Arnold Stafford was one of a pair of British expatriates that played a major role in introducing ‘500’ racing cars to New Zealand in the early 1950s. After retiring from race driving he became involved as a racing mechanic in Formula One and later was part of the management team for the John Wyer Ford team.
Stafford acquired the ex-Eric Winterbottom Mk. IV Cooper-Vincent during 1951 but after breaking a conrod he fitted a double knocker Norton engine and took the car to New Zealand as he had emigrated there after WW2 and began working for Dunlop. His first big event was the 50 mile Lady Wigram Trophy in February 1952 on the Wigram Aerodrome and he showed a portent of things to come when he finished a steady 6th overall against a field comprising pre-war Italian grand prix cars, large capacity sports cars and a mixed bag of rapid New Zealand specials. When the silver Cooper finished 4th overall, and winner on handicap, two weeks later in a 70 mile trophy race on the wide open spaces of the Ohakea Aerodrome it was clear that the rear engine racing car was going to be a threat in future racing in New Zealand. The 1953 season saw Stafford associated with fellow English expat Ron Frost in Levin where they had a business partnership. By then they were driving two year old JBS cars but despite alternating between Norton and JAP power units there was little in the way of results in the more important races for Stafford’s green car.
For 1954 Frost Motors imported a new
Cooper Mk VII (11/53) which
it appears was owned in partnership between Frost and Stafford and this
turned out to be a marvellously successful racing machine. The Norton
powered car finished 8th overall in the January 1954 New Zealand Grand Prix
– a race of over 200 miles and it took the likes of Stan Jones’s huge
Maybach, Ken Wharton’s BRM, Cooper-Bristols (Brabham and Gould), Gaze in the
HWM and Ron Roycroft’s GP Alfa to head the tiny British cyclecar home!
Stafford also raced the impressive Cooper to a second place finish in the
Richard Webb Memorial Trophy event on the same day. A month later, on the
fast Wigram aerodrome, Stafford performed another giant killing act
finishing 5th on the road behind Peter Whitehead’s GP Ferrari, the Wharton
BRM, an HWM and the Alfa. He averaged 78 miles per hour for the race.
In the end Jensen ran third and Stafford and Frost 6th and 7th but other than a 3rd place finish in the Selwyn Molesworth Trophy at Ohakea for Stafford there was little success for the team.
It was by now clear that pitting the 500s against the
grids made of modern factory machinery was a lost cause and Stafford retired
from serious motor racing. Stafford’s last major race was to be the 1960 New
Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore. After three years out of the cockpit, at the
age of 44, he accepted a last minute ‘rent-a-drive’ in David Piper’s spare
F2 Lotus 16. David McKinney recalls “Arnold Stafford was called in at the
last minute to drive the Lotus. I guess he would have had a lap or two on
race-day morning but did not practise officially. Unsurprisingly perhaps, he
finished last in his heat. Not an absolute disgrace, as he had spun during
the race, and I think was dicing with one of the 2.0 Cooper-Climaxes at the
David Piper has fond memories of Arnold Stafford. “We first met at the NZIGP
at Ardmore near Auckland he drove my Lotus 16 with an FPF2.2 litre Climax
engine at the last moment as Frank Schuter was due to drive but had an
appendix operation on the eve of the race. The Staffords came to England and
Arnold helped me with my GTO in Europe, until he joined John Wyer as a time
keeper and assistant to John and David York he also kept lap charts and data
as well as organising the stores as a buyer for JWA. Arnold and Meg returned
to NZ when JW closed down. They were great friends and Arnold loved racing.
He was one of the old brigade I had a great deal of respect for when we
Arnold retired to the scenic Lake Taupo area in New Zealand and passed away in 1997 aged 82. He was a modest and unassuming man according to his friends in the area and never mentioned his racing exploits nor the fact that he served as a major in the British army from 1939-1945 in Burma.