The Perfect Car


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By Nick Skeens

John Barnard revolutionised Formula 1, and motorsport as a whole, through his unrelenting quest for perfection in racing car design. Written with Barnard’s cooperation and with input from dozens of associates, drivers and rivals, this biography tells the entire story, both personal and professional, of a British design genius. Barnard’s technical achievements are explored in detail — and in accessible language — with special emphasis on his brilliant initiatives while at McLaren (the first carbon-fibre composite chassis) and Ferrari (the first semi-automatic gearbox). The Perfect Car is also a human-interest story, telling a tale of innovation under intense pressure while Barnard endeavoured to maintain a stable family life. This is a landmark book that will be relished by anyone interested in motorsport and design.


  • Formative years as an only child from an average background but with his engineering talent nurtured at home and at school.
  • Aged 23, his first motorsport job was with Lola (1968–72), followed by McLaren (1972–75), working on the M23 in which Emerson Fittipaldi became World Champion.    
  • American interlude: F1 design with Parnelli, for the VPJ4 driven by Mario Andretti, then Indycar success with the sleek Chaparral 2K that brought Johnny Rutherford victory in the 1980 Indianapolis 500 and that year’s championship title.
  • Teaming up with Ron Dennis to achieve glory at McLaren, with 31 Grand Prix wins and three World Championship titles, for Niki Lauda (1984) and Alain Prost (1985–86), while introducing aerospace technology to F1. It was here that he developed his fearsome reputation as the sport’s ‘Prince of Darkness’.
  • Enzo Ferrari decided he needed Barnard, who achieved the unthinkable when he refused to relocate to Maranello and instead set up his own Ferrari facility near Guildford — with the added benefit that he could go home for lunch.
  • After four years with Ferrari (1986–90), Barnard moved to Benetton (1990–93), where his general upgrade of design philosophy and build facilities helped give Michael Schumacher his first F1 win.
  • Ferrari, having slumped without him, enticed Barnard back for another four-year stay (1993–97) that laid the foundations for the all-conquering Schumacher years.
  • Subsequent F1 work with Arrows and Prost, plus a foray into MotoGP motorcycle racing — and indulging his passion for furniture design.
  • ISBN: 978-1-910505-27-4
  • Format: 234x156mm
  • Hardback
  • Page extent: 656pp
  • Illustration: over 125 photographs, most in colour
Nick Skeens started writing about creativity for the Design Council with publications on subjects ranging from design education to creative thinking. He is the co-author of Future Present (2000), Creative Island (2002) and Creative Island II (2009), books that celebrated British design genius by focusing on creative process. Before this he was a news editor and producer for TV-am and GMTV. A freelance journalist, he lives on a barge in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, that he designed and helped build.

“John Barnard’s biography is an instant classic, and a must-read for anyone with a passion for open-wheel racing… even had this book been less than entertaining, it was going to be cherished, given Barnard’s immense significance in the history of our favourite sport. But Skeens is to be commended for a truly thorough effort to be as sharp as his subject matter. He has successfully portrayed a great man’s greatness in an utterly absorbing manner.”
David Malsher,

“A thorough, entertaining chronicle of an engineering giant.”
Classic Cars 

“Skeens does superb justice to the story, delving deep into Barnard's background. Through the detail of his technological leaps forward – from semi-automatic gearboxes to seemingly minor suspension tweaks – we gain new insight into Barnard the perfectionist.”
F1 Fanatic 

“A widely researched and very readable insight into one of the great, under-rated, F1 designers.”
Motor Sport



“Barnard has bravely opened himself to a warts and all interpretation of his life. The result is an intelligent and fascinating work in which the subject grows in our estimation... An exceptional and thorough biography.”

“With a great deal of input from John Barnard, as well as many of the other major actors in his life story, this book is a lot more than a simple look at what this noted race car designer produced and how well those designs did. There are fascinating insights into Barnard’s falling out with Ron Dennis and his departure from McLaren, as well as the political scramble at Ferrari after Enzo Ferrari’s death. A particular highlight is the exclusive dual interview of Dennis and Barnard at the end of the book, while the interspersed imagery is strong too, with a number of previously unseen pictures from Barnard’s personal collection.”
Classic Car Weekly

“A great insight into this driven, fractious and brilliant race-car designer, and you’ll even become an expert in the carbon-fibre structures that Barnard pioneered.”

“If ever I was stuck on a desert island this outstanding biography of John Barnard, written by Nick Skeens, is the one motor racing book I’d want with me.”
Retro Speed

“Detailed and accurate… a good read.”
Auto Express

“We thoroughly enjoyed the book – a quick proviso here being that we do rather enjoy the deep layer of detail that Skeens superbly managed to extract from Barnard – and the subject’s level of honesty (he doesn’t always come out in the best light in certain situations) and recall of detail is to be admired. You read it and realise how much more Barnard contributed to the development of the sport than you knew before…”

“With the cold, dark winter months ahead, this is a great book to have on the shelf, or to have at hand to get engrossed beside the fire.”
Auto Tradition