Springtime activities in the workshops



As Easter approaches, and Goodwood opens the international racing calendar as far as Britain is concerned, there is more and more work going on in the various racing departments, and new cars begin to near completion while old ones are being finished off after a winter overhaul. In the middle of March, in time to get these words into print on April 1st, we made a visit to some of the premises where racing is the keynote, in and around London. Our intention was not to hear what was going to be done, but to see what had been done and estimate what might be ready by Easter Monday.

Our first objective was the Cooper Car Company, but on the way we made a brief stop at Connaught Engineering, ever hopeful that Grand Prix racing might be showing signs of revival down at Send. Such a hope was wishful thinking, for there was not the slightest sign of the Connaught team ever being re-formed, or even a new one being started; all the activity was concentrated on motor trading, the distributorship of Citroën DS19s being very much to the fore. However, the thoughts of high performance and roadholding had not gone completely, for there were indications that experiments were being tried on these remarkable French care, while two of the former racing mechanics were still on the staff, attending to the more interesting vehicles, and an Alfa-Romeo Giulietta S.V. was receiving attention. At the back of the workshop the B-type Siracusa Connaught of Piero Scotti was still awaiting a buyer, and the last Formula 1 Connaught to be built, with very light space frame and new rear suspension, was neatly completed. Like the B-type, this too was awaiting a buyer.

Arriving at Coopers we were impressed with the fine new frontage and the large well-lit workshop that now replace what used to be a rather poky little establishment. In two rows were seven of the new Formula II chassis, all with double-wishbone and coil-spring i.f.s., and the one nearest to final completion was that for Alfred Moss, to be driven by Lewis-Evans. Indeed, this was the only one actually fitted with an engine, the twin-cam Coventry-Climax, using two double-choke S.U. carburetters, the other six cars being nearly complete as far as chassis components were concerned, but all awaiting engines from Coventry. These cars were destined for Alan Brown, probably to be driven by Jean Lucas, Reg Parnell, George Nixon, A. E. Marsh, Jim Russell and Alan Mackay. though whether Easter Monday will see them all with twin-cam engines is a moot point. In the body shop was an eighth chassis, on order for R. R. C. Walker, and a brand new frame had just left the welding jig and was awaiting painting. This last was earmarked for the Cooper works team and, along with another chassis in a separate workshop, was to form a pair of Formula 1 Coopers for Salvadori and Brabham to use on Easter Monday in the 100-mile race at Goodwood. At the time of our visit John Cooper and his drivers were away at Silverstone with the 1958 prototype car, which was eventually to be used as a works Formula II car for Brabham to drive.

A visit to Charles Cooper in his large comfortable office produced some further information about the Formula 1 cars, and we soon adjourned to the stores to inspect castings, forgings, gears and brakes, there being an abundance of bits for the new cars, but, alas, a chronic shortage of engines. The Formula 1 cars for 1958 are basically the same as the Formula II, except that the rear suspension has two wishbones on each side. one top and one bottom, and the transverse leaf spring is smaller and lighter than the Formula II, and is coupled to the elektron hub-carrier by a short link. This means that the spring no longer takes any accelerating or braking loads, its only function being springing, so in consequence it need not be so robust as previously when it formed the top wishbone member of the rear suspension. There is no actual gain in suspension by using this new layout, the only advantage being that braking from very high speed is improved. As it is not anticipated that the Formula II car will reach such high speeds this double-wishbone layout is not in use on the 1-1/2-litre cars. However, all the 1958 chassis frames are fitted with the extra lugs to take the top wishbones, so that any Formula II car that is later modified to take a larger engine can also have the Formula 1 suspension fitted. The general layout of the cars is not greatly altered from last year, though the engine is now lower in the frame and parallel with the ground. Between the engine and final drive unit is now fitted a pair of spur gears which have two functions: first to raise the crankshaft line up to the mainshaft line and, secondly, provide an easily changeable final-drive ratio. There are at present three ratios available and to make a change the gearbox and differential unit is withdrawn out through the back of the car, engine and gearbox being behind the driver it goes without saying. Large elektron drum brakes are fitted as standard, though disc brakes can be supplied as an extra, as is a ZF differential unit. Although the internals of the gearbox are unchanged from 1957, the casing is entirely new, now specially made for the Cooper and no longer a French proprietary four-speed Citroën unit. The gear-selector mechanism is housed in the gearbox top, which itself has the name Cooper cast into it, and the whole final-drive unit looks a neat and tidy job. Fuel is now carried in two tanks, one on each side of the cockpit, and holding a total of 24 gallons, the scuttle tank now being done away with. The oil tank is mounted just behind the radiator and aluminium pipes connect this to the engine. Front suspension uses an Alford and Alder king-post with a ball-joint at the top and a screw thread bearing at the bottom for the short bottom kingpin. In shape this king-post is like a Standard Ten’s, but it has extra stiffening webs and carries a larger diameter stub axle. An anti-roll bar is coupled to the lower wishbone, and this bar is passed through the front cross-member of the tubular chassis frame.

Taken all round it was very noticeable that the Cooper was showing signs of growing up into quite a complicated piece of machinery, especially when compared with a Cooper 500. Formula III machinery was not being ignored, and a brand new car was awaiting collection and another was being built on the chassis frame jig.

On the subject of engines for the Formula 1 and II cars Coopers are in the hands of Coventry-Climax and at the moment have only two 1,960-c.c. engines to use in the Grand Prix cars. These are normal 1,500-c.c. Climax twin-cam engines fitted with a special crankshaft with a throw of 83.8 mm and new liners bored out to 86.4 mm, giving 1,960 c.c. These are the maximum dimensions to which the Climax engine can be stretched with safety, though it might be possible to squeeze another millimetre on to the bore, but it would be risky. The Coventry firm are at present working on a new engine which will be the 1,500-c.c. unit with, probably, a new block casting, and this will allow a capacity of 2.200 c.c. to be used, but when this unit will be ready is anybody’s guess, least of all Charles Cooper’s. Six of these enlarged engines are planned, three for Coopers and three for Lotus, and they will be essentially works engines for this year at any rate. If a seventh can be made without too much trouble it will go to R. R. C. Walker, as some compensation for the win by his car in the Argentine Grand Prix.

Leaving Coopers, we felt that if for any reason the cars are not ready for Easter it will not be their fault and, in fact, we were somewhat impressed by the progress made since the beginning of the year.

Our next call was on Pippbrook Garage at Dorking, to see R. R. C. Walker, and here we learnt that Moss was signed up to drive in Formula 1 events other than World Championship races, with the Argentine car, and Trintignant was signed up for Formula II races, and Formula 1 when Moss was not driving. The Easter plans were for Moss to drive the Argentine-winning car in the 100-mile event, and probably the new 1958 Cooper we had seen being built in the Formula II event, while Trintignant was entered for Pau with the 1957 Formula II car. For Monte Carlo Trintignant would drive the Formula 1 car, as Moss would be in the Vanwall.

The 1,960-c.c. car had not arrived back from the Argentine at the time of our visit, but we gathered the chassis was bent beyond repair, so Walker had bought Leston’s 1957 Formula II Cooper to break up and use the frame in the rebuilding of the Grand Prix winner. To start the season the Pippbrook Stable would comprise the 1957 Formula 1 car, and Formula II car, and the 1958 car, though there were many projects under way for later in the season, among them the adaptation of S.U. fuel injection to the Climax engine, a twin-plug head, and suspension modifications.

Leaving Dorking in a snowstorm it seemed hard to believe that the racing season was nearly upon us, but we headed north for Hornsey to see how the Cooper rivals were getting on at Lotus Engineering. Colin Chapman and Cliff Allison, his number one driver, were just off to Sebring, while the number two driver, Graham Hill, was just back from the R.A.C. Rally, so it was pretty obvious that Hornsey was not hibernating. Our first sight, and indeed a very welcome one, was to see a Lotus Elite, finished in yellow, with left-hand drive, standing at the kerb. The original grey Earls Court model was still in the showroom and a non-runner, but this new one was all complete and working, and had not long arrived back from being diced round Brands Hatch. This was something for which everyone has been eagerly waiting and, just to prove it was no fake, it was driven about for me to photograph, though as yet too new for me to be permitted to try. By the time these words are in print it will probably have covered many test miles and will have appeared in many places.

Passing into the workshop, it was no surprise to find things moving apace, especially in the experimental shop. The production workshop was busy with Lotus Sevens, Elevens and Club models, while production chassis frames literally hung from every rafter. In the experimental workshop the second Lotus Fifteen was nearing completion, the first one being away at the bodybuilders being clothed. This new model is full of interest. The general idea of the frame follows the Lotus Eleven, but this new one is fitted with a twin-cam Climax engine canted over to the right until it is only 29 deg. from the horizontal, while it is offset to centre-line of the car by 7 deg., and the prop.-shaft runs at an angle rearwards to a five-speed gearbox/rear-axle unit identical to that used in the Formula II cars of last year, all crown-wheel and pinion troubles now being completely eradicated. Front suspension is identical to the Formula II car, with the anti-roll bar forming part of the top wishbone, and using combined coil-spring and shock-absorber units. At the rear the suspension is fully independent, as on the Formula II car, using a coil-spring/damper unit, one forward-facing radius-rod and the half-shaft itself to supply rigidity. Although the half-shaft has two universal joints, thus making the suspension fully independent and not swing-axle, there is no sliding joint in the shaft, side thrust being taken by the universal joints, as on the Rover Turbine car T3 and the space-frame Connaught. With the engine lying on its side some modifications had to be made to the scavenge pump pick-up points in the sump, though the valve gear needed no modifications. Being one half of the still-born V8 Coventry-Climax “Godiva” engine, the cylinder head on the 1,500-c.c. engine was meant to operate at an angle of 45 deg. anyway, so oil drainage from the valve-gear was allowed for in the basic design. In the Lotus Fifteen the engine is hung from two tubular structures at the front and a single point at the rear, while the carburetters are mounted on tubular manifolds that curve almost through a right-angle. An 18-gallon fuel tank is mounted in the tail and on its right a spare wheel is mounted vertically, and on its left is the battery. Due to the engine position the overall size of this new car is less than the Lotus Eleven, which appeared to have reached the limit of “lowth”!

The first two cars will be used for the works team but a series is envisaged for customers, and already W. S. Frost, of the Car Exchange, Hove, is awaiting his. For Easter Monday the two works Fifteens will be running in the unlimited class providing two 1,960-c.c. engines are forthcoming from Coventry, and this will be a try-out for the Empire Trophy at Oulton Park, where it is obvious that Chapman is aiming for an outright win. After the success at Le Mans in 1957 it is not surprising that plans for this year’s event are well under way, and the works have entered a 750-c.c., 1,100-c.c. 1,500-c.c. and a 2,200-c.c.. while Hechard and Masson will have another 750-c.c. and Frost and Hicks a 1,100-c.c. model. Greatest interest lies in the works 1.500-c.c. and 2,200-c.c. cars, these being Lotus Fifteens as just described, the latter using one of the three engines promised by Coventry-Climax. Bearing in mind how high in General Classification the factory Porsche Spyder 1,500-c.c. cars have finished at Le Mans in the past, it is reasonable to expect the 2,200-c.c. Lotus Fifteen to be not far off the running for an outright win, especially now that Jaguars, Ferraris and the like are limited to 3,000 c.c.

At this point a shattering roar from outside in the yard sent us all hurrying to see what was afoot, and there we found a single-seater based on the 1957 Formula II car, fitted with a single o.h.c. Climax engine and very little else. It was Michael Christie’s Hill-Climb Special, which was carrying the very minimum of equipment and weight. It had just been got running and was being tried up and down the yard, to the obvious delight of all the Lotus workers. This naturally brought us to the subject of single-seaters for 1958, and we discovered that to start the season two of last year’s Formula II cars would appear, running at Goodwood, and the only real modification was the adoption of a positive-stop gear-change mechanism for the five-speed gearbox, while the lubrication of the box had undergone some interesting modifications, reducing oil drag and improving lubrication efficiency. However, in mock-up form, and about to be built once the Lotus Fifteen prototypes were completed, was the 1958 Formula II Lotus, and this was a highly exciting project. In a small specialist body shop next to the main workshop was a plywood jig for making the body of the new Formula II car, and most of the panels were completed. When one bears in mind that Frank Costin designed the Vanwall body-shape, and was the main influence in Lotus body design, it was no surprise to find this new Lotus a scaled-down Vanwall. With an overall height to the top of the tail of 35 in., this scaled-down Grand Prix car was a joy to behold, the radiator opening being barely large enough to put one’s hand in, while the wrap-round Perspex screen almost makes it a saloon single-seater. Under this beautiful little projectile is to be fitted a new chassis frame, retaining the 1957 suspension layout but with the engine lying on its side as in the Lotus Fifteen, the propeller shaft running alongside the driver’s left leg. The five-speed gearbox/ differential unit is used, but the gearbox is rotated through 90 deg. so that instead of the gearbox shafts raising the transmission line upwards they now move it sideways, back into the centre of the chassis. To begin with this car will be fitted with the 1,500-c.c. Climax unit, and used for Formula II, but if and when the three 2,200-c.c. engines are delivered one of them will be fitted into the new single-seater, and it is hoped it can run at Monte Carlo, probably driven by Allison, in which case it will be a truly lethal projectile.

With a final reminder to Colin Chapman not to forget about our 2,000-mile road test with the Elite, as we felt it was the first car that might improve on our Porsche for fast Continental travel, we left Lotus Engineering very much a Lotus fan. In passing, it is interesting to note that Chapman was using a Porsche 1600 Super as transport, not to learn anything about roadholding or suspension but to get an appreciation of a standard for interior finish and general quality of production for the Elite. He felt that Porsche standards would have to be the very minimum in the way of detail finish on his own Gran Turismo car, and with that we could not agree more.

Heading westwards at 80 m.p.h. along a perfectly safe double-track road, now restricted to 40 m.p.h., we went to Vandervell Products, the headquarters of the largest shell-bearing manufacturers in the world but also, of course, the home of the Vanwall Grand Prix team. In spacious and well-ventilated workshops it did our eyes good to see numerous engines being assembled, four chassis frames in various stages of assembly, and detail lightening going on, in respect of suspension components. Mr. Vandervell was far from happy about the 1958 fuel regulations restricting Formula 1 to 130 octane aviation spirit. The four-cylinder Vanwall engine was going well enough on the stuff, but he wanted to know what had been gained by wasting the whole winter converting his engines from alcohol fuel to aviation spirit. It seemed that the F.I.A. had altered the regulations without having any very clear idea as to why they were doing it, unless some outside influence had been brought to bear. The first excuse had been that the petrol companies wanted to discontinue alcohol fuel as they could not advertise their wins on it, feeling that “pump petrol” as sold to the public would be the thing. In general principle this was not a bad idea, but then someone asked, “But what is pump petrol?”, and the F.I.A. gave the bland reply : “Petrol that comes from a pump as sold to the public.” They completely overlooked that every European country has different pump petrol, so that running on Esso Golden Extra in England would be a very different thing from using B.V. Aral in Germany, Azur in France or Supercortemaggiore in Italy. They looked for a standard petrol throughout Europe and realised that aviation spirit was the only truly international fuel, the same in any country, the only difference being that you and I cannot buy it. In a brilliant piece of muddled thinking the Formula 1 regulations were changed to restricting fuel to this aviation spirit, unobtainable by the public, so therefore of no value to the petrol companies as advertising material, and we were back where we started, except that Mr. Vandervell and the others, such as B.R.M., Maserati and Ferrari, all had a lot of futile work to do. In consequence of this the Vanwall team will not be at Goodwood at Easter, and in all probability they will only appear once belore Monte Carlo. As last year, Vandervell intends to concentrate on having a first-class team for the World Championship events, and will not be bullied or bludgeoned into supporting smaller events and thereby straining his team beyond its capabilities, which is a sound and sensible piece of planning. Nowadays there is so much racing taking place that nobody can hope to take part in all of it, so far better that the Vanwalls, which we know to be Grand Prix winners, are kept for the real Grand Prix events counting for the World Championship.

In general principles the Vanwalls will remain unchanged from 1957, and they were certainly well in advance of all their rivals then.

Time did not permit a journey northwards to Bourne to see B.R.M. or to Scotland to visit Ecurie Ecosse, but we heard that work was progressing satisfactorily in both camps. B.R.M. were concentrating on the conversion of the four-cylinder engines to aviation fuel and modifying the front suspension layout, and two cars are anticipated for Goodwood, to be driven by Behra and Schell, who will naturally lead the Bourne attack in the World Championship races.

In Merchiston Mews the David Murray equipe have their same three D-type Jaguars as last year and the Jaguar firm are supplying 3-litre and 3.8-litre engines as required. In addition, they have a Lister-Jaguar, making its debut under the Scottish flag at Aintree and thoughts are already on the Monza 500-mile race, probably using a single-seater open-wheeled Jaguar Special. As last year, the Ecosse aim will be the major sports-car events and they will, in fact, be the Jaguar spearhead until the Coventry firm return to racing themselves.

At Camberley we saw Paul Emery, whose Emeryson chassis now has a 2.4-litre Jaguar engine fitted, suitably polished and tuned, and also fitted with a fuel-injection system using a C.A.V. diesel pump converted to inject petrol into a fabricated manifold which is fed with air from a large forward-facing intake fitted with a single butterfly throttle, on the lines of the W196 Mercedes-Benz. The chassis, with its double-wishbone and coil-spring front end, and de Dion rear end, is unchanged from 1957, but has been fitted with a new sleek body shell, having the fuel tank in the tail instead of alongside the cockpit.

At Twickenham we called on John Willment, only to discover that his promising 1,500-c.c. twin-cam Climax-engined sports Willment had been sold in America. However, a second car was under construction, though unlikely to appear in the first part of the season. A mile or two from the Willment establishment we called on the Speedwell Garage to inspect the H.W.M.-Jaguar of the Speedwell Stable, a private group comprising John Bekaert, Monty Mostyn, Bill Smith. and John Sprinzel, these four entering under the Speedwell banner in Club and National events, Bekaert and Smith will use the H.W.M., Mostyn his supercharged Austin-Healey-engined “special,” and Sprinzel the hot A35. The H.W.M. is the last car built by John Heath before his untimely death, and it has undergone a complete revision, being literally newer than new.—D. S. J.