Serendipity

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Serendipity

Dear Reader, Reading a contemporary “glossy monthly” I learned about a new historic car being built, which intrigued me and sent the mind spinning away full of fanciful thoughts. The project I was reading about was the building of a Connaught Grand Prix car that never existed! While Rodney Clarke and Mike Oliver were running the Connaught racing team with the A-series and Bseries, with 4-cylinder engines, they were always thinking ahead and in 1953 they began to scheme up a car for the new Formula that was to start in 1954. The real basis of their thoughts was the fact that Coventry-Climax were building a 2Y2-litre 4-cam V8 racing engine for the new Formula. The Connaught J3, as it was known, was going to be a mid-engined car, with the driver in front of the engine, and a lot of advanced thinking went into the preliminary planning. A 5-speed pre-selector gearbox and transmission was actually built, but then the whole project was abandoned, principally because Coventry-Climax got “cold feet” about their Godiva V8 and stopped work on it. Thus the mid-engined Connaught was stillborn. Thoughts were given to it a

while later, with the idea of using a

2 Y2-litre 4-cylinder Alta/Connaught engine, but they were only “thoughts”. A J-type Connaught was never built. Now, by all accounts, a J-type Connaught is being built, but to what purpose it is difficult to understand. If you take the term “historic racing” to mean racing for cars with a history, you can hardly build a totally new car for such events. It will not even be a “replica” or a

reproduction” because a J-type was never built, and it certainly cannot be a re-creation, because nothing was ever created back in 1953. So having built it in 1989/90, what do you do with it, unless for “historic racing” you care to read “hysteric racing”.

This prompted the thought that there are a lot of other interesting racing projects that never got built, like the car that I was going to build for the 1950 British Grand Prix, that still does not lie in the shed at the bottom of my garden. Viewing pre-war historic racing, my favourite would be the 4-litre Alta V8 that Geoffrey Taylor was going to build in 1936/37, the idea stemming from the thought of a pair of his powerful, but fragile, 2-litre 4-cylinder Alta engines mounted at 90 degrees on a one piece

crankcase. Detailed engineering drawings were made of this engine, and published in the motoring magazines at the time, even including test bed curves for bhp and torque, but no engine ever existed. In France, Tony Lago was about equally advanced on a 3-litre V16 cylinder Grand Prix engine. Drawings were shown, power was spoken of, but no engine ever existed, and when his new 46

monoplace” appeared in 1939 it was powered by a 6-cylinder sports car engine. While Geoffrey Taylor pleaded for financial support from the British motor industry, but got none, Tony Lago actually persuaded the French Government to put some money into his project, but nothing was produced in the way of the V16 engine.

As the war started in September 1939 we were hearing noises-off that a new 1 s-litre Formula was almost a certainty from 1940, and Daimler-Benz had already raced a pair of 172-litre V8 Mercedes-Benz cars at Tripoli. Obviously, everyone thought, Auto Union would be building a car for the new Formula, and the press dubbed it the E-type Auto Union, following on the V12 Auto Union D-type of 1938/39. But war put a stop to all this thinking.

Many years later an Auto Unionlooking car surfaced in Eastern Germany, and many people tried to imply it was an E-type Auto Union, but serious research by Doug Nye and Stefan Knittel proved it to be of post-war conception and construction, admittedly with some ex-Auto Union people behind it.

Another project that the war put a stop to was a 6-cylinder two-stroke racing engine built by a Surrey engineer named Jamieson. He had built himself a small sprint car with a home-made racing twostroke engine, and had built a 4-cylinder version that was tried out in a Bugatti chassis and later in a Delage chassis, but the 1 4-litre 6-cylinder never left the drawing board. Talk was of it being put into Lord Howe’s C-type ERA, but it was only talk.

By now we are getting quite an interesting grid for our pre-war Historic race, but we now need some more cars to join the C-type Connaught in the post-war Historic event. The first one that conies to mind is the Grand Prix Alfa Romeo that was going to replace the Tipo 159, had the V16 BRM proved to be the challenger that it was meant to be. Alfa Romeo had some remarkable ideas about traction and transmitting the 400 bhp from the 159 engine, coupled with some strange ideas about driver “sensibility”. The proposed

car was to use the mechanical components of the Tipo 159, one of the world’s most successful Grand Prix cars, with the engine front-mounted but with the driver sitting out behind the rear axle, in the manner of a “sling-shot” dragster. The thinking was that this would give him immense “feel” for reaching the limits of tyre adhesion when cornering and would improve the weight distribution for traction. The bodywork would be dart-shaped, which made sense for aerodynamic stability. What is interesting about this project is that they had already built a mid-engined Grand Prix car, with a flat 12-cylinder engine, but never raced it. Not surprisingly the “sling-shot” car never got off the drawing board, though there are some people who still insist that a “mock-up ” was built and tried out at Monza, but strangely no photographs were ever taken if it did exist. One of the immediate post-war “wonder cars” that was going to be better than the V16 BRM was the CowellAspin. Robert Cowell was a racing

enthusiast with lots of ideas but little financial backing, that actually got transposed into test-bed engines. Back in those days a replacement for the archaic poppet-valve in the internal combustion engine was something everybody thought about but few turned into fact. Rotary valves did exist, because I once had a ride on a Manx Norton motorcycle that used a Cross rotary valve cylinder head. Of all the designs that were about I always liked the Aspin layout, in which the combustion chamber was more or less conical, and revolved in the cylinder head. Bob Cowell was going to design the car and Frank Aspin the engine, but nothing ever transpired, so if someone makes a CowellAspin Grand Prix car it will certainly provide some novelty for our post-war grid. In order to try and keep some semblance of reality to this whole idea perhaps we should build two well-known cars that never existed, but had they done so, would have been almost certain winners. The first would be the 250F Maserati chassis number 2517. This would have been one of the very successful 2 %2-litre 6-cylinder cars of 1955/56 (not the 1957 “Lightweight” model that everyone has copied). In Modena card playing is like darts to the British, and in Italian card playing the number 17 is considered unlucky and the artisans who built the 250F cars in the Maserati factory could not bring themselves to stamp the number 17 on a chassis, so the build programme jumped from 2516 to 2518. If we build Maserati 2517 we will have a certain winner, in the post-war

front-engined class. Overall winner of any category will surely be the Ferrari that someone will build. This will be a 1989 Formula One car with the chassis number F1/89-113. Whether it was the influence of John Barnard or Nigel Mansell is not clear, but Ferrari chassis numbers were going along nicely from the beginning of the new era of flat-12 engines with chassis 001, and for the new 34-litre Formula we were into the 640 model series with chassis 107. Near the end of the season Tipo 640 F1/89-112 appeared, and the next new car was marked F1/89-112+ 1 because someone did not want to use the number 13! Certain elements of the press

translated this into F1/89-112bis (which I found rather bizarre). If we build a 31/2-litre V12 Ferrari and label it F1/89113 it must surely qualify for our postwar Historics, because like the J-type Connaught, and all the others, it never existed.

If you find the 1990 season of Formula One racing rather boring I would suggest that you try and get to some of the rounds in the Serendipity Championship; it may not be terribly exciting but it will certainly be interesting. Unfortunately I cannot publish a photograph of any of the likely contestants, as none of them have yet been built! Yours, DSJ

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