Born in 1939, Herd graduated from Oxford University with a double first in engineering and physics. He joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment, where he worked on the Concorde project. However, he had developed an interest in motor racing, and when in 1965 he was offered a job by Bruce McLaren he immediately agreed to join the Kiwi’s new outfit.
Herd’s first job was to design the M2A, which featured a novel mallite construction that he borrowed from the aircraft industry. The car made its debut as the M2B in Monaco in May 1966, but was let down by a heavy and gutless Ford engine, which had its roots at the Indy 500. The team experimented with an Italian Serenissima unit before switching back to the Ford.
McLaren opted for BRM power for 1967, but when the season stared the promised V12 wasn’t available. Instead the team had to run a smaller 2.1-litre V8 in Herd’s converted M4B chassis, until that was written off. When the V12 finally arrived it was run in the M5A at the end of the 1967 season.
Herd designed the chassis of the M7A for 1968 but then left the team to work for Cosworth. In the hands of his erstwhile assistant Gordon Coppuck, the M7A was developed into a race winner, scoring three grand prix victories that year.
Denny Hulme, McLaren M7A Ford
Photo by: LAT Images
Herd had been hired to create an advanced-looking 4WD F1 prototype for Cosworth, which was tested but ultimately never raced. Then in early 1969 he briefly worked for Frank Williams as engineer on Piers Courage’s F1 Brabham.
Herd came close to joining forces with Bernie Ecclestone and Jochen Rindt to form an F1 team., but instead that year he hooked up with fellow Oxford graduate and gentleman racer Max Mosley, schoolfriend Alan Rees and Graham Coaker to form March Engineering. Their first car was the F3 693, given its debut by Ronnie Peterson at the end of 1969.
Despite this low-key start Herd and his colleagues had huge ambitions, and when they announced that they were creating an F1 car for 1970 there was some scepticism.
However, come the season opener at Kyalami there were five March 701s on the grid – three works entries for Mario Andretti, Chris Amon and Jo Siffert, and two for Jackie Stewart and Johnny Servoz-Gavin from Ken Tyrrell, who had split with Matra. Incredibly, Stewart took pole for that race and at the second round in Spain scored the marque’s first victory.
Meanwhile, March had expanded rapidly in F2 and F3, and even built CanAm and Formula Ford cars.
Lella Lombardi, Vittorio Brambilla, Robin Herd, March Designer with the March 761
Photo by: LAT Images
March continued to run a sporadically successful works F1 team, while supplying customer cars to privateers, notably Frank Williams. Peterson finished runner-up in the 1971 world championship, despite not winning a race, while that same year Niki Lauda made his debut under Herd’s wing. In 1973 James Hunt made his first GP start in a Hesketh-run March.
It wasn’t until 1975 that the works outfit finally won a Grand Prix, Vittorio Brambilla triumphing in a rain-shortened race in Austria, with only half points awarded. The following year Peterson returned, and soon became a regular frontrunner, scoring an undisputed victory at Monza.
By 1977 March had run out of momentum in F1, and the works outfit was sold to ATS. However, its customer business continued to thrive. From 1981 the company made big steps in Indycar racing, taking on longtime rival Lola, and supplying the likes of Roger Penske. March chassis would win the Indy 500 each year from 1983 to 1987 in the hands of Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal and Al Unser Sr. Adrian Newey was one of many young engineers who gained valuable experience under Herd’s guidance.
In 1981 the March name returned to F1 in partnership with John McDonald’s RAM team, but with little in the way of success. In 1987 Herd formed a partnership with Leyton House.
Eventually March hit financial problems, and after Herd sold his interest he set up his own consultancy business. His last active involvement in the sport was with an IRL team in the late nineties. Instead he focussed with considerable success on other business interests, and for a while he was chairman of Oxford United FC.
Mike Costin, Cosworth 4 wheel drive F1, designer Robin Herd
Photo by: David Phipps