Marcus Pye's Diary



Opposites attract our columnist this month, from a Can-Am monster to a dainty, and obscure, Rhodesian GP winner

Goodwood: Incongruous it most definitely looked against the elegant backdrop of Goodwood House, but that is precisely why the 1982 March Can-Am dinosaur was the car of last month’s press day for me — and editor Simmons!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the intricate engineering of a Bugatti T35, but the malevolent look of this gargantuan Chevrolet V8-engined brawler would make it the dog this judge would take home every time.

And it was an absolute dog. Even March founder Robin Herd branded it so. But at least it won a Canadian-American Cup race, unlike the 707 model, the marque’s first entry in the series — then a frontline affair — 12 years previously.

Three 707s, soon dubbed Boeings for reasons of scale, were built, but only chassis 1, raced by German Helmut Kelleners in Europe’s equivalent Interserie series, tasted victory. At Croft, in England’s frozen northeast, of all places.

That chassis was uniquely updated in ’71 to 717 specification, with side radiators and a shorter snout replacing the original canard-finned nose, which drew its styling cues from the contemporary GP car, the 701.

March returned to big-bangers in ’81 when Budweiser beer backed actor/racer Paul Newman’s team for a new era of Can-Am. A shadow of its former self, the name had been revived four seasons earlier — after a two-year gap — to mop up redundant Formula 5000 cars. Again a trio of cars emerged, the 817s based on the designed-by-committee 811 F1 chassis, albeit dressed to meet the regulations with long side sponsons shrouding their wheels.

Unsuccessful in initial guise, this copy of Williams’s all-conquering FW07 was good enough to win four Can-Am races with Teo Fabi, if not to beat Team VDS driver Geoff Brabham to the title.

Fabi wrecked one of the three tubs at Elkhart Lake, but the ex-Al Unser Jnr/Bobby Rahal 817-1 was reclothed for ’82 by French aerodynamicist Dr Max Sardou in a style reminiscent of his IMSA GTP-spec BMW M1C. It was as ugly a pro-racer as ever ran.

Even bulkier than before, with all-enveloping sides, two vast nostrils in its nose and a high slab-sided airbox, it resembled an inverted offshore powerboat. It may, indeed, have handled like one on land.

Nevertheless, while champion-elect Unser Jnr spun his Frissbee GR3, Danny Sullivan somehow managed to thread the brute between the concrete at Caesar’s Palace and claim a solitary victory.

Bought by a Swedish collector at the end of the season, and occasionally exercised on his own track, it’s now with Briton Paul Lovett.

ASHFORD: Obscure cars have always fascinated me more than mass produced ones, so I went down to Kent for a closer look at the unique Heron which raced exclusively in Southern Africa in the early ’60s and took flight at last year’s Goodwood Revival after a frantic restoration by Eddy Perk.

Dutch by birth, Perk emigrated in the period to Cape Town, where he worked on Bob Olthoff’s racing cars, including his ex-Jack Sears Ford Galaxie and a McLaren M1B. I first met him as the Piper Engines man at Brands Hatch in the late ’70s.

Designed by Les Redmond of Gemini fame, the Climax-engined Heron was commissioned by Tony Maggs on the strength of a shot in a Mk3A Formula Junior — which it unsurprisingly looks like — at Brands.

The venture with Jim Diggory to build cars did not last and its debut at Killarney in 1960 was a disaster. A fundamental transmission problem left Maggs with four reverse gears and a solitary forward cog.

Disillusioned, he sold the chassis to Ernest Pieterse, who fitted a less exotic but easier to service 1.5-litre Alfa Romeo engine and immediately won the Rand Spring Trophy and Rhodesia GP. A few wins later he sold it to Dave Hume. It was then converted into a sportscar.

Many moons later, historian Jannie van Aswegen discovered the remnants of the chassis and Perk took on the huge task of renovating the car. Their next project is equally compelling, being the 1.1-litre Dart-Climax sportscar in which Hugh Carrington and Chris Fergusson triumphed in the 1959 Rand Nine Hours at Kyalami.