#F1 History: Len Terry 1923 – 2014

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs

Len Terry – 1923-2014

terry-01-WLast week saw the passing of a great name in motor-racing design and engineering.

After leaving school early, in the mid-30’s Len, unguided, and perhaps unmotivated, played with a number of jobs that had nothing to do with motor-sports until he joined the RAF and discovered he had a natural engineering talent, and a mind that allowed him to see where currently accepted engineering practice might be improved.

After being demobbed in the late-40’s Len found work with the Ever Ready battery people but in his spare time he came into contact with the 750 Motor Club, a group of like-minded folk who wanted to go motor racing – on the cheap.

At that time Britain was full of old, and often crumbling Austin 7 cars with a workable chassis that could be easily exposed – just a few bolts allowed the rusting bodywork to be lifted off, helped along, when necessary, by a large hammer. The engine was an old side-valve design, which was also cheap and easy to tune-up – just whip off the head, skim a little off the face, to raise the compression-ratio, polish the easily accessed ports, add an aluminium (or plywood) sportscar body, and you could drive to the circuit, race the car and, if nothing untoward happened, drive it home again.

A need for more speed resulted in the same procedure being adopted with 1,172cc engined Ford cars – often known as ‘Dagenham Donkeys’, or ‘Sit up and beg’ Populars.


This long-lasting club became home to the likes of Colin Chapman, Adrian Reynard, Arthur Mallock, Jem Marsh, Frank Costin, Gordon Murray, Mike Pilbeam, Derek Bennett, Tony Southgate, Brian Hart, Maurice Phillipe and Eric Broadly, and Len worked alongside several of them.

Chapman was quick to notice Len’s ideas and offered him a job with Lotus, as a draughtsman, but he quickly became a designer as well, and he and Chapman constantly seem to have rubbed up against each other until, when Len’s own Terrier cars were successfully upstaging Chapman’s Lotus7s, and then won the Chapman Trophy, Chapman fired him.

After a stint with the ambitious but underfinanced Gilby team Len received another welcome back at Lotus, which he accepted because he was keen to race at Indianapolis… and his designs were allegedly better than Chapman’s own ideas… but the releationship seemed to amount to mutual disrespect and, after meeting with AAR at Indy, having had his Lotus 38 just win the Indy-500, he penned the Eagle… He didn’t seem to get on much better with Gurney either, though for different reasons.


A sparkling and inspiring career hit the skids with the ‘Stanley Steamer’ BRM, in 1977, and Len pulled back, to create replicas from the Mercedes SSK to vintage delivery vans, retiring to Lincolnshire, where he died last week.

Len Terry died the day I was researching his story for another article, which I learned on another blog-site… where the journalist who most vehemently criticises the ‘new-age’, cut-&-paste web-sites, errantly stated thet Terry had made FJunior cars in the mid-50’s, although this formula only started in 1959. I fear the words, ‘petard’ and ‘hoist’ came to mind… as his item was a clear copy of that on grandprix-com, and echoed on Autosport.com. Ho ho ho.

21 responses to “#F1 History: Len Terry 1923 – 2014

  1. C’mon BJ, no need to be coy about the fact that you read Joe’s blog….
    Mr Terry certainly crafted some extremely decent looking, and performing, sets of wheels.

    • And this is by far the better tribute. Joe does good by remembering the names, but BJ solved the puzzle in my mind, why I knew the name, but sadly the name only. I’m sure there’ll be more, in the magazine, but it’s better to make these tributes freely available.. a simple argument I doubt i’ll ever “win”, despite and all that obvious argument..

      I feel just a little scuzzy, discussing such semantics, in context of a obituary, but AFAICT this site’s role is filling the gaps in the general media. Keep at it, and you start to find that the bits already filled, are oversupplied and rather narrow.

      I simply loved to see juxtaposed, coyly protected different adornment, the Austin chassis, in different guises and different lives. There’s a joy to such ingenuity, which is contagious. And as I commented at the other place, never let’s forget what can be done by those who have not accumulated more letters after their name, than years on this earth, before they alight in some kind of organization.

      We have become deeply and dangerously inured to the devaluation of the individual and the deification of the organization. I only hope it does not take youth globally interrupted by war, (though I can understand also the thirst for knowledge of young men deprived of education*) to allow once again so many the benefit of the doubt on talent and promise, nor to shake us up so we consider the abilities of small enterprise, and the possibility we can all try. What bugs me, is the tools available are simply miraculous in comparison.. no, entirely of another world, to what Terry’s generation knew, even the most privileged, and yet innovation, should you read the “media”, comprises of writing one man effort apps, to perform mere tricks, effectively licensed by a pseudo benevolent uber successful MP3 player maker, who permit distribution for a mere one third of the gross. Of the gross! Sorry that is, in any detailed analysis, like all such context, misdirection, but the enormity of that grab fascinates me, for I cannot abide by who calls out “rip off”, when they are able to chose otherwise, and there is a kind of complicity in markets, when ideological marketing influences behavioral norms. So much has the world changed, when I read marketing blogs about “how to hire a data scientist” and at no time is there a word as to what the prize hire might be..

      I will always remember men like Len Terry, regardless I never knew the man, for who they encourage us to be: survivors, adaptors, constructors, and all around decent modest people, for we’re swimming in technical riches, all of us, and the education we need, as if libraries were ever so far away, is in such abundance, now unprecedented. I have fantasies of being able to find the study books, courses and reference I can find so easily, for free, maybe sneakily even, as a younger man than I am. Yet still I have been shaped in learning, substantially by access to papers. Men like Terry set a challenge, I feel, to any self respecting “geek” or “nerd” to use the plethora of resources we all absorb, and.. I might hope.. maybe make some guys behind a wheel go a darn sight faster.

      Thanks guys, great way to celebrate a life.

      * and it’s often argued, that Japan, restrained from military research, made tremendous endeavor in the sciences with fantastic results. Even though some was genuinely meant as military research by the back door, e.g. of older “obsolete” techniques such as ballistics, see Ïto calculus.

  2. Really enjoyed this – thanks:) Loved the interview and racing footage of Jim Clark at Indy too…brilliant…

    Lol about your last paragraph…as a amateur writer I can get led astray by some websites so easily only to find out later that it was all fiction – even some that look like they were written by “real” journalists…and it can be so hard to find several independent sources to back up a point that I think is fact!

    • “. . . several independent sources . . .”
      An almost extinct breed these days – even the concept isn’t much understood I fear.
      Good luck… 😉

  3. So your eulogy to Len Terry just descended into an attack on Saward. Classy and respectful. At least Saward can write. You have so little style.

      • I sort of have to agree with JB, BlackJack. You write some good stuff that I enjoy, but to end an article about the death of an influential designer with jabs at Saward is kind of off putting.

        On topic, I have Len Terry’s book about chassis design in my collection; it’s fascinating to see how design and chassis have developed over the years. Terry, in the book, takes us through his design thought process, starting with basic layout, developing roll centers, anti-dive, etc. then proceeds to the chassis. With current F1 cars and the requirement for a high forward chassis and thus the odd suspension angles all of that is sort of thrown out in favor of aerodynamics. Current cars certainly look odd at the front, with the drooping A-arms, etc.

        • In retrospect I’m sorry the jibe interfered with Len Terry’s story. But it’s interesting that people seem to know to whom I was referring…
          As for the book, I’d love to get a copy. My ‘bible’, in my youth, was the Costin/Phipps book: ‘Racing and Sports Car Chassis Design’… It’s time I updated myself…
          Thanks, Gomer, for your comments.

          • I’m indifferent, as a big fan of Joe’s work, writing and almost always his views. Maybe in the same way I was indifferent to the Rosberg debate, in which we clearly disagree. Or, rather, the question upon which my disagreement turns, has not been entertained, so I couldn’t really take up a argument.

            Hmm, I didn’t absorb the posited jibe, at the end, because I felt the obit was done already, and discontinued my attention there.

            Joe’s willfully thick skinned, and to mix metaphors horribly, he wears his thick skin on his wrist, which in every way contradicts my assessment of the man.

            As such, he rather invites the occasional snub.

            It’s not seemly, it’s not really that nice, but if you point fingers so often, what can you expect?

            I’m personally almost irrationally protective of Joe, a situation I realize because I have to check myself not to default to defending his line. However over the few years I’ve addictively read Joe, I’ve spotted traits which I would be critical of, far more seriously than any that are ever in public discussion, have never been publicly discussed and certainly if I were ever to raise them, would not be in public comment. I’ve always been very open why I give such a damn for the man and his writing, so no need to repeat what I’m on record for.

            The problem is, that Joe is, I think inadvertently, putting himself up for the occasional snub, online, and this being a small world with very few people both are able to write and who sincerely give a damn, it can get a bit hothouse.

            Yes, it’s better not to end a obituary as BJF did, and respect to all for not editing that, after the fact, as a matter for integrity of the print. Maybe minus a few brownie points for not sub editing, in the first place.

            At a wider perspective, I see no reason why there should not be “meta” discussion about who is writing seriously or professionally, about F1. I think a lot of missteps are being made, and they are best called out, rather than buried, because it’s the overall effect of media about the sport I believe matters, not minor dispute or debate, within a circle.

            To me, the negative aspect is the inward looking aspect of such discussion or observation or whatever you will call it, euphemistically or otherwise, because the job here, and at every publication of any nature, must be to talk and present outwardly. The only “crime” is parochialism and accentuating a world that needs greater exposure to all who could care less who is writing, because they’re not yet fans. Or, worse, and we know it happens, mass media writers looking for a supply to fill the cheap “news” sheets.

          • I have to be short, because too many pixels are using energy to display all of this already, but I’m privately sensitive to a very strange and inexplicable almost animosity that has done exactly nothing for anyone. I really don’t like such perceptions being part of my filtration process, as yet another unnecessary bias to discount. Take SIS, if you will, and that all seems to have pleasantly diffused to a genuine level of humor… now that kind of nudge nudge wink wiki “filtration” is a overhead i’ll gladly “endure”, because it throws up a lit of laughs, and occasionally much needed insight when everyone’s beyond their comfort zone lines for one driver of the other. Also SIS is getting much better in parody of the whole media coverage. I think that has real legs, and is instructional, for the process that has taken place. I come back now, for more of that, indeed. Now, can not any other aspects of intra sport contention, even if it is intramural as to who is writing publicly, be encouraged along similar good humored lines?

            Lest I get bogged down in the two sides, between my live of Joe’s work, and his view as to what counts for professional writing and journalism, and my enthusiastic support of the novel approach of this website, I have two words to settle it, which the most modest of students of popular culture and essay writing and literary rivalry in providing a social function should be aware: Mark Twain.

            Those two words, indeed, are my most sincere advice to all sides, and if heeded, would benefit all, and cause us to much the better enjoy all of this.

          • @ BlackJack.

            There are a bunch of classic books out there about race car construction; a lot of the stuff doesn’t apply now, but it’s still fascinating. Here’s a partial list in no special order; if you can find any of them they are worth having.

            The Sports Car, Its Design and Performance – Colin Campbell
            Race Car Engineering – Paul Van Valkenburgh
            Formula 1 Technology – Peter Wright
            The Sports Car Engine – Colin Campbell
            Racing Car Design and Development – Len Terry & Alan Baker
            Design of Racing Sports Cars – Campbell
            Racing and Sports Car Chassis Design – Michael Costin/David Phipps
            New Directions in Suspension Design – Campbell
            The Design and Tuning of Competition Engines – Philip Smith
            The Scientific Design of Exhaust & Intake Systems – Philip Smith

            And a must have: The 1000 BHP Grand Prix Cars –Ian Bamsey

            There are also some pretty good books on modern F1 composite construction:

            The Science of Formula 1 Design – David Tremayne
            Grand Prix Car Design – Alan Henry

            Sorry, won’t sell any of them!!!!

          • @ Goner,

            Thanks for that list! And the hint I might have to look hard for some 😢

        • Thanks for mentioning the Len Terry book – I’ve just ordered it…I’ll love having a primary source for trying to understand how F1 cars in the 1950’s and 60’s actually worked…

  4. He Gives Another Interview In That KILLER YEARS BBC4 Documentary – Also On VIMEO – 51735205.


    The Archive Menus Here, Inside The Same Month, Are Behaving Differently Than They Used To – Maybe It Is Just Me.


    • Thanks for the link. Shame that the opening commentary about von Trips comes over a shot of Phil Hill… having previously shown a shot of von Trips and wasted it… Odd…

    • I’ve just watched the whole thing and the commentary is full of factual errors. If a 2010 ‘BBC’ presentation can be as incorrect as this what hope is there for accurate history…?

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