Tyrrell served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. After the war he became a timber merchant. In 1951 he began racing a Cooper in Formula 3. Realising he was not racing driver material, Ken Tyrrell stood down as a driver in 1959, and began to run a Formula Junior operation using the woodshed owned by his family business, Tyrrell Brothers, as a workshop.
Tyrrell was responsible for discovering Jackie Stewart, whom he had race for his team in Formula Junior in the mid 60s. With the help of Elf and Ford, Tyrrell achieved his dream of moving to Formula 1 in 1968, as team principal for Matra International, a joint-venture established between Tyrrell's own team and the French auto manufacturer Matra.
During his early years in F1, "Uncle" Ken, as he was affectionately known, reached the peak of his career. However, he was profoundly affected by the death of his driver François Cevert in practice for the 1973 US Grand Prix. In the following years, Tyrrell would slip down the ranks until it became a midfielder team, despite having employed natural talents such as Jody Scheckter, Ronnie Peterson and Patrick Depailler.
Still, Tyrrell found the time to introduce new concepts for F1. In 1976, the Tyrrell team created the six-wheeled P34, that had four front wheels. The Derek Gardner designed single-seater achieved a race victory but it was abandoned after Goodyear refused to develop the small tires needed for the car as they were too busy fighting the other tire manufacturers in F1.
In the early 80s, Tyrrell's fortunes decreased to the point where he had to run his team run without sponsorship. Tyrrell still retained his eye for talent, bringing Michele Alboreto and Martin Brundle to F1, but never managed to retain them. Without the proper funding, Tyrrell was the last resistant with the Cosworth DFV at a time when all other teams had switched to turbocharged engines. Alboreto scored the engine's last win in 1983, but in 1984 the team was excluded from the championship after being found to have rune run underweight cars before adding ballast during pit stops. Ken denied this and felt his team was being singled out due to refusing to run more expensive turbos.
In the early 1990s Tyrrell relinquished much of the company's control to his sons and to Harvey Postlethwaite, who was the first to introduce the high nose concept in the 1990 Tyrrell. Jean Alesi scored two second places in the car, and the team lead a lap for the last time. Their final podium finish was in 1994 from Mark Blundell, and their final point in 1996 from Mika Salo.
In 1999 the Tyrrell F1 team was bought by British American Tobacco and Craig Pollock to create British American Racing. Ken did not stay with the team for its last year under the Tyrrell name, after Pollock insisted on hiring Ricardo Rosset, who Tyrrell regarded as inferior to the also-available Jos Verstappen. In August 25 2001 Ken Tyrrell died at the age of 77 after fighting cancer.