Breezed in, blown out

With its young millionaire backer, Scirocco looked set to whip up a storm in F1. Gordon Cruickshank explains why it didn’t

Next time you chive down the Goldhawk Road in West London, stop at the Seven Stars pub and lift a glass to the old truism that if you want to make a small fortune out of motor racing, start with a large one. For it was behind this establishment that large amounts of money disappeared into one of those optimistic dreams: a private Formula One team.

Scirocco-Powell fielded two good-looking cars with decent engines through 1963 and, barring one lucky result, achieved precisely nothing but debts and heartache. This is how it managed it.

The story starts with Tony Settember, a Californian who ran a tuning shop near San Francisco, raced a Mercedes 300SL and a Corvette, and earned cash by flying lobsters in overnight from Mexico.

Travelling to Europe in 1959, he devised the sleek Maserati-engined WRE sportscar which had some success in ’60, then returned in the USA to find some backing. Here he hooked up with Hugh Powell, who became his patron. Described at the time as “a pale-faced, short-haired schoolboy”, Powell was the son of a millionaire American mortician and, though only a teenager, backed Settember in a European Formula Junior foray with a Lotus and a Cooper and an abortive run at the ’62 Le Mans with a Corvette, racing as Scuderia Scirocco.

But Settember also had F1 dreams, and at the end of 1961 he persuaded Powell to invest in Emeryson. Paul Emery’s outfit was just moving into Formula One and this money injection enabled him to build two Climax-powered spaceframe F1 cars, for Settember and John Campbell-Jones to drive.

Though hardly a revelation (Settember was 11th in the 1962 British GP, four laps down), someone thought the cars had enough promise to push on with. But not Emery. Uncomfortable with the new partners — the previous board of directors, which included Cooper driver Alan Brown, had already resigned — Emery had baled out by late ’62. That left a team backed by a boy millionaire, fronted by a tough-talking Italian-American, with two brand-new racecars and a breezy new name: Scirocco. Settember brought in Ian Burgess, who had been running the Cooper racing school at Brands Hatch, organised a set of V8s from BRM, and filled out the entry forms for the ’63 season.

There was a new home, too — round the back of the Seven Stars, and to honour it the Scirocco badge features seven stars. Yet these cars weren’t the first to be built here; the same lock-ups had already been home to the Ausper FJ works.

Here the tiny team assembled, consisting of the three principals, Ermanno Cuoghi (later Niki Lauda’s mechanic) and Gordon Ross, who drove the ancient Commer transporter bought from Rob Walker. Three chassis were built by Roy Thomas, ace fabricator to many a team, who later recalled the project in a letter. Though often called semi-monocoque chassis, they were actually conventional tube frames with steel fuel tanks welded around and underneath the cockpit, with the tubes actually passing through the tank — “can’t think why”, wrote Thomas. Barrie Carter, who worked with Emery on the later, similar Shannon F1 car and briefly owned one of the Sciroccos, remembers it being “so heavy that it took two guys to lift the bare frame”.

And it’s not clear who designed it. Settember gets the credit in contemporary reports, but Thomas thought it was probably Emery before he left, although “they always played close to the chest, so I’m not sure”. Certainly the Sciroccos are similar to the Emerysons.

John Tojeiro did the conventional suspension (wishbones up front, parallel radius arms behind) and they splashed out on some Colotti gearboxes. Assembly took place at Goldhawk Road and build standards were high: when I interviewed him in 1995, Burgess said “they made Emery’s place look like a blacksmith’s shop”. The finished car, with its aluminium bodywork by Williams & Pritchard, looked clean and tidy in American white with blue stripes. It even boasted unique mag-alloy wheels, designed by Thomas. However, Settember distrusted these and infuriated Roy by having one destruction-tested by a local blacksmith. Dunlop later confirmed the design was fine, but it showed the early cracks radiating from the abrasive American.

The cars weren’t ready in time for the first race of 1963 at Pau, so Scirocco fielded a four-cylinder Climax car. It’s not clear whether this was the new chassis or one of the ’62 Emerysons; but, either way, Settember crashed.

For Silverstone’s International Trophy, Scirocco planned to assess a young hopeful called Pedro Rodriguez — but neither car was complete.

Monaco was next, and Cuoghi and Ross set out for the Principality with Settember’s race car behind a Cadillac newly bought from Cliff Davis. But when they reached France and rang home, Settember told them Monaco was too tough for a new car — so the Caddy turned round.

Finally, chassis SP1 trailed onto the back of the grid at Spa, where Settember spun off in torrential rain. But at Silverstone for the British GP, Scirocco-Powell at last fielded two cars. SP2, Burgess’s chassis, was noticeably slimmer, with lighter tubing though of similar design, but it didn’t help: he qualified 20th, Settember 15th and both retired.

It was the same sad tale at Solitude and the Nurburgring: rushed preparation, too few crew, and questionable engines. According to Burgess, BRM had overstretched itself on privateer units and the preparation was poor; whether that’s true or not, customer engines certainly ran 10:1 compression instead of the works’ 12:1, so were short of the official 202bhp. To complicate things, Settember’s car had injection, the other ran carbs. Burgess remembered often arriving at Bourne to collect a motor only to be asked if he could wait an hour or two.

Panic began to rule: they reassembled one car in the back of the Commer on the way to a race, wages were constantly slow to arrive, and twice the team was stranded abroad without cash.

Then the flash of hope: in the Austrian GP at Zeltweg, despite being last away because of clutch trouble, Settember took second place behind Jack Brabham. Was the corner turned? Frankly, no. All the serious contenders had broken down, and the Scirocco was four laps adrift. Worse, the prize money availed them naught; Burgess had blown up his engine and the cash went straight to BRM.

As the next race at Monza was only a week away, only Settember made it, and he non-started in less than dignified circumstances. Along with three others, he took the organisers’ pay-off to withdraw and allow Giancarlo Baghetti to scrape the slow ATS onto the grid.

Meantime, relations between Settember and Powell were worsening. Thomas wrote that “Powell was terrified of Tony. Hugh was nice enough, but well out of his depth.”

Burgess, by now managing the outfit, had discovered that the whole affair was running on an overdraught and being pursued by creditors. Cuoghi, in his book Racing Mechanic, recalls that things were so bad that Settember packed the truck with their equipment and hid it in a lay-by to evade the bailiffs.

In September, Burgess had to negotiate with the bank for emergency funding to get to Oulton Park for the Gold Cup. This time Settember got the gremlins, while Burgess managed his first and only finish, a solid-enough eighth. It was the last stagger in a faltering journey.

Powell had fallen for a girl and was spending more and more time with her, holed up in a motel near Heathrow. Burgess and Settember persuaded the youth to return to the States to ask his father to release more money from the trust fund. But instead of a rapid air journey, they found that Powell had booked himself and girl into a stateroom on the Queen Elizabeth. Burgess and Settember rushed to Southampton to confront him, managing to extract some final cash before he sailed into the sunset. He never reappeared.

It turned out, through desperate phone calls to Powell Snr, that Hugh was under age, not 22 as he claimed, and not entitled to spend the family’s fortune. Worse, he was not legally liable for his debts. It was the death blow for Scirocco. Burgess sold what he could of the hardware to Reg and Tim Parnell to pay some bills; the drivers’ fees were never paid.

The team was finished, but the cars plugged on for a little. The Burgess car, SP2, reappeared in 1964 in the hands of Andre Pilette, now equipped with a Climax V8 and racing under the title Equipe Scirocco Belge, managed by Tim Parnell. At the Daily Mail Trophy at Snetterton, he trailed to a sad seventh and last, setting a pattern for a dismal season.

SP1-63 went through several owners, including Anthony Mayman, before Graham Capel restored it in the 1980s. Now it has finally reappeared on the circuits after a rebuild by Hall & Hall. Says Rick Hall: “It’s a nice frame, but heavy — and dangerous as the tank is the lowest part and very vulnerable. We’ve put in side bag tanks.” Owned by Dean Butler, it’s now powered by a 2-litre BRM V8 and has put in some excellent performances in the hands of Martin Walford.

SP2-63 passed from hand to hand until Spencer Elton found it on a rough estate in Bristol, fitted with a supercharged Triumph Stag engine and a McLaren nose-cone. Also rebuilt by H&H, it now belongs to Peter Morley and has been fitted with the correct BRM V8 and Colotti ‘box.

The third chassis still exists, too. In 1964, Bill Alden Jones built it up with spare components and sold it to Canada. Despite some of the literature stating that it was converted into a sportscar, it actually gained a 3.5-litre Oldsmobile V8 with Corvair gearbox for Formula Libre events. It’s still in Canada, and owner David Trueman expects it to run by spring.

When we spoke eight years ago, Burgess recalled the enterprise as a project with promise, strangled by finance. But it’s more than money which brings results: organisation and talent matter, too. Among the cries of `It could have been a contender!’ it’s important to remember that several little, cash-strapped teams went on to become major players. Scirocco never looked like being one of them.