March Engineering: The GP? of 1970

THE TITLE of this article is a name that has been more in the news these last few months than Lotus, Brabham, McLaren and BRM put together, and on the surface without any real justification. Last August the name of March Engineering Ltd. was unheard of, and the first signs were the Formula Three car that ran at Cadwell Park, complete with its Lotus wheels, so it seemed no more than an enthusiastic effort on the part of some amateur builders.

This was discounted when March Engineering Ltd. opened up their new factory, comprising two large single-storey buildings, on the edge of Bicester in Oxfordshire. As mentioned in MOTOR SPORT for December, 1969, four young men stood shoulder-to-shoulder and said: “We are March Engineering.” They were Mosley, Rees, Coaker and Herd and taking their initials and throwing in an A for luck you have the name March.

Their plans were ambitious in the extreme, and it seemed certain that none of the four had sufficient money to finance their plans, even if they had the ability. When Tyrrell and Stewart, with their pockets bulging with money from Dunlop and Elf petrol, commissioned March to build two Grand Prix cars around Cosworth V8-engines and Hewland gearboxes, one for Stewart and the other for Servoz-Gavin, it was obvious that there was something big behind March Engineering. Then when they signed up Amon and Siffert to drive works cars for them in 1970, at a time when nothing existed other than drawings, the seriousness of the project became acute.

March said that they were backed by Firestone, but that the real bulk of the money came from two backers outside the motor racing circle. Obviously these backers are more powerful than just £ s.d., for while money is nice it is not sufficient to pursuade the likes of Tyrrell, Stewart, Amon and Siffert to join in. People like that want to be certain that the firm has the backing of all the allied industries that support racing, like Girling, Champion or Autolite, Lucas, and suppliers of special parts like Birfield joints and Kent Alloys, two large parts of the GKN group of companies, to say nothing of the confidence needed by Cosworth and Hewland.

If you or I go along to Cosworth with £7,500 to buy a DFV engine we would have to stand at the back of a very long queue, and we would get our engine one day. March are confident of having five engines for this season for their own works team, Tyrrell having his own engines. That is £37,500 and Cosworth cannot exist on credit; even though they might not demand cash they would want very good security to put March that high on the list. March will not say as yet who is the big money and big engineering behind them, that is such a good sound name that other people in the racing industry have confidence in the team.

When the time is ripe they will announce who is behind them, though Autocar confidently say it is STP I think the idea is right but the initials are wrong. The four young men publicly involved in the March project are all very plausible and likeable, but the business side of the racing accessory world need more than that before they will give support. Evidence of the sort of support they are getting was seen when I called in on them in the middle of January, for Lucas were there sorting out fuel-pump and starter-motor queries, Girling were there fitting brake pipes and brake installations to a chassis frame, Specialised Mouldings arrived hot-foot with the first nose cowling from their fibreglass factory and so it was all going on.

The car for Stewart was rapidly taking shape, the monocoque centre-section being finished and painted blue and work was going on fitting controls and wiring, even the instrument panel being complete. The first works car, for Amon, was nearly as advanced, and the nose cowling was being offered up, this car being finished in red.

A third chassis was being worked on by the Girling man and a fourth chassis was being riveted together on the chassis jig. As if this was not enough there were four production space frame single-seater chassis being assembled as Formula Three or American Formula B cars, for sale to customers, for March intend to market racing cars as well as run their own works team in Formula One. All this from nothing in under four months indicates some high-pressure pre-planning back through last summer, and even into last winter, for these things, do not happen overnight, as some people might think.

The March designs are given type numbers of three figures, with the first two being the year and the third one the model, so that the prototype Formula Three car, built last summer, was called a March 693 and the production models for this year are March 703. The Grand Prix cars, of which they will probably build six, are called March 701 and if a Formula Two car is built it will be a March 702.

All very simple and straightforward, as is the office that contains the four key men, with its wall-chart of the 1970 racing programme for the works team, which covers all the World Championship events and other Formula One races. There is nothing very revolutionary about the March 701, it is simple and straightforward with a monocoque centre-section of riveted aluminium sheet, and the Cosworth engine and Hewland gearbox are hung on the rear bulkhead as in a Lotus 49B. The nose cowl is very long, with the radiator block leaning forwards and the compulsory fire-extinguisher mechanism is located between the radiator and the pedals. The nose has canard fins moulded in as part of the design, great care being taken about the change of section from fin to nose. The fins themselves have trim tabs like ailerons on their trailing edges. Time being short and results being required almost instantaneously, Herd has not attempted to try anything “way out” in the design, though no doubt if it is successful the 701/B or 711 will be.

That he can design unusual things was seen by the Cosworth car, even though it never got to a starting grid. That he can design successful cars has been shown by McLaren, for the early design work on the Formula One and Can-Am McLarens was done by Herd. March have gathered together a work force of some 30 people and a sign over the office doors says “No Vacancies”.

Some of the workers have come from other racing teams, some are new to motor racing, but they all seem to be progressing well, and once again this indicates a pretty powerful financial enterprise behind March Engineering. It will not surprise me to find that March Engineering Ltd. is an offshoot of a large engineering group, like BRM are with Rubery Owen, or Kar Kraft was with Ford Detroit in the Ford days at Le Mans.

Progress was such by the middle of January that March Engineering confidently announced a public showing of the first, or even the second car, at Silverstone for February 6th, to which the racing press are invited, and they expect the first March 701 to be on test during the week previous.

As these words are appearing on the bookstalls it is likely that the chief mechanic of March, who used to look after the Winkelmann Formula Two cars, will be pressing the starter button on the first completed car, and only four months from moving into their factory. Fortunately Cosworth Engineering will have prepared the engine, and Hewlands the gearbox, so that March have only to concentrate on the chassis, suspension and installation details.

If Cosworth did not exist there would be no March Engineering, and probably no Lotus, McLaren, Brabham or de Tomaso Formula One cars either. There is nothing in the Bicester factory in the way of test equipment, as there is at BRM or Ferrari or Matra, the March people relying on the industry for research and development as do many other Grand Prix teams.

At the mid-January rate of progress there will undoubtedly be one, two or even three March cars completed in time for the South-African Grand Prix on March 7th, but whether they are tested and raceworthy by then is another story. A refreshing aspect of the March Formula One project is that they welcome publicity, and in fact seem to be thriving on it at the moment. Their attitude is “come in and see how well we are progressing”, unlike some teams who slam the door and say “nothing to see”. They may fall flat on their face with a complete failure, or they may succeed, but whichever way it turns out they will have tried hard.