'Weld' war three

Roy Pike beat the best Formula Three had to offer in his new Titan. But then the plug was pulled after just one full season. Damien Smith explains why.

Born in a pique of anger, the Titan Mk3 still turned out to be a very pretty single-seater. Not only that, it was also a winner. In the hands of Roy Pike, it became a front runner among the Brabhams, Tecnos and Lotuses during the heady excitement of Formula Three’s 1-litre ‘screamer’ era. But the Mk3’s — and Titan’s — heyday would be encapsulated in a single season, after which the outfit decided to refocus its energies.

Charles Lucas Engineering had run the works Lotus F3 team in 1966, but the Type 41 disappointed. The team’s relationship with Lotus was then forever soured by a row with Colin Chapman over bonus money. ‘Luke’, the team’s eponymous boss, felt wronged — and so did his partner, Roy ‘Tom the Weld’ Thomas.

“Torn had to be physically restrained from laying out Chapman,” says Lucas. “Then he said, ‘Bugger it, I’m going to build an F3 car myself.’ Not the best business reasoning for a new project, but there you go…”

Thomas designed a conventional, neat spaceframe “from scratch, but with a fairly Lotus-like front end,” as Lucas puts it. It was powered by CLE’s own version of the formula standard, Cosworth’s downdraught MAE engine. Its version proved a great success, eventually convincing Lucas that engine sales were the key for his company’s future. But that should take nothing away from the Titan itself.

“The Brabham at that time was not as good as it should have been and used to slide around a lot in the quick corners,” says Lucas. “The Lotus didn’t, but was not as strong in the slow corners. Tom found a good compromise between the two.”

Pike is also quick to praise: “It was easy to drive. It was always at the front and, if everything went well, I’d win.”

The Mk3 made its debut in the 1967 British Grand Prix support race at Silverstone and caused a sensation by taking pole position. What the public was unaware of was the struggle to get it to the track at all. Pike: ‘We tested at Goodwood at the beginning of the week and the car was written off when it went straight on after Lavant Straight. The steering had failed.”

The race would end in embarrassment when Lucas, driving a Lotus 41, suffered what Pike describes as “a rush of blood” and spun at Stowe. Roy, following close behind, was left with nowhere to go…

But the potential had clearly been demonstrated, and Pike took wins at Crystal Palace and Boxing Day Brands to set up a promising 1968.

The highlight of that season would come in April at Pau: Pike won by over 70sec, even with a spin.

In May, he faced John Miles in the new Lotus 41X at Silverstone, losing out in a thrilling fight to the line. But Roy got his revenge at Brands.

More wins and lap records followed at Mallory Park and the new Mondello Park in Ireland. Pike lost out to Miles in the British GP support race at Brands, then won again at Crystal Palace and Zolder. But as the season drew to a close, so did Lucas’ interest in F3.

“We didn’t sell many F3 cars and the formula change [l600cc engines] for ’71 had been announced,” Lucas says. “F3 didn’t seem to be going anywhere, whereas Formula Ford was booming.”

Pike was disappointed that he would not campaign the Mk3A in 1969: “It’s too bad. We put winglets on the nose in a test and the front immediately gripped It was only a minor modification, but it showed that the car could have been extremely good for another year.”

Lucas did drive the Mk3A but, as he puts it, not seriously: “The car was sold to a chap called Ben Moore and I raced it for him, but only in about five races. We had trouble with broken camshafts, and that was that.”

As for Pike, he would never get the break his talent deserved. He blames his American nationality, but also admits he could be a difficult man to work with. Lucas expands on that: “Roy was as good as anyone behind the wheel, but he was an extremely nervous character with a short fuse and he did tend to upset people too often.”