Scalextric C129/131 March 2-4-0
A Profit Making Failure
Most people are aware of the Tyrrell P34 six wheel F1 car of 1976 but this thread is about the lesser known March 2-4-0 of 1977 which had four driven rear wheels as opposed to four at the front. The car was part genuine experiment and part publicity stunt, it never entered a GP but surprisingly it proved highly profitable for March at a time when their finances were severely stretched. Scalextric did very well out of it also.
Designer Robin Herd had watched the P34 closely and, by late 1976, had come to the conclusion that the "four front wheels" concept was something of a blind alley. He thought the improved aerodynamics at the front were largely negated by the rear tyres which accounted for 30-40% of the car's total drag and also felt that the extra grip they generated would be more useful at the rear end. With this in mind he drew up plans for a six-wheeled car with four driven wheels at the rear. His theory was that with all six tyres the same size as a regular F1 front tyre, the car would not only be be slimmer than normal F1 cars but would possess improved aerodynamic performance at the rear with much cleaner air passing over the wing. Four driven wheels would also mean better traction.
Max Moseley had already noted that the P34 had been a tremendous publicity coup for Tyrrell. Aside from its technical merits, he believed a March six-wheeler would be an irresistible package to present to potential sponsors so work began and an existing March 761 was mocked up with the revised rear end. It only ran twice for the benefit of the press at Silverstone. Cost cutting in the development led to a structural weakness in the gearbox which broke the first time out but an improved version did make a few runs up the hangar straight with all four wheels connected on the second occasion.
As a publicity vehicle it worked a treat and appeared on the front cover of Autosport both times but March lacked the finances to develop it any further and it was quietly abandoned. This was not quite the end of the story though because in 1979 British Hillclimb specialist Roy Lane was loaned the 2-4-0 transmission unit which he grafted onto the rear of a March 771 and won several British hill-climbing events with it that year. The car still exists and is currently residing in the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands.
In 1978 Scalextric joined the "let's make a failed F1 car" brigade and the March 2-4-0 duly appeared in catalogue 19 bearing Rothmans livery. It turned out to be a big seller though and stayed in the range for five years although they got the wind up about the ciggy livery after one year and changed it to plain March livery in original blue as well as a fake green colour.
It was also included in a set which further helped its sales figures. Even now there are loads of survivors which can be picked up fairly cheaply although the Rothmans version is harder to come by. It didn't have 4 wheel drive but the real thing rarely managed that either.
So there you go, not bad for an abandoned experiment and it was reputed to be the most profitable car they had ever built - Scalextric paid for the manufacturing rights and March also made a small fortune from hiring the car out to trade shows and exhibitions. Incidentally the strange type number of the car, 2-4-0 is a direct reference to the way steam locomotives were classified, two wheels leading, four driven wheels, zero trailing wheels. Quite why they wanted to name a cutting edge F1 car after some 100 year old Victorian technology remains a mystery!