8 March 2019
A fairytale. Fascinating F1 Facts: 98
Motor racing has a way of creating fairytales which propel people much further than they could possibly imagine. Chris Murphy grew up in Bolton in Lancashire, a former mill town close to Manchester, where the economy was in a sorry state by the 1970s.
His father was a truck driver and while Chris was mad about cars and motorbikes. Buildinghis own motorcycle when he was 15, he left school a year later with a few O levels and not much else. He went to work as a draftsman, designing industrial shutter doors. It was not exciting enough for the youngster and he quit and went to work in a local garage, spending the next couple of years repairing cars, fixing bodywork and doing resprays.
He tried to get a job at Chevron Cars, the racing car manufacturer which operated from an old mill in the town, but the company was in trouble and not hiring. So he went to Germany and worked as a door-to-door insurance salesman, trying to sell policies to the British forces based over there at that time.
He ended up back at the drawing office. Bored, he decided to try racing himself but this ended when he had a huge end-over-end crash at Cadwell Park. So he went back to being a mechanic again, working in Formula Ford until there was a chance to work at Maurer, the German Formula 2 car, owned by Willi Maurer, who was also the owner of the Berlin-based "Mampe" liqueur company, who had somehow ended up with much of the team based in the old Chevron works, because team manager Paul Owens would only agree to work for Maurer if the team was near his home.
Murphy began travelling to Formula 2 races and helping the designer Paul Brown to make parts. This led to experiments with carbon fibre composite and soon Murphy's job had expanded to include being a draftsman, van driver, composite laminator and storeman. The team lasted only until the end of 1983 and then the group in Bolton began working on a project for Armstrong motorcycles before Brown went off to RK Technologies, a carbon fibre manufacturer, based in Inverness in Scotland. Murphy soon followed and worked on a series of interesting composite projects, notably tennis rackets and electric guitars. They were also asked to design mortar launchers and even machine pistols but RK shut the project down as it was clearly rather dodgy.
It was then that Murphy met Bob Fearnley who asked him to design a CanAm based around an March 82C Indycar. The result was the RK-March 847 which was raced in the US by Jim Crawford.
Brown had by then moved to Zakspeed to design the team's first F1 car and he soon called in Murphy to help. Ford then asked Zakspeed to design a composite IMSA GTP car and Murphy looked after that until Brown quit and Erich Zakowksi asked Chris to design the 1987 Zakspeed F1 car. There was no money but through the driver Christian Danner, Murphy met Ralph Bellamy who had designed the Larrousse Lola that year. As a result Murphy joined Lola in 1988 to help build the new car. Bellamy soon departed and for 1989 Murphy was told to design the Lola-Lamborghini F1 car. The 1990 car would give the Larrousse team sixth in the Constructors' Championship.
His friendship with Danner then resulted in another astonishing twist of fate. Danner was a fan of ballet (unusual for an F1 driver perhaps) and he and Murphy went along to watch ballet at the Royal Ballet and to meet some of the ballerinas. The result of this was that in the summer of 1990 Murphy married the Prima Ballerina of the Royal Ballet, Cynthia Harvey, one of the best dancers of her generation.
That same year he switched to Leyton House Racing and worked with Gustav Brunner on the design of the team's 1991 car before the team owner was arrested and money ran out and Murphy move on to work with Team Lotus, for which he designed the Lotus 107 and 109 F1 cars, which were always handicapped by a lack of money. The 109 was qualified fourth on the grid by Johnny Herbert on its debut at Monza in 1994 but was taken out on the first lap by Eddie Irvine. That was the team's last chance and it went into receivership soon afterwards.
Fed up with the F1 world, Murphy started his own engineering consulting business, working in IndyCar and with Team Astromega in Formula 3000, where he worked with a young Fernando Alonso among other future stars. He followed up with stints in DTM with Opel and then back in Formula 3000 and GP2 with BCN Competition, Piquet Sport and Addax, overseeing 25 victories along the way.
In 2014 his old Zakspeed driver Jonathan Palmer asked him to become the technical director of the BRDC Formula 4 Championship and in 2016 he took on a similar role in the BRDC Formula 3 championship. He also runs a racing simulation software company called Datas Ltd.
A long way from Bolton…