NOW THAT WAS A CAR
The first offering from this mysterious team didn’t quite live up to its promise
We remember Don Nichols’s first Shadow F1 car from 1973, the ‘Coke bottle’-shaped DN1
Pointy beard, black cape and toreador hat: Don Nichols didn’t exactly conform to team-owner type, even in the fab ’n’ far-out decade of ’70s F1. The American, who died in August aged 92, was a true-life international man of mystery who created one of the greatest cult teams of motor-racing lore. The DN1 was the svelte machine that launched Nichols’ equally enigmatic Shadow team into F1 in 1973. The chassis shown here is the 3A, sold to Graham Hill as the double champion took his first steps as a team owner/ driver under the Embassy tobacco banner. The two works cars, run in Shadow’s trademark plain black, established their credentials as a force to be reckoned with, and two podiums in their debut year seemed a decent return. But it was a slog of a season and a deflating precedent that would linger throughout Shadow’s eight-year spell in the top flight.
Intrigue surrounded Nichols, allegedly a former CIA operative and US army veteran of WWII and Korea, who had made a fortune while serving in Japan by importing and selling racing-car components and tyres. Back at home in the late 1960s, he founded Advanced Vehicle Systems and went Can-am racing under the Shadow moniker. The shady figure in cloak and hat, which was used as a team logo, was a look adopted by Nichols himself, inspired by a pulp fiction superhero he recalled from childhood, named The Shadow.
His Mk1 Can-am car, featuring miniature drag-reducing wheels and a gigantic rear wing, set the template for Shadow’s unconventional approach. After four years of toil in the wake of Mclaren and Porsche, the team achieved few solid results, but Nichols announced his intention to crack F1 anyway.
Future Arrows boss Jackie Oliver had become part of the Shadow story in Can-am and, with one eye already trained on a life beyond driving, he galvanised the team’s grand prix assault. BRM designer Tony Southgate was hired to draw a car, which he did from his own garage, and premises were acquired in Northampton. Southgate had been responsible for BRM’S final GP winners, and his appointment was surely a key factor in attracting Hill as a team patron.
The resulting DN1 certainly looked right. The attractive all-enveloping body, featuring a coke-bottle-shaped rear, was ahead of its time and born of Southgate’s studious aero research at Imperial College’s windtunnel. Tight packaging included radiators tucked into the sidepods rather than hung behind the rear axle, with the fuel and oil tanks positioned centrally behind the driver. It was neat, tidy and purposeful.
Even the fuel the car consumed pointed to the future. Sponsor UOP (Universal Oil Products), who backed the team in Can-am, had just introduced a process to manufacture lead-free gasoline. What better way to market their product than by using it in F1? According to Southgate it had a smell of pear drops, and transporting it to each race added to team expenditure. But with an equivalent octane reading to regular leaded fuel the concoction was no detriment to performance.
The team didn’t make the first two races of 1973, but Oliver and underrated US racer George Follmer pitched up in South Africa, where the latter inherited P6 and one point first time out. This was promising, but it got even better at the next race. Follmer benefitted from attrition to snatch third at Montjuïc Park, where Hill also joined the party for the first time with his Embassy-liveried car. Things were looking good.
But, thereafter, reliability niggles dogged all three entries and design flaws became apparent. That packaging was perhaps a little too tight. Cooling was an issue, with the sidepod radiators proving too small for the job. And Southgate
“HILL MANAGED NO BETTER THAN A NINTH PLACE AT THE BELGIAN GP AND HE SWITCHED TO LOLA FOR 1974”
was forced to lengthen the wheelbase, which did at least improve weight distribution. The designer also discovered a snag with Cosworth’s DFV, which, despite its near-ubiquity in F1 by 1973, was an engine new to him after his time working with BRM’S V12. The V8’s characteristic vibrations highlighted a fundamental chassis rigidity flaw and the early promise was soon shaken out by the frustration of what could have been.
Hill managed no better than a ninth place at the Belgian GP and he subsequently switched to a Lola for ’74. But there was at least some cheer for the works team, when Oliver led the rain-afflicted penultimate round in Canada and was eventually classified third in a confusing race some thought he’d won. A total of nine points and P8 in the constructors’ championship at season’s end was respectable – but nothing more.
With hard lessons apparently learned, the new Shadow DN3 seemed a more promising prospect for 1974. But while Oliver and Southgate’s DN2 cleaned up in Can-am, yet more frustration followed in F1 – along with a terrible tragedy. New signing Peter Revson would die testing the DN3 at Kyalami after a suspension failure.
The DN1 was pulled back into service twice more for JeanPierre Jarier for the early rounds of 1974 before receiving its pension. One chassis would find a second career in Britain’s Shellsport Group 8 single-seater series, driven by, among others, Lella Lombardi, the only woman to score world championship points (well, half a point) in F1 history.
As for Shadow, there was the odd glimmer of success over the years that followed: back-to-back pole positions for Jarier at the start of ’75; Tom Pryce’s Race of Champions win at Brands Hatch that same year; and their single F1 grand prix win, by Alan Jones in the rain at the Österreichring in ’77.
But it was tragedy and controversy rather than worldconquering glory that would come to dictate Shadow’s F1 epitaph. Pryce died in horrifying circumstances at Kyalami when he collided with a marshal who was crossing the track with a fire extinguisher. Then, in 1978, following disagreements with Nichols, Oliver would break away to form Arrows, taking Southgate with him. Nichols duly won the ensuing court case over the striking similarities between the Arrows FA1 and Shadow’s DN9, forcing Southgate and co to produce an all-new car, the A1, in just 52 days. But it was the new team that lived on through the next decade and beyond. Nichols sold out to Theodore in 1980 and quit F1 for good.
But for all the unfulfilled potential, the mysterious American and his Shadow still left their mark. The DN1 was a fondly remembered car with a great livery that perfectly captured the swashbuckling, pioneering spirit of 1970s F1.
RACE RECORD Starts 40 Retirements 22 Wins 0 Poles 0 Fastest laps 0 Other podiums 2 Points 9