In our last article in this series the misconception was created that Ensign were the only West Midlands company presently engaged in producing racing cars. All too late the mistake was realised but before there was time for an angry ‘phone call from Allan Taylor, Managing Director of Alexis Cars of Coleshill, Warwickshire, we met at Brands Hatch and the situation was explained.
Coleshill would suggest that Alexis live deep in the heart of the “Black Country” but in fact their spacious premises at Halloughton Grange, Whitacre, are in pleasant farming country. Until last March the firm were at Ward End in Birmingham but their move followed major policy shake-up in the Company which severely affected the finances and from which Alexis are still recovering.
The origins of Alexis go back to the 1950s and the trials cars of a successful Birmingham building contractor by the name of Alex Francis who had constructed his own Ford 10-engined specials. In 1959 he met up with an Australian by the name of Bill Harris who had a reputation both as speedway rider and as a racing mechanic-cum-designer. Their meeting resulted in the first Alexis, a front-engined Formula Junior car, which they both drove.
Another car followed in 1960 and then in 1961 two rear-engined FJs were constructed and for the first time the name Alexis started to appear on the results sheets, mainly thanks to the efforts of Peter Proctor who was now driving the works cars. Thus, gradually, Alexis were becoming accepted as a bona fide racing-car manufacturer and Bill Harris took on more staff. Trials cars were also produced and were, in fact, successful and provided a considerable challenge to the Cannon supremacy during the period 1961-1965.
Right through to 1967 Alexis continued building two or three cars a year, usually running them as a works team and selling them off at the end of the year. Names like Roy Pike, Can-Am McLaren driver Peter Revson, David Hobbs and Paul Hawkins all drove for Team Alexis. There were the high spots too, particularly the victory in the Eifelrennen Formula Two race at the Nurburgring by Hawkins.
During this period, mid-1965 to be exact, Harris decided to return to Australia and his place was effectively taken by Allan Taylor, a local racing enthusiast who was in the wholesale meat trade and gave Alexis a hand every so often. Taylor joined the firm full-time and he was later to play a major part in the future of the Company.
The big breakthrough came in 1967 when Alexis were just about the first Company to realise the potential of Formula Ford and soon had a model for sale. A marketing deal was set-up with Jim Russell and during the later part of 1967 and through 1968, under Taylor’s supervision, Alexis production sky-rocketed to such an extent that they sold well over sixty Mk. 14s, many of which are still being raced today.
Claude Bourgoignie won the 1967 British Formula Ford Championship with such a car and in 1968 Australian Dave Walker collected the Scottish Formula Ford Championship amongst his many victories in a Mk. 14. During this time a few Formula Three cars were also built but raced with little success.
The Russell deal came to an end in 1968 but with the improved Mk. 15, plus a lot of success with the previous models, Alexis fortunes remained high and a further 70 cars were built for sale all over the world.
Mass racing-car production was hardly what Alex Francis had envisaged ten years earlier and was something with which he did not want to be involved because his other interests took too much of his time. Another factor was possibly that, although a great number of cars had been built, the market was so cut-throat in those early days of Formula Ford that the profit margin was ridiculously narrow compared with the turn-over. So towards the end of 1969 Francis thought of closing down the business but Allan Taylor managed to get the finance together to buy out Alexis Cars although he remained in Francis’ premises until the move last October.
Now at 32, and with a good deal of experience behind him, Taylor says he has found the going very tough and the financial burden particularly heavy, but by sheer hard work he has kept the firm in business and now the future is starting to look bright once again. Taylor admits he had made a good number of mistakes since he moved into the racing-car construction business almost by accident. He says he trusted far too many people, was perhaps too idealistic. By 1970 the Formula Ford bubble had more or less burst for manufacturers, but even so the firm produced a further batch of a dozen or so of the attractive wedge-shaped Mk. 18s which are still in production, and now there are 24 of them in existence. A batch of five Formula Threes were built but less successful was the Formula F100 car, of which only two were built. In fact it was the first ever non-single-seater Alexis bar the early trials cars.
Now firmly ensconced in the Halloughton Grange factory, where once best Staffordshire cheese was made, Taylor sees the future mainly in the new Mk. 20 car for Formula Three, Formula B and Formula Atlantic applications. The prototype Mk. 20 is nearing completion and should be racing before you read this. Along the way Taylor has picked up the art of racing-car design and this new tubular reinforced monocoque with side-mounted radiators looks his best effort to date.
Alexis produce a far greater part of their cars than do most manufacturers, including the chassis and the fibreglass bodywork. Taylor’s co-director is Doug Christie, who has been with Alexis for several years and looks after machining and also preparation of Formula Ford engines.
During the slack mid-season period Taylor has endeavoured to keep the Company busy with non-motor racing work. The engineering facilities are considerable so general machining work is being taken in. There is a good line in exhaust systems and also quite a lot of fabrication work is now being undertaken for motorcycle racing, all of which keeps the staff of about ten busy.
The Team Alexis title continues as Allan Taylor believes strongly in running a works team and being available at the meetings to help private owners. The present works driver is Dick Barker who scored a lot of success with a private Alexis FF back in 1969 and has been performing well in Formula Ford this year with the works car. But he is just itching to try the Formula Three Mk. 20, having raced in this category with a Brabham and a March in 1970. Taylor is presently looking for a sponsor to help defray the costs of the racing team. He also has the occasional race himself having tried his hand at everything from Formula Two to Formula Ford.
So the future undoubtedly does rest with the new car, plus the continuing progress of the Formula Ford. Taylor with his recent move has set himself the task of establishing a greater professionalism within both Alexis Cars and Team Alexis and his plans for the future are ambitious to say the least. While he hopes to keep the friendly attitude that has always existed between Alexis and its customers he feels that no longer can he offer charity for the poor chap who has just knocked off a corner and can’t afford the full price of a new upright.
The new policy is certainly a step in the right direction and if Barker can start putting the Mk. 20 Formula Three car amongst the front runners with any regularity, and Taylor firmly believes he will, then 1972 could be quite a year for the West Midlands’ other racing-car constructor.—A. R. M.