From Lincolnshire cottage industry to world leader
Alan Cox went to see the multi-faceted firm
2018 marks the 41st year of Hall & Hall’s operation in the Lincolnshire market town of Bourne, a location probably best remembered as being the home of ERA and BRM. While Hall & Hall have outlived BRM’s period of operation, much of their success has been founded on the BRM legacy. As you approach their headquarters along Raymond Mays Way, there is evidence of great expansion of the town in recent years, with extensive residential developments and business parks, while Hall & Hall’s base is equally impressive, housed in the premises originally built for Mike Pilbeam’s Pilbeam Racing Designs and located, appropriately enough, on the corner of Graham Hill Way, in honour of BRM’s only World Champion.
Without question, Rick and Rob Hall will be familiar names to anyone interested in, or associated with, historic motor sport, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit them when our editor agreed to my suggestion that News readers would be interested in an update on the company as it enters its fifth decade.
Part of the magni cent Vanwall collection maintained by Hall & Hall for Tom Wheatcroft
Founder Rick Hall was born in the town of Bourne in 1948, one of seven siblings, his father, Charlie, having been a flight test engineer during the war. In 1949 the family moved three miles up the road to the village of Morton where Charlie set up his own garage, carrying out work as a machinist for various local garages and still trading today as Hall’s Garage with brother Steve, and specialising in MGs. After school and at weekends, Rick worked serving petrol, helping with servicing and acquiring machining skills. On leaving school at 15, he carried on working at the garage and began motorcycle scrambling with brother Doug before a customer at the garage sold him an Aerokart and he moved into karting, catching the four-wheel racing bug. In the meantime, the garage was one of the many small companies in the area that undertook contract machining for BRM and Charlie worked on the cylinder heads for the new V8, which was to take Graham Hill to the 1962 World Championship.
As he now really wanted to go motor racing, in 1971 his ambition saw him head to BRM, where brother Fred also worked, and where he was met by team manager Tim Parnell, who he asked for a job. Although his real desire was to be involved with the racing team, he was taken on in the engine test house and there he remained, working on the V12 in the era of the Yardley and Marlboro P153/P160/P180s, something that instilled in him his abiding love of V12 technology. The end of 1974 saw Louis Stanley take overall control and he left to work for Fiat-Allis at Essendine as a welder, where the appeal of regular hours and higher pay rates were attractive to a young man with a growing family. However, he soon found gazing at a spark all day to be exceedingly monotonous. While continuing to service cars in the evening, his active mind was working overtime with the result that he suffered a breakdown from nervous exhaustion. While recovering, he received a call from Aubrey Woods asking if he would be interested in returning to what was now known as Stanley-BRM, as ‘Big Lou’ had secured backing from Rotary Watches with the intention of funding the Grand Prix effort.
Aladin’s Cave 2: the Hall & Hall Showroom
Rick negotiated a significant improvement in pay and started back in the engine shop on the princely rate of £60 per week, plus overtime. The car upon which BRM’s hopes for 1977 rested, the P207 V12 designed by Len Terry, proved to be over-engineered, too large and overweight. The car was unveiled, with paint still wet, at the Dorchester Hotel, where the Stanleys had an apartment, and where Louis announced to the waiting motoring press that they had achieved 485bhp at 12,500rpm on test, when the engine had yet to be completed! This was typical bluster from the man who oversaw BRM’s decline and who Rick sums up as having been pompous, arrogant and self-opinionated, very much in contrast to his wife Jean who, Rick says, as Sir Alfred Owen’s daughter had only the best interests of the marque at heart.
Part of Rick’s deal was that he would get the opportunity to travel with the racing team and he recalls that part of a new sponsorship arrangement with British Caledonian meant the airline would fly the cars to foreign races, even though it transpired they didn’t have a plane suitable for the purpose. The car was too wide to be loaded and it failed to make the opening race in Argentina. It had to be disassembled into components small enough to load before making its way to Brazil for the second race of the season. The car retired with overheating after one lap. Rick did make the next race in South Africa, when the previous year’s P201 was sent by sea, with Larry Perkins trailing in 15th and last, for the team’s only finish of the season, the new car failing to qualify for its remaining races. Back at the Bourne base, Rick and one of his colleagues in the engine shop, former BRM apprentice Rob Fowler, had been undertaking some outside preparation work in their own time, including rebuilding a P139 for local collector, Arthur Carter. Disillusioned by the decline in BRM’s fortunes, and seeing its days were numbered, they decided to take their chance before the inevitable happened, leaving to set up in partnership as Hall & Fowler after the 1977 Italian Grand Prix.
After a chance meeting at Silverstone with Lotus dealer and amateur racer Bobby Bell, Rick and Rob took over the rebuilding and running of his ex-works Yardley- BRM P153 for formula libre racing, replacing its two-valve engine with a four-valve unit, as well as fielding his Lister Jaguar in the Lloyds & Scottish historic series, which he won, to cap a successful opening year for the new business. Bobby introduced business partner Martin Colvill to Rick and Rob, who added his JW GT40 and AC Cobra to their list of charges. Other cars, such as Colville’s 300S Maserati and Can-Am Lola T222 followed, while Bell also brought them a 250F Maserati, which Rick was staggered to find had cost him £26,000, about four times the value of Rick’s house at the time. While I was there, it was nice to note that Hall & Hall still maintain that same 250F, Stirling Moss’ 1956 Monaco GP-winner, now owned and raced by Graham Adelman.
Hall & Fowler were soon making a name for themselves in the blossoming world of historic racing and other clients were making their way to Bourne, including Robs Lamplough, who in 1971 had entered a 3-year old BRM P133 for the F1 Jochen Rindt Trophy at Hockenheim. Run to fill a gap left in the F1 season by the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix, Lamplough finished the race in 12th place and earned more in start money than the car had cost him! This car was later bought by racer/collector and avid BRM enthusiast, Anthony Mayman, who entrusted many of his cars to Hall & Fowler. These were campaigned successfully for many drivers.
Rick and Rob confer at Cholmondeley 2011
While working at BRM, Rick met Tom Wheatcroft, who would call to purchase obsolete cars and obtain spares for his growing collection, and he was to run into him at the Christie’s Earls Court auction of the BRM Collection in 1981. Rick asked Tom whether he would be bidding for any of the lots, at which Wheatcroft dug his hand into his pocket, pulling out a few coins, saying, “I don’t think that’ll buy me very much”. As history tells however, he did buy a number of cars, including the V16s, and a large array of spares, helping to form the basis of the BRM section of the Donington Collection. Wheatcroft became one of Hall & Fowler’s best customers, the team restoring and recreating a number of cars for the museum and also maintaining cars for demonstrations. Rick talks of the time that he was testing a monocoque sidecar combination that he and Rob had built for Neil Walker. Testing took place on the Melbourne loop while the main circuit renovations were in progress. Wheatcroft came over to see what was going on and Rick asked him what was motivating him to revive the circuit on which he, Wheatcroft, had watched the Silver Arrows racing before the war. His response was, “Good question, lad. I don’t know whether it’s just greed.... or ambition”.
Once the circuit had reopened, Wheatcroft told Rick that he was quite happy to let him choose any car he fancied out of the museum and let it loose for a few laps, but neither Rick nor Rob ever took him up on his offer as they didn’t wish to take advantage of this generous gesture. Such was the relationship that developed over the years that Rick classed him as a great friend and, along with his father, as probably the greatest influence in his life. The pair would speak at least once a week and in talking to Rick and son Rob about him, it’s clear how much he, and his characteristic booming laugh, is still missed.
It was in the late 1970s that Rick revived his own racing career, beginning with a Formula Ford Lola owned by the company’s very first customer, Arthur Carter. After an early testing accident in 1978, he ran in half a dozen races against the likes of Kenny Acheson, Michael Roe and Mike Thackwell in one of the most closely-contested seasons on record with a best result of fourth at Donington, by now his ‘home’ circuit. Although an accident at the end of the season brought his contemporary Formula Ford career to an end, customers such as Mayman began asking him to race their cars, and this developed into a career in historic racing. Further success came in 1989, when an ex-David Prophet McLaren M10B was bought from John Harper and with it, Rick took the F5000 class title in the HSCC Historic F1 series, with a change to a Surtees TS8 the following year.
Rick with wife Wendy (L) and daughter Karen
After 20 years in the partnership, Rob Fowler decided that he no longer had the enthusiasm for the racing side and came to an amicable parting of the ways, at which time Rick’s son Rob, who has now been with the company for 32 years after serving a plumbing apprenticeship with his uncle and a spell spent cattle farming in Australia, took over. With daughter Karen and Rick’s wife, Wendy, running the office and keeping things on an even keel, Hall & Hall is very much a family concern, now with a close-knit staff of 24, many of whom have been with the company since the early days. The Halls are pleased that they are able to offer apprenticeships to aspiring youngsters and thereby continue the tradition of motor sport engineering in the town.
Like his father, Rob has proved himself to be a very fine racer, with the ability to jump into any type of historic car and extract the best from it. Starting in the early years with a class-winning MGB, an F3 Tecno and a year with a contemporary single-seater in the Formula Vauxhall Lotus Scholarship team with Kelvin Burt, he got a real taste for it standing in for his father in a March 712 in a European Historic F2 race. He proceeded to wrap up the 1996 and 1997 championships in March and Lotus 69 respectively. Nowadays, he is able to offer a complete service to customers encompassing driver tuition and preparation for the ARDS test, after which they can manage race entries, enabling the driver simply to turn up at the circuit ready to go.
As one of the preparation and restoration companies in place to take advantage of the booming historic racing industry, they have now secured a commanding position in their field, capable of building you a ‘new’ BRM from scratch should you desire - thanks to more than 22,000 works drawings for which they hold the copyright - as well as a number of other marques in which they have gained specialist expertise over the years including 4 and 6-cylinder Ferraris and Maseratis, as well as Vanwalls (should you be fortunate enough to own one), having built up and restored some truly splendid examples for Tom Wheatcroft’s all-encompassing Vandervell collection.
The company moved into their present headquarters in 2007, which now house the offices, main workshop with fabrication and machining shops, and stores. Other premises around the town include a recently-acquired former furniture showroom for the racing car sales and further storage areas, while the engine test shop still remains on the Folkingham airfield site, where BRM had its test shop and where testing was carried out on the airfield roadways, now sadly in poor repair.
At the time of my visit much work revolved around preparation of entries for the Monaco Historic GP with Rob expressing frustration with new regulations regarding specifications for rollover hoops and liaising between owners and organisers to ensure that all runs smoothly come May. Monaco presents the company with their biggest logistical operation, and while it won’t be as many as their record 17-car entry, it will still be on a scale to rival that of a current Grand Prix team.
So, as the company rolls into its fifth decade, and the historic racing world beats a path to its door, Hall & Hall look set for the next half-century to uphold the mighty motor sport heritage of this Lincolnshire town.
Tags: Features and Reports