With real examples costing megabucks, JB hits the beach road in a beautifully built 356 Speedster replica from Lorbeks that represents a more accessible way to get a taste of 1959 California.
He asked for a glamorous starlet alongside. We sent snapper Steve Nally.
Iíve been racing for more than 40 years so Iíve had a lot of experience on both sides of the Armco., but for someone getting into the sport late in life, the learning curve is steep and there are bound to be chicanes along the way, as my mate Joe Calleja recently found out.
Joe began collecting and racing historic cars on the wrong side of 50 and Iíve been working with him since we met on a Lamborghini drive day. Youíll probably remember his beautiful 1974 March 741 Formula One car in this column and the í66 Corvette that we raced at the Goodwood Revival last year. In early 2015 he bought a March 73S sports car after seeing it at the Phillip Island historics.
Unfortunately, like most used race cars it wasnít exactly how it was represented and Steve Mekarios had to do a lot of work on the chassis and Peter Larner had to rebuild the engine. Thatís one of those expensive chicanes I was talking about. Still, itís a pretty car with good provenance and we took it to Winton Raceway for its first shakedown after the rebuild.
Two-litre sports car racing was very popular in Europe
JB TOLD me that the car was obviously going to be much different to the Corvette, that itís very direct, very similar to a gokart.
He advised me to take it easy because it was my first time in the car and obviously I didnít take it easy enough [laughs]. He said I wouldnít feel any power until I got to 6000-7000rpm, which was correct because I remember driving it at 5000rpm and thinking the engine was rooted! But when I flattened the throttle off she went.
I did the out lap then starting the second lap starting the second lap I thought Iíll get going on the pit straight and sadly I went from third to second and I felt like I was on a Luna Park ride. Bugger me dead, did I spin! I thought I was going to be safe and not hit anything but then I was on the grass and we hit the concrete pit wall. Luckily it was a gentle nudge but 20 grand laterÖ I felt terrible but it hasnít wrecked my confidence.
Itís a great car, with a great history, I just need to do some laps in it.
in the early 70s with March, Chevron, Lola, Osella and GRD building cars. March Engineering built nineteen 73S chassis for various teams that used BMW, Cosworth and Abarth engines but the BMW M-12 was the gun unit.
Joeís March (chassis number 1) was raced by a number of top drivers including Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter who finished fourth in it in the 1972 Kyalami Nine Hours when it was a works car.
Scheckter raced the car five times and it was in action at classic tracks like Zeltweg, Nurburgring, Imola, Misano and Clermont-Ferrand in the European Two-Litre Sports Car Championship as well as Watkins Glen in the US.
Back then it had the 300hp M-12 engine which was an evolution of the early 1960s M10 unit and, in 1500cc guise, would be the basis for the turbocharged 1500hp M-13 engine used by Brabham F1 in the early 80s. Joeís car now runs a 275hp Cosworth BDG with Webers instead of the Lucas fuel injection the M-12 had. The transmission is the ubiquitous five-speed Hewland FT200 with a stumpy right-hand shift.
The 73S pre-dates the era of under-car aerodynamics but it has a big rear wing, deep front splitter and wedge bodywork and looks like a small Can-Am car. With an alloy tub, magnesium bulkhead, wheels and uprights, and a fibreglass body it only weighs about 700kg and has meaty 13x10 and 13x13.5-inch rubber.
Suspension is wishbones with outboard springs and dampers and inboard rear brakes to keep unsprung weight down. The brakes are small by todayís standards but they stop well because of the low weight and fat tyres.
I did five installation laps so I could brief Joe on the way it drives. Iíve raced a lot of open wheelers and the March feels much like an F2 car of the same era. Itís a bit weird to sit in at first. The seat is mounted squarely but your legs are off-set towards the middle of the chassis and the steering wheel is on a different angle again, so your body is contorted. But when you start it up and hear that wonderful Weber induction noise from the airbox beside your head, you forget all about the driving position.
On track, the bodywork generates quite good downforce and mechanical grip and steering feel are really good. The brake pedal is quite solid but braking distances are very short and turn-in speeds are quite high and the car felt very pinned to the road with just a little understeer, which youíd probably prefer. This is a 150mph car and takes
a fair bit of commitment to drive really quickly because the engine doesnít have a lot of torque and power runs out around 8000rpm.
After my laps I sat down with Joe to brief him on what to expect. I wanted him to get the feel of the engine and tyre grip and let his brain and body get used to whatís going on because he started racing in his Corvette and itís a world away from the delicate March.
To me the gearbox was a potential problem. The shifter is too short, itís canted over at an angle, not upright, first is on the dog leg, and it only needs tiny movements of the shifter to change gears.
With a dog gearbox, the faster you change gears the better, but the gate is very narrow and unfortunately Joe wrong-slotted it at the start of his second lap Ė he went from third to second instead of fourth which locked the rear wheels and he spun into the pit wall. Itís so easy to do and there are probably thousands of drivers with more experience who have made the same error.
Luckily Joe was okay but the rear of the car was damaged and needed bodywork repairs and new uprights among other things. Joe was obviously disappointed but heís an enthusiast and he understands that itís all part of that steep learning curve.
Heís hoping to race the car at the Phillip Island Classic in March, which is where this story started.
A few weeks after the crash we were back at Winton with the rebuilt March for Joeís second test. As well as fixing the crash damage, the guys at Synergy had taken the gearbox apart and realigned the selectors and fabricated a new gearshift lever that is longer and sits at a different angle, which makes it easier to shift gears. Mileage is everything when youíre still learning and Joe did about 60 laps. Apart from one harmless spin right at the end of the day, he made really good progress.
ENGINE 1998cc Ford-Cosworth BDG 4-cyl POWER 205kW @ 8800rpm TORQUE 244Nm @ 7000rpm GEARBOX 5-speed Hewland FT200 SUSPENSION wishbones (f), multi-link (r) coil-over SHOCKS (f & r) BRAKES discs WEIGHT 700kg (approx)