The trend of racing-car design

The year 1950 has proved to be one of exceptional interest in respect of all fonns of motor-racing and, for the first time in the history of the current Formula 1, the mixing of blown and unblown cars has been really justified. We have seen great interest being taken in all three European Formulas, the re-entry of German cars and drivers into International racing, the full acceptance of 500-c.c. racing and, at Indianapolis, record after record was shattered.

Whichever form of motor-racing one looks at it has been an outstanding season, both technical and otherwise, while the increase in club events in thia country has reached unforeseen limits. It is, quite naturally, in Formula 1 that true design plays a large part, for here we have cars planned as complete entities for the express purpose of going as fast as is possible, expense being of secondary importance; in other words, Formula 1 Is the game for factories to play and not the private individual, and quite rightly so. The Formula II, however, is another matter, and although many factories give It very serious consideration it is still possible for the semi-private owner to support this type of racing with a fair chance of success. Consequently, Formula II is in a very healthy state as regards etanpetition and entries. The newly-introduced Formula III, while ,still being in its infancy, has, nevertheless, proved very popular, although so far it has not attracted any serious factory-interest, so that the enthusiastic amateur can still play at 500-c.c. racing among his fellow men.

Although the present three Formulae run until 1953, people are already discussing freely the arrangements for the next, and many are advocating an unsupercharged Formula, similar to the existing Formula II, mainly on the grounds of the lower costs. If this comes about it will be most unfortunate, for it will mean that the private owner will have no chance at all in Grand Prix racing and unless he turns to 500 c.c. racing he will be out of the game. The main Formula must obviously be designed to attract the big factories, such as Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari and perhaps Mercedes-Benz, but whatever rules it may conform to we must not lose sight of the usefulness of the present Fornula II, not so much by its present definition as by its mere existence. When the new Formula for the factories is settled it must be ensured that a second type of racing is provided for the semi-private owner and the smaller firms. 500-c.c. racing will presumably stay with us for good, in some form or other.

Considering the 1950 activities in Formula I we find Ilea although there were nine makes participating, there were in fact only three new ones appearing for the first time. These were our own B.R.M., the unsupereharged Ferrari and the Milan. From the point of view of engines the B.R.M. was the only really new model to appear, for the unblown 4 1/2- litre Ferrari, while new, was in reality a development of their well-tried V12 layout, and the Milan used the Speluzzi modification of the Maserati engine tried out at the end of 1949. Alfa-Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari (Supercharged), ERA., Talbot and Alta all used developments of their 1949 designs, and a new name appeared in Formula I in the Simcas from the Gordini stable. The last-named, while being a new entry into this class of racing, were supercharged versions or the well-known Formula II cars. Taking the 4 1/2-litre Ferrari as a new engine we find it was, along with the 16-cylinder B.R.M. engine, the only new innovation during the 1950 season. Completed too late to take part in any races was the 4 1/2-litre V12 engine. from O.S.C.A,„ so we can say that Formula I produced three new engines over the past season. All the other participants continued to modify their existing designs, and in many cases it became increasingly obvious that development was reaching its limit.

Among the supercharged cars, Alfa-Romeo and Maserati, in particular, shared a large crop of engine failures due, it would seem, to safety-factors being reduced ; while E.R.A. and Alta appear to have been fighting a losing battle against power output. Milan failed to make any real impression, having seemingly commenced where Maserati appeared to have finished. Ferraris did not give very much attention to their twin overhead camshaft, two-stage engines, having the fabulous 4 1/2 -litre up their sleeve, and Simca with its already highly-tuned four-cyliniler could not hope to achieve a great measure of reliability in blown form. In the untilown field of Formula I the most outstanding thing has been the introduction of the Ferrari, which has proved beyond all doubt the equality of the blown 1 1/2-litre/unblown 4 1/2-litre Formula. Talbots produced a further version of their six-cylinder Lago engine but, while quicker than than last year’s models, it was completely overslkadowed by the Ferrari. As mentioned O.S.C.A. have now joined tlie Formula 1 ranks with an unblown 4 1/2-litre which appears on paper, to be quite up to Ferrari’s new and very high standard for unblown Formula I engines. Technieally, the B.R.M. engine is the last word in the supercharged capacity; so far it has been unable to produce anything like its theoretical form, but there is no reason to doubt that by the end of the present Formilla it will be leading the way in the supercharged category.

Between now and 1953 engines are obviously going lo have more mid more cylinders, with, it would appear twelve as the mean. The four-cylinder seems unlikely to last much longer, while the six has only been supported by Talbot and E.R.A., the latter never having been designed for the existing Formula anyway; while the eight exists only in straight form, used by the all-conquering Alfa-Romeos. Ferrari must by now know more about the design of twelve-cylinder engines than anyone, while B.R.M. continue with sixteen. Talbot toyed with sixteen cylinders on paper but have kept to six for practical purposes, and their future would appear to be bound up in eight cylinders in vee-formation, Tony Lago having purchased the two C.T.A.-Arsenal Mrs, with it view to incorporating parts of them with parts of his Talhots. With the “158 ” Alfa 1201-Iwo at the end of its development, the firm are turning their attention to twelve cylinders, horizontally-opposed, while the revolutionary Cisitalia using the same layout now looks like being run, as it is said that the Argentine Equipe have purchased the car.

On the question of supercharging, in Formula I there seems to be a pretty general line of agreement. Firstly, in two-stage layouts in order to achieve the necessary boost essential to the 200 b.h.p. per litre which is the present order of power output from the blown 1 1/2-litres. Secondly, both stages are of the Roots supercharger type. The only dissentient to this has been B.R.M., with their centrifugal two-stage layout, but it is slowly becoming obvious that they picked the wrong type of super­charger for road-racing. Simca used the English four-lobe Wade supercharger, but only in single-stage form, Milan also running their new car with one blower to begin with. After running a single Roots-type supercharger in 1949, Alta fitted a two-stage layout for the season and intend with it. Again B.R.M. have provided the only new layout in supercha1·ging, but it did not prove successful, so that two stages of Hoots-type blowers would appear to be the ideal layout for a Formula 1 car.

Twin-overhead camshafts operating in­clined valves are now accepted fact for any serious Formula 1 car contender of the smaller capacity, and these are used by Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, B.R.M., Alta, Milan and Cisitalia. Among the unblown engines single camshafts suffice, as on Ferrari and O.S.C.A., while Talbot adhere to push-rods and rockers.

Among suspension units the leaf-spring still retains its popularity, being used by Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari and Talbot both back and front, while Maserati and Milan use this medium at the rear only. Torsion­bars have gone right out of fashion, being used only by Milan, at the front, Cisitalia and Simca. After much experimenting with swing axles Ferrari has turned to the de Dion layout, also used by B.R.M. and Milan, while Talbot, Simca and Maserati retain normal one-piece rear axles. Alfa­Romeo made no changes in their swing axle design, nor did Alta change their wishbone and compressed rubber layout. On the question of gearboxes it is generally agreed that a ” crash ” or synchromcsh type is the most suitable, but Talbot still adhere to the Wilson preselector type. As far as the number of forward speeds the gearbox should contain is concerned, Ferraris dropped from five to four, B.R.M. used live, Alfa-Romeo, Talbot, Maserati, Milan and Alta retained four. Hydraulic brakes, of course, go without saying, and wherever possible are of the two-leading shoe type, although B.R.M. once more paved the way for new development with three-leading shoe brakes.

Carburation on the Formula 1 unblown engines is a question of adaptability rather than design, downdraught instruments being the obvious choice for the V12 engines of Ferrari and O.S.C.A., while Talbot changed for 1950 from down­draught to horizontal. In. all instances three carburetters were used.

As regards ignition, B.R.M. once again was the exception that proved the rule, for it was alone with Lucas coil-ignition units, all other cars using magnetos, while Talbot and Milan used two plugs to each cylinder, in the former case having twin magnetos in front of the engine, and in the latter twin magnetos on the rear of the camshafts. As with so many things on the engines, the ignition was revolutionary, in having four separate coil units, one driven from each camshaft, with an accumulator mounted in the tail. Another instance in which B.R.M. stood alone was in the situation of fuel tanks. In all cases fuel was carried in the tail, but B.R.M. supplemented this with a saddle tank over the driver’s knees, in like manner to that employed by Mercedes-Benz in pre-war days.

While competition in Formula 1 has been of a high order during 1950, one cannot say that it has produced very much in the way of design trends, with the exception of the outstanding feats of the 4 1/2-litre Ferraris. In the past it has been generally accepted that the unblown Formula 1 car could not hope to compete on level terms, as regards power output, with the blown 1 1/2-litres. The idea of mixing the two types of engine originated in 1938 with the Formula which stipulated 3-litres blown and 4 1/2-Iitres unblown, and after the war this was changed to 1 1/2-litres blown and 4 1/2-litres unblown. All the time the blown cars were way ahead on power output and have remained so until the end of 1950 when Ferrari produced 330 b.h.p. from a car with which Ascari won the Barcelona race. When it is remembered that this Ferrari engine is only the second attempt at designing a 4 1/2-Iitre unblown racing engine from scratch, the other being the pre-war V12 Delahaye, it is not so sur­prising that its power output compared favourably with the blown 1 1/2-litres.

Since 1938 the unblown Formula engines have all, with the exceptions mentioned, been developments of engines which were basically sports engines. When Delahaye built their V12 in 1938 it was done with the express idea of building a Grand Prix car and not of building a production sports-car. At the time it developed 250 b.h.p., which was more than any of the 1 1/2-litre voiturettes of that time, but not as much as the 3-litre blown cars. Ferrari, with their 330 b.h.p. from the 4 1/2-litre, have progressed in a similar way to the blown 1 1/2-litres, their power being among the highest of contemporary power outputs. It was pretty obvious that the Talbot engines, while excellent as racing versions of a production engine, could not hope to compete on power output with engines designed purely for racing such as the Alfa-Romeo or supercharged Ferrari, but that if any firm got down to the matter of building a purely racing 4 1/2-Iitre unblown, it should be quite capable of holding its own with super­charged 1 1/2-litres. For some time now the Americans have shown this to be possible at lndianapoilis, for their 4 1/2-Iitre Meyer­Drake (Offenhauser) four-cylinder engines have always been well up on power out­put, and in 1950 the unblown 4 1/2-litre swept all before it, racing against blown 3-litres. These Meyer-Drake engines have all been built for the express purpose of producing as much power as possible, expense being of no account, and con­sequently their unblown engines have been in advance of anything seen on the Continental road circuits until the intro­duction of the Ferrari engine. To many people the performance of the new Ferrari came as a shock and some even felt that perhaps all the firms who had supported the blown 1 1/2-litre school of thought were wrong, and that they should have been building unblown 4 1/2-Iitres. Whether that is true or not we shall have to wait and see, but undoubtedly Ferrari has made one of the most outstanding contributions to racing-car design and it is quite likely that some people will follow their example, wishing they had thought of the idea earlier.

That, then, is the position of Formula 1 racing at the end of 1950; the blown 1 1/2-litres still hold sway, but only just, and there would appear to be a distinct swing over to the unblown engine of larger capacity. It may be due to the lower cost of producing the engine, the expense of superchargers, inter-coolers, etc., compared to that of induction manifolds and three or more carburetters, though whether 350 b.h.p. is more easily obtained from a small blown unit or from a large unblown unit, only those who do the designing can hope to know. Having seen Formula 1 engines grow in complication with the peak in the B.R.M., the C.T.A.-Arsenal, and the Cisitalia, it would seem that a reversion to comparative simplicity, with the unblown 4 1/2-litre, is about to take place.

While Formula 1 has not seen a great deal in the way of new design, this cannot be said of Formula II, for the technical interest here has been outstanding. Apart from the sweeping onslaught by Ferrari in this category, keen German participation has been evident, while English activity with 2-litres has been most encouraging. There has still been no interest whatsoever in the supercharged 500-c.c. side of Formula II, all cars being in the unblown category, varying from the maximum of 2 litres down to 998 c.c, Power units are very much an open question in Formula II, ranging from the two-cylinder 1,100-c.c. J.A.P. engine to the twelve-cylinder Ferrari engine. After toying with modified six-cylinder B.M.W. engines, the Germans produced two entirely new power units for this Formula, the first a single o.h.c. six, designed by Ernst Loof for Veritas, and the second a V8 with two o.h.c. to each bank designed by Kuchen for Falkenhausen to fit into his A.F.M. cars. These two engines are entirely new and indicate that widely divergent views on Formula II power plants exist in Germany, which should make for very keen rivalry. The V12 Ferraris have more or less had things their own way in this class, and so satisfied with their 60-deg. layout are they that there is no sign of any changes being made. Also from Italy comes the little four-cylinder 1,350-c.c. O.S.C.A., which, though unable to compete against all­comers in this class, has put up many spirited performances.     

A new angle on Formula II was supplied by the Argentine Equipe when they fitted a 4 CLT Maserati chassis with one of the sports A6G Maserati engines, this being the 2-litre six-cylinder. It appeared to be quite a practical proposition and it is very likely that more of these marriages will appear during 1951. Simca has remained faithful· to the four-cylinder layout, his cars being virtually unchanged from 1949, still of 1,490 c.c., and there has been no indication that he has progressed towards a full 2-litre. From this country the greatest opposition has come from the excellent H.W.M., the product of John Heath and George Abecassis, and they, more by reason of necessity than design, have retained the well-proven four-cylinder Alta engine for their cars. Another English Formula II car which should appear regularly during 1951 is the Connaught, and, like the H. W.M., it uses a proprietary power-unit, also of four cylinders, this being the 1,700-c.c. Lea-Francis, which they modify con­siderably to suit their own requirements. Greatly influenced by Coopers, the J.A.P. firm produced a brand new V-twin design, of 1,100-c.c. capacity, for use in the Cooper car, and on the smaller circuits it has proved a very serious competitor in this form of racing.

At the moment the greatest interest for Formula II lies in the four-cylinder power unit, but it cannot be taken as an indica­tion of the trend of design, for in many cases it is a question of no other choice. The real trend of Formula II engine design is indicated by the new A.F.M. with its fairly complicated V8 engine, and it can safely be said that, as in Formula I, the firms capable of designing new engines will tend towards more and more cylinders, and the cars show every sign of becoming as advanced and complicated as their Formula I brethren, with a multiplicity of cylinders, carburettors and camshafts. However, competition in this category is very keen, the future looks exceedingly healthy, and three contenders from this country are most encouraging.

As far as a chassis for Formula II is concerned there is a great deal more freedom of design and always the accent is on light weight. The German cars use small-diameter tube lattice-work construc­tion, while O.S.C.A., Ferrari, H.W.M., Maserati and Connaught use a straight­forward chassis frame constructed from two large-diameter tubes. Cooper are alone in using a box-section chassis frame. Springing mediums, as with Formula 1 cars, still show great interest in leaf-spring3, these being employed front and back by Ferrari, Cooper and H.W.M., while Veritas, A.F.M., Simca and Con­naught use torsion-bars. Coil springs are adhered to by O.S.C.A., Simca, Maserati and A.F.M. for the front. So important is the matter of power-to-weight ratio in this class of racing and consequently a reduction of unsprung weight, in order to keep the roadholding under control, that alloy road wheels are finding great favour, being used by A.F.M., Veritas, Connaught and Cooper. It is interesting to recall that many people tried alloy wheels on the big cars at Indianapolis, but they were found to develop fatigue cracks too easily and were subsequently discarded for the time being. In Formula II, the speeds being lower, the alloy wheel has proved quite successful and is a line of development that will undoubtedly grow.

The actual suspension systems employed in Formula II show a most interesting line of thought, for all the cars in regular competition in this class use some form of wishbone independent suspension at the front. Ferrari, A.F.M., Veritas, Connaught and O.S.C.A. use double wish­bones, with the springing medium attached separately, while H. W.M., Cooper, Simca and Maserati use a single wishbone with a tubular member or the springing medium as the second support, but in all cases the i.f.s. is on the wish­bone principle. At the rear, opinions differ greatly, from one-piece axles to de Dion layouts, and it is the latter that design tends towards, for it is used by Ferrari, A.F.M. and Veritas, while H.W.M. will be using this layout in 1951. Hydrau­lic brakes are, of course, unanimous and in most cases are of the two-leading-shoe type. Cooper, Connaught and A.F.M. utilise a one-piece casting for wheel and brake drum in the interests of cooling and weight-saving.

Formula II has a very strong future before it and fully justifies being kept separate from Formula I; in fact, it may even oust Formula I from its position as the major type of racing. If it does so this will be unfortunate, for, as mentioned earlier, it will no longer be possible for the small firms and private owners to compete. There is no doubt that competition between makes is the surest way of ensuring progress, and competition within the various countries has an even farther­reaching effect. With A.F.M. and Veritas in Germany, and H.W.M. and Connaught in England, these two countries should be well in the running in forthcoming Formula II events. Simca, although virtually alone in France, need little encouragement, while Ferrari’s present position will ensure every effort by that firm to remain at the top. Whether O.S.C.A. will take more interest in this type of racing is rather unlikely now that they have shown very practical interest in Formula I. When Formula II began it looked as though it might be possible to compete with modified production cars, but the way things have turned out it is now necessary to design a full Grand Prix car if serious participation is intended. The trend of Formula II design has quite definitely gone towards more complicated machines and consequently more expensive ones, which in some ways is to be regretted, but it is inevitable that progress in design must of necessity bring with it greater financial outlay.

The new Formula III, in its first year on the International Calendar, while having proved very successful, cannot be said to have developed to any great extent beyond the 500-c.c. racing previously confined to this country. In the majority of cases it has been a case of the English drivers and cars extending their racing to other countries, with very little serious opposition from other parts. The successful Coopers have had such an influence on Formula III that the majority of cars arc modelled along their lines, the Dutch Beels-Specials and the Swedish Effyhs being cases in point, while many privately-built cars from Belgium and France follow this layout. The most outstanding examples of differences of opinion are shown by Emery in this country with the F.W.D. Emeryson and the French F.W.D. D.B. cars.


There is no doubt that the ingredients of a forward-seated driver with motor­cycle engine and gearbox at the rear of an all-independent chassis provide the most satisfactory answer to Formula III. While this layout has held sway it does not mean that it will always do so, nor does it mean that it is the ideal layout, but as yet no one has produced an alternative that has been so successful. Without exception the very efficient racing motor-cycle engines of today have proved the most suitable power units for Formula III, and with the characteristics of such engines it has been necessary to employ racing motor-cycle gearboxes, in order to make the fullest use of the power output. While there have been numerous rumours about newly designed 500-c.c. engines of car-type, none of these have so far appeared, and the motor-cycle engine delivering its power via a sprocket and chain still remains favourite. Through using proprietary power units the ques­tion of engine design has not really entered into Formula IJI, for it has been mostly a case of using what constructors could get. So far the double overhead­camshaft Norton engine has proved the most desirable, but due to the scarcity of such power units the dirt-track J.A.P. still remains the most popular engine in use.

The Cooper type of suspension system, using wishbones and transverse leaf­spring, is widely followed by 500-c.c. builders, but variants are double-wish­bones and rubber bands on the Emeryson, trailing arms and rubber in torsion on the Rhiando-Trimax and multiple leaf­springs mounted transversely on the Effhy. Braking systems are invariably standard Lockheed 2LS layouts, as produced for Morris cars and the like, while in many cases alloy drums with bonded liners are used. Alloy wheels are very popular but not universal, two notable exceptions being the Parker Special and the J .B.S., both of which use wire-spoke wheels, which prove as light and more capable of standing rough usage, such as motoring on the grass.

Up to now Formula III has remained essentially for the amateur racing man, there being no official factory entries in this category, and in consequence the competition has remained very even, but whether that will last is another matter. While there are no definite signs of any factories taking an interest in Formula III there are many possibilities, and it is to be feared that once this happens Formula Ill, like Formula II, will advance with great strides, taking with it the increased-cost factor.

It is encouraging that in the three existing Formulae none has remained completely static over the past season, and the way that all three are developing indicates that the categorising of racing in this manner was a wise step on the part of the F.I.A. Before leaving the trend of racing-ear design it may pay to cast an eye towards Indianapolis, where great strides have been made since the war. Possibly these advances have been due to the knowledge gained by study of Euro­pean cars that have found their way to the U.S.A., such as the eight-cylinder Maseratis or the various Alfa-Romeos, but whatever the cause, the present-day Indianapolis car is no longer the rather ungainly-looking freak that we used to know. Apart from power output, great attention has been paid to body-shape, low-drag and frontal area, as well as to chassis and suspension design. It is interesting that the unsupercharged four­cylinder engine of 4t litres held complete mastery at the last 500 Miles Race and that the supercharged 3-litres were unable to stand the pace. The all-round improvements in design on Indianapolis cars had the effect in 1950 of putting the qualifying speeds up to an almost unheard of height, so high in fact that of the fastest qualifiers in past years only three would have got into the 1950 race. Of particular interest at the last Indianapolis was the performance of the supercharged six-cylinder Cummins Diesel, which quali­fied at 129.208 m.p.h. This performance was well up to that of the majority of the petrol-engined cars, and the subsequent records that were taken at over 165 m.p.h. at Utah indicate that this type of high­speed engine has very great possibilities.