Every car manufacturer, whether positively or negatively, will become, at some point or another, identified for one particular design. The goal for any Formula One manufacturer is that that one design is a champion, a winner. And when the March Engineering group came up with the 711, they would end up producing a design that would become synonymous with March. And it would be a remarkable synonym.
Speak the words, 'Spitfire' or 'Tea-tray' together with the word 'March' and people almost immediately can imagine what car it is that is being spoken of. That is how indelibly etched the March 711 is on the consciousnesses of grand prix fans throughout the world. But while the 711 would be a truly iconic car for March in its grand prix history, it would be born out of great necessity, and therefore, was designed, first and foremost, not just to be remembered for its looks, but also, for its performance.
March, which would be amalgamation of friends, Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd, would be formed in 1969. All four men would agree to finance equal shares of the new company that would take its name from its founders. But these four men were ambitious to say the least. They wouldn't just decide to start March Engineering to build Formula One race cars. No, they proposed building cars for Formula One, Formula 2, Formula 3, Can-Am and even the American Formula B.
The men wouldn't propose such ideas without some forethought. In fact, they were in a rather strong position having Robin Herd as part of the group. Herd had worked at McLaren and then moved on to be with Cosworth before coming to be a part of the March project. And it certainly seemed to be the right time as there was a supply of Cosworth engines out there that just needed cars to put them in and just like that a new team would have a customer car for their use.
This is the role March had been formed to fill and they would go right at it to try and fill that role. March would start out designing and building a Formula 3 car in 1969. However, in spite of little capital, the group of men would be true to their word and would immediately make plans to debut cars for Formula One, Formula 2, Formula Ford and Can-Am by 1970. In addition to this, the men would set about starting their own works teams for Formula One, Formula 2 and Formula 3 as well.
Despite limited capital and the wide variety of targets the company was trying to hit, March would go on to produce the 701 as its first Formula One chassis. Almost immediately March would have a buyer for the chassis in Ken Tyrrell. Tyrrell didn't necessarily believe the car to be the car for his team's future, but he did need a stop-gap measure until his team could have everything in place to build its own car since the team had lost the rights to use the Matra chassis.
The 701 wouldn't be a dramatic design but it would feature some innovative concepts. The chassis itself would be very uninteresting. However, Peter Wright's designed wing tanks would be anything but uninteresting. Protruding out either side of the 701 would be the car's fuel tanks. What would be interesting about them would be the fact that from the side they would clearly look like an upside-down wing. This design undoubtedly created some downforce through this area of the car and would eventually help to kick off the ground effects revolution in Formula One when Wright went to Lotus a few years later.
But clearly the chassis had been designed for the Cosworth engine. And the 701 would still come to rely upon the power from the engine to help this straight-forward and simplistic car become a competitor.
Aided by the Cosworth engine, it was very likely the 701 could be more than competitive. But it would have to be placed in the right hands. Thankfully for March and Ken Tyrrell, the man with just the right touch was around. And in the hands of World Champion Jackie Stewart, the March 701 would go on to do things that perhaps even those within March didn't necessarily believe could. In fact, heading into the 1970 season, the ambitious plans from March would receive more than a few laughs and some derision by other competitors. However, all of the laughing would stop when the cars made their debut
Stewart would take the 701 and would earn pole in its first race. He would even take the 701 and would earn some race victories. By the end of the 1970 season, the stop-gap measure was anything but a joke and it would end up helping Tyrrell's team secure 3rd place in the Constructors' Championship. It seemed March was setting a course for itself that would certainly see itself become one of the dominant constructors in Formula One.
But there was a problem. The men would be true to their word. Their ambitious plans they would implement. However, that also meant the company would be in financial trouble by 1971. Despite the fact March had sold 11 chassis for 1970, their ambitious plans had cost them dearly, and the drop off of the 701 toward the later-part of the season meant March really needed to create a competitive car for Formula One or it needed to seriously rethink where it was to focus its attention and resources.
Thankfully for March, they had some truly talented individuals working for them. Chief among those working for the company were Geoff Ferris and Frank Costin. Costin was famous for his body designs while Ferris had a great deal of experience and talent having come from Lotus. Therefore, the two would set about designing and creating a new car inside and out. Ferris would create the chassis while Costin would set about designing an aerodynamically efficient set of aluminum clothing to wrap over top of monocoque structure.
In a day and age when radiators were still located in the nose of most car designs and the potential of wings was still relatively untapped, Ferris and Costin's design would be noting short of radical. And for that, it would make the 711 absolutely memorable.
Ferris' structure for the nose would be straightforward. It would have a low profile and would enable Costin to design a nose that saw the upper lines of the bodywork sweep gently upwards as it traveled aft. However, the actual nose of the car would be largely overshadowed by the wing structure attached to it.
Whereas most teams would attach the small wings of the day out either side of the nose of the car, just like they would be on the March 701. Costin would go a slightly different direction with the 711. Costin wanted to have the car benefit from the use of a full wing design, not one with tiny winglets protruding out either side of a wide-mouthed radiator inlet. Therefore, in response, Costin would design a 'Spitfire-like' wing that would also become known as the 'Tea-tray' simply because it attached to the top of the nose of the car instead of protruding out of either side of the nose that all the rest of the designs of the time.
Costin's work in creating beautifully flowing and elegant body designs would be more than evident with the March 711. While the fiberglass nose would certainly feature contours and blended components to create a rather efficient design, the wide and rounded aluminum body would continue to create a flowing non-obstructive design.
The double wishbone suspension would feature just the wishbones protruding out through the nose bodywork of the car while the coil spring remained hidden within. The fact the radiator was not positioned in the nose meant the top lines of the nose bodywork would be smooth as there would be no need for extraction vents. The bodywork would wrap back over itself and then would contour nicely upwards to create a driver cockpit that felt enclosed and protected. Unlike some designs where the drive sat tall and a major drawback to the overall aerodynamic efficiency of the car, the 711 would boast of a wrap around windscreen and bodywork that even enclosed most of the roll hoop and where the engine mounted to the chassis itself. This gave the driver the sensation of immersing himself inside the car, being one with the car.
What would make the car work would be its clean lines and this would be highlighted by the positioning of the radiators. The lines of the car would be clean and flowing until the eyes travelled back along the car just prior to the V8 Cosworth engine. For right there, in plain sight would be the radiators. They would protrude out of either side of the car as if having just been stuck there for lack of a better location. Often times the radiators would be left unprotected. Often, they would be covered by simple box-shaped cowlings to help offer a little bit of protection and maybe some aerodynamic uplift.
To either side of the engine would be dampened coil spring double wishbone rear suspension components. The gearbox on the car would be a March 5 speed manual. Braking power would come through ventilated disc brakes on all four wheels of the car. And power would come courtesy of a 450 hp, 3.0-liter Cosworth V8. Combined with the elegant flowing lines of the car, the 'Tea-tray' front wing and the large rear wing and the 1250 pound weight of the car, the Cosworth would manage to push the car from zero up to 60 mph in just 4 seconds. The 711 could cover a quarter of a mile in just under 17 seconds and could easily push beyond 160 mph.
But the glowing facts about the car's design and its performance would be nothing if it wasn't for the fact that when it debuted it would do so in the hands of a talented young driver by the name of Ronnie Peterson.
While Peterson would be nearly doubled in World Championship points by the end of the 1971 season, he would still manage to take the 711 and would finish 2nd in the Drivers' Championship to Jackie Stewart. He and the 711 would also help March-Ford finish the season tied for 3rd in the Constructors' Championship with Ferrari.
The car would more than prove itself. In fact, it would make an appearance in the 1972 season. Heavily modified and adjusted, the car would continue to perform strongly but it no longer could keep up with the competition as it had the year before. Therefore, the 711 would give way to the 721. And while the 721 would go on to use some innovative designs that were ahead of its time, it would not capture the imagination and become as etched in the minds of individuals as its predecessor.
Therefore, by the end of the 1971 season, with the results Peterson was able to post with the radically-designed 711, March wouldn't just have the competitive car it would need to continue to stay afloat; they would have its iconic car that would forever become synonymous with March.Sources:
'March 711 (1971-1972)', (http://histomobile.com/m5/l2/march-711/298266171.htm). Histomobile.com. http://histomobile.com/m5/l2/march-711/298266171.htm. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
'March 711', (http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/march-ford-711.htm). David Dennis and Family. http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/march-ford-711.htm. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'March Engineering', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 April 2012, 00:57 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=March_Engineering&oldid=487760844 accessed 14 June 2012
'March 701 Cosworth', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/605/March-701-Cosworth.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/605/March-701-Cosworth.html. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
'March 721X Cosworth', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1810/March-721X-Cosworth.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1810/March-721X-Cosworth.html. Retrieved 13 June 2012.By Jeremy McMullen