Richie Ginther

5/8/1930 - 20/9/1989

Record updated 12-Apr-23

Richie Ginther was 5 foot 6 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds not what you would call a typical Formula One driver, especially in the 1960s, yet he was not only a quick driver but an extremely fine test driver, technically adept as well, with a rare mechanical sympathy. After racing Ginther dropped out of the rat race to live in a camper in the desert. He died of a heart attack in 1989.

Photo courtesy of BARC Boys

Paul Richard Ginther was born in Granada Hills a suburb in northern Los Angeles, California, and was known universally as 'Richie'. His brother was friends with Phil Hill and it was through this connection that Richie first took an interest in motor racing.

When he left school in 1948 he went to work for the Douglas Aircraft Corporation where his father also used to work. Richie had a natural affinity to things mechanical and in his spare time helped Phil prepare his cars. Richie made his own race debut in 1951 at Pebble Beach driving an MG, however he didn't race again until he had completed his two years national service during the Korean War as a mechanic on both cars and aeroplanes developing a rare mechanical sympathy.

Thus in 1953 he raced an Austin-Healey and, at the request of Phil Hill, joined him as co-driver in Allen Guiberson's Ferrari 340 Mexico Vignale for the Carrera Panamericana. However on the leg between Oaxaca and Puebla they had a big off but managed to escape unscathed from the wreck.

After the race, marred also by the death of Felice Bonetto, Hill apparently thought of retiring but not only continued but returned to Mexico in 1954 to try again.

Hill and Ginther finishing 2nd in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana driving a Ferrari 375 MM Vignale

This time, Hill and Ginther had better luck, though running out of fuel on the seventh stage prevented them from taking the outright win. They did however still manage second, winning three stages on the way.

Richie then found employment with Southern Californian Ferrari imported and racer, John von Neumann, who gave him plenty of drives over the next few seasons, Ginther making a big name for himself in West Coast racing and coming to the attention of Luigi Chinetti, who gave him his first start at international level in the Sebring 12 Hour race in 1957 and then later in the year at Le Mans though, in the race, he ended up partnering Francois Picard in the Equipe Los Amigos Ferrari 500 TR.

Over the next three years he raced both Ferraris and Aston Martins winning the inaugural GT race at Lime Rock that year and in 1958 he won the Pacific Coast Sports Car Championship. More wins followed and at the end of January 1960 he finished second in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km with Wolfgang von Trips in a works Ferrari 250.

Combining his job running the car agency with a racing career was becoming something of a strain, but after he shared a Ferrari sports car with von Trips to take second place in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km, Ginther was offered a four-race contract by the Scuderia. He quit his job with and moved to Italy with his wife, Jackie, and their dachshund, Puck, staying in a hotel opposite the factory in Marinello.

His results in sports cars were disappointing but in single seaters he was impressive. He was second in the Modena GP in the front-engined F2 car and made three Grand Prix starts, finishing an impressive sixth at Monaco in the rear-engined prototype, and second at Monza in the boycotted Italian GP.

Richie Ginther in the Ferrari 246P at the Monaco GP in 1960

Quickly realising his tremendous engineering expertise, Ferrari gave Richie the role of chief development driver in addition to his racing duties. In 1961 the team virtually swept the board with their 'sharknose' 156 V6 car. Ginther impressed, finished second to Moss at Monaco and in front of Phil Hill and was on the podium again in Belgium and in the British Grand Prix.

Richie Ginther in the Ferrari 156 at the Monaco GP in 1961 finishing 2nd

Hill took wins in Belgium and Italy and was second in the Dutch and British Grand Prix and finished third in Monaco and Germany, sufficient to take the World Championship. Giancarlo Baghetti joined in midseason and became the first driver to win on his debut, the French Grand Prix. Von Trips took wins in Holland and Britain as well as seconds in Belgium and Germany and was neck and neck with Hill for the title and only needed third in the Italian Grand Prix to take the title. tragically he crashed and was thrown from his car. He died along with 15 spectators.

At the end of the 1961 season designer Carlo Chiti and team manager Romolo Tavoni left to set up their own team, ATS. Ferrari promoted Mauro Forghieri to racing director and Eugenio Dragoni to team manager. Though Hill gave credit to Richie for the development work done on the works cars, never the less he found himself surplus to requirements at the end of the year.

Small and freckle-faced, Richie Ginther was always just outside the top echelon of Grand Prix talent but on his day he was more than capable of delivering the goods. In many ways he was the perfect number two driver, being conscientious, reliable and an extremely fine tester.

For 1962 BRM were more than willing to bring him into the fold, making an ideal partner to Graham Hill, and putting in much hard work on the P57 as the Bourne team came good at last and won the World Championship. The 1963 season was his most successful and consistent, Ginther scoring points in every Grand Prix bar one to finish equal second with his team-mate in the championship behind runaway winner Jim Clark. Ginther stayed on for a third year in 1964, again proving his mechanical sympathy by finishing every Grand Prix.

Richie Ginther in the BRM P57 at the Monaco GP in 1962

It was all-change for 1965 as Ginther was hired to bring some much-needed experience to the still-fledgling Honda project. As the season wore on the car became a real threat, until Richie had his greatest moment when he won the Mexican Grand Prix at the last race of the year.

Richie Ginther in the Honda RA272 in Italy in 1965 (Photo courtesy of Alois Rottensteiner).

It must have been galling for all concerned that it marked the end of the 1.5-litre formula for Honda would have been a very tough act to beat in 1966 under the old rules. As it was they had to start again and, after filling in with a Cooper until the new car was ready towards the end of the season, Ginther was fortunate to escape a huge accident at Monza when a tyre failed.

Richie Ginther in the Honda RA273 in 1966

That year he appeared unaccredited in the film 'Grand Prix' as John Hogarth, driver for the Japanese 'Yamura' team. He was also one of the racing advisors. In late 1969, Richie was asked to manage a Porsche 908 to help Steve McQueen get some racing experience to enable him to compete at Sebring as he was preparing to make his film about Le Mans.

For 1967 Honda went with John Surtees and Richie joined up with Dan Gurney at Eagle. He lay second in the Race of Champions before retiring, but then surprisingly failed to qualify at Monaco. While practising for the Indianapolis 500 he suddenly decided that it was time to quit.

He became involved in team management and helped Porsche run Jo Siffert in Can Am in 1969 and ran a Porsche 911 for Elliot Forbes-Robinson in 1971, before cutting his links with the sport and dropping out of the rat race. He sold his modest US business, bought a motorhome and spent long months touring, especially in Mexico, some of the time with his son Bret.

Cleo and John Von Nuemann got divorced and Richie and Cleo got married and moved to a beachside home in Baja, California. Richie was not the easiest person to get on with and undoubtedly had inner demons. He always felt that he had not been given the recognition that he deserved both as a driver and for the development work that he did.

He returned to the circuits in 1977, invited to the German GP at Hockenheim by Goodyear to present the winner, Niki Lauda, with a prize to mark the tyre company's 100th win, though many would not have recognised him with his moustache and long hair replacing the once familiar crew-cut.

As a child he had suffered from a heart murmur and both his father and older brother had died of a heart condition. In 1989 he was invited by Rubery Owen, along with José Froilán González, to Donington Park to appear in a short film about BRM to celebrate their 40th anniversary. It was noticeable that he was not in the best of health and after a short demonstration run in one of the cars he had to be helped away. The next day he left for a holiday in France where, on the 20th of September, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He had been suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and was also a diabetic.

A little known fact is that Richie was an expert on native American Indian history.