|Chevron B8 BMW|
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Despite receiving no formal training, Derek Bennett had made quite a name for himself preparing, repairing and modifying a colourful variety of road and racing cars. He had set up shop in Bolton in North England in the late 1950s where he mainly repaired accident damage, often by welding undamaged halves of two cars together. Today this method is heavily frowned upon, but Bennett's meticulous repair work brought many wrecks back to as-new condition. In his spare time he showcased his other talent on the racing track where he successfully campaigned a host of custom racing cars. Both his mechanical and driving skills resulted in a large number of fans for the modest Englishman.
While discussing which new racing car to buy with one of his customers, Brian Classick, Bennett mentioned he could build a more advanced car himself than was available for sale. Being one of the Bennett 'fans', Classick was immediately interested and commissioned the construction of a new Clubman style racing car. To prevent the Lotus 7 from becoming too dominant the regulations had recently been changed, favouring a slightly different type of Clubman racer. This is why Bennett was convinced he could do better. Using his experience with a vast number of vehicles, he assembled a large mix of parts to bolt on a newly build tubular spaceframe. The car was very much designed in Bennett's head and construction was started without any drawings being made.
In the past his creations were simply known as Derek Bennett Specials, but Classick felt a more professionally sounding name was required. After brainstorming for weeks to find an appropriate name for his cars, Bennett glanced over the Highway Code symbols. One of them had the simple description 'Chevrons', which immediately appealed to him. So Chevron it was. Powered by a modified Ford Kent engine taken from an Anglia, the first Chevron made its debut in early July 1965 in Kirkistown, Ireland although the car had to be completed in Ireland and only barely made it to the race. Without any testing Bennett entered the Chevron and immediately put in a stunning pace. As would become somewhat of a tradition for new Chevron models, the Clubman car won 'straight out of the box'. After establishing himself as a proper manufacturer he started producing several models however with no specific type indication. A few years later (1968) a proper type indication system was introduced. Retroactively the completed cars were given a 'name', starting with B1 for the first model.
Orders for more cars came in after the Chevron's successful debut and four additional Clubman racers were constructed along the lines of the first cars. The success of the B1 and B2 as they were later referred also sparked the interest for a 'GT' version to take on Lotus' other dominating circuit racer, the Elan. Instead of modifying the existing design, Bennett played around with the idea of completely new, mid-engined racer. For the time being it only resulted in a small model placed on his office desk to remind him of what could be up next. When a potential customer, Alan Minshaw, visited the factory and saw the model, he became so interested that he put down a 100 Pounds deposit. A few weeks later a phone call from Bennett explaining the cost might be higher than expected gave him second thoughts. After Minshaw told Digby Martland about the new Chevron GT car, the upcoming racer paid the Chevron shop a visit and took over Minshaw's order.
Excited by the prospect of building another new car, Bennett set out to turn his imagination into a race winner again. Apart from the spaceframe chassis, the rear uprights and the wishbones, most of the mechanicals were again sourced from a wide variety of race and road cars. Following the latest trend, Bennett decided to mount the engine between the driver and the rear axle. Two completely different four cylinder engines were considered, the Ford 1.6 litre twin cam lifted from an Elan and the German BMW 2 litre unit of the 2002 road car. Two cars were constructed, the Ford engined B3 for Martland and the BMW powered B4 for Bennett to race himself and to serve as a rolling test bed. An aluminium body was created that was both purposeful and attractive. Peter Gethin shook down the B3 at the local Oulton Park track and although much of the bodywork was not yet fitted he was impressed with Bennett's latest creation. A third car was sold on the spot. A few days later Martland drove the B3 to Chevron's 'traditional' debut victory at the same track.
While the B3 had an impressive debut the BMW engined B4 proved to be frequently troubled. The main problem was keeping the BMW engine properly lubricated. In the road car the engine was installed at a 30 degree angle, but for ease of access Bennett had installed vertically in the Chevron. This upright position prevented the oil from properly draining down. The problem was eventually solved by equipping the engines with a custom dry-sump lubrication system. Happy with the solution, Bennett sent his long time assistant Paul Owens to Munich to broker an engine deal for future cars. A deal was set up where Chevron could buy the BMW Motorsport bits through their main Munich dealer at a discount, but not directly from the works. In the meantime Chevron had built an additional Ford engined B3 and a similar B5 with a BRM 2 litre V8 engine. Both in Great Britain and mainland Europe the four GT cars were proving to be highly effective marketing tools, rapidly increasing the interest in Chevron products.
A 'production' run of a B4 derived GT car was planned for 1967. Bennett had to increase his workforce, but he did not have to look far. Many of his friends already helped him in their evening hours and were more than happy to spend the day time in the 'factory' as well. The main differences between the production B6 and the B4 was body, which was now constructed from fiberglass by Specialised Mouldings. Owens went back to Munich with a van to collect the engines himself. Seven cars were completed, six with the modified two-litre BMW and one with the Ford twin-cam unit. Martland received the first example and promptly drove it to another debut victory. A dozen more major victories were scored that season with a B3, the B5 and the B6s. Especially Brian Redman's win with the BRM engined B5 in the in the international Group 6 race at Brands Hatch was noteworthy. It was not only Chevron's first 'international' win, but it also was the first in Chevron for Redman who would later become the team's highly successful works driver.
For international racing the Chevron B6 was considered a prototype and was required to run in the Group 6 class against advanced Ferraris and Porsches. Bennett took a bold step and set out to construct enough examples of the mid-engined racer to homologate it for the Group 4 GT class. In order to qualify at least 50 examples were required to be produced. With no type indication yet in place all versions were considered the same so 'just' 39 additional chassis were required to be build. With a Formula 3 single seater commissioned by a customer designated B7, the 1968 'GT-racer' was dubbed B8. By the time the FIA dropped by to count the cars, there were not sufficient cars completed, but there were enough supplies available to construct the remaining cars. Satisfied with their findings, the FIA homologated the new racer. Eventually 44 examples were constructed, equipped with a wide variety of engines. Unusually, the B8 had to wait almost a month to score the maiden victory, the first of many. It was not until 1969 that the B8 started to rack in Group 4 victories, including a class win in the prestigious Daytona 24 Hours. The ultimate version of the B8 body style appeared in 1968, when the unique B12 appeared, with a 3 litre Repco engine, which in proper Chevron style won its first race on its debut in Silverstone.
The design and construction of sports cars and single seaters had now taken up most of Bennett's time and his driving was restricted to shaking down and testing new developments. Fortunately for him his driving skills were matched by his drivers and fortunately for them his engineering skills were matched by few. Within five years he had achieved what Colin Chapman had worked at least a decade for. While the B8s were taking the world by force, he was already busy designing its replacement. Designated B16, it was as beautiful as it was successful and further strengthened Chevron's reputation of building fast and durable racers for many years to come. Sadly production of Chevrons came to a grinding halt in January 1980 after Derek Bennett suffered a fatal sky-diving accident in 1978. Although he operated mainly behind the scenes, the team's source of much inspiration proved impossible to replace.
Today Chevron's first sportscar is a popular choice in historic racing, where the many examples competing are still capable of taking much more powerful competition like the Ford GT40 and Lola T70. The B8 is available again from Chevron Racing as a continuation model.
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