A talk with Brian Hart
Many people enter the world of motoring sport on a wave of sheer enthusiasm and sustain their passion by a “spare time” involvement. Others find the world to be so compelling and fascinating that it soon becomes their full-time occupation and this sort of commitment takes many different forms, be it the active participation of a driver, the role of an inquisitive journalist or the imaginative world of the engineer. The common thread which binds these people together is the fact that they are fundamentally enthusiasts, caring primarily about the sport of motor racing for its own sake, rather than as a “means to an end” in furthering a secondary business interest or other ambition. You can always tell the people who fall into the former category; they are always around, plugging away at some interesting project or other. Those in the latter category have a tendency to disappear in the proverbial “puff of smoke” once motor racing has fulfilled their short-term objective.
Brian Hart, as readers of last month’s Motor Sport will know, tried his hand at race driving with some success before gradually phasing out that aspect of his enthusiasm to concentrate on the business of building and developing racing engines. That was eleven years ago, at a time when Hart was an accomplished Formula Two driver with a sound engineering background, having first trained at the De Havilland aircraft company at Hatfield and then worked for Cosworth Engineering when they were developing the 1,600 c.c. four-cylinder FVA unit for Formula Two as part of the Cosworth-Ford financial marriage which resulted in the production of the remarkable Formula One DFV V8.
Our visit to Brian Hart Ltd.’s Harlow factory (soon to be superseded by larger premises a few miles away) was not, however, intended to produce a blow-by-blow historical account of the company’s achievements over the years. Our intention was to have an informal chat with a “kindred spirit” about the engine development philosophies involved in current day motor racing, in particular his own, and about how one has to compromise one’s ideals when meshing theoretical concepts with the realities and practicalities of an everyday business.
It would be doing Brian Hart less than justice, however, if we did not talk at some further length about his successful 420R engine which powered Brian Newton’s Toleman TG280 to victory in the 1980 European F2 Championship. With a bore and stroke of 93.5 mm. x 72.6 mm. and a cubic capacity of 1,994 c.c., the development of the 420R came about as a logical progression along a path which started when Brian began race preparing Cosworth FVA engines in 1969. Its evolution was honed through the period when production based blocks were demanded by the F1 regulations and came to fruition finally when pure racing engines were readmitted in 1977. Although Hart designed his engine at his Harlow base, he quite naturally does not have the kind of multi-million pound resources which were enjoyed by industrialists in the past, say like Tony Vandervell when he was developing his Vanwall Grand Prix cars, so Brian places considerable reliance on a number of specialist outside engineering firms for the supply of certain components with which to build his power units. It is a classic example of using several of racing’s best specialists to good advantage and emphasises just how many different concerns are involved in the engine building game. Castings for the cylinder blocks and heads come from Stirling Metals — “super quality work” says Brian — and the machining of these components is completed at Harlow. Gordon Allen produces the crankshafts, Hart does his own camshafts and has developed a piston design in conjunction with the respected German firm of Mahle, with whom he has had a particularly good relationship for the best part of ten years. Good relations, incidentally, seem to extend to Hart’s customers as well. More than 75% of his customers bring their engines back to him to be maintained!
Piston design and development is Hart’s favourite “pet subject” and he feels that every engineer has his particular forte, this being his. “They fascinate me” he confesses. In this connection he feels that his communication with Mahle is particularly satisfying because the end product reflects a combination of effort. “They have ideas, we have ideas” he says with a knowing twinkle in his eye.
Improvements in metallurgy enable the Hart 420R to produce performance which would have been inconceivable only 25 years ago. With a chuckle, Brian compares it to the famous 2 1/2-litre Vanwall four cylinder F1 engine “Developing a maximum of 285 b.h.p. on methanol and blowing apart when they were revved much over 6,800 r.p.m. Now our 2-litre unit develops 305 b.h.p. from half a litre less, peaks at 9,500 r.p.m. and can take bursts of just over 10,000 r.p.m. with no serious problems. Progress in this business is amazing. I mean, even more recently we were squeezing around 220 b.h.p. from a production block, 1,850 c.c. Formula Two engine. That was only eight years ago. Nowadays that sort of output is taken for granted to power a works rally Escort . . .”
The 420R engine adds up to a compact engineering package which fits neatly into the current breed of Formula Two ground effect car for which purpose Hart has developed detail alterations to the original design such as positioning the fuel metering unit on the top of the cam covers rather than on the side of the cylinder block. He has also bored and stroked a version out to “two point four-and-a-bit litres” and this has found considerable popularity in the easy going world of hilIclimbing — “still a real enthusiast’s formula, great fun,” enthuses Brian. All in all, the 420R has shown amazing versatility and might even have shown more — the enlarged version originally came about as a development exercise to find a successor for the Escort RS rally engine, the concept of a “bigger four” being ideal in the opinion of the Ford team’s leading drivers.
For all Hart’s commercial commitment to the business of modern day motor racing, he remains a passionate enthusiast and would clearly like a free hand to develop some of his own personal theories as regards engine design. He is a great believer in the theory that the momentum of technical development within motorsport is proportional to the amount of time spent “off-stage”, so to speak, “wheeling and dealing” in order to produce the resources required to support the “real work”. He warned that Formula One was going way beyond a 50/50 split “and if it’s not careful, the tail will start wagging the dog — if it isn’t already”. As far as rules and regulations are concerned, he believes that there should be some overall constraint “in the interests of cost, but they should try to point people in a general direction within a wide framework rather than become too restrictive”.
Inevitably, the conversation turned towards Formula One engine development, and although we knew very well that anything too direct and unsubtle would be met by a sharp “don’t be no nosey”, we taxed him on his opinions about the ideal Grand Prix design, if there is such a thing. That enthusiasm for piston area was reflected in his reply.
“I think the first thing is that one has to accept a turbocharged route with circumstances as they are at present. Duckworth has a 14 year lead with the DFV and my way to catch up, and overtake, would be a 4-turbo, 1 1/2-litre V12. That would give the chance for a tiny stroke, consequent high revs — and 12 cylinders would give a large piston area”.
That would be Hart’s ideal route, but circumstances will dictate a turbocharged version of the 420R — if indeed he goes Formula One at all. So what about the established turbocharged rivals already on the Grand Prix scene? What does he think of their engines?
He was quick to point out that most of the current turbocharged GP engines had basic configurations which were dictated by outside circumstances to a greater or lesser extent. “Renault really had to promote the V6 layout to fit in with the Renault/Peugeot/Volvo European engine programme. BMW have a turbocharged version of an existing four cylinder configuration and Ferrari have a tremendous store of knowledge about V6 development so their choice is more ‘logical’ than ‘forced’.” On the subject of Alfa Romeo’s turbocharged V8, Brian didn’t really seem to have an answer as to why they had chosen that configuration. Incidentally, following this train of thought, it is perhaps logical to assume that if Honda should take the development of their iron block V6 F2 engine along a Formula One path, it’s probably because there is a new V6 road engine somewhere in the pipeline.
Brian steered us tactfully away from his dynamometer house when we strayed close to the door. It’s a widely known secret that he is carrying out investigative development work into turbocharger systems and to this end he is working in close co-operation with the Californian Garrett organisation. He is quite satisfied with their products. But to dismiss Hart’s efforts as “a programme to turbocharge a 1 1/2-litre version of the 420R” is a bit like suggesting that Concorde is only a “supersonic version of the De Havilland Comet”. By any standards, it is a gross over-simplification. People tend to talk rather loosely about turbocharging programmes, implying that one simply slaps a “kit of parts” onto an existing engine to be rewarded with a magical increase in power output. With a turbo boost of around five to six pounds per square inch, as used on some road cars, you will probably not strain standard components too much. But in a Formula One application, one is talking about a turbo boost of thirty pounds per square inch at least, putting enormous strain on pistons, connecting rods and crankshafts to mention just the major moving parts of an engine. Walking round Brian Hart’s premises the penny suddenly drops when you come across revised blocks with enlarged water and oil passages, heavily finned crankcases, bigger sumps and other developments to deal with the enormously aggravated problems of heat dissipation involved in developing a turbo-charged engine. When you think how relatively simple the Cosworth DFV appears by contrast, one cannot help wondering whether the 3-litre V8 has somehow out-lived its usefulness and, in a way, become its own worst enemy. Because of its reliability, ease of maintenance and free availability, it has promoted a train of thought within Formula One which actively discourages technical development on the engine front. That is the point of view put forward by many of the British based Grand Prix constructors who have a vested interest in keeping the DFV going in order that they may stay in the Formula One game. However, when one looks at the thoughtful work being carried out at Briar Hart Ltd, and then think about the Renault and Ferrari turbo development programme you begin to get some idea of the complexity of such projects and have sympathy for their indignation when anybody suggests that their years of research should be thrown away at “a stroke of the pen”. Formula One may be showbusiness to some people, but it is a means of technical advancement to others and I’ll bet that those with the latter viewpoint will be around the racing game long after those who propound the former standpoint have vanished!
Hart firmly believes that the business of motor racing is about being competitive and, largely for that reason, rejects Keith Duckworth’s proposed fuel flow valve as “a bloody waste of time, not a technological innovation. This is motor racing, we’re not in the business of organising economy runs”. Hart may be a disciple of Duckworth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he always agrees with him.
One is tempted to say that a Brian Hart developed turbocharged Formula One engine will compete “in anger” at some time prior to the end of the 1981 season, but, like so many of this engineer’s previous projects he will only make a total commitment for his firm if all the “variables” are right. There is no place for bodging or compromise in this organisation when it comes to building a specific product. Just as in the days of the production based Formula Two engines, when other builders squeezed the Ford BDA blocks out to within a few cubic centimetres of the full 2-litre limit and Hart steadfastly refused to go beyond 1,850 c.c. “because that’s as far as it will go and work properly”, so he will not jeopardise a valuable reputation by rushing into Formula One unless he is totally convinced that his product is conceived along the right lines. “More important, there must be an engine stability rule which gives us at least three years”, he finished, “something which can only be done with firm government in this sport”. Whether Brian Hart Ltd. finally end up as producers of Formula One engines or not, the owner’s enthusiasm and fascination for things mechanical guarantees that the Essex factory will continue to be involved in race developing the internal combustion engine, whatever the category, for the forseeable future. — A. H.