Jim Yardley

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DIY Expert

As a breed, motor racing journalists are a pretty cynical bunch. We don’t start off that way, we all begin as fans in love with the sport and though we retain that love, it’s sometimes a struggle. We get bombarded with eager press releases, have to listen to lame-brain excuses, witness cheating and car faking, cut through piles of bullshit and watch while vested interests squabble over what is supposed to be a sport, our sport. Most of us manage to remain fans at heart and every so often our faith is given a boost by coming into contact with a team or individual who seems to typify the qualities which attracted us to the game in the first place. For me, such an individual is Jim Yardley.

Yardley has been in racing for over 20 years, he has won several championships and all his successes have been in cars which he designed and built himself. He is an heir to the great English tradition of special building and this year he is competing in Formula Three with a car made with his own hands. Yardley’s car, the Beagle V, has not so far shown itself to be anywhere near’ the pace and if past experience is anything to go by, it will take some time before it begins to shine. Even then, its successes are unlikely to be measured in terms of Cham­pionship points but, rather, by the Corin­thian code of the amateur putting on a good sporting display. He says “when I was competing in both Monoposto and F3 in 1970, I got more satisfaction from fighting for places at the back of an F3 field than I did by winning Monoposto races.” Having raced in F3 on quite a number of occasions, Yardley has no illusions about the dificulties he will face.

Formula Three is so specialised and ex­pensive that one wonders why anyone would chose that particular category in which to race a special but having won champion­ships in F750, Clubmans and Monoposto racing, Yardley was looking for a further challenge and F3 is the one remaining class which is both possible and an advance on his previous racing. The majority of special builders copy the ideas of the professionals but Yardley has built a car which is radically different to any current single-seater.

At first, sight, it looks conventional, if a little old fashioned. It has an aluminium monocoque with cast aluminium bulkheads and the second-hand Toyota engine (ex-Johansson) is mounted in a subframe at the rear. It has a full-width nose cone rather like those which March used in the mid-Seventies and this tends to make it look dated. Some have thought that it is an old March Nose cone (it isn’t) and the body is an expedient, something cobbled up from available parts. In fact, the body is specially made and derives from extensive wind tunnel testing with a quarter scale model. Where the car is unusual is in the fact that it uses a beam axle at the front and a de Dion axle at the rear.

When a beam axle is mentioned, most people think of Ford Tens, shudder and reach for strong liquor. Yardley’s axle is actually a carefully stressed miniature space-frame and his de Dion “tube” is another multi-tubular structure. Front and rear axles are both located longitudenally by long parallel radius arms and laterally by what Jim calls “Bulldog links”. These are two locating rods pivoted from the centre of the chassis leading to the outer extremities of the axles. Yardley derives the name from Mike Loasby’s lateral links on Aston- Martin’s Bulldog prototype.

March front uprights are used, but the rears were fabricated by Yardley and welded by Anson. As well as radius rods and “Bulldog links” the rear suspension has inboard springs and rocker arms operated by near vertical pushrods from the de Dion tube. Cooling is by twin radiators mounted longitudinally on the outside of each sidepod about 10 degrees from being parallel with the centre line.

It “sounds madness to attempt F3 with a beam front axle, something which we haven’t seen on even road cars for over a quarter of a century. So far as racing cars are concerned, most· of us would associate the system with the old Indianapolis roadsters, and we all know what happened to them. In terms of reduction of roll, which is an important factor on most English circuits which tend to be well-surfaced and flat, the beam front end offers some theoretical advantages and certainly the idea has been explored seriously in the recent past. Ferrari tried a beam axle on an F1 car in the mid-Seventies, Lotus adapted an F2 car to test the principle. Ralph Broad’s stillborn F1 car of the mid-Seventies was designed with a beam axle and Sam Posey used to drive a Can-Am car, the Caldwell, with solid axles front and rear.

The Caldwell wasn’t a success, the Broadspeed car, though fully drawn, was never realised due to the withdrawal of its sponsor, and Lotus and Ferrari did not pursue the matter, all of which indicates that the idea is a little like four wheel drive as applied to F1, fine in theory but weak in practice. The fact that these people were sufficiently attracted by the theory to spend time and money examining it seriously indicates that, at the very least, the notion is not as hare-brained as it first seems to be. In Yardley’s case, he has won championships with a beam-axled car of his own design and that, too, seems to indicate that we are not dealing with some­one who thinks he can fly simply because he can flap his arms.

When Derek Bell tried the beam-axled Beagle IV Clubmans’ car for a magazine article, he praised its handling except on the limit. Now Bell’s idea of “the limit” is different to most drivers and it could be that beam axles work well for most drivers but are wanting when trying to obtain ultimate performance.

One of Jim’s areas of special attention is the elimination of bump-steer and nowhere better can this be seen than in his steering system. From the steering wheel is a short column incorporating a gearbox which transmits through 90 degrees to the left. The next short column goes to the side of the car to a rack which transmits backwards to a pivoting arm at the bottom of which is another short column. This leads to a drop arm and the long steering arm, parallel to the two left hand radius rods, takes the movement of the steering wheel to the front wheels. It sounds Heath Robinson but Mark Hales, a driver for whom I have the utmost respect, has driven the car and reports that the steering system works perfectly – and there is no bump-steer.

Beagle V, which was four years in the making, a time partly caused by rule changes, is beautifully made, a credit to Jim and his helpers. Can a 46-year-old research chemist in a home-made car hope to com­pete against the best young drivers running with six figure budgets? Of course not. That is the stuff of Boys Own Paper, it is not the world we live in. Is he wasting his time in trying? Of course not, if motor racing was not founded on dreams and striving we would lose over 90% of everybody involved in it.

Jim Yardley was born in Sutton Coldfield in 1939 and was educated at Uppingham School where he showed a flair for chemistry and little else. Prior to going to university, he joined the Dunlop Research Centre and has been with Dunlop ever since obtaining his degree the hard way, in his spare time. Most of his professional work has been centred on the research and development of rubbers and plastics, mainly with applications as hoses. He is currently engaged on the development of plastics for engine-attached components, a water pump for Ford being an example.

Jim had no interest in cars or racing whatsoever until he visited a cousin in hospital and became engrossed in his cousin’s copy of Motor Sport (the Green ‘Un has led many a good man to his ruin). An advertisement for the Hamblin “Cadet” fibreglass body designed for A7 chassis caught his eye and he decided to buy one and build a car which would double as a road car and for F750 racing. “It finished up .no good for either,” he says, but photographs indicate that it was a nicely made little car. Ironically, it was fitted with a Speedex front suspension which turned the A7’s beam axle into ifs. “The wrong way around,” says Jim.

Eventually he sold the body but kept the gearbox and the tuned engine and fitted them to an A7 saloon which had an Ulster front axle, modified rear springs and hydraulic brakes and this was used as a road car and for trials in which he managed to pick up second class awards quite consistently.

Between 1961 and ’63, he built a pukka F750 car, the most unusual feature of which was its horizontally-mounted dry sump engine. This was hung from a Dural bulkhead and used downdraught SU carburettors obtained from a scrapped Riley. It was road-legal but a short time on the public highway in such a low car terrified him and thereafter it was towed to meetings. A few words with Yardley might have saved Sir Clive Sinclair a lot of anguish! For the rest, the car was fairly conventional with a spaceframe which incorporated the mandatory A7 A-frame, ¼ elliptical springs and a Panhard rod at the rear, and wishbone ifs with outboard springs.

This car, snappily called “Austin Seven Special”, bump-steered badly and the engine was not only down on power but generally refused to run cleanly. On the one occasion when it did perform properly, at Mallory Park in 1963, Jim took second place. In the very next outing, at Silverstone, the car suddenly steered to the right and wrecked itself against a wall. Luckily Jim had been thrown clear for the torque tube finished up in the driver’s seat. Only the engine and gearbox were salvagable and it was a case of “back to the drawing board”.

The result was one of the most famous and successful of all 750 Specials, “Complexity”. The name was a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of Jack French’s famous “Simplicity” though, in truth, it was hardly any more complex that an “Austin Seven Special” on which it was based. It was also the last sv-engined car to win the F750 Championship.

Again the engine was inclined, but was 75 degrees from vertical since, because of the location of the starter motor, this gave an even lower bonnet line than a horizontal engine. Front suspension was by inboard coil springs and rocker arms and while the rules still called for the retention of an A7 A-frame and ¼ elliptical springs, Yardley went to a great deal of trouble to get the spring rates exactly right.

Borrowing a Weslake idea, Jim bored through the bottom of the block to get “reverse downdraught” breathing, the fuel coming up to the bottom of the valves. Again it was dry-sumped, by two scavenge pumps and a pressure pump mounted in series. Starting what was to become usual practice, Yardley tested the stressing of his frame by building balsa wood models and twisting them.

“Complexity” appeared at the end of 1964 but was initially disappointing. “The engine was diabolical, as usual,” says Jim, “but then we dropped the jets by ¼ inch and – wow! It was the only tuning I did and the engine was never touched again. A win and lap record on the Silverstone GP circuit gave notice for 1965.

Yardley had a slow start to the season, having rested on his laurels during the winter, but by the end of the year his tally read: 14 starts, 11 wins, five lap records, one DNF due to running out of fuel. It was a magnificent swansong for the old sv 750 engine, though Richard de la Rue, who bought the car, claimed third in the series the following year.

With nothing more to prove in F750, Yardley set about designing Beagle 1, a car which could be used in both F3 and Monoposto. “Beagle” was chosen with reference to Dan Gurney’s “Eagles” and part of the inspiration to go single-seater racing came from the fact that Jim shared an office with the talented Chris Lambert who was then making a name for himself in F3.

Assisted by two friends, Tony Webb and Ted Lever, who still help him (Ted has not missed a single Beagle race in nearly 20 years) Jim built a simple monocoque based on the F2 Lotus. Though it was a fairly conventional car in global terms, a mono­coque was then an unusual solution for a special builder.

Beagle 1 appeared at the end of 1966, nominally in F3 (one-litre) trim but intended for Monoposto racing. It did not immediately take the category by storm. In fact it took a full season’s driving, with most of the development work being done at race meetings before the car was properly sorted.

During 1967, Yardley had competed with both 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre Holbay down­draught engines but for 1968 decided to build his own aluminium cylinder head. This was based on the Heron head used on the Cosworth SCA engine but was designed for pushrods rather than ohc. Yardley made a wooden pattern and the head was eventually cast for £12. The head was machined by Ted and Tony in a school workshop. Tony is a metalwork teacher – most useful!

This ambitious little motor worked and Yardley won the Monoposto 1.5-litre class, winning frequently but losing out overall to Eddie Heasall’s tally of points in the 1,000 cc class.

The following year, Yardley dominated the category, winning both the 1.5-litre class and the overall Monoposto Championship. As an aside, the name “Beagle” proved to be a good one for it gave headline writers in the weekly motorsport press plenty of opportunities to exercise their wit: “Beagle Top Dog At Brands” being a typical example. In making the head, however, a vital internal rib had been inadvertently omitted with the result that during 1969, the gasket frequently had to be glued together with Araldite. This bodging did not affect it, though, and it kept going, and winning, until the end of the season, it finally cried “enough” and cracked.

Another head was made that year, a downdraught version of the Ford crossflow -head, and this proved to be the equal in power to the aluminium head, “though it was weak. With the Monoposto Championship well under control, Yardley raced his car in other categories such as Formula Libre.

The following year, the Beagle was raced in 1,000 cc form, with the new head fitted to an MAE block. In Monoposto racing, Yardley was able to take outright wins with-the smaller, lighter, engine, enjoying battles with Alan Joy and Brian Jordan who finished ahead of him in the final classifi­cation of the of the 1,000 cc class. Jim began to enter his car into F3 races and, as he has said, began to derive more satisfaction from fighting at the rear of a good grid than he did by winning Monoposto races. A highlight of the year was inaking the F3 Final at the British Grand Prix· meeting – and 1970 was a vintage year for F3 with 10 future GP drivers, including two “future World Champions (Hunt and Lauda) in the field. Moreover, Yardley was the only driver not to use Firestone YB IIs, sticking loyally, and economically, to outclassed Dunlops.

Beagle I was sold at the end of the year and Beagle II was drawn. This was to be a rear-engined F3 car with beam axle front suspension. Yardley decided that, with a wheelbase of 8 ft O in it was all getting out of hand (Beagle V has wheelbase one inch longer) and he scrapped it. Meanwhile he drew a beam axle set-up for Richard de la Rue’s special, “Apogee” and since that seemed to work well, he began on Beagle III.

This again was designed for F3 but he began to encounter all sorts of problems with fitting all his ideas into the package until he realised that the answer was to make the car front-engined. This broke accepted racing practice but remember just how quick Ray Mallock was in his front-engined F3 Mallock at about the same time.

Beagle Ill’s 1.6-litre engine was mounted horizontally in the interests of low frontal area and low centre of gravity and was offset to the left. Another unusual move was to mount the Hewland gearbox back to front in order to be able to carry the spaceframe de Dion layout behind it at the back.

“It was a hideous car,” Jim says, “I’m glad I’ve no photographs of it in F3 trim.” Yardley had designed and built his own hubs and these were not very clever, for the car had a habit of shedding wheels. Front wheels, back wheels, it showed no prejudice.

Breaking fresh ground, this car took a lot of sorting and Yardley’s appearances over the next few years were sparodic. Jim managed a few F3 races in 1973, without success. In 1974, it was back to Monoposto with a Cosworth downdraught head and Lucas pi. The following year Yardley and Beagle III came third in the Monoposto Championship but the car was still a disappointment.

It was not difficult, however, to convert it to Clubmans’ specification and in 1976 Jim and Beagle III finished fifth in the Northern Championship. The car had been a disappointment, but a lot had been learned. It was not a case of the fundamental concept being wrong but getting an innovative design to work in harmony. Just as “Austin Seven Special” became “Complexity”, so Beagle III became Beagle IV, with similar success.

Yardley pooled his ideas with Richard Hurdwell, who worked at MIRA and who had access to the wind tunnel there, and the result was two Championship winning cars. Hurdwell’s “Wells 2”, also beam-axled after Hurdwell had driven Beagle III, won a Fl200 title, and he made a special point of running without aerofoils because his hollow s1depods, developed at MIRA, generated sufficient downforce by themselves. Yardley meantime took Beagle III to pieces in order to make it into Beagle IV greatly helped by a newcomer to the team, Tony Pegg.

This took some time and the car did not appear until late in 1978 but the following year, still learning about the car and the category, Jim won a couple of Clubmans races at Donington. 1979 was spent away from racing but he was back in 1980 to take the Clubmans Register title. ”I was pretty serious, I even bought some new tyres.” It was the first time since 1972 that a Clubmans Championship had been won with a car other than a Mallock.

At the end of that year, work began on Beagle V and one of Project Four’s Toyota engines was bought. Since he had made the decision to try F3 again, Yardley had to keep his International “B” licence up to date so he entered a few races with Beagle IV – and won the Donington Championship without really trying.

Five races followed in 1982 for the same reason and then the car was sold for use in Thundersports. Beagle V was a long time in the making: “I would never have started if I’d known how long it would take.” The trouble was that the rules kept changing and that is a serious problem when you are working in your spare time.

The few F3 races in which Beagle V appeared during 1985 proved to be disappointing. Late in the season, though, it was discovered that the front axle had been flexing. It is currently being re-designed and the car will be out again next year.

Perhaps when Beagle V is old enough to qualify for Class B of F3, we may see it pick up a few points. I do not expect it to win any races but if it does, the shout of pleasure you hear ringing across the circuit can be put down to me. I switch off when I hear Formula Ford hopefuls, carrying briefcases full of “proposals”, whinge and whine about the fact that they could be World Champions if only they could find someone to pay for their fun in the meantime. A man who comes home after a day’s work and builds his own car and who can keep his sense of perspective and humour is, in my book, one of the good guys. Jim Yardley embodies the spirit which first attracted me to motor racing and which, despite all the hype and bullshit, keeps me in motor racing. – M.L.

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