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“The enormous success of the Mk 11, particularly that raced by Tim Schenken, was followed by the even greater success of a cosmetically improved version, the Mk 11A”. Colchester Racing Developments Ltd.
Ever since one man decided he wanted to go faster than the next man ‘wheel to wheel’, Motor Racing has had some sort of a ‘feeder’ system in place, be it Voiturettes in the 1920s, 500cc machines of the ‘40s or Formula Juniors towards the end of the 1950s. Unlike today, there was then no meaningful karting scene where four year old kids could obliterate their future inheritances and fathers were able to vicariously live out their Grand Prix driver ambitions through their children, so the L Plate Formulae of ‘proper’ race cars thrived. The problem was, despite the best intentions of the likes of Count Johnny Lurani, one of cost and it wasn’t until expensive, highly strung race engines were removed from the equation that a reasonably level playing field, accessible without pawning your silver spoon, was created. The key was dropping a simple mainstream production engine in a reasonably low state of tune into what was essentially the same sort of spaceframe chassis utilised in the previous Formula Junior and Formula 3 categories. The result was “Formula Ford” and the viability of the concept is born-out not only by the fact that it still survives today as part of the modern ladder to the top but that it is also one of the most popular and competitive series in Historic motor racing.
By the late 1960s Formula Ford was established as the first rung on the ladder to Formula 1. However, the window of opportunity to prove one’s self was relatively small with most wanabes who ultimately succeeded spending just one season in the white heat of Formula Ford competition before stepping up to Formula 3, 2 or if particularly talented, Formula 1. It was very much a case of sink or swim and as a result it produced the next generation of Grand Prix drivers.
Tracking the development of the feeder formulae from Junior to Ford via Three, Merlyn, the commercial racing car arm of Colchester Racing Developments Ltd, hit the ground running for the first full season of Formula Ford in 1968. They developed their Mk 10 Formula 3 machine into the highly competitive Mk 11 (Tim Schenken taking the works example to 28 wins from 33 starts) and followed this with the tweaked Mk11A for 1969 and 1970 and this uber-successful model continued to dominate, providing leg-ups to future World Champions James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jody Scheckter.
Cedric Selzer, the renowned race mechanic who looked after the legendary Jim Clark’s Lotus’ in the 1960s, aided by his son Marc, tracked this particular Merlyn down in South Africa and with the help of Ian Hepplethwaite, a South African Formula Ford enthusiast, and Clive Hayward at Colchester Racing Developments, pieced together its comprehensive history. The 11A, Chassis Number 224/FF/69 as identified by Clive from its original numbered Hewland Mk 6 gearbox, was built and shipped direct to South Africa in 1969 as part of a batch of identical Merlyns. Clearly an early Formula Ford protagonist in South Africa, it was given a South African Formula Ford Register identity plate stamped number four which it still carries today. Delivered to the Steering Wheel Club of Durban, the Merlyn was owned initially by Jos Viljeon and then passed to Bob Alsop in 1972. It was raced by Bob under the ‘Team Gordons Bay’ banner, often as part of a two car team; Bob and Tommy Gash, both in Merlyn 11As, were entered at Kilarney as late as 29th April 1972. The Formula Ford was then sold to Angus Huntley who is recorded as entering a race at Kilarney in a Formula Ford Western Province Championship race in July 1974. In 1977 it was sold to Jan Kriel and a year later to Roddy Turner, a talented driver who won the Western Province Championship in the 11A that year. Jack Benetan then had the car until at least April 1984 before it passed through the hands of Paul Joubert and Armien Levy before ending up with Eric Barry in 1990. The Merlyn, now sporting Van Dieman bodywork, was then owned by Mark Eliasov, its final owner in South Africa.
The Selzers bought the 11A in 1994, returning it to England. Though it ran and drove they totally rebuilt it, retaining as many original parts as possible such as suspension uprights, the Armstrong dampers, steering components and the engine. A new body was obviously required and common sense dictated that a new chassis from CRD be fitted. Similarly some safety critical suspension parts were replaced while Hewland experts PDS rebuilt the original gearbox with new Mk 8 internals. Cedric’s renowned build and preparation skills, especially with space-framed machines, were bought to bear as they tried to achieve what Marc describes as a ‘clean and un-cluttered’ build with lot of thought going details such as pipe and cable runs, while keeping the Merlyn as close to its original 1969 specification as possible.
Completed in time for the 1996 season the Merlyn was raced by Marc through to 2003 and over the years it was developed (as much as a Formula Ford can be) with a Scholar engine complete with new head, valves, oil pump, pistons and liners being fitted along with an oil cooler and a long-range fuel tank courtesy of Peter Denty. The rear brakes were replaced with Girling Mk 12 units to match those on the front.
After suffering some racing induced ‘wear and tear’ Marc fully rebuilt the Merlyn again in 2003, (please see photo gallery) returning it to its former immaculate condition. He then sold the 11A to its most recent private owner who has since run it ‘gently’ in some Sprint events. The engine was rebuilt again by Formula Ford maestros, Road and Stage Motorsport of Morecambe in 2009 and it has covered very few miles since.
Today, despite the time elapsed since the Merlyn’s rebuild, light use and conscientious maintenance has ensured it still looks remarkably fresh. Aside from a couple of minor chips the paintwork looks more than ‘race car’ presentable and the chassis has barely an imperfection on it anywhere. Importantly it has not been modified around the lower dash panel area to accommodate a taller driver as so often is the case. The plating to the suspension components looks all but perfect though there is a small dent to one of the lightweight rear view mirrors as shown in the photo gallery. The plumbed-in fire extinguisher could need recharging or replacing depending on the car’s end use. The seat belts are in date for the rest of this season and though the tyres may well suffice for some familiarisation runs, they should probably be replaced on an age basis before serious competition is undertaken.
The Merlyn’s rear rain light, obviously not required for sprint competition, is supplied with the extensive history file which also contains its MSA Logbook, engine rebuild invoices, build sheets, set up notes and an extensive selection of photographs and race programs from its time in South Africa. Cedric Selzer’s hand written notes and other documents regarding its ownership history and identity are also present. There are also two hard discs; the first contains Marc Selzer’s summary of the car’s history, Formula Ford engine specification, a handy race day ‘check list’ and comprehensive set-up data along with a Workshop manual for the Hewland gearbox while the second disc contains a photographic record of the restoration works.
With just a few minor updates, for example to the extinguisher and tyres, the Merlyn could be a competitive addition to the well run and supported Historic Sports Car Club’s Historic Formula Ford 1600 Championship, where the marque continues to dominate just as it did in period. Alternatively the world of sprints and hill climbs could prove a very cost effective option. With parts and repair services still provided by Colchester Racing Developments Ltd., running the Merlyn should be relatively straight forward in comparison to some other marques.