Rogue One - 1970 Surtees TS7 Ford

In 1966, British racer John Surtees was looking for a change. By then, Surtees had already reached a god-like status. Starting on two wheels, he managed to completely dominate Motorcycle Grand Prix racing in the late 1950’s. At the end of his motorcycle career John had snatched a mind-boggling seven titles in two classes.

He won three 350cc (1958, 1959, 1960), and four 500cc (1956, 1958,1959, 1960) titles in quick succession with MV Agusta. In his final three seasons he won 32 races out of a total of 39, including three Isle Of Man’s TT wins. His formidable record swiftly earned him the nicknames Il Grande John and figlio del vento (son of the wind).

John Surtees seemed untouchable on two wheels.

John Surtees seemed untouchable on two wheels.

By 1960 Surtees had switched to racing cars, debuting for Lotus in Formula One at age 26. Doubling the amount of wheels did little to slow John down. In only his second Grand Prix he finished second on the swooping Silverstone circuit. His prowess earned him a seat at Ferrari, leading to him winning his first Grand Prix at the feared Nürburgring Nordschleife in 1963. In 1964 he did the impossible, winning the Formula One driver’s title with Ferrari by a single point over BRM-driver Graham Hill. The title made him the first man to win world championships on both two and four wheels.

After stints with Honda and BRM and three more Grand Prix wins, Surtees decided to go his own way. He founded the Surtees Racing Organization, initially only to compete in the Canadian American Challenge, an extreme new form of sports prototype racing. Using a Lola T70 Spyder, Surtees promptly won the first ever Can Am title. A switch to Formula 5000 followed in 1969. Surtees bought the leftovers of the failed Leda project, and started to build his own cars for the first time. The Chevrolet V8-powered TS5 was an immediate success, netting him five victories in the 1969 SCCA Continental Championship.

The Surtees TS5 F5000 delivered instantly.

The Surtees TS5 F5000 delivered instantly.

The success of his bold new business venture lead John Surtees to take on the world of Formula One. To this end he broke free from his contract with BRM and formed his own Surtees Formula One team in preparation for the 1970 season. Surtees employed the services of his partner Len Terry (GB), along with designers Peter Connew (GB) and Shahab Ahmed (PAK) to design his very first F1 racer.

John Surtees himself drew up the basic outlines of the car, but principal design work was done by Connew and Ahmed. Basing their efforts around the ubiquitous Ford-Cosworth DFV 3.0L V8 and Hewland DG300 five-speed gearbox, the team came up with a very unusual looking car. Following the example set by the Lotus 49, the engine was mounted as a fully stressed member to an aluminium monocoque chassis. So far, so good.

Using the engine as an integral part of the chassis provided much-needed rigidity.

Using the engine as an integral part of the chassis provided much-needed rigidity.

The team broke with tradition by equipping the car with a very unconventional squared-off body, and an aggressive arrow-shaped nose housing the radiator. Two large nostrils allowed hot air to vent out of the nosecone, and the gearbox played host to a large rear wing.

As the sport had only just discovered the dark art of downforce, the sharp edges and integrated wings made the TS7 look very futuristic. The finished car weighed in at a competitive 553 kg (1219 lbs). With 430 horsepower on tap from the screaming DFV, the TS7 looked really promising.

The TS7's squared-off body made a lasting impression.

The TS7's squared-off body made a lasting impression.

Unfortunately design work on the TS7 was progressing fairly slowly, forcing Surtees to buy a customer McLaren M7C to make ends meet. John drove the McLaren for the first six Grands Prix, but the TS7 was ready in time for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.

With the new car he managed to qualify a mere 19th on the 23 car grid. The car’s lack of pace was combined with poor reliability during the race, as the TS7 slowed with a loss of oil pressure on lap 51.

John Surtees receiving a fresh batch of fuel. Hockenheim, 1970 German Grand Prix.

John Surtees receiving a fresh batch of fuel. Hockenheim, 1970 German Grand Prix.

At the fearsome high speed Hockenheim circuit, Surtees and the car improved to 15th.. Despite his limitless talent, Surtees seemed to be unable to get the unproven car to the front of the pack. During the race his skill and expertise helped him stay out of trouble and steadily make up for his lackluster qualifying performance.

Sadly the TS7 let him down again. A blown engine on lap 46 bitterly ended Surtees’ charge just four laps from the finish. He was still classified 9th for his troubles, due to completing more than 90% of the race distance.

Österreichring, 1970 Austrian Grand Prix.

Österreichring, 1970 Austrian Grand Prix.

On the fast swooping course of the undulating Österreichring, Surtees showed a steady improvement in the car’s pace. Again using the full extent of his driving abilities, he managed fling the car to 12th on the grid. Halfway through the race however he was marred by another frustrating engine failure. This marked the car’s third straight mechanical failure, sinking crew morale to new lows. It was clear the fledgling team had plenty of teething problems left to iron out.

The front wings were deleted to reduce drag on Monza's long straights.

The front wings were deleted to reduce drag on Monza's long straights.

In qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza the F1 circus was shocked by the horrible death of championship leader Jochen Rindt. At the time it was common practice to take the wings off cars for Monza, as the drag they caused prevented cars from reaching their top speeds on the long straights. Rindt’s death shocked the paddock for a moment, but business resumed shortly afterwards. Such was the nature of racing.

Like every F1-driver, John Surtees had learned to deal with horrifying incidents like this. He had lost numerous friends and colleagues in both disciplines over the years, but kept on racing. Despite the tragedy, that same session he improved his grid position again. Finally he had made it to the top 10, but only just. In a sad twist of fate, a technical gremlin rendered his effort useless once more as an electrical fault left the car for dead at the start.

At Canada’s tight and twisty Circuit Mont-Tremblant Surtees finally found his stride. With every race he had improved his pace, culminating in an amazing 5th place on the grid. This time his hard work paid off, and the car stayed together. Finally the TS7 made it over the finish line in 5th place, scoring two World Championship points for the rookie team.

For the American Grand Prix at Watkins Glen the Surtees team fielded a second chassis, given to future Le Mans legend Derek Bell (GB). Surtees immediately displayed his dominance by convincingly out-qualifying his new teammate. He slotted into 8th on the grid, in front of Bell in 13th. The race flipped this result upside-down however, as Surtees encountered yet another engine failure. Derek Bell on the other hand made a good first impression by finishing 6th and scoring one more World Championship point.

Derek Bell, 1970 United States Grand Prix.

Derek Bell, 1970 United States Grand Prix.

The final round of the season took place at the lightning fast Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, featuring the infamously quick banked turn, Peraltada. An overwhelming amount of spectators quickly made the event descend into chaos. The track wasn’t meant to take that many people, leading to overcrowded grandstands and wanton hooliganism. People were pressed against the guard rails, loitered by the side of the track, and even ran across while the cars were doing their rounds.

The frantic atmosphere was exacerbated by an overbearing heat, forcing the Surtees engineers to slap and extra radiator on the TS7 in an effort to protect the fragile engine. With the modifications in place Surtees managed to pilot the car to 15th on the grid. The quick bodge seemed to do the trick, as John was able to make it to the finish line in 8th.

A crude auxiliary radiator was used to combat the sweltering Mexican heat.

A crude auxiliary radiator was used to combat the sweltering Mexican heat.

With the 1970 season over, the debut of the Surtees Formula One team had proved to be a chaotic, troublesome, but ultimately rewarding affair. With three points to their name, the team ranked 8th in the World Championship standings.

The unruly TS7 would make two more appearances in the 1971. As the team’s focus shifted to the new TS9 for John Surtees, the TS7’s were given to Brian Redman (GB) and Rolf Stommelen (GER) for the first round of the season, Kyalami in South Africa. Both men did well to finish 7th (Redman) and 12th (Stommelen). A second appearance followed at the Dutch Grand Prix, as Stichting Autoraces Nederland had purchased one of the cars for local boy and future Le Mans winner Gijs van Lennep. Van Lennep used to car to his advantage in a valiant debut, scoring a respectable 8th place in torrential rain.

Even though the TS7 knew little success on the world stage, it managed to snatch a surprise victory with John Surtees in the non-championship International Gold Cup event held at Oulton Park. The race was open to both Formula One and Formula 5000 cars. Inexplicably Surtees dominated the event, scoring an overbearing pole position with a three second margin over Jackie Oliver (GB) in a BRM P153.

Surtees proceeded to utterly control the race itself in equal fashion, beating Oliver with a lead of 6.6 seconds. So short after the horrors of the first three Grands Prix with the car, the win came as a gift from the heavens for John Surtees. It would be his last ever win in high-profile motorsport.

John Surtees filled with pride after winning the Gold Cup in his own car, Outon Park 1970.

John Surtees filled with pride after winning the Gold Cup in his own car, Outon Park 1970.

John Surtees retired from active racing after 1972, and switched his focus to his business obligations. Aside from the Surtees Racing Organization, he spent his time with a motorcycle shop, a Honda dealership, an extensive vintage racing motorcycle collection, and his three children. He served as chairman of A1 Grand Prix Team Britain from 2005 to 2007. In 2009, he once again endured a devastating tragedy when his 18-year old son Henry died after a loose wheel hit his head during a Formula Two race.

Surtees was inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and revered as a “Grand Prix Legend” by the Federation Iinternationale de Motocyclisme. For his services to motorsport he received not one but three orders of knighthood. He was bestowed with the Order of the British Empire (MBE), Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Both in living and in death, he remains an enduring legend in the world of motorsport.

The connection of the car to the driver is the seat. You are strapped in tightly in it. On the motorcycle, you can move around. The g-forces feel different. It’s probably harder to switch from the car to the motorcycle.
— John Surtees.

Wins:
1956 Isle Of Man TT (Senior 500cc class).
1958 Isle Of Man TT (Senior 500cc class).
1958 Isle Of Man TT (Junior 350cc class).
1959 Isle Of Man TT (Junior 350cc class).
1959 Isle Of Man TT (Senior 500cc class).
1960 Isle Of Man TT (Senior 500cc class).
38 Motorcycle Grands Prix.
6 Formula One Grands Prix.
7 Non-Championship Formula One races.

Championships:
1956 500cc Grand Prix Champion.
1958 350cc Grand Prix Champion.
1958 500cc Grand Prix Champion.
1959 350cc Grand Prix Champion.
1959 500cc Grand Prix Champion.
1960 350cc Grand Prix Champion.
1960 500cc Grand Prix Champion.
1964 Formula One World Champion.
1966 Canadian American Challenge Champion.

Distinction:
To this day the only man to win world championships on both two wheels and four wheels.