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BILL STONE - LIFE IN THE FAST LANE

27/06/2022
0. bill stone nzgp 1966
Bill Stone at the 1966 NZIGP.

“I didn’t have much of a formal education. I went to secondary school in Pukekohe — good at rugby, like most New Zealanders, and I was very good at metal work and technical drawing, the hands-on things. But I didn’t like school very much and left as soon as I could, with no qualifications.”

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.

1. burt hawthornes brabham bt21 and bill stones mclaren m4a 1969
Bert Hawthorne’s Brabham BT21 and Bill Stone’s McLaren M4A 1969

MARCH

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.”...

Read the rest of this article in the July-August issue of NZ Classic Driver.

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