1967 Formula One World Champion with Brabham team. Hulme later went on to race for McLaren. He was CanAm champion in 1968 and 1970. Hulme suffered a massive heart attack at the wheel of a BMW M3 in the Bathurst 1000, making him the first Formula One World Champion to die of natural causes.
Born and raised on a tobacco farm belonging to his parents in Moteuka in the South Island of New Zealand, Denny Hulme left school and went to work in a garage.
His father Clive had been awarded his VC for valour during WW2 in Crete, fighting what amounted to a private war as an anti-sniper sniper in the mountains, picking off the enemy one at a time. If pronounced Hulme as ‘Hume’ you did so at your peril. Clive Hulme had told his family: “Never let them knock the ’L’ out of Hulme.” It was always ‘Hullm’.
He saved up enough money to buy an MG TF, promptly entering this in hillclimbing events. After making impressive progress, he purchased a Cooper-Climax, subsequently being chosen for the New Zealand driver to Europe program. Once there, he worked as a mechanic in Jack Brabham's garage in Chessington and began to pave his way on his motor-racing path.
After making an impact on the local scene, he came to Europe in 1960 with George Lawton on the 'New Zealand Driver to Europe' scheme, racing a Cooper in Formula 2 and Formula Junior around the Continent. Unfortunately poor Lawton was soon killed at Roskilde Ring but Hulme carried on before returning home to contest his local series early in 1961. He was soon back in Europe, appearing at Le Mans for the Abarth team, before the late great Ken Tyrrell invited the likeable (but sometimes gruff) New Zealander to race in his Formula 2 team. After some impressive performances there, it was his old boss Jack Brabham who gave Hulme the call, and he joined the Australian legend's F2 team. The pair set about dominating the Championship that year, resulting in a one-two finish in the European Championship.
After making numerous appearances in non-championship events for Brabham, Denny finally got the call he had been waiting for, making his World Championship debut in 1965 at the famed Monza circuit in Italy. Later that year, he scored his first points, for fourth position at the daunting Clermont-Ferrand (Charade) circuit in France.
1966 was Hulme's first full season of Formula One. Now, after the departure of Dan Gurney, he was the outright number two at Brabham behind Jack himself. Finishing a fine fourth that year, the highlights came. A third place at Reims in France, a second behind Brabham at Brands Hatch, and the fastest lap at Zandvoort, before ignition problems put paid to his race there.
The 1967 Championship was essentially an internal affair within the Brabham team for most of the year, but the new Lotus 49 gave Jim Clark and Graham Hill the opportunity to bite back. But two wins in the 11-race Championship, at Monte Carlo and the ferocious Nurburgring (the Green Hell), and a series of strong points finishes, gave Hulme the advantage. He won the Championship by five points from Brabham, and a further five from Jim Clark. Hulme was the first (and to date, only) Formula One World Champion from New Zealand.
1. Denny Hulme: Brabham-Repco 51 points 2. Jack Brabham: Brabham-Repco 46 points 3 . Jim Clark: Lotus 49-Ford 41 points 4 . Chris Amon: Ferrari 20 points 4 . John Surtees: Honda 20 points
1968 saw a move to the McLaren team, owned by fellow Kiwi Bruce McLaren. The South African race, held at the legendary Kyalami circuit, proved difficult for the team. Despite having to use the old BRM V12 engines on an old M5A chassis, Denny brought it home a creditable fifth.
By the Spanish round at Jarama, the awesome Cosworth V8 engine was installed in the brand new M7A chassis, and the good times rolled. At the Spanish round, Hulme picked up second before taking two more wins that year at Monza and in Canada, leaving him with an outside chance of retaining the Championship crown against Graham Hill and the young Jackie Stewart.
The finale, in Mexico City, determined the champion that year - but unfortunately for Denny he was robbed by a suspension failure on his McLaren.
1969 was a disaster for Hulme: the revised M7A chassis struggled with reliability and Hulme managed only 20 points, attaining one victory - ironically, in light of the previous season's events, at the final round in Mexico. Hulme ended the season in sixth position in the drivers' standings.
1970 brought a new decade, but Hulme's luck didn't change. Team boss and great friend Bruce McLaren was killed whilst testing the Cam-Am McLaren M8D, which affected Denny. Another problem occurred that year when he severely burned his hands from methanol when his car caught fire during practice for the legendary Indy 500. As a result, he missed the Dutch Grand Prix in 1970. Undeterred, he still managed a creditable fourth in the championship with 27 points.
1971 started with a bang. At Kyalami, he led dominantly - but the rising-rate suspension system forced him out, after only a few laps. The McLaren team were in disarray. Hulme set the fastest laps in Canada and the United States that year - but results were hard to come by. Denny ended up ninth in the standings for 1971.
Beauty, fragrance and men's products company Yardley took over title sponsorship of a new McLaren in 1972, and it paid dividends for Denny. Partnered with good friend Peter Revson, Denny was back on winning ways taking victory in South Africa, and a few fine podiums elsewhere, finishing 1972 in third place with 39 points.
Amazingly, Hulme scored only one pole position in his F1 career, in 1973 at Kyalami - he appeared to have a good relationship with the South African venue. However, Hulme was outshone by friend and team-mate Peter Revson in 1973, and he finished a place down on the American in sixth, 12 points adrift.
He and Revson had built up a strong friendship off the back of their F1 comraderie - they also competed together in the Can-Am series. When Revson left McLaren at the end of 1973 to join Shadow, Hulme would have been disapointed.
After the Brazilian Grand Prix in which Denny finished in twelfth place, testing at Kyalami commenced. Revson lost control of his car, veering head-on into the barriers. Hulme tried in vain to safe his friend's life, but to no avail. After the accident Hulme announced that he would see out 1974 before retiring from Grand Prix racing. However, other than winning the Argentine event and coming home second in Austria, he did not make much of an impact on the season, and he retired dignified at the end of the year.
Hulme's debut season in the Cam-Am series heralded no points, but the year after, in the year of his F1 Championship win, he came home second in the series, behind team leader Bruce McLaren.
Hulme's first Can-Am championship came his way in 1968, taking victories at Elkhardt Lake, Edmonton and in Las Vegas and notching up 35 points.
1969 saw the McLaren team dominate the series; they won every race, with multiple 1-2 finishes, and even a 1-2-3 finish when Dan Gurney drove the spare M8B. Hulme scored five victories to eventually come home second again behind McLaren, this time on 160 points.
In 1970, he took his second Can-Am title in difficult circumstances, as the team mourned the loss of Bruce McLaren who had died while testing a new Can-Am car (the M8D) at Goodwood. Hulme took the championship, with 132 points - more than double the number of second-placed Lothar Motschenbacher.
In 1971, Hulme's teammate was his good friend Peter Revson. Revson took the Can-Am crown that year with Hulme in second.
In his final Can-Am year, again teamed with Revson (both driving Mclaren M20s), he took a record 22nd series victory. Hulme ended up second in the competition with 65 points.
Hulme competed in the famous Indy 500 event on five occasions: 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1971. His best results in the event were in 1967 and 1968, both times finishing fourth.
He did not compete in the 1970 race, due to methanol burns to the hands after a fire during practice. It happened when he was testing the first Indianapolis McLaren in May when the fuel breather cap popped open and methanol blew back onto the Offy’s red-hot turbocharger. The shimmering whoomph of heat gave Denny only seconds to escape. His visor welded to his helmet and his flameproof overalls where starting to char. The leather of his gloves where shrinking his hands into painful claws as he battled with the buckle of his harness. He thought he had slowed the car down to a crawl but guessed it was probably still doing 70mph when he went over the side. The rescue truck sped past him, chasing the burning car without realizing that the driver on the track was still on fire. Bruce and the other team members visited him in hospital each day. The burns were serious and there was the unspoken chance that he would lose some fingers on his left hand. When he had recovered enough to race again, he wore dressings under his gauntlets. The skin on his fingers was so tender that he sometimes sliced it opening a newspaper. Bruce was terribly concerned at his team-mate’s condition in the hospital, their closeness in times of trouble showing through as clearly as it had when they traveled together between races like a couple of kids.
When Bruce was killed at Goodwood three weeks later, Denny, who had taken the pain of his burns without a tear, broke down in grief. But it was he who rallied the team in those dark days, urging them to stay together and win again for Bruce. He was their strength. Their new leader. It was the other side of Hulme.
After leaving the sport, Hulme lead the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association) for a brief period, but the cut and thrust nature of the post was ill-suited to his gentlemanly nature and he did not fill the post for very long. He then retired to New Zealand, returning to touring cars in the early 1980s, driving for the concern of the well-travelled Scot Tom Walkinshaw, racing for his Austin Rover team in the European Touring Car Championship.
A favourite event of Hulme's was the Bathurst 1000, held at the famous Mount Panorama track in Australia. In the 1992 event he was sharing a Benson & Hedges-sponsored BMW M3 with Paul Morris. After complaining of blurred vision Hulme suffered a massive heart attack at the wheel whilst travelling down the 200-mph Conrod Straight. After veering into the wall on the left side of the track, he managed to bring the car to a relatively controlled stop on the opposite side of the course. When marshals reached the scene they found Hulme still strapped in, dead, making him the first Formula One World Champion to die of natural causes.
He was always a shy man who never basked in glory, but instead was fair, subtle, and motivated by mechanics. He was a gentle giant who for many years showed just why his deft touch and excellent car control left him well deserved of his F1 crown in 1967. He was a true champion, and one who, tragically, is often overlooked. Formula One could do with more characters like him these days.
Before 1960, he was know for his preference for driving barefoot and it was not until 1960 that people convinced him to start racing with shoes on (perhaps getting his tooties toasted on one occasion also convinced him to put on shoes and socks). His nickname at the time was "The Barefoot Boy From Te Puke"
His nickname in his later racing life was "The Bear" due to the fact he could be irascible and even rude with those who rubbed him up the wrong way. But to those who knew him he was completely the opposite: intelligent, sensitive, and eloquent.
www.wikipedia.org with input from Eoin Young and Steve Small