BMW's famous badge graced a chassis which for a few months in 1970 did most of the winning in F2. Nick Phillips looks back on Muinch's own single-seaters
Think BMW in the context of single-seater racing, and technically advanced powerplants spring to mind. In the second half of 1970, however, the Munich marque built arguably the quickest chassis in Formula Two. The BMW 270 won three of the European championship's final five races, yet within days of its greatest triumph the project was axed.
The story climaxed with Dieter Quester's win in front of 100,000 at Hockenheim's Euro finale that October; it began in 1967, with a Lola chassis that eventually carried BMW badges. By '69, though, BMW wanted its own car and approached Len Terry's Design Autos. Terry already had an appropriate design in stock — a Formula 5000 project that had run into trouble and would subsequently re-emerge as the Surtees TS5.
"I always felt that the basic design would be suitable for F2," recalls Terry, "so when BMW came to me, I had the design essentially all ready. I showed them what I had in mind and they were happy with that."
BMW decided to have the cars built in Germany by aircraft manufacturer Dornier. It made some modifications to the design that didn't impress Terry. "What I had laid down was a full monocoque," he says, "and they changed it to make the cockpit surround detachable. Although they fitted it with quite a few bolts, I think it detracted from the torsional stiffness."
Terry attended a successful first test at Vallelunga, but thereafter development was all down to BMW.
The new BMW 269 made its debut in mid-1969, and it soon replaced the Lola. As many as three were fielded, but there were no wins. In '70, more cars were built up and badged 270s. More importantly, a new four-valve cylinder-head design was introduced.
"That was the big jump," says Quester. "It was the grandfather of the four-cylinder grand prix engine."
By June, BMW was a winner; Hubert Hahne took a 269 to victory in a non-championship event at Hockenheim. Then Jo Siffert triumphed at Rouen, and Jacky Ickx at the Salzburgring and Tulin-Langenlebarn. The senior drivers used the newer 270, and Quester had one too when begot in on the act at the finale.
"It was my first F2 win and a very important one," he recalls. It was also a gripping race. The Austrian broke away at the front with Tecno drivers Francois Cevert and Clay Regazzoni. "Powerwise, we had the best car, though for me the Tecno chassis was better than ours. It was difficult because I was the only BMW. Okay, Cevert retired, but Regazzoni at that time was the hardest driver I had ever raced against."
On the last lap the pair came up to lap Vittorio Brambilla. They went either side of the Italian's Brabham BT30, but met on the other side, clashed wheels and spun. Quester recovered more quickly and won; second, though, clinched the championship for Regga.
Before the car's next outing two weeks later in a minor event on the Munich-Neubiberg airfield, BMW announced its withdrawal from F2. Quester won the race, but the black armbands worn by the team forcefully expressed its bewilderment.
"It was a bad feeling — we had no understanding of the reason," says Quester. 'There wasn't a problem with money and we weren't unsuccessful..."
The team, led by Paul Rosche — later to be revered as the father of BMW's turbo F1 engines — didn't want to give up, though. Quester got hold of two engines on condition that he stayed well away from the factory, and what he calls "the underground team" was born. Rosche maintained and developed the engines, smuggling them in and out of the factory in the boot of his car and, fitted in the back of a March 712M, they took Quester to third in the 1971 European championship.
The factory re-entered F2 in 1973 — as an engine supplier. And, despite BMW looking at building its own Fl car prior to re-signing with Williams last year, that is how it has gone single-seater racing ever since.