A former F1 driver, Jim Hall was the owner and driving force of Chaparral Cars. An early adopter of aerodynamics applied to race cars, he was the leading proponent of that technology for an entire decade. He dominated sports car racing in the USA in 1965 winning 16 races.
James Ellis Hall was born in Abilene, Texas and grew up in Colorado and New Mexico. His father ran an oil business but was killed in a light aeroplane crash, along with his mother and sister, the month before Jim started at California Institute of Technology, where he studied geology before switching his major to mechanical engineering. Jim became a multi-millionaire, inheriting $15m, while his brothers ran the family oil business.
The family firm sponsored Carroll Shelby and, while at Caltech, Hall was drawn to racing, starting out in 1954 driving his brother's Austin Healey. and shortly afterwards, in partnership with Carroll Shelby, ran a Texas Maserati dealership until he went into the oil business in 1958, continuing to race in SCCA events.
In 1960 Jim fitted a Formula 2 Lotus 18 with a 2.5 litre Climax engine and made an impressive GP debut at Riverside. Running fifth until retiring on the last lap.
In 1961 he won main events at Palm Springs in a Cooper Monaco and at Las Vegas in a Birdcage Maserati. That year Jim commissioned Scarab specialists, Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes, to build a front-engined aluminum-bodied Chevrolet-powered special, the first Chaparral. Jim Hall debuted the car at Laguna Seca in June, 1961, finishing 2nd to Chuck Sargent in his Maserati Birdcage. He also won won both the June Sprints and the Road America 500 at Elkhart Lake with it in 1962, co-driving with Hap Sharp. He also continued to race the Lotus
In single seaters in 1962, he drove a Lotus 21 Climax (371) to victory in the Hoosier Grand Prix at Indianapolis Raceway Park, beating Hap Sharp, Dan Gurney and Roger Penske. He entered the US Grand Prix but dropped a valve on the starting grid and took an early shower. He did finish fourth in the non-championship Mexican GP. In the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix For Sports Cars at Riverside International Raceway he finished second in the Chaparral 1 behind Roger Penske, but in front of Masten Gregory, Bruce McLaren and Innes Ireland.
He joined Sterling Moss' BRP team in 1963, finishing 12th in World Championship points, twice finishing in the points in World Championship Grand Prix, fifth in the British Grand Prix and fourth in Germany. He also took fourth in the non-championship Glover Trophy as well as sixth in the Lombank Trophy and at the Solitude Grand Prix. This was the year when he built the first Chaparral 2 with Hap Sharp. Together they won at Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, Road America and at Daytona in the 200 mile race. He retired from Formula One at the end of the year to concentrate on the Chaparral project.
Hall won the 1964 United States Road Racing Championship and in 1965 he won the Sebring twelve hour race in the rain with Hap Sharp, dominating the USRRC series, winning 16 out of the 21 races he entered.
From 1966, he concentrated his driving activities on Can-Am, leaving the long-distance programme to Hill, Bonnier and Spence until rule changes forced his Chaparral 2F out.
In 1968 at the Stardust Can-Am GP in Las Vegas, he ran into the back of Lothar Motschenbacher's McLaren. The Chaparral was destroyed and Hall was hospitalised for nine weeks with multiple injuries which, apart from a couple of Trans-Am races in 1970 with a Camaro, this was the end of his racing career as a driver.
However he continued to be involved as a designer and constructor throughout the seventies, working with Carl Haas in F5000 before entering Indy Car racing. Hall quit at the end of 1982 but made a fairy tale return in 1991 when John Andretti took a win in their first race. It was however a false dawn as over the next three years, the Pennzoil entry consistently under performed.
In 1995, with Gil de Ferran as driver, they took a win in the last race of the year at Laguna Seca. However despite another win in 1996 at Cleveland, Jim decided to call it a day.
During his career Jill Hall was responsible for one of the first chassis built completely of reinforced fibreglass. His dramatic high-mounted wing which tilted down in the corners for additional force was just one of his aerodynamic innovations. He raced for a while with an automatic transmission, puzzling other competitors with his ability to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times. His Chaparral 2J, the Vacuum Cleaner, was the first ground effects car. The car had an auxiliary motor that created a vacuum under the car to increase down force.