Ray Parsons : Australian Lotus mechanic, racer and development driver…

Posted: February 20, 2022 in Obscurities
Tags: , , , , , ,
(B Dobbins)

Ray Parsons keeps popping up in recent Lotus and Allan Moffat research.

He is just about to climb aboard a Lotus Cortina in the Marlboro paddock, Maryland in August 1966. Parsons shared this car with Moffat – with helmet on behind the car – to 13th place in the 12-Hour enduro.

The little-known Australian mechanic and driver seems to have shone brightly for a short period of time then disappeared from the scene.

Let’s treat this piece as incomplete research. I’m interested to hear from any of you who can flesh this story out into something more comprehensive.

Ray Parsons with Peter Arundell’s shoes, Arundell and Team Lotus Lotus 20 Ford FJ at Goodwood, Easter 1961
Parsons and Jim Clark at right, discuss their prospects at Sebring in 1964 (unattributed)

Parsons first popped up as Peter Arundell’s mechanic. He had left the Australian Army after nine years not long before, then jumped on a ship for the Old Dart to visit his sister. He was soon bored playing Tommy Tourist and responded to an ad for a race mechanic at Arundell’s garage in 1961.

When Peter was picked up by Lotus, Parsons tagged along. Apart from Arundell’s race program, Ray was kept busy working as Project Engineer on the Lotus 23. The prototype was unused so he did a deal with Colin Chapman, buying it for £20. He did well in club racing with the Ford 1150cc pushrod powered car, including a win at Goodwood in the Peter Collins Trophy.

Later, he was tasked with preparation of the Team Lotus’ Lotus 28, the Lotus Cortina. This segued into management of ‘Team Lotus Racing with English Ford Line’ (Ford Britain’s racing of Lotus Cortinas in the US) and involved lots of travel between the UK and the US, sometimes two trips across the Atlantic in Boeing 707s a week, preparing cars for many different guest drivers from 1964.

Ray doubled up as relief driver in the longer US races co-driving first with Jim Clark in the ’64 Sebring 12-Hour, steering for two of the twelve hours they were 21st overall and second in class.

Clark/Parsons Lotus Cortina at Sebring in 1964 (Sports Car Digest)

Parsons was of course ‘the visionary’ who aided and abetted Allan Moffat’s entreaties to assist the team at Watkins Glen that year. Moffat’s persistence and efforts as an unpaid gofer was rewarded with paid work, and ultimately works-Ford drives in the US, and tandem racing of Moffat’s ex-works Lotus Cortina in Australia commencing with the first Sandown 6-Hour in late 1964. See here for a piece on Moffat’s US years; Moffat’s Lotus Cortina, Shelby, K-K and Trans-Am phases… | primotipo…

In 1965 Parsons had a very busy year commencing with the Tasman Cup, looking after Jim Clark’s Lotus 32B Climax 2.5 FPF. In a great tour, Clark won four of the seven rounds and the non-championship Lakeside 99, he was nine points clear of Bruce McLaren’s Cooper T79 with Jack Brabham third, Brabham BT11A Climax.

In April he raced a Team Lotus, Lotus Elan 26R at Goodwood, again as a project engineer to drive and develop the Elan as a racer. He was seventh and first in the under 1.6-litre class. He raced again at Crystal Place in June, and in the Guards International at Brands Hatch in August where he was second overall and first in class.

Lotus announced an on-the-spot spares service van at British circuits, “to be manned by factory personnel, Ray Parsons (when his racing commitments permit) Works Driver and Liasion Engineer, and Rod Sawyer, Sales Executive of Lotus Components Ltd.” MotorSport reported.

Late in the year Parsons had several drives of John Willment’s Lotus 35 Ford F3 car. He crashed at Silverstone in July, was fifth at Oulton Park in August, Piers Courage was up front in a Brabham BT10 Ford that day. Parsons won a week later at Snetterton. He was third in the season ending Lombank Trophy at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day in a Team Lotus, Lotus 41 Ford – Lotus’ 1966 spaceframe F3 car – behind Piers Courage and Chris Irwin. Clearly the bloke had talent.

Parsons and Jim Clark confer in the Longford pitlane, Tasman Series, March 1966. Lotus 39 Climax 2.5 FPF (oldracephotos.com/David Keep)
Parsons, Clark and Lotus 39 Climax in the Warwick Farm pitlane in February 1966 – only Tasman Cup round victory that summer (ABC)

Parsons again accompanied Clark to the Australasia for the Tasman series, but 1966 was the year of the V8s. The BRM and Repco-Brabham V8s were a good deal more powerful than the 2.5-litre Coventry Climax fours powering the likes of Clark’s Lotus 39.

Jackie Stewart’s BRM P261 1.9-litre V8 took the Tasman Cup with four wins, the Parson’s tended 39 won only at Warwick Farm. Sold to Leo Geoghegan, this Lotus 39 – fitted with Repco Brabham 2.5-litre V8s from early 1967 – became a much loved, and successful car in Australia all the way into the early months of 1970.

The Lotus Cortina program continued in the US, Ray drove solo in one of the cars at Kent, where he was eighth. He teamed with Moffat in the Marlboro 12-Hour at Maryland, Washington in August, to 13th place.

A month later, Ray shared a car with Melbourne’s Jon Leighton in the Green Valley 6-Hour in Dallas, Texas. The pair were seventh, two places in front of the Moffat/Harry Firth Lotus Cortina. A week later Moffat/Firth were seventh in the Riverside 4-Hour with Parsons 13th driving alone.

Toowoomba born engineer, John Joyce left Australia for the UK having rebuilt a Cooper and built the Koala Ford FJ. With these credentials he joined Lotus Components in 1963, rising to become Chief Development Engineer.

Joyce and Parsons worked together on the Elan and other projects, the death of Joyce’s brother, Frankie, and the illness of his mother were catalysts for him to return to Australia.

Ray was keen to come home too, a decision made easy as Joyce was concepting the first Bowin; the P3 was to be a monocoque European F2 car powered by a Ford FVA 1.6-litre engine.

Glyn Scott’s Bowin P3 Ford FVA at Symmons Plains in 1969 (I Peters Collection)

In September and October 1967 Joyce had patterns for the wheels, rear uprights, and steering rack made in the UK. Parsons joined Joyce in Sydney, where the P3 was completed by the two talented artisans in a Brookvale factory before being delivered to Queenslander, Glyn Scott. It was first tested at Warwick Farm in July 1968.

And there, it seems, the trail goes cold. Ray didn’t continue with Bowin, until 1975 a significant manufacturer of racing cars. What became of this talented mechanic, development driver, racer, and team manager until he broke cover in Far North Queensland circa 2014.

Credits…

Auslot.com, ‘Theme Lotus’ Doug Nye, Bill Dobbins, Sports Car Digest, oldracephotos.com, Ian Peters Collection

Tailpiece…

(B Dobbins)

Ray Parsons hustles the car he and Allan Moffat shared at Marlboro Park Speedway in 1966. The track first opened in 1952 as a dirt oval, as used in 1966 it was 2.734 miles long. Located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, it was used until 1969 when a better facility at Summit Point, West Virginia sealed its fate. Its mortal remains exist, very run down.

You Lotus Cortina perves should suss this great article about the early development of the car by Hugh Haskell, the engineer charged by Colin Chapman to turn his fag-packet idea into a racer for the road; Lotus Cortina Information – Early Development at Cheshunt – Hugh Haskell This contemporary road test by Bill Boddy in the January 1964 MotorSport may be of interest too; Jim Clark: Lotus Cortina, Sebring 1964… | primotipo…

Finito…

Comments
  1. Terry Sullivan says:

    In that second photo as he gets into the car, is that a cigarette in his mouth?

    • markbisset says:

      Poms and their fags back then were hard to separate…

      • David E M Thompson says:

        Sadly, Mark, it wasn’t just poms.
        Though I see: “According to this explanation, “pomegranate” was Australian rhyming slang for “immigrant”.
        Really? Sounds too clever by half.
        I thought it meant something else.

    • David EM Thompson says:

      A couple of photos down, we see: “Parsons and Jim Clark at right, discuss their prospects at Sebring in 1964.”
      A Formula One World Driving Champion, driving a sedan, and offering, in the dirt and grease, to help his mechanic.
      Have things changed?

  2. Rod Callaghan says:

    There must be something about Far North Queensland and “disappearing” drivers. I recall many years ago being at a dinner with friends in Cairns and meeting Paul Bolton, who was quite taken aback that nit only did someone remember his brilliant exploits in his Hillman in the ‘60s but also that he had owned a Jolus, a purchase which seemed to end the careers of seemingly all who drove one.
    Paul was living in Babinda at the time if I recall, and unfortunately we never caught up,again.
    Ah, mysteries……………..

    • Terry Sullivan says:

      Dave Walker is another.

    • markbisset says:

      Rod,
      I plucked the creature I married from beautiful downtown Mirriwinni, a Babinda ‘suburb’. A Big Mistake!
      And yes, a few racers live up there. I ended up with some of Peter Wherrett’s book collection when he sold up in Cairns, or the Northern Beaches, and moved back to the Big Smoke. Long time ago mind you.
      Mark

  3. prn31 says:

    Talk about an accidental racing driver – they don’t come much more obscure than Ray Parsons!

    Land a job as a race mechanic. Find yourself in the right place and right time to buy a tired Lotus for peanuts, exceed expectations in club racing and voila, you become an international racing driver!

    Nowadays to become an international racing driver you have to sell your grandmother, mortgage your parents house to the hilt and garnish your future earnings just to make it through the development racing series overseas. Talk about a different time…

    I’m curious to know more about this motor racing gypsy.

    Paul

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