March Engineering began operations in 1969. Its four founders were Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd. They each had a specific area of expertise: Max Mosley looked after the commercial side, Robin Herd was the designer, Alan Rees managed the racing team and Graham Coaker oversaw production at the factory in Bicester, Oxfordshire. The history of March is dominated by the conflict between the need for constant development and testing to remain at the peak of competitiveness in F1 and the need to build simple, reliable cars for customers in order to make a profit. Herd's original F1 plan was to build a single-car team around Jochen Rindt, but Rindt became dismayed at the size of the March programme and elected to continue at Team Lotus.
March's launch was unprecedented in its breadth and impact. After building a single Formula 3 car in 1969 March announced that they would be introducing customer cars for F1, F2, F3, Formula Ford and Can-Am in 1970, as well as running works F1, F2 and F3 teams.
The Formula One effort initially looked most promising, with March supplying its 701 chassis to Tyrrell for Jackie Stewart. These cars were merely a stopgap for Tyrrell, who no longer had the use of Matra chassis and was in the process of constructing his own car; March was the only option available to him given clashing fuel contracts. In addition, the factory ran two team cars for Jo Siffert (Porsche were paying for his drive) and Chris Amon sponsored by STP. A third STP car, entered by Andy Granatelli for Mario Andretti, appeared on several occasions. Ronnie Peterson appeared in a semi-works car for Colin Crabbe when his works Formula Two commitments allowed; various other 701s went to privateers. The team constructed ten F1 chassis that year, in addition to F2, F3, Formula Ford and Can-Am chassis. Stewart gave the March chassis its first F1 victory in the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix and Amon took a non-championship race, but the works team did not win a Grand Prix. The 701 had distinctive wing-profile fuel tanks at the side of the car designed by Peter Wright of Specialised Mouldings; Wright had been involved with BRM's abortive ground-effect programme in the late sixties and later worked on the groundbreaking Lotus 78. The 701's tanks though lacked endplates and skirts to help generate any meaningful ground effect. Robin Herd (in Mike Lawrence's history of the team 'Four Guys and a Telephone') described the 701 as essentially a good 1969 car and not what he would have done had he been able to run a small team for a star like Rindt - the 701 was designed and built very quickly and he claims he would have built something more like the 711.
For the 1971 Formula One season March Engineering came up with the remarkable 711 chassis, which had aerodynamics by Frank Costin and an ovoid front wing described as the Spitfire (for its shape) or 'Tea-tray' (for its elevation from the car) wing. The car took no wins, but Ronnie Peterson finished second on four occasions, ending as runner-up in the World Championship. Alfa Romeo V8 powered cars were occasionally entered, to little avail (following on from an equally unsuccessful Alfa program with McLaren).
The 1972 Formula One season completely failed to capitalise on the promise shown in 1970-71. Three distinct models of car were used, beginning with the 721, which was a development of the 711. Peterson and Niki Lauda then drove the disappointing experimental 721X factory cars (using an Alfa Romeo transverse gearbox and intended to have a low polar-moment, anticipating in some ways the much more successful Tyrrell 005/006). Frank Williams ran regular 711 and 721 customer cars for Henri Pescarolo and Carlos Pace. The 721X was deemed to be a disaster and abandoned, but the team saw a way out; customer Mike Beuttler and his backers ordered an F1 car, and the team produced the 721G in nine days (the 'G' standing for 'Guinness Book Of Records' as the car was built so quickly) by fitting a Cosworth DFV and larger fuel tanks to the 722 F2 chassis (not as desperate an experiment as it may have sounded -- John Cannon commissioned a Formula 5000 car which was built to a very similar scheme). The 721G was light and quick, and the works team soon built their own chassis. Had they started the year with these, wins may well have been possible. The 721G set the trend for future March F1 cars, which for the rest of the 1970s were essentially scaled-up F2 chassis. Meanwhile, March was going from strength to strength in Formula Two (which became its spiritual home) and Formula Three.
Also, the German team Eifelland entered under its own name a 721 much-modified with distinctive and eccentric bodywork by designer Luigi Colani for its driver Rolf Stommelen. This car was extremely unsuccessful, and later reverted mostly to conventional 721 form and was used by John Watson to make his F1 debut for John Goldie's Goldie Hexagon Racing team.
March's only notable result was Peterson's third place in Germany.
1973 was the low-point for March in Formula 1. The four extant 721Gs were re-bodied and fitted with nose-mounted radiators and the crash-absorbing deformable structures that became mandatory that season; although no new chassis were built, they were re-designated 731s. Without significant STP money, the March factory team was struggling, running an almost unsponsored car for Jean-Pierre Jarier (who mainly concentrated on F2, winning the championship in a works March-BMW), while Hesketh bought a car for James Hunt to race. Jarier was replaced by Tom Wheatcroft's driver Roger Williamson, who suffered a fatal accident in Zandvoort (at which race March privateer David Purley attempted to rescue Williamson from his burning car). The Hesketh team, after an initial non-championship outing using a Surtees, bought a March which was developed by Harvey Postlethwaite and became a regular points-scorer, again hinting that there was little wrong with the basic concept of the 721G/731. Had March been able to focus on F1, greater success would have been possible. 1973 marked the first year where F2 became more important to March than F1, with the new two-litre rules marking the beginning of a long relationship with Paul Rosche at BMW. March undertook to buy a quantity of BMW engines each year in exchange for 'works' units for their own team; the BMW unit was standard-issue for the 732 F2 car and to use up the rest of the units March also manufactured a 2-litre prototype until 1975. Some of these had an astonishingly long life and were still competing (albeit much-modified) in Japan in the early 1980s.
In 1974, the factory team ran Howden Ganley until his money ran out, then Hans-Joachim Stuck in a Jägermeister-sponsored car and Vittorio Brambilla in a Beta Tools-sponsored car. Both drivers were exuberant and occasionally quick, but proved expensive in terms of accident damage. BMW was starting to exert pressure on March to quit F1 and concentrate on F2. Patrick Depailler took the F2 championship in an Elf-sponsored March-BMW, the marque's last title for several years as the Elf sponsorship programme and (in 1976) the arrival of Renault engines turned the formula into a French benefit. Some discontent arose in the March customer ranks in F2 since the works appeared after the first couple of F2 races with cars that differed significantly from the customer vehicles.
In the following year Brambilla continued, scoring a surprise victory in the rain-shortened 1975 Austrian Grand Prix. The second car was run by Lella Lombardi, the only woman to score a Championship point in F1 (only a half point actually as the ill-fated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix was shortened). Sadly, Mark Donohue died after a practice accident in a Penske-owned March at the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix. Penske had abandoned their own car and bought a March to allow them to continue to compete; subsequent Penske F1 cars were very much 'son of March'. Through the mid-Seventies March provided privateers with simple, fast, and economical cars, although it does not pay to examine the history of individual chassis too closely; at one point Frank Williams bought an allegedly brand new 761B only to discover that it still had orange paint on it from its time as a 751 with Brambilla driving! The relationship between chassis plates, chassis and 'entities' is distinctly fuzzy in the 741/751/761 series, with at least one chassis plate having appeared on three distinct monocoques and one monocoque having appeared under multiple plates.
In 1976, Peterson, unhappy with the uncompetitive Lotus, jumped ship early and returned to March for whom he scored the team's second and last win at Monza. The 761 was fast but fragile, the F2 components starting to show the strain; by this point the F1 effort was being run on a shoestring with a two-car 'works' effort featuring Peterson and Stuck, the cars tending to turn up in different liveries as race-by-race sponsorship deals were signed, and a 'B-team' entered under the March Engines banner for paying drivers Lombardi and Arturo Merzario. By now the F1 effort as a whole was under fairly severe pressure from BMW, which wanted Robin Herd to concentrate entirely on the works' Formula Two effort, which was starting to be outpaced by French constructors (Martini and Elf) and the new Ralt marque.
That year Peterson scored only one other point in 1976 before being brokered back into a deal with Tyrrell for 1977. Although he felt most at home at March, it was clear that the team didn't have the resources to do Formula 1 "properly".
In the off-season of 1976/77, March engineer Wayne Eckersley constructed a rear end for the 761 chassis that had four driven wheels (designated the March 2-4-0) to Robin Herd's design. Unlike the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34, the 2-4-0 had four 16-inch driven wheels at the rear (the same size as the front wheels). The theory behind the design was that this arrangement would offer improved traction and reduced aerodynamic drag (compared to the Tyrrell, which used ultra-small front wheels and normally sized rears). The chassis was tested at Silverstone circuit in early 1977 by both Howden Ganley (although the first time Ganley tested the 2-4-0 only the front pair of rear wheels were powered!) and Ian Scheckter but the project was curtailed in favour of further development of the conventional chassis. Ironically the car made March more profit than many of its successful racing cars as it was licensed by Scalextric and became one of their most popular models. The 2-4-0 rear end was later used in hillclimbing by various drivers including Roy Lane.
A token F1 effort with Rothmans sponsorship was run in 1977 for Alex Ribeiro and Ian Scheckter, but nothing worthwhile was achieved. Yet, as the works were fading from F1 the 761, by virtue of being cheap, simple and readily available, became the tool of choice for privateers, notably Frank Williams who after his acrimonious split with Walter Wolf needed a car to get back into racing before his own vehicle was ready.
Merzario later built his own unsuccessful F1 car based on his old 761, which he and Simon Hadfield attempted to develop into a ground effect car. This programme was completely unsuccessful.
At the end of the 1977 season, the F1 team's assets and FOCA membership were sold to ATS (who had bought the Penske cars); Herd was retained by them as a consultant and was hence in the curious position of developing a development of his own 1975 car - and the 1978 ATS had some features reminiscent of contemporary March thinking. Mosley left the company to concentrate on FOCA matters. The F2 car had reached the end of a train of development that had started with the 732 and was becoming seriously uncompetitive; the works team abandoned the evolutionary 772 in favour of a smaller, neater car built around an old Formula Atlantic monocoque, the 772P. This was more than a match for the Martini opposition and formed the basis of the next year's dominant 782.
From 1978, March concentrated on Formula Two running the works BMW team. A 781 chassis was occasionally campaigned in the minor Aurora F1 series. March also assisted in the production of the Group 4 and Group 5, racing versions of the BMW M1 sports car, which as well as running in mainstream endurance races also ran in the one-make Procar series as supporting events in many F1 races. The F2 cars of this era, particularly the 782, were often superb, and March regained its dominance of the formula - Bruno Giacomelli took the F2 title.
Ground effect came to F2 in 1979 but was widely misunderstood; for a while it looked like Rad Dougall in the Toleman team's conventional 782 would beat not only Brian Henton in Toleman's own car but also March's new 792 to the title. In the end, however, Marc Surer prevailed for the works.
In 1981 March made a half-hearted and ill-financed effort to return to F1, building cars that were little more than heavy and insufficiently stiff copies of the Williams FW07 for Mick Ralph and John McDonald's RAM Racing. The car was driven initially by Eliseo Salazar, but he soon quit for Derek Daly to take over. The team acquired a major sponsorship deal from Rothmans in 1982, but the money came too late for Herd or Adrian Reynard (who was working as chief engineer) to improve the performance of the cars. In 1983, McDonald started building his own cars and March was left outside F1 once more. The RAM-March effort was at armslength from March proper, with the cars being built at a separate factory and the only real link with March being Robin Herd. During this phase, March Engines (a separate company within the group) undertook a number of bespoke customer projects - a highly modified BMW M1 (which was highly unsuccessful but provided some input into the later GTP/Group C cars) and an equally unsuccessful Indycar (the Orbitor) based around the 792 chassis.
March's attention in the early 1980s was mainly split between F2 and breaking into the IndyCar market. It is a curious irony that although March's FW07 copy bombed in Formula One, when developed into the 81C Indycar it was instantly successful (largely down to George Bignotti's direct involvement in developing the car). Cosworth-powered Marches won the Indianapolis 500 five straight times between 1983 and 1987. The March 86C actually won the race twice in a row, 1986-1987. On the other hand, when Williams directly licensed the FW07 design to Bobby Hillin, the resultant Longhorn cars were a failure. An important sideline appeared when Group C and IMSA GTP racing started; March built a line of sports-prototypes descended from the unsuccessful BMW M1C, which, fitted with Porsche or Chevrolet engines, enjoyed considerable success in America (but less in Europe). The biggest success for March in sportscar racing was victory in the 1984 24 Hours of Daytona. A works BMW deal in IMSA suffered from engine problems but the cars were intermittently very fast. In 1982, Corrado Fabi took March's last Formula Two title; the formula was being increasingly dominated by the works Ralt-Hondas. March abandoned the Formula Three market at the end of the 1981 season; they had enjoyed periods of dominance in the category, but this had faded in favour of Ralt, though. The margins on an F3 car were low and the factory could be more productively occupied building F2s and Indycars.
The new Formula 3000 in 1985 gave March much more success for the first few years of the formula, with Christian Danner being the first champion in a March chassis. He was followed in 1986 by Ivan Capelli and in 1987 by Stefano Modena. These early F3000s were little more than developments of the 842 F2 car (as were the Japanese F2 cars in 1985-86). Meanwhile, March became by far the dominant marque in Indycar racing, reaching the point where 30 out of 33 starters in the Indianapolis 500 were Marches. Into the late 1980s, the F3000 programme started to be eclipsed by Lola and Ralt, and was virtually obliterated by Reynard Motorsport's entry to the market.
March began a new Formula 1 program in 1987 with the Ford-engined 871 which was sponsored by Japanese real estate company Leyton House and driven by Ivan Capelli, who had brought his F3000 sponsor to the team (in fact, for the very first race an F3000/F1 hybrid called the 87P had to be used as the 871 wasn't ready). In August 1987, Adrian Newey came to March and designed the March-Judd 881 for Capelli and Maurício Gugelmin to drive. The car was a real success, scoring 21 points in 1988, including a second place at the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix. It was the only normally aspirated car to lead a race - albeit briefly - during the season. The aerodynamics and ultra-slim monocoque of the 881 were copied by most of the grid in 1989 and the car launched Newey as a superstar designer.
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