That’s because the contents of Geoff Temple’s farm are not exactly common knowledge Most people thought that only one Chevron 81 existed.
This is an extraordinarily historic car. It is not, however, the car that most people think it is when you first mention it to them. That’s because it was once also a forgotten car, which lay abandoned for the best part of 20 years at a vegetable farm just outside Morpeth.
We’re talking here about a Chevron B1, and the name that must immediately spring to mind is that of marque expert Vin Malkie, who has been campaigning his own B1 for several years. Unless you were particularly well acquainted with the contents of the agricultural establishments in the north of England, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Malkie’s car was the first ever produced by the late Derek Bennett’s famous company back in 1965. In fact it was the second, a statistic of which the motorsport world was only really reminded when Geoff Temple brought his B1 out of the barn, dusted it down and started racing it again.
Geoff’s understanding of how his car came to be created is that Bennett originally laid down two chassis, one for himself and one for Brian Classic. With a race at Kirkistown in Northern Ireland coming up, Bennett asked if it was okay for him to finish his own car first. Classic agreed, Bennett completed his car and took it to Kirkistown, where it won its first ever race and set a new lap record!
Geoff, meanwhile, was just becoming involved with the sport himself at this point, His debut meeting was in May 1965 at Ingliston, where he drove a Lotus Elan. “There were so many sports cars that they ran a consolation race, which I won though that was partly because mine was the only Elan there was. All the others were in MGAs and TRs.”
He soon graduated to a BMC-engined Lotus 7, which he bought from George Silverwood. Silverwood had set the one-litre sports car lap record at Croft, Geoff’s local circuit, and Geoff subsequently equalled that time in the same car, as did Jack Hugh in his Terrier. However, the car to beat was the B1, which was by now in the hands of Manchester businessman John Buxton and running with an ex-works BMC one-litre engine to replace Bennett’s 1500cc Ford.
“When I first got it, it was like a lot of tales in that it was a successful car which isn’t successful when you buy it! There was a lot of trouble with the oil scavenge pump, which was V-belt driven, and the belt kept throwing off which meant that the sump filled up. The only accident I’ve ever had was during practice at Ingliston when oil came out of the engine and ran along the undertray on to the rear tyres. This was at what used to be called Southstand corner, and I hit literally the very end of the barrier. I got out, and because I knew exactly what had happened I said to the marshal, ‘You’re going to have to stop the session.’ But he didn’t do anything, and after two other cars had gone off on my oil and just missed mine, I went up again and said, ‘You’ve really got to stop this session…!
In Buxton’s hands the car had been light red, which Geoff quickly converted to the impressive-sounding Rolls-Royce Regal Red. Its current, rather more lurid shade is a legacy of the time when Dot, his one-woman pit crew whom he married in 1972, said she couldn’t see him coming during the melee on the first lap. “So I painted it a really horrible colour. Chrysler Yellow, and told her she’d see me coming now!”
Geoff broke the three-way stranglehold on the Croft class record and won the 1969 Northern Clubmans Championship, which included rounds at Cadwell, Rufforth, Mallory and OuIton as well as Croft. He repeated that feat in 1971, by which time the car was back in its original 1500 cc Ford pre-crossflow spec.
It is quite consistent with Geoff’s character that he downplays these titles, pointing out that they came about largely through finishing races in second or third, and not falling off. Still, it can hardly have been the work of a driver wholly without talent to win two championships in three seasons, and it says a lot for the design of the B1 that it was still able to perform such feats six years after it was built.
With the latter point Geoff has no argument. “Round about 1968 the car was almost unbeatable. Somebody told me that when it came out people thought Derek Bennett was cheating, because what he had built was a single-seater with a front engine. I think maybe he got into Clubmans because it was the soft option, and built a car that was virtually a single-seater so that it would win and he could make a name for himself.”
And Geoff has little doubt as to what those single-seater origins must have been. “I’m still using the original wheels, which are the same as ones I’ve seen on a Brabham BT II of the same era. And of course, Derek Bennett drove a Brabham at that time. A lot of other things are very similar, too, like the wishbones.” Although it had run at the sharp end of Clubmans racing for a long time, the Bl’s glory days were by now almost over. “I packed up in 1973 because the car wasn’t worth anything and wasn’t competitive. It couldn’t keep up with the Mallocks. They had wings, and the Chevron’s aerodynamics weren’t very good people had learned a lot about that in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Also, they had crossflow engines which were developing 20-30 bhp more than mine. The crossflow wouldn’t go into the Chevron because it had its engine inclined to the right, and a crossflow had to be inclined the other way to get the carburettors to fit.”
So the B1 was simply parked in the barn. Geoff began tinkering with it again in the late 1980s, but by that time he had lost all track of the racing scene. “In all that time I never bought Autosport or Motoring News, and I didn’t know Chevrons were becoming valuable. I didn’t follow motorsport at all I’d just started rebuilding the car for something to do.,/p>
“I got it more or less finished, and then I read in one of the classic car magazines about a meeting at Donington to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Clubmans. I went down, and as soon as I got through the entrance it was just like turning the clock back, with all these Anglias and A40s and Morris Minors. It was fantastic, just like it used to be. I watched the Clubmans race and saw the other B1 leading, and I thought, ‘These people don’t know my car still exists … ”
They soon did, though, and it wasn’t long before Geoff was being encouraged to bring it back out. What eventually persuaded him was a call from the organisers of Historic Ecosse, a delightful group of people devoted to meeting socially, making sandwiches for each other and occasionally racing cars built in or before the midI 960s. Geoff, resigned to the fact that the engine wasn’t running at all cleanly, turned up at Knockh ill for his first outing in this class in 1991 (using, as he continues to do, the trailer he had originally bought with the Lotus 7!) and was immediately met by one Pat Brannigan, who was acting as mechanic for one of the road saloon drivers.
“He came up to me as I was coming through the entrance and said, ‘It’s a Chevron! I love Chevrons!’ I told him how badly it was running, and he fiddled with the carburettors which turned out to be full of grit after 19 years standing in a barn and got it going reasonably well.”
At that stage the trumpets were practically the highest part of the car. since Geoff was using a downdraught system. Spectators wondered how he could see where he was going, but he says it was “like having a telegraph pole outside your house after a while you don’t notice it’s there.” He subsequently bought a new head and side draught induction system from Holbay, which do no end of good to the looks and reliability of the car. At a cost of £1000, admittedly, but Geoff feels it was worth it.
“The last thing I want is to have engine trouble. I want to have a good day and enjoy it. I had enough problems in the early days with the 7 to know not to do DIY on things I don’t know about.”
He’s been having good fun in Historic Ecosse, especially when Grant Stephen brings out his Elva and the two of them resume their long-running but amiable track rivalry. He can concentrate on the racing because the Chevron “handles beautifully. It’s easy to drive, provided you don’t throw it around. You’re not struggling with it, it wants to go round the corner, which is big help. In the wet, though, it’s awful. Or perhaps it’s the driver that’s awful! But I think it’s because the tyres are too big.
“If I’m not being pushed I tend to back off. . . until I start racing with Grant Stephen! Then I do push it, but not rev-wise. The engine will go to about 8500 rpm, but I keep it to 7000/7500 because there doesn’t seem to be any benefit in using the revs.”
When you see Geoff’s car sitting beside the Vin Malkie B1 you might be forgiven for thinking that they can’t possibly be the same model. Geoff reckons this is because the other car continued to be developed in Clubmans racing well into the 1970s, whereas his own is strictly in mid-1960s form, with practically no component under 25 years old. So the two B1s are in contrasting but equally valid conditions, and if there are to be only two examples of a historic model in existence it makes for a nice balance that they represent either end of the development process.
Any speculation about the price of Geoff’s car must be academic, since he wants to keep it Ialthough if he could afford to have two racers he would soon add a Brabham to the collection). But it’s probably safe to say that it is worth more than its last recorded paper value. Asked several years ago by his insurance company to account for every vehicle on the farm, he added the Chevron to the list, guessing that it was probably worth about £1500… D F