Track Impressions Of The F.J. Kieft
Competition in the Formula Junior class will be even keener this year than in its previous two seasons, and already some firms have found the competition too hot and abandoned plans for continuing the manufacture of Junior racers. We were perilously near to the one-make domination last year which virtually sealed the fate of 500-c.c. racing, but with Lola, Gemini and Elva joining the rear-engined ranks racing should not be so one-sided in the coming season. Another relative newcomer to the field is the Kieft, also rear-engined, which appeared in prototype form last season with a Triumph Herald engine and is now in production in modified form. The name of Kieft was of course famous in the days of 500-c.c. racing when Stirling Moss gained many successes on the swing-axle car. The company has since passed into other hands, but equally as enthusiastic as those of Cyril Kieft, and some 18 months ago the development of a Formula Junior car began alongside the production of performance conversions for the Standard/Triumph range of cars.
The design and development of the car has been entirely in the hands of Ron Timmins, who was prised out of a job as a fleet maintenance engineer after the Kieft directors had been impressed at the way he made Roy Belcher’s Morgan Plus Four go in races. Fired with enthusiasm by his conviction that he could build a Junior to hold its own with the best, they gave the go-ahead for him to build the prototype and later on decided to go into full-scale production. At least a dozen chassis are already in existence at the Drakes Cross, near Birmingham, factory, and several completed cars are running, one of which has been delivered to a customer who will be fitting the latest B.M.C. racing engine. Components are in existence to build several more cars and delivery dates in the region of three to four weeks can be promised.
The Kieft utilises a fully triangulated jig-built space frame made up from 1½ in. I7-gauge, 1-in. 16-gauge and ¾-in. 16-gauge seamless mild steel tubing, bronze welded. The front suspension utilises unequal-length nylon-bushed upper and lower wishbones, and anti-roll bar, with the lower wishbone using an unusual curved bracing member. The Girling telescopic damper and coil-spring is adjustable for height by means of a threaded upper attachment point. This is necessary for drivers such as Lionel Mayman, whose 18-stone all-up weight depresses the normal 2½-in. ground clearance to virtually nil with the standard suspension settings.
Rear suspension uses upper and lower wishbones with reversed lower arms and a single trailing radius rod; the Girling coil-spring damper units are also adjustable for height. Hub carriers are fabricated from steel. Girling also supply the 9 in. x 1½ in. hydraulically-operated, leading-shoe brakes, which remain in the cast iron state with no turbo-finning; both front and rear brakes are mounted outboard. The light alloy wheels, 15-in. at the rear, 13-in. at the front, were designed by Ron Timmins and will soon be made available to owners of TR3s, etc., who require lightweight wheels for racing. As the castings are received blank, stud holes can be drilled for several makes of car. The Kieft-modified rack-and-pinion steering has 2¼ turns lock-to-lock and the steering column is adjustable for length. The 5½-gallon fuel tank is mounted to the driver’s right and the piping for the front-mounted radiator occupies the left side of the cockpit at shoulder height, while at floor level the Lloyd Roach heat exchanger takes care of oil cooling without itself having to be exposed to the air.
The engine used in production form is the ubiquitous 105E Ford with the tune added by Jim Whitehouse of Arden. Weber or Amal carubetters can be specified, and the power output on production cars will be in the 80-85-b.h.p. bracket. A four-speed Renault Dauphine gearbox will be fitted to production cars but a five-speed Arden-modified box can be fitted. The whole ensemble, as the fashion commentators would doubtless say, is topped by a figure-hugging aluminium body which is at present in four pieces but will possibly be reduced to three. Best described as functional, the body looks stumpy compared to the Lotus and Cooper and is in fact 19 in. shorter than the Lotus Twenty.
Kieft followed the growing trend of Formula Junior manufacturers inviting members of the Press to sample their wares, and the Assistant Editor was able to try the Kieft at Silverstone on a gloriously sunny day. Two cars were brought along in the enormous transporter formerly used by Triumphs for their Le Mans cars; one was fitted with a five-speed gearbox and a seat suitable for Peter Arundel, who was testing the car, and the other had the four-speed box and a larger seat to accommodate the varying sizes of the members of the Press. The Grand Prix circuit was in use and the obvious aim for Peter Arundel was the Formula Junior lap record of 1 min. 45.6 sec. as this is obviously just a starting point for this season’s racing. He quickly became accustomed to the car and in his first session recorded 1 min. 47 sec. but complained that the car was oversteering somewhat due to the rather stiff springing. During the lunch interval the front springs were changed for softer ones and he lowered his time to 1 min. 46.4 sec,, which he feels can be improved upon with attention to the rear springs and pedal layout, which did not suit his heel-and-toe technique. This is most encouraging for Kieft as the car has never raced before. With the five-speed car Arundel was using fourth gear for most of the circuit except for Abbey Curve and Woodcote Corner, where he could get into fifth gear.
Meanwhile the Press had been finding their Way round at modest times of around 2 min. 5 sec. to 2 min.10 sec. with the four-speed car, which developed some reluctance to go into third gear and a sticking throttle before Motor Sport had sampled its first rear-engined single-seater, so I was given the five-speed car with instructions not to rev it above six-five, and since this figure in fifth speed must represent around 120 m.p.h. there was little fear of that. On climbing into the Kieft the driver is confronted by a small-diameter wood-rimmed steering wheel and on the dashboard are the mechanical rev.-counter, a combined oil-pressure and water-temperature gauge, and two oil-temperature gauges to check the temperature into and out of the heat exchanger. Production cars will have only the one oil-temperature gauge. Pedal positions are of course a matter for individual drivers and they were a little too close for comfort, but as time was running out there was little opportunityto make adjustments. With my knees splayed out against the fuel tank on the right and the rather warm asbestos lagging of the radiator hose on the left I was not exactly comfortable, but then the cockpit was arranged for a much smaller man. The upright seating position does not allow for the classical straight-arm driving technique but the steering is so light and the wheel movements required are so small that this is not important.
After a push-start as the battery had weakened after its strenuous day, I began to sort out the gearbox, which is arranged with first-gear position nearest the driver, with second obtained by pushing the lever forward, while third is gained by bringing the lever back, to the left and back again; in fact the exact reverse of most four-speed boxes. Fourth is then obtained by pushing the lever forward, which requires some acclimatisation as the natural action is to pull the lever back for higher gears. There is precious little car ahead of the driver in the Kieft and virtually nothing to aim with as the wheels are too near to the driver for aiming purposes. As with most highly-tuned production engines there is little power below 5,000 r.p.m. but above this figure it comes in quickly with a satisfying punch. Little of the exhaust and engine noise so apparent on some front-engined cars is audible and the main concern is with the rushing wind, which threatens to tear the peak off one’s helmet, while ill-fitting goggles brought tears to my eyes.
Having no wish to break the car or myself I made no attempt to emulate Peter Arundel’s sliding technique on the slower corners, and was therefore forced to drop into third gear for the slow curves such as Copse, Becketts and Club which Arundel was taking in fourth. With an almost 50/50 weight distribution the car appeared to be well balanced with no roll apparent, nor any indications from the back end that it would wag the dog viciously if cornered fast. The suspension with the softer front springs gave a comfortable ride except at Woodcote where the circuit is very rough on the inside, and the car pattered its way across the track towards the grass with the wheels dancing alarmingly. This is a deceptive corner which can be taken very quickly (Peter Arundel lifted off slightly in fifth gear without braking) but requires learning. The three curves at Maggotts, Chapel and Abbey can all be taken at full throttle in a Junior, but the slight camber at Abbey puts more stresses on the car.
For exciting motoring there is no substitute for a single-seater, which can be flung into corners at seemingly impossible speeds and show not a trace of roll, and for the novice who wishes to take up motor racing seriously the Kieft would be an ideal starting point; all you need is £1,350 for a kit of parts which can be built into a complete car very quickly due to Kieft’s painstaking jig building work on many components.—M. L.. T.