Bygone Brands - March
Formula One's enormous thirst for cash claimed this promising British constructor
First published in Unique Cars #284, Mar/Apr 2008
The Australian GP of 1992 marked a major change for the event and the departure from Formula One of a prolific and respected participant.
Driven onto the streets of Adelaide for that city’s final F1 event by Jan Lammers and Emanuele Naspetti, the March CG911s were the final combatants from a lineage that entered the sport in a blaze of success but wilted as the cost and sophistication of the category exploded.
March competed in various forms of motorsport including F1, F2, F3000 and F5000 – 1971’s March 711 (above) was another innovative design
March Engineering was founded in 1969 by a quartet of the sport’s most prominent engineers and organisers. Among its executive personnel was Max Mosley; known as President of Formula One’s governing body, and former McLaren designer Robin Herd.
| Past Blast: John Bowe drives a 1972 73S-1 March
Multiple World Champion Jackie Stewart campaigned this March 701 in 1970 to GP victory in only the marque’s second race!
March debuted its Ford-powered Formula One car at Kyalami in South Africa on March 7, 1970. With New Zealander Chris Amon as the team’s lead driver and Jackie Stewart running a March chassis in his Tyrrell-backed car, success was almost inevitable. In the Spanish Grand Prix – just the second F1 event contested by the brand – Stewart brought March its first Formula One victory.
Despite failing to score a Grand Prix win in its own right until 1975, consistency paid handsomely for the March factory team. At the completion of the 1970 season it claimed third place in the Constructors’ Championship behind Lotus and Ferrari. It was third again in 1971, with lead driver Ronnie Petersen finishing second in the Drivers’ title.
| Past Blast: John Bowe drives a 1974 March 741 F1
Commercial activity during the 1970s saw March rapidly expand its participation in a range of motorsporting categories. The strategy centred on supplying cars to ‘privateer’ teams and drivers, either as outright purchases or race-by-race rentals.
Joining Ken Tyrrell in sliding well-known drivers into the confines of a March was STP chief Andy Granattelli, whose 1970-season car was driven by future World F1 Champion Mario Andretti.
The 1971 car with aerodynamics by Marcos co-founder Frank Costin ranks among the most distinctive Formula One designs of the 1970s. Costin designed an oval-shaped front wing that sat above the 711 car’s rounded nose, massive side-pods to house the radiators, and an equally prominent ‘snorkel’ air-intake behind the driver’s head. The engines were generally the ultra-reliable Cosworth DFV V8s; however a few events were unsuccessfully contested by Alfa-Romeo-powered cars.
| Watch next: 1974 March 741 F1 - video
Collaboration with BMW brought a string of race wins and Championships in the 1.6-litre Formula Two category. Most prominent recruit to the March F2 team was a young Niki Lauda; however the 1971 season saw Ronnie Petersen take the Championship ahead of future F1 star Carlos Reutemann.
The speed and complexity of March’s diversification into other categories undoubtedly affected its Formula One focus. While the F2 cars remained dominant throughout the 1970s, the F1 team suffered underdevelopment and underfunding which convinced drivers with World Championship potential to look elsewhere. Among those who filled the talent void was British Formula Three champion Roger Williamson. During just his second F1 Grand Prix for March, Williamson hit barriers on the Dutch Zandvoort circuit, the car overturning and catching fire. Fellow March driver David Purley stopped and tried to single-handedly release the trapped Williamson but he died of smoke inhalation before the circuit’s painfully slow fire crew made its way to the crash scene.
The late-1970s saw March intensify its Formula Two participation and virtually ignore the premier class. The brand’s second and final Grand Prix win came courtesy of Lotus defector Ronnie Petersen at the 1976 Monza event but it was the only success in a dreary season.
Attempts to build a 4WD Formula One car and experiments with Lotus-like ‘ground effects’ technology proved expensive and largely unrewarding. The 2-4-0 March was not an ‘all-wheel drive’ but used two pairs of driven rear wheels which, designer Robin Herd believed, would provide superior aerodynamics and improved traction. Neither outcome was achieved in the F1 arena but the technology proved very successful when adopted in 1979 by multiple British Hillclimb Champion, Roy Herd.
In 1977 March sold its Formula One assets to the ATS team, Mosley left to concentrate on motorsport administration and the company’s major focus was management of BMW’s star-studded Formula Two team.
The emergence during the 1970s of Formula 5000 provided March with the opportunity to recycle some of its less successful F1 designs. Despite sometime Formula One driver Howden Ganley’s second place finish in the 1975 British F5000 Championship, just six cars were built from 1973-76.
Greater success came via the big-money arena of Indy Car competition. During the 1980s, March chassis with Ford-Cosworth engines recorded five consecutive Indianapolis 500 wins and two CART Championships. These were mirrored by consecutive series wins in the CanAm Under-Two Litre category.
A first-up win in the British Formula 3000 category brought renewed prestige in its UK home market where life had been made difficult by competitors including Reynard and Ron Tauranac’s RALT. The F3000 design also opened the way for success in the North American ‘Wildcats’ series for similar cars. Floating the business on an imperiled stock market and buying RALT created serious financial problems and 1989 saw March on the brink of bankruptcy. The business was then bought by Japanese-based Leyton House; a move that only delayed by three years its disappearance.
OWNER - PETER BRIGGS
And what a one to own! In 1980 Peter Briggs was fortunate to acquire the ex-Jackie Stewart March 701 Grand Prix car, which then became a featured exhibit at his Fremantle Motor Museum.
Despite describing the brand new design as "a wild ride", Stewart with backing from entrepreneur Ken Tyrrell used chassis #2 to win the 1970 ‘Race of Champions’ and Spanish Grand Prix and qualify fastest in four of that year’s Grand Prix events. "The car was found in the back of the March workshop by Eoin Young, who was at the time a very prominent motoring writer," explained Graeme Cocks, CEO of the Fremantle Museum.
"He was on pretty good terms with the guys at March so they put a spare Ford DFV engine in it and found all the bits that had been taken off. You can still see the areas where they repainted things to make it look the part but the car as it stands is very much as it would have been when Stewart raced it."