Below is an excerpt from the LeGrand Registry, written by its founder, Al James. Al James is still active with the Registry, and can be consulted for original drawings, parts sources, histories, etc.
Mk1 and Mk2 – The Beginning
Aldin “Red” LeGrand led a colorful and varied life before becoming one of America’s most prolific race car builders. As a young man he played a horn in a jazz band in San Francisco, and he was good at it. With the outbreak of World War II he joined the marines and spent the war in the front lines on the beaches of the pacific theater. Red stayed in the Marines through the Korean conflict, leaving the service with honors as a drill instructor at Perris Island.
Red moved to Los Angeles and took up roots. He began studying engineering and started his family. With his wife Delia, he raised three sons and a daughter. Only his son Robin would later follow Red into building race cars.
While working in the aerospace industry, making memory drums, Red discovered the fledgling Southern California sports car racing scene. Red, Stuart Dane and Neil Hillier all worked together, and were soon helping each other build cars based on a Renault engine and drive train and they raced them under the banner of the Formula Racing Association.
This trio became successful enough with these home-builts that some customer interest was sparked. A new design for Formula 4 was begun, growing from what they learned from the Renault specials. Dubbed the “Cheetah Mk1”, the new car was a simple straight forward design using many custom light alloy components and was right on the minimum weight of 440 pounds. One interesting specification was a spool-and-cable steering, (quickly replaced by rack and pinion in subsequent builds). It was very light and inexpensive to build. It used a race tuned BMW sedan 700cc twin cylinder, 76 horsepower engine/transaxle. The air-cooled engine eliminated chassis plumbing allowing for a tidy petite car. The plan was to have a production run of six cars, one for each of them to race, and three to sell. Stuart Dane began the layout and design but was tragically killed in February 1962 at Riverside Raceway in a Renault special. Around this time Neil headed east and Red soldiered on alone finishing up the design work and completing the first cars in 1962. Red also retired from active driving at this time.
Bruce Eglinton, a young engineer and race driver, introduced himself to Red for the purpose of test driving. Along with immense driving talent, honed on seasons of racing Lotus 18s and 20s, Bruce was also a strong design engineer. When the Mk1 hit the track in early 1963 Bruce beat all comers in a two heat 200 mile pro Formula Jr. race at Willow Springs Raceway. Bruce soon carried the hat of factory driver. The little Mk1 was so dominant that year that they raced against formula B and C cars, and killed the formula 4 class.
The success of the Mk1 was immediately parleyed into the Mk2, an H Modified sports racer. Red had started the design work on the car but when Bruce came along he was left to finish it. The Mk2 was also a winner and many H Mod records fell at the hands of Bruce. The Mk2 was basically a widened Mk1 with a sports car body, but it could fit engines from the BMW to a SAAB two stroke three cylinder engine.
Red was a master craftsman and he had an “eye” for what would work. The modus operandi at LeGrand Racecars was for Red to work as the master fabricator, collaborating with a designer, and giving input as needed. The history of LeGrand can be segregated into periods corresponding to the tenure of the designer. Perhaps as a result of his drill instructor years, Red had a reputation for sometimes being gruff and crude, yet he had a big heart. The success of LeGrand Racecars would ebb and flow over the years, perhaps influenced as much by the relationship between Red and the chief designer, as by any other factors.
Mk3 – Mk4 LeGrand Stakes His Claim
This is the first car with the LeGrand name. Due to a conflict with cars Bill Thomas was making for Chevrolet, the “Cheetah” name was dropped. Design work started in the winter of 1964 for the Mk3 when SCCA introduced new rules for formula cars. With design help from Bruce Mk1 and 2 design and featured inboard front suspension, but now with magnesium rocker arms, hubs, wheels, uprights and steering box castings. In an effort to keep unsprung weight to an absolute minimum, Airheart calipers were used at all four corners connected to the master cylinders with plastic tubing. These cars where right on the weight minimums 750 pounds for formula C and 850 pounds for formula B.
Bruce went to race in Europe soon after the car was finished and had no national level success with this truly great race car. The car attracted drivers such as Lou Sell, Carl Knapp and Earl Jones. Bob McQueen won races on the east coast in the first Mk3, with Jones, Knapp and Sell winning on the west. Earl with an Alfa powered car won the American Road Race of Champions FB for LeGrand at Daytona in 1965, finishing ahead of Mark Donohue. With the production of 20 of the Mk3s, Red moved out of his garage, and into a new production facility in Sylmar, CA. The Mk3 was in many ways the zenith for LeGrand Racecars. After only 4 years, this small California company was producing top level formula cars.
Red was an astute designer and his wheel tooling allowed him to makes wheels of various widths with a minimum of time and expense. At a time when wheel widths were rapidly increasing, Red’s light weight wheels were quickly seen on many of the most competitive cars. This key element also kept LeGrand cars winning because they where matched to the newest tire designs, at a time when it took the British months to supply new wheels.
Following the successful formula used for the Mk2, Bruce widened the Mk3 to produce the Mk4 sports racer for G & F Modified in 1966. This car Red gave the design team a free hand and acted only as a fabricator. Originally designed for a 1000cc engine, the Mk4 was quickly redesigned to the Mk4b to accept engines from 1100 cc to small block V8s for SCCA classes. In fact no Mk4s were produced, the entire production was Mk4bs. The Mk4b used the new suspension that was developed for the Mk5. A contemporary of the Lotus 23 and the Elva Mk7, the Mk4b is stiffer than either and a bit larger. Don Stephan designed the body for the Mk4b and the body buck was built under Bruce Eglinton’s apartment. They must have developed some skill here, as the Mk5 body was also built in the same manner. Gene Levan commissioned s/n 001, and with a works Datsun twin cam, he placed 2nd in his first race at Phoenix. Bill Lomenick built 002 from a kit with Maserati 2 liter power. George Hollinger bought the second factory built car, 003, with Climax power. The Mk4bs were not able to beat the Lotus 23s, and had little in the way of outright wins. Some of them raced with Genie or one-off bodies. One of the more interesting variants of the Mk4b was Peter Brock’s Hino Samurai, built for FIA endurance racing and having a beautiful aluminum coup body. It is unknown how many Mk4bs were produced, however, Al Nowocinski, current owner of S/N 001, has tracked down a total of 7 cars.
Mk5 – LeGrand Challenges the Europeans on Their Turf
Based on the remarkable success of the Mk3 wherein LeGrand beat the best of the European chassis on American soil, Bruce Eglinton designed a formula car specifically for European competition. The Mk5 followed much the lines of the Mk3 but abandoned inboard suspension in favor of conventional outboard coil over shocks. The primary reason for this change was increased flexibility of geometry control and superior control of bump steer. Leading lower and trailing upper control arms were incorporated providing anti-dive geometry. This basic front-end geometry was used on all subsequent LeGrands through Mk10. The Mk5 was smaller, more compact than the Mk3 being specifically sized for Eglinton’s 5’8”, 130 lb. body. The bodywork was designed by Don Stephan and was along conventional lines except that a pronounced lip was added to the rear of the engine cowl. On close inspection it is evident that great care and pains were made to wrap the body very tightly around the innards. The overall design is very compact. One of Bruce’s primary design goals was to keep the car small and light and the degree to which this is achieved is striking when the car is seen beside its British contemporaries.
Construction of the Mk5 started in the summer of 1966. Red did not play a strong role in the early stages of the project. When Bruce first approached Red about the project he wasn’t interested, and Bruce and Don went off on their own. Design and construction were done outside of Red’s shop with the chassis being built by Johnny Parson’s (Indy 500 winner) shop. Bruce’s friend Gary Hood, who had gone to Europe with Bruce in ’64, ran a machine shop in Pasadena, and made the patterns for the uprights and did the entire machine work on these parts. Originally the car was not to be a LeGrand but an ES-1 (Eglinton-Stephan). Red didn’t get involved until it was evident that construction was not going to be complete in time for the ’67 season and a deal was made with Red to help complete the car. A condition of Red’s involvement was that the car would indeed wear the LeGrand emblem. Red finally warmed up to the project with enthusiasm and put the final touches on the car to instill the LeGrand signature. The Mk5 was very much derived from the Mk3 and served as the prototype for the Mk6 and Mk4b.
Bruce was hoping to get the new Cosworth SCA 1 litre F2 engine but couldn’t obtain an engine deal. Finally purchasing a Cosworth MAE engine and Hewland gearbox. With a minimum of testing and pictures taken at the Pasadena Art Center, Bruce set off for the 1967 F3 season. Considering that Bruce had no support crew, and had to do the transporting and wrenching as well as race, his season was quite respectable. His best finish was 4th place in Schleitz, East Germany. It was a great season with races at Reims, LeMans, Monza, Estoril, Bruno Czechoslovakia, Avus (W. Berlin) and others. The All-American effort certainly made a positive impression on the Europeans.
Mk6-Mk7 Heavy Metal
While Bruce was in Europe, Red was putting together the latest model, the Mk6. Essentially a production version of the Mk5, the Mk6 was designed to replace the Mk3. The Mk6 was a FB or FC depending on the engine installed. It is a bigger car than the Mk3 and now came stock with 7.5 x 13 in front and 9.75 x 13 rear wheels and soon growing to 11 x 13’s by mid 1967. A number of these cars are thought to have been produced, however there is very little specific competition history. 1.6 litre Lotus and Alfa twin cams were the powerplant of choice for FB.
The Mk7 was designed to contest the SCCA 5 liter Formula A class. In the past the FA was a bit of a catch-all class, but starting in 1968 the class was strictly a 5 liter class for engines based on production V8 blocks. Red and Bruce decided to literally throw together a car from the parts bin. The Mk6 FB car was used as the starting point. The Chassis was widened, a large radiator was fit in the nose, the engine bay was designed for either the Chevy or the Ford and beefed up a bit, and external side pod fuel tanks were fitted.
With many similarities to previous LeGrand Mk3-6, the Mk7 is a tube space frame chassis with the stated benefit that it is easier for the private entrant to repair than a monocoque construction.. Brakes were 10.5 in diameter solid disks with Airheart single pot caliper. These were later swapped for double pot Airheart calipers for the Mk7A. The rear brakes used LeGrand’s signature placement of the disk inboard of the upright to improve cooling. Wheels were 9.5 in wide by 13 in. diameter front and 11 x 13 rear with 10 in and 14 in. x 15 in. diameter used in the Mk7A.
The Mk7 was designed to take either the Chevy 302 or Ford 302. However the chassis design is different for the two engines. In prototype form (SN001) a stock Camaro Z28 engine with wet sump was used with a McKay manifold and downdraft Webers. This engine produced 400-425 HP and the total engine cost was less than $1000. Customers were soon putting full race dry-sumped engines in the cars. Most customers chose the Chevy over the Ford block.
The SN001 car used a ZF gearbox. The Hewland LG500 was chosen for later cars because it was easier to work on and it provided more flexibility in gear selection. Wheel base was 90 in., front and rear track 57 in. Two 15-gallon gas tanks (the SCCA maximum allowed) are placed longitudinally on each side of the driver. Dry weight was 1270 lb. (rule minimum was 1250 lb.). Proprietary LeGrand cast magnesium parts were used for the wheels, uprights and wheel hubs. Steering was LeGrand rack and pinion. In 1968 the Mk7 sold complete, ready to race, with a 450 HP Bartz dry-sumped engine, for $13,372.
By Christmas Red and Bruce had a car complete. Bruce recalls that despite the rush job, the car actually was very good, had reasonable balance; considering the relatively skinny treaded tires and no wings; and was so light that it was really fast. Bruce said that it was the first time he had driven a car with such power and torque and it was awesome. Perhaps the weakest component were the brakes, but they did work.
On 25 February 1968 the prototype car was entered in the Pacific Coast season opener at Las Vegas, with Bruce Eglinton driving. This was a national event and Bruce scored a victory right out of the box. Bruce recalls that he actually did a horizon job on the field and won quite easily. Keep in mind that this was a new class and the rest of the constructors had not yet gotten their cars sorted. The little LeGrand Race Car Company was able to pull something together quickly and outclass the field.
Mk11 Next Generation F5000
The Mk11 F5000 car was designed by Jim Paul with a clean sheet of paper. Built to contest the USAC series. It featured a beefed up chassis (still tube frame), and suspension components, wider wheels and stronger uprights. Jim raced the car in the Pro Series and made middle of the pack finishes. The car often broke components even with the beefed up design. It is believed that only one Mk11 was built. By This time all manner of wings had grown on race cars. It was tough to keep up with the development capabilities of the larger British companies.
Mk8 – MK9 Mystery Cars
Little is known about the Mk8 other than it is a one-off sports racer, presumably built from the Mk6 parts bin.
The Mk9 a F3 car was designed by Bruce so he could return to Europe, but these plans where dashed by the fire in the Mk7. There is a rumor that one Mk9 chassis was built, but it was never finished living in the corner of a nearby shop.
Mk10 and the Rest of the Formula Ford Family
1968 was a busy year for LeGrand. The British had introduced the Formula Ford in 1967 and LeGrand, in 1968, was one of the first US constructors to introduce a FF model, the Mk10. From the LeGrand Mk10 brochure: “What we at LeGrand are offering in our Mk10 is essentially a simplified version of our Mk6 Formula B car while still retaining the advanced lightweight fully adjustable Heim jointed suspension system that has made the Mk6 so successful.” The first Mk10s even shared the Mk6 body work. Before the US FF rules were solidified the Mk10 featured magnesium front uprights and wheels. The Mk10-F was fully compliant with FF rules with steel wheels, front uprights and a new wedge body. The chassis was no longer a Mk6 copy but featured increased wheelbase and increased front and rear track. This was a very popular model, which did well throughout the life of FF. The Mk10 was a very successful model, winning many races across the country. Jim Russell Racing ordered Mk10-Fs for their schools cars.”