Don Nichols: Shadowman

With a masked figure as its emblem, the Shadow team sported a mysterious air centred around its unconventional principal Don Nichols – a decorated war veteran, tough entrepreneur inspired by grand visions, and rumoured CIA operative. As a new book attempts to cast fresh light on the shade, its author Pete Lyons recalls his own dealings with a complex and enigmatic man

Ch05_ConceptMockup_Trevor_Don_Oct1968_8x10

Shadow founder Don Nichols stands as his designer, Trevor Lee Harris, demonstrates his concept for the AVS MkI, which would eventually make its Can-Am debut in 1970

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I don’t think the idea ever was to make money. It was to make an art piece, an active art piece which was not only attractive but high performing, and unique, and innovative. Something really innovative in an area where the innovation could be shown and proven, which of course is motor racing.

“I’m a creative of beauty. I like the hardware — I like the artistic aspect of the hardware. That’s about all I can say about my motivation. It wasn’t very well thought out.”

It was August, 2013, and Donald Robert Nichols was 88 when he made that remark in quiet, matter-of-fact tones. I remember thinking, well, each of us is multifaceted, and even the most combative, determinedly acquisitive of people may mellow with age. An aesthetic sensibility, though? This may not be the first character trait mentioned by some who knew this man during his 1970s ventures into international motor racing.