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Fifteen minutes of fame

Taydec: Nürburgring 500Km Sept 5, 1971

Two-litre sportscar racing was thriving in the Seventies. Chevron of Lancashire was a leading player, but over the Pennines was a little-known rival. By David Bland

Bradford. Recently and sadly infamous for riots. Previously famous for being the woollen-cloth centre of the world and, perhaps more interestingly for you and I, for being the home of Jowett. But not renowned as a centre for the construction of racing cars. Despite Tommy Clapham’s purchase of an old bakery in Keighley, not 10 miles from the City centre, at the beginning of the 1960s.

Tommy was an engineer who had been racing and hill-climbing since 1952. He’d prepared his own and other drivers’ cars throughout that decade and his new premises became the centre of an increasingly successful racing stable. In the late ’60s it also became the birthplace of the Taydec Group 6 sports-racing car.

At that time, the team was experiencing some frustrations running a Chevron GT and, in the grand manner of Henry Royce, Tommy decided that he could do better.

Group 6 was for sportscar prototypes, and while this obviated the need for an homologated minimum production run, it meant the class was very competitive and required cutting-edge design and construction techniques. The Taydec boasted an advanced specification that featured a mid-engine layout, a riveted and bonded aluminium monocoque tub, and a svelte GRP body designed and moulded by Specialist Mouldings of Huntingdon. Photographs of the first car during initial testing at Snetterton show that it had particularly sweet lines and sported a distinctive head fairing on the driver’s side. This was later discarded and various small mods were effected to improve the handling and aerodynamics.

The engine, transmission and rear suspension components were mounted in a tubular steel subframe that was bolted to the rear of the tub.

The original intention was to build a batch of six, but only three were completed, along with a spare monocoque that later went to Spencer Elton.

The first two Taydecs were seen as development cars and were fitted with different engines. Chassis one was fitted with a Vegantune Lotus Twin Cam, and chassis two and three with Cosworth FVA and FVC units.

The car was initially tested by three drivers who’d previously competed in a variety of formulae: Geoff Breakell had driven for Tommy for several years and had considerable experience in a Lotus 23B; Malcolm Payne had last raced in a Formula Two Brabham; Peter Hanson was a well-known Formula Three driver.

By 1971, the third Taydec was being campaigned at European as well as British venues. Hanson and Payne were the team drivers. The car was now equipped with the FVC engine and this combination was proving to be a serious threat to the dominant Chevron B19s and Lola T212s. However, halfway through the season, the team met with a serious setback. While on his honeymoon Hanson had a swimming accident, breaking his neck and putting him out of action for a considerable time. A replacement driver was needed. And quickly.

Luckily, young French driver François Migault was scouting around for a drive. A native of Le Mans, his test drive at Silverstone made an immediate impression on Tommy, who signed him on the spot

François had a forceful and unfussy style, and was not one of those who constantly called for minuscule adjustments. “A lot of them were right prima donnas, but Migault was a lovely chap,” remembers Clapman. “He would just get in the car and drive the wheels off it” It was Migault who would take the car to its greatest success.

He made a good start with his new team, gaining fifth on the grid at Paul Ricard and second at Brands Hatch. Unfortunately, the team’s bad luck struck again. Clapham recalls that the FVC blew up, and by the time they reached the Nürburgring for the 500km race, they had refitted the FVA and so were down to 1600cc. Nevertheless, Francois earned another good grid placing, only for fate to strike again: he pitted at the end of the warm-up lap to change a flat battery and had to start last.

The Autosport report describes the pace of this race as being ‘more like a 10-lap Brands sprint than a 500km race’, but François fought back to finish 10th overall and first 1600 car home, ahead of many larger-engined cars.

The Taydec met with more success that year. Despite his shortened season, Hanson took first at Rouen and Migault drove three other French sportscar championship races, posting 11th at Ricard, seventh in the Auvergne 300km and third in the Coupe de Salon at Montlhéry. In addition, a year later, François was second in the Coupe de Salon.

“Tommy was a very good team leader,” says Migault “I was confident with the team and the car was as good as the Chevron 2-litre, but we were short on budget.”

So what happened? Why was the Mk3 the last of the line?

The answer is that Tommy suffered a bad crash while competing at Shelsley Walsh in 1972. He overturned his Mallock U2 and was laid up for six months just at the most crucial point in the car’s history. When he recovered, his overriding concern was to rebuild his engineering business; the development of the Taydec was understandably way down his list of priorities. In addition, the cost of being competitive had risen alarmingly as the teams began to attract serious finance through advertising and sponsorship.

Tommy is now enjoying retirement in idyllic rural surroundings and still attends historic race meetings, often in his immaculate 1930s s/c MG.

François is still flat out. He contested his 25th Le Mans this year, in a Dome, and is planning his 26th.

The Taydec continued a busy career with many notable names on and off for the following two decades, and was last raced by Richard Fuller, scion of the brewing family.

I discovered it ‘resting’ in a shed in Hampshire, in need of a tidy-up but essentially sound; when it finds a new owner, this rare animal will be ready for another snap at the Chevrons.

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