Racing History

Down - What actually happened

The bare facts

I have race programs for 11 meetings dating from 21st January 1968 to 27th December 1968, and I know with certainty of 2 other meetings. There is a very long gap in the middle of the season, and I would have thought that I raced a couple of times at least during the period, but I have no actual memory or records of doing so.

Regrettably photos represented an unnecessary expense, so I don't have all that many of the car in action. There are a few pictures for the meetings marked with an asterisk.





26th December 1967

Brands Hatch club circuit

* BRSCC Boxing Day

21st January 1968

Brands Hatch club circuit

* BRSCC Autospeed '68 Championship Car Races

Dnf – broken differential subframe

3rd March 1968

Cadwell Park long circuit

Road Races

10th March 1968

Mallory Park

BRSCC Lombank Leader Car Races

Dnf – engine disintegrated

13th April 1968 (Easter Saturday)

Castle Combe


15th April 1968 (Easter Monday)

Brands Hatch GP circuit

BRSCC Easter Trophy Car Races

19th May 1968

Nurburgring nordschleife

* ADAC 1000km-Rennen

Dnf – broken gear lever

1st September 1968

Nurburgring nordschleife

* ADAC 500kn-Rennen

Dnf – failed rear suspension rose joint

29th September 1968

Brands Hatch GP circuit

* BRSCC Grand Prix Circuit Car Races

6th October 1968


BRSCC Clubmans Car Races

Dns – collapsed piston in practice

28th October 1968

Oulton Park

BRSCC October Race Meeting

26th December 1968

Mallory Park

BRSCC Boxing Day Meeting

2nd in class

27th December 1968

Brands Hatch club circuit

BRSCC Lombank Christmas Trophy Car Races

Dns – collapsed piston in practice

What actually happened



A lot of memories have faded in the forty plus years since the events took place, but there are some that have not, so here goes. I don' know the current names of the corners at Brands Hatch, so I have used the ones that were good enough for the first 25 years of its existence.

First race. (No bonnet badge or registration plate). Brands Hatch Paddock Bend - December 26th 1967.

Photo © E Selwyn-Smith 1967. Reproduced by kind permission of FERRET FOTOGRAPHIC

First time out was at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day 1967, and was totally unmemorable except in that I spent most of Christmas Day spraying the car – much to the annoyance of my family. Until I started putting this story together I thought that what actually took place at the next meeting, also at Brands Hatch, on 21st January 1968 had happened first time out, but cross-checking the photographs against my race numbers in the programs showed I was wrong.

Second time out. Druids Hairpin, Brands Hatch, first lap.

By the time we reached Bottom Bend the Chevron (Alan Harvey) was past and gone, and the Jaguar ( Warren Pearce) was off the road.

Photo © E Selwyn-Smith 1968. Reproduced by kind permission of FERRET FOTOGRAPHIC

Second time out, on a damp track, I actually succeeded in putting the car on the outside ( third) slot of the front row of the grid, and followed this up with a good start which saw me emerge from Paddock Bend in second place. This proved to be a false dawn, as unbeknown to me I had broken the final drive mountings in the process, and after a few laps I retired the car due to an increasingly bad vibration that threatened to shake things to pieces, by which time I had dropped a lot of places.

The next outing was at Cadwell Park, and was unexceptional except for the fact that it snowed during the meeting, but at least the redesigned diff. mountings held up with no problems. It was my first ever visit to Cadwell and I never really got to grips – literally - with the circuit given the track temperature of zero degrees, ice cold brakes and the really awkward nature of the section through The Mountain, Hall Bends, the Hairpin and Barn Corner.

Fourth time out was at Mallory Park just a week later, and I did not have the time to strip and rebuild the engine, as I would normally have done after three meetings, which is probably why a big-end bolt sheared, resulting in the most destructive engine blow-up I have ever had. Of course it could also have been connected with fact that I had given up on my 8500 rpm limit and was using over 9000 – according to the tell-tale on the rev counter I had been up to 9200 at some point during the meeting. About the only part of the engine that I was able to re-use when building its replacement was the cylinder head.

Castle Combe on Easter Saturday was the first outing for the new engine, so I was being a bit more conservative with the revs, but I remember having an enjoyable race long dice with a Lotus Elan S2 that was just a bit too fast for me down the straights but that I could reel in on the corners even if the best I could achieve was to come alongside him a few times.

I'm sure the car survived Castle Combe intact, but I have absolutely no recall of the Easter Monday outing at Brands Hatch, so it is remotely possible that I non-started for some reason, although I must have turned up to have a copy of the program.

Then came the real test – the Nurburgring 1000km race, with Roger Stallwood as my co-driver ( and Roger's mate Tony Hill – sincere apologies to him if I have got the name wrong - as the nearest thing to a professional that I ever had in my pit ). This race was the starting point for one of the most mis-reported stories about the car.

Nurburgring Nordschleife – entering the left-hander before South Curve, at the end of the pit straight.

Photo ©H P Seufert 1968

When we arrived at the Belgian/German frontier on a relatively unused road through the Ardennes the German jobsworth of a frontier guard ruled that, even though the car was taxed and insured and had the required 'Carnet de Passage' , because it was in a transporter it constituted a dutiable cargo and demanded a cash deposit equal to its value if he was going to allow us in to the country. After a long debate, aided by a German race enthusiast (who may well have been the source of the subsequent incorrect reporting of the incident ) it was agreed that if we unloaded the car and drove it across the frontier, for which we had all the correct paperwork, then the guard would be able to do nothing about it. So we did. We then had another debate amongst ourselves and decided that with only about 60 miles ( 80km ) to go to the circuit we wouldn't bother to load the car up again, and Roger – who had never driven the car – could take the opportunity to get a feel for it, albeit at running-in revs. It was subsequently inventively and wholly erroneously reported that as a result we arrived at the circuit 'exhausted, and having worn out the car' Of course more than a few eyebrows shot up when people realised that one of the competing cars had arrived for a major international race at the 'ring under its own power – quite unprecedented for many years past, but fully in the spirit of the FIA's silly regulations for the class.

Then we hit another problem. The scrutineers ruled that as the Tavenor was an open car it had to have a hood. It would not at any stage have to be used, but it must be carried on the car, and if we were going to pass muster they would want to see it in place, so forget the immediate thought that we could 'borrow' one from a spectator's Sprite or VW cabrio. My stock of nuts, bolts and oddments yielded up a few pairs of 'Lift-the-Dot' fasteners, so we could fix something in place, if only we could find some suitable material. Fifteen minutes later Tony and Roger had scrounged an advertising banner made out of some plastic material, and in another half an hour or so we presented the car to the sceptical but tolerant scrutineers and we were in.

Practice was unspectacular apart from a light brush with one of the few pieces of Armco that then existed on the 'ring, resulting in a bent rear upright which was easily dealt with by way of a borrowed welding torch and some strong-arm tactics. We weren't all that fast, but at least the car was faster than its donor had been on its last outing at the circuit in 1965.

Typical pre 1971 'ring scenery - hedges, banks, ditches – no cissy run-off areas and hardly any Armco.

I first thought this might be the bottom of the Fuchsrore, but Klaus assures me it is Wehrseifen.

Photo ©H P Seufert 1968

The race was eventful for the wrong reasons – I pitted after about 110kms (5 laps) suspecting a seized dynamo, but fortunately it turned that it had merely worked loose, and the excellent Tony had it restored to health in double quick time. Roger took over at around 10 laps and was going reasonably well when somewhere about lap 17 he failed to re-appear on schedule, and after a few worrying minutes news came over on the public address system that the car had stopped out in the wilds but the driver was OK. Some quarter of an hour later the car reappeared slowly with Roger waving the gear lever in his hand. The lever had sheared off just above the pivot ball – in neutral of course! Using “only tools carried on the car” – more FIA nonsense- in our case a screwdriver and a mole wrench – Roger had managed to get it into 2nd gear and had saved himself a long cross country walk home. We had a spare lever but it wouldn't fit without some reshaping, so we had to call it a day.

We decided against driving back to the frontier, figuring to unload the transporter at the border if necessary, but in the event the only problem we had was persuading the Belgian official to take the trouble to stamp the carnet. So much for abandoning the car in Germany as the journalist reported

Incidentally it was at this race that I was first dubbed 'the mad carpenter', by the grateful owner of a another plywood car, a Nathan Ford, that tore its front suspension loose in a heavy practice landing, and who lacked the materials, knowledge and confidence to sort it out. I carried out emergency repairs that not only got them through the first lap, thus assuring their start money, but lasted the full race distance.

Because of the problems caused by the absence of a proper hood, as soon as I got back home I set about building a roof for the car, which was easy once I had decided on the double bulge shape needed to clear my crash helmet, and making up new side windows, which was less so. Heating up a piece of perspex to bend it is not difficult, but heating up a large piece of perspex evenly so that you finish up with smooth curve is another matter especially as the result of overheating is that it discolours and may even develop blisters. As for providing closable openings for ventilation in a curved surface.....

The next race of which I have any record was a return to the Nurburgring, this time for the 500km race, which I would be driving solo. After the problems with the border officialdom on the previous trip, I decided to go the whole hog and drive the car all the way to the circuit, a friend's rather tatty estate car carrying the tools and spares. A high risk strategy, given the likelihood of needing a trailer to get the car back. It gave me an opportunity to assess the weather protection capabilities of the coupe body – the rain was torrential as we left Ostend – for a racer it was not too bad. It also gave me the opportunity to run flat out for several miles on a straight and level autoroute, and find out how disappointing the top speed was – about 135 mph .

My race lasted 3 laps before a rose joint sheared in the rear suspension, just as I passed the pits, leaving me only a short walk back, but beyond assistance. The failure came as a surprise as the joint had a large diameter stem and was mainly subject to tensile and compression load, with little shear loading, at least so I thought.

A replacement rose joint and spring/damper unit were all it took to make the car mobile again after the race, and the drive home was undramatic.

Unique side view picture of Mk 2b, just after the infamous crest at the Flugplatz. A dangerous place if you got the line wrong, but otherwise not particularly significant. The Nordschleife had at least another 140+ changes of direction that were just as important if you wanted a fast lap.

Photo: Klaus Tweddell (aged 16) - 1968

When I stripped the engine down after this race I found that the piston crowns had started to burn away around the exhaust valve pockets. Replacements not being readily available the most convenient way to rebuild was going to be using a complete (second-hand again) late pattern bottom end, which is probably when my engine capacity finally went up to 1558cc. The later pistons had even more pronounced valve pockets than the originals, and this was to lead to two race non-starts in the rest of the season.

In the mean time I had most enjoyable and busy race over the GP circuit at Brands Hatch, when once again I spent the entire race trying unsuccessfully to pass someone who had the edge in a straight line. I was faster through Clearways and could get alongside coming out of Paddock Bend, but I could never beat him into Druids Bend, and then Pilgrims Rise and Hawthorns Straight gave him too much of an advantage.

Brands Hatch, heading towards Pilgrims Rise

Photo ©B S Kreisky – Sunrise Universal Productions 1968

As the Brands race had been (relatively) short I did not rebuild the engine before the next outing, at Snetterton, with the result that I suffered further piston failures in practice and was forced to non-start. Inspection revealed the deep valve pockets had allowed the piston crowns to burn away right down to the top rings.

Another set of pistons and it was off to Oulton Park – my favourite UK circuit because of its resemblance in character to the 'Ring. I've no recollection of the race, except that this was where my friend crashed the ex Hine/Prior Gullwing, as mentioned before, which then inherited the spirit of 850 CAM by way of its chassis plate. The accident was caused by the low late-autumn sun rendering the Marcos's rather crazed perspex windscreen totally opaque as my friend turned into Lodge corner on his first (ever) practice lap!

Which brought us to the end of the year, and entries on two successive days, at Mallory Park on Boxing Day, and Brands the day after. At Mallory we had a delayed and shortened practice while the track was cleared of snow, and in the slippery conditions the Tavenor once again showed off its excellent roadholding and I made it to the front row of the grid, this time into the second slot, and eventually finished second in class.

Brands Hatch brought yet another piston failure, again in practice, so at its very last race it was yet another 'did not start'. This was after another promising practice on a greasy track, too.


So ended the inglorious racing history of the Tavenor. It spent the next 29 years gradually declining in storage, mostly in a garage, but with a spell of about 4 years in the open (albeit covered up) before Klaus Tweddell persuaded me, at his second attempt, to part with it. At first I refused on the grounds that I did not think that a) it was worth anybody's while to restore such an undistinguished vehicle and b) it would require too much work to make good the ravages of time. Klaus tried again about a year later, and brushed aside my objections, explaining that he remembered the car at the 'Ring, and knew what he would be getting, and that having restored several Marcoses he was quite capable of undertaking the task. He offered to buy the car but I decided to gift him the remains on condition that he absolved me from all responsibility for any problems that might arise from its design or condition. He nearly bit my hand off, and shortly afterwards came and collected the car and all the body moulds, and all the mechanical parts I could still find – in fact just about everything except the nuts and bolts, as it turned out. That was at the end of 1997. Maybe Klaus will one day tell the tale of the restoration and bring the history up to the present day

Klaus collecting the car from my garage, 1998


I also planned a Mark 3, which was to have been another Appendix J Group 6 car, and would have been a much advanced evolution of the Mark 2, but changes to my circumstances at the end of 1968 delayed the start of the project, so all that ever became of it were a few working drawings and some suspension parts, and eventually my racing career, such as it was, took another direction.

Was it all worth it? Frustrating though it was that I could never quite find the relatively small amount of money that it would have taken to make the car a success instead of a gallant loser, it nevertheless gave me a (mostly) enjoyable season's racing that I would not otherwise have been able to afford at all, and a brief but welcome notoriety.

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