As some of you know I crewed for Bruce Jensen in FB and F Atlantic from 1969 to 1976 and again in 1979 when I was crew chief. Bruce had his best year in ’74 running a March 74B. It was also the first year that Bruce was able to have a professional race mechanic a tall Aussie, Bob Peberdy. Bob had considerable experience in F3 and F2 in Europe. The rest of the crew were, like me, part timers who had full time jobs. I learned one heck of a lot from Bob who usually worked well into the evening when I was able to be in the shop.
Bruce normally was the quickest of the Marches, even quicker than Gilles Villeneuve that year. A second at Edmonton was the best finish. After getting pole at Sanair and running second and gaining on Bill Brack a driveshaft let go. This was a March weakness and not our first failure although the others had not been in a race. Bruce’s March 722 had the same problem. At the last race of 74 we got a ‘new’ superior F2 set up. One failed in practice! Used set back on.
We had not been happy with the build quality when we got the car. Actually had missing nuts and a couple of hardware store quality bolts instead of Grade 5. We always changed to AN high quality nuts and bolts anyway but just an indication. Then when we arrived at Westwood there were the Ecurie Canada March and Shierson Marches with side rads and totally different noses. We were not very happy, nor were some other teams. We hadn’t been told of the update. We could buy it at a horrendous price. Nice racket.
So for 75 Bruce and I flew over to London for the huge Racing Car Show to scout out things and look at what Chevron and Lola had to offer as well as March.
Our flight over was not the greatest as it was decided to make the centre seats across from us in the 747 the nursery! Hard to sleep with at least one baby howling. Having left Toronto in the evening we had hoped to sleep and arrive in London in the morning at least semi rested. We did do some sightseeing in London but that is another story. Who should we bump into at the show but Gary Magwood so for part of the time we hooked up. Gary has some very interesting relatives in England and we spent time with them too but I will let Gary talk about that if he will.
The show was huge with quite a few racing car manufacturers represented plus all sorts of racing parts manufacturers and ancillary companies.
We prowled around and talked to various companies’ reps. Despite Bruce’s good year March showed little real interest which kind of turned us off.
However Gary, who had been to the shows before and really knew his way around had found out that an ex Canadian Ford racer and friend of all of us, Stu Moore, was working at March and quietly arranged for us to get into the factory on a Sat. morning when it was likely Stu would be the only one there.
This definetly was not an approved visit. The factory was several buildings in a modern but very dreary industrial park. We duly met Stu and had a good look around. He was in the process of assembling a customer car.
What we got told was even more interesting. First March (Max Mosely) would fire all the F1 and F2 factory mechanics at seasons end and then hire them back as assembly workers at a lower salary until required for the racing season. Do you think they really cared about the cars they were assembling?
Next we found the workers building up the cars were given a kit of all the parts required to complete whatever customer car they were assembling. That could be anything from a F Ford to a customer F1. Stu said there were always some items missing so the cars went out missing things or cheap hardware store parts included, as we had discovered. A mechanic might also remove a part from a car ready to be shipped for the car he was working on. Not very confidence inspiring. Mind you we always stripped a new car and reassembled it ourselves anyway with better hardware, although not everyone did.
We did get a quick look at the F1 cars but as that area was really well off limits it was pretty brief.
We also discovered there was going to be a ‘private’ 75 model F Atlantic test at Goodwood on Monday so the three of us turned up to watch. Certainly not made welcome!! Not a good way to treat prospective customers, which Gary also was. We did not stay long.
We also travelled with Gary to the home of the famous motor racing painter Michael Turner but as Gary had business with him we stayed outside. Had a good pub lunch.
We were totally unable to make contact with anyone from Lola.
During the past season we had been quite friendly with US driver Bobby Brown and his English mechanic Roger ‘Chalkie’ Chalk. Roger had invited us to visit him in Birmingham and he would take us a round to a few shops. Bruce and I drove up and met with Roger and his wife for an enjoyable evening before retreating to a North American style motel. Early the next morning we were off first to the home of Alan Smith Motors and next door Racing Gearboxes. We were well treated and, of course, Alan was trying to convince Bruce to switch from Brian Hart Motors. He certainly produced good BDA’s but it was decided, although not then, to stay with Hart. Older building but actually seemed nicer than the far newer but rather dreary and untidy March Factory. We were shown everything and felt welcome. Pretty good coffee too.
From there we proceeded to Bolton, sort of north of Manchester to the home of Chevron cars. It was a 2 story converted Victorian era wool factory. There was a good 4 inch gap under the main shop door! We were warmly greeted by Derek Bennett himself along with his right hand man Paul Owen. We were shown around the entire factory, although sort of rushed by a F 5000 car but not before we saw the V6 engine. When we came back by the area it was covered up. The V6 was Chevron’s ‘seceret’ weapon. We had a good look at the prototype B29 almost ready to test. A very clean and complete operation and all the staff seemed happy and working carefully. The mechanics went to the stores department and got parts as needed. They had a complete machine shop and although the equipment was old it was clean and in obviously good working order. We were taken out to lunch by Derek and Paul and a couple of other senior staff at a local pub for a darned good lunch. They also certainly knew who Bruce was! Actually so had Alan Smith. A real switch from March’s attitude and Lola’s who wouldn’t even take or return phone calls.
From there Roger took us to a factory he wouldn’t tell about until we walked in. It was a WW2 era Quonset building and pretty rough looking. We were soon in the factory of the Ensign F1 team and talking to Mr Ensign himself, Mo Nunn, later of Indy car fame. The insulation on the steel walls was spray foam!
A very well equipped shop with again old but in good condition lathes, milling machines, metal brakes and so on. Everything needed to build a F1 car in those days. The full time staff consisted of Mo, and two mechanics! Compare that to today’s smallest teams with 60 plus and McLaren and Ferrari with over 500 people. Their driver for the upcoming season was Count Ricky von Opel of the Opel car family. It was pretty obvious the Roger Chalk was well known and respected! After dropping Roger off we headed back to our hotel in London overlooking Hyde Park.
On the flight back we discussed which car to go with and whether to switch engine builders. We agreed on Chevron and staying with Brian Hart but Bruce obviously wanted to talk to Bob first before the final decision. Lola was dropped because of attitude and March because of build quality and attitude.
The Chevron B29 when received was complete and properly assembled. As a matter of course we did take it apart and upgrade the bolts and safety wire any blind bolts. Bruce’s earlier B17 Chevron had been as well built.
Next to Bill Brack and his Chevron, Bruce was usually the fastest Chevron but it turned out to be a year of problems partially because Bruce was so busy with his Company he was often too tired by race day and tended to make mistakes. It was kind of funny though. When there were any updates Bill got them first (he was the reigning champion and definitely the fastest Chevron) then we were offered them before the Opert team was. Technically Fred Opert’s team was the North American Chevron factory team.
As an aside I can assure everyone the food in a good London hotel, and if you know where to go, elsewhere is as good as anywhere. We were in a good hotel and thanks to Gary and his knowledge and connections had other great meals. English country pubs are also pretty darned good if not fancy!
I also got a shot of the finest Single Malt Scotch I ever have had and I love my single malts. Just can’t afford them anymore!