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Colin Chapman's single Emeryson appearance



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Colin Chapman


Emeryson-Aston Martin




VI BRDC International Trophy (15 May 1954)


Here's the missing chapter in Paul Emery's colourful racing history. Before he got Alan Brown to put the old Connaught factory at his disposal to create the Equipe Nationale Belge's most horrid Grand Prix embarrassment, and before he got involved with Americans Powell and Settember to spur off the Scirocco debacle and the Shannon disgrace - before all that Paul Emery created a rather neat scaled-up 500cc to conform to the F2 regulations of the early fifties.

Just like all following chapters in the imaginative Emery book the story is filled with all sorts of extravagant side characters, equipment and technology. This first chapter (and there's a prelude to it) includes the unlikely likes of Colin Chapman, Aston Martin and front-wheel drive. And the end result, although having been substantially doctored compared to the original design, was actually pretty good. In fact, in its Alta-engined guise it was probably Emery's best ever car.

But let's divert our attention to the prelude first. It starts with the father. George Emery was a race-car preparer himself before the war and Paul worked as an apprentice in the Emery shops as long as he and his father could stand the sight of each other. Whenever they weren't on speaking terms, Paul would swap sides to Geoff Taylor's Alta factory where he would usually get into a tiff before dawn. The prodigal son would then go home and make amends before working closely with his father to create several specials. The one in which Paul was to make his racing debut, was dubbed the Emeryson. Paul was to stick with the name tag for the remainder of his career as an independent designer.

In the immediate post-war period, father and son created a very special Special that did without a decent body shell but was blindingly fast nonetheless (or maybe because of it). For the 1947 Gransden Lodge event it was hired out to Eric Winterbottom who actually won a race in it. Its parts were hunted down and gathered from all over Britain: the engine, a Lagonda Rapier reduced to 1087cc, dated back to 1934 while the two-stage supercharging solution was created through the marriage of a Marshall supercharger and an aeroplane bomber compressor. Soon the Lagonda was replaced by the 4.5-litre Duesenberg unit from a former Whitney Straight car. The Duesy was then overloaded with eight carbs and an increased compression rate to produce nearly 400bhp. Massive but useless power since on the few occasions it raced the car ate its gears for lunch.

"Utter resourcefulness" would be the words with which to typify the Emerys' combined effort, while Paul also inherited another family trait from George: the ability to dream up the most imaginative engineering solutions to problems that didn't even exist. Emery seemed to come up with new ideas at will but he created them in a vacuum, usually a full decade before anyone had the clout, the belief and the resources to embrace the idea and actually turn it into reality. His late-sixties idea of mating a turbocharger with a two-stroke engine was one, a late-forties vision he shared with his father was another: it was an F1 car with, in their own words, "an air-cooled flat-12 engine that had hydraulically operated valves and something very special in the way of boosting - if the finance become available."

As various sources will tell you, Paul Emery was a man of sheer brilliance (the balance of his many revolutionary ideas will convince you in an instant) but alas lacking any true sense of reality. A visionary? Yes. A businessman? Definitely not. And thus a constant lack of money caused his best ideas - of which most were ahead of their time - to fall by the wayside while he was left using sub-standard materials to shape his sub-standard ideas, which, through the use of sub-standard materials, turned out to be even more sub-standard. "If the finance becomes available" - it's the story of his life.

However, in the early days of his career as an independent designer he could still turn some good thoughts into reality. For instance, in the 500cc competition that was booming in Britain around 1950 Emery came up with front-wheel drive and disc brakes. The innovative 500s were race winners for a time before the new F3 category became too costly and too professional.. As it was only in an amateur environment that Emery's low-budget ideas thrived, he copped out and switched his attention to uncharted territory. So in 1953 he decided to convert one of his 500s into an F2 car - and this is where the prelude ends.

The car that he consequently built was the Emeryson Special that was handled by none other than Colin Chapman in his only F1 start at the 1954 International Trophy. In this race, the car still used its original Aston Martin LB6 engine that Emery selfhandedly reduced to 2 litres. He did this through a befriended scrapyard dealer who used to buy Aston's sub-standard components by the dozens… The engine was bitterly unreliable as the reduction in bore meant it needed a lot of extra components, which were of course sub-standard. At the International Trophy Chapman sat last on the grid, over a minute off the pace and trailing the second last runner (the HAR) by a whopping 39 seconds. Unreliable engine or not, Chapman managed to take the car to the finish in his heat as the last classified runner in 12th place. In the main event he again managed to complete the race, albeit not the distance, finishing 8 laps down in 17th place, unclassified, and in the near presence of the HAR and John Webb's Turner. By the way, the event was a Froilan Gonzalez benefit, the bullish Argentinian Ferrari driver taking pole, win and fastest lap in his 553.

It somehow all turned around when Emery replaced the Aston Martin power source with a second-hand Alta engine and swapped the AM gearbox for an ENV pre-selector unit. With 2.5-litre F1 now underway, Paul bored out the Alta to 2471cc and entered the British events, himself acting as the driver. The chassis apparently enjoyed the increase in power and reliability since the Special that had been the laughing stock of British F1 racing in 1954 was suddenly very much on the pace into 1955. And in 1956 it even got better and better. Especially on the tight and twisty tracks on the British calendar the car performed admirably, Emery even taking the fight to Moss' 250F at Crystal Palace before succumbing to the better driver and car before going on to finish a splendid second.

At the British GP, on the fast Silverstone circuit, the car-and-driver duo looked reborn, Emery and his three-year-old self-built contraption outpacing the 250Fs of Maglioli, Godia, Rosier and Brabham and the Gordini of Da Silva Ramos. Unfortunately, ignition maladies restricted his race to just four laps. It was by far the best GP performance by any Emeryson car in the history of the World Championship. Sadly, it all went downhill from there. By 1957, Emery got involved in all sorts of peculiar projects that diverted his focus away from GP racing proper. Although the bright ideas kept on coming well into the sixties, budget restraints meant that they never came into realization, while the ideas that were workable and affordable stood no chance in a rapidly professionalized GP environment.

Reader's Why by John Cross

Here is Colin in his only Formula 1 drive giving the woefully unreliable Emeryson F2 car probably its best result in this original form - he finished 12th in heat 1 and 17th in the final - too far behind to be classified. Although a fine driver, Colin would become better known as a car builder...

The race will be remembered for a dominant win by Froilan Gonzalez' Ferrari and the debut of the Vanwall-Cooper in 2-litre form (complete with external gilled-tube surface radiator) by Alan Brown. The results were:

Heat 1
1 Froilan Gonzalez, Ferrari 553 '2', 31m49, 82.79mph
2 B.Bira, Maserati A6GCM '2044/2504', 32m03
3 Stirling Moss, Maserati 250F '2508', 32m05
4 Umberto Maglioli, Ferrari 625 '4', 32m37
5 Jean Behra, Gordini T16 '16-0034', 32m40
6 Alan Brown, Vanwall Special '01', 32m56
12 Colin Chapman, Emeryson-Aston Martin

Fastest Lap: Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari 553), 2:03, 85.67mph
Pole Position: Froilan Gonzalez, 1:48

Heat 2
1 Maurice Trintignant, Ferrari 625 '6', 30m09, 87.38mph
2 Reg Parnell, Ferrari 625 '188-F2', 30m15
3 Robert Manzon, Ferrari 625 '54-1', 30m56
4 Roy Salvadori, Maserati 250F '2508', 31m17
5 André Simon, Gordini T16 '16-0033', 31m27
6 Jack Fairman, Turner-Lea Francis 'FII-007', 14 laps
17 Colin Chapman, Emeryson-Aston Martin

Fastest Lap: Maurice Trintignant (Ferrari 625), 1:57, 90.06mph
Pole Position: Maurice Trintignant, 1:52

1 Froilan Gonzalez, Ferrari 625 '1', 1h06m15, 92.78mph
2 Jean Behra, Gordini T16 '16-0034', 1h06m51
3 André Simon, Gordini T16 '16-0033', 34 laps
4 Roberto Mieres, Maserati A6GCM '2046/2501', 34 laps
5 Maurice Trintignant, Ferrari 625 '6', 34 laps
6 Louis Rosier, Ferrari 625 '54-1', 34 laps
13 Jack Fairman, Turner-Lea Francis 'FII-007'
NC Colin Chapman, Emeryson-Aston Martin
DNF Stirling Moss, Maserati 250F '2508', 25 laps/suspension
DNF Alan Brown, Vanwall Special '01', 18 laps/oil pipe
DNS Froilan Gonzalez, Ferrari 553 '2', engine

Fastest Lap: Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari 625), 1:50, 95.79mph
Pole Position: Froilan Gonzalez

Paul Emeryson is one of the great characters of post-war British racing - a brilliant engineer but lousy businessman, and hence always short of money. This project used an enlarged version of an earlier 500's frame, with coil and wishbone IFS and coil-sprung de Dion rear. He actually devised a complex system for lowering the prop shaft and hence the driver's seating position. A linered down 2-litre Aston Martin LB6 6-cylinder engine (rescued from a scrap heap!) was used.

This was fairly soon replaced by a second hand 4-cylinder Alta engine, bored out to 2.5-litres mated to an ENV pre-selector gearbox. It was in this form that Paul gave the car its finest result, leading Stirling Moss's 250F for a while at Crystal Palace on Whit Monday in 1956. He finished a strong 2nd behind the Maestro.

In 1957 he slotted in a 2.4-litre Jaguar XK engine fitted with Paul's own fuel injection system, but he only ran it at Goodwood before selling it to Roberta Cowell who enjoyed various Ladies Class winds in hill-climbs - perhaps helped by the fact that the ex-fighter pilot started life as a man! Eventually it was converted to a sports car and still survives in France somewhere.