1970 Chevron B8

Derek Bennett founded Chevron Cars Ltd and ran the company from 1965 until his death in 1978. The company has remained to modern times, though parts of its history have been more difficult than others. Chris Smith, the founder of Westfield Sportscars, is currently the controlling owner of the company.

It is rare, and special, for an untrained individual to make a solid name for himself in motorsports racing. Derek Bennett is among the few with a unique ability to repair, prepare and fine-tune road and track vehicles. He had received no formal training in this line of work, but was able to create masterpieces. His entrance into the automotive world came during the 1950s when he worked in a shop in Bolton, North England, where he used his talents to repair damaged vehicles, often bringing heavily damaged vehicles back to new condition. His techniques often involved welding two undamaged halves of cars together to create a new vehicle. This technique is not appreciated in modern times for a number of reasons, but in those days, it allowed Mr. Bennett the ability to forge a name for himself and rise among the historical automotive icons.

His talents were not solely reserved for repair work; he was well known on the racing circuit where he often campaigned many custom-built racing machines. His abilities as a driver and a tuner were obvious and provided many podium finishes. His creations were often more advanced than other machines circling the tracks, which lead to privateers commissioning Bennett to construct machines for them. Among his earliest commercial racing machines was a Clubman-style racing car which featured a tubular spaceframe chassis and spare parts found around his shop. The design was conceived in his head, and there were no formal drawings to rely on. His only guidelines were the racing regulations, which often changed to limit any single marque from becoming too dominant.

One of the first customers to request a racing machine was Brian Classick, who also convinced him to give the vehicle an appropriate name, rather than just 'Derek Bennett Specials.' The task proved challenging, but after weeks of searching for a name, he turned to the Highway Code Symbols. There, he found a symbol described as 'Chevron', which appealed to him, so it was adopted and became the name and symbol for the company.

The first Chevron made its racing debut in July 1965 at Kirkistown, Ireland. The racer was powered by a Ford Kent engine transplanted from an Anglia and given proper modifications by Bennett. When the car was brought to the race, it had just been assembled and lacked any testing. The odds were against the little machine, but it managed to outclass the rest of the competition and won its first race. This was a very impressive accomplishment, as there were many things that could have gone wrong. The car was mechanically solid with aerodynamics that allowed it to cut through the wind and stay on the track. The trend of winning the inaugural race for Chevron cars would continue as the years progressed.

The victory at the track inspired more sales. Four more orders were placed for Clubman racers, and each possessed its own unique characteristics. The designs and mechanical components were based on the original car, but since there were blueprints on how the car was to be built, certain liberty's were taken where necessary.

After building the B1 and B2 Clubman racers, Bennett turned his attention to the 'GT' category and the Lotus Elan. He began with a new design with a mid-engine layout. The design remained as a small-scale model which rested on his desk and served as a reminder for things to come. The model remained just a pipe dream, until Alan Minshaw saw it while on a tour of the factory. His interests peaked, and he immediately produced a 100 Pound deposit for a workable, full-scale, prototype. Minshaw remained an interested buyer for a few weeks, until Bennett produced a more realistic vehicle cost. The cost was more than what Minshaw had hoped, and the plans began to unravel. Minshaw was kind enough to inform a prospective customer and inspiring racer, Digby Martland, about the project. A visit was paid to the factory and shortly thereafter, an order was placed.

Once the project was complete, Bennett created a second racer, dubbed the B4, and fitted it with a BMW 2-liter engine.

During some initial trial runs of the Martland B3 racer, it attracted the attention of Peter Gethin who immediately ordered one for himself. The B3 made its racing debut a short time later where it emerged victorious. The Ford-powered car was very impressive, whereas the BMW-powered B4 suffered from lubrication problems. The reason for this was the way the BMW engine was installed; it sat vertically, preventing the oil from properly draining. A custom dry-sump lubrication system was later installed and resolved these issues.

After securing a deal with BMW Motorsports to supply engines through a dealership at discounted price, Bennett began creating more examples of the B4 GT car.

The B5 was powered by a BRM 2-liter V8 engine. Brian Redman drove a B5 in international competition in a Group 6 at Brands Hatch where he emerged victorious. This was Chevron's first international race win. Redman would go on to become a works driver for Chevron.

The B6 was very similar to the B4 but with a fiberglass body. It competed in Group 6 prototype competition against tough competition from Ferraris and other big-named marque's. After enough examples were created to homologate the cars, they could compete in Group 4 GT competition. 50 examples had been required in order to compete; not all 50 were created - when the FIA stopped by Bennett's shop to perform the count, Bennett proved he had enough materials to create the racers. Only 44 examples were ever created.

The B7 was a single-seat racer that competed in Formula 3 competition. The B8 was the 1968 version of the GT racer. The B9 was a Formula 3 car. The B10 was a Formula 2 racer.

The B8 cars barely made it into existence. To satisfy homologation requirements, at least 50 examples were to be produced. When the FIA visited Bennett's factory to get the official count, there were too few examples. Bennett was able to convince the officials that he had enough supplies and materials to comply with the requirement and was permitted to enter the car in competition. When the B8 made its inaugural racing debut, it deviated from Chevron tradition. It did not win 'right out of the box.' The B8 had to wait nearly a month before it would score its first victory. During their racing career, the B8 would become very successful machines and provided many podium finishes for its drivers. In 1969, the B8 scored a class win at the Daytona 24 Hours.

The replacement for these two-liter cars came with the B16 and was quickly replaced with the B16 Spyder which had bodywork inspired by the Porsche 908 Spyder. The Chevron was a continuation of the B8 with styling help from Jim Clark. It had a spaceframe chassis, monocoque design, tubular frames, and a fiberglass body. The engine and gearbox was both placed midship. To make the vehicle easy to maintain, it had a removable front subframe. A 1790cc FVA Cosworth engine was used which provided an impressive 245 horsepower.

The B16 made its inaugural debut at the 1969 Nurburgring 500km race where it was driven by Brian Redman and qualified for pole position. From the start of the race, Redman led the pack and continued this for three-and-a-half hours before crossing the finish line victorious. The car was surprisingly fast though it did suffer from under-steer due to not enough down-force. The problem was later solved by adding two orange box rear spoilers

During the 1970 season, Lola introduced the T210 which had Redman struggling to maintain the lead. It was not long before the T210 was consistently beating Redman and the B16. Redman approached Bennett requesting an open car that was lighter and more nimble. The result was the B16 Spyder of which only one was ever created. This would set the foundation for the rest of the cars for years to come.

The B19 was introduced in 1971, and the B21 in 1972. These were used in Group 6 competition. The B23 was introduced in 1973; the B26 was also a 1973 car; the B31 was the final iteration of Group 6 cars introduced in 1975.

In 1972 the B24 was introduced and intended in F5000 competition. Continuing the tradition of Chevron cars, it won its inaugural race. Driven a year later by works driver, Peter Gethin, it became the first F5000 car to beat the F1 cars. The B24 were impressive racers but the Lola T330 cars were faster. Chevron would finish the season with 32 Top 3 finishes from 35 races while Lola managed 39 Top 3 finishes.

It is believed that eight examples (possibly 10) of the B24 were constructed. One was later rebuilt to B28 specification.

Other interests of the Chevron Company during this time were Formula competition such as Formula Atlantic and Formula Two. Examples include the B25, B27, B29, B35 Formula Atlantic/Formula Two cars.

Derek Bennett's passed away after a hang-gliding accident. The company continued for a number of years. Ownership passed through the hands of a few owners.

By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2011

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