Born on April 26, Dolhem came from a middle-class Parisian family. Didier Pironi was his half-brother and they grew up together even though José was eight years older. There was a family resemblance and the French Press always referred to them as cousins.
Dolhem dabbled with racing in 1964 at the wheel of a Lotus Seven, but due to family pressure to complete his studies that it was not until he had completed his university studies in engineering and economics in 1969 that he returned to the sport, winning the 7th Volant Shell award, beating Jacques Notches and Alain Cudini.
Nothing much happened in 1970 the only record being a F3 race in a Tecno at Paul-Ricard. In 1971, in addition to F3 races with Ecurie Volant Shell, he raced overseas for the first time with Frank Williams, driving in the F2 race in Brasilia, Brazil.
He was regarded as something of a playboy racer in his early days. Under contract to Shell Arnold for F2 in 1972, he drove in fifteen races with their March 722 without any results. Then in 1973 with John Surtees he only participated in two rounds with the TS 15, crashing at Rouen on the warm-up lap after finishing third in his qualifying heat. That year he finished 9th at Le Mans in the Ferrari 365 GTB of Charles Pozzi.
Surtees thought Dolhem had potential, and no doubt a source of much-needed finance, and signed him for three Grand Prix in 1974 and eight F2 races, with a best result of third in the F2 round at Salzburg. In the three Grand Prix he failed to qualify in France and Italy and withdrew in the USA on team orders after the fatal accident of Helmut Koinigg, his teammate. At Le Mans he drove for Matra but the car failed to finish.
His career suffered a further setback when he broke his neck skiing early in 1975, putting him out of action for the whole year.
José returned in 1976 driving Fred Opert's B35 Chevron in ten rounds of the F2 Championship and Le Mans with the Alpine A442, which retired.
Dolhem's career was characterised by a series of ups and downs, busy one year, not the next. In 1977 he only raced twice in F2 and then in 1978 he drove in 11 F2 races with the AGS of GPA Motul. He also finished fourth at Le Mans in the Alpine. Then in 1979 still with the AGS he only raced twice.
Then in 1988, just eight month after Pironi's fatal accident, Dolhem was killed when the private plane in which he was flying, crashed near Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert in the Loire region of France.