bill would purchase a Brabham BT21 to race. Unfortunately, after their arrival in the UK, Bill quickly discovered that he didn’t have enough money for the Brabham. However, when the Kiwis turned up at Frank Williams’ race workshop they were offered an accident damaged BT18.
A deal was done with Frank, and Bill purchased the car. In Jimmy Stone’s words, “It was quite well bent!” As luck would have it, another Kiwi, Howden Ganley, was fettling Hewland gearboxes in rented space at the back of Frank’s workshop. Bill was able to hire a small part of Howden’s space and he and Jimmy stripped the car down before Bill went off to chassis builders Arch Motors. Arch Motors was too busy to fix the chassis so asked if he could he fix it himself using their in-house facilities. They agreed and Bill fixed the chassis to the amazement of everyone at Arch Motors. A year later Bill was managing the company.
On a shoe-string budget, Bill raced the BT18 in six Formula 3 races across Europe. When they returned to the UK they were penniless, so when Bob Robinson of Arch Motors phoned Bill with a job offer, he accepted. Meanwhile Jimmy went off to McLaren to build Howden Ganley’s Formula 2 car. Howden ran out of money, but Bruce McLaren offered Jimmy a job on the Can-Am team. Howden relates the story of Bill racing with him the following year:
“For the 1969 European Championship we got together as a New Zealand team, with Bert Hawthorne as our third man. All was going well until some ‘sporting’ Englishman realised that we were a bit of a threat so protested about us on the basis that MANZ was only affiliated to the FIA via the RAC. And as the UK already had two teams we were disqualified, although still allowed to race, but not score points. If you do a recount, New Zealand would have finished third. Unfortunately for Bill he had a McLaren M4A which was not really competitive in F3 by 1969.”
With this McLaren M4A Bill hadn’t enjoyed the success of the previous year and struggled financially. But he had got to know Robin Herd and when March arrived on the motor racing scene that year with a blaze of publicity, Bill was hired as that company’s first employee. He would build the first March with chassis number S1/69 stamped on it. The ‘S’ was for “Stone.” When March rented a factory, it was Bill and Ray Wardell who moved all the company’s gear to it in a Ford Transit.
Bill also had his own Ford Transit loaded with all his possessions plus his McLaren on a trailer. “They showed Ray and me where Bicester was on the map, gave us the keys and we drove up in convoy,” remembers Bill. The men briefly lived in Bill’s Transit, cooking on a camping stove, while they were organising the factory. Then they moved their sleeping bags onto the roof of the factory office. Within two years Bill was March’s production manager. But he hadn’t lost his urge to compete and took up motorcycle trials. In his lunchtime he could be seen, and heard, practising on an industrial estate that was being developed close by.
Later, while Bill was showing a group of students around March’s facility, he met someone who would have a significant influence on his life in years to come. The young student was Adrian Reynard. Adrian recorded his memory of that meeting for Mike Lawrence’s book, The Reynard Story: From Formula Ford to Indycar Champions – “Bill was really friendly and informative and we got on like a house on fire. I revered Bill because he was an insider in motor racing, he was making cars and they were winning races. He was at the centre of things.” When the young student returned with a sprint motorbike that he had built, Bill encouraged him. It was the start of a lifelong friendship.
In 1973 Bill left March to set-up his own business. He decided that Adrian would make a good partner, despite their twelve-year age difference – Adrian was twenty-two, Bill thirty-four – and they established Sabre Automotive. The name came from their initials – Stone, Adrian, Bill and Reynard with the ‘E’ standing for Engineering. Bill contributed £30 cash.
They had bought a second-hand drilling machine and Adrian contributed his welding bottles and a lathe. This basic equipment was installed in a shed in Bicester. It was in this shed that Adrian built his, and the company’s, first race car, a Formula Ford Reynard 73F-001. Adrian was still studying, but worked at Sabre when he could. Given Bill’s reputation it wasn’t long before the company was doing work for March, Chevron, and Mallock amongst others. Over the next four years Bill made Sabre a successful and profitable company.
Given Bill’s reputation it wasn’t long before the company was doing work for March, Chevron, and Mallock amongst others.
In 1974 Sabre had a modest production line to produce Reynard Formula Fords. Adrian was not full-time but Bill valued his contribution. “Adrian contributed his Formula Ford design which was of fundamental importance to the company.” Despite his workload Bill found time to write a number of stories for Allan Dick’s auto news magazine in New Zealand, including one about his friend, Howden Ganley. NZ INTERLUDE In 1977 Bill decided that he wanted to return to New Zealand.
Bill and Adrian did a deal whereby Adrian ‘bought out’ Bill by foregoing his share of two years’ profits. Sabre became Reynard Racing Cars. Adrian reflected on the loss of his friend and partner for The Reynard Story – “I was sad to lose a friend. Bill had taught me a lot of things, including business ethics and how to do things correctly. He was the first person I knew in motor racing and he is fundamental to the Reynard story.” Back in New Zealand with his wife Maura, who was previously Max Mosley’s secretary, Bill initially worked for a trailer company before buying land in Clevedon to raise Angora goats.
Along with Jimmy Stone, Bill also established Manukau City Auto Spares. Bill Stone, Jimmy Stone and Adrian Reynard all came back together in December 1980 in New Zealand. Adrian had just won the European Formula Ford 2000 series, so Bill put together a deal for Adrian to contest the Aurora AFX Formula Pacific series over December and January.
Adrian designed a ground effects conversion for the Stone brothers’ Cuda which Bill made up. The car wasn’t competitive against the Ralts and a Chevron B39, but Adrian was consistently sixth behind the front-runners who included Dave McMillan, Steve Millen and David Oxton.
After being away from motorsport, in 1988 Bill was lured back to the UK and Reynard. Unfortunately, the move didn’t work out as Reynard had grown and now had senior management people in place. Bill became Production Manager but took pre-arranged leave to return to sell his farm in New Zealand when Reynard was in the middle of its build season. When Bill returned to the UK he decided to leave Reynard.
“My contract was terminated, but Adrian made sure I was not out of pocket — in fact we remained good friends, even if it was not quite on the old basis. Soon afterwards my marriage broke up, but I think it was coming anyway and, indeed, my domestic situation may have reflected in my attitude to work while I was at Reynard.” Bill set up his own fabrication business specialising in Kevlar in Bicester with Reynard as one of his biggest customers. He even built his own kit car, a replica of a WW2 jeep.
When the 1990 recession brought the good times to a shuddering halt, Bill Stone Engineering was a casualty. “After the business went, I worked for other outfits, including Ecurie Ecosse, and then became the race team Administration Manager for Andy Rouse Engineering, which built and ran works-backed Ford Mondeos in touring car races until the end of 1995.”
Fellow Kiwi Paul Radisich won the British Touring Car Championship for the team in 1993. It was just after his business went under that Bill became a lodger with Reynard designer Malcolm Oastler and his wife Joey. “We were more friends than partners in crime,” recalled Malcolm. “He was my lodger for a while in North Oxfordshire. The other person who later occupied that room, I think, was Trevor Sheumack.
When Bill was between enterprises Trevor was as well, the two of them used to get around in a Transit van doing odd jobs with the nickname ‘Dad and Dave.’ “Bill was a very good craftsman. Two things he did really impressed me. I flew a model plane but Bill built a radio-controlled model glider and it was absolutely exquisite from a workmanship point of view — extraordinary; then he rebuilt a Mallock racing car, and it was similarly exquisite — beautiful workmanship all over it.
Bill’s gift was enthusiasm. He would see some glee in any situation. He was a fantastic enthusiastic spirit and was a very positive person to have around.” Bill and Malcolm became good friends, which later led to Malcolm visiting New Zealand to race Bill’s cars, and Bill staying with Malcolm in Sydney on a number of occasions. In 1990/1991 another project that Bill got involved with was the prototype for Vern Schuppan’s Porsche-based road car, the Schuppan 962CR, with Howden Ganley recommending Bill. “The Japanese customer decided that he wanted a completely new car,” recalled Howden.
“Suddenly a prototype had to be made in an impossible time period. There’s absolutely no way in the world it could be done. Vern said, ‘Do you know anyone who might be capable of putting this together?’ So, I went to see Bill and told him about the impossible problem. He said, ‘Well OK, we’ll give it a go.’ So, he and his men and the stylist from America created a set of plugs and moulds in a bit over a month, I guess. Impossible, but he did it and the prototype could be shown to the customer.” Around this time Bill also got into historic racing in the UK, competing in a split screen Morris Minor and a Jaguar MkVIII.
While Bill had his business, racing car builder Mallock was a customer. Bill had previously done work for Arthur Mallock when he was at Arch Motors and Sabre. Arthur was an accomplished skier and he organised ski trips for the Clubmans Register and took Bill along with him. It was at a pre-ski season party at Arthur’s house that Bill met Susanne, Arthur’s daughter. The pair clicked and married within six months in February 1992. At Susanne’s suggestion the wedding took place in New Zealand.
Despite his messy exit from Reynard in 1989, Bill returned to the fold in 1995 to oversee the Chrysler Stratus Touring Car project, which involved spending a lot of time in America. This time he was Project Manager. “My boss was Adrian, and neither of us has any problems with that,” he said at the time. “Adrian had first spoken about the Stratus project in November 1994 and we kept in touch over the next few months. In June 1995 he phoned to say that it was on, and I flew to Detroit in July. I was given virtually a free hand to assemble my team, and had six weeks to do it in. We had a deadline of March 1996.
“For the next sixteen months I flew to Detroit on average once a month. Our debut was at the very first race of the American Touring Car Championship at Lime Rock, the day after the US 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Reynard had won both those, and I was a bit haunted by the Reynard tradition of winning first time out. They had a doubleheader at Lime Rock and we won both of them. In fact, we won the first three rounds.”
David Donohue won the 1997 National American Touring Car championship for the team. Reynard called on Bill once again when the company was involved with British American Tobacco to establish the BAR Formula 1 team. Bill was BAR’s first employee; he recruited staff, organised premises and established the R&D and design departments. Susanne helped on reception. So, Bill was the inaugural employee of what is now the Mercedes F1 team. He was also involved in selling the Tyrell assets that BAR had acquired when it bought that team.
It was this that led to him dealing with Australian Paul Stoddart. It was with Paul Stoddart that Bill had his final F1 gig. Susanne recalls that Paul kept offering Bill a job and Bill kept declining as he wanted to return to New Zealand. Paul thought Bill was bluffing and kept increasing his offer until it reached a point where it was simply too good to refuse. Amongst other projects, Bill designed and built the Minardi two-seater F1 car that was used so successfully to give passengers the thrill of their lives.
Back in New Zealand in 2002, Susanne remembers that Bill was keen to indulge in hunting, shooting and fishing but discovered that his friends were busy with grandchildren, so he bought a TQ Midget, restored it and went racing again. Later he raced the Mallock Mk6b he had rebuilt, and his friend, Martin Lucas’ Formula Ford. He finally retired from racing in 2011 finishing on a high with a second place in a wet Historic Formula Ford race at Hampton Downs. Bill and Adrian Reynard remained close and when Bill asked Adrian to make the trip to New Zealand to drive the Mallock, Adrian accepted and ran the car at the NZ Festival of Motor Racing Celebrating Chris Amon in January 2011.
The same car was raced by Malcolm Oastler the following weekend. These friends created a little team they called STORM — Stone, Oastler, Reynard and Martin (Lucas). Adrian told me of his regard for Bill – “Apart from my parents, Bill was the most influential person in my life. He had a very positive can-do attitude and had a skill-set that was pretty unique.
He was a totally nonpolitical person. He just wanted to do a job, get it done and get it done well. We gave him some pretty significant projects, multi-milliondollar projects, like the Chrysler project. He managed the Chrysler relationship. He worked very well with the top level of Chrysler’s management. The Stratus won first time out. Then we got the Viper project. He was a big part of my life and I owe him a lot.” New Zealand motor sport lost a talented and rare person when Bill succumbed to cancer in April 2012.
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