As a kid I was huge Shadow fan, and I’ll confess right now it was for no other reason than that they just looked really cool, painted from front spoiler to rear wing in the purest of blacks.
But the one I want to dwell upon just for a moment here is the very first, the Shadow Mk1, partly because this summer marks the 50th anniversary of its race debut, but mainly because it was one of the maddest looking racing cars ever conceived.
The idea was to exploit the fact that Can-Am in the late 1960s was a formula almost without rules. Open wheels weren’t allowed and the cars had to be nominal two seaters, but that really was about it. So when Nichols met up with freelancer (and free-thinking) designer Trevor Harris in 1968, the latter’s idea for a what was effectively a go-kart with an enormous engine really struck a chord.
The thinking was to build a tiny car with minimal front area, a concept great in theory but not without its issues in practice: it would need tiny wheels too, which also meant tiny brakes. And without the space to put enormous radiators in the nose, how would you go about cooling a monstrous Chevy V8? Harris hoped that by locating the radiators at the back of the car with cooling scoops mounted on the body would solve the latter problem.
The braking issue was meant to be fixed by a combination of a movable rear wing acting as an airbrake, deployable air brakes in front of the front wheels and movable vanes on the side of the car that could be used to cool both the engine and rear brakes. Then in 1969, before the car had turned a wheel, the Sports Car Club of America banned moveable aerodynamic devices…
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its tiny wheels, now inadequate braking system and a weight distribution estimated as 25/75 front to rear, it wasn’t the easiest of things to command. Originally the driver lay almost flat with feet splayed close to horizontal because the nose was so low, with a steering wheel almost as flat as that of an old London bus, but the concept was just too impractical. So by the time the car was ready to race, driver George Follmer sat close to vertical behind a higher screen, compromising the original philosophy of the car, but at least allowing it to be driven properly.