A successful touring car driver during the 1960s when something of a Mini legend, the 11 year old John Rhodes watched Tazio Nuvolari win the 1938 Donington Grand Prix.
Early racing career
He started in grass track motorcycle racing and switched to cars in 1958 when competing in hillclimbs and sprints. Within a year Rhodes was racing a Cooper-BMC in Formula Junior and he remained in that category until 1963. His 1961 campaign with a Midland Racing Partnership Cooper T56-BMC included victory at Mallory Park.
He also briefly raced Bob Gerard Racing’s Cooper T59-Ford in Formula 1 during 1962. Thirteenth in the International Trophy at Silverstone was one of two non-championship races he started for the team. He also raced an Ausper T4-Ford in FJ that year and won at Brands Hatch before joining the Tyrrell Racing Organisation for his final season in the category.
European Touring Car Champion
However, it was in touring cars and his association with the new Mini Cooper S that were central to Rhodes’ success. His spectacular, sideways style was first seen in the British Touring Car Championship in 1963. “Smoky” quickly established himself as a star of the 1300cc runners – winning successive BTCC class titles from 1965 to 1968 and lifting the European Championship for the 1600cc class that final year.
Brief Grand Prix career
He drove a works Austin Healey Sprite in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1965 and 1966 – finishing 12th and a class winner on debut but retiring a year later. He also made one GP start when retiring Gerard’s Cooper T60-Climax from the 1965 British GP at Silverstone. That was it for Rhodes’ single-seater career and he concentrated on saloon car racing and rallycross until his retirement in 1973.
He later lived in Cannock where he restored classic cars into his retirement years. He continued to race in historics until a crash in 2006 cost him the sight in one eye.