If is a wonderful word and hindsight a marvellous gift. What might Christopher Marlowe have written IF he had not thrown away his life in a drunken brawl? What might Horatio Nelson have further achieved IF a sniper’s aim had been less good? What races might we have seen in the Sixties between Moss and Clark IF Stirling had not had that crash at Goodwood?
We can’t change history, it’s happened and there’s an end to it, but there’s no harm in speculation. Occasionally, though, one comes across cases where the IF factor still operates but the circumstances were such that it need not have done. Such a one is the 2 5-litre V8 Coventry Climax FPE Formula One engine which was created in the Fifties. Parts to build eight were initially laid down and at least three were built by Climax Four firms, HWM, Kieft, Connaught and Cooper, expressed interest in the engine and Kieft actually built a car for it and was loaned an engine for fitting.
Test figures show that the engine was as good as anything around at the time and eventually gave 264 bhp. To put this into perspective, Maserati F1 engines gave no more than 230 bhp in 1954 while Mercedes-Benz got no more than 256 bhp from the engine used in the W196 with which Fangio won World Championships in 1954 & 55, and then over a narrow rev band. Unfortunately, the men in Coventry believed the power outputs bandied about by the opposition and refused to release the engine since they did not want robe shown up.
Here we have a case of a maker building an engine which was a potential world-beater The company was soundly funded and was eventually to build engines which won four World Championships and 38 World Championships Grands Prix, some of them with the FPF Mk1 engine which was a development of one of the FPE’s banks of cylinders. A car was waiting for it and three other makers were ready to buy. There was no reason why it should not have been sold except for the fact that Coventry Climax learned too late that other makers had been exaggerating their power outputs.
Simultaneous with Coventry Climax’s first attempt to build an engine for motor racing, another Coventry firm was set up with the intention of providing a proprietary F1 engine. This was Speed Engines Limited but its single product has come to be known as the “Brooke-Weston engine” after the company’s two principals, Leslie Brooke and Harry Weston. Like the FPE, it was a 2.5-litre V8 but only one engine was ever built.
SEL began with the best of intentions and issued a brochure of which the following is an extract. “For some considerable time now it has been realised that this country has been lacking a first-rate Formula One racing engine
“It was felt that whilst there were chassis and transmissions available which would prove adequate to deal with foreign competition, the provision of a suitable power unit would enable us to regain (sic) the supremacy in the racing world that we all wish to see
“Speed Engines Limited was formed for the purpose of creating an engine unit capable of fulfilling these requirements.
“The prototype engine is primarily a Formula One engine, easily convertible to run on pump fuel, although early tests will be carried out on the more specialised type of fuels. The engine may also be converted quite simply into a sports car engine of lesser or greater capacity by reduction or expansion of cylinder bores, which, being eight in number, need only slight dimensional differences to achieve the results required.”
This is the story of two engines and a car. It is a story of what might have been. It is a story of IF and hindsight and guesswork, something like imagining a fight between Joe Louis and Muhammed Ali, but sometimes it’s fun to ask “What would happen IF”.
By one of those quirks which sometimes happen, the un-raced Kieft F1 car, along with a spare chassis, the unique Speed engine and all the Coventry Climax FPE engines and parts are together in a workshop in Warwickshire, all owned by Gordon Chapman. Gordon has plans to give the Kieft-Climax F1 car its racing debut soon, over 30 years after it should have appeared. Its a racing car with no racing history, sure, but It has been accepted by the VSCC because in 1954 an FPE engine was fitted to that car, though it was never run. Actually, it couldn’t run for the unit fitted was a show engine. It is, though, a notional historic car and all the bits are of the right period which is more than can be said for some “historic” racing cars whose chassis were still unmined iron ore not so long ago.
It was in the autumn of 1952 when Leonard Lee, head of Coventry Climax, decided to go ahead and build an F1 engine for the regulations which would come into force in 1954. At the time, the World Championship was being run to 2-litre F2 since Alfa Romeo had pulled out of F1 at the end of 1951 and BRM had been so unreliable in turning up to races that Ferrari would have had a monopoly in the category. As it turned out, Ferrari had a virtual monopoly of F2 but at least the grids were full.
Lee was an engine man and a great patriot. Coventry Climax was not, at the time, involved in racing, the use for racing of as FWA 1,100 cc engine, derived from a government-commissioned fire pump engine, was still nearly two years into the future. Britons who went racing in F2 had to make do mainly with Alta and Bristol engines and the odd special engine like the Turner and the Butterworth. These were far less powerful than the foreign opposition but a number of designers had proved they could build chassis of at least as high a standard as the best abroad. Given the right engine, Britain had both the designers and the drivers to make a good fist of F1, especially a new formula.
Though Coventry Climax was not at the time involved in motor racing, its staff included men who had been, notably Wally Hassan, the Technical Director, and Harry Munday, the Chief Designer. With a target of at least 100 bhp per ton, the Holy Grail of engine builders at the time, an “over-square” V8 layout was chosen.
Since the project was semi-official, despite the authorisation coming from the managing director, work on the engine was undertaken on a part-time basis. The project was designated ‘FPE”. though the engine is more popularly known as the “Godiva”. and the designation was itself a private joke since “FPE” stood for ‘fire Pump Engine” The company’s FWA engine was. Indeed, derived from a fire pump engine and in later years the company used the slogan ‘The Fire Pump Engine Which Wins Races’ but the FPE was a pukka F1 engine designed from scratch.
It has cylinder dimensions of 76.2 mm 67 9 mm giving a capacity of 2.477 cc. Like the “Speed” engine it was possible to increase the capacity, if necessary, for the wet cylinder liners were generous of metal even though the block was only 18 1//2 in long. In fact, the only time an FPE ever raced in a GP it was as a 3 litre engine and later one was stretched to 3.8 litres. Since the FPF engine, derived from the FPE’s right hand cylinder bank could be taken out to 2 litres in Mk1 form and 2.5 litres in Mk2 form, “Godiva” could have become a 4-5 litre sports car engine. If it maintained its 100 + bhp ton, it could have caused heart-ache to many in the sports car world.
Naturally twin overhead camshafts were specified, there were two valves per cylinder set at 66 degrees, the exhaust valves being sodium filled. At first, hairpin springs were tried, after motor cycle practice, but these caused problems and conventional valve springs were substituted. Vanwall made hairpin springs work but then the Vanwali engine was basically four Norton motor cycle units sharing a common crankcase. There was a five main bearing crankshaft, with bolt-on balance weights, dry sump lubrication and ignition by a Lucas racing magneto feeding a single plug to each cylinder. Pistons had “pent roofs” and the compression ratio was 11:1
At first carburation was by four twin Solexes and the show engine pictured with this article is so fitted. Then SU fuel injection was specified but Tony Mantle of Climax Engine Services reckons this was not necessarily a good thing for the SU system had been developed for aircraft and had difficulty in responding to sudden changes of throttle openings.
There were a few teething problems with the prototype which first ran in mid 1953 but these were quickly cured by changing the firing order and valve springs. It achieved its target of 250 bhp fairly early in its development, at 340 lb it was a lightweight unit and it had excellent torque between 5.000 and 7.500 rpm.
The engine gave a best reading of 264 bhp at 7.900 rpm when running on an alcohol mix and had more intensive work been carried out, it might eventually have given 280 bhp. In the right chassis, it could have made Mercedes-Benz look foolish for it not only produced more power, but more torque too and over a wider range and, so far as it is possible to judge, was reliable as well.
A routine test carried out at Coventry Climax on March 19th. 1956. gives some idea of its characteristics
Possibly Coventry was too far removed from Grand Prix motor racing and the men at Climax a little too provincial and modest for they believed tales of fabulous performance figures from abroad and did not release the FPE, though it was to take until 1958 before any 2.5 litre engine (Vanwall) surpassed its output and it is possible that, with development, it could have remained the most powerful F1 engine until the end of the 2.5 litre Formula.
Paul Emery, that most ingenious of special builders, acquired all the “Godivas” and, with Jaguar pistons, converted one to 3-litre form with Tecalemit-Jackson fuel injection. Despite the fact that all the initial running had been done on alcohol, in 1966 regular petrol was required, he claims that very early on he was getting 312 bhp at 8,100. This is a figure which has been greeted with scepticism in some quarters but a test sheet from Dodge at Kew (July 1966) confirms the figure.
Since Brabhams Repco engine wasn’t producing much more power the “Godiva” should have been reasonably competitive. We’ll never know for it wasn’t given a fair chance. It was plumbed into the back of a crudely-made Converted F3 car, the Shannon, Trevor Taylor qualified it for the 1966 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, way off the pace but not quite last. On the first lap a fuel line broke.
Later In the year John Campbell-Jones was entered in the Oulton Park Gold Cup but the beast was pathetically slow and was eventually black-flagged for dropping oil.
The engines passed into the hands of Derek “Doc” Merfield who had Bill Lacey prepare and develop them for use in a Ford Cortina-based special saloon. Before his career was brought to an end by heart attacks, Merfield had some success with this car and though a ten lap sprint at Snetterton is hardly three hours around the Nurburgring, apparently his engines were reliable and unternperamental. Gordon Chapman bought them from Merfield 16 years ago and they have remained unused ever since. Gordon has a show engine in his hallway and his young daughters are in the habit of throwing their overcoats on it. Still we should soon see one race in Historic events in the Kieft chassis which was designed for it.
Cyril Kieft was a man of a great deal of drive and ambition who at an early age was holding down high management posts in the steel industry. When steel became nationalised In 1947, he left to run his own foundry, to return to his first love in 1955 after the steel industry had largely returned to private hands — he retired at the end of 1984 and, typically, is keeping himself very busy.
During his time away from steel he became involved in motor racing with a long string of projects which generally did not amount to much.
In fact the two most successful cars to bear the Kieft name, were neither built by Kieft. Both were variants of an ingenious 500 cc F3 car designed by Dean Delamont, Ray Martin and John A. Cooper (of The Autocar). This was nearly complete when Kieft bought the design and with it Stirling Moss had considerable success. Even more successful was a subsequent car built up from Kieft parts and modified by Don Parker, Parker has the build of a jockey and was able to make a very light car which won 41 out of 43 races entered in 1953.
No other Kieft was really successful, the sports car which won the poorly-supported 1,100 cc class in the 1954 Tourist Trophy was the Only finisher in the class, its sister car have retired with collapsed suspension. Kiefts were not well made.
Still, Cyril and his designer, Gordon Bedson, were nothing if not adventurous. The little 1,100 cc sports car was the first to use the Coventry Climax FWA engine in competition (Le Mans, 1954) and it was possibly the first production sports racing car to have a one-piece fibreglass body. Kieft bought an engine from Archie Butterworth and announced plans to build a team of 1,500 cc AJB-powered cars to take on Porsche. A lot of work was done on the engine (which still exists) and it was converted to take Norton barrels and pistons but the company could never keep it cool, though other users found no difficulty.
Kieft built a BSA-powered 650 cc F3-based sports car and announced he was open to orders, but none came. It was Kieft who used Jack Turner’s four-cylinder 500 cc engine in an F3 car (a flop) and who announced plans to build a run of 25 sports cars using it, they were never made though three were entered for Le Mans in 1954.
Cyril was a restless man looking for the right challenge and when news of the Coventry Climax FPE engine came out, he had a car built for it while Cooper, Connaught and HWM merely made plans and did not commit themselves to metal. Given the company’s record in car construction, I was not expecting much when I went to see it, but was pleasantly surprised.
Photographs we’ve published make it look bulky but that s because it was photographed without engine, transmission, liquids and driver so it sat high on its springs. In the metal, it reveals itself as a compact car in the second frame the cradle is cast onto the chassis tubes, presumably by lowering nose-first into liquid metal. The rear is independently sprung with double wishbones and a transverse leaf spring. The fuel tank is in the tail while the oil tank sits over the driver’s legs. Originally an Armstrong-Siddeley pre-selector gearbox was specified but apparently an ERA box was fitted but since this had been sold along the way. Gordon plans to use an EMV pre-selector gearbox and retains the original ZF differential
Dunlop disc brakes are used all round, outboard at the front, inboard at the rear, and while the Kieft was by no means the first single-seater to employ disc brakes, they were still fairly unusual in 1954. Wheels were Dunlop cast in Magnesium-Zirconium. (5.50 16 front, 7.00′ x 16 rear), with knock off central hub nuts, and these were certainly something of an innovation in F1, though common practice in the USA Given the age of the magnesium castings and a question mark which must hang over their integrity. Gordon sensibly plans to replace some of them with steel components.
Would it have worked? Quite possibly, given the power of the “Godiva”. A lot would have depended on the driver and while it was probably not the potential race winner which a B-Type Connaught-Climax might have been in the right hands, it was probably capable of turning in the sort of performance which would have cheered a few British hearts in the bleak days of the mid-Fifties.
While it’s hard to conceive of a Kieft-Climax being a winner, HWM had enough design talent to produce a decent chassis as its F2 record shows. With Tony Brooks at the wheel, Connaught scored a memorable victory in the 1955 Syracuse GP trouncing the works Maserati team while giving way a great deal of power. Other Connaught performances suggest that replacing its Alta engines by FPEs could have produced a rather serious item of kit, especially when one considers the driving talent the team might have called on Scott-Brown, Lewis-Evans and Brooks all come to mind.
Cooper is another matter John Cooper told me recently that he had planned a front-engined car along the lines of the Cooper-Bristol. But we must remember that in 1955 Jack Brabham had the company build a Bristol-engined “F1” car based on the rear-engined, central-seat, “bob tail” sports car. It was put around at the time that it had a 2 2-litre engine but that was a polite fiction for it had a standard 1.977 cc sports car engine which probably gave no more than 140 bhp.
Brabham was outclassed in the 1955 British GP at Aintree but gave Moss’ Maserati 250F a good run for its money at Snetterton later in the year and finished the season by winning the Australian GP. Since Cooper’s 1956 F2 car was also rear-engined, might we not consider the possibility of the “rear-engine revolution” in F1 being brought forward by a few years had Climax released its engine?
Had the right engine been available, is it possible to believe that Colin Chapman would have stood by while Cooper took the glory? In that case it is conceivable that he would not have done consultancy work for BRM (which might then have folded) and would not have designed the Vanwall chassis. Since Frank Costin and Colin Chapman created the body and chassis of the 1956 Vanwall, might not a similar design have been made as a Lotus-Climax?
Maserati would not have sold many cars to privateers for why would one have endured the hassles of dealing with Italy simply to have an under-powered car, and the 250F might now be regarded as a pretty car sometimes seen at the back of Historic grids.
Mercedes-Benz would probably still have won the 1954 & 55 World Drivers’ Championships but we might now look back and say that rather than the company going out at the top, it got out just in time.
While IF so often revolves around looking at chance and accident or at sheer fantasy, this particular IF is centred around metal which existed and still exists. The engines were made. A car was made to use one and others were ready. Coventry Climax did not go broke and nor did it lose interest in motor racing. None of the usual rules of the motor racing IF apply in this case. It all came down to a decision to write off the cost of development and not sell the engines and that decision was based on believing false information. British motor racing had the engine it was crying out for, an engine of which half later won two World Championships, and a decision based on false premises shelved it.
While one can be predictive about the potential of the Godiva engine (for amusement only) we’re on thinner ice with the Speed engine tor only one was built and it ran under its own power just once. Though developed simultaneously with the Godiva it had two immediate disadvantages when viewed against the Coventry Climax engine. It was heavier, with an estimated weight of 400 lbs, and it was much longer. With all ancillaries, the Godiva is 24 in long while the Speed is 37 1/2, in long though it has to be said that was on a par with foreign engines and overall length is less crucial in front-engined cars
The engine was the idea of Leslie Brooke, the Riley exponent and special builder, who like others in the early Fifties longed to have a proprietary British F1 engine, especially after the dismal showings of BRM. Brooke enlisted the cooperation of Alderman Harry Weston, managing director of Machine Tools Ltd. and Lord Mayor of Coventry in 1952. Weston used his energy and reputation to drum up support from firms in Coventry and about 60 companies and individuals were involved. The contribution of most was in making parts. Weston ‘s own company undertaking machining, for example.
The design team was composed of Wilfred “Bill” Oliver and Ron Dalton. Both men were engineers with the Rootes Group, which gave its blessing to their part-time project, and Ron was a friend of Leslie Brooke and had helped him with his racing cars. Brooke and Oliver are no longer with us, Harry Weston is in his nineties and his memory is not, what it once was, while Ron Dalton, whom I tracked down with the assistance of Peugeot-Talbot, is now working for Jaguar Cars.
Though nobody recalls the Rootes group as being in the van of engine design, the company did make a number of single-cylinder experimental units and Oliver and Dalton were able to apply their experience of these to their project. The result was an over-square V8 (81.30 mm x 61 mm), with a block crankcase made from RR 50 alloy. Wet liners were used, and the engine could easily be taken out to 3 litres. Twin overhead camshafts were naturally employed the camshafts running on roller bearings, and the engine was unusual for its time in that it had twin inlet valves. There were two plugs per cylinder, serviced by two Lucas magnetos and the compression ratio was high at 13:1. Most unusual was the design of the combustion chambers and pistons which had what Ron Dalton describes “radius scallop” crowns.
There was a five bearing crankshaft, dry sump lubrication (with two pressure pumps and two scavenging pumps) and twin water pumps were used as well. Drive to the camshafts and pumps was via a fairly complicated cluster of gears which added to the engine’s overall length. Wills rings were used at the cylinder head face and there were no connecting water passages between the block and head.
Like the Godiva, initial carburation was by four downdraught Solexes but ultimately CAV fuel injection was planned to replace them.
Though the Speed is often known as the -Brooke-Weston engine, the two directors of Speed Engines Limited were Brooke and Oliver. Weston pulled strings and organised involvement but did not apparently invest in the venture. It was 1952 when the idea was first floated, at about the same time that Leonard Lee authorised the Godiva, but it was not until late in 1955 that the engine was shown to the press.
In a report. Oliver stated that he had an 8,000 rpm limit in mind and the engine would produce between 224 and 239 bhp. Ron Dalton says now that he and Oliver would have put all the money they had on this being achieved and feels that 250 bhp would have been fairly easily obtainable.
After the engine was shown to the press in October, 1955, nothing further was heard of it, though it crops up occasionally in footnotes.
The tappets had been hardened but, in machining, the chilled faces had been taken off and the camshafts gradually ate into soft metal until the cams locked into the tappets. The seizure wrecked the bevel gears in the drive chain. Today, the pistons still bear the marks of valves being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While Coventry firms had contributed parts and services, Leslie Brooke had invested hard cash and the engine had been put together in his workshop. There was simply not the money to rebuild the engine. Support had come from industry in the same way that British industry had supported the BRM project but BRM had soured the well and when the engine failed, support evaporated instantly. The fact there were parts for only one engine, plus a few spares like pistons, suggests that what support there was for it was, anyway, not unstinted and it was possibly a case of the contributing firms making a strictly limited show of faith until there was solid reason for further commitment.
IF the sub-contractor had machined the tappets correctly… who knows? The same question could be asked of the swing valve AJB engine which suffered from a faulty batch of conventional exhaust valves. Unlike the Godiva, the Speed engine is an unknown quantity, it would be silly to apply IF? to it because there’s so little to go on.
It is just possible that Gordon Chapman will rebuild the engine and it is just possible that it will one day be put into the second Kieft. Cyril Kieft had no contact with SEL and certainly had no plans to use a Speed engine, but the chassis should take it.
IF it happens, the result will not be an Historic car but a special built up from period components. It may offend the purist but it would be interesting to see how the engine performed.
The potential of Godiva, the Well and the Speed are all in the realms of fantasy and IF. Still, as Touchstone says in As You Like it “much virtue in IF” — M.L.