I had the pleasure of talking to Jim Hall of Chaparral fame recently. The tall Texan built and raced some of the sport’s most appealing and ground-breaking cars, and went on to run successful teams in America’s Formula 5000 championship and in CART, winning titles in both categories and the Indy 500 in 1978 and ‘80 with Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford respectively.
Hall is one of those rare people who have been successful as a driver, car builder and team owner. He also created a legend with his white Chaparrals, and at 75 he is sharp as a whip and able to recall many details from days long ago. I’m writing a story for the magazine to appear later this year about Hall’s many achievements and didn’t have room for the following stories about his first laps around the Nürburgring, so I thought I’d share them with you.
In 1963 Hall lived in the UK for most of the year and raced a Formula 1 Lotus-BRM for the BRP team. At the end of the year he returned home to Texas to launch the revolutionary Chaparral 2 Can-Am car and focused on racing in America until his driving career came to an end, following a leg-breaking accident at the end of the ’68 Can-Am season.
Hall’s best result from his year in F1 was fifth place in the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, and he’s proud of making it through his first and only race on the legendary Nordschleife without a single mistake. Big Jim spent most of the week prior to the race flogging his Mini-Cooper around the track, trying to learn it as best he could. He also enjoyed contrasting lessons from some of the F1 aces of the time – Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther and Lorenzo Bandini.
“At the Nürburgring I ran into Richie, Phil and Dan,” Hall recalled. “They were in a big black Mercedes and they said they were going to go around the Nürburgring and asked me to join them. I said, ‘Wow, that would be great.’ So I went with them and got to see each one of them drive a lap. That was a real lesson. They all had a lot of ability, they were all different and I got to see all three of them do it. That was pretty exciting.
“When I first showed up at the ‘Ring I stopped at the Sport Hotel and walked in and Bandini was there with his girlfriend. I was a new guy and he looked at me and said, ‘You want to go round?’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ He was in a little Alfa Guiletta that had about a halfway back seat. I had to sit sideways in it. So his girlfriend got in the passenger seat and he got in the driver’s seat and off we went, and I can’t tell you how frightened I was! Maybe that was his intent.
“I was all cooped up in the back of this little car and we’re going around there so damn fast, and I had no idea which way the turns went or whether he was on the right or wrong side of the road. It was quite an experience for my first lap around there.”
Hall went on to finish the race in the points, and three years later his Chaparral 2D long-distance sports/racer won the Nürburgring 1000Kms with Phil Hill and Jo Bonnier driving. It’s one of Hall’s proudest achievements.