Mike Taylor talks to the men behind BMW GB’s early forays into motor racing back in the 1970s with the 2002, #E9
Coupé and the big #E3
BMW (Concessionaires) GB Limited was established by David Blackburne in 1966 putting the process of importing, selling and servicing prestige BMW cars onto a professional and efficient footing. Models destined for sale in the UK were brought from Zeebrugge or Calais in sealed containers to Folkestone and taken by road to the UK holding based in Portslade, Brighton. By #1968
the company was feeding 150 demanding agency outlets. In truth, the penetration of the BMW brand into the UK car market during the ‘60s had grown at astonishing speed. The launch of the Neue Klasse 1500 in #1961
had done much to put BMW AG on the map, helped considerably five years later by the introduction of the sporting twodoor 1600. By #1968
the range included the loved 2002, the larger 2000Ti Saloon and the distinctive but expensive #2000CS
Coupé. The next objective was to further promote the BMW brand, increasing its appeal with a concentrated race programme and one of the leading lights who made this possible was John Markey.
“For me it started in #1969
,” recalls John. “I had been racing full time for a number of years, starting with a Mini and then an Emery GT in British club races with the occasional foray to the Nordschleife for the 500k. This was followed by two years of eking out a precarious living competing in the World Sportscar Championship with a Chevron B8 and a Costin Nathan taking in 1000k events at places like Monza, Spa, the Nürburgring and the Targa Florio until finally my then wife, Wendy, decided that I ought to grow up and get a proper job.”
Previous experience with other companies plus a helping hand from a close friend, the late Stuart Bennett, resulted in John being interviewed by the joint MD of #BMW
Concessionaires, Les Jones. “I was offered the job of service engineer, travelling around the south east, investigating problematic cars, and sometimes problematic dealers, too,” he grins. “I couldn’t have joined at a better time. BMW Concessionaires GB Ltd was just on the cusp of greatness. The 2002 was flying out of the showroom doors and we couldn’t get enough of them from Germany. And although the 1800 and 2000 four-door Saloons were beginning to look a little dated by now, there was the six-cylinder #2800CS-Coupé
and the 2500 and 2800 Saloons.”
It has often been said that, down the years, what gives BMW models a head start in motorsport is that the base model is already well developed. A case in point was the 1600 Saloon. “It was a very good car; the #2002
was superb, followed by the 2002Tii, which was even better,” agrees John. “BMW (Concessionaires) GB Ltd also had a very aggressive marketing policy. Cars were sold with stickers which read ‘MOVE OVER to a BMW’ fitted across the top of the front screen with reverse mirror writing. Tony Hille was a truly entrepreneurial joint MD; he received total loyalty from all his staff.” By then BMW in the UK had taken on its elegant Park Lane showrooms. It screamed class and distinction, speaking to a niche motoring market customer.
“I’d been on the road as service engineer for about 12 months and racing a Lotus 30 and a McLaren M6B at weekends when I was asked by Les Jones if I would head up a special customer division. By then we were selling around 6000-8000 cars per year, many bought by influential and titled people and he didn’t want them taking their cars to just any BMW garage. My job was to visit the customer, asses the problem and bring the car back to London where my team would sort it out. Meanwhile the client would be given a courtesy car.”
In 1971 BMW (Concessionaires) GB Ltd was approached by Roger Bell, sports editor of Motor magazine asking if they would provide him with a car to race in the Castrol Production Saloon Car Championship Group 1 Series. “I met Roger and because of my racing background I was asked if I’d take on the role as competitions manager, co-ordinating the team, press and media relationship and arranging for journalists to test drive the cars for magazines like Autosport and Motorsport. “
Not surprisingly, John was very keen. The plan was to enter two cars for the first year sponsored by BMW agents Cronks of Chipstead, Surrey (John Bloomfield’s car) and MLG based in Chiswick, London (Roger Bell’s car). The deal was that in return for racing the BMW Tii Roger Bell would write a regular page in Motor extolling the virtues of the BMW.
Through his racing experiences John already knew Mathwall Engineering, run by fellow business partners Stuart Mathieson and Peter Wallace, Stuart concentrating on engine preparation and Peter using his chassis and suspension skills, the pair having met at Alan Mann Racing a few years before. “I approached Mathwall and they jumped at the chance,” continues John.
Stuart Mathieson takes up the story: “The cars were delivered to us at Silver Mere Farm Estate, Cobham and completely stripped down with any excess weight removed. The springs and dampers were changed and the ride height lowered. We used Michelin TB5 tyres, which were as close to a race cover as you could get. The steering and suspension was modified with a roll-cage, a racing seat and extra instruments added.”
Off the production line the 2002Tii engine delivered a true 130hp. Under Group 1 regulations there was only a certain amount of cylinder head preparation possible including grinding the inlet and exhaust tracts and polishing the metal, and reassembling the engine using blue printing selection techniques. “The engines were running Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, which I already had experience with. Luckily, I had access to Imperial College in London where they had a dynamometer and very soon we were seeing 143hp, which was later increased to 155hp as time went on.”
From the beginning Mathwall had an ‘open phone line’ to BMW’s spares department. “Initially, I was sent to Dover to attend a BMW fuel injection course and later to Munich to learn more about the engines and the factory,” continues Stuart. “I was based in Chiswick as I still had my special clients to look after but Mathwall and I were in constant touch. Money was no object. When I produced the budget breakdown for the season’s racing, which included entering the tough 24Hrs event at Spa, I was told by Tony Hille to go away, think again, and add more noughts.
It was very much like that,” John tells us. The first six-to-eight races were pretty successful for the newly formed team. Reports of the day reveal that Roger Bell won the first three, Mike Woolley in a dealer car won the next two, followed by two more by Roger. By now Ford had homologated various extras onto the 3.0-litre Capri including a limited-slip diff, close ratio gearbox and a range of axle ratios. Add to this Ralph Broad’s inimitable ability to astutely interpret the regulations and suddenly the 3.0-litre Capri went from an also-ran to easy outright winner and the Tii’s days were numbered. “The decision was then taken to prepare a 3.0CS to take on the Capri at home, and abroad in the Spa 24Hrs,” John remembers.
“We then approached preparing the six-cylinder coupé engine in much the same way as the four-cylinder in the Tii. By then fuel injection had gone electronic with the Bosch system and someone from BMW (Concessionaires) GB Ltd came down to give us a hand. It had an electronic management unit, which enabled us to plug in test analyser equipment to adjust things like mixture strengths and so on. We achieved 224hp with that engine. Also, the handling dynamics were different to the Tiis. The Coupé was much better balanced with closer to neutral handing,” explains Stuart.
After a promising start at home with a second and a win, the CS Coupé and two Tiis set off for Spa with Roger Bell/Tony Dron and Tony Lanfranchi/John Bloomfield with the Tiis and Motoring News scribe, Jeremy Walton sharing the big Coupé with Formula 1 driver, Peter Hanson.
“The Coupé started last, ran like clockwork, won its class and finished seventh overall, averaging 105mph for 24 hours,” grins John Markey at the memory. “What’s more, Jeremy gave us two pages of brilliant journalism in Motoring News. Sadly, however, the two Tiis both failed to finish.”
The Spa result paved the way for more events with the CS. However, at Mallory Park with Markey standing in for an absent Roger Bell, the car began giving gearbox problems, baulking during a change into third. “On a very fast right-hander it happened badly and I went off into the barriers, damaging the car pretty comprehensively. Luckily, at the time I was running one of the prototype CSLs as my company car. We took all the running gear off the CSi, transferred it to the CSL, which was lighter and left-hand drive, turning it into our Group 1 car.”
However, despite Mathwall’s best efforts with the CS the Ford Capri was pretty much unstoppable in the latter half of the season. “Roger had one or two wins, mainly in the wet. Then, while we were doing some tyre testing at Brands Hatch a front tyre burst at Paddock Bend. The Coupé was a write off. We called it a day and just ran the Tiis for the last few races.”
For 1973 the plan was to build two lightweight CSs. But, BMW (Concessionaires) GB Ltd changed its marketing strategy and it was decided to campaign the newly launched 3.0Si saloons instead. John Markey explains: “Again, I involved Mathwall Engineering to prepare the 3.0Sis and one Tii to be driven by my wife, Wendy. Radio Luxemburg gave us air time sponsorship and the 3.0Sis were built for Rothmans, Shell Sport and Aramis aftershave with drivers including Tony Lanfranchi, Roger Bell and Gerry Marshall.” On the tracks the saloons proved a pretty good match for the competition, racing at Brands, Snetterton, Thruxton and Mallory Park as well as entering the Avon Motor Tour of Britain.
“The CSL was only ever a homologation exercise; the CSi and CSA were the mainstay of BMW’s Coupé range,” asserts John. “BMW had to make 1000 CSLs to gain homologation approval and the factory persuaded Tony Hille to take 500 in RHD form. His bargaining point was to agree to take the CSLs if the factory would supply 2000 extra 2002s to meet customer demand. In the event the CSLs for the UK market were unique and came with electric windows and chrome bumpers.”
Another part of John Markey’s job was to act as sales promotions manager, which involved arranging customer track days at places like Brands Hatch. “The object was to reveal how BMWs performed on the track to clients who would not normally be exposed to this kind of driving,” explains John. “It was about demonstrating how well cars like the 2002Tii, 3.0Si and the CSL could perform without being confined to speed restrictions.”
Mathwall Engineering also benefitted from their connection with BMW. “We produced our first turbocharged engine for a BMW road car using a single Dell’orto carburettor. We then went on to introduce other aftermarket products such as spoilers and twin-carburettor kits. It put us on the map. At our height there were 14 people on the payroll,” recalls Stuart Mathieson.
Sadly, the UK’s declining financial climate took a strangle-hold on sales and drastic measures were called for, BMW (Concessionaires) GB Ltd released key staff; competitions was one of the first to be affected. “My first thought as I drove away for the last time was regret,” muses John. “It had been the happiest time in my working life. I couldn’t wait to get to work, they were great people and Tony Hille was a wonderful man to work for.”
Meanwhile, in Germany, BMW established its own motorsport department in #1973
run by Jochen Neerspach and Martin Braungart, which saw cars like the #CSL
being campaigned very effectively for several years. It wasn’t until January #1980
that BMW established its own UK subsidiary, BMW (GB) Ltd. It took over from BMW (Concessionaires) GB Ltd, which had been operating since #1966
. Our thanks go to John Markey and Stuart Mathieson for their help with this article.