Along this journey, he launched hundreds of headlines with his party antics featuring the likes of two-wheel legend Barry Sheene and, of course, always surrounded by a bevvy of A-list models and actresses.
While James was never keen to promote the 'bad-boy' image he had acquired, he was also adamant to do it his way when he became the sport's World Champion.
He told his biographer Gerald Donaldson,
"Don't forget, I came from nowhere. I'd just won my first Grand Prix in the year before I became World Champion. "So I was pitched pretty heavily in at the deep end. When I was driving, everything was fine, but all the rest of it, what people expected of a World Champion, really got to me. "It was a huge change and all I could do was operate in the only way I knew — which was not to compromise myself. I just had to get on with it, in my own odd style.
That style was against the blazer-and-tie brigade that dominated the upper echelons of motorsport hierarchy at the time, "I refused to be shoved around. If that meant calling a spade a spade and not toadying to middle-class ego-massaging and being dressed in jeans and T-shirt, so what?
"I wasn't prepared to truss myself up in a monkey suit and I always thought I turned out cleanly and comfortably dressed. The whole point was that I was basically getting on with my life in my own way and I didn't really care about what anyone thought. Even though it made a lot of people dislike me intensely, I said to myself: Stuff it. I'll do it my way."
Indeed in those early days, James did rattle cages and rattle the establishment, but fast-forward half a century and it would be hard to imagine him in full party mode of the Hesketh days and those notorious post-1976 title celebrations.
At the same time, it must be remembered later in his life James walked the straight and narrow, close to his loved ones and his dog named Oscar. He and Murray Walker were THE voices of F1 during the early years in which the sport boomed on TV.
However, it would not be hard to imagine James celebrating his birthday, sharing a quiet toast with loved ones as later in life he shunned big gatherings and crowds.
Alas, today James is not here to celebrate, but it's worth tipping our collective hats to a paddock legend.