Back in 1976, March Engineering of Bicester UK experimented the then “fashionable” 6 wheeler Formula 1 configuration. But why ?
It’s quite simple to understand. Early in 1976, Derek Gardner, then Tyrrell’s Chief Designer came up with the “6 wheeler” idea. Conceived and raced from 1976, the Tyrrell P34 for “Project 34” was the first and last 6 wheeler F1 ever to be raced.
The basic idea behind the whole car was that instead of having 2 big front wheels, they would reduce it to 4 little wheels to help decrease the drag and also improve handling with a larger front grip surface. The concept was great but didn’t deliver what was expected..! Hampered by the tyres and the fact that they didn’t benefit from the development of Goodyear as only one batch of tyres was ever produced. Only one win came during the 1976 Swedish GP with Jody Scheckter at the wheels. The car would then continue trough 1977 and would eventually be replaced by a more common design.
But let’s get back to March Engineering and the 2-4-0 design.
Robin Herd, the “H” of March, had come up with the idea that 6 wheels could work but with another concept. Improving traction ! And that was the aim of the project developped at March. 4 Wheels at the front had another negative point, weight.
When entering a corner, what you want is a very light front end as the car has to be precise so you can catch the right line and that was one of the weakness of the P34, the other thing with cornering is being able to put the power down as soon as possible and by having 4 wheels traction at the back this would of course be improved.
The whole concept was based on a 1976 March 761 chassis featuring a special transmission system at the back and using 16′ inch wheels at all corners.
Tested by Ian Sheckter in early 1977 it was said to be unbelievable in terms of traction but no official times were recorded and due to March Engineering financial woes the project was never developed further or raced in Formula 1. It did race as a 771/2-4-0 in the hands of Roy Lane in British Hillclimb Championship but the concept proved troublesome.
It could have been an interesting concept if developed properly as Williams later experimented a ground effect car with it but anyway, the FIA banned 4 wheel drive systems from F1 so it all stayed as a “project”.
All pictures featured are of a recreation based on a 761 chassis and raced in England during the 2012 Silverstone Classic Historic F1 race.
All pictures except P34, © Happiness & Dudeism.