2004 RMU CLASSIC
Jackie Oliver, posing with Carlos Ghys.
Jackie Oliver, posing with my friend Wilfried Geerts.
From Romford in Essex, Oliver came from a wealthy background and started racing in 1961 in a Mini. In the early 1960s he drove a variety of machinery including a Ford Mustang, a Diva, a Lotus Elan and the wooden-chassised Marcos GT.
In 1966 he moved into Formula 3 with a privately-entered Brabham. Later that year he was signed up as a works driver with Lotus and the following year appeared in two races with the Lotus Formula 2 team. In sportscar racing he shared victory with John Miles in a Lotus 47 GT in the BOAC 500.
In 1968 Oliver was a regular Formula 2 driver as Graham Hill's partner in the factory Lotus team. In the mid-season Jim Clark was killed and Oliver was named to replace him as Hill's team-mate in Formula 1. He scored his first World Championship point at the Belgian GP and qualified on the front row of the grid to lead the British GP. He set the fastest lap in Italy and finished third in Mexico.
At the end of the year Oliver was offered a full-time F1 drive with the BRM team but he had a poor season, retiring from eight races. In sportscar racing, however, he enjoyed considerable success as a member of the Ford factory team, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours in a Ford GT40. He also did his first CanAm races.
Oliver stayed with BRM in 1970 but his only decent result was third in the non-championship Gold Cup at Oulton Park. He also did a number of CanAm races in the United States.
With his F1 career faltering Oliver joined the famous John Wyer Automotive Gulf Porsche sportscar team in 1971, partnering Pedro Rodriguez to victory at the Daytona 24 Hours. That year he also began racing for the UOP Shadow team in CanAm. In 1972 he helped launch the Shadow F1 team and stayed with it, winning the CanAm title in 1974 and competing in Formula 5000. When he retired as a driver in 1977 he had competed in 50 GPs.
Oliver then became business manager of the Shadow F1 team until the end of 1977 when he led a breakaway group which formed Arrows with partners Alan Rees, Tony Southgate and Dave Wass. A lawsuit with Shadow cast a cloud over some promising early results and Arrows settled down to be a mid-grid team throughout the 1980s, often helping young drivers on their way to the bigger teams. It was kept running thanks to Oliver's ability to convince big sponsors that the team would one day win races. In 1989 the team was able to build a $10m Technical Center next to the original factory in Milton Keynes.
At the end of that year Oliver and Rees - the only two founders left - agreed to sell the team to Japanese businessman Wataru Ohashi, the boss of the Footwork Group. He continued to invest heavily, hiring designer Alan Jenkins and concluding an expensive engine deal with Porsche for a supply of V12 engines. Ohashi also funded the construction of a state-of-the-art 40% rolling road windtunnel in the old Arrows factory. The Footwork-Porsche program was a disaster and in 1992 Arrows began a relationship with Mugen Honda. Unfortunately the economy in Japan had taken a downturn and 18 months later Ohashi was forced to stop supporting the team. He agreed to lease the team back to Rees and Oliver and in 1994 the pair regained their old team, having paid a great deal less than they had sold it for. The team struggled for money in 1995 and in early 1996 Rees and Oliver agreed to sell it to Tom Walkinshaw. Oliver gave away control but retained 49% of the shares and took on the role of Sporting Director. There was hope of good results in 1997 when Walkinshaw did a deal for Yamaha engines, Bridgestone tires and signed up Damon Hill, and although the team came close to victory in Hungary, the package was not very successful. The team struggled through 1998 and in January 1999 was sold to a new consortium: Walkinshaw took 45% of the new team, the venture capital company Morgan Grenfell Private Equity took 45% and the mysterious Prince Malik ado Ibrahim took 10%.
Oliver retired a wealthy man.