“About once a week”, says Bob King, managing director of Racing Preparations Ltd., “I sit down and think this is a stupid business to be in”. But really King’s firm, which has been manufacturing race cars for only two years, is one of the most progressive and successful of the smaller manufacturers. They have a move planned from their present factory in London’s Park Royal to a brand new freehold 6,500 sq. ft. facility on the Huntingdon Trading Estate in April of this year. Having scored considerable success with Formula Ford and Formula F100 cars in the past two years they plan to market, in 1971, a workmanlike Formula Atlantic single-seater, a smart Group 5 sports-racer which they hope will challenge the Lola T210 plus an advanced monocoque car for the just introduced Formula Super Vee.
King’s company, Racing Preparations Ltd., which manufacture race cars under the name of Royale, was formed back in 1962 as a one-man firm. At 32, King has been in and around motor racing most of his life. His father, who ran a car showroom in Marylebone Road, was a close friend of the late Donald Campbell and the record-breaking machines were often on show there. Young Bob King remembers that he was fascinated by the machinery by the time he was about eight years old. When the family moved to South Africa for a couple of years King, then aged nine, learned to drive in the National Parks. Some years later, on his seventeenth birthday, he flew to Ireland and bought a driving licence, which you could do in those days. A few days later he was in business on his own account as a motor trader.
Soon he had come into contact with a fellow trader by the name of Ronnie Moore who, along with Ray Thackwell, was racing a Cooper Formula Two car. At the end of that year, 1956, King purchased one of the cars and all three drivers intended to team up for the following year. Practising solidly for three months down at Brands Hatch the teenage King found he wasn’t going to be World Champion in a day. His hopes were completely shattered when he lent the car to someone else to try and it was promptly written off at Paddock Bend. However, Moore and Thackwell took King under their wing and he spent 1957 acting as their mechanic for a full Formula Two season on the Continent. On reflection he reckons it was the best thing that could have happened to him.
At the end of the year he went to New Zealand with his two racing friends and stayed out there for two years. However, his own Cooper was rebuilt and sold to none other than Denny Hulme. Returning to the UK in 1960 he went into partnership with his brother in the motor trade and, when they took an Elva-Climax in part-exchange for a road car, King’s desire to race was re-kindled. Soon he was driving the machine and also preparing several other cars under the title of Edgware Racing Stables. Once prepared, he would test the cars round a pre-determined route in Edgware until one disastrous day he left the road and disappeared into an off-licence window. No doubt if a present advertisement had then been current he would have said that he was “only here for the beer!”.
By 1962 his garage was so full of racing cars that he decided it would be better if he concentrated on this side of the business. Thus, Racing Preparations Ltd. was formed and King moved out to an arch in Alperton Viaduct in Wembley, and “started with just a tool box and not even a vice”. However, his reputation for work on Climax engines was spreading and the customers kept coming back and soon he had the premises well equipped. King continued to race with some success driving a variety of sports cars. He then switched to single-seaters, first with a Lotus 16 and then with a Lotus 24 fitted with a 2 1/2-litre Climax engine. The Lotus 24 seemed too much for him, so in 1965 he gave up racing and has employed professional drivers ever since. Soon after he formed RP he was joined by Alan Cornock who is still his right-hand man. Alan now looks after all the office and day-to-day running of the business allowing King time to control the racing projects and so on.
At the end of 1965 Coventry-Climax was bought by Sir William Lyons for Jaguar and the £48,000 stock of spares for the various racing four-cylinder engines was offered to King. He took them along with the manufacturing rights, patterns and so on and continued to build FPF engines right up until twelve months ago. During this period such people as Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham visited his arch in darkest Alperton. King reckons the high-spot of his association with Climax engines was when Dan Gurney put the Climax-powered Eagle on the front row of the grid for the 1967 British GP ahead of many of the V8 machines. Of course the new Cosworth V8 was the final death knell for the “four-banger” Climax engine although King continued to produce the smaller 2-litre engines for sports-car firms like Nathan and Ginetta.
However, for 1968 King had to look for something new and he started producing engines for the new Formula Ford. At the time he thought “it was a bit of a toy formula” but when a car was brought to him to have a motor fitted he really gave it a second look.
By this time King had acquired considerable knowledge of single-seaters and in the hands of Tony Lanfranchi the RP Lotus 24 had become the car to beat in Libre racing. Looking at the Formula Ford sat in his workshop, which at that time was a very successful design, he reckoned he could do better himself. Only three months later a Formula Ford car was built and during the final stages Racing Preparations moved into their present premises.
The Formula Ford went through an intensive three-month testing programme covering some 2,000 miles at racing speed. The driver was John Stephens, who had just won the Star of Tomorrow competition. But the car did not have a happy racing debut for a brand new shock-absorber broke and Stephens crashed the car heavily. The prototype Royale retired in the next five races and everyone was very disillusioned. As a final resort the colour of the car was changed to red and since then a works Royale has hardly ever retired.
King had appointed an American agent who was running a Royale FF for a very quick driver called Bill Scott and his victories, over in the USA, soon brought the orders in. Back at home the Royales were also meeting with some success and everyone was impressed by the way they were built. So, by the middle of 1969, production was in full swing and by the end of the year no fewer than 44 cars had been built which is a huge number for the first year of any manufacturer. For instance, in 1970 March Engineering built a total of 49 cars and reckoned to be doing pretty well at that.
But for Royale there were the downs as well as ups. John Stephens broke both his legs in a practice accident while trying some new tyres and his place was taken by another former racing school pupil, Ray Allen. Meanwhile, a Formula Ford chassis was modified and fitted with a Ford twin-cam for American Formula B and Tony Lanfranchi chalked up several late 1969 season Libre wins before the car was shipped to the States. Royale got a further boost when Scott won the Formula Ford race at the Boxing Day Sebring meeting which is the most important FF event of the season in America.
However, for 1970 King wanted to diversify as the FF market seemed to be somewhat saturated. He decided to build a car for, the then just announced, Formula F100, a class of racing for two-seater sports-racing cars which, like FF, must run on road tyres.
It was a big gamble for the Formula was receiving a stormy reception in the weekly sporting press. The Royale was just about the only car ready for the ill-fated demonstration of these cars at the Christmas holiday meetings of 1969.
King had ordered the components for twelve F100 chassis and for several weeks had to sweat it out as the components arrived but the orders didn’t. However, the tide turned and in one week he had seven orders and the whole thing started to look viable. Once the season started, Ray Allen, driving the works-backed car, walked off with the races and in fact only four F100 races have been won by a car other than a Royale. Naturally, Allen won the National Championship for this class of racing. No other manufacturer seems to have built more than a couple of F100s but King’s company have built nine. Interestingly, three of these have been fitted with the larger Formula Ford specification 1,600 c.c. engines for Brazilian sports-car racing. Four more similar cars have been constructed with racing wheels and tyres and 1,100 c.c. racing engines for an American sports-car class. The 1970 development of the FE has also sold well and a total of 28 cars have been produced.
With two successful seasons behind them Racing Preparations are producing three new designs for 1971 and the prototypes have been constructed and tested. Two of them are for new Formulae and again King is taking a gamble that the new categories will catch on.
The Formula Atlantic car is already race-tested in the hands of Allen who has taken it to three victories in late season Brands Hatch club races. Basically Formula Atlantic is the same as American Formula B, although in Britain the four-valve BDA engine, as used in the Escort RS1600, is allowed and will undoubtedly be the motor to use. This Atlantic design is a round-tube space-frame development of the earlier machine.
However, for Royale their Super Vee does break new ground for it features a most workmanlike monocoque chassis with a semi-stressed engine bay. Again King seems to be in on the start of a new Formula with a car that could wipe the board.
The Group 6 sports-racing car which, like its competitors, the Lola T210 and the Chevron B19, is powered by a Cosworth FVC engine will, no doubt, find the competition tougher.
The designs of the various Royales are obviously the work of someone of considerable talent. King has a hand in the overall concept but says he is not at liberty at present to reveal the designer’s identity.
The move to Huntingdon is obviously taking much of King’s capital and the company needs a very full order book for 1971. At the moment his ten-man staff has started on a batch of 20 Formula Super Vees, ten of which have been firmly ordered. Also under construction are a couple of sports cars both of which are destined for Brazil where they will be fitted with Alfa Romeo engines and one will probably be driven by Carlos Pace, well known to British F3 enthusiasts.
The firm’s turn-over last year was somewhere in the region of £100,000, much of it in American dollars thus helping Britain’s balance of payment. But at any one time King has £15,000 of racing cars as his company’s liability and a similar sum wrapped up in the extensive stores.
It seems that the firm is on the brink of making the big time but as is often the case there is only a thin line between large scale success and complete failure. If both Atlantic and Super Vee flop, Racing Preparations will be in trouble. King says “I don’t play cards because I reckon I do enough gambling building racing cars”. If high quality, common sense and a competitive design are factors, Bob King deserves to succeed.—A. R. M.
About the series
Britain has the largest racing car industry in the World. The histories of the Lotus, Brabhams and Marches have been well chronicled, so Motor Sport thought it would take a look at some of the smaller firms in the business. A few are on the fringe of making the big time, the majority are small three-man, under-capitalised firms run mainly on the sheer enthusiasm of those involved.