Interview - Adrian Reynard

An embryonic Chapman, or mini-Broadley?

We talk to the 27-year-old proprietor of a commercial racing cars business, single-seater designer, motorcycle World record-breaker and above-average driver. What are the prospects for those struggling to establish formula car businesses in the UK? Where are the new generation of designer/constructors coming from? What does he see as the next design revolution in racing cars … and will he be one of those following or setting the pace of such designs?

Although a recent effort at recreating the late lamented BRSCC Racing Car Show did not meet with the audience such initiative should have been rewarded with, the racing car business seems very healthy indeed. That means a rather neglected source of revenue for Britain, firms like March, Chevron and Lola pulling in World currencies at an almost embarrassing rate for such small-scale engineering establishments.

On the basis that we ought to take a little more pride in the efforts of our racing car industry I wondered if things were likely to be as good, or perhaps even better in the future. Where were the new Colin Chapmans and Eric Broadleys coming from, was the 750 MC still the right place to enquire? Excellent institution that the 750 MC is for sportsmen, I discovered that the place to look nowadays, just as you might for future driving talent, is Formula Ford.

As I researched into the subject I was very tempted to go for a struggling FF semi-production outfit who actually could not find a driver for their cars. “What?” I thought, “everyone wants to be a driver, that should make a good story … and maybe we could help them find a suitable hero.” Discussing the matter with those inside FF1600 revealed the truth – a very well known ace had tried the car and lapped several seconds off the pace. Neither he nor any other driver could make the thing go!

Suitably chastened I asked for recommendations. The unanimous verdict was to talk to Adrian Reynard. One famous name in the sport qualified his endorsement a little by suggesting I ask where Reynard lost his sense of direction. There was the feeling that he should perhaps be out in the World of Grand Prix Racing by now: after all, men like Tony Southgate and Gordon Murray are not that much older, and they have been turning out good designs for years.

Reynard has actually designed a Formula One car on paper commissioned by Rupert Keegan’s father in 1975 but that design, which featured side pods and a delta theme for the aerodynamics, was destined for the drawing files only when Keegan found more success in proprietary chassis than had been anticipated.

However there is a very good reason why Reynard is not to be seen wearing a FOCA pass in the hot-spots of the World. Since 1973 he has been devotedly working toward an ideal, the expansion and progress of the Sabre Automotive Ltd. racing car construction business, which makes the Reynard FF2000 machines. Nearly 60 have been made (58 to be precise – a few for FF1600 earlier on) since the original prototype of 1974, and Sabre are now quite a significant force in the manufacture of sub-contracted components for March, Chevron, Matlock and Royale. They also carry out a substantial amount of outside work of a general steel fabrication nature, plus the manufacture of useful racing items like quick-lift jacks and so on.

It is not a glamorous business. The grubby small premises at Bicester are packed with varying lengths of steel tube, men attacking it from all angles beneath the low ceilings. Somehow ten racing car frames for the 1979 season are approaching completion, their mixed square and round tubular frames tended by a predominantly young staff of unquenchable enthusiasm.

Reynard founded the business with former March employee Bill Stone in May of 1973: the only other employee was Geoff Baxter. Stone went back to New Zealand in October 1977 and Reynard ran the business, drove and designed cars as well as attracting some financial support for all these activities. Now Geoff Baxter, who also came from March, is the manager and both look keenly forward to the day when they will occupy their own modern premises on the nearby Bicester trading estate. That day is not far away, the needed money loan has been negotiated and final Reynard plans drawn.

To do all this in a business as precarious as the racing car one demands determination and talent, but it is far from the limit of Reynard’s aspirations. He describes building single-seaters as “almost a fashion business. You get waves when you are in favour and years when you are not. I have never had a real ace in my cars (more of that later) but we have always been at least competitive and our customers get a spare parts service I am proud of. I say we have never been caught short for a part, that we always have a spare frame, stove-enamelled and ready to go. We will open at six in the morning if that’s the only way our customer is going to get a race, and I hope we will always be that flexible.” The new factory site is clearly described, together with its purpose-built features to keep the running of a racing car team separate from the manufacturing side. What racing cars?, I asked. A slow smile as Reynard said, “Well, we are ready now to go into Formula Three (he also designed one of those for Keegan: it appeared in 1976 but never raced despite testing promise in the hands of Henton, Keegan and Reynard) and I shall be drawing up a new design now. The car will be out as a pre-production prototype in August or September of this year. Don’t look for anything too startling at this level: my production prototypes have to be as close as possible to what I think I can profitably make.”

Reynard makes no secret of the firm’s profitable situation – created largely by his clever use of steel at the design stage and the sheer enthusiasm of the workforce – and he aims to keep things that way by building cars that customers can afford and maintain easily. His earlier experience is very relevant here for he has learned the proper use of metals and was practically weaned on computers and their use for stress analysis and suspension performance.

So was the Bicester building to act as a Formula One base too?, I ventured. Surely it would be impossible to find the money to go even Formula Two racing in Europe, never mind Formula One? Coolly Reynard said, “The priority is to make this business rock solid. As it develops we will progress in formulae and I will be able to do the same thing on the driving side. So far the two things have matched up. Bicester will see us through Formula Two, beyond that is too far to see!”

None of this was accompanied by the remotest hint of bombast or hard sell. I had asked to come along, so I was told the facts as this remarkable young man saw them. Later on we discussed the future on the design side as he saw it, but first I delved back into the past looking for clues to see if this versatile character really had the credentials for such a future.

The spirit of racing

Adrian Reynard was born in Welwyn Garden City during March 1951. His father had a varied career with BP petroleum which encompassed a period looking after contracted racing drivers’ fuel demands at meetings and a period on the marketing side of that company in America.

While the young Reynard was still in primary school he had seen a grimy Moss climbing in and out of the Vanwall with the layer of road filth that covered what remained of his unprotected face after the goggles were lowered: the youngster immediately went home and “grimed-up” with authentic goggle rings of white remaining!

Still at primary school, his father bought him a Kart (Adrian says he really bought it for himself, of course). This Get-Kart with an Aspera engine was vigorously conducted in informal competition against the local youth (usually on grass) and the lightweight youngster was not slow to take advantage of his inbuilt power-to-weight advantage!

He had to give up karting to concentrate on the 11+ exam. He got into the local grammar, but shortly afterward – at the age of 12 – the family moved to Connecticut on the Eastern seaboard. Just before they moved Reynard remembers that his own mechanical engineering had progressed to the stage where he could strip and rebuild the single-cylinder two-stroke incorporating his own porting ideas, loop scavenging system, an extra couple of transfer ports and the conversion of the plain bottom bearing to needle rollers.

The American experience was absorbed and found to be profitable: mowing the vast lawns of neighbours netted enough for his own Blitz kart! This was equipped with an Aspera 100 c.c. engine for junior races back in England. He returned at 14 and raced pretty consistently as a member of a Cambridge club until the time came when his parents preferred a diversion into O and A-level study.

“Then I was really thrilled by two-strokes. I could take the theory in and apply it on my own machine, and then go on from there. I had every demon tweak I could think of in the engine, especially to build up crankcase compression.” Reynard detailed the changes made, ending with “the interior looked like a bit of mouldy cheese by the time I had finished, all full of holes!” He won quite a lot of club silverware and remembers the Brise brothers were just giving up when he started.

The application to O-levels was worthwhile, he passed ten and went on to take three hated subjects in Maths, Physics and Engineering at A-level. He swiftly changed his mind about engineering draughtsmanship and that perked up his whole academic performance: “I did the subjects because I knew I needed them for racing, not because I liked them. It was necessary, I just had to do something with racing cars. Gradually I saw that being a racing driver was not the only thing, and I got more interested in the engineering side. Today the engineering is still more important to me than driving: you get a lot of blokes who can push a modern formula car around at the same speed. When we tested the F3 myself, Henton and Keegan all did the same time, that’s why the ace driver bit is not quite so important any more.”

Later we discussed this depressing point (one which D. S. J. may care to elaborate on) with examples of drivers of undoubted talent like Derek Daly (“he’s got everything” Reynard mused aloud) and Emerson Fittipaldi used to support Reynard’s theory that, however good the modern GP driver, he must have as good a car as the best opposition to be competitive. I was sidetracked into wondering what Jochen Rindt would have done with a Hesketh, could he have qualified that more than in the last third of the grid? Look what happened to Peterson’s performances between spells at Lotus….

Back at the story we find that Reynard’s return from a sojourn in Europe had seen his patient father sift out the best offer of sponsored further education (University was financially out of the question), thus did Reynard do four years at Oxford Polytechnic for his Higher National Diploma in mechanical engineering with backing from British Leyland.

However, Motor Sport met up with the youthful Reynard before his sixteenth birthday. The 15-year-old had been helping out in motorcycle sprinter and former racer George “Nero” Brown’s Stevenage workshops. George plus brother Cliff decided to take the lad along for their record-breaking attempts at the annual Elvington weekends of 1968 and 69. “I held the rear wheel of the 1,147 c.c. Super Nero and 1,000 c.c. Super Nero bikes,” Reynard laughed, “but it was good fun and I learned a lot about doing things correctly (especially from Cliff), for the Browns had so much experience in doing it right: I used to feel ashamed when I got things wrong, they’d always take it apart and start again.”

Subsequently the 18-year-old Reynard was allowed to buy for £100 an older George Brown frame and equip it with one of two rare Enfield GP5 two-stroke singles of 247 c.c. He built this up, his father’s Chevrolet estate car becoming a familiar sight at NSA sprints through 1970, the long-stroke machine’s 14.0/14.1 sec. quarter-mile times enough to capture plenty of pots. The first Reynard fabrication was a simple tubular steel frame for a “sidecar” enabling him to run in two classes per meeting.

At the end of the year the 19-year-old appeared at Elvington himself. In the B1 class the 250 hammered home to five World records and six British! What made a lot of people sit up and take notice was that he was not satisfied with that: he built his own frame of T45 steel tube for 1971 with flimsy 14 gauge front forks and vestigial Norton “suspension” rubbers. The specification also included a rare five-speed Albion gearbox and a menagerie of parts within the fragile GP5 motor, including an Alfa connecting rod and the consumption of one machined-down piston per meeting! He went back to Elvington at the end of that season and broke most of his previous year’s records.

The motorcycle and two-stroke enthusiasm was waning in the face of a Polytechnic equipped with all the hardware needed for the young Reynard to design racing cars! His entrepreneurial skill was to be seen in the car park where students’ aged cars would be restored to MoT health by the aid of Reynard’s portable welding gear: “We lost only one car,” he says with satisfaction. Then I can see why close friends like former racing driver Jeremy Rossiter say he is as ruthless and as financially aware as Chapman, for he recounts the story against himself with real humour, adding that it was generally a very profitable business!

The year 1973 saw him put the Polytechnic’s resources to the test. “I worked from ground principles up and researched, designed and built a Formula Ford 1600 racing car as a project. I was not meant to build a racing car, but I did all that they asked of me and a lot more besides in the course of getting the car from a drawing to the track. He finished the aerodynamic FF in the summer of 1973, shortly after Sabre was formed. The car was quite distinctive in its flattened front bodywork with a pair of “nostrils” carried in the nosecone. Adrian raced it once, in a non-championship round at Silverstone against excellent opposition – and it won. In a competitive formula such as FF1600 this 1973 deed impressed me, both on the driving and on the designing side. He had driven, and won, before in Formule Libre events with a singleseater Ginetta.

In 1974 Reynard again raced his FF1600, but the most noteworthy performance for his future came when he became involved in Rupert Keegan’s famous flying accident at Brands Hatch (as Keegan’s father owns BAF, this had the inevitable Fly Me – I’m Rupert headlines!), for this meant Reynard had to stop driving himself and look for somebody with a little more money and talent to race the Reynard.

Jeremy Rossiter, scion and manager of the Spax shock-absorber concern’s fortunes, appeared in the closing races of the year, scoring “many excellent results”. Though Reynard is generally inclined toward the “no-aces, let’s compromise between driving talent and sponsorship” approach, I feel I should record the fact that Motoring News editor and Formula One reporter Alan Henry (A. H.) has gone on record as saying that Rossiter had the makings of a top-line GP driver, so Reynard had someone with more ability than is generally recognised on his side.

Before he left Leyland at the end of 1974, having graduated into a design engineering job at Longbridge under the very helpful Ron Nichols, Reynard had completed a lot of test miles and practical work on vehicle dynamics, both on the drawing board and at MIRA.

Sabre could not afford to employ Adrian full time, so he did a year at Cranfield Institute of Advanced Technology. Naturally Reynard was not content just to study and both he and his car appeared on a joint Reynard/Spax Racing Car Show Stand at the beginning of 1975. Rossiter had already acquired the Reynard FF1600 so Adrian was able to promote his newly designed space-frame FF2000 (the category that uses the SOHC Cortina motor for single-seaters with small slicks and wings) and take orders for it.

The result was two customer sales and another pair of cars for Rossiter and Reynard to campaign in bright yellow Spax/Cars & Car Conversions colours. At one time or another they held every circuit record for the category, eventually finishing third and sixth in the APG Championship behind Derek Lawrence and Bernard Vermilio. Rossiter was the more successful, Reynard having a self-confessed weakness for rushing off in the lead (“legacy from sprinting”) and into the scenery.

The following year was a slack one for production of Reynard Racing Cars though Sabre had a busy and diverse year with their seven employees turning out everything from land racing yachts to paper baling presses and the parts for eight racing cars (six assembled at Hawke). This was owing to Reynard’s Racing Car Show encounter with Mike Keegan, Rupert’s dad, who wanted a Formula One car designed for his son.

Reynard talked over the decision with his Cranfield tutors and decided the opportunity was too good to miss, joining Hawke as a BAF employee for most of that year. He did a lot of things there that year, including the F1 design, the F3 into reality and the body and chassis engineering for that year’s successful Hawke DL 15 FF1600 design.

The F1 owed a great deal to the work Reynard had performed at Cranfield. By the summer of 1975 he had evolved a 1/3-scale model with adjustable wheelbase, yaw and pitch which carried a delta body style – narrow at the front, widening out over sidepods (not with reverse effect wings inside though) and, finally, a delta wing. The car looked very promising indeed, but when it should have been progressing into metal Keegan was not so keen, for it was obvious that his son had done enough to be offered other F1 drives at considerably less than the cost of constructing their own GP machine.

Commenting on his F1 today, Reynard is especially proud of the neat hub design – he has been using the SKF second generation wheel bearing assemblies since 1975 – and the delta wing concept. “People don’t realise the potential there is in that” he says. Both wing and hubs were used in the F3 which tested on the equivalent of the current F3 record at four circuits in 1976 and below the record at one, “straight out of the box,” comments Reynard. He feels that Keegan made the right commercial decision in not using an unproved design when his son was about to win a major F3 title, and adds that he should not really have agreed to execute the design at such short notice. The F3 passed on to Jan Lammers, now a named Shadow driver in F1, for the 1977 season, so it was not a total waste of time.

In September 1976 Reynard was able to leave Hawke and BAF for his own Sabre concern. Bill Stone had decently told him that he would be returning to New Zealand the following year, so Reynard had a year’s notice, meaning the changeover to full control of Sabre in 1977 was far easier than expected.

After infrequent appearances himself in 1976, Reynard teamed up with Rossiter again in FF2000 and they managed to finish second in both championships to South African Rad Dougal, who dominated the season. In 1977 15 of the Reynard 2000 designs were sold. Most go out in kit form saving nearly £1,000 on the £5,750 quoted to me for a complete car with Titan-tuned engine and Hewland gearbox. Incidentally the Reynard type numbering system is very simple: first there is the year and second the formula. So the 77SF (for Super Ford) was a very successful vintage.

Last year was the best yet for the Sabre-produced Reynards. There were more wins (but not the championship title which went to newcomers Delta of Brighton, Sussex) than any other Ford 2000 marque: ten victories shared amongst five drivers, including three for Reynard. Rossiter unfortunately suffered a severe accident and retired after one win: he and Reynard are now close neighbours.

Last year Sabre grew to 12 employees and they made 20 78SFs in between work for Royale, Van Diemen, Mallock, Chevron, ATS and March (they are the official repairers of March monocoques). Any lulls were filled in by parts manufacture for the TR Register – mainly sills and doorposts – and the construction of three monocoques for the Ehrlich F3 machines. Even that is not the end of the versatile output: since 1975 they have also made the highly successful Facsimile trials cars!

The prospects for 1979 are very encouraging with 10 cars definitely sold and an increasing amount of fabrication work to the outside racing car business going through. The new factory is certainly needed, for there is no shortage of work to fill it.

What of Reynard the designer? As I said he will be drawing and producing a prototype F3 car this season. But what principles would it use? Reynard said frankly, “I don’t know. Doing it this way I have a chance to see if the wing/ground effect machines being produced for F3 and F2 this year really work before I have to finalise my car. I don’t want to produce a prototype that I cannot duplicate for production.”

His overall philosophy is expressed articulately through the quotation: “Simplicity, especially in mechanism, is supreme excellence.” That is what James Watt is recorded, as feeling, while Reynard just says, “Nothing is simpler than nothing,” emphasising that complicated technology can usually be simplified with better results through development.

He admits that some of the days spent upstairs in the drawing office of his new home in Kidlington, Oxon, are a total waste. “I just draw rubbish. Monocoques in the wrong materials, or parts that cannot be fitted without special tools.” He is particularly proud of his hub design because a customer can “fit the front together with a small hammer and the rear with a slightly bigger one. Nothing else is needed!”

I grew a little restive and asked if he thought he would be able to break new ground in the same way as his idol, Colin Chapman, had done. What areas did he think were open to exploitation in F1?

He obviously felt that details were dangerous but he did outline a system of regenerative braking that would allow the energy created under braking to be re-released in short bursts at the wheels to provide another 100 b.h.p, or so for sudden spurts of speed. “Think how it would cut the time it took to get back to 160 m.p.h.,” he said animatedly. The snag was the weight created by the storage and ancillary power systems.

Reynard also feels that the logical extension of the venturi ground effect design will be a return to front engines! We joked about Mallock having the key to the F1 car of the eighties while Reynard sketched out a front or middle-engined machine with the driver sat in the very back dragster or Clubman’s special racing style.

I left Kidlington convinced that Mr. Reynard senior, British Leyland, George Brown and many others who shaped this young man’s life had produced at least an original thinker. He is too bright to put all his eggs in one aspect of the racing car basket, but I did also wonder if he was doing too many things at once! I remember Ken Tyrrell saying Chapman would sweep all the opposition aside if he concentrated on the formula, and that is what happened when the Lotus boss was able to concentrate on the R&D of Formula One. Now that the birth pangs of Sabre Automative are diminishing, I hope we will see what Adrian Reynard, HND is capable of at the drawing board in international formulae. – J. W.