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Seventies kit-car misery



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John Nicholson


Lyncar-Cosworth 006


Brands Hatch


John Player British GP (19 July 1974, qualifying)


David Purley


Token-Cosworth RJ02


Brands Hatch


John Player British GP (19 July 1974, qualifying)


These two British kit-car disasters at their home GP were part of the first wave of garagiste cars that were to flock the back of the grids during the course of the seventies. With Tecno having ostensibly showed how not to run a modest GP team on a tight budget in that particular day and age drones of British shoestring efforts went the Cosworth/Hewland route thereafter, the option becoming increasingly popular from the start of the 1974 season.

These were brave decisions in an age where approximately the same amount of money would also render you a top chassis to play with - albeit a second-hand one. Indeed, the cars to push many a self-designed, underfinanced Cosworth/Hewland car of the grid were privately run McLaren, March, Brabham, Lotus or Surtees chassis on which their works had made a handsome profit once they had become redundant but hardly obsolete. These were Cosworth kit-cars in themselves of course - meaning they were easy to engineer and known territory for most mechanics - but built with a higher level of workmanship and all-round quality.

The 1974 British GP saw a new record of low-budget Cosworth kit cars swell the grid - or rather, the entry list, since not many of them managed to qualify for Sunday's race. Best of the pack was no doubt the Trojan raced by Tim Schenken, while Mo Nunn's Ensign would be prove to be a lot more long-lasting and even moderately successful than could be envisaged from Vern Schuppan's form that July weekend in 1974. And then there was Frank Williams, braving it out with two cars when there wasn't even enough cash to go around for a one half-decent one. In through the out door had already gone Chris Amon's car, having made its debut in Spain, followed by a non-starting non-performance at Monaco. Since then the AF101 wasn't sighted anywhere. Chris was to come back for more heartbreak in two weeks' time. By the end of the year the Americans were to jump on the Cosworth/Hewland bandwagon with Parnelli and Penske both making their debuts at the Canadian GP.

Tim Schenken had done well to qualify the Trojan 25th and last. But his wasn't the only car that could be linked to a McLaren subcontractorship. Among the non-qualifiers stood the Lyncar 006 with its pilot John Nicholson. While Trojan was the certified McLaren tub builder for its Can-Am and F5000 designs after having taken over Elva, Nicholson was McLaren's Cosworth servicing man. Besides his engine business Nicholson was a keen racer and would return with the Lyncar at the next British GP, making the grid in his second try.

Most of the car's outings were confined to classic British non-title events such as the International Trophy and the Race of Champions. In the two years Nicholson ran in those, he had a strike rate of three out of four finishes, racing the 007 chassis in 1975. After that, John found a new hobby in powerboat racing while continuing Nicholson McLaren Engines, specializing in customer Cosworth engines. The company's great days were in F3000 before the current single-chassis and engine formula was introduced. The car meanwhile lived on for another two years, now in the hands of Spanish bank manager Emilio de Villota, who entered it in the British Shellsport Group 8 series, going on to dump the car in favour of a McLaren M23, but not before actually winning a race with it, at Mallory Park on March 18, the first round of the 1977 series. By then the car had transformed into a March F2-lookalike, with a low-line engine cover and full-width nose.

Villota's Mallory Park was a freak occurrence since the car's results for the rest of 1976 and 1977 were abysmal, to say the least. On as much as four occasions Emilio did not even make it to the start, the car either failing during the warm-up with some mechanical problem, or smashed to bits by the Spaniard, such as in its Group 8 debut on March 21, 1976, at Mallory Park. The car was fixed up in time for round 2 at Snetterton, one week later, and there Emilio took fifth, which turned out to be his best result of the season and was equalled in round 6 on the Brands Club circuit. By then the car's entrant was Lyncar Engineering, with Lyncar founder Martin Slater increasing his involvement as Villota could only muster a 10th place in round 4 at Brands, while crashing out at Oulton Park. The Spaniard missed round 5. His second 5th place at Brands Hatch looked promising but at Mallory Park he was a lowly 10th again, while in the August round on the Brands GP circuit he languished back in 18th place, outclassed by a gaggle of F5000 and F2 cars. He finished 8th at Thruxton before missing another round and taking a 10th and a 7th at the final two rounds at Brands.

Then, suddenly, in the 1977 season opener at Mallory Park, he was right up there, taking the win, ahead of Tony Trimmer's Surtees TS19. It turned to be a one-day miracle, as the now privately entered car was back to its usual self in the next few races, Emilio retiring with suspension trouble in round two before two more embarrassing DNSs. That was it, Villota wisely decided and went about acquiring an M23. Returning to the series at the scene of his freak victory, Emilio immediately proved to be on the pace with his M23/6, scoring a fine win on the car's series debut, ahead of Trimmer and Galica's Surtees cars.

It wasn't entirely over for Lyncar 007 as it returned to the Shellsport series for the final two 1977 rounds. In the hands of unknown Herman Herstinburg, who was entered by Escuderia Aryn, it never raced, though. At Snetterton Herstinburg proved to be too slow to qualify while at Brands he crashed the car in practice. And that was the end.

But wait up. Lyncar 006? So where were 001 through 005? These cars all raced in F Atlantic and were the result of Martin Slater's imagination, as was 006. Slater was an ex-driver with the talent to build his own FJ before being hired to do design work for Lola, March and Brabham. In 1971, 001 was designed for F Atlantic, with 002 and 003 built to the same scheme, while 004 was a DFV-powered hillclimber. 005 was another Atlantic machine and its driver was none other than John Nicholson, who showed he had what it takes by taking the 1973 title with the car. Slater now being familiar with shoeforking a DFV into his designs and with Nicholson being a supplier of such units, this led to Nicholson commissioning an F1 car from Slater. Eventually emerging was a sensible car making its debut at the 1974 International Trophy.

That was also the occasion of the Token's debut. This car with three names is the subject of a more meaningful annotation in motorsport history since it was originally penned as the Rondel before it was rechristened Token and subsequently Safir. Rondel was the operation run by Ron Dennis and his partner Neil Trundle, the two running semi-works Brabhams in the European F2 championship before planning an F1 assault in 1973. So the Rondel - instead of the McLaren MP4/1 - would have been Ron Dennis' first Grand Prix car… But with the Brabham factory stretching its resources by selling no less than 40 BT23 F2 cars, and Rondel drivers Reutemann and Wollek only placing fourth and seventh in the 1972 F2 championship after a highly successful 1971 campaign, the F1 project never materialised.

For 1974 it was taken over by Tony Vlassopoulo and Ken Grob, whose christian names formed the basis for the Token name. Tony and Ken managed to secure the services of promising young Welshman Tom Pryce and set off to join the field at the 1974 International Trophy. It didn't run much - a total of three practice laps and 15 race laps before its gear linkage failed - but it showed some promise. But was that due to Pryce or was it the car?

Designed by Ray Jessop the RJ02 was a typical Cosworth kit-car in that was built around a slim monocoque, conventional suspension, a DFV unit and a Hewland FGA400 gearbox. On the outside it looked very much unconventional, however, when it appeared for practice for the International Trophy. Some say it had attractive lines, others said it was, well, different. Yet more others claim it was ugly as hell.

After its non-championship showings the team waited for another month to line its car up for its Grand Prix debut, deeming the Belgian race close enough to home to keep the costs down. Pryce put the car 20th on the grid, which was an amazing result - among the cars he outpaced were the two works Brabhams. Tom then looked set for a finish only to have a collision on lap 66 end his race.

The next event just across the Channel was the Dutch GP but the team was left with no driver as Tom Pryce was snatched up by the Shadow team, having used Brian Redman and Bertil Roos as stop-gap solutions after the death of Peter Revson. For the British GP they found a replacement in David Purley, the 1973 hero (see our story on Roger Williamson) who had not raced in Grands Prix since his 9th place in the 1973 Italian GP in his family-funded private March.

But whereas Tom Pryce had comprehensively beaten Schenken's Trojan at Nivelles, Purley failed to do so by 0.3s, becoming the first of the non-qualifiers. David did manage to equal Derek Bell's time in the Surtees but nonetheless joined John Nicholson, Schuppan, Williams driver Tom Belsö, Howden Ganley in the disgraceful Maki, and privateers Lombardi, Wilds and Kinnunen - the last man to wear an open-faced helmet.

With Purley failing to make the show the puns on the team's token effort won't have missed their target. His replacement Ian Ashley managed to scrape in at the next two events in Germany and Austria - long-haul races for the resource-stretched Token team, now run by Team Harper - but finished last and unclassified respectively.

In 1975 the Token awaited a fate similar to that of the Lyncar - being raced by a later Aurora champion in the British non-championship events. There it fared little better since Tony Trimmer could not do better than 12th in the Race of Champions and 14th and last in the International Trophy, narrowly beaten - by 0.3s to be precise! - by Nicholson's Lyncar... As we said, brave decisions indeed.

Reader's Why by Marc Ceulemans

For John Nicholson, a New Zealander born on October 6, 1941 at Auckland, the 1973 British GP meeting was a great day. Lots of people saw him take his Pinch Plant sponsored Lyncar 005 to a clear win in the supporting Formula Atlantic race, a penultimate-round victory which placed him in the lead of the Yellow Pages Formula Atlantic Championship. To add a little more cream to his cake Nicholson had built his own engine for the brand-new Lyncar, but to crown his day of glory, he had built the Ford DVD engines which propelled the McLaren M23 of Peter Revson to first and third places in the Grand Prix.

John Nicholson typified the Antipodean versatility which made his late employer and fellow countryman Bruce McLaren so successful: a first class driver and a first class engineer. He ran Nicholson-McLaren engines Ltd, Hounslow, formed in January 1973 when he decided to break away from McLaren cars. The move was a search for independence rather than a desire to cut himself off from the McLaren organisation for whom he'd built engines for several years. In 1973 Nicholson maintained regularly 22 DFVs for McLaren (12) and also Graham Hill's Embassy Shadow (5), Dave Charlton's Lotus 72 (3) plus two for hillclimbers.

Nicholson came into racing by accident after serving his apprenticeship with an engine reconditioning business in his native land. He began a business and bought a second-hand Lotus Elan with which he won several hillclimbs. A year later the salesman who'd sold him the Elan persuaded him to buy a Lotus Ford 27 1500 cc and Nicholson finished surprisingly third in his very first race, pitted against Graham Mc Rae. When he finished second in his second race, it confirmed his natural ability. In his early career his incredible point was that he finish ninth in the 1968 New Zealand GP, won by fellow ace Chris Amon and it was only his seventh race!

A Brabham Ford BT18 followed and Nicholson got down to racing seriously before venturing to England to look for an F3 drive. He found a job with McLaren to learn the business and found himself building 1969 Can-Am engines. He then worked 10 months in USA but came back in England. Bruce McLaren recognised his driving ability and Nicholson was carry out testing of the McLaren 8B and 8D at Goodwood. Later Nicholson would have the responsibility of McLaren's F1 engine building.

At the end of 1971, with the need to go racing again still frustrating him, he involved himself in Martin Slater's Lyncar project to build chassis for the British Formula Atlantic Championship. Nicholson bought Slater's first car and did a deal with Piper to provide the BDA. Racing was the only testing which the Lyncar got but the car was good enough to clinch him third place in the 1972 Formula Atlantic Championship and attract the Pinch Plant Hire Sponsorship for 1973 and later. The Lyncar 005 proved to be very successful in the hands of John Nicholson who won the 1973 and 1974 Formula Atlantic titles.

Nicholson, helped by the funds of Pinch Plant, then commissioned the Lyncar 006 - a Formula 1 chassis - which was a typical Cosworth kit car of the era, with a aluminium monocoque built by Maurice Gomm. There was a full-width nose and one of the more shapely engine air boxes of the period. The car was of course powered by Nicholson's home-brewed Cosworth power.

Nicholson contested a limited programme, finishing unclassified in the Race of Champions and 6th in the International Trophy in 1974 but he failed to qualify in the British Grand Prix. In 1975 he had a similar program. He qualified for the Grand Prix and was classified 17th in the race. Nicholson always said that his F1 racing was an experiment; presumably he discovered something, because he moved later to power boat racing, while continuing to build F1 engines for McLaren.

In 1976 Nicholson - as a driver - mixed a F2-F5000 programme. He took part in the European F2 championship with a March 752 powered by another home-prepared engine, a Chevrolet-Vega engine. He only qualified once at Thruxton finishing 11th. He eventually raced in the Peter Stuyvesant Formula Atlantic series in New Zealand in 1977.

Nicholson had lost his interest in the F1 Lyncar which was run in modified form by Emilio de Villota in Iberia colours in 1976 and 1977. The Spaniard even managed to win one race at Mallory Park before moving on to a McLaren M23 as he pursued his own learning curve.

Reader's Why by Marc Ceulemans

David Purley was born on January 26, 1945 at Bognor Regis, Sussex. The son a wealthy refrigerator manufacturer, David Purley had a taste for adventure. He joined the British Army and became an officer in the elite Parachute Regiment, seeing action in Aden and surviving a partial failure of his parachute during one of his training jumps. After leaving the military he started racing being inspired by a friend Derek Bell, who lived in the same area. His first races were in 1968 with an AC Cobra and after this was damaged beyond repair he bought a Chevron 2-litre.

He switched to single-seaters in 1970 with a Brabham BT28 Lucas in Formula 3 racing and ran a team called LEC Refrigeration Racing, named after the family business. He won his first F3 victory after just a few weeks, beating James Hunt and Claude Bourgoignie in the Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay in Belgium. He would not win again until he returned to Chimay a year later, always with his Brabham BT28 Holbay, and beating again Claude Bourgoignie. In mid 1971 he switched to an Ensign and his results improved and he won two races in Britain at the end of the year.

For 1972 he concentrated on Formula 2 with a March 722 and finished third at Pau but he returned to Chimay to win his third consecutive Grand Prix des Frontières with the Ensign LNF 3/71 Holbay, beating 5 other drivers which finished in the same second, including James Hunt, Tony Brise and Bob Evans. In August he took part in a very special race, grouping some different class, the Rothmans 5000 at Brands Hatch, driving a private March 721 G Cosworth and failing to finish the race. In October Purley hired the Connew PC1 Cosworth for the John Player Challenge Trophy at Brands Hatch and the car was repainted in LEC colours. It was the last faster of the 18 F1 cars in practice - ten seconds off the pace - and failed to complete the warm-up lap because of an electrical component failure.

In 1973 Purley switched to Formula Atlantic and also made his real F1 debut (in the world championship) in a private March 731 at Monaco, under the LEC Refrigeration Racing banner. He qualified 23th and retired in the race. He didn't start in the British GP and it was then the Dutch GP. At the end of lap 8, Williamson and Purley who were in very close company were both missing and a column of smoke was rising over the sand dunes, all the people remembering the fatal crash of Piers Courage in 1970. The works March of Williamson had gone off the road on a 210 kph fast right-had bend - after a mechanical failure - and had hit the guard-rail which projected the car through the air and it had crashed back into the road upside down and skated along as far until it came to rest. The March was on fire. Purley stopped and was desperately trying to turn the car over on its wheel to release the driver, and unaided was trying to put the fire out. There were no suitable equipped marshals on hand to help him. Purley was totally disgusted. The scene was filmed live on TV and the race was even not stopped because of the tragedy.

Despite this tragedy, Purley continued his season. He took part in the German GP just one week after Zandvoort and finished 15th. At Monza in the Italian GP he was 9th. Later that year Purley was awarded the George Medal for his heroic but vain efforts to save the unfortunate Williamson.

Apart from the Token attempt (see below), he turned his back on F1 in 1974. Purley drove for Peter Harper in F2 for quite good results: he was classified second at Salzburg, Rouen and Enna with the Chevron B27-BMW and finished fifth of the European Championship.

He switched to the F5000 European championship. He then won the Gold Cup at Oulton Park in 1975 and the following year won six victories in 13 races to take the Shellsport British Formula 5000 title.

In the winter of 1976-77 Purley commissioned designer Mike Pilbeam to build a Lec F1 car and with the help of Mike Earle this was ready to race in 1977. Purley gave the car its debut in the Race of Champion in 1977, finishing sixth. He placed in 2 GP, 13th in Belgium after briefly running second in freak conditions and 14th in Sweden. Then he crashed very, very heavily at Silverstone when the throttle slides jammed open during British GP practice. Purley was subjected to the highest G-forces ever survived by a human being - 179.8G - when the car went from 108mph to zero in just over half a meter. His life was saved by rescue crews at the scene of the crash but it took many months for him to recover from multiple fractures to his legs, pelvis and ribs.

Another LEC F1 car was built for him to prove something to himself when his legs had been rebuild and try it in two events (Brands Hatch and Thruxton) in 1979 when he also raced in the Aurora F1 series with a Shadow DN9B.

David Purley quit racing and turned instead to running the family business and aerobatics. He had been a pilot since the early 1960s but while flying off near his native village at the south coast of England in July 2, 1985 he crashed into the sea in his Pitts Special stunt biplane.

Before he took over McLaren in 1980 and changed F1 history, the Token story was Ron Dennis' first foray into an F1 entry. By 1973, his company Rondel, jointly run with Neil Trundle, had been successful in F2, and Dennis decided to commission the design of an F1 car for the 1974 season from Ray Jessop. However, due to the 1973 oil crisis, Rondel’s sponsor Motul withdrew, and Dennis' project was left high and dry.

The name Token was derived from the first syllable of the first names of Tony Vlassopoulo and Ken Grob, two British businessmen who took the project over when Rondel retreated from F1.

The Token RJ2 reflected designer Ray Jessop (so the RJ) in being an honest and workmanlike design. It had a slim monocoque, conventional suspension, Cosworth DFV power and a Hewland FGA400 gearbox, with attractive overall lines. This Cosworth kit car used Firestone tires and Shell oils. Sponsors were thin on the ground, but at first there was some backing from Titan Properties.

With the promising Tom Pryce signed up to drive, the car made its debut at the non-championship Silverstone BRDC International Trophy in 1974. It was a weird-looking contraption, courtesy of its wide body design, its massive air-intake at the front, and the lack of an airbox which was the in-thing. During its very brief practice for its first race start at Silverstone, he completed only 3 laps, being the slowest qualifier out of the 16 competitors who recorded times, slower than the man in front of him by some 18.6s, and off James Hunt's pole time in the Hesketh by 26.2s! Pryce completed 15 laps in the race before gear linkage failure led to retirement from the International Trophy.

The RJ02 then made its World Championship debut at the Belgian GP, round 5 of the 1974 title chase. With front wings now attached, in Pryce's hands the machine was a fairly competitive proposition, qualifying 20th out of the 32 entrants. In the race, Pryce completed 66 laps before retiring after a collision with Jody Scheckter in the Tyrrell.

With limited funds, the Token did not reappear until round 10 at Brands Hatch, by which stage Pryce was enjoying rather more success in the Shadow team. Meanwhile, fellow Brit David Purley had been driving for Peter Harper in F2 for quite good results, having already driven a March in F1 in 1973. But Token provided Purley with another bite at the F1 cherry, and for one race the team was known as Team Harper as well as Token Racing. However, despite a new colour scheme it was to no avail. With only 25 of the 34 entrants qualifying, Purley was 26th, only 0.3s off Tim Schenken’s Trojan but well not qualified. After that, Purley and Harper decided wisely that their efforts were better spent elsewhere.

Token found an other English driver for rounds 11 and 12 in Germany and Austria, Ian Ashley. For his first run in the RJ02, Ashley had to tackle the fearsome Nurburgring, but he qualified in 26th place, but well clear of the non-qualifiers. He backed that up by crossing the finish line 14th out of 15 drivers, but a lap adrift of Regazzoni who won.

In Austria, Ashley once again made the grid, this time in 24th spot out of 25 qualifiers and 31 entrants. In the race, though, the RJ02 encountered wheel problems, forcing Ashley in for two stops, dropping him down to 8 laps adrift by the end of the event. Ashley wasn't classified as a finisher. Sadly, after the race Vlassopoulo and Grob folded the Token team, which in truth was going nowhere.

RJ02 reappeared as the Safir in the two British non-championship races in 1975, when Tony Trimmer was not classified in the Race of Champions and finished 14th in the International Trophy.