Cases of style over substance

If it looks right, it’ll go right. How many times have we heard this truism over the years? Of course, it has not always been true. While such paragons of beauty as the Lotus 25, the Ferrari 312B, the Eagle-Weslake and the D-type Jaguar have all shone in their day, there have always been other beauties which flattered only to deceive.

I hesitate to single out any particular designers as having demonstrated a fine eye but having also lacked the subsequent racing success to fulfil at least aesthetic promise, but Len Bailey’s record does spring to mind. His short-wheelbase Ford F3L or P68 was by common consent too nervous for its early Alan Mann team drivers, but in dazzling red and gold livery it certainly looked a million dollars. His initial Politoys F1 design for Frank Williams was a coke-bottle monocoque classic, but poor Len – and Frank? – ran out of luck with it as Henri Pescarolo destroyed the prototype first time out at Brands Hatch.

But one often forgotten follow-up to the Len Bailey Ford P68 Coupé was the similar Cosworth DFV-powered open cockpit P69 of 1969. I remember seeing it tested by Frank Gardner during its shakedown at Goodwood. Its hand-crafted aluminium-alloy bodywork was a masterpiece in multiple-curvature. Just like the Franco Scaglione-styled Alfa Romeo T33 Stradale it was, frankly, an absolute perv’s delight – you didn’t need to wear the traditional greasy mac to feel quite unable to keep your hands off it.

But the P69 was to have a very brief and unsuccessful career. Rigged with add-on wings it was driven by Jack Brabham during practice for the BOAC 1000Kms race at Brands, but ran its engine bearings. Alan Mann had no funds left to persevere with the project, and it was eventually scrapped, unraced. Having played a role in subsequently saving its two surviving P68 sisters from a similar fate, I’ve always regretted that the P69 didn’t get the same chance.

I doubt Frank Gardner shares my regret…