DULON History

Garciously provided to us by Greg Mills of our South African Dulon Chapter

Many involved in contemporary South African motorsport will not likely recall the Dulon marques. Yet during the 1970s, the Didcot-based manufacturer (the same Berkshire town where Williams F1 originates from) was a big name in UK and US Formula Ford.

 

 

In SA, Mervyn Tunmer and Trevor van Rooyen campaigned Dulon chassis with considerable success in the mid-1970s in the hyper-competitive domestic FF series. Richard Sterne, SA FF champion in 1971 and 1972, used a Dulon MP15 in the 1973 UK Formula Ford festival. Perhaps most intriguingly, Dulon chassis were not only exported but also manufactured in Zambia in the 1970s.

 

Early Dulons were manufactured in a war surplus Nissan hut where Dulon had to generate even its own electricity in the early days.

Pictured on trestles is a ‘slimline’ LD4.

 

Dulons were produced by Maxperenco (from MAX-imum PER-formance Engineering CO-mponents) Products Limited until 1978. The company was formed ten years earlier by Andrew Duncan (the DU of Dulon) and Bill Longley (the LON), who had cut their teeth building and racing 750 specials in the early 1960s.

 

Duncan, now 63, who had given up driving in 1964 after sustaining a broken leg at Mallory Park in an ex-David Prophet Formula Three Alexis, had been apprenticed to the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment where Longley was a research scientist. By the time Dulon got underway, he was an instrument maker with Oxford University.

 

Andrew Duncan and Maxperenco, Didcot, 2005

 

The first output of this partnership was the LD4 Formula Ford, which came in kit form or as a complete car – “as you pleased” in Andrew Duncan’s words. But the LD4C production version was soon discarded as, as Duncan puts it, “the car was so narrow that only slim 18 year olds could fit.” Nonetheless, working from their war surplus Nissan hut, the embryonic team was able to produce 24 LD4s in 1968-69 in which Ian Taylor, a driver who became synonymous with Dulon, enjoyed some successes. 

 

Dulon LD4.

 

The LD4 was replaced in FF1600 by the LD9 in which Taylor went from strength-to-strength, including winning the first FF festival in 1972. The LD9 sold, in 1972, for all of £966 in kit form less engine. By that time, however, Bill Longley had left the company to “get a proper job”, and Duncan continued on his own, developing the LD9 into the MP15, MP15B (the 15B was predominantly but not exclusively a side-radiator variant) and MP17 chassis. Longley later designed and built formula cars under the ‘Viking’ label, and today runs a company involved with building military-application Remotely-Piloted Vehicles (RPVs, better known as drones).

 

Dulon MP15.

 

The FF1600 MP17 was developed into the MP18, the company’s first FF2000 chassis. Later this was substituted by the MP20, the “first dedicated FF2000 car” in which Ian Taylor won the UK FF2000 championship in 1976 under the ‘Ken Hensley Racing’ banner. Hensley was a keyboard player involved with the heavy-metal band Uriah Heep.

 

Taylor’s Ken Hensley Racing Dulon MP18 to the fore,

UK FF2000 inaugural championship 1975.

 

Taylor, who went on to race for the Unipart March 773-Dolomite works team, ultimately ran a race-school at Thruxton, purchasing Scorpion Race Hire for which South African Kenny Gray had earlier driven in FF1600 and FF2000 the mid-1970s. Taylor was tragically killed in a minor saloon-car race in 1992 at Spa when he was struck by another car while exiting his stranded vehicle.

 

                                                         Dulon LD10 F100.      

 

Maxperenco did not only build FFs. In the early 1970s, five LD10 1300cc sports-cars were constructed for the (virtually stillborn) F100 series. Some were Ford and others BMC-engined. This was followed by a LD11 ‘Group Six’ version of the steel-clad space-frame design, two of which were powered by FVA/FVCs and the more successful version by a Porsche. (In a quirk of history, one of the regular drivers of the LD11-FVC until he crashed it badly at the Nurburgring 1000kms in 1973, was Dr Tony Goodwin who raced in a Merlyn Mk20A at Killarney during the Piper Series in 2005.) Earlier, two of the attractive LD6 sports-coupes were built, one each a racing and road-going version.

 

1968/9 Dulon LD6 GT.

 

One LD8 F5000 and LD9 Formula Atlantic cars were also constructed, neither with any notable track or commercial success, though the LD8 reportedly proved most reliable especially considering the very tight budget on which it was constructed.  

 

The one-off LD8 F5000-Ford-ZF.

 

The Maxperenco philosophy was “to build everything in-house, to be able to make anything in the middle of the night.” Although at its peak Maxperenco employed ten people manufacturing Dulons, for much of the time there were just three employees designing, machining, fabricating, and welding everything from the bottom-up, plus Ian Taylor who was employed for a while as the ‘gofer’. The bodywork, immediately distinguishable from the MP15-on by its wide-nose, was designed and built in situ by Dulon’s Les Margetts. The residue of resin on the floor of the Didcot factory bears testimony to his production run even today. The company also produced dry sump pumps for the Ford engines.

 

Bob Miller, LD8 F5000.

 

True to Uriah Heep and any Dickensian tale, the path of Dulon was fraught with struggle and hardship. The company ceased making racing cars after the relatively unsuccessful MP21 model. Duncan: “The car lacked development and we did not have the money to take it further as by then we were effectively bust.” Thereafter Maxperenco shifted attention to the design and fabrication of “material handling” tools for Austin-Rover, tools used to facilitate the handling and construction of passenger cars.

 

Dulon LD4C (#117) on the grid at Castle Combe in the late 1960s,

with future saloon-car legend Andy Rouse behind the wheel.

 

By the time Duncan decided to “call it quits”, Maxperenco had built 190 racing cars. His interest in motorsport did not end there, however, and he continues to assist Dulon owners worldwide. About half of the FF production run was sold in North America, including Canada. But this was not the only export destination. In addition to the Trevor van Rooyen and Richard Sterne cars, one other car (number 55, January 1973) was sent to the region, as raced by Shaun Toner in 1974. Two complete MP17 kits (numbers 97 and 98, February 1975) also found their way to Southern Africa plus another “six sets of parts, including uprights and joints” which were exported to Zambia where Roy Carr was involved in manufacturing Dulon chassis using VW gearboxes (in the place of the usual Hewland Mk8/9) in an ultimately abortive effort to get a Zambian racing series underway.  

 

Dulons, like most of the early FFs, were commonly purchased in kit-form.

 

The front suspension maladies that had plagued Sterne in his MP15 (number 71, built September 1973) at the 1973 Snetterton FF festival were quickly tracked to a binding ball-joint. He had already shown great speed in winning his heat in a pre-festival race at Brand Hatch. After the festival it was shipped back to SA where it was sold to Tunmer to drive in the dark blue colours of his family’s ‘Paradise Beach Racing’ team. Sterne acted as the SA Dulon agent on his return. 

 

Autosport advert citing Sterne as the SA Dulon agent, 17 January 1974.

 

No Dulons finished in the top ten of the 1974 SA FF championship. However, in 1975, ‘Merv the Swerve’ Tunmer won a number of races in finishing fourth overall on 18 points, a year he also made occasional appearances in a March 722 in the last year of the domestic F1/F2 championship. Trevor van Rooyen was consistently on the pace, however, very much a SA FF championship contender in his Barton’s/Mech Pipe sponsored MP15 (number 84, built May 1974), finishing second on the national log in 1975, just one point behind championship winner Bobby Scott’s Merlyn. Thereafter Van Rooyen decided to try his luck in Europe, winning the UK RAC FF Championship in a Royale RP24 in 1977.

 

South African Dulon MP15/71 under restoration, 2005.

 

Maxperenco might have stopped manufacturing Dulons nearly 30 years ago, but the high level of interest today in historic racing has led to something of a resurgence in the marques’ fortunes. The unique LD11-Porsche was recently restored as has been the LD6 coupe. Hopefully, at least a brace of Dulons will soon find their way onto South Africa’s tracks.

 

 

Dr Greg Mills owns two Dulon MP15s both of which are currently under restoration. Thanks are expressed to Ian Hebblethwaite for his assistance in putting together this article.