Ardua non astra

Although it never claimed a major win, the Erskine Staride set a future Lotus Formula One racer on his way. Nick Phillips looks back at this innovative F3

The 500cc Formula 3 era spawned a host of cars. Among them was the innovative, though ultimately underperforming Erskine Staride. It won races and gave Trevor Taylor, a future Lotus team-mate to Jim Clark, his start in single-seaters but the big wins never came.

The Staride was produced by motorcycle speedway ace Mike Erskine in his Southampton factory; it was designed by two men who later became pillars of the motorsport establishment in organisational and technical roles: Dean Delamont and Cecil Mitchell.

Erskine's factory produced car radiators, but the Wimbledon racer had also branched out into building very successful speedway bike frames: Freddy Williams used a Staride to win the world championship in 1950. But after a difficult '51 season, Erskine quit speedway and went looking for a new interest.

This is where Delamont and Mitchell, both heavily involved in the 500cc F3 scene, came in.

"Probably influenced by Dean, Erskine decided to get involved in F3," explains Mitchell. 'They were old schoolfriends, I think."

Delamont and Mitchell had already played a part in the gestation of the 1950 Stirling Moss Kieft - an adapted Delamont design. "They needed someone who would do some stressing and draw it out," says Mitchell. "I was an engineering student at the time and was also a neighbour of Dean's, so I was given the job that led on to the Staride."

The project gave Delamont and Mitchell the chance to design a car from scratch: "It was a logical development of the Kieft," says Mitchell. "Same sort of weight distribution and suspension, and so on."

But the Staride, Mitchell reckons, moved the art of F3 design on a bit. It featured a centrally mounted fuel tank between the forward-seated driver and engine, and rising-rate suspension using a single shock absorber and torsion bars at the rear.

The Staride was a regular contender over the next few years and arguably had its finest hour at the big annual August Bank Holiday meeting at Brands Hatch in 1953. A crowd of 50,000 turned out to watch two big F3 contests - the August Sprint Race and The Daily Telegraph International Challenge Trophy - each with four heats and a final.

Reg Bicknell - another Southampton man, friend of Erskine's and later a works Lotus sportscar driver -won both his heats in his yellow Staride. In the August Sprint final, he was beaten only by F3 king Don Parker and emerging star Stuart Lewis-Evans. At the start of The Daily Telegraph final, heading into Clearways on a circuit that ran anti-clockwise then, Reg was involved in a first-lap skirmish, rolled and broke his shoulder.

There were another couple of top-three results in international events for Bicknell in 1953, and the following year Dennis Taylor had similar success, but otherwise the Starides (around 10 were built) usually notched up successes only in lesser events.

A couple of years later, though, it played a small yet significant role in racing history. In 1956, Yorkshire hopeful Taylor bought a JAP-engined Staride.

"The first race we entered was at Brough Aerodrome and we finished second to Parker," recalls Taylor. "We got a cheque for £20. That was a lot of money then."

Taylor didn't keep the Staride long, partly because an up-front driving position worried his father and partly because faster cars were by then around. He soon moved on to an ex-Lewis-Evans Cooper.

"It taught you one or two things," says Taylor of the Staride. "It was our first single-seater and we thought it was great until the Coopers started to come past us, that is. It was quite a good car originally, but it was never a match for the Cooper-Nortons, especially with that JAP engine."

Taylor also found his car to be a bit of a handful. "You more or less sat right over the front wheels," he says "And, with the negative camber on the back wheels, if you lost it... It was sort of swinging about at the back and when it went, it really did go."