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When a popular Super series proved short-lived

Top names in stunning machines filled spectator banks, but the Super Saloon era, which began 50 years ago, was brief

Super Saloons 1974 Jeff Bloxham

Super Saloons 1974 Jeff Bloxham

The Classic Sports Car Club Mick Hill Trophy races at Silverstone earlier this month turned the clocks back 50 years to the birth of Britain’s Super Saloon movement he and Tony Hazlewood masterminded in 1974. Hill and Hazlewood loved brawny American V8 engines, and became fan favourites for wrestling mighty cars built around them in their spare time.

Both learned the hard way, saddling ‘bargains’ prone to breakages. Hill’s ex-Richard Scantlebury ‘Janglia’ – a Jaguar-engined Ford Anglia 105E – had a voracious appetite for diffs until he put a Jag rear end in it, before making an evo version. Hazlewood’s apprenticeship was served in the ex-Doc Merfield ‘Fraud’ Cortina Mk1, with 4.7-litre V8 power.

Derbyshire GPO engineer Hill and Dave Steeples then built a Lola-suspended 4.7-litre Ford Capri, while High Wycombe agricultural equipment designer Hazlewood and Ray Kilminster took an innovative approach. Starting with a new DAF 55 coupe shell and March Formula 2 suspension, they exploited prevailing Special Saloon regulations by installing a 4.3-litre aluminium Oldsmobile V8 up front and a Hewland FT200 transaxle in the rear. Friendly dust-ups ensued in 1972, when Hill racked up wins and Hazlewood spins!

An RAC regulation change enabled Hazlewood to go from 10in to 16in-wide rear wheels for 1973, which transformed the short-wheelbase DAF. He lapped Thruxton at over 100mph – a tin-top first – in October, while fighting with Gerry Marshall’s Dealer Team Vauxhall Firenza. Hill added massively to his win tally, meanwhile, and was plotting a new six-litre Chevrolet-powered Capri at sponsor Tricentrol’s behest.

As British Racing & Sports Car Club, British Racing Drivers’ Club and British Automobile Racing Club Special Saloon championships were divided by engine capacity, from under 850cc up, Hazlewood and Hill aimed to unite the V8 ‘hybrids’ against their quickest rivals.

Announced in August 1973, October’s Westwood Cup race backed by Hazlewood’s brother Gerry’s lawnmower-manufacturing concern whetted appetites at the BRDC’s Silverstone Grand Prix circuit finale. While mechanical dramas and an earlier Esso Uniflo championship race forced withdrawals, David Howes won in his AMC Javelin. Marshall’s DTV Firenza and Hazlewood’s DAF chased hard. Colin Hawker’s wailing Cosworth DFV-engined Toleman’s Delivery Service Capri delighted among them.

CSCC event earlier this month was for the Mick Hill Trophy

CSCC event earlier this month was for the Mick Hill Trophy

Photo by: Mick Walker

The Super Saloon Drivers’ Association was duly formed and by November a six-round 1974 series – as more championships were not being sanctioned – was unveiled. Hill and Hazlewood would steer it, with BRSCC chief Peter Browning and Brian Mayes of Tricentrol key allies.

But the timing was bad. The miners’ strike-enforced energy crisis had resulted in a three-day manufacturing week being introduced and brought down Edward Heath’s Conservative government by the spring. Motorsport, like everything, was in limbo.

Brighter days loomed, but corporate purse strings were cut, so title sponsorship did not happen. And dates and venues changed dramatically. John Player cigarettes branded the openers, at Snetterton and Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and Monday – ambitious given the cars’ highly strung nature. Nothing changes…

Ultimately, Superloons’ decline was probably hastened by Marshall’s imperious dominance in Baby Bertha, exacerbated by a dull 1975 British GP support race

Hill won at Snett, from Tony Strawson in his previous Capri and Nick Whiting’s immaculate Escort-FVC, prepared by future F1 technical chief brother Charlie. Having wrecked his BRM V8-engined Escort at Silverstone six months previously, Dorset timber merchant John Turner withdrew its sensational looking and superbly built Skoda-Chevrolet S110R successor – F5000 Leda-based – in the preliminaries. Halfshaft failure sidelined Hazlewood’s DAF, now owned by Corbeau Equipe’s Colin Folwell.

Hotfoot from an Ingliston double in his Escort-Chevrolet, Scot Doug Niven – Jim Clark’s cousin and a fellow borders farmer – raided Mallory, beating Whiting, Tony Sugden (Escort-BDE) and Scot Bill Dryden’s SMT Firenza. Niven was chasing leader Hill and had to go ploughing when a puncture pitched the Capri into the Devil’s Elbow barrier. Hill was then unbeatable at Mondello Park in June and Ingliston in July, where Ian Richardson’s 7.6-litre Chevrolet Corvair filled the Edinburgh showground circuit.

A deluge swamped Silverstone’s quality entry in August. Australian past master Frank Gardner’s 7.4-litre Chevrolet Camaro beat Howes, from the back, their Group 2 monsters followed by Hill and Turner’s increasingly wieldy Skoda. But brake failure destroyed Marshall’s F5000 Holden/Repco-engined Vauxhall Ventora ‘Big Bertha’ four months after Frank Costin’s creation debuted. Marshall escaped serious injury, but from its remains emerged the ominous Firenza-esque ‘Baby Bertha’, that featured on the Silverstone podium with Joe Ward up.

Hill notched wins five and six at Castle Combe and Thruxton, while Richardson succeeded in October’s Westwood Cup race. The BARC’s November Thruxton TV meeting featured the Super Saloon showdown of the season as Hill and Turner traded the lead repeatedly at record pace. Mick won by 0.2 seconds but, maddeningly, their titanic scrap was not broadcast!

Marshall pushes on in his Firenza known as Baby Bertha at Silverstone in 1975

Marshall pushes on in his Firenza known as Baby Bertha at Silverstone in 1975

Photo by: LAT

Rising costs and little remuneration meant Hill and Turner tried F5000 in 1975, John having sold the Skoda to Irishman Arthur Collier. Hill would return, building the F5000 Trojan T102-based VW Beetle – later campaigned by Niven and Jeff Wilson, now with period F1 Iso Marlboro-underpinned Cortina-Chevrolet Mk3 ‘superloonatic’ Dave Taylor.

Hazlewood also made a comeback after Demon Tweeks founder Alan Minshaw bought the charismatic DAF, now Andy Wilson’s. Hazlewood’s subsequent Jaguar XJ8 – its 7.6-litre Surtees Chevrolet V8 in the passenger space – won a Silverstone clubbie in Gordon Mayers’s hands.

Hill took it on before it was fire damaged, but the Skoda V8 was destroyed in a transporter blaze in George ‘Welly’ Potter’s ownership. Meanwhile, Hazlewood’s Templar Tillers business supported Hawker’s magnificent DFVW, Alain de Cadenet’s Gordon Murray-designed Duckhams Special Le Mans contender that rarely fulfilled its potential cloaked in a glorious 1600 fastback shell.   

Ultimately, Superloons’ decline was probably hastened by Marshall’s imperious dominance in Baby Bertha, exacerbated by a dull 1975 British GP support race. The big-buck works-backed monster toppled the ingenuity of indomitable men in sheds, underdogs whose self-funded bolides were often hamstrung by unreliability.

Alec Poole could beat Marshall in Derek McMahon’s F2 Rondel-based Skoda-BDX, but the ‘Chimp’ – a Chevron-chassised Hillman Imp caricature in which Jonathan Buncombe impressed – was outlawed. The category soldiered through 1976 before the Donington GT championship brought fresh excitement and wilder cars to entertain fans, and thus an exciting but brief era was over.

The Super Saloons era was brief, but is still celebrated today in the Special Saloons & Modsports series

The Super Saloons era was brief, but is still celebrated today in the Special Saloons & Modsports series

Photo by: Mick Walker

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