While Max Mosley was boldly talking up the new March team and signing star drivers left, right and centre, its designer was wondering how to keep egg off his face. Robin Herd tells Keith Howard how he managed it. Just
By his own admission Robin Herd “vacillated and wavered” over which path to follow after leaving Cosworth in 1969. He could either take Bernie Ecclestone’s shilling and design a car for Jochen Rindt, or he could team up with Max Mosley and others to build a new team from scratch. In the end he chose the latter option and March came into being.
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, Herd now admits it was the wrong choice: “It would have been much easier and probably much more profitable to go with Bernie. At March we never had sufficient money to make the cars properly. Everything had to be built down to a budget and there was never enough time or facilities. Bernie had the money to do it properly, as he ably demonstrated when he ran Brabham.”
So why did Herd go for the risky, unknown option?
“They were both very attractive propositions, Bernie and Max are both impressive human beings. But I knew Max from university, and it was really that. But it was close.
“Initially we planned to run two cars, with Chris Amon as number one driver. Chris and I had worked together at McLaren; we had got on well and he was obviously a very good driver. What I had in mind to build was, in effect, the 711 that we eventually made for 1971. But on November 27, 1969 — and bear in mind that at this stage all we had was an empty 3000sq ft building and a telephone — Max announced that we had to build an extra car because he had secured a deal with Jackie Stewart to drive one for Ken Tyrrell. In nine weeks Amon and Stewart would be driving the cars at Silverstone and the world’s press would be there to see it happen! As it turned out, we went on to build 701s for about half the world. And there was no way that we could’ve made all the cars we were going to need for the opening race in South Africa if they were to be 711s; we had to build the simplest car we could. The 701 was a stop-gap.
“We were lucky that we had a phenomenal group of lads — Phil Kerr, Bob Dance and so on. The facilities they had were so limited and the hours they worked and what they achieved were extraordinary. You have to give them enormous credit. At the end of final practice at Kyalami we were first and second on the grid in our first Formula One race, having been to hell and back in building the cars. That was a great moment.”
An even better one might have followed it.
“We should have won that first race. Jackie disappeared into the distance but Kyalami had long, fast corners that degraded the tyres. Jackie’s Dunlops started to go off at about half-distance and in the end he came in third. But we won three of the first four races — the Race of Champions, the Spanish GP and the International Trophy.”
Only the Jarama race counted for the championship and Stewart wouldn’t score a nine-point haul again that season, but March still almost won the constructors’ world title. It ended up just four points behind Ferrari and a further seven adrift of Lotus, despite the fact that Stewart retired from the last two GPs after qualifying second in both.
“Colin Chapman paid us our greatest compliment at Watkins Glen. Jochen had been killed at Monza and we wondered if Lotus would go to America and Mexico. When we were having dinner after the race, Chapman came over and said, The only reason we came was to stop you winning the world title in your first year.’ A backhanded compliment, albeit a sad one.”
Herd: “701 was fast in a straight line yet had a decent amount of downforce to make it good in the fast corners. But it had two main weaknesses: in slow corners it would understeer in and oversteer out; over bumps it would oscillate up and down. The problem was that it had a high polar moment of inertia and a short wheelbase. It was like trying to rotate a long dumb-bell with your wrists together in the middle, whereas if you move your hands to either end it’s much easier. The high moment of inertia was brought about by having the oil tank way out back, which meant that the radiator, battery and extinguisher had to be way out front to compensate. Because it was difficult to start the turning you got understeer, and once It was going round it didn’t want to stop, hence the oversteer.”
An unusual safety feature of 701 was its engine-mounted roll-over bar. “I thought it very important to have the roll-over bar either on the monocoque or the engine, not both. What usually happened was that the engine would become partly detached in an accident and the bar would collapse as a result. Actually. I’d have liked to put it all on the monocoque, because that was the better solution.”
“What I wanted to do. and I kick myself for not having done, is put Gurney flaps on the front and rear wings. You look at a Gurney and think it’s a brick wall, that it’s going to give an awful lot of drag. But it doesn’t. That would have increased the total downforce on the car enormously, but I never got around to it and that was so stupid.” But 701 was still a surprisingly efficient aero package. “The drag of 701 and 711 were about the same. At Kyalami in 1971, John Love had a 701 from the previous year and during practice Ronnie’s 711 couldn’t overtake him coming down the straight, although, to be fair, we had had various problems with parts arriving late. I’d already left by the prize-giving, so when they announced, ‘Will Robin Herd come and collect… — ‘ I don’t know what it was — a voice from one side shouted. ‘He’s gone back’. To which a voice from the other added, ‘To the drawing board!”
Although the cutaway shows the car equipped with outboard rear brakes, these were later moved inboard. Herd was never tempted to do the same at the other end of the car, despite the arrival of the Lotus 72 sporting inboard front discs. “I got lured into using inboard front brakes on the 711 but I knew it was nonsense. There was a fairly erudite document by Alfa Romeo on this which showed that the reduction in unsprung mass didn’t make much difference to the grip of the car. And, of course, there was the inherent danger of having a brakeshaft fail, which happened to the 711 at Brands Hatch. Having seen Jochen killed after just such a failure, that was enough.” But Herd was happy to use inboard discs at the rear something forced on 701 when Firestone announced that the diameter of its rear tyres would be reduced to 13 inches. “The 13-inch tyres did give a substantial saving in unsprung mass. I was happy that the safety risk was far less than at the front.”
Crude-looking external pipes, one on either side of the car, take water to and from the front-mounted radiator. Why did Herd use them? “Why not? Firstly it aids the cooling, secondly it keeps the inside of the cockpit cooler. And it made little difference to the car’s drag. It wasn’t elegant, of course, but it was quicker to make that way.”
“The amount of fuel consumed in different races in 1970 varied enormously and we didn’t want to build a huge car whose size could only be justified for a couple of races. So we dreamt up these detachable side tanks. It was Peter Wright [then working for Specialised Mouldings] who had the idea of making them aerofoil sections. Essentially It was the first attempt at ground effect on a single-seater. But there just wasn’t time to clean up the front suspension so that there would be an unimpeded airflow, and there was such an unholy mess around the driveshafts that the air also had a job getting out. We thought about putting endplates on the sidepods but didn’t get around to it. It was a shame, really: had we had Bernie’s time and money. the car could have been a 711 with ground effect.”
701 began the season distinctly overweight. A lightweight chassis was built for Stewart using 20swg instead of 18swg panels, which saved around 20Ib. But Herd found lots of other places to trim off fat once the season was under way. “The thing had to stay together for the press launch so it was built like a brick outhouse. Once we’d done a lap and not fallen to bits, we could gradually take the weight off. It wasn’t frightfully difficult: I think overall we knocked 40 to 50Ib off during the season.” But why was only one 20swg tub ever made? “Because Tyre!l could afford it and we couldn’t. Simple.”
‘Designing the Cosworth 4WD car with Keith Duckworth was great. I worked with him for two years, which was a real education. The car was almost a technical design exercise rather than an attempt to win races, and we spent a lot of time looking at how to make the lightest, stiffest and safest wheels. When I came to design the wheels for 701 in the little time available, I thought, ‘Sod it, I’ll follow the same pattern.’ To a layman they look identical. Keith was still not very happy about me leaving when a couple of journalists visited Cosworth and were shown the 4WD car. One of them said. ‘Look, it’s got March wheels on it.’ Keith was incandescent with rage although I think he just about sees the humour of it now.”