Paint it black

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In a lifetime at the drawing board Tony Southgate built many race winners. His new book relates his times at many teams; but here he recounts his first year with Don Nichols – The Shadow…

Tony Southgate
From Drawing Board to Chequered Flag
Published by Motor Racing Publications, available from May 2010 (provisional)
ISBN: 978 1 899870 82 0, £45.00

After leaving BRM at the end of the 1970 season, Jackie Oliver had joined Don Nichols’ Shadow racing organisation in the USA to race its Can-Am sports-racing cars. Jackie was obviously yearning to get back into Formula 1 and he managed to talk Don into creating a new Shadow F1 team in the UK. He wanted me to design the new car.

Nothing existed of the team when I joined up in October 1972 – just me, Jackie Oliver, Alan Rees, Don Nichols and the name. There were no premises yet, but I was commissioned to design the new F1 Shadow, which was to be called the DN1 (after the team owner, of course).

I set up a drawing board and a desk in the garage adjacent to our little bungalow in Bourne. As work progressed on the design I realised I needed some help, so I advertised in Autosport for a draughtsman. A young chap by the name of Andy Smallman came for an interview. He seemed pleasant enough and very keen, so I offered him the job, although obviously he could not start until we had some premises. Andy had brought a friend along with him who said he was keen to get into motor racing as well. His name was John Barnard, and he did eventually get into the industry, and as anybody who follows motor racing closely will know, he did rather well!

Don Nichols’ sponsor was UOP (Universal Oil Products), an American oil company that was perfecting a lead-free gasoline. The Shadow F1 car was to be run on lead-free fuel as an advertisement for UOP. The octane rating was the same as for leaded fuel, so there would be no performance difference.

UOP had a British-based company that manufactured the Bostrom suspended truck seats, and they had a small factory going spare on the Weedon Road, in Northampton. So we took this on a temporary basis, moved in immediately, and began taking on staff. Grant Warwick and Roger Silman (later to become the race director of the Arrows team) headed our manufacturing team, and Richard Wilshire became our buyer. The plan was to build the first cars there, and then move into our own new factory before any further new model designs were undertaken.

By the time manufacture of the prototype DN1 had commenced in Northampton, I had moved with my family to a house about 15 miles from the factory, in Silverstone village. This was to prove particularly convenient when there was a major meeting on because the house was close enough for me to walk into the circuit on race days.

The DN1 had a Cosworth DFV engine and a Hewland gearbox, which were both new to me. After the smooth-running BRM V12, the Cosworth V8 was quite a challenge, because it created a much greater vibration problem for the chassis components. The instruments and the water and oil radiators all had to be rubber-mounted, while the driver received a vibra-massage in the seat; it was all quite noticeable compared with the BRM. The Cosworth factory in Northampton was relatively on our doorstep, being less than a mile away, but unfortunately this did not help us because our engines were rebuilt either by Swindon Race Engines or by John Judd in Rugby.

The DN1 was interesting in that it had completely enveloping bodywork, which was unusual, most cars at that time having no tail panelwork. I preferred this because my wind tunnel work, at Imperial College, always produced superior results with the enveloping body. Of course the extra bodywork added weight and made cooling more difficult, but I accepted that as something I had to allow for. The car looked quite sleek and sinister, being finished in the all-black Shadow paintwork. The race car transporter maintained this sinister image because painted on each side was a large figure of a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a large black cloak. Was this the real Shadow?

I believe the Shadow image used by Don was based on a comic detective character from the USA. But Don himself was rather a sinister-looking character, being tall and slim with a pointed grey beard and moustache, and invariably dressed in black. He used to work for the US Army Intelligence Corps in Japan (where he also became Firestone’s importer for racing tyres) and there was a rumour that he had also been an operative for the CIA.

The DN1 first appeared in the South African Grand Prix in March 1973. Two cars were entered, one for Oliver, who had a great deal of F1 experience and was the team leader, and the other for a newcomer to F1, George Follmer, from the USA. George, I was to find, was easy to get on with, being quite laid-back in a very American way. He was not a technical driver, but he was certainly very brave.

It had been a frantic rush to get the cars to South Africa in time, and as there had been little opportunity for pre-race testing, various problems were encountered during practice and we had to miss one of the three sessions completely while these ‘new car’ issues were attended to.

Unfortunately, in the race Jackie became an early retirement with an engine problem, but George was able to climb from near the back of the grid to finish sixth in the Shadow’s first race, thanks to the retirement of several cars ahead of him. This was the race in which Surtees driver Mike Hailwood heroically helped to save the life of Clay Regazzoni by diving through the flames to rescue him from his blazing Ferrari after they had both been involved in a multiple accident on the third lap.

The next race was the Spanish Grand Prix on the Montjuïch Park street circuit in Barcelona, where George finished third after another impressive climb up the order! But poor ‘Oli’ had engine trouble again. It began to look as though George might possess the mechanical knack of getting his car home, come what may, which does seem to exist with some drivers, Alan Jones being the perfect example of that ability in those days.

A third Shadow was raced in Barcelona that day, driven by Graham Hill. He had ordered a DN1 and had started to run his own team, called Embassy Racing in deference to his tobacco company sponsor. The extra work involved in this did not go down too well with some members of our team, but the increased publicity for the fledgling Shadow Cars UK was welcome. Of course, the additional money also helped!

Always super-popular, Graham was getting near to the end of his racing career, and starting his own team was a logical step. On taking delivery of his DN1, Graham told me that if I could get him and his car running up front he would make me as famous as Colin Chapman! I thought that if I could do this with an all-new racing organisation and an all-new design with zero development running time on it, I would be absolutely brilliant! Of course, reality stepped in, and we settled for a steady progression.

There was a very tricky incident the night before the Spanish Grand Prix. I had returned to my hotel at about 10.30pm and was just preparing to go to bed when the telephone rang. It was the crew chief, and he told me that, during the pre-race check of the rear suspension mountings on the chassis frame rear bulkhead, he had found a crack. It was serious and it needed me to look at it and decide how we could repair it for the race. When I arrived back at the garage area, the cars had been stripped down to the rear bulkhead so that a very close inspection could be made.

The single radius rod which formed part of the rear suspension was mounted onto a steel tubular structure which formed the rear bulkhead. The steel mounting lugs on the frame were indeed cracked around the fixing bolts on two of the mountings. The unfortunate fact was that the lugs butted up to the aluminium bulkhead panel, which was the only thing between the cracks and the rubber fuel cell! I knew the mechanics were looking to me for inspiration and to give them the confidence to deal with the very serious situation. With all the calm and confidence I could muster, I told them we would weld up the lugs and add a stiffener in situ. At this point, there were a lot of very worried-looking mechanics staring at me. Had I really asked them to weld next to a rubber cell full of fuel vapour?

Removing the fuel cells was not really an option, because at this stage it was already the early hours of the morning. Besides, even an empty monocoque is never completely free of fuel vapour and is quite capable of exploding if a welding torch is near. We were surrounded by our fellow competitors’ transporters and the last thing we wanted was a fire in between the trucks. So we drained all the fuel, pulled back the cell to leave a six-inch gap between it and the aluminium panel, and filled the gap with wet rags. Fire extinguishers at the ready, we could now start to weld.

We were gas-welding because that was all we had available at the time. I decided to limit the welding to sessions of two minutes at a time, so we could check for heat penetration into the fuel tank area and add water to the rags.

Those two-minute sessions felt like 15. I remained calm externally so that the welder could do his job properly and not be flustered by me, but inwardly I was shitting myself. The sight of the welding torch flames licking around the bulkhead was very scary indeed. It went on for about 20 minutes and was finally finished without any mishaps – phew!

We all stood back with grins on our faces, having just survived another racing moment. Now all the mechanics had to do was reassemble the cars so we could race them later the same day. They did, and as I’ve mentioned, Follmer finished third – magic!

There was no development programme in existence at Shadow at this stage, and it began to show. Towards the end of the year, a long-wheelbase update was introduced to put a little more weight on the front wheels, which helped a little, but not enough. We were also suffering from niggling engine problems, accidents, transmission problems and marginal cooling.

One of the main reasons for the slow development of the DN1 was the requirement from Don Nichols that I design a Can-Am sports-racing car, the Shadow DN2, to race in North America as a replacement for the Shadow they had been running over there in Can-Am races. This would be built at the UK plant and then shipped over to the USA. The brief for the DN2 was a bit mind-blowing. The engine was going to be a twin-turbocharged, 8-litre Chevy V8 that would produce 1200 horsepower and 1000ft lb of torque! The fuel consumption would be less than 2mpg. Dealing with these parameters was a big challenge for me and the drawing office, which thankfully had just been enlarged, with John Gentry joining alongside Andy Smallman.

The problems were immense. For a start, we needed the largest racing gearbox and transmission available. Fortunately, the Can-Am races used a rolling start, so the big Hewland LG500 gearbox and Hardy Spicer’s biggest universal joints and driveshafts could cope. The fuel tanks were required to carry more than 100 gallons, so this was going to be a very big car! Once again, I used Imperial College in London for all the wind tunnel work. The finished body shape was advanced for the times, with a sharp, ‘chisel’ nose section that required good pitch control from the chassis.

The water radiators were side-mounted and low down, and the high, stubby tail section was complete with a very large rear wing section. Actually, the aerodynamic performance was very good for its day.

The turbocharger installation was a particularly interesting problem. I looked over the earlier Shadow, on which the turbo units had been mounted high above the gearbox and behind the driveline. I was not impressed. Although this layout was very common with competitors, including Porsche, I didn’t subscribe to it because it meant the CG was much too high, and the weight was too far rearwards, behind the rear axle line – all the things I did not like. I pondered this for a while and decided to go for a completely new layout. I mounted the two turbos separately, one each side of the engine adjacent to the exhaust outlets, and as low as possible.

The stubby exhaust pipes from the turbos went straight out of the side of the car. It looked perfect from a chassis design point of view – low centre of gravity, weight between the axles, less weight and better aerodynamics. The only problem was whether the engine builders in America would approve. Initially they were sceptical, believing that the very short exhaust pipes would restrict the power. But what happened when they put the whole assembly on the dynamometer? It produced more power! Not bad for a chassis designer… The finished layout was neat and effective, and was soon copied by the opposition. In fact it is used for turbocharged race cars right up to the present day.

The 1973 Can-Am season was dominated by Mark Donohue with Roger Penske’s Porsche 917-30. Jackie Oliver had a third place at Edmonton, and then a second at Laguna Seca, but the problem with Shadow’s programme was that the engine never produced anywhere near the theoretical power that had been forecast, and on top of that it was unreliable.

However, that would all change the following season.