Although swamped by the spectacle of the factory Jaguars and Porsches slugging it out at the front, the semi-pros and the amateurs back in the pack were fighting tooth and nail for Group C2 honours in the 1980s. Paul Fearnley pays his respects to these unsung heroes.
Lived in. Duncan Bain was here. So were: David Andrews, Michael Hall, Pierre Chauvet (aka Fritz Glatz), Max Cohen-Olivar, Giles Butterfield, Costas Los, John Schneider, Pasquale Barberio, Michael Allison, Robert Peters, Mike Kimpton, Jeremy Rossiter, Patrick de Radigues, Chris Ashmore, Albert Naon, Lon Bender, Stephen Hynes, John Bartlett, John Sheldon, Neil Crang, Val Musetti, Dudley Wood, Craig Simmiss, Alistair Fenwick and Alex Postan. Er… the ‘Pink Panther’ Tiga put it about a bit. Between 1986 and ’90, it contested 30 longdistance races, a figure that includes five Le Mans, two Daytonas and a Sebring.
Its original owner, Roy Baker, a man fired with superhuman enthusiasm, raced a hand-to-mouth existence. Off-the-cuff deals done on the eve of events, a sticker or two here and there, were make or break. Baker had raced the first-ever Group C2 car — Les Blackburn’s Harrier-Mazda in 1983 at Monza — but he was by now concentrating on the team manager role, working lots of little miracles. It was a bit rag, tag and bobtail — Tom, Dick and Costas — but it was honest-to-goodness stuff, an unstinting effort that went unrewarded only in terms of results.
Another of Tiga’s other representatives in C Junior — it only became C2 in 1985 — was a very different animal. Mr Gordon Spice had a point to prove — and a factory to fill. Ford had shut down his Cl project and he needed to bounce back. He got his chance when, towards the end of 1983, he joined forces with Aussie racer Crang to prep and run his Tiga-Chevrolet Updated and fitted with a 3.3 Cosworth DFL, this car had a very successful 1984, winning at the Nürburgring, Brands Hatch, Spa, Imola and Sandown in Australia The last two victories did not count towards the final standings, however, and it was pipped to the class honours by Alba. The Italian marque had built the first carbon fibre-monocoque sports-racer. It was small, neat, light and quick — but the biggest factor in its successful defence of the title was that it contested every race; Spice Engineering did not.
Spice bought a new Tiga for 1985 and reworked it… so much so that it felt entitled to call it the Spice-Tiga. This name change was a running sore with Tiga boss Howden Ganley, who questioned how many revisions had actually been made. But with Ray Bellm as his co-driver, Spice secured the C2 team and (new-for-that-season) driver titles. His project was gathering pace. Graham Humphrys, who had designed for Spice (and Ecurie Ecosse) on a freelance basis, was full time by ’86 and his new car was called a Spice. Full stop. Its battles with Ecosse over the next two seasons (see panel) was the highlight of C2’s seven-season history eight if you include the stopgap FIA Cup of ’92. But Baker, and many others, stayed loyal to Tiga, and more than 30 C2 and IMSA Lights chassis rolled out of its High Wycombe HQ. But the last of them, built in 1989, was also the last of over 400 Tigas.
Formed by the Anzac alliance of Tim Schenken and Ganley in 1976, the first Tiga (ty-ga, not tee-ga) was a FFord. F2s, F3s and Atlantics followed – there were even Can-Ams in ’80 and ’82 – but in among the monopostos was a two-seat 2-litre conceived for the Sports 2000 series. It ruled the roost from ’78 on, and its success provided the genesis of the GpC sportscar. It did not, however, provide the basis for these cars. “I am amazed that this story still does the rounds. It’s a myth. In fact, only the gear lever was carried over,” states Ganley.
Schenken left in 1982 to run John Fitzpatrick’s US sportscar squad, but Ganley stayed and sketched out the new coupe. His design assistants/detailers Colin Smith and Mike Coughlan produced the detailed drawings and the end result was typical of the period: goldfish bowl cockpit and swooping flanks. It was pleasing to the eye.
GC83 was meant to run a turbocharged DFL and go gunning for the Porsche 956. The engine programme ran late, however, and a Chevy was fitted in its place. It was fast, but marginal on fuel economy. A C Junior campaign in 1984 was a more realistic proposition. GC284 was intended for IMSA and Mazda engines, but Baker convinced Ganley to build him two cars for Ford BDT power. Based on FAtlantic uprights, the car was small. As was its successor. The ‘big’ change came in ’86.
“Following our success in America, a lot of our customers wanted to fit bigger engines,” explains Ganley. “It seemed that everyone had a different engine package, which was a logistical nightmare. So the GC286 [GT86 in America] was bigger than its predecessor, but was as small as we could make it and still cope with DFL, Ferrari, Buick, Chevy, Porsche and a few others.”
By Ganley’s own admission, Tigas weren’t cheap. He was unwilling to compromise build quality or finish. “After mangling my feet in somebody else’s car, I was determined that no-one would suffer the same fate in one of my cars,” he explains.
Without wishing to appear ungracious, Pink Panther — the nickname stems from its Le Mans livery of 1988 — proudly carries its war wounds; every chip, ding and dent has a story to tell. But that’s just frippery. At its core lies an aluminium honeycomb monocoque that never flinched. When American Hynes spun in front of the leaders at Brands Hatch in 1988, he collected a Sauber (twice). Debris was strewn all over the track and the safety car was mobilised. As the field trickled round, Baker’s men hauled their guilty charge back to its pit And set to work. They rebuilt its entire front end and sent it back out after losing an hour. Later it suffered a collapsed wing, and then needed a new radiator in the closing minutes. To cap it all, as Bartlett crossed the finish line, it shed a wheel. The official results showed that it was unclassified. But that wasn’t the point: Baker and his Tiga were made of stem stuff.
This is a comforting thought given that Silverstone is cloaked by leaden skies and puddles are splashed all over the pit straight. With the up-and-over door clicked shut, heat percolates through from the warmed-up DFZ (an engine regularly used in the BRDC sportscar series of the early 1990s). I scan the gauges and rock the gear lever around its gate. Dead ahead is a Stack tacho sensibly red-lined at 9000. On the left is a bank of switches and a ‘square’ of four dials: gearbox temp, water temp, battery, oil temp and pressure. Running cold is going to be the problem today.
The driver is sluggish, too. Promises of lots of torque are washed away by a fierce clutch and a tall bottom gear. This is not the first racing car I have stalled — nor will it be the last — but this particular display reaches L-plate proportions until, finally, revs and slippage shake hands on a deal. Just.
Once on the move, however, matters take a turn for the better: this Tiga is a pussy cat The clutch suddenly feels spot-on and the Hewland FT200 five-speeder can be whipped around its H. With soft cams fitted, the 3.5-litre V8 chimes in at about 5000rpm, giving me lots of usable revs to play with in the low-grip conditions.
Actually, it’s not that slippery now. Out of the shade of the pits and grandstands, that familiar airfield breeze is drying the circuit Wets are perhaps not quite the ticket now and, as my confidence grows, the chassis starts to feel understeery.
At which point I get my regular reality check. A Porsche GT3 thunders past my left lug’ole. Ho hum, off we go. I have no intention of attempting to harry a man who clearly knows what he is doing in a car that’s been pounding round most of the morning, but at least I should be able to close the gap given my 520bhp engine of Fl lineage…
The left kink onto the International layout’s
back straight is flat This duly accomplished, I await the sudden rush back up to the Porsche’s bewinged rump. It never comes. Which surprises me — even though I am holding to 8500rpm. Mr GT3 is braver on the brakes, too, and I’m forced to leave him to it. Racing cars have come a long way in the past 17 years; the Tiga is also geared long for the GP tack.
Testosterone back in check, I salve my ego with a few second-gear hairpin tweakies. It’s all hugely enjoyable, light to control and trustworthy. And through the quicker stuff even I can feel the reassuring tug of those ground-effect venturis.
“It had to be like that,” says Ganley. “My customers were amateur drivers. If we had designed a works car, it would’ve been faster but harder to drive.”
This dilemma was not something faced by Spice (initially) or Ecosse (ever). Instead they concentrated on one or two cars and were able to push the R&D envelope that bit harder. In the face of such single-minded rivals, Tiga had to make do with solitary C2 wins in 1987, ’88 and ’89.
It met with more success in the USA. Two IMSA Lights victories in 1985 were followed by four in ’86. After a fallow ’87 came the big year: the Essex Racing car of Thomas Hessert and Dave Loring prevailed at Daytona, Sebring, West Palm Beach and Columbus, and took the title.
Ganley, though, had already left: “When we started the firm I told Tim [Schenken] that I would do it for 10 years and no more. When it came to it, I was persuaded to do an extra year . But after that I was done in. We were building Sports 2000, Thundersports, Formula Atlantics… we were overstretched and it was affecting my health.”
Ganley sold up, Tiga left High Wycombe — and lasted two more years. The new owners had big plans — but instead discovered how hard Ganley had been working to keep it afloat. It didn’t help that C2 was junked after 1989, and that Roy Baker et al were now deemed a waste of paddock space. The biggest loser, however, was sportscar racing, which has yet to recover fully from this fallacy.