The CSCC Special Saloons + Modsports series
When discussions over the greatest `Special Saloon` race cars are talked over one VW Beetle in particular is always mentioned in the same sentance as the likes as `Baby Bertha` , Daf-Oldsmobile and the rest of the 70`s legendary cars. The Beetle-Chevy built by Mick Hill for the 1976 season is very much alive and kicking having recently blasted up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Its creator Mick Hill had previously racked up an impressive number of race and title wins , particularly in his 2 self-built Capri V8s culminating with the inaurgural `Super Saloon` title in 1974. Hill raced a Trojan in F5000 in 1975 as his Tricentrol sponsorship had ended and his plans of converting the single seater into a supersaloon was shelved. This left the season open for rival Gerry Marshall in the new `Baby Bertha`Vauxhall to take the Supersaloon title and set the benchmark for the whole genre of modified saloon racing which was at its most popular during the mid-70s. Hill announced his new creation just before the opening round of the 1976 BRSCC Super Saloon Championship opener in May
( see article right ). It was a genuine VW Beetle body on the Trojan semi-monocoque spaceframe with petrol tanks in the aluminium side pods. Power came from an Alan Smith-built F5000 Chevy 5-litre V8 producing 530 bhp located about where the rear seats would be in a normal Beetle. The Trojan`s suspension was used and the tires were an impressive 17inch at the rear and 15 front. A Hewland gearbox was used and weighed only 800 kgs , so the recipe had all the right ingredients.
However unlike Hill`s Capris the Beetle wasn`t a winner straight out of the box. Overheating issues were one problem in a car lacking testing and windtunnel development. 6th at Silverstone when the Supersaloons took on the Grand Prix circuit was about 5 places lower than Hill was used to and the car was slower than he likes of Baby Bertha and the DFVW. But the car itself gained alot of attention and Hill would recall later `I was racing the Beetle at a British GP support race and in the lunchbreak a number of F1 guys came to look at the car. They were impressed with the build and especially how i`d installed the suspension. This was a high point for me`. One F1 man who helped Hill with the overheating problem was Dr Harvey Postelwaite who got the car into MIRA`s wind tunnel. `He was so keen on the Beetle he gave his services for free`.The side radiators were ditched and side pods cut down and a Can-am style radiator fitted in the front along with a pair of grills. `Templar Tillers`came in with sponsorship too ( see article right ) and the car was on its way to being a winner.
1977 saw a reduced programe by the supersaloon champion Gerry Marshall so Hill enjoyed a season dice with Colin Hawker in the other Volkswagen super saloon the DFV-powered Fastback particulary in the midlands circuits in the BRDC championship. Maybe Hill`s finest moment with the Beetle was winning one of the first races at the newly reopened Donington Park on August 7th 1977 after Hawker retired ( see photo right ).At Silverstone Hill and Hawker diced for the lead until the final corner until Hawker`s brakes failed and mounted the back of the Beetle causing both to retire , a moment captured on camera in Autosport . At the seasons end Hill purchased his next car , the Jaguar XJ8 and sold the Beetle to Doug Niven who had borrowed it for a few races , winning at Ingliston.
The Doug Niven-era for the Beetle was its most successful as this underated driver really extracted the full potential from the car,now painted in the blue of the Border Reivers team. Doug totally dominated racing in his native Scotland winning the 1978+79 Scottish Saloon Car Championship. Great credit due to the miles clocked up on the many succesful sortees down to Donington ,etc as Niven recorded a remarkable 47 wins during these 2 golden years. 30 in 1978 and a further 17. The only failure in 1978 the car had was the BRDC Supersaloon finale with Niven leading the series only for a rare engine failure in practice to sideline him and hand Nick Whiting the title. With Supersaloons dead for 1979 the Donington GT was the top championship and Niven , already the lap record holder there from the previous august won the `big` class as the combination really suited the fast circuit. It was towards the end of the 1979 season that Niven decided to cut down on the amount of racing and let another driver share the car. That man was his trusted Mechanic Geordie Jeff Wilson who despite no previous circuit experience gained 3 class wins before the year end. Niven did rounds at Ingliston in 1980 winning the big class in the GT Championship and Wilson ventured to Croft , Aintree and Donington gaining 7 pole positions and 10 fastest laps including new lap record at Croft and 3 wins. There were a few engine problems for the car , now back in a white livery ,but new sponsors Wingrove and Perdal helped get the team a new block and heads.
The story of this great car starts to go down hill as the 80s wore on as the car was passed on to new owners and fell into obscurity. Wilson continued racing a BMW M1 clone succesfully in the Donington GT , as did Mick Hill. As for the Beetle it was campaigned by Terry King in a red livery , then Gary Charlwood who had previously had another ex-Hill car the Janglia. Then onto Chris Parton who had a crash in the car at Oulton Park which sadly ended the cars racing career as it was retired then passed onto to Matthew Mortley and broken up having ended up running with a V6 engine. This demise isnt unusual for this kind of 70s supersaloon with increasinly fewer championshis to run by the mid 80s , the costs of keeping these machines going and the temptation to sell off the parts many of the Beetles rivals wil never be seen again.
Thankfully in 2007 the Beetle was discovered by Historic F5000 racer Keith Norris outside a Garage in Cambridge in a sorry state.Keith let the now current owner Dave Taylor know of the car.Taylor a former engineer at Chevron and special saloon racer had enough spare parts , know how and dedication to totally restore the old girl. `Much of the car had been gutted and the doors wouldnt open...I reckoned I could return the car to its former glory so I bought it.I couldnt believe the body moulds had survived...it`s the bodywork which gives the car its unique character. Dave`s rebuild was painstaking and its creator Mick Hill was both an invaluble source of information and inspiration for the project. The finished Beetle was magnificent , painted back in Hill`s white livery Taylor was invited to run at both the Goodwood Festival of speed and Cholmondeley Pageant in 2009 and in 2011 the CSCC Special Saloon revival races at Mallory park which reunited Doug Niven and Jeff Wilson with the car. The journey wasnt perfect however as 18 months ago thieves stole Taylor`s trailor containing the Beetles bodywork. Thankfully the old moulds came good again and the car would be reclothed again in its muscular arches. This time Taylor decided to repaint the car back to its blue Border Reivers livery and of course it looked fantastic as it made a select few appearances during the summer of 2015. A return to the Goodwood Festival of Speed was a wonderful reaffirmation of the work of its creator Mick Hill and its recreator Dave Taylor.