The Ex – Ian Skailes, John Hine 1969 Chevron B8 BMW

The Ex – Mo Skailes, John Hine

1969 Chevron B8 BMW

Chevron is the true British motor racing story, the talented engineer who started in a lock up garage and went on to be one of the worlds leading names in both sports car and single seater formula racing. No fewer that six former Chevron drivers went on to achieve World Champion status. An extraordinary talent, Derek Bennett was a brilliant and mainly self taught engineer with an impressive aptitude for repairing, modifying and sculpting race cars.  Like so many of the great race car producers of his era, when he was not working at the track he could be found behind the wheel racing mostly custom built racing cars.

From Derek Bennett’s first win in a car carrying the Chevron name at Kirkistown in 1965, the success of the Chevron marque became closely intertwined with its customers worldwide, buying and racing their Chevron cars most notably in 2-litre sports car competition but also single seater Formula 5000, Formula 2 and Formula 3. 

The Chevron B8 is widely regarded to be one of the most beautiful sports racing cars ever produced, with their looks only to be matched by their handling. To all intensive purpose the B8 was an ‘improved’ version of the B6. The basic design remains the same, but on the B8 the under tray is bonded onto the chassis frame and it carries larger radiators, oil pipes and fuel tanks. 

In answer to customer demands a front anti-roll bar was fitted, although this was deemed unnecessary by Derek Bennett who already felt the car was perfectly balanced as it was. By the time the B8 appeared Chevron production had become a well-honed operation. Arch Motors supplied the chassis direct to Chevron and Specialised Mouldings manufactured the smooth and sleek bodywork. 

The B8 was homologated as a Group 4 Sports Car in 1968. Only 44 examples were built between 1968 and 1970 and were fitted with a number of different engines with the most popular being a 2 litre BMW unit. In order the get the B8 homologated as a Group 4 car it was necessary to produce 50 cars but by some clever interpretation of the rules including adding the 1967 B6 cars in the calculations the FIA accepted the B8. The 1968 B8 was perhaps the car that really established Chevron as a serious production car manufacturer capable of taking on all-comers and beating them.

It was success from the start for the B8 with Digby Martland and Brian Classick finishing 9th overall at the BOAC 500 Miles at Brands Hatch. Other results included an amazing 2-3-4-5 at Croft, 5th and 6th overall at the Speedworld International Trophy at Oulton Park for Chris Craft and Tim Schenken and finally Peter Gethin was third at the Guards International Trophy at Brands Hatch. 

Adding to this several wins in UK club racing as well as some success on the continent and for Brian Redman in the South Africa’s Springbok series, meant that Chevron could look back on 1968 as an important step in their increasing stature. 

In 1969 the B8 took a big step further towards its now legendary status, with the Kleinpeter/Gun/Beaty B8 taking sixth overall and a class win in the Daytona 24 Hour race. The Wisell/Hine B8 finished seventh in the 1969 BOAC 500 Mile race at Brands Hatch also winning their class. The Red Rose Racing B8 in the hands of John Lepp was dominant in the RAC British Spots Car Championship taking the 1969 and 1970 titles. The B8’s place was well and truly stamped in motorsport history. With the ever growing array of distance and endurance races and events in historic racing the B8’s speed, handling and versatility has very much made to the car of choice for drivers both in Europe and the USA. As such the B8 has continued to shine and be the car to beat. 

This car, CH-DBE-79

Nephews of former Connaught driver, Ken Downing, both Ian (Mo) Skailes and his brother David were keen and well known racers. With David having already raced an Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato and Ferrari 250 LM, Ian began his racing career in 1966 at the age of 19 with a Marcos Volvo in hillclimbs. Graduating in 1968 to Chevron B6, he upgraded to a new B8, this car, and eventually a B16, he became a successful contender in international sports car events, which included a highlight of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1970. After a short but productive racing career Ian retired from racing in 1970 at the age of 23 to focus on running the family business with his brother David which remains to this day to be the last family-owned company in the UK to produce Stilton cheese, the Cropwell Bishop Creamery.

In April 1969, Skailes traded in his by now two year old Chevron B6 for a new Chevron B8 GT with Rodney Bloor’s Sports Motors Manchester Limited dealership. Bloor was himself an influential figure in the Chevron story, having encouraged Derek Bennett to produce a single seater for promising young driver Peter Gethin to race with Sports Motors backing. That single seater was the Chevron B7, and put Gethin on a path to not only become Chevron works driver, but to go on to win the 1971 Italian Grand Prix for BRM. Bloor’s close relationship with Bennett and Chevron saw him be an effective agent for the marque, enabling the facilitation of part exchanges toward new Chevron racing cars and aiding the sales volume. 

The new B8 GT which Skailes bought was this car, CH-DBE-79. Supplied in component form, a more cost-effective option at the time, CH-DBE-79 was finished in British Racing Green and included the extras of indicators, windscreen  washers and a long range fuel tank to a total value of £3,220. With the old B6 being given a value of £1,925, it left £1,295 outstanding for Skailes to pay.

Just two days after the invoice date for the purchase of CH-DBE-79, Mo Skailes made his debut appearance with the car at Croft on the 20th April, commencing what would prove to be a very busy season. With an entry list that included no less that ten Chevrons, Ian was running well in fourth place until he had to retire with a broken throttle cable. A week later, he and CH-DBE-79 were back out at Silverstone on the Saturday where they finished 2nd. For the Sunday, Skailes travelled over to race at Snetterton where he and CH-DBE-79 repeated the podium position of the day before with another 2nd place.

The first weekend in May saw a 4th place at Thruxton, and a week later Skailes took his first victory in CH-DBE-79 at Silverstone. In the style of what he had achieved a few weeks earlier, Skailes returned to Snetterton the following day to add another victory to CH-DBE-79’s scorecard. 

One of the most heralded 2-litre sports car races of the year, the Martini International Trophy, fell on the weekend of the 17th May. Skailes was on fine form with CH-DBE-79 to claim pole position ahead of not only a plethora of fellow Chevrons but also the works Auto Delta Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 of Andrea de Adamich. The race itself saw changing conditions and Skailes spun CH-DBE-79 in the wet, recovering to finish 4th. 

On the weekend of the 26th May, Skailes and CH-DBE-79 were present at Thruxton once more, taking 3rd place in the Motoring News GT race after a battle with Willie Green’s Chevron B5 and a McLaren M1C. A return to Silverstone followed on the next weekend with a 2nd place, and three weeks later it was the same setting for another race, however a failed brake master cylinder halted CH-DBE-79s efforts.

Skailes travelled out to Portugal with CH-DBE-79 and his friend John Hine. Hine, one of Chevron’s works drivers, shared CH-DBE-79 at with Skailes in the Vila Real 6 Hours on the 6th July. As part of a large British contingent who traveled to the race, Skailes and Hine retired when a nut came off one of the suspension uprights, allowing the  suspension arm to come off and puncture a tyre, damaging a wheel with it.

Having bought various new nuts and a new wheel from Chevron, two weeks later, Skailes and CH-DBE-79 were at Mugello for the Gran Premio sports car race. This time sharing with Richard Bond, CH-DBE-79 was retired following an accident. The original invoices from Chevron show that Skailes returned CH-DBE-79 to Chevron at Bolton, where the chassis was jigged and repaired before being rebuilt in house with a set of new bodywork ready for Oulton Park on the 16th August, while the damaged original bodywork was left at Skailes’ house.

The rebuilt CH-DBE-79 suffered mis-fire issues in the Group 4 race at Oulton, with Skailes finishing in 8th place. A better run was had at Silverstone on the 30th August with a 2nd place finish. Skailes was then present at Mallory Park on the following day to take another 2nd place with CH-DBE-79, setting the fastest lap time in the process. The following weekend saw a trip to Germany for the Nurburgring 500kms, although piston ring failure occurred before the race resulting in a non-start.

With the BMW M10 engine requiring attention, it was removed from the car and sent to Chevron at Bolton to be rebuilt. New conrods, piston rings, bearings, valve springs and an oil pressure pump were fitted during the rebuild, with CH-DBE-79 returning to the track at Silverstone on the 20th September to take another 2nd place. The following day, Skailes and CH-DBE-79 were at Thruxton which yielded a 3rd place. 

The next planned event for CH-DBE-79 was the Barcelona 12 Hours, held on the Montjuic Park street circuit. In anticipation of what was by far the longest event that CH-DBE-79 had contested, Skailes sent the car back to Chevron to be prepared. The cylinder head was serviced with new inlet valves fitted, and various modifications were made to the car to be better suited to the requirements of such a distance. Larger, 7” headlights and bowls were fitted to the nose with special cowls to suit, and identification marker light was fitted to the roof and number lights were added. The fuel filler location was modified to aid quick refuelling, with it being positioned in the left side of the rear body. Skailes also obtained a full spares package on a sale or return basis from Chevron. 

For the 12 Hours on the 5th October, Skailes again paired with John Hine. In practice, Hine came together with another car, breaking the rear suspension on CH-DBE-79. Repairs were carried out ahead of the race itself which started at 10am on the Sunday. Hine and Skailes were tipped by many for a chance of success, but it was found that the rear of the chassis broke just over two hours into the race, forcing retirement.

From Barcelona, CH-DBE-79 was at Montlhery the following weekend for the Paris 1000km, with the chassis having been repaired. Entered with both Hine and Derek Bennett as co-drivers, Skailes in fact only drove with Hine and the pairing qualified in 20th position. Fog delayed the start of the race, with the total distance shortened to 75 laps, just under 600km. In the race, Hine lost control of CH-DBE-79, damaging the nose and steering which forced retirement. 

Two weeks later, having been repaired at Chevron in the meantime, on the 26th October, Skailes entered the Jarama 6 Hours, this time sharing with Richard Bond. The pairing performed well with CH-DBE-79, taking 9th overall and 2nd in the Group 4 class. With Skailes’ new Chevron B16 nearly ready for delivery, the final race in which he competed with CH-DBE-79 in was at Mallory Park on the 15th November, finishing 2nd. 

With the new B16 on its way, Skailes looked to sell CH-DBE-79. Following an introduction from Chevron themselves, Skailes was contacted by Wolfgang Wurst, care of BMW AG, in December 1969. In February 1970, a deal was agreed to sell Wurst CH-DBE-79 without engine and gearbox for £1,650. In March 1970, Helmut Hölch of Starnberg, Germany took ownership, of the car in rolling chassis form. 

Hölch fitted a BMW M10 engine of his own, along with a Hewland FT200 gearbox, and obtained an ONS Wagen-pass for CH-DBE-79 in June 1970. With the car looking as it did in Skailes’ ownership, Hölch debuted with it at the Norisring round of the Interserie on the 28th June. Having qualified 22nd, Hölch did not start the races due to piston ring failures in practice. 

Another Interserie round followed, this time at Hockenheim in July, however Hölch and CH-DBE-79 retired from the race. Hölch had entered at Mendig, Hockenheim and Nurburgring in October but did not compete in any of the three events. On the final weekend of October, Hölch and CH-DBE-79 were at Neubiberg but did not finish. During 1970, Hölch had also competed in a handful of hill climbs, including the Augusta Bergrennen in September. 

1971 saw Hölch continue with CH-DBE-79 for four events which included the ADAC Salzburgring round in June. Concluding his competition outings with the car in October 1971, CH-DBE-79 remained with Hölch through the 1970s until bought by period B8 racer Chris Smith in 1979. Upon Smith’s acquisition, CH-DBE-79 returned to England. 

In 1984, CH-DBE-79 passed to Peter Bennett and was sold on to Robert Grant after having the car inspected by Chevron Cars Ltd. Grant went on to campaign CH-DBE-79 in HSCC Thundersports events during 1984, with the bodywork finished in white. In 1985, ownership passed to brothers Jim and Steven Lawrence of Alamo, California. After its arrival in California, the Lawrence brothers obtained an SCCA logbook for CH-DBE-79, which shows that the car was still white at this time.

The first event in which the Lawrences competed with CH-DBE-79 in was the Monterey Historics in August 1985. They continued to race CH-DBE-79 around the West Coast for the following 20 years, at circuits from Sears Point to Palm Springs, with occasional trips east to venues such as Lime Rock. Late in their ownership, CH-DBE-79 was repainted dark blue, and in 2005 was sold via Fantasy Junction to Francois Castaing of Michigan. 

Castaing was former Executive Vice President of Chrysler and raced CH-DBE-79 from his acquisition. He too kept CH-DBE-79 on the West Coast with Veloce Motors West and also took it to the Monterey Historics, racing there in 2006. When sold to the current owner in 2008, CH-DBE-79 was described as being in very original condition, with service information noted.

Upon arrival in England in 2008, the current owner instructed Gelscoe Motorsport to prepare CH-DBE-79 ahead of testing at Donington Park in October.  Over the following winter, a full rebuild of CH-DBE-79 was undertaken at Gelscoe Motorsport. 

CH-DBE-79 was stripped down to a bare chassis which received repairs wherever necessary before being powder coated. A new ‘works-spec’ engine was bought from BMW M10 specialist L.H. Owen and fitted. Component crack testing was carried out, the suspension rebuilt The bodywork was repainted, new safety equipment fitted, and then tested again at Donington Park. 

Over the following years, CH-DBE-79 has been campaigned by the current owner in the HSCC Guards Trophy, Masters World Sports Cars and Peter Auto’s CER 1 series. In 2016, CH-DBE-79 was fitted with a new set of bodywork and painted in the original British Racing Green and liveried as raced by Mo Skailes in 1969. 

The BMW M10 was rebuilt in July 2016 by L.H. Owen, at which time it received a general rebuild including new valves and valve springs, making 224bhp on the dyno. New FIA HTPs were granted at this time, and remain valid until 2025. With little use between 2016 and today, the most recent work has been the rebuild of the Hewland FT200 gearbox in November 2021, carried out by BPA Engineering and including the fitment of a new crown wheel and pinion along with differential parts.

In 2014, the current owner made contact with the first owner, Mo Skailes. Skailes was generous in providing the current owner with all of the original documentation that he still had relating to CH-DBE-79, including the original purchase invoice from Sports Motors Manchester Limited, all of the invoices with Chevron Cars, and sales correspondence with Wolfgang Wurst and Helmut Hölch. 

Skailes had also retained the complete original set of bodywork, damaged at Mugello in 1969, and still bearing its livery. The current owner has had it structurally repaired but it remains in the original finish.

CH-DBE-79 is also accompanied by the dark blue set of bodywork, the BMW M10 engine as fitted from at least the Lawrence ownership, a passenger seat, a high torque spare starter motor, two pairs of gear ratios and a spare set of magnesium Chevron wheels, currently fitted with Avon wet tyres. 

The history file with CH-DBE-79 is one of the most notable of any Chevron B8 which we have seen. Containing the original purchase invoice, Chevron Cars invoices from throughout the 1969 season, 1970 sales correspondence, 1970 Wagenpass, further sales documents, SCCA logbooks and current FIA HTPs, it is also complemented by the Gelscoe Motorsport restoration invoices and most recent BPA Engineering gearbox rebuild invoice.

 Chevron B8s are unanimously adored for good reason. Not only are they timelessly styled, but they are practical and fantastic fun to drive. To take one around Oulton Park, the venue at which Derek Bennett carried out the majority of their development, shows the magic and it rings true to the feedback of original drivers: The harder you push them, the better they get.

CH-DBE-79 is a very well rounded example with notable international period history, interesting original livery, a run of discerning owners and benefitting from being maintained without expense spared. Currently configured to race with either Peter Auto or Masters in being fitted with Avon cut slicks, CH-DBE-79 awaits its next custodian and continuing its racing ways.