Formula Junior - 25 years on

The first properly supported Formula Junior race In Britain took place at Brands Hatch 25 years ago on Boxing Day, 1959, and 1985 marks the 25th anniversary of the first truly international season of the category. If anyone’s natural response to those facts is “So what?” the answer is simple. The 1960 Formula Junior mason saw the greatest flowering of driver talent of any formula at any time. Sixteen of the participants went on to become Grand Prix drivers, seven won Grands Prix and three became World Champion. Even the list of those who did not make Formula One is impressive since it includes Walt Hangsen, Rauno Aaltonen, Rob Slotemaker, Brian Hart, Erik Carlsson, Tim Parnell, Geoff Duke, John Whitmore, Arthur Matlock, Mike Costin, Alan Rees, Ken Miles, Michael May and Peter Warr.

Further, no formula has ever created so much excitement among car builders. By the end of 1960 over one hundred different types of car had been constructed for FJ. Some, like the Lotus 18 and the Cooper were simplified F1 cars. Some were specials such as Geoff Gartside’s Garford, a Ford-powered adaptation of a 500 cc Cooper. Some drivers found that an existing car happened to comply with the regulations, like Horace Richards who raced his elderly HAR-Riley. Others were able to adapt sports car designs, the Yimkin which performed creditably in club events was an adaptation of the firm’s 1172 cc formula car while Arthur Matlock built two U2s for FJ, at a total cost of less than £1,000 and one scored a memorable win in an international race at the Nürburgring. The French adapted their DB “Monopoles”, built for a one-make national 750 cc formula, and raced them.

The majority, however, were purpose-built for the formula and were offered for sale. The putative customer could choose from around 70 different marques in 1960. Sixteen different makes of engine were offered and as for the configuration of the cars, the rule was if you could think of a way of locating an engine in relation to the driver and the gearbox, then someone had done it. Cars were built rear-engined, with the engine in front of the front axle line, with front engine and rear drive and, even; with the engine mounted alongside the driver. Twelve distinct lay-outs were offered for sale.

Every one of those cars represented the dream of some designer or engineer. An entirely new formula represented a clean sheet of paper whereon all theories could be tested. By the end of 1960, most dreams were in tatters and the survivors had realised that the only way to go was the English way, pioneered by John Cooper and brought to fruition by Colin Chapman. The formula represented a new phase in the development of the British racing car industry but it also virtually killed the specialist Italian manufacturer and dealt a severe body-blow to the fledgling industries in France, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere. Formula Junior radically changed the underlying balance of power in motor racing though that change was not caused by the formula itself but rather by the way it was interpreted. The British constructors, late in the field, got it right neat least had the sense to respond quickly to rapidly changing circumstances while the Continental makers got it wrong and did not adapt with either sufficient speed or expertise. Everyone, after all, was competing to the same set of rules.

Formula Junior was conceived by Count Giovanni “Johnny” Lurani in 1957 as a relatively inexpensive single-seater formula which would nurture a new generation of Italian drivers to replace the likes of Farina, Ascari, Viloresi, Taruffi, Castelotti and Mosso, who had either died or retired. It was a national Italian formula in 1958 and, the following year, had spread to many countries in Europe when an International calendar was drawn up. The British and Americans held back at first but both countries entered fully in 1960.

Like most brilliant ideas, Lurani’s was a simple one. It basically called for single-seater racing cars built with production components. Engines were to have no overhead camshafts and capacity could be changed only by altering the bore. The number of crankshaft bearings had to be the same as on the original engine. To encourage as wide a range of engines as possible, there was a capacity weight formula. 1,100 cc engines had to be fitted to cars with a minimum weight of 882 lbs, while 1,000cc cars had a minimum weight of 794 lbs. In America, there were initially two further classes, one of 1,300 cc (1,040 lbs) and one of 750cc (704 lbs) and the ohc Crosley engine was permitted. Limited-slip differentials were banned, so was changing the location of the camshafts.

Like engines, gearboxes had to come from an FIA-recognised Touring car but could be of different origin. The braking and carburation system had to be of the same principle as on the road car from which the engine was taken, which effectively meant drum brakes and carburettors, though alloy drums and twin-choke Webers were usually fitted. Aerodynamic aids and trick tyres were unknown and did not figure in the regulations.

Apart from specifying a minimum wheelbase (78¼ in), a minimum track (43 in), a minimum width (37½ in) and insisting that the cars ran on commercial fuel, those were almost the entire regulations. For the first time, however, there was a rule which insisted on a roll bar to protect the driver, though only the Americans carried this to a logical conclusion by insisting also on seat belts. The other rule, peculiar to America, was that “all cars must present a neat appearance”. That’s something which need not be said now but, at the time, the Americans were streets ahead of Europe in professional presentation of the sport.

To put these rules into context, we must remember that F1 was still for 2.5-litre cars (750 cc supercharged), F2, which had recently been introduced, was for 1.5-litre cars while F3 was for 500 cc cars which, at the time, virtually translated into the words “Cooper-Norton”. The “sameness” of F3 was causing its rapid demise and it was being overtaken by 1,100 cc sports car racing. Although not touted as a replacement for F3, Formula junior slotted neatly between it and F2. Most people were tired of F3 by that time, anyway, and most countries in Europe were hungry for an international lower formula which would reflect each nation’s approach to car building and yet would allow all to compete equally.

It is small wonder, then, that Formula Junior took off very quickly and soon replaced F3. In 1961, when F1 was limited to cars with engines of 1.5-litres and F2 disappeared because of the change in regulations and F3 disappeared through lack of interest, Formula junior fulfilled the functions of both F2 and F3. Eventually, however, it became clear that it needed to be checked and so in 1964 was replaced by a new F3, with tighter rules, which still retained the essential spirit of FJ.

At the time of FJ’s announcement, Italy had a thriving industry producing Fiat-based sports cars so there was no shortage of expertise when it came to tuning and construction. Perhaps significantly, thou the best known of these companies, Abarth, did not build cars for FJ — and survived to tell the tale. At the time, too, all purpose-built F1 cars were front-engined so it was really not surprising that most the initial designs were front-engined too. With hindsight, it’s easy to point out that a rear-engined design was far and away best for a small racing car of limited power, for it would present a smaller frontal area and there would be less power Ioss through the drive train. In fact, the newly introduced F2 demonstrated this, as Coopers won almost everything in sight, soon to be challenged by Porsche, while the front-engined Lotus cars proved disappointing.

The best-known early Italian FJ car was the Stanguellini, a high but attractive little device which resembled an F1 car. Beneath the aluminium body shell, however, it was a crude design by then contemporary standards. It had a simple ladder chassis frame in which the Fiat engine was set at an angle on the right while the driver sat off-set to the left. The prop shaft drove to a live rear axle. At 79 in, the wheelbase was short, only the later French Dalbot had a shorter one, and then only by ¼in. Significantly, when it appeared, the Lotus 18 had a long, 90 in, wheelbase and that set a later trend.

Still, in 1959, Stanguellini cars, especially the one driven by Michael May, were easily the most successful in the formula. Michael May, of course, is the Swiss engineer who pioneered aerofoils in 1956 and who recently engineered the HE cylinder head for jaguar. The main opposition to Stanguellini came from the Taraschi cars driven by Bernardo Taraschi and English expatriate Colin Davis. It closely resembled the Stanguellini except that the engine ran parallel to the driver and the propeller shaft was sharply angled. Taraschi cars won five international races in 1959 to the nine victories of Stanguellini. The only rear-engined cars to offer a challenge were the Italian Wainer and De Sanctis, each winning a single race. It’s odd, but while spaceframe chassis were a feature of the majority of Italian designs, the successful cars all had simple ladder frames.

Back in Britain, the growing success of the formula had been duly noted, a calendar was drawn up for 1960 and designs prepared. Since the USA was also to take the formula, the potential export market was an additional impetus. The first commercial design to be completed was the Elva which used principally the highly developed three cylinder two-stroke DKW engine. Whilst not the height of sophistication when compared with designs which were to follow just months later, it was far in advance of its Continental rivals with a light, stiff spaceframe, long wheel base and narrow glassfibre body, the slimness of the car being achieved by positioning the engine on the same plane as the driver with the prop shaft passing between his legs.

Bill Selincourt took one to France in the late summer and won the Circuit of Cadours from May’s Stanguellini. The message could not have been more plain for Selincourt was not the driver that May was, but the European designers chose to ignore the superiority of a stiff chassis and low frontal area. Indeed the majority of designers had chosen to ignore every advance in racing design made over the previous decade.

A first FJ race at Brands Hatch in August may be discounted because of its tiny entry so the true introduction of the formula to Britain came at Brands Hatch during the Boxing Day meeting. Most of the entries were front-engined and, indeed, front-engined designs overall outnumbered rear engined cars by a ratio of about 7:5 until the end of 1960. Six Elvas were led by Peter Arundell’s works car, the few months’ lead the company had giving it a distinct advantage. Four of Cooper’s new BMC-powered car, a scaled-down version of the company’s F1 design, made their debuts, one in the hands of Mike McKee, a driver of great talent who retired early from the sport for business reasons. Peter Ashdown, another very talented driver brought the prototype Lola Mk 2 to the line, Eric Broadley’s first single seater. Low, compact, and pretty it was probably the best front-engined FJ car made but was effectively obsolete within the next few races. Jim Clark had his first single-seater race in one of three front-engined Geminis, built by Graham Warner’s Chequered Flag Garage, but was plagued by problems. Down the grid sat Alan Stacey, who drove for the Lotus F1 team, in the single new Lotus 18, Chapman’s first rear-engined design. The promised Cosworth-tuned Ford 105E engine had encountered problems so Stacey ran with a standard motor fitted with twin carbs and a racing exhaust. The car was a handful in the wet with the wrong springs fitted, Stacey spinning more than once, and so the car’s potential was hidden for some time.

The race was an exciting one with Arundell winning by 0.4 sec from Ashdown with Chris Threlfall’s Elva-DKW a close third having set fastest lap. The formula promised well and was taken up enthusiastically.

There is an adage in motor racing which says that the most important race to win in a season is the last one. Both Elva and Lola took substantial orders, most of Elva’s fifty cars going to the States while Lola built 29 Mk 2s. Not surprisingly, after the prototype’s dismal showing, the Lotus 18 was not seriously considered — until lnnes Ireland led the Argentine GP in one in February 1960.

After Boxing Day, the DKW engine became a favourite. There was some muttering that it could be tuned to a far higher degree than the push-rod units and this gave it an unfair advantage. At least one person called for it to be banned. Certainly some tuning firms claimed substantially higher figures for the DKW than any rival engines but it proved eventually to be temperamental and unreliable and, anyway, was soon overtaken in terms of power by both the BMC series “A” engine and the Ford 105E.

There was no shortage of tuners for the BMC engine, firms such as Speedwell having considerable experience of the unit. The 105E, however, was new on the market, having been announced only in October 1959. Colin Chapman had quickly spotted the engine’s potential and had soon arranged with Keith Duckworth’s infant Cosworth company to supply his works cars. The Cosworth-Ford engines gave 72 bhp at the beginning of 1960 and 88 bhp by the end, in one litre form. By contrast, the 1100c Fiat engine had virtually reached the end of its development, though some tuners claimed 80 bhp for it. Still, Intermeccanica claimed 94 bhp for its 1100cc Peugeot engine and Mitter claimed 93 bhp for its 1100cc DKW, but neither claim stood up on the race track. The Peugeot unit disappeared very quickly and the DKW did not figure after 1960.

The pattern for the season was set at Goodwood in March when Jim Clarke’s Lotus 18 beat the Ken Tyrrell-run Cooper-BMC of John Surtees who was having his first car race. At the beginning of the season, it had been agreed by organising clubs to drop a rule barring drivers on the International list, though Graded drivers were excluded. Clark and Surtees raced in FJ, F2 and F1 that year but neither could be accused of “pot’ hunting”. It was, after all, only Clark’s third full season of motor racing and his first in single-seaters, and Surtees was a novice in cars.

There was still a state of flux in the opening races, though the works Lotus cars were clearly superior. Elva continued to pick up the odd win at home and abroad. Many of the first races in Britain had small fields, though large entries, for constructors were battling to fulfil orders. Not many races had been run before it was apparent that no design from the Continent could match the best British cars.

At Monaco on May 28th, British cars dominated the grid filling the first eight places with Colin Davis’ Osca-Fiat ninth. Even more significantly, Jim Clark’s time for pole was nearly ten seconds better than Michael May’s lap records. Clark led until near the end when ignition problems delayed him and the race was won by Henry Taylor (Cooper), from Peter Ashdown (Lola) and the Lotus-Fords of Trevor Taylor and Peter Arundell. The best non-British car to finish was Michael May’s Stanguellini in tenth.

The French responded by dividing races into two classes, for French cars and “foreign” cars. No French FJ car was ever successful. At the Monza Lottery Grand Prix, the Lotus of Chris Andrews was excluded for “dangerously low suspension”, the Fitzwilliam Lolas were excluded for carrying “dangerous” ballast and Trevor Taylor’s Lotus was not invited to take part in the final. Taylor had finished 16th in his heat with ignition problems, the top 15 going into the final. Some runners had dropped out, however, and according to the rules, Taylor should have made the grid, but didn’t. The race was eventually won by an Osca – driven by Colin Davis.

By mid-season, whenever a competently driven. Cooper or Lotus appeared, it was likely to win. Traschi, Stanguellini and Osca cars continued to be successful in Italy by sheer weight of numbers and lack of foreign opposition and Colin Davis emerged national champion. When the works Lotus team of Clark, Trevor Taylor and Peter Arundell appeared they invariably won. Lola had a good win at the Nürburgring in October, Dick Prior’s private car beating Ashdown’s works-assisted Fitzwilliam car. Elva faded quickly in Europe but Charlie-Kolb’s Elva-Austin was highly successful in the States.

Most constructors folded through lack of success, though others such as Britannia (designed by John Tojeiro), Merlyn and DRW emerged in their place. The season was not yet over before Elva, Gemini and Lola had announced rear-engined cars, while Cooper produced a smaller version of its 1960 World Championship winning F1 car. They were all upstaged, however, by the introduction of the almost impossibly sleek and low Lotus 20 which was to continue where the 18 left off.

Lurani’s scheme to encourage Italian driver talent was partially successful. On an international level, however, it was immensely successful. Among drivers taking part in FJ in 1960 were: Clark, Trevor Taylor, Henry Taylor, Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, Hulme, Siffert, Bandini, Scarfiotti, Baghetti, Spence, Surtees, Jim Hall, Love, Maggs and Raby.

Of the dozen different lay-outs which firms offered in 1960, only the one adopted by Cooper and Lotus survived successfully and within a very short time a serious competitor was effectively faced with a choice from a handful of British cars built to the same principles. Most engines which were touted at the beginning of 1960 disappeared, Fiat, DKW, Iinereddown MG. TC, Goliath, Hansa, Wartburg, Triumph Herald, Hillman, Crosley, Lancia V4, Peugeot, Simca, Renault and Panhard, leaving the BMC series “A” or, more usually, the Ford 105E.

Costs rose as well. An Elva could be bought for £840 at the beginning of 1960, a Lola for £1,000, a Cooper for £1,185 and a Lotus for £1,250. By the end of the year, you would not get much change out of £1,500 for any car capable of a regular top six finish. Some teams were also changing crankshafts after every race.

Of all the manufacturers taking part in 1960, only Lotus and Lola are still in racing and of all the hopeful new designs, only Merlyn went on to build cars in any number for any significant length of time. The others soon faded, many not seeing out the year, firms like Condor, Raison, Caravelle, Saxon, Civet, Venom, Gas Barracuda, J,ocko Special, Rispal, Ferry, Julien, Dalhot, Lippi, Dagarda, Poggi, Faccioli, Ram, Isis, Bode, Melkus, Liebl, Meub and Sauter.

The Italians tried the· rear-engined route and de Tomaso, for example, produced a Cooper-copy, but none of the cars were successful at an international level. From being a formula offering an almost bewildering diversity of thought, FJ quickly established a standard pattern. Since we are talking about motor racing, and since Cooper and Lotus were doing most of the winning, the standard pattern was clearly the correct one – if the designer tackled the problem properly. Few did.

It is a characteristic of motor racing that the more questions a formula poses, the more interesting the formula is, regardless of the quality of the racing itself. That is part of the continuing appeal of F1. Because there are so many variables, so many parts of the equation, there are so many questions to be asked.

In its early days, Formula Junior asked more questions than most formulae. There were many, many answers, but only one correct one. Once that had been established (that the leader of the Lotus team would win most races) much of its fascination waned. For a short, heady, period though, Formula Junior was one of the most fascinating categories ever conceived. M.L.