One of the most storied names in the British automotive industry, Kenneth Richardson was instrumental in the development of the Triumph Roadster and much of that car’s success can be attributed to his efforts. His career almost ended with ignominy before it had started when he crashed the Ferrari Tipo 125 Grand Prix owned by Guy Vandervell (of Thinwall bearing fame) in the International Trophy race in 1949. Undaunted, Vandervell procured a replacement and Richardson drove the car in the British Grand Prix when it retired with less than 20 laps to go.
Richardson was the main development driver for the infamous BRM V16 Grand Prix project and he was to drive the car in the 1951 Italian Grand Prix (he qualified but could not race for want of the correct FIA license) but was replaced by Hans Stuck. Rule changes doomed the BRM just as it was finding its legs and Richardson was hired the next year by Sir John Black to help with the development of Standard-Triumph’s new sports car.
His comments about the first attempt – the Triumph Sports 20TS – are legion: “the most awful car I’ve ever driven in my life, it’s a bloody death trap.” As changes were made at his suggestion, the little TR became a world-beater and Richardson drove the car – with a standard engine – to a 124.889 mph on the Jabbeke Highway in Belgium. With a smaller engine than the rival Healey 100, the TR was as fast and more economical with a 32-mpg return during spirited driving.
In May 1954, Maurice Gatsonides and Ken Richardson drove a TR2 to 27th overall in the Mille Miglia and he was asked to help supervise the newly formed Competition Department with his co-driver’s help. The Alpine Rally and the Tourist Trophy (Northern Island) were the first tests that year and they took the team prize in both events. During the ill-fated race at Le Mans in 1955, Richardson finished 15th overall with Bert Hadley in a TR2. The 1956 Alpine Rally was a literal coup with 5 of the 6 cars receiving the coveted Coupes des Alpes and finishing 1 though 5 in their class. The Manufacturer’s Prize was icing on the cake. Under his supervision the Sabrina-powered TR3S Le Mans cars were created before the engines were removed to power the TRS racers that took the team prize at legendary 24-hour race in 1961.
Unhappy with the Leyland takeover, Richardson left Triumph for TVR in 1962 and he was soon tasked with preparing three cars for the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. Two cars failed to finish, but the last – with American legend Mark Donahue at the wheel – finished a disappointing 25th overall and 8th in class. Results that year at Le Mans and the Tulip Rally were also poor and the firm filed for bankruptcy that fall forcing Richardson out.
He continued driving through the 60s at various events and remains a legend among Triumph fans for his help in creating the inimitable TR.
By Johnny Oversteer