Don Nichols was most certainly a man of mystery. The enigmatic American had an interesting past, being a D-Day paratrooper, Army counter-intelligence officer and a controversial entrepreneur who went on to create a racing marque that seems as mysterious as the man himself. That sounds to me like the recipe for an intriguing book.
Back in 1970, award-winning racing journalist and historian Pete Lyons, the book’s author, was a journalist reporting on North America’s famed ‘no-rules’ Can-Am series, and covered Shadow’s debut race. Three seasons later, now following Formula 1 worldwide, he went to Shadow’s first Grand Prix and watched the team’s progress through four seasons of racing.
As Lyons’s journalistic career continued, he held prestigious positions with publications such as Autosport, AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Road & Track and Vintage Motorsport. He was also staff editor of the monthly RACECAR magazine. He has written and had published 15 books to date, with his Can-Am being a bestseller in 1995 and helped him earn one of his two Dean Batchelor awards from the Motor Press Guild for Excellence in Journalism. Last year his Lotus 72 book, also published by Evro, has been very well received. Pete Lyons currently lives in California.
There in the 1970s and 80s, Lyons lifts the veil from the secretive Donald Robert Nichols along with the innovative, extraordinary, magnificent racing cars and world-class team he created in this in-depth book. The text is based on the Lyons’s extensive interviews with the late Don Nichols and many other key members of his organisation, including famous drivers George Follmer and Jackie Oliver as well as brilliant car designers Trevor Harris and Tony Southgate. The book’s publication is timed to coincide with Shadow’s 50th anniversary this year and is big, beautiful and packed full of facts and anecdotes, and lavishly illustrated with period photographs.
Shadow was the only US-based team to win a Can-Am championship, and one of only three teams to score a victory in Formula 1. However, history tends to celebrate his nominal rivals Dan Gurney and Roger Penske, while Nichols has long remained, perhaps unfairly, a shadowy figure, despite staying the difficult international course far longer, for 11 racing seasons between 1970 to 1980.
This is the first book to reveal the entire story of the iconic ‘black’ Shadows and the Shadowman who made it all happen. You will find detailed coverage of the Can-Am years, which takes up the first half of the book, starting with the jaw-droppingly radical, low-line car of 1970 and culminating in the championship winner of 1974.
In the book’s prologue, Pete Lyon’s says that he doesn’t think Don’s idea was to make money. It was to make an art piece, an active art piece which was not only attractive but high performance, unique and innovative. Don Nichols perhaps summed it up best in August 2013, aged 88, by saying “I’m a creative of beauty. I like the hardware – I like the aspect of the hardware. That’s about all I can say about my motivation. It wasn’t very well thought out.”
The late American entrepreneur had imagination, drive and daring, as well as an air of cultivated mystique mixed with courtly bonhomie, a salesman’s glib palaver delivered in rather stately language, perhaps an overly stubborn sharpness of the business pencil. But he had an artist’s soul, as the majority of his Shadow competition machines were indeed beautiful creations of advanced concept, elegantly drawn and finely crafted by a masterfully talented team, despite often daunting deficits in terms of resources and time.
Shadows won races in Can-Am, Formula 1 and Formula 5000, although not that many. Nichols has claimed to have fathered more than 100 of his beloved objects of action art, and most of them still survive to this day, reverently restored and often enthusiastically shown off at speed. For their current owners, it is mainly all about these splendid racecars.
The second half of the book covers the Formula 1 years between 1973 and 1980, the highlight being Alan Jones’s 1977 Austrian Grand Prix victory. You will also find sections on Shadow’s Formula 5000 and second-generation Can-Am efforts.
When asked about his fondest memory from the Shadow days, Nichols paused to consider it. The pause grew long. Finally, his agelessly acute eyes refocused and he said slowly, “Maybe winning the Race of Champions with Tom, the first Formula 1 win for Shadow.” That was at Brands Hatch in the March of 1975. But the event’s name – and disregarding promotions of other kinds also dubbed ROC – this early season sprint for F1 cars, together with a few F5000s, was in fact not a Grand Prix and not part of the World Championship, so not all GP teams and drivers participated. But the grid did have the likes of Donohue, Fittipaldi, Ickx, Jarier, Peterson, Scheckter and Watson. Beside Shadow’s team of two, there were full-on works entries from BRM, Ensign, Lotus, McLaren, Penske, Surtees, Tyrrell and Williams. Young Shadowman Tom Pryce outqualified them all. Then he beat them all.
Publication date: June 2020
UK Price: £75.00
Format: 280 x 235mm portrait, hardback
Illustration: over 600 photos, many in colour
SHADOW: The Magnificent Machines Of A Man Of Mystery
By Pete Lyons
Published by Evro Publishing
For more information and to purchase your own copy of the book, please visit the Evro Publishing website: www.evropublishing.com
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Illustrations courtesy of Evro Publishing