SURTEES TS8

Note: This car is no longer with the Ecurie Scalpel Team.

Surtees TS8

Everyone knows it’s a small world and when it comes to racing cars that’s certainly true. In the late 1960’s John Surtees was a man with burning ambition. Still unique today as the only man to have won World Championships on both two and four wheels, he was never an easy man to control. Having won the 1964 World Championship with Ferrari “Big John” famously fell out with team manager Eugenio Dragoni in a political wrangle typical of the day and walked out of the team half way through the 1966 season. Several frustrating seasons followed during which he raced for the fading Cooper team before it finally folded and then linked up with Honda – at that stage still a relatively small Japanese company anxious to break into the car market.

Honda had produced their first car some years earlier and in 1965 Richie Ginter won their first Grand Prix in Mexico in the last race of the widely hated era of 1.5 litre F1 engines. From 1966 engine capacity was increased to 3 litres and for the next fifteen years the engine to have was the famous Ford Cosworth DFV engine which won more than 100 Grand’s Prix before the turbo era of the 1980’s arrived. At the start of 1966 however there were no good 3 litre engines ready to go – the Cosworth did not make its debut until the Dutch Grand Prix in 1967, famously won by the great Jim Clark in its first outing. Various manufacturers entered the fray before Ford got going and one of these companies was Honda who produced an air cooled 3 litre engine of enormous complexity and huge weight. John Surtees was brought on board because of his reputation as an engineer and developer of cars – a man who always thought he knew more that the designer! He soon realised that the car was uncompetitive, being overweight and underpowered.

Surtees convinced Honda they need British expertise to make the car work properly leaving them to sort out the engine. With strong links with the Huntingdon based company Lola he turned to ace designer Eric Broadley for a solution. In rapid time – that would horrify today’s teams – a new car was produced half way through the 1967 season. Literally being finished in the paddock at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix the car was immediately dubbed the “Hondola”. In a last corner scramble with reigning World Champ Jack Brabham, Surtees made it to the line first to claim a famous debut victory.

This didn’t mean much really because the car was still not much good. In 1967 Honda’s Formula One budget was not the $400 million they spend every year these days – in fact they could only afford to make one car at a time and changes were not easily introduced. For 1968, in an effort to save weight they introduced a car largely made of magnesium and tragedy ensued. Against the advice of Surtees, the car was entrusted to Jo Schlesser – father of multiple Paris-Dakkar winner Jean-Louis Schlesser – for its debut. A popular driver, Schlesser raced a Formula 2 Matra in the 1966 and 1967 German Grand Prix and, keen to become a Formula 1 driver, despite being 40, he accepted an invitation to drive the untested air-cooled Honda RA302 in the 1968 French Grand Prix at Rouen. He crashed on the second lap and was killed along with the project when the car caught fire.

In those days however safety wasn’t the issue it is today and drivers died on a regular basis. It was just considered an occupational hazard or the consequence of taking too many risks and although sad for poor Jo the world moved on without much comment. For Honda though it was too much to take and they withdrew from F1 soon after and would not win another Grand Prix until the era of the great Ayrton Senna many years later. All of this would convince John Surtees that the time had come to make his own cars and back at home in Edenbridge, Kent he did what everyone did then to go Grand Prix Racing. It was quite easy really – make the chassis (monococque) from aluminium sheets, buy an engine from Cosworth (£7000), a gearbox from Hewland (£3500) and blag some free tyres from Dunlop, Goodyear or Firestone. Surtees was now following the lead of Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren and he became a driver/constructor. All Team Surtees cars were labelled with TS chassis numbers and all had a long broad arrow in their paintwork. Total budget in their best year - £110,000!

In those days F1 drivers were versatile folk who drove in all sorts of events – Grand’s Prix of course, sports cars at Le Mans and elsewhere and other formulae such as F2 and F5000. F5000 seemed like a good idea at the time and it was hugely successful in the UK, America and the Antipodes for several years. It was basically a cost cutting exercise – sound familiar eh – and also aimed to broaden the market. The idea was to take a single seater race car like one used in F1 racing and replace the expensive and complicated Cosworth engine with a 5 litre Chevrolet V8. These engines were widely available and very cheap particularly in America – their real home. They produced the same amount of power as the F1 engine (just short of 500 BHP) and were supposedly very reliable. They also made a fantastic noise and would likely make a great spectacle – that bit was correct and they still look and sound terrific today.

So it was that the European F5000 Championship was born in 1969 and the big boys soon made cars seeing an opportunity to sell customer cars. McLaren dominated the first couple of years and were soon joined by others including Lola, Chevron, Lotus, Eagle and of course Surtees. John drove himself at times or sold cars to others but for 1971 he decided a real effort should be made to win the Championship with a works team. The previous year’s car – the TS5 – had been quite good and was upgraded into a virtually new design labelled TS8. It was exactly the same as that years F1 car (the TS9) save for the engine and gearbox which saved money and increased the options for spare parts etc. it certainly looked the part with a shape that looked fast and of course it had the required arrow down the middle. Indeed the arrow shaped nose suggested the aerodynamics of the car had been based on the paintwork more than anything else – no wind tunnels in those days of course!

What about a driver for the new car? Enter one Mike Hailwood – often known as “Mike the Bike”. Hailwood was arguably the greatest bike racer in the world having won nine World Championships on two wheels, 76 Grands Prix and 14 Isle of Man TT races. He had been dabbling with car racing for many years and by now was full time on four wheels. The two former bikers got together and were to race together for several stormy years – before Hailwood left the team complaining that Surtees would not listen to suggestions about car design – where did we hear that before?

The works car for 1971 was TS8 Chassis No. 5 and it made its debut at Mallory Park near Leicester. And what a debut it was as Mike started from pole position and won the race at a canter. Over the ensuing months however much frustration was experienced with the team plagued by unreliability. Mostly this was the Swiss built Morand Chevrolet blowing up. Mike was clearly the fastest man out there for the first half of the season and was regularly on the front of the grid however he broke down far too often and by the time the team dumped the Swiss built engine for ones made in Derby the Championship was a lost cause. The eventual winner was Australian Frank Gardner who drove the first of a series of Lola factory cars that would soon come to dominate the formula for years to come. At the start of the season he was not quite as fast as Hailwood but always finished and by the time Lola had introduced their new faster car halfway through the year he was uncatchable. So, Hailwood came second in TS8-05, and attention was directed towards 1972 and a better car.

Before that however it was time for the Tasman series. Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s the winter break did not mean time for rest or testing as it does today. Instead it was off down under for the annual series of races in New Zealand and Australia where visiting stars mixed it with local drivers racing over successive weekends in both countries. In between the races the drivers travelled and lived together as a group having fun, sunbathing, water skiing playing cricket and drinking far too much. The relaxation and camaraderie was very attractive to one and all along with attractive prize money and the chance of selling last year’s car for good money to some local hopeful.

The Surtees team were planning to compete in the Tasman series with their new car the TS11, to be driven by Hailwood who was also looking forward to some serious partying. as was his habit. However days before the car was due to be shipped out disaster struck during a testing session at Goodwood. Essentially the new car was written off and the old faithful TS8-05 immediately came out of retirement and was sent to New Zealand.

The 1972 Tasman Championship was almost a mirror image of the ’71 European Championship for Hailwood and Team Surtees. Instead of the car being fast and fragile Mike now found that he was being regularly outpaced by the new Lolas that had moved design on quite a lot. However his car was now very reliable and apart from one major crash at the third race – into a water ditch which wrote off the chassis – he finished all the races. End result? Second place in the Championship again!

TS8-05 returned home and like all old racing cars in those days was sold off. Bought by a very average French amateur driver it was run infrequently throughout 1972 before appearing briefly in the 1973 Brands Hatch 50,000 Race. Intended as a celebration of Jackie Stewart’s third World Championship, the field included both F1 cars – Hailwood was in the new Team Surtees Grand Prix contender – and F5000 cars. However, our intrepid French driver (Herve) decided to fit a 3 litre Cosworth engine to ’05 and enter as a proper F1 car. However, he soon ran out of money and talent and failed to qualify for the race proper after practice. However, this aborted venture did mean that the car is one of the few to have run as both an F1 and an F5000 car – important nowadays in historical terms for eligibility.

TS8-05 then entered a “wilderness” period and was nothing more than an old and outdated race car being passed from one amateur to another and gradually fell on hard times. However salvation appeared in the form of one John Foulston. An enthusiastic collector of race cars with the finances to support such a hobby, Foulston had created a museum of some repute and realising the historic significance of this car bought and restored ’05 back to a rightful former glory. The car rested for several years before passing through two more respectful owners. Despite being taken to events for demonstration events on occasions ’05 never actually raced in anger again until 2005.

But we are ahead of ourselves at this stage. Going back to the 1971 series, the European Championship visited Ireland for the Rothmans Grand Prix of Ireland. Held at the country’s only purpose built race track, Mondello Park in Co Kildare, the race was a full Championship round and the visiting contenders were joined by various local hot shoes to fill up the grid. Around that time the author was a callow youth in secondary school and a madly enthusiastic motor biker. My father had been a professional speedway rider and had introduced me to trials riding and moto cross and I had been a modestly successful rider of Spanish Bultaco bikes in various local championships. Coming from a biking family meant that the forthcoming arrival of bike legends Surtees and Hailwood was not to be missed. A kindly Godfather (really!) who was a friend of both the great men made a few calls and I was delegated to become an official Team Surtees “hanger on” for the event.

The Mondello Park of 1971 was a pretty primitive place and the paddock was a grass field retrieved from the local cattle for the occasion. The weather was rather dreary and the “facilities” were very basic. However for me, none of that mattered as I mingled with legends and heroes as if I was one of them. My race programme was soon filled with autographs and many poor quality pictures were taken. The event was a mixed bag for “my” team with Hailwood once again starting from pole position. Run over two heats, the race was a different proposition and Mike soon found himself being outpaced by the dreaded Gardner and ended up third overall. Big John was not a happy man and managed to convey that feeling fairly clearly to Hailwood. For me the entire event was a dream come true although sadly that was the last time I saw Mike Hailwood in the flesh – tragically having retired from racing he was killed along with his nine year old daughter in 1981 - while driving to pick up a fish and chip supper.

Naturally I was a confirmed Team Surtees follower and fan and suffered the outrageous fortunes of the teams along with the very few triumphs until the cash ran out, Big John’s health failed and he packed it in at the end of 1978. In fact, did you know that the man he sold his F1 entry to was an unknown wide boy dealer in second hand race cars called Frank Williams?

Fast forward to 2003 and your author has been pursuing a mid life crisis for some time and managed to amass a small collection of racing cars for weekend fun – and for investment purposes of course (especially if my wife is reading this). During a visit to my parents in Dublin my mother informed me that she has been clearing out a room and found box of “junk” belonging to me. Inside the box I soon found the autographed race programme from 1971 and a box of colour 35mm slides – the ones I had taken on that grey day in Mondello Park. Delighted with my new piece of nostalgia the slides were cleaned up and digitized for posterity.

Six weeks later a phone call arrives during my outpatient clinic from a vague acquaintance who says he is selling an old Surtees F5000 car and did I know anyone who might be interested. On asking which one it was I am told it was “the one that Hailwood drove in Ireland I think” - none other than TS8-05. The main thing at that point was to keep calm and not reveal any signs of interest. My (now) friend did not realise that he was talking to a sucker who had already bought this car before even asking the price. Summoning up a lot of steely nerve, a sense of disinterest was conveyed and I was eventually convinced to take the car off his hands once he sent along the race records that confirmed it was indeed “my car”. And now it was for real!!

The next few months passed both slowly and in a blur. My mechanic insisted on stripping the car down to nuts and bolts and demanded a “routine” engine re-build. Slowly the car regained its looks and was put back together – including the rear wing signed by John Surtees, Jack Brabham and Hailwood’s son David. Six months after collecting the car it returned to the track for a September test session at a murky Donington Park – driven in anger for the first time in almost 25 years. However, a week later, out of the blue I received an invitation from Australia to have the car taken out there for a weekend of historic racing to be followed by three days of “spirited demonstrations” during the Australian Grand Prix weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne.

So instead of a rainy autumn day in England TS8-05 returned to active racing in February 2005 at the fabulous Phillip Island circuit south of Melbourne – thirty three years to the month that Mike Hailwood had driven the car in the Tasman Series not twenty miles away. That’s quite a journey and life cycle for any car!

Finally, what about the other cars taking part in the 1971 Grand Prix of Ireland? The race contained a few local stars who were mostly driving Formula 2 cars and were therefore at the back of the grid. Put into the shade for that weekend by the visiting celebrity teams from the UK they were nonetheless good drivers in pretty quick cars. One of the drivers was a young Ken Fildes who was a bit of a local hero. That day he was driving a Crossle 19F Formula 2 car built in Northern Ireland on behalf of his patron – garage owner Luke Duffy. In fact the factory only ever made one of this model and when I was offered the chance to add it to my little stable there was only going to be one answer wasn’t there? So that’s two cars out of a total of 19 cars on the grid that day – only seventeen more to go!

Any other connections before we finish this story? Sitting alongside me on the 2005 grid in Australia was a McLaren M18 F5000 car. So what you say? Well that car also sat beside Mike Hailwood on the same row of the starting grid at Mondello Park. Before you ask – I didn’t buy it!

So there we have it. In the space of six months, thirty years of race history came together re-uniting three cars from the same race in a series of unconnected events that resulted in me buying two of the cars and returning one to the scene of previous glory. The world of race cars is truly a small place. We can see this again by watching the current TV coverage of the latest motor racing event – the A1 GP World Cup of Racing. The Great Britain team has an experienced chap at the helm – 71 year old Big John Surtees.

 

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