Motor racing is filled with stories of what might have been. Usually the missing element in the story is money. This is certainly true when it came to Lyncar.
Back in the early 1970s, Cosworth DFV engines were readily available and ambitious team owners could buy an off-the-shelf F1 gearbox from Hewland. If they built an aluminium monocoque and found someone to manufacture some bodywork for them, they could come up with what was known at the time as a Formula 1 “kit-car”. They could be pretty competitive as well, with clever engineers giving a new team the chance to shine.
Martin Slater was a racer when he was studying engineering. He built his own specials for Formula Junior, known either as Slater Specials or as Cheetahs, in the early Sixties. Later he would go on to work for Lola, March, Brabham and McLaren, while racing when he could afford it.
It was not until New Zealander John Nicholson appeared on the scene that Slater was convinced to do his own thing again. “John Nick” had started out rebuilding engines as an apprentice in Wanganui, and worked his way up in racing from secondhand saloons to a Lotus 27 Formula Junior and then a Brabham BT18 Formula 2 car. He decided to head to Britain to see if he could get a drive in Formula 3. He had no money, but found work with McLaren, rebuilding CanAm engines. He was even allowed to test McLaren M8B and M8D CanAm cars at Goodwood.
When McLaren decided to use Cosworth DFV engines in 1968 Nicholson was put in charge and when three years later the team decided to give up in-house engine preparation, he switched to head Nicholson McLaren Engines, an independent entity. This was a huge success and made him a moderately wealthy man.
The beginning of his success coincided with the launch of Formula Atlantic in the UK in 1971. It created opportunities and Nicholson helped to convince Slater to build an Atlantic car called the Lyncar, named after Slater’s wife, née Linda White. A factory was opened in Taplow and the first two Lyncar chassis were sold to Nicholson and to a Hewland engineer called Mike Endean, who would later establish XTrac.
Success came quickly with Nicholson winning Lyncar’s first victory in May 1972 at Mallory Park. He would go on to finish third in the British Formula Atlantic championship that year behind Bill Gubelmann and Cyd Williams.
In the winter Pinch Plant Hire arrived to sponsor Nicholson and in 1973 he contested two championships: the six-race Yellow Pages International series (although all the races were in Britain) and the 18-race BP British Series. Nicholson won seven races and took the BP title, but was second to Colin Vandervell in the Yellow Pages Series.
That winter Slater and Nicholson agreed to build the Lyncar o6, which was to be a Formula 1 car. This appeared in the early season non-championship races in 1974 and Nicholson finished sixth in the International Trophy at Silverstone. It was a really promising start, but there was no money nor time to do more. Nicholson continued in Formula Atlantic. Once again there were two British series (Yellow Pages had been replaced by Southern Organs and BP by John Player as the series sponsors). Nicholson won the John Player title, beating Jim Crawford, Tony Brise and Alan Jones, while Crawford won the South Organs championship.
In 1975 the Lyncar F1 car reappeared in the non-championship races and Nicholson qualified 11th for the International Trophy, although he retired early. In July the Lyncar was entered for the British GP and qualified for the race, only to retire early. It was Lyncar’s only Grand Prix. The following year the car was sold to wealthy Spaniard Emilio de Villota who raced it in the Shellsport International Group 8 Series in Britain, a sort of Formula Libre. His best was fifth place at Brands Hatch. In 1977 he surprised everyone by winning the opening Shellsport race at Mallory, but he then decided to switch to a McLaren in the mid season. The Lyncar appeared a few more times in other hands but then disappeared from the scene.
Slater continued running his engineering business, doing whatever people wanted him to do. The factory was closed and Slater move his operations to a stable and riding school in a village near Newbury, also named Lyncar. He built a Group C2 sports car for Costas Los and did work in the movie business, building special cars for stunts. He even built a one-off road car for basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, known as the Chamberlain Searcher 1, working with engineer Peter Bohanna, who had also worked in the movies.
Later Slater would move himself and the business to Llandeilo, a small town in Carmarthenshire, in the valley of the River Towy, at the western end of the Brecon Beacons, where he continued to run an engineering consultancy business in semi-retirement.