Former McLaren engine supplier and racing driver John Nicholson dies aged seventy-five


John Nicholson who made one Grand Prix start but won two championships as an engine builder has died aged seventy-five. The new Zealander was best known for founding Nicholson-McLaren engines, a premier suppliers of Cosworth DFVs.

The engine powered both Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976 to their championships. Though Nicholson started off well in lower racing series showing his considerable ability and beating many future starts, he never had the finance or time with which to pursue a driving career at the top level, he showed considerable ability in the lower ranks, beating many future stars.

He was born in Auckland in 1941 and followed his father into powerboat racing before moving to England. But his reputation as an engine builder saw him join McLaren, where he worked on a CanAm and Formula Five Thousand.

He then went on to set up his own business under the name Nicholson-McLaren while continuing to service McLaren and other Formula One teams. After he establishing himself as a manufacturer, he returned to  Lyncar, designed by former March man Martin Slater, and earned second in the British championship.

Using his own engine and racing against names like  Tom Pryce, David Purley, Alan Jones, Tony Brise and Jim Crawford, he won back to back Formula Atlantic titles in 1973 and 1974. That 1974 season, saw the debut of the Lyncar 006.

He was a  non-classified finisher at the Race of Champions in March, and in April finished a respectable sixth at the International Trophy. He then attempted to qualify for the British Grand Prix, but failed to qualify after a crash in practice.

That year he made his only Le Mans start but crashed thanks to a suspension failure. He did the same program the following season, retiring from the Race of Champions, thirteenth in the International Trophy. However this time he qualified and started at the British GP at Silverstone.

He was one of many drivers to crash in the rain storm that stopped the race, joining James Hunt in the pile of wrecked cars at Club, although he was classified.

He then sold the team and returned to Formula Two and then Formula Atlantic, before winding down his motor racing career. This was mainly because time pressures meant that he had to focus on his thriving engine business.

However, in 1977 he returned to powerboat racing, having decided that it fit his schedule better. He won the British ON title in 1979, but in 1980 he suffered 18 rib fractures and a punctured lung in a major crash at the Embassy GP.

He bounced back to win the British title again in 1981, 1982 and 198, but after another crash he subsequently retired from boat racing.

The F1 team dropped out of F1 the following season. But he continued to have success in F3000 and Group C2, in the British Hillclimb series, historic F1 racing, and the short-lived GP Masters series.


Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.

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