Designer Tony Southgate remembers when a new F1 team could emerge from the shadows and its car could be planned in a tiny garage. By Keith Howard
All it took in the 1970s to create a new Formula One team was one good sponsor and a team principal with the necessary ambition. American Don Nichols arrived on the F1 scene in 1972 with UOP – Universal Oil Products providing the greenbacks, and he was determined to shake up the F1 status quo from the start of the ’73 season.
Like the US team he’d already set up to compete in Can-Am, the new operation was called Shadow. Its company logo of a cloaked man in silhouette was not, as you might suppose, a reflection of Nichols’ clandestine CIA past but a reference to American pulp fiction hero The Shadow, who in the 1930s and ’40s had been the subject of almost 140 ‘penny dreadfuls’, most of them written by Walter Gibson under the alias Maxwell Grant.
Nichols had begun his motor-racing career while serving with the US Army in Japan, importing cast-off racing components from the US and selling them to an eager Japanese audience. He claimed to have made his first million through this lucrative trade, but in the process he put some noses out of joint back home – a misdemeanour for which his new team would be repaid when it took to the grand prix circuits.
To drive the cars he recruited Jackie Oliver and George Follmer, both of whom had already campaigned Shadows in Can-Am. Although Follmer had never raced an F1 car in his life he was brave behind the wheel and would record the team’s best result that first season – a third in the Spanish GP at Montjuich Park.
To design his new car Nichols tempted Tony Southgate away from BRM, where he had designed the P160 and P180. How was Southgate persuaded to quit such an established team, where he’d only been since 1970, for the uncertainties of a start-up operation?
“It wasn’t the money. Shadow paid me better than BRM, but BRM employees were very poorly paid. I was the highest paid person at Bourne, and I got £2,400 a year! Don Nichols I’d never met or knew of until then, but Jackie Oliver had been a driver at BRM the first year I was there – that was the first factor. And Shadow had been running cars in America for a few years, so I knew that the team was genuine.”
UOP owned a company in Northampton, so that’s where the Shadow team was based, first in a tatty, hand-me-down factory on Weedon Road, then in a new one built for it around the corner. When Southgate joined in October 1972 even the first of these was not yet occupied, so all the design work for the DN1 (DN standing for Don Nichols – an idea of Southgate’s that Nichols himself was rather embarrassed about) was undertaken in his garage in Boume.
“It was just a single garage with an up-and-over door. Inside it was a plan chest, drawing board and a lamp! All of the design was done there. By the time we started making the car, though, we had the first factory.”
Even more surprising than Southgate’s recruitment was Graham Hill’s decision to run the DN1 as his car in the new Embassy team’s first season. Whether the choice was made through inspiration or desperation, it didn’t work out. While Oliver and Follmer scored three and four points respectively – bettering Lauda and Regazzoni that year! – Hill scored zilch and next season switched to Lola, albeit with little more success.
X-ray spec: Shadow DN1
“There was no restriction on the rear wing, other than height and width (fore and aft they hadn’t cottoned onto). As you moved the wing back you got into cleaner air and it worked better. But then it tried to lift the nose. So you got the rear working, then nailed down the front by adding a larger wing or running it at a higher angle. This was around the time we started using dedicated wing sections. The aerofoils on the P160 had been aircraft sections — glider at the front, light aircraft at the rear — although modified with trailing-edge flip-ups. After that we started to do our own thing.”
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“An interesting feature of the DN1 is that it has an all-enveloping body; cars in those days were usually open at the back, so you could see the engine. Fairing it in improved the airflow to the rear wing — clean surfaces, clean airflow. The body was also waisted around the rear wheels, which was something you saw more often on cars in the 1980s. We’d twigged that from wind tunnel testing: you wanted the air to flow through there to help extraction from the radiators. That’s a nice feature. The car was very compact at the back — a little too compact, in fact. I should have given it a longer wheelbase. As the season progressed I lengthened the wheelbase by 4in and the thing went a lot quicker as a result. It changed the weight distribution — initially the car had had too much weight at the back.”
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“I put the water radiators in the sidepods because I’d made the mistake of putting the P180’s radiators behind the back axle, where the airflow was poor. I wanted to keep the weight near the rear so they were located just in front of the rear axle. The suspension was designed to suit, with a wishbone at the bottom rather than a lower radius rod, so you could put the radiator right up against it. It made for a neat package except that the radiators proved to be 10 per cent too small, so the car was marginal on cooling.”
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“The fuel was all behind the driver, as was the oil tank — centrally mounted where you wanted them.” In 1972, sponsor UOP had introduced its CRC Platforming process for the manufacture of lead-free gasoline, so as a promotional exercise the Shadow F1 cars ran, uniquely, on lead-free fuel. ‘We ran the Cosworth with it on the dyno and it developed the same sort of power. There was a slight difference but not much, and the regulators accepted it. The fuel used to smell like pear drops, though — it wasn’t normal at all. The problem was that, wherever we raced, we had to ship our own fuel in.”
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“This was the first time I’d designed a car for the Ford DFV. At BRM we’d had a V12 and before that I’d worked at Eagle, whose F1 engine was also a V12. I soon found out the difference with a V8 — it vibrated so much that everything fell to pieces! All the instruments on the dash panel were solidly mounted originally, because that’s how they were on V12 cars, without any problem. I soon found out you had to rubber-mount everything on a DFV car—that was one of the first surprises.”
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“I was never tempted to have inboard front brakes, because I could never convince myself it was worth the effort. I remember a designer, I think it was Maurice Philippe, telling me about a test Lotus had done of inboard versus outboard, and they’d found a negligible difference. It’s a pain in the neck having them inboard, so eventually we drifted back to having them outboard. As I found out when I went there in 1976, Lotus had had a tremendous number of brakeshaft breakages on the 72.”
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“That bulge on the side of the monocoque isn’t a fuel tank but a deformable structure required by the regulations. The outer panel has a large curvature; on the top surface you can just make out a row of rivets that marks the line of the straight inner panel. The gap between them was completely filled with rigid foam to provide a good side-impact structure.”
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“I didn’t know initially that Don Nichols was not the most popular bloke with Goodyear because of his past dealings in Japan, but I found out at Silverstone. We were very disappointed with our qualifying time there, so soon after the race we went back — with Brabham’s Carlos Pace secretly driving the car in a plain crash helmet so nobody would recognise him. He brought a set of tyres along and with those fitted he went 2.5sec quicker than Oliver — and Jackie wasn’t slow. We were a bit pissed off at that as you can imagine, but there wasn’t much we could do. Goodyear gave us ‘concrete’ tyres and that’s what we ran on all season long.”