A successful sports car driver of the 1960s comes face to face with one of his landmark cars… for the first time in almost half a century
Silverstone has always felt rather cold and blustery at the most tropical of times, but for a brief moment last year it dripped with emotional warmth. Outside one of the garages, septuagenarian former racer Digby Martland quietly contemplated a pristine white Chevron B6.
“I felt really rather moved,” Martland says. “You have to remember that I probably hadn’t seen the car since 1967, when I’d last raced it. Normally when you see a 50-year-old car it appears pretty dated, but I couldn’t get over how good a B6 still looks. Seeing it triggered many happy memories.”
Martland might not have a particularly high motor sport profile globally, but he was an acclaimed sports car racer in Britain during the 1960s. He was Chevron’s first GT customer and recorded debut wins for both the B3 (Oulton Park, July 23 1966) and the physically similar B6 (Brands Hatch, April 16 1967) – just two of his many strong performances for the Bolton marque.
He was a familiar face at UK racetracks but also competed at Daytona, the Nürburgring, Le Mans, Monza, Montlhéry, Clermont-Ferrand and AVUS, as well as on bumpy old Austrian airfields. At Le Mans in 1970 he shared a works Chevron B16 with Clive Baker: they retired with a broken valve spring and that was that. Martland is cited as having appeared as a named second driver for a couple of events in 1971, but he never raced again, instead forging a successful career in business.
“I walked away without any regrets,” he says, “and was pleased to have been able to do what I’d done. Initially you think you’re going to be world champion, don’t you? Then you realise you’re not. I enjoyed my racing, but I wasn’t overly ambitious and didn’t take a do-or-die approach, which I guess helped me survive. I knew a lot of people who weren’t so lucky. It was all right when I was on the circuit, driving, but I thought about the possible consequences from time to time when I was away from the track.
“Another of the things that finished it for me was the arrival of slick tyres, because of what it meant in terms of the amount of stuff you had to lug around. Initially a set of tyres meant about as much as a set of spark plugs – you didn’t really consider it and four Dunlop R6s could last a season or perhaps even two. When slicks came in and you suddenly needed to take wets and intermediates as well… it became a big thing and made the sport much less simple.”
His competitive story began in 1962, with a Mini that future rival Brian Redman helped tune for him. “I used it for sprints and autocross events, then followed a similar regime with a Lotus Super Seven before moving into circuit racing with an Elan 26R in 1965, though I did only a few events in that before it got bumped.
“At that time I used to go to Aintree Circuit Club test sessions on Tuesday evenings and saw Derek Bennett in action there with his Clubmans cars – the very early days of Chevron. Derek was a great bloke and a brilliant, self-taught engineer. His cars always looked fantastic and were beautifully made. It was [future Demon Tweeks boss] Alan Minshaw who tipped me off that Derek was building a Chevron GT, so I went to the Bolton factory the next day, saw a model of what would become the B3 and fancied the idea. I ended up buying the first chassis and it won on its debut. It felt like my first proper racing car – stark inside and absolutely fantastic to drive. It was well sorted and I felt at one with it right away.
“After that first win I asked whether I could take the car back to the factory and keep it there, to which they agreed. I didn’t live too far away, so spent quite a lot of time at Chevron and quite enjoyed the mechanical side. And I was lucky to be based at the factory, because any mods came my way fairly quickly.”
His stand-out season would be 1967, with the B6 that features on these pages. There were several outright victories in the UK, plus some strong class performances overseas – and one or two adventures.
“I won a lot of races and competed all over the place,” he says. “Paul Watson [team owner and sales agent] used to advise me to go off to the Nürburgring, Imola or wherever because 200 quid was available as start money. All teams and drivers were permanently hard up and relied on promoters paying enough to get them to the next race.
“That year’s Nürburgring 1000Kms sticks in my mind. Nigel Moores and I finished ninth overall in the B6, and fifth in class. That was on the Sunday and I was due to compete at Crystal Palace the following afternoon, a bank holiday, which meant catching the overnight boat. We hitched the Chevron on a trailer behind my two-plus-two E-type and I slept in the back for most of the journey. Jacky Ickx had been at the ’Ring, sharing a Mirage with Richard Attwood, and looked a bit perplexed when he saw us pulling into the Crystal Palace paddock. He’d flown across, of course, to compete in the F2 race. He came over and asked whether he was imagining it, but he thought he’d seen my car in Germany the previous day…
“I also did AVUS that summer. I’d always wanted to race there and took part in the last meeting to feature the big banked hairpin. That was great fun. I had the factory top gear fitted and qualified fourth in the only Chevron. We all set off and I was swept along in the draft of three Porsche 906s down that long, long straight, so soon ran out revs – I had to let the top three go or the rev counter was going to be way off the clock. I’d have needed another 1000rpm to keep up. To drive on the banking was a real thrill, though, and I finished fourth.
“Afterwards, [Chevron engineer] Paul Owens, my girlfriend and I left the track in my E-type with the B6 on a trailer. We drove to Munich, to pick up some spares from BMW, and then headed south-west. We were planning to travel down through Spain to do the street race in Vila Real, Portugal, but officials at the Spanish border wouldn’t let us through because they said we didn’t have the correct paperwork. I don’t remember there being chassis plates on the car, though – Derek and Paul tended not to do that so you didn’t have to alter the carnet every time you changed the car. Anyway, we simply turned around and headed back to Bolton. We did the whole thing in one hit – Berlin, Munich, almost into Spain and then Bolton. When you’re in your 20s, nothing’s a problem, is it? Sadly, though, I never did get to race at Vila Real.”
He sold the B6 at the year’s end – “I probably got about £2000; I think it’s worth a bit more now” – and went on to race B8s, B16s, Lola T70s and assorted Porsches over the next two and a half seasons. He did try single-seaters very briefly, finishing 22nd at Silverstone in a 1968 F3 race won by John Miles. Fittingly, he was in a Chevron – a B9 run by Frank Lythgoe Racing. “I enjoyed driving it during a test at Aintree,” he says, “but didn’t really take to racing it and felt I could come unstuck in something like that.
“I wasn’t the best by any means, but GT racing was a great place to measure yourself because you had Brian Redman and Peter Gethin as yardsticks in similar cars. You knew the time they’d set would be an authentic target and that would be a great motivation. They were the ones who stood out in the races I was doing. I could keep up with most of the rest, but Brian and Peter were just that bit better.
“I got to know a lot of the F1 guys, too, because they often competed with us in events like the Brands Hatch 1000Kms, and the standard of track etiquette was fantastic. They were aware of other cars and never made any unexpected manoeuvres – I had only two bad accidents in my career, one at Oulton and the other at Mallory Park, both caused by drivers moving across when they didn’t know I was there. I rather shudder when I see some of the stuff that goes at Le Mans nowadays. Peter Gethin always refused to race there because he didn’t think the world had 100 drivers that were good enough to do a race like that and he didn’t really want to share the track with those that weren’t…”
As with many 1960s racers, memories of a carefree, peripatetic existence are tempered by thoughts of those lost from the brotherly band.
“I came to know Paul Hawkins very well, after we spent time together in South Africa’s Springbok series,” Martland says. “I was just behind him when he was killed at Oulton Park in 1969. We were both in T70s – I was sharing with John Woolfe – and Paul’s car went off to the left, flipped and caught fire. I saw the whole thing, a terribly sad day. He was a great guy – and absolutely riotous company. On one occasion we were staying at a South African hotel that had a long drive with a significant kink in the middle. Paul had brought back a load of waste oil from the track and, under cover of darkness, he and one of the mechanics nipped out and poured this stuff all over the road, went to reception to order some taxis and then sat back to watch the ensuing chaos.
“There was lots of stuff like that back then.”
Life after Digby
It’s had a busy life, but this Chevron is substantially unaltered
Now owned by successful Historic Sports Car Club racer Kevin Kivlochan, the ex-Martland B6 is run by Richard Walbyoff of RW Racing Services – who first encountered it during the early 1980s. “A chap called Richard Dodkins was racing it in historic events during the 1970s,” he says, “before selling the car to Andrew Jackson, a friend who asked me to look after it for him. He subsequently sold it to a Dutch racer – with the proviso that he had first refusal to buy it back if and when the new owner ever decided to sell.
“A few years ago, out of the blue, I received a phone call from the chap in Holland. He was trying to track down Andrew, who had sadly died not long beforehand, but I was able to put him in touch with another client that I knew might be interested. The car hadn’t been used for a few years, so needed a little tidying, but it was good and genuine. They are quite easy to maintain. As with all of Derek Bennett’s cars the foundation is simple, reliable engineering, and there can be no better B6 than the Martland original.”
New owner Mark Freeman found he was too tall for the car, so subsequently contacted Kivlochan.
“I’d been trying to sell a racing TVR, without success,” Kevin says, “and all the time Mark was trying to persuade me to buy his B6. I loved the idea, but couldn’t agree because I already had my historic road-sports Morgan and needed to shift the TVR. When that finally went, I called Mark and we eventually agreed a deal.
“I’d always fancied racing a Chevron and found it was very different from anything else I’ve driven – a real step up. It’s much sharper, a real purpose-built racer, but at first I was unable to match the times I’d been setting in my Morgan! I have since got a bit quicker, though I’m still off the pace and realise it will take a while to get there.
“I knew from Richard that it was a proper car with a good history, but I didn’t realise at first that it was the car – ex-Digby Martland. Had I known, I’d probably have moved a bit more quickly. The way I look at it, I’ve got something with the appeal of a Ford GT40 for about one tenth of the price.”