The Trend of Racing Car Design

The past season of Grand Prix racing has seen a remarkable levelling of the gap that has existed between the supercharged and the unsupercharged cars taking part in Formula I events. It has always been known that the unsupercharged racing engine can prove to be more reliable and more economical than a supercharged one, but for many years the gap between their respective performances has been so great that the supercharged cars have invariably been superior where race results are concerned. However, this situation has been gradually changing, until it has reached the stage where, over a 300-mile race, the large unsupercharged engine is very nearly a match for the small supercharged one. The task of developing the 4½-litre un-supercharged engine has been left almost entirely to M. Toni Lago, whose Talbots have provided the bulk of the unsupercharged entries in Grand Prix events, backed up occasionally by assorted Delahayes of pro-war origin. With the growing interest in shorter races, the 4½-litre cars are not likely to continue their successes and it rather looks as if this type of car, for Grand Prix racing, will eventually disappear, as Talbots are even now in the process of developing a 1½-litre supercharged engine to replace their 4½-litre unit. On the face of it this would seem a bad thing, that development work on unsupercharged engines should cease, but fortunately Formula II will continue to encourage this line of experimental work, even though it is for small capacities.

The general trend in the supercharged class of Formula I racing is still towards more boost and greater numbers of cylinders, and the interest in this class is still growing. Many people are of the opinion that supercharged racing cars should be dropped and all efforts should be concentrated on Formula II, unsupercharged 2-litre. This would no doubt produce some remarkable motor cars, which would more likely be of benefit to the ordinary motorist, thereby supporting the old and worn-out expression that “the racing car of to-day is the touring car of to-morrow,” but it would prevent a great deal of important research continuing. It is agreed that the present-day highly supercharged, high-revving, multi-cylinder Grand Prix engine is unlikely to affect production car design, but it does form a most essential branch of basic research rather on a par with that which is carried out at the Government Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, which can be put under the heading of “pure-scientific-research,” for after all, the development of sheer power from the internal combustion engine by any means is just one of the many subjects in which the research engineer is interested and supercharged Formula I cars fulfil a very important role in this subject, apart from the benefit to fuel and lubricant and metallurgical researches.

At present, this branch of racing is ably supported by Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa-Romeo, and to a lesser extent, by Alta, C.T.A.-Arsenal, and E.R.A. Still experimenting are Talbot, B.R.M. and Cisitalia. Ferrari have led the way in the 1½-litre field with multi-cylinders, their V-12 engines proving highly successful, followed by the flat-12 Cisitalia, while Talbot and B.R.M. intend to go one step further in using 16 cylinders in a 135-degree vee-formation. Alfa-Romeo show no signs of departing from their original design of eight cylinders in line, while Alta and Maserati retain their faith in four cylinders, although it would appear that the Maserati is due for a change in the number of cylinders as their 4CLT/48 engines must surely have reached the limit of power output from a conventional four-cylinder. E.R.A., of course, have not built any new cars, the pre-War six-cylinder engines still being retained. In truth, the only completely new Grand Prix engines at the present time are the V-12 Ferrari, the C.T.A.-Arsenal, the flat-12 Cisitalia and the Alta, although the last-named is a development of a pre-war layout. When the Talbot and B.R.M. appear in racing, they, of course, can be bracketed with them.

The accent in Formula I racing engine design has been one of development of a theme, rather than of new engines, and no doubt this condition has been brought about by the difficult after-war conditions. These are now fast disappearing, encouraging the production of new engines.

Power output from supercharged 1½-litre engines is continually rising and is brought about mainly by increased boost and higher revolutions per minute. Two-stage supercharging, which was spoken about with hushed voices pre-war when the German teams started using it, is now spoken of freely by the greatest to the lowest, and it is virtually a sine qua non of the Formula I cars. Ferrari, although wisely cautious about its introduction, now have two-stage supercharged engines of great potency, Maserati have used it almost to bursting point on their four-cylinders, Alfa-Romeo appear to have the subject well under control, while E.R.A., C.T.A., and Alta are not yet fully conversant with it. Talbot have automatically adopted it on their new engine and B.R.M. are using it, with a centrifugal supercharger. Revolution-per-minute ranges are still of the 8,000 order, although Mercédès-Benz used far more than this in 1939, and an all-time high is likely to be set when the B.R.M. is functioning as is at present planned. Twin-o.h.c. are synonymous with high r.p.m., and are used by all the Grand Prix firms with the exception of E.R.A. and Talbot. With the increasing r.p.m. it is not surprising that five-speed gearboxes are coming into fashion and already Ferrari use one with excellent results while Cisitalia also have such a gearbox on the rear-engined Grand Prix car, which has yet to run and the B.R.M. also uses one. Talbot is the only one to retain the easy-to-handle pre-selector gearbox, while no one has bothered with the electric gearbox for Grand Prix racing.

Chassis frames are tending more and more towards the popular tubular pattern, using large diameter tubes, although Cisitalia continue with their very successful small-diameter, multi-tube arrangement. The rigid rear-axle layout is now almost extinct, being retained only by Maserati and Talbot, while i.f.s. is universal. Suspending mediums are still open to discussion, the leaf-spring being the most popular, used on Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Talbot and Maserati (at the back), Alta uses rubber, C.T.A., Cisitalia and E.R.A. use torsion bars in conjunction with trailing links at the front and B.R.M. uses a new form of oleo-pneumatic. With the exception of Talbot hydraulic brakes are used by all with great satisfaction and reliability, and in just the same way that the racing car has tended to introduce this type of braking to the production car, so have two-leading shoe systems become popular with manufacturers. A further innovation is the use of three leading shoes on the B.R.M.

The Formula I cars cannot be said to be lagging in design and development and although many projects are held up by financial difficulties, there is in existence the nucleus of an exceedingly interesting collection of supercharged cars of very, modern and up-to-date conception. Chief rivalry in the immediate future will undoubtedly come from Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Alta and E.R.A., but there is a strong potential field in B.R.M., Cisitalia and Talbot, and when the latter group is sufficiently ahead with development to field teams of cars, then Formula I racing is due for a great boost.

While Formula I racing is providing a field for pure research in racing car design, Formula II, for unsupercharged cars up to two litres and supercharged 500-c.c. cars, has been filling a very useful purpose, in that it not only affords the opportunity for successful research with unsupercharged engines of reasonable practical capacity, but it also provides the opportunity for some excellent racing with modified standard products. The supercharged side of this form of racing has been completely neglected and Ferrari and Simca, the main protagonists in this class, have concentrated all their efforts on the unsupercharged engine. This type of racing cannot be said to have followed any very definite trend, for Ferrari have used an enlarged version of the Grand Prix car and Simca have developed a standard product beyond all recognition. These two makes alone have gone into Formula II racing with any really serious intent, although there are many private and semi-private ventures which have partaken, and many more who intend to do so in the future. The accent is on 2-litre engines, normally aspirated, and the pre-war B.M.W. engine has been used a great deal for the purpose of constructing this type of car. The German Veritas and A.F.M. models have both appeared in Formula II events with this type of power unit, as has the Oscar Moore creation, the O.B.M. Gordini has been steadily increasing the size of his Simca engines, the latest being 1,490 c.c., and it is very probable that his 1950 models will be the full two litres. Another prominent Formula II car, that has been representing this country, is the driven by the designer-builder, John Heath. Using an unsupercharged four-cylinder Alta engine, similar to the Grand Prix engine of that make, fitted into a special chassis, this car has proved quite successful and a worthy representative from Britain.

Another branch of this class of racing that so far has not achieved any marked success in Formula II events, but which has made quite a favourable impression, is the 1,000-c.c. Cooper. Although it has only half the allowed capacity, the V-twin J.A.P. engine has such an excellent power/weight ratio that, together with the excellent light-weight chassis of the Cooper, it can give a very good account of itself. For 1950 a new J.A.P. engine has been designed, of 1,100-c.c. capacity, which is claimed to give a further 20 b.h.p., over its 995-c.c. forerunner and this in the Cooper car should be capable of providing some very good Formula II opposition. Other cars which so far have been confined to English events, but which, in the fullness of time, might produce Formula II contestants, are the 2-litre Rover Special, the H.R.C.-Vanguard and the Lea-Francis-engined specials of Baird and Spikins, while it is not beyond possibility that Frazer-Nash might field a Formula II entry. Apart from the modified standard cars that have been mentioned, there are a few 2-litre Rileys still performing remarkably well and someone might even be tempted to remove the supercharger from a 2-litre E.R.A.

With Grand Prix racing occupying so many factory resources, Formula II is at present open to a wide field of private owners with ability and initiative and consequently deserves the place that it has made for itself in the racing of to-day. It. is to be hoped that a race for this class of car will be staged as a curtain raiser for the all-important Grand Prix d’Europe which the R.A.C. have the honour of running this year. If such an event can be fitted in it should do this class of racing a great deal of good as a large field of widely differing cars should be forthcoming and it may encourage more of them to venture abroad. It can be safely said that Formula II has no definite trend of design, although there is one factor that plays a very important part and that is the question of power/weight ratio, and if it does nothing else, it will certainly develop light-weight cars. This Formula has shown one thing, that there is a great deal of interest in unsupercharged racing cars, mainly because of their relative cheapness, but as for a type of engine for this class of racing, it is very much open, ranging at present from two-cylinders to 12-cylinders and from 1,000-c.c. to 2,000-c.c., with no very definite tendency towards either direction.

Perhaps the most astonishing progress has been in the 500-c.c. class of racing. Started in this country as a form of cheap racing for the beginner, it has progressed from its original idea, where the cars were to be of the “stick-and-string” variety, to cars which are virtually sealed-down Grand Prix models, and it has now achieved its climax by being recognised as a definite international racing class by the F.I.A., officially to be known as Formula III. Considering this form of racing as it has been followed in this country, as a National class, it has followed a very definite trend, that of motor-cycle components in the construction in of the cars. Without exception, the single-cylinder racing motor-cycle engine has held sway throughout the three years of racing we have seen with these cars and in the same way the placing of the engine behind the driver has become practically universal. Suspension has had the accent on independence, the forms used being of the simplest and lightest possible. Gearboxes, like engines, have been essentially of motor-cycle pattern, but brakes have outpaced motorcycle patterns both in efficiency and design. The popular 498-c.c. single cylinder J.A.P. engine has been used extensively, with great success, although now that races are tending to become longer in duration, this type of engine is reaching its limit. Norton engines of 499-c.c. are being used and having been developed for long-distance motor-cycle racing they are likely to become more popular now that a serious road-racing programme is being planned. With the advent of International Formula III racing, the continentals are already well ahead with cars for this class and although the supply of suitable engines is not as good as it, is in this country, the inventiveness of the Frenchman has already led to the adaptation of Dyna-Panhard and Renault 4CV engines, while B.M.W. and Zundapp engines are also used, the last two being motor-cycle units.

The use of a four-cylinder Renault engine will probably lead to the encouragement of multi-cylinder “500s” in just the same way that motor-cycle Grand Prix design has almost completely gone over to multi-cylinders. If the Italian nation take as much interest in Formula III as they have in all other forms of racing, then it is pretty certain that the day of the single-cylinder car is finishing and we shall see two, four and even six-cylinder engines in use before very long. While in the past this type of racing has proved possible for the man of limited means, when it becomes truly International it will become the prerogative of the factory or the wealthy individual or combine. It is indeed a pity that 500-c.c. racing should have developed beyond the wildest dreams of its originators, but it was inevitable. In the four-cylinder Gilera racing motor-cycle the Italians have an obvious power unit for a Formula III car and as it is already developing some 45 b.h.p. on Pool petrol, with its two carburetters and Scintilla Vertex magneto, it is likely to be an unbeatable force when running on alcohol fuels and when used in a car, should the Italians decide to take the Formula III really seriously. In addition, there are numerous power units of 750-c.c. capacity already in existence in Italy and it would not take a great amount of work to adapt some of them for Formula Ill. Of course, this third class of racing may not become as popular internationally as it has in this country, but if it does, then the likelihood of England remaining supreme with antiquated motor-cycle components to build cars from is small. Five-hundred-c.c. racing is rapidly reaching a turning point in its design career and whereas the word design has meant the assembling of various bits and pieces in a satisfactory order, it will soon have to mean as much as it does in Formula I.

While the pure racing classes have been holding their own, or progressing slowly, sports-car racing has gone from strength to strength. The re-introduction of Le Mans has, of course, been one of the major attractions, but in addition shorter sports-car races, both at home and abroad, have become increasingly popular. Sports-car engine design can be said to be going in two directions, both, of course, unsupercharged, the first being the high-revving, comparatively small, engine, such as the Ferrari, Maserati A6G and Frazer-Nash, and the other being the large, low-speed engine as produced by Delahaye, Delage, Talbot and Allard. Similarly, there time two divisions on the mechanical side, Allard, Delage, Healey and Frazer-Nash supporting fairly straightforward designs, while Jaguar, Ferrari and Lagonda tend towards more complicated high-efficiency engines. Suspensions, braking, gearbox and chassis problems generally follow the practices of Formula 1 cars, i.f.s. being very popular, a variety of types being employed, while i.r.s. is increasing in popularity. Allard is unusual in employing de Dion rear suspension on the J2 model. Gearboxes vary from the Cotal of the Delahaye to the five-speed box on the latest Simca models. A multiplicity of carburetters has not found favour, two or three being found adequate in most cases, according, of course, to the cylinder layout.

While most of the mechanical details of sports cars seem to follow some definite plan, the question of sports-car bodywork has far from stabilised. It is not so much a question of controlling body designs because they are becoming outrageous, as in other branches of the sport, but it is the fact that sports-racing car designers are following three distinct lines and none seem too sure that  they are on the right track. The three types of bodywork favoured for racing are the fully stream-lined open two-seater, the very skimpy light-shell two-seater, and the totally-enclosed saloon, the last named becoming more and more popular for this type of racing. The situation would be simpler to understand if the various competing cars were all changing towards one style, but as fast as one manufacturer drops the totally-enclosed body, so another takes it up, or similarly, as one drops the skimpy shell, so another one drops the fully-stream-lined type. Sports-racing-car body design appears to be in complete chaos as far as following a trend is concerned. Ferrari started off with fully-streamlined bodywork, later dropping it in favour of skimpy alloy shells, only to return to fully-streamlined bodywork during the past season. Peter Clark’s H.R.G.s, built essentially for Le Mans and Spa, started with total enclosure but have changed to “shells.” Healey has done likewise and Frazer-Nash support the skimpy body style, as do Allard on the J2 model. Jaguar favour total enclosure, and are supported by Connaught and Veritas, while Simca have remained faithful to total enclosure throughout, as have D.B. and Monopole. Aston-Martin have passed from the shell stage to the saloon stage, while Healey still support the saloon class. F.I.A.T. support all types of bodywork, their 1,100-c.c. saloons being particularly successful. The Delage-Delahaye-Talbot trio have, like Simca, remained unchanged throughout, adhering to skimpy racing shells, although Deluge have ventured into the saloon class once or twice. Alfa-Romeo, while concentrating mostly on Italian sports-car racing, have used saloons, especially in the “standard” classes where, of course, our own Bristol and Healey cars have been most successful.

The enthusiasm for sports-car racing in this country among manufacturers as well as individuals has been remarkable and even sober family cars such as Jowetts and Rileys have been raced quite seriously, in just the same way as continentals race with Citroëns, F.I.A.T.s, Lancias and B.M.W.s. The number of pure sports-racing cars at present on the market is a most encouraging sign, there being suitable cars for competition purposes in almost all capacity classes. Allard with the 4.4-litre J2 model, Healey with the Silverstone, Jaguar with the XK120, the Le Mans Frazer-Nash, the H.R.G., the products of the David Brown Group, Connaught, Morgan and M.G., together form a collection of cars which would do credit to any country’s industry, while the participation by Jowetts, Bristols and Rileys has been encouraging, to say the least.

Sports-car racing has been increasing in popularity not only for the driver and manufacturer but also for the spectator, while enthusiasm for the more arduous type of event, such as the 24-hour races and the Mille Miglia, has become almost uncontrollable. The Production Car Race held at Silverstone in 1949 was undoubtedly a great success and if it can be taken as a foretaste of the support that is likely to be forthcoming for the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy next summer, then the long-overdue revival of that event should be very successful.

Finally, in this review of the trend of design, we come to our own particular brand of competition motoring, namely sprints and hill-climbs. While the general run of cars in these types of events are not exactly designed, being more the utilising of convenient components, there is definitely a general trend of sprint car. Just after the war, with little road-racing to go to, the hill-climbs and sprint meetings became flooded with pure racing cars, but now the sprint special has come back into its own, for a car of this type has won the Hill-Climb Championship, while one of the most highly developed “specials” holds the Shelsley Walsh car record. Many of the principles employed in road-racing are used by the sprint world; two-stage supercharging is exemplified on the Freikaiserwagen, as is i.r.s., while Sydney Allard’s Special employs a de Dion rear axle and limited-slip differential. With the increasing power outputs being obtained these days, the sprint special can afford to carry a little more weight and many modern refinements are now in use, which could not have been contemplated in the “stick-and-string” age, even had they then been known. The present-day sprint special no longer resembles a bedstead fitted with a motor-cycle engine, but now sports a tubular chassis, two-stage blowing, or multi-carburetters, all-round independent suspension, hydraulic brakes, limited-slip differential and even goes so far as to carry a rev.-counter! The trend of special design, while still mainly a matter of compromise, nevertheless is tending to follow Grand Prix practice while the Cooper 1,000 cars have created an enormous revival in the “V-twin for sprint work.”

Before leaving this question of design we must consider, briefly, the record-breaking field. One of the most outstanding features must surely be the efforts of Pietro Taruffi with his little twin-boom car called Tarf, with which he put up 500-c.c. records, using an unblown Guzzi engine. This is probably one of the most notable breaks from conventional record-car design that has ever happened, although Major Gardner’s subsequent breaking of the record with his three-cylinder Gardner Special, using three working cylinders of a six-cylinder engine, probably stands out as the greatest example of compromise in design.

One fundamental principle of racing car design which we must not overlook, is that of how to turn the power developed by the engine into forward motion of the car, that is to say, whether to drive by the rear wheels, the front wheels or all four wheels. Mainly because of ease of design and manufacture, the majority of racing cars over the years have been driven by the rear wheels only, while some have been driven by the front wheels only. Very few people have had the courage to attempt to drive all four wheels at the smile time or even better, all four wheels when the driver feels so inclined. Cisitalia, with their new Grand Prix Formula I car, have taken this step, with the aid of the German genius, Dr. Porsche, but unfortunately, it has not yet been tried out. Without any doubt this car represents the very latest in racing-car design and might even prove to be a turning point in design history, if it can only be used and proved. With its four-wheel drive (optional rear or all four at the driver’s choice, while he is in motion, by means of a steering column lever) it opens up an entirely new field of Grand Prix car conception, which will undoubtedly call for an entirely new race of drivers to adapt themselves to the obviously new technique that will be required, in just the same way that the rear-engined Auto-Union of before the war called for a new race of drivers. In passing, it is interesting to recall the strides that America has made with front-wheel drive on their Indianapolis cars, for the Blue Crown Specials have now won the 500-Mile Races three years in succession, using front-wheel drive to transmit the power from their unsupercharged 4.4-litre Meyer-Drake (Offenhauser) engines, while the fastest American track car, the Novi-Governor Special, which has a supercharged 3-litre V-8 Winfield engine, also uses front-wheel drive. In this country, no serious factory attempt has been made to utilise either front-wheel or four-wheel drive, although A. J. Butterworth, with his home-made Steyr-engined Special has used the four-wheel drive principle very successfully at small sprint meetings.

With the B.R.M. no longer a myth, the Norton-engined 500-c.c. Coopers, the 1,100-c.c. Formula II Coopers well on the way, the sports Frazer-Nash, Healey and Jaguar, etc., well to the fore, as well as Cobb and Gardner taking most of the world’s records, we can safely say that, while Britain does not lead the world in raving-car design, she is certainly keeping well up.—D. S. J.