1969 Chevron BMW B16 GT
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Chevron Racing History
The story of Chevron racing cars should have come to an abrupt end 12 years ago when their brilliant, self-taught, designer, Derek Bennett, crashed his hang glider onto a Lancashire hillside, sustaining head injuries from which he died without regaining consciousness. In July 1990 enthusiasts from many parts of the world gathered at Donington to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Chevron in a remarkable tribute to Bennett’s genius.
To many people who met him, Derek Bennett was an enigmatic, unassuming man, whose shyness could easily be mistaken for coldness. He was a man of few words but tremendous vision whose natural ability to solve problems of engineering led him to become one of Britain’s greatest racing car designers. Bennett’s story was a remarkable one, which seemed to defy all convention. However, it was this ability to triumph in the face of the odds that gave Chevron’s success a fairy tale element and inspired a tremendous loyalty to Derek in everyone who worked for him or bought his racing cars.
It wasn’t in Derek’s nature to be a salesman, but the cars he created were more eloquent than any sales pitch. Not only did they look like you thought racing cars ought to look, but they also had an enviable reputation for winning “straight out of the box” – ideal ingredients for attracting customers.
The recent growth in the popularity of historic racing has brought a resurgence of interest in Chevrons through Derek Bennett’s early sportscars, particularly the ubiquitous B8, and the B16 coupé – regarded by many as one of the most attractive sports racing cars ever built. But Bennett’s designs covered virtually all categories of national and international racing during the late ’60s and the ’70s, and won in Formula 3, Formula Atlantic, Formula 5000 and Formula 2 as well as sportscar racing. No fewer than six future Formula 1 World Champions were among those who raced Chevrons at important stages in their careers.
At the time of Derek Bennett’s death, Chevron was an established volume racing car manufacturer, competing on a level with the likes of March, Lola and Ralt throughout the world. But many of Derek’s cars’ most memorable victories came in the earlier years as Chevrons fought against the odds, David and Goliath fashion. They tended to involve two drivers, Brian Redman and Peter Gethin, whose successes passed into Chevron legend.
The most remarkable of those Chevron successes has to be Gethin winning the Race of Champions in 1973, beating the Formula 1 cars to win in a formula 5000 B24. Certainly he benefited from many of the fancied Formula 1 runners dropping out, but there were no other F5000 cars within a lap of Gethin when he swooped past Denny Hulme’s slowing McLaren M23 to take the lead a lap from the finish.
Coming on top of Gethin’s win in the previous day’s F5000 race, the Race of Champions victory was a toally unexpected layer of icing on the cake. But for everyone who worked at Chevron it marked the final acceptance of the cars they built in an old mill in Bolton as true world-beaters.
Chevron’s previous finest hour had owed nothing to good fortune, which made it an even more conclusive success. This time Brian Redman was the star as Derek Bennett’s sleek new B16 sport scar was shown to the world for the first time in September 1969, not in the safe surroundings of an Oulton Park ten-lapper, but for 500 kilometres round the Nurburgring in a heat wave. Redman snatched pole position from under the nose of the works Abarths and led from start to finish.
The win gave a huge boost to Derek Bennett’s cars internationally, and the B16 was a popular choice for the new European 2-litre Sports Car Series, which began in 1970. When Brian Redman brought the trophy back to Bolton at the end of the season, Chevron celebrated their greatest triumph so far.
That success had hung on another of Chevron’s great races as Redman went into the final championship round at Spa with Chevron trailing Lola by three points. The B16 had taken longer to build and develop than it should have and soon after its debut the rules changed to permit open sports cars. For much of the 1970 season Redman had had to fight Jo Bonnier’s open Lola T210 with a 70 kilogram weight disadvantage. But his pleas for Derek to give him an open Chevron finally led to the B16-Spyder, which was ready in time for that crucial confrontation at Spa.
For 35 laps of the demanding road circuit, Redman and Bonnier fought for the lead as if they were on the last lap of a ten lap club race. Then coming out of the hairpin to start the last lap, Redman missed a gear and fell back a hundred yards. After that he drove faster than he thought possible, catching and passing Bonnier, only to be repassed on the back straight. Coming into the final hairpin the Chevron was back alongside the Lola and as Redman worried whether he’d left his braking too late to get round the corner, Bonnier spun and Redman squeezed the Chevron past to win the race and the championship.
What a wonderful Heritage Chevron Racing has. Derek Bennett was a true Engineering genius, a contemporary of Colin Chapman (Lotus) and Eric Broadley (Lola). Indeed Derek designed the Chevron B1, the first car he made and called a Chevron, to beat the Lotus 7, which it did comprehensively because of the innovative independent rear suspension as opposed to the solid system on the Lotus.
Not long afterwards, he built the Chevron GT (the fore runner of the Chevron B8) to beat the Lotus Elan and once again it was able to obliterate its opponent on the track. The Chevron B19 beat the Lola T210 by 1 point , with Brian Redman against Jo Bonnier at Spa to take the European Sportscar Championship in 1971.
Every model in the Chevron range has been a Race Winner and sometimes a Championship Winner. In the 1970’s the majority of Formula 1 drivers had competed in a Chevron and I would like to think since 1965 the Chevron marque has been mentioned in every issue of Autosport. Appropriately, the Mission Statement for Chevron could be ‘Always Win Straight out of the Box’ as nearly every Chevron has done just that, won on its debut.
This one is a continuation car with 1969 specifications, BMW M10 engine and FT-200 gearbox.
One of Chevron’s most beautiful cars ever made.
In 2005 Vin Malkie, one of the original Chevron employees and owner of the first Chevron produced along with his wife and successful racing driver Helen Bashford-Malkie acquired the Chevron trade mark. They continued their existing business as Chevron restorers and Race preparers. They have since produced technically correct continuation models using largely original jigs and drawings, Vin and Helen still consulted with many of the original Chevron employees on a regular basis, not least Paul Owens, as part of their restoration process. This car is one of the continuation cars that Vin Malkie built during his ownership of Chevron.
The chassis number of this car is CH-DBE-43 and was completed in September 2006 and delivered to the car’s first owner, Roberto Farneti in Italy. The car was inspected and granted FIA HTP in February 2007, which is required for competing in race events in Europe. Mr. Farneti raced the car 4-6 times per year continually from 2007-2012 at legendary tracks including Oulton Park, Spa, Nurburgring, Brands Hatch, Donnington, Magione, Barcellona and Imola. Extensive track testing was performed to optimize the shock valving and spring rates resulting in a car that is truly very easy to drive and quick at the same time.
Driven very successfully by Mr. Farneti, it finished 1st in class in half of the events it entered and on the podium is almost every other event. An engine failure at the end of the 2012 season sidelined the car for the rest of the season. At that time the engine was sent out to Europe’s legendary BMW engine expert Lester Owen for rebuild. A full refresh was completed January 2013 including dyno testing resulting in 227hp.