|Chevron B21 BMW|
Derek Bennett's Chevrons were never complicated or ground-breaking racing cars. They were developed with a single purpose; to win races. And they did just that and quite often straight out of the box. One of the main reasons for the instant success was that Bennett rarely designed a new car from scratch. Most of the time the new Chevron was actually a subtle development of the previous season's car. This certainly was also the case with the Chevron B19 that was driven to a class victory at its debut during the 1971 Oulton Park Sports, GT and Clubmans race.
It might be hard to imagine when placed side by side but the B19's basic design can be traced back to the B6 of 1967. Both featured a reinforced steel spaceframe but instead of steel and duraluminium the B19 used mostly aluminium as reinforcements. The front part of the chassis consisted of a separate steel spaceframe to make accident repairs easier. Suspension was by double wishbones at the front and lower wishbones with top links at the rear. While a choice of engines was available almost all customers opted for the Cosworth FVC engine. Although displacing over 200 cc less than the displacement limit of two litre, it was considered the most competitive option.
The B19's immediate predecessor was the B16 and more specifically the single Spyder version built of this model. The fixed head B16 had lost its edge halfway through the 1970 season to the open and much lighter Lola T210, so Chevron's Works driver Brian Redman asked Bennett to make him an open version. This was easier said than done; for a conservative engineer as Bennett, designing a brand new body was a big step especially with no wind tunnel available to test it. Redman helped out by suggesting to style it after the Porsche 908/3 he had piloted with much success that same season. Incorporating a few tweaks of his own, Bennett did just that.
Although no winner straight out of the box, the B16 Spyder was hugely successful in the final months of 1970. With Redman in top form behind the wheel, it won the European Two-Litre Championship race at Spa and subsequently dominated the Springbok Cup in South Africa. Having just announced his retirement from racing, Redman simply could not stop winning. For the 1971 season Chevron introduced the B19, which was basically the production version of the B16 Spyder. After Redman's stunning run in the B16 it was hardly surprising that the demand for the new racing car was incredibly high. No fewer than 35 examples were produced, making it the fastest selling Chevron to date.
As mentioned earlier the B19 took a class victory at its debut. This was the start of a highly successful season with numerous overall and class victories. Among the many noteworthy B19 drivers were future world champions Jody Scheckter and Niki Lauda as well as Brian Redman whose retirement had lasted just three months. The main opposition came from the Italian Osella-Abarths and the latest Lolas. Consistency of Lola driver Helmut Marko eventually brought him the European Two-Litre Championship ahead of a host of Chevron drivers. During the end of the year Springbok series, experimenting with new, larger Cosworth engines cost Chevron dearly. Although blisteringly fast, the engines proved rarely reliable, helping Lola win this championship as well.
Amidst work on new Formula 2 and Formula 5000 single seaters, Bennett developed the B19 into the B21 for the 1972 season. Unusually the B21 did not win its first race but it did score some notable successes shortly after. Dieter Quester drove a BMW engined B21 to victory at the Salzburgring round of the European Championship and John Hine and John Bridges scored a remarkable third overall and first in class at the Spa 1000 km. That was Chevron's best result in a World Championship round. Victory that day was for Redman and Arturo Merzario in a three-litre Ferrari. Hine and Bridges took another class win during the Nürburgring 1000 km race. Lola had launched the brand new T290 for the 1972 season, which was more than a match for the B21 on pace, so something had to be done.
Towards the end of the season, Bennett redesigned the front suspension to accommodate the latest low-profile slick tyres. Several B21s were updated and rebadged B21/23. Using the latest all-alloy Hart prepared Cosworth BDA 2-litre engine, Gerry Birrell followed in the footsteps of Redman by dominating the Springbok Cup. He won four races and claimed the championship. Incorporating the revises suspension geometry, a new badge of B23s was built for the 1973 season. With class victories at the Targa Florio, the Nürburgring 1000 km and the Osterreichring 1000 km, it was again a good year for Chevron. The spaceframe cars were showing however consistently outpaced by the monocoque Lolas and a drastic redesign was required to maintain Chevron's competitiveness.
Just like three years earlier, it was a driver that persuaded Bennett to make a major step forward. This time it was loyal Chevron racer John Lepp who requested a new sports racer with a monocoque chassis and a proper rear wing. Clearly not daunted by the big task at hand, Bennett developed and built the all new B26 in no time. The prototype was ready and tested in time for the Springbok Cup at the end of 1973. In good Chevron tradition it looked set to take a debut victory during the Kyalami 9-Hours race. Overheating forced the B26 to drop out while leading the field by two laps. The first victory came shortly after; the start of a new and high successful chapter in Chevron's history.
In addition to the numerous successes on the track, the B19, B21 and B23 were also top sellers with 35, 28 and 26 produced respectively. Even though production stopped in 1973 the cars were raced around the world for many more seasons. Many are still actively campaigned in historic events. Much to the delight of historians and for a variety of reasons there are more examples around today than were ever built by Chevron in period. The best attempt to chart the history of each individual chassis can be found on Allen Brown's Oldracingcars.com. The continuing popularity and success are a great tribute to the solid design work of Derek Bennett.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on May 01, 2012
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