Plotting shed

Tyrrell 001 is to race again. We take it back where it came from – and get the inside story of its secret build from Jackie Stewart and its designer Derek Gardner. By Paul Fearnley

He didn’t want to, but he had no choice. Matra, or rather its new parent company, Chrysler, was demanding that he use its sonorous (but gutless) V12; Ken Tyrrell, though, wanted to stay with Ford. He approached Brabham and Lotus about the possibility of running a semi-works car – and was politely declined. This was ridiculous: the reigning world champions were in danger of going without; external forces were dictating what they could and could not do. It would complicate matters, and cost a lot of money, but Tyrrell knew now that his team would have to become a constructor if it was to stay competitive and hang onto its prize asset: Jackie Stewart.

His mind may have been made up, but he didn’t want the wee Scot to know just yet. No, Jackie would have his hands full with the bulky March 701 that had filled the breach left by his beloved Matra MS80 (‘filled’ only in the sense that it was big). When JYS needed to be told about the new car, he would be. For now, it was a big, big secret.

“Ken was very much his own man,” explains Stewart. “He could be incredibly private. If there was something he didn’t want you to know about, he simply didn’t tell you. He kept a very good secret. The first I heard of the project was when he asked me to go to Coventry for a seat-fitting.”

Sent to Coventry airport – and thence to the designer’s unassuming house in Leamington Spa. There, in his garage, was the most complete mock-up of a racing car Stewart had ever seen. But then Derek Gardner is a meticulous engineer. This was his first car design and he was determined to get it right. It was this no-nonsense thoroughness that had brought him to the attention of Tyrrell. Ken didn’t want a loose cannon of a freelancer; he wanted a steady, solid, dependable full-timer, somebody who could keep a secret and hit deadlines. Gardner provided him with all of those things – and much more.

“I knew Ken and Jackie from my time on the Matra four-wheel-drive F1 project,” says Gardner. “But Ken’s phone call came out of the blue. It was in 1969; I can’t remember the precise date. He came straight out with it and asked me if I could design a Formula One car. That was a pretty big undertaking even back then, and I said I’d think about it. I never make snap decisions, those are the ones you live to regret.

“Could I design a grand prix car? I’d never done one before, never even see anyone do one. But eventually I decided that I could and we arranged to have a meeting in Henley-on-Thames. I was flattered to a degree by Ken’s approach, but such a project needed a big commitment from him and I needed convincing that he was willing to give it.” He was. And Derek was convinced.

Tyrrell’s deadline for SP [Secret Project] was the non-championship Oulton Park Gold Cup in August, 1970 – the unofficial closing date for sponsorship decisions for the following season. To this end, Gardner set himself a personal deadline: be at the drawing board by February. “We could not afford to miss that race,” he says. “And not only that, we had to show immediately that the car was a competitive proposition.

“The secrecy was another absolute prerequisite. Actually, because I was not part of motor racing’s mainstream, that wasn’t too difficult to do. People were aware that I was up to something, because I was asking lots of questions about castings and such like. But nobody put two and two together. I hadn’t designed a car before, so there was no reason for people to think that I was starting now.”

With the deadline set, the pressure was on. But in some ways Gardner found himself in a position most of his contemporaries could only dream of: a trusting, hands-off boss, no prying eyes and no diversions – no demands for an F2 car or a Can-Am, no weekends away at tracks. On the other hand, he was left to his own devices and was unable to prod other designers for information. He could have been heading for a big fall.

“I had no background in monocoques,” admits Gardner. “So I designed one from first principles. Ken provided me with some information, told me what other teams were doing, but there wasn’t much contact between us. I did report to him, of course, but only when there was something to report. We had resolved not to bother each other unnecessarily. I set out to satisfy myself that the design was right and, hopefully, by doing that I would satisfy him. There was no budget as such; I had a reputation for not being foolish with money, and Ken never questioned me on the topic. If there was a bill to be paid, he paid it. We kept it simple, between ourselves. Eventually, however, it became vital that Jackie came along for a seat fitting.”

And that’s why the Scot was airlifted out of a Dunlop tyre test at Goodwood. Very cloak and dagger. Gardner met him at the other end and drove him the short distance to his home.

Stewart: “I found myself outside this house in rural suburbia. It was all a bit strange. Don’t forget, at the time I could have driven for anyone; there were plenty of offers on the table. But I really wanted to stay with Ken. I desperately wanted out of March, too, but I was convinced that Ken was the right man to make that happen. I’d had no say in the choice of Derek Gardner as the designer of the new car, but if Ken thought he was the right man for the job, I was happy to go along with that. And I left that meeting firm in the belief that Derek was a good, cautious engineer. That suited me fine: I wanted a strong, safe car underneath me that I could stretch like elastic if I needed to.”

This keynote meeting lasted less than an hour because of the need to return Stewart to Goodwood before tongues started wagging.

Gardner: “We asked each other lots of questions, made some adjustments, talked about this and that. Jackie, however, was surprisingly non-committal. Perhaps he was happy with what he saw. Back at the airport, I heard a bus driver ask, 'Isn’t that Jackie Stewart?’ To which his mate replied, ‘What, here? Nah.’”

Stewart was pleased by what he’d seen. Gardner is adamant that he had not set out to design a ‘British Matra’ but a lot of what Jackie saw that day rang his bell: short wheelbase, low and centralised weight, low polar moment of inertia. He’d had enough of that “bucking bronco” March; Gardner’s mock-up was the soothing, beguiling light at the end of the tunnel.

This, however, is not to consign 001 to unswerving, unthinking conservatism; in his quiet way, Gardner was pushing the envelope. No slave to convention, one of his innovations was the ‘discovery’ of carbon-like filament.

“At that time it was only available in long hanks,” he explains, “and you spun it like wool. The only place I could find an expert on how to do this was at Lanchester College in Coventry. I also found a fibreglassing company in Leamington Spa that was able to work with the material. Once again, both of these companies had no connection with motor racing, so our secret was safe. We used the carbon fibre to brace the nose. Two men could stand on either side of the nose-cone, which was quite a big item on this car, and it would stand the strain easily.

“I had no benchmark from which to judge my design, but I did get some encouragement during the later stages. This came from a Dunlop tyre designer called Ian Mills. There was going to be a TV programme about this wonderful new March car, about how it was going to sweep all before it. I invited Ian over and he gave me a lot of information that I found very useful. We then watched the programme together. I was most impressed by what I saw. I thought, ‘How can I compete with that?’ They had masses of people working for them, whereas Tyrrell’s technical department was…me. Plus they’d done all these tests. It was then that Ian pointed out that I was the only designer to have asked him for this kind of information. That made me feel that perhaps I was heading in the right direction, finding angles that other designers had missed.

"I made another discovery that gave me hope. Nearly everybody at that time was using steering dampers, and I could not understand why. I worked out all the stresses and forces, and decided they were nowhere enough to have to bother with one. I made what I considered to be a very robust steering linkage, but they soon became known as 'Gardner's knitting needles'. We never had any problems with them, though."

Designing the car was one thing, building it was another. Gardner had never been to the Tyrrell 'factory'. He got a shock: the main workshop was an ex-Army barracks transported from Aldershot. When Ken had landed the deal to run the works racing Minis in the 1962 British Saloon Car Championship, he'd splashed out and bought two such buildings in an auction, for £50 each. From these he made one long, thin, draughty workshop.

"The big shed was very unusual," understates Gardner. "You wondered how on earth the job could be done in such a building. But that was the way it was. There was one thing that gave me cause for hope: an impressive piece of welding kit. That was until I discovered it wasn't connected. In some ways those hardships helped; there was a very strong esprit de corps at Tyrrell."

With the design finalised in June, the bulk of the work was farmed out. Maurice Gomm's place in Old Woking did the sheet metal, and a small firm nearby did most of the machining. Bit by bit, the car was assembled by Ken's overworked, intensely loyal mechanics.

Gardner: "The car turned out to be quite a lot different from most of the others. People felt that perhaps we had not gone in the right direction, but I had to have the courage of my convictions. Of course, the only true test comes on the track." And when the car made its scheduled debut at Oulton Park, Gardner was prepared to quit motor racing for good there and then. "It was miserable, raining and we couldn't get the car started. I was worrying about everything."

Stewart, though, was encouraged – despite the problems that forced him to start from the back row, the stuck throttle that caused him a big moment on the opening lap of the first heat, and the piston failure that kept him out of the second. These were niggles; the bottom line was that the car felt good. He'd set the meeting's fastest lap in the first heat. "It was a very good package: neutral, well-balanced and driveable. With 001, I could create; with the March, I was just reacting. 001 was not yet at the level of the MS80, but it was quick and gentler to drive. Derek and the team had done an incredible job."

After a hiccup at Monza (a stub axle broke and the team decided to run the 701 for safety's sake), 001 was shipped to the Americas for the Canada, US and Mexican grands prix. Following a difficult test at the roller-coaster Ste Jovite ("I would not have liked to drive the March there"), it clicked in qualifying and Jackie got pole. He led, too – until another stub axle broke on lap 31. He led at Watkins Glen as well – for 82 laps, at which point 001 was sidelined by an oil leak. No matter: Tyrrell and Stewart now knew for sure that they would be making history, not be history.

Stewart: "Ken and I recognised that we had a unique relationship, and 001 allowed us to stay together and build on what we had already achieved. That makes it a very important car for me." Thank you Mr Gardner.

Technical specification

Type Ford-Cosworth DFV

Capacity 2993cc

Bore x stroke 86.7mm x 64.8mm

Max power 480bhp @ 10,000rpm

Max torque 267lb ft @ 8500rpm

Fuel injection Lucas

Gearbox Hewland FG400, 5-speed

Clutch AP, twin-plate

Type aluminium monocoque

Wheelbase 95in

Track (f/r) 74in/80.5in

Length/height 152.5in/38in

Weight 554kg (minus driver)

Weight split 35/65

Suspension (f) double-wishbone, coil-over shock absorbers, anti-roll bar

Suspension (r) single top link, twin parallel lower links, twin radius arms, coil-over shock absorbers, anti-roll bar

Running gear
Dampers Koni

Steering rack-and-pinion

Brakes Girling, two-piston calipers, outboard vented discs (f) inboard solid discs (r)

Wheels (f/r) 10 x 13in/15 x 15in

Tyres (f/r) Goodyear, 10 x 20-13/15 x 26-15