Tom Gidden ©2016, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
The Chevron B36 was designed to enter the 2-liter racing class of sports car racing, with the chassis accepting various types of engines. Chassis 367705 was built by Chevron in May 1977 and delivered new to owner and driver Gordon Hamilton of Kansas. Fitted with the highly developed Cosworth BDG 1,975-cc, 4-cylinder engine, it was entered in many events during the 1977, 1978 and 1979 seasons. After the 1980 season it was put it into dry storage, where it remained for 27 years before it was sold to a dealer, where it was soon sold to its current owner in Switzerland. The car is now presented with FIA HTP and has recently completed a two-year, frame-up restoration, costing in excess of €200,000 ($222,776), with invoices on file along with numerous images. The Cosworth BDG engine and Hewland FT-200 gearbox have also benefited from a complete rebuild, along with new FIA-compliant fuel tanks, ensuring that when this B36 returns to the track, it is in the best possible condition.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1977 Chevron B36
Years Produced:1976–78
Number Produced:21
Original List Price:Unknown
SCM Valuation:Median to date, $192,484 (this car); high sale, $192,484 (this car)
Chassis Number Location:Tag on tub in engine bay
Engine Number Location:On block by distributor Club: Chevron Cars Ltd.
Club Info:Chevron Cars Ltd.
Alternatives:1972 Lola T-210, 1969 Abarth SE 2000, 1970 Abarth SE014/SEO19
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 247, sold for $192,484, including buyer’s premium, on May 14, 2016, at RM Sotheby’s auction in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

I’m going to open today’s profile with an observation that regular readers will find familiar: An auction can be a very dangerous place to sell weapons-grade racing cars.

If you are highly knowledgeable about what you want, careful with your homework, and pragmatic with your bidder’s paddle, auctions can be an excellent place to buy weapons-grade cars at very attractive prices, but for a consignor, putting such a car into an auction (some, including RM Sotheby’s, are better than others) is at best an extremely brave and risky decision.

Reviewing some basic definitions and concepts is a good place to start.

All cars with racing aspirations or history can be thought of as having two separate value components: a collector one and what I call a weapons-grade one. Any race car’s market value will be a combination of the two.

Collecting and using

The collector utility is complicated but reasonably easy to define and recognize: It is fundamentally the accumulated factors that make it desirable for you (and very importantly, a lot of other people) to want to have this race car sitting static in your garage. Factors such as beauty, history (both as success and as cool stories that make it interesting), rarity, mechanical complexity and elegance, and sometimes, just a “that is so cool!” ambience make a car worthy of place in a collection whether it ever turns a wheel again or not.

What I call weapons-grade utilities are the values that come from using the car — how much fun and/or satisfaction can you get from taking it out and racing it. If you are a highly competitive racer, then the car being able to win in the group you want to race with is very important.

If your rewards are more associated with the joy of driving a racing car at speed on a track, then how much fun you can have may be more important than where you finish. Racing has always been — and remains — a very dangerous pastime, so how well prepared and maintained a car is, how much you can trust it, can be an important weapons utility.

Also, there is a famous and very true line that there are only racers who have had accidents and racers who haven’t had one yet, so how safe a car is when things suddenly go very wrong is an important consideration.

There are, of course, lots of other concerns, but the elephant among them is the wallet effect. Automobile racing can range from being simply very damned expensive on up to stunningly, shatteringly expensive.

How much a car is going to cost after you’ve bought it but before you strap yourself in and push the button, and after that how much it will cost for those crucial little pieces you can’t see and may or may not be near the end of their usable life have a huge impact on the total cost to race a car. Another truism says that the least expensive thing you will ever do with a racing car is purchase it, so understanding how good it is to start with is essential.

To return to the original point, collector values are relatively easy to ascertain from a catalog entry and a careful pre-sale inspection, but the weapons-grades ones are between difficult and virtually impossible in the same circumstance.

If a car is 80% collectible and only 20% weapons-grade, then making a rational judgment of total value is not too scary, but if it is 100% a weapons-grade car, any rational buyer will be extremely cautious about hurrying to buy an unknown quantity. Bidding so low that you don’t have to care is a good place to start, which can be absolutely horrible for a seller who wants to get a good return for his car.

Now, a race car that drips history, elegance, rarity and mechanical innovation — such as a Porsche 917 K or a Ford GT40 — has plenty of collector value, and an auction can be an excellent place to sell these cars.

Chevron cars

Okay, let’s get to Chevrons. To start with, Chevron never in its history built a car that could be used for anything but racing. Aside from having the gorgeous shape of a B16 or being the occasional car with world-class history and important drivers, there is not a Chevron extant with more than slight collector value.

Derek Bennett came of age in the mid-1950s, and by the early 1960s had established himself as a serious competitor driving 1,172-cc cars of his own design and construction. Friends and competitors noticed his success, so he moved towards creating a company to build cars for sale. In 1966, the company came into being and began building a “Clubmans” racer (Lotus Sevens were so dominant that a separate racing class was created for them and cars like them). Like all of Bennett’s earlier specials — and most Chevrons to come — the Clubman won its first race, establishing a tradition (and marketing slogan) of “Fast out of the box.” This was soon followed by a 2-seater coupe for the 2-liter GT class called the B8. It won immediately, and soon Chevron was loaded with orders for cars.

The B8 was superseded by the absolutely gorgeous, sculptural B16 coupe that proceeded to walk away from the competition, but there was trouble brewing. Lola introduced the T-210, an open car that weighed 75 kg (165 pounds) less than the B16 and had less frontal area, making it a serious threat to Chevron hegemony.

Chevron’s response was to create a spider version of the B16. Just cutting the roof off wouldn’t work, and they didn’t have much time, so the new body was a blatant copy of the Porsche 908/3. The production version was called the B19 and arrived for the 1971 season.

Chevron remained at the top of 2-liter sports car racing for the better part of the next 10 years (until the class died of old age), introducing upgraded versions of the original concept to continuing success. In 1973, the B26 upgrade included a full monocoque chassis, new rear suspension from the Formula 3 car, and full wing aerodynamics. More or less yearly model upgrades arrived, leading to our subject model, the B36, which was introduced for the 1976 season.

Although each successive Chevron model was marginally faster than the one before, in contemporary vintage racing the effective differences are nonexistent — except that the later “wing aero” cars are a bit quicker on fast tracks. In the United States, we tend to lump everything together, while Europe puts the later, aero cars in a separate grid. They are amazingly quick, and a well-driven one is capable of putting the monster V8 Can-Am cars to shame on all but the fastest tracks.

They are also a joy to drive (which most Can-Am cars are not). I drove a B19 years ago, and I scared myself when I realized that I felt like I was playing a video game, controlling the landscape passing my vision rather than hurtling through real turns on a real track.

That said, the only reason for anyone to own a B19 or later Chevron is to go race it. There is nothing at all collectible about these cars — they are weapons for battle. They are relatively safe but extremely fast, so “incidents” are seldom minor and expenditures are seldom small. If you have the ego to want to race one and the pocketbook to pay the costs, they are fabulous machines.

The problem is that they are not auction cars. A reputable and experienced racing car broker told me that this car should have sold for $275,000–$300,000, so there was probably at least $100,000 of value thrown away. Whoever bought the car should be extremely pleased with himself. I would say very, very well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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