Tony Matthews Cutaway: Vermont American March 83C

The latest cutaway from Tony Matthews is a car that helped to change the world of Indy car racing forever, the March 83C. 

 

In 1981, the Indy 500 field included the usual cars: Penskes, Wildcats, Eagles, McLarens, and so on. But tucked away in mid-pack were three odd-looking little chassis—Marches, from Great Britain. A year later there were 12 Marches in the race and in 1983, a March won the 500. The following year, 1984, 31 of the 33 starters at Indy were in Marches, including the winner, Rick Mears, as even Penske joined the March army for a time. 

The Marches ended the reign of the independent constructor and ushered in the age of the factory-built Indy car. The 83C (In March lingo, 83 for the year, C for Champ car) featured here is a very representative example: sturdy construction, pullrod suspension, and a highly developed aero package the one-off car builders couldn’t hope to duplicate for even money. This one, carrying the livery of tool company Vermont American, was campaigned by privateer owner-driver Dick Simon. Here’s Tony:

 

Vermont American March 83C Cosworth
by Tony Matthews

I have only ever done two speculative illustrations, and they both achieved more than I could realistically have hoped for. The first was an ink cutaway of the Ford Cosworth DFX in 1982, which introduced me to Paul Morgan at a time when he and Mario Ilien were seriously considering leaving Cosworth Engineering to start their own company, and for whom I went on to illustrate several Ilmor-designed engines. The second, done within months of the DFX, was the March 83C.

I had a fascination for the Indy 500 and Indy cars for some years, although it was difficult to learn much in the UK. Automobile Year  normally carried two or three pages, and there would be grainy black and white film of any major crashes, but that was about it. Gradually the situation improved, and British motor racing magazines began to give not just the Indy 500 good coverage, but also the complete season. CART made a huge difference, and with British chassis and engines involved,  there was a growing interest in a branch of motor racing that had been largely ignored in the UK.

 

My first introduction to modern Indy cars was the Penske PC6, which I was delighted to be asked to illustrate in 1978, and this was followed by commissions to do the PC9, PC9B, PC10 and  PC11.  However, I needed to generate more work, and with March Engineering becoming a major force and selling more cars each year, it occurred to me that I could do a basic illustration and add different colour schemes, engines and other detail changes to it and target every March team.

My plan was that I could offer a personalized cutaway for a good saving over the cost of individual, complete cutaways. This was some time before computer graphics would make the process so much easier, and involved spidery paper bodywork, pre-painted in the sponsor’s colours, draped over the artwork, and  different engines and, where necessary, wheels added in the same way, then the complete illustration photographed before being stripped and a new set of overlays added.

However, my bold, audacious plan came to nothing as I was suddenly overwhelmed by work, and I had a March 83C cutaway with no colour on the bodywork. The easiest course of action was to finish it in the scheme I had seen at March, that of Vermont Tools. It was not common for cars to be painted before shipping, but if requested the factory would arrange for a base colour to be sprayed. I had seen this chassis in red and white but without the decals, so the Vermont Tools 83C it became.

 

March Engineering was just up the road from my studio, at one end of what had become known as “Motorsport Valley,” and I had visited them a few times already. In fact, the second cutaway I had ever drawn was the F1 March 711, so access was reasonably straightforward. I was immediately impressed by the size and apparent strength of the 83C. The lower half and tank area was still aluminium honeycomb, but the top was carbon, with  fabricated aluminium bulkheads bonded and riveted inside.

Suspension was pull-rod front and rear, with an interesting sliding link at the rear. The gearbox and associated bracketry was substantial to say the least. At one point design-engineer Alan Mertens, later to design the Indy-winning Galmer, appeared as I was taking photographs and I mentioned that I was reminded of artillery pieces that I’d seen in The Imperial War Museum. Not surprisingly he was slightly upset by this, and I hurriedly explained that I meant that it looked extremely strong. Slightly mollified, he said that everything had to be slightly over-specified as there was no way of knowing how the chassis would be maintained or what treatment it would receive on track once it left March.

The finished Vermont Tools cutaway was used a few times, Vermont Tools got free advertising, and my work got some welcome exposure, leading to commissions from March for the 84C, 85C and March-Buick 85G, followed by commissions from Philip Morris for the 86C, 87C and 88C, and requests from several other American teams. Happy days illustrating some of the best looking race cars in a series that produced some of the best racing.

The cutaway image below is high resolution. Left-click to open and left-click again to expand to full size. 

Text and images copyright Tony Matthews, all rights reserved. Used by permission. Be sure to see Tony’s other great cutaways at Mac’s Motor City Garage. Links open in new windows: 

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