A Ford Failure Which Could Race Again
IT WAS at the beginning of 1968 that I crept quietly into a vast gathering at the Hilton Hotel in London, wondering if I had entered a prayer meeting by mistake, as the invitation had said it was a Ford Press party. The huge room was enveloped in a strange hush and at the far end, mounted on a rostrum illuminated by a floodlight, was a small man who appeared to be reading a sermon. Peering into the gloom, familiar faces of motoring journalists and racing drivers emerged, and they were all so solemn and quiet that I felt that some ghastly motor racing disaster had happened, and the man on the rostrum was giving us the horrible details (little did I know-how near to the truth I was!). Once attuned to the air of gloom and the poor acoustics I realised that the man on the rostrum was none other than Walter Hayes, chief of publicity for Ford of Britain, and far from telling us of a motor racing disaster he was talking about the new 3-litre Ford Group 6 Prototype and the racing plans for 1968 and 1969. Eventually some screens were removed, a myriad of lights were turned on and there was the most beautiful racing coupe I had ever seen. It was the Ford F3L or P68, painted red and gold in the Alan Mann racing colours, and at once all was reality, everyone in the racing game was there, the tail was opened up and presented to us was an all-Ford racing project, sponsored by Ford of Britain, designed by Len Bailey and built in the Alan Mann workshops at Byfleet. If looks were anything to go by this car was a certain winner, the coupe body and long tail made Lolas, GT40s, Porsches, Ferraris and Chaparrals look obsolete.
Everyone bubbled with excitement and enthusiasm for this new project that the Alan Mann team were going to run for Ford of Britain, for it was powered by a Cosworth DFV 3-litre V8 Grand Prix engine of 400 b.h.p, and the monocoque chassis and suspension were all pure Grand Prix, while the overall size was so compact that it really was a two-seater Grand Prix car with all-enveloping bodywork. During the very pleasant evening that followed I learnt that this was to be a two-year project involving Ford of Britain, having no connection with American Ford or any of the Anglo-American alliances that had got the GT40 project off the ground. Frank Gardner was to be the test driver and two cars were to be run in selected events in 1968 as a probe to gain experience for an all-out attack on the Manufacturers’ Championship in 1969. When asked what I thought of the car I replied that the only way to really find out would he to be taken for a ride in it by Gardner or some similar driver. There were journalists present who were actually asking if they could drive the car some time, which made me smile. Anyway, Gardner said that if I went down to Goodwood when they were testing the car he’d give me a run round.
By the time the Hilton party was over the Ford publicity machine was in full swing and the Ford copy-writers were excelling themselves about this car that had yet to move under its own power. I spent a whole day at Goodwood watching Gardner drive the car and he didn’t like the way it steered, though he was unable to explain clearly why. The front end gave hint no confidence on fast bends and seemed to want to step sideways, hut he could offer no technical suggestions and Bailey and Mann seemed out of their depth with a car they had conceived but were unable to suckle. Jack Brabham was there testing one of his Formula Two cars so Alan Mann asked him to try the Ford. On three laps Brabham approached the chicane and at the last moment thought better of it and took the escape road. After about five laps he drew into the pits, opened the door and, before anyone could speak, he said, in that dead-pan voice that is so typical of Brabham, “How brave do you want me to get ?” Without more ado he got on with his Formula Two car and left Gardner, Bailey and Mann scratching their heads, not knowing where to look for the root cause. The late Mike Spence tried the car and was a lot more explicit, describing the movement of the car as being as if the steering rack was moving, making the car step sideways at the front when torque was applied to the steering wheel. Some primitive strong, arm stuff with long levers indicated that the front structure was rigid enough, and Spence did wonder if the car was aerodynamically unstable, but this was out of the question, for the Ford publicity boys had written pages on the new super secrets of the aerodynamics of the tail section which gave the car very special stability. Before this Abortive day finished I suggested to Gardner that I’d still like a run round in the passenger seat, if only to be able to see at close quarters what they were complaining about. He was adamant; he said he was reluctantly prepared to risk his own life, but he was not prepared to risk somebody else’s. It must have been bad, so I went away and got on with something else.
Next time I caught up with the F3L was at Brands Hatch, for the BOAC 500, after having read great trumpet blowings from Ford of Britain that one car would be shared by Clark and Hill. Now that was something I had to see, for the Ford was running on Goodyear tyres and Clark and Hill were contracted to the Lotus team running on Firestone tyres. These days the tyre companies “own” various drivers and control their racing destinies the way the petrol companies used to do about ten years ago. (There are still those who will not believe that last statement, but I can’t help that. They should stop prancing about and get their car to the ground.) Of course, in spite of what Ford said neither Clark nor Hill ever looked like getting near the car, and it ended up with McLaren and Spence driving the one that actually started the race. McLaren had been teamed with Hulme and Spence with Brabham, all of them being in a contractual position to drive a car with Goodyear tyres, and it was Brabham and Hulme who stood down when the second entry broke its engine in practice. The lone race entry completed only 65 laps, but it held the lead at times, which was most impressive, and when it retired with a broken drive-shaft joint everyone was genuinely sorry, and we all thought “that car is a certain winner when they get it sorted out”. Oddly enough the strange handling experienced at Goodwood was an aerodynamic instability, and tail spoilers were claimed to have cured all the troubles, as simply as that. For a first attempt in an experimental year the BOAC 500 outing was fair enough, for the car was clearly a winner.
I next saw the P68 coupes at the Nürburgring for the 1,000 kilometre ADAC race, and I wished they had been painted green, for in their red and gold colours most people thought they were Italian or Swiss. In practice disaster struck when Chris Irwin aviated at Flugplatz and came down all of a heap. He was very lucky to live, but it was the end of his racing career and even now he is not fully recovered front the terrible facial injuries he received. The second car competed in the race but fell apart when first the disc pads fell out of one front brake caliper and, when that had been sorted out a tyre punctured and finally one of the doors flew open and was badly mangled. But in spite of the shambles this was still only an experimental year as Walter Hayes kept pointing out.
At Spa Gardner was paired with the German saloon car driver Hahne and the Australian showed just how aerodynamic the beautiful bodywork was, for he was said to be doing over 200 m.p.h. on the Masta straight and put the car on pole position with a time of 3 min. 36.3 sec., four seconds faster than Ickx in a Ford GT40. Again, though, the race was a disaster, for in the downpour immediately after the start water poured in through all the cooling vents and the engine died with the electrics up the creek.
The coupe was raced again twice in lesser British events. At Oulton Park Attwood stopped with suspension trouble, while at Silverstone it led all the way until the engine broke towards the end of the race. This was a great disappointment to Gardner, for the car was so fast that HuIme spun off trying to keep up in a 5-litre Lola T70. Later in the year there was supposed to be an entry for the car at the Austrian Grand Prix, at Zeltweg, but it was withdrawn because; it was said, “of the political strife at Fords”.
I didn’t see those cars again, as the only other serious race they entered was the 1969 BOAC 500, again at Brands Hatch, and I was at some foreign race at the time, but I read about them with keen interest. In view of CSI relaxations on windscreen heights, among other things, Bailey designed a new car which was basically an open version of the P68, but much more revolutionary. It was called the P69 and had ingeniously controlled aerofoils front and rear, and was a beautifully sleek-looking car. It did not perform too well in practice and when the Cosworth V8 engine gave trouble it was scratched from the race and a lone P68 coupé was raced, failing to finish because of the oil pressure disappearing on lap 10 when Hulme was holding fifth position. Faith in this project was beginning to wane, for the previous year there had been some dissension in the organisation, as Alan Mann had wanted to gain experience by racing the cars, and Fords had not wanted them to race until they were thoroughly race-worthy, so there was a certain amount of deadlock. Gardner competed with a P68 coupe once more, in an International meeting at Silverstone that was little more than a club meeting, and was last seen spinning off the track in the pouring rain on the warming-up lap!
There was no further publicity from the prolific Ford writers, no explanations, no excuses why they hadn’t swept the 1969 board; in fact, nothing more than a deathly hush. Towards the end of the season a new Ford project appeared briefly in the Can-Am races in the United States, and it was muttered that some of the parts had come from the still-born P69 of Brands Hatch memory, and this prompted the thought “whatever happened to Alan Mann and the Ford of Britain world-beater?” A colleague said he had heard that something was afoot at Fair Oaks aerodrome, near Chobham in Surrey, which is not lob far from Byfleet, where Alan Mann Racing were situated. Sure enough, in the back of a hangar he found the dismembered remains of the P68 coupes, and the open P69 car, and Len Bailey and Frank Gardner in charge, so I will let him continue the story.—D. S. J.
* * *
Instead of residing proudly (or otherwise) in a museum where their beautiful lines could be admired by everyone, the two remaining Fords now languish lonely under dust covers in a hangar on an aerodrome in Surrey. I found them when I visited Len Bailey, the engineer who designed both of them and who still has close connections with Ford in several racing projects, ranging from saloon cars to Can-Am. Bailey, now 41, is an ex-Austin apprentice who went to the USA in 1955; where he worked first for American Motors and later for Ford in Dearborn. With several other British emigrés, he was part of the team which initiated the Ford racing effort in the early sixties and subsequently came back to England—still in Ford-America’s employ—as Chief Draughtsman on the Ford Advanced Vehicles GT40 project, The body shape of the GT40 as we know it in its current successful form was designed by Bailey in the workshops of Specialised Mouldings, helped by stylists from the British and US Ford companies. Bailey also designed the adaptation of the GT40 which John Wyer raced as the Mirage in 1967 and was responsible for many of the engineering developments pioneered by Alan Mann Racing in saloon cars. Several Ford Escorts, for instance, raced in 1969 with torsion bar rear suspension which was a Bailey design, and he has also submitted engine designs, one of which will shortly be seen in an experimental Capri.
It was the introduction of the Cosworth DFV Formula One engine which inspired the F3L. Small and light, Bailey decided that it would make an ideal “sprint” sports car unit. Keith Duckworth was not entirely confident in its durability, so in the first year (1968) it was not intended to go to Le Mans, for instance, although Bailey says that the circuit would have been ideal for the very advanced shape. At Spa the F31, had recorded a top speed of 211 m.p.h. and Bailey believes that at Le Mans it would have got close to 230. The car did a very great deal of testing in the hands not only of Gardner and Attwood, but also Spence and Surtees.
“I suppose we had our share of ‘finger’ problems,” recalls Bailey, but the fact remains that the Cosworth engine has let the car down on a surprising number of occasions. The worst “finger problem” of all must be the repeat of the Spa rain debacle at Silverstone on the car’s very last appearance, for, although suitable rain shields were available, they were not fitted when the car set off on its warming-up laps. The engine popped and banged over the deep Silverstone puddles and there was nothing Gardner could do when seven or eight cylinders all chimed in together at an unexpected moment and put the car off the track.
That race was a disaster for the coupé F3L, but the open P69 has had an even more ignominious fate, for the wrath of the FIA descended on it before it had even raced. With its moving aerofoil flap between the front headlamps and enclosed “single-seater” cockpit there is no way the car could he made to comply without spending a good deal more money. The rear-mounted radiator is supposedly 30% more efficient than the one in the front of the coupé, but if the open car’s central body section were to be altered, all the advantages would be lost.
Neither of the surviving cars has suspension, gearbox or engine installed. The suspension was robbed to be put on a Ford-powered Can-Am car. This wasn’t ready for the 1969 series until two races from the end, but in the final event Jack Brabham (whose name crops up in the Bailey story with surprising frequency) finished the race in third place.
In view of the poor results obtained; the top-brass at Ford was probably happy to see the project at an end. But they had provided one of the most exciting-looking sports cars ever seen, as our pictures show. Furthermore, it was an All-Ford effort [the engine?—ED], which is praiseworthy, and a contrast to other Ford-financed racing ventures. Bailey is obviously sorry that his “baby” should have been spurned by its godparents, and indeed thinks it could still be competitive. Weight could come down by replacing the metal nose and tail sections with glass-fibre parts and he still thinks that the cat would give a Porsche 917 a good run down the Mulsanne straight.
Unless someone comes up with a large sum of money, it is unlikely that this Ford “lost cause” will be seen again in public. We shall just have to make our own conjectures about how fast it would have been, or how many races it would have won, had the cars had more luck and more developments.—M. G. D.