Posts Tagged ‘1970 Can-Am Challenge’

(B Wilson Collection)

Chris Amon hustles his March 707 Chev around Riverside, during the weekend in 1970. Isn’t it a big, handsome brute, fast too…

The scale of March’s F1 achievement in 1970 from a standing start is unbelievable, 11 March 701 Ford DFV’s were built and won three F1 races that year. Jackie Stewart took the fiery Spanish Grand Prix and the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, while Chris Amon won the International Trophy at Silverstone.

In addition, they created the infrastructure and team to build customer Formula Ford, F3 and F2 cars, and this Group 7/Can-Am program, “credited to SCCA Pro Racing Director Jim Kaser’s trip to Europe to drum up more business” wrote Hunter Farnham. In his spare time – sic! – Robin Herd led the design of a car that was immediately competitive in Helmut Kelleners’ hands in the European Interserie, and in the much more competitive Can-Am Challenge, where McLaren remained supreme, later in 1970.

“The detail design was executed by ex-Lola man Martin Slater (a friend of one of the March founders, Graham Coaker) and John Clark, a freelance designer who was involved with most of the early Marches, while further refinements were made during its construction by John Thompson, Roger Silman and Peter Turland.” wrote Mike Lawrence in ‘The History of March’. Well aware of how thin the businesses resources were, Amon enticed his long-time mechanic, Kiwi Bruce Wilson – who had not too long before prepared and spannered the Ferrari 246T in which Chris had won the 1969 Tasman Cup – to Bicester to help complete the cars.

Chris testing 707-01 at Silverstone sans bodywork – Bruce would be proud of him! – in May 1970 (B Wilson Collection)
March 707 Chev technical specifications as per text, chassis depicted is Amon’s 707-02 (Bill Bennett)

Herd was partially responsible for the McLaren dominance of course, together with Bruce McLaren he designed and drew the 1967 McLaren M6A Chev, the first of the Papaya-Steamrollers comprising the 1967-71 M6A-M8A-M8B-M8D and M8F, all of which were Chevrolet V8 powered.

As was the case with the 701, Herd designed a simple car – nothing wrong with that, McLaren’s dominance was achieved with utterly conventional superbly designed, built and prepared racing cars – given the time constraints and customer queue. No way could he afford an expensive, time consuming development program with angry customers if an innovative approach turned-turtle.

Robin’s monocoque was fabricated in 20-gauge aluminium alloy with magnesium bulkhead castings at front and rear. It housed 70 gallons of fuel located in four Firestone bladders. In a neat touch, typical of some F1 cars of the day, the tub ended at the aft cockpit bulkhead with the engine and rear suspension/transaxle assembly bolted to a steel frame that attached to the back of the tub. With the fixings undone, the whole rear of the car could be rolled away for necessary maintenance.

707-02 getting pretty close to being ready for Chris first gallop at Silverstone by the look, no belt yet fitted tho. Lots of flat sheet to minimise the compound curvature fabrication challenges. Bruce Wilson second from the right, who are the other fellas folks? (B Wilson Collection)
(B Wilson Collection)
Ally block, capacity quoted as 494/502ci, Lucas injection, magneto ignition, Mota-Lita steering steering, Hewland LG ‘box (B Wilson Collection)

March purchased 494/502cid/8-litre Chaparral-Chev aluminium, pushrod, fuel injected V8s giving circa 720bhp @ 6500rpm. The ubiquitous Hewland LG600 gearbox transmitted its huge power and torque through roller-spline driveshafts to mag-alloy wheels and 23-inch wide Firestones at the rear.

Front and rear suspension was period typical. Upper and lower wishbones, coil spring-Koni damper units and adjustable roll-bar and mag-alloy uprights at the front. The rear used a single top link, twin parallel lower links, and radius rods, again with an adjustable bar and attaching to big, beefy but light mag-alloy uprights.

Brakes were Girling calipers with 12-inch rotors, steering was of course rack and pinion, the whole lot less fuel weighed a claimed 1460 pounds. The wheelbase, as published, was 96 inches, front track 68, rear track 64, length 156, and width 93 inches.

Pete Lyon’s ran his tape-measure over the cars and found that “the tape across the nose-fins was no wider that 83.5 inches, while the rear wheel arches swelled to only 83.75. That years M8D taped out at 79.5 at the latter point.” Lyon quoted Chris Amon from a Karl Ludvigsen – Motor Trend article as saying the true weight of the 707 was between 1600-1800 pounds. Big cars indeed…

Bruce Wilson and Chris catching up early in-build, 707-01, maybe (B Wilson Collection)
(B Wilson Collection)
(B Wilson Collection)

Chassis 707-01 was ready for Chris to test at Silverstone in mid-May (above). He was excited by the prospect of racing two 707s, which were part of his retainer agreement with March. Lawrence wrote that Chris viewed this effort as potentially a first step in establishing ‘Amon Racing Team’ to give him a measure of independence, and longer term security after he’d hung up his helmet.

In the end, March retained the cars, “the books would be balanced to suit” wrote Lawrence. Ultimately, Chris was never paid what he was owed by March, not that he was alone, just one of the first…

Chris complained of front end instability when he tested the car, the cockpit was so large that Robin Herd joined him for a few laps, the mechanics joked that “he’d designed the 707 that wide so he could hitch rides in it.”

Kelleners 707-01 was ready in time for the first Interserie round at the Norisring on June 26. He led both heats but was ousted by gearbox problems, a good effort as the brakes were troublesome and the weight distribution still wasn’t quite right. Progress was swift though, he won at Croft in July and at Hockenheim in October. The six round championship was won by Jurgen Neuhaus, Porsche 917K who was also victorious twice but was more consistent throughout the short season. Kelleners was the class of the field, despite the presence of some works-assisted Porsche 917s, with more reliability he would have won the title. Importantly, the lessons learned with the car were built into Amon’s machine which was quick and finished races from the start.

Helmut Kelleners 707-01 during the 1970 Trophy of The Dunes at Zandvoort on September 20 (unattributed)
Zandvoort again, the shot chosen to highlight the fabulous mix of cars; Groups 5, 6 and 7, fitted with engines ranging in capacity from 2-8-litres! Gijs Van Lennep, Porsche 917K here leads Kelleners (MotorSport)

After the Italian Grand Prix, Amon took his March 707 to round 8 of the Can-Am at Donnybrooke, McLaren had won almost all of the preceding rounds in the superb, Batmobile M8D Chev. Dan Gurney was victorious at Mosport and St Jovite until sponsor-clashes brought his McLaren F1 and Can-Am drive to an end. Denny Hulme then won at Watkins Glen, Edmonton and Mid Ohio until Peter Gethin took the Road America round in the car vacated by Gurney.

The odd-ball victory of the season was Tony Dean’s in the wet at Road Atlanta in mid-September when his nimble, light 3-litre Porsche 908 Spyder beat all of the 6-7 litre machines

When Amon appeared at Donnybrooke during the September 27 weekend he was immediately on the pace despite a lower front suspension arm pulling away from the chassis in practice.

Amon arrived in Minnesota early enough to do some mid-week practice, “but twice its practice was cut short with suspension failures,” Pete Lyons in ‘Can-Am’ wrote. The ‘Boeing’ was third on the grid, with ‘patches’ fitted to each side to rectify the suspension problem, behind Peter Revson’s Carl Haas-works Lola T220 Chev and the Hulme M8D; Chris matched Denny’s qualifying time, not bad…

In the race he ran second for a while, then, despite fuel pick up problems while running third – one tank wasn’t emptying into the other – Chris was classified fifth, having pulled off to the side of the track, behind Hulme, Gethin, Revson and Jim Adams’ Ferrari 512P.

(B Wilson Collection)
Amon negotiates Laguna Seca’s corkscrew (unattributed)
(B Wilson Collection)

Then it was off to Laguna Seca for another promising run on October 18. This time Q5 and fourth, coping with spongy brakes on the challenging track behind Hulme, Jackie Oliver’s Autocoast TI22 Mk2 Chev – who engaged in a long thriller of a dice with Denny – and Revson’s Lola. Clearly 707 had plenty of promise and pace despite missing the bulk of the races and the ongoing development which is a part of that process.

It was more of the same in the final round at Riverside, Q5 and fourth for Chris, third until fuel woes re-emerged and he had to pit for a splash and dash. This time the finishing order was Hulme, Oliver and Pedro Rodriguez in the BRM P154, the Bourne marque also having a crack that season but not making as much impact as March’s much shorter campaign.

At the end of 1970 both cars were returned to Bicester. 707-01 was modified by the removal of the hammerhead nose, and the front mounted radiators were moved to the chassis’ side. Dubbed the 717, Kelleners struggled with reliability in 1971 and sold the car at the season’s end to Austrian racer, Stefan Sklenar who race it sporadically without much luck.

Chris’ 707-02 was rebuilt and demonstrated occasionally. Despite the very promising start, March didn’t return to the Can-Am Challenge but rather focused mainly on volume production of single-seater categories where they were globally successful. In the later 1970s 707-03, a spare chassis, was built up and fitted with 707 bodywork, the cars live on.



Helmut Kelleners looking for a bit of love from his crew in the Croft pitlane, a successful July weekend for the team in that short 25 lap race. He won aboard 707-01 from Jurgen Neuhaus, Porsche 917K and John Lepp, Spectre GP6 Ford.

The photographs in this section are a mix from Bruce Wilson’s collection including some March works shots from in-period press releases, and the Getty Images’ archive. They are mixed up to get a nice visual mish-mash of monochrome and colour.


Plenty to smile about at Riverside, while Karl Ludvigsen’s shot below on the same November 1 weekend is much more moody, the shadows enhance that distinctive hammerhead nose with quite separate wing-section.

It’s such a shame that March didn’t race on with an evolved car in the 1971 Can-Am though it is hard to be critical of the commercial choices made by the March Boys, whilst noting the ever present and well documented ongoing cashflow dramas.

(K Ludvigsen)
It’s clear how much influence the F1 701 had on the nose-aero of its big Can-Am March sibling in this low angle shot (B Wilson Collection)
Monterey GP pits, Laguna Seca 1970. Bruce Wilson in the red shirt (H Thomas)

The sheer subtlety of Can-Am machines is what makes them so attractive to so many of us…

1970 was the last real Can-Am in the minds of many experts of the class. The Chapparral 2J Chev was such a threat to orthodoxy, it was thown out. Doubtless in accordance with FIA rules. But when Jim Hall said ‘go and get rooted’, or the Texan equivalent thereof, everything good about the unlimited, truly wild class was gone. Those of you who saw them race in-period are so lucky…

(B Wilson Collection)
Amon, again 707-02 at Laguna Seca in 1970 (H Thomas)
“How’s the F1 car going Bruce?” “Hmm, Ferrari have come good pal!” (B Wilson Collection)

Bruce Wilson and Chris Amon were the best of buddies. Bruce was key to Amon’s success right back to his Maserati 250F days before Reg Parnell popped him on a plane to England in early 1963.

Coopers galore in NZ circa 1961, circuit folks? Chris aboard his Cooper T41 Climax with Bruce’ hand on rear body (B Wilson Collection)

Wilson wrote a lovely book – The Master Mechanic- about his life and times in racing in the Antipodes and Europe, I’m told it’s great, it’s certainly on my list. I don’t believe the publisher has any – it was released almost as he died in 2017 – so go the online route.

(B Wilson Collection)


Bruce Wilson Collection, cutaway by Bill Bennett, Karl Ludvigsen, Can-Am review in ‘Automobile Year 18’ by Hunter Farnham, ‘The History of March’ Mike Lawrence, ‘Can-Am’ Pete Lyons, Getty Images-Henry Thomas


(B Wilson Collection)