Death Of The Dream - 1976 Hill GH2 Ford
Back in the 1970’s, it was an interesting time for Formula One. It was at the time the sport was starting to grow at a rapid rate. With that comes more exposure, which means more teams trying to make it big in Formula One. Although most teams came and fell flat, Embassy Hill was one of a few managed to stay afloat.
Embassy Hill was the brainchild of the ever charismatic Graham Hill. Hill is the only person at the time and until this day to complete the “Triple Crown” of motorsport. Which drivers have to win the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Formula One World Championship (or the Monaco Grand Prix) at least once. In both context Hill is still the only person in the history to have done the “Triple Crown”.
After the sale of Brabham to Bernie Ecclestone in 1972, with uncompetitive machinery and uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the team. Hill decided in late 1972 to start his own team with backings from Imperial Tobacco’s Embassy cigarette, thus Embassy Hill was born.
The team started in 1973 and running with Shadow and Lola chassis but achieved little success, often struggles and running outside the top ten. It wasn’t until 1975 that Hill raced as a constructor with its own chassis. The Hill GH1 or also known as the Lola T371 designed by Andy Smallman. Results were starting to pick up. Behind the surge of Embassy Hill was a young talent named Tony Brise.
Tony Brise rised through the ranks of Formula 3, Formula 2 and then Formula Atlantic with tremendous success. Considered as one of the biggest prospect of the sport at the time, he was given a drive by none other than Frank Williams to replace Jacques Lafitte for the tragic Spanish Grand Prix back in 1975. He would finish 7th on his debut. After the Frenchman came back, Tony Brise was later contracted by Hill to drive for his team for the rest of the 1975 season.
The Englishman showed signs of brilliance as he continuously posting competitive qualifying time and frequently out-performing his much more experienced teammate and future World Champion Alan Jones. Unfortunately, a combination of technical difficulties and bad luck prevented him from ever finishing in high leader-board positions, and he took just one championship point. Still, the future looks bright for the young man from London.
With the performance Brise was having, he was retained for a possibly breakthrough 1976 season. With many pinned the young man to be a future champion in the making, just like his charismatic boss back in the 1960’s.
The team started testings for the 1976 season around the middle of 1975 at Silverstone. With the first race of the new season started at the Brazillian Grand Prix on the January 25th, time was ticking for the team to test their new challenger. The car that they hoped would be edging closer upfront to the lights of Lotus, Tyrrell, McLaren or Ferrari. Unfortunately, Embassy cigarette producers had to cut their sponsorship money for the 1976 season. So the Embassy Hill team had to return to a single car entry for the year to come.
The new car, the Hill GH2 was again designed by Andy Smallman. It was also the first car that Smallman designed from scratch for the Embassy Hill outfit. Considered as a great designer by Graham Hill, Smallman was able to create an exciting car interpreted a lot of existing ideas from rival teams at the time.
The GH2’s designs was a major departure from its predecessor the GH1. The GH2 had got the flat nose of the Lotus Ford 72 in 1969 designed by Maurice Phillippe and was later used by different teams and most prominently on the successful McLaren M23. Later also invented by Phillippe (at Parnelli Jones’s Indy Car team back in 1972) was the trapeziform monocoque chassis for reducing air resistance, in Grand Prix Racing which was later adopted by Gordon Murray for the Brabham Ford BT42 to 46 types.
The radiators transferred shortly behind the front wheels was from Mauro Forghieri for his Ferrari 312B and T models. The high and slim cockpit cover was seen for the first time at Dr Harvey Postlethwaite’s Hesketh Ford 308C presented in the middle of 1975 in which was also featured on the Hill GH1 as well. The rear wing looks similar to the original version of the Lotus Ford 72 but using only two elements at Embassy Hill instead of three like Lotus.
Andy Smallman had not copied other designers’ ideas as many engineers of his time often had done previously, but he had interpreted accepted temporary elements to create a logical and closed concept of his own for a unique and beautiful looking car the 1976 season
The Hill GH2 was also powered by a 3 liter Ford Cosworth DFV V8 which was also been used by as many as 17 teams (including Embassy Hill) during the 1975 season. Most notably was the changed of gearbox as the GH2 ditched the old Hewland TL200 and replaced it with the FG400. The Hewland FG400 gearbox, it had extremely flat boxes, which gave the car a sleek silhouette looks most recognize along the sides of the car
With the early testings, the time that the car was posting was looking promising and indicating a successful season for the squad after enduring all the hardships from previous years.
Testings of the car resumed until November. Then, tragedy struck. On the evening of 29 November 1975 Graham Hill was piloting an Embassy Hill Piper Aztec light aircraft from France back to London. His passengers were team manager Ray Brimble, team driver Tony Brise, designer Andy Smallman and mechanics Terry Richards and Tony Alcock. They were returning from Circuit Paul Ricard where they had been testing the Hill GH2 car being prepared for 1976. They were due to land at Elstree Airfield before onward travel to London to attend a party. Shortly before 10pm the plane hit trees beside a golf course at Arkley in thick fog. In the ensuing crash and explosion everyone on board was killed.
The news came as a shock to the Formula One community as they have lost probably one of the greatest driver of the time, a future young champion in the making and an up and coming designer. As the team now only consisted of the deputy team manager and two mechanics it was impossible to continue. The GH2 development came to a halt.
Although the development of the GH2 was halted by the fatal accident, a GH2 chassis was completed and was ran for testings during 1975 was kept and now part of the National Motor Museum. The car also makes some brief appearance in events such as Goodwood and was driven once by Graham Hill’s son and later 1996 Formula One World Champion Damon Hill.
The GH2 was destined to be the car that would help Embassy Hill jumping to the Formula One elites. With so much promised, all of it was taken away by a tragic accident and claimed the lives of a potential future world champion in the making at just the young age of 23. Tony Brise and Graham Hill could have made a Formula One dynasty but unfortunately, it all came to an abrupt end. The GH2 and Tony Brise, never had much chance to prove themselves to the world that they are ready, dreaming of a new chapter that would see them in the books, a promising dream ended in tragedy.