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Car & Driver: The Essence of Race Car: Surtees TS16

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Surtees TS16

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Being a top-notch racing driver is not necessarily the key to running a world-beating Formula 1 team, proving that Bruce McLaren and Il Commendatore were anomalies, rather than men who blazed the path all others would follow. But oh, how they tried. John Surtees won on the Snaefell Mountain Course on a bike. He won at the Nürburgring in an F1 car. In fact, he remains the only man to win the world championship on both two wheels and four. In an era of pinpoint specificity, he may be the only man ever to accomplish the feat. Certainly, Surtees is a hardy soul, but as a team owner, grand success eluded him. Nevertheless, let’s have a gander at his TS16, shall we?

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Surtees TS16

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We ran across the car in the paddock during the Monterey Motorsports Reunion and found ourselves smitten by its utter racecarness. The TS16 arrived in 1974, a transitional era in F1. Just six years before, Colin Chapman had bolted a wing to the era’s flying cigars. By the time Surtees’ second F1 car design arrived, the TS9 of 1971, side pods had entered the equation, but the cars still featured much in the way of metal construction. Its competition included the brutally effective McLaren M23, which won 16 races between 1973 and 1977, and the groundbreaking Lotus 72, then nearing the end of its impressive career. In 1975, the TS16’s second season — like much of the rest of the field — Surtees found itself totally outclassed by the utterly dominant Ferrari 312T, which carried Niki Lauda to his his first F1 championship, and Ferrari to its first constructors’ title since 1964.

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Surtees TS16

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Like much of the field in the 1970s, the TS16 relied on Cosworth’s DFV engine for power. It’s said that Surtees’ engines weren’t as strong as other DFVs in the field—McLaren was making a reported 490 horsepower out of the 3.0-liter, 32-valve V-8, which was a pretty serious number for the day. The Surtees put out a reported 465.

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surteests16-5

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So why are we looking at a dead-end car from a backmarker team that happened to have a famous name attached to it? Well, scope the thing out. Bang & Olufsen/Matchbox livery, from the days when a B&O stereo was a must-have accessory for all-night marching-powder marathons. Matchbox cars from when the boxes still said “by Lesney” on them. And, of course, Mr. Derek Bell’s name emblazoned on the side of the cockpit.

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While Bell enjoyed great success in sports car racing, the British driver didn’t fare as well in F1. He did, however, manage to hustle the TS16 to 11th place in the 1974 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. And if you imagine this shape, with its wedgy front end, sparkling polished rear wing, and Shaq-size snorkel blitzing its way through the forests of the Eifel Mountains, you can very likely pick up on why we stopped and stared. Despite its lack of competition success, the TS16 is just a wonderful thing to stand around and gawk at.

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