From the archives with Doug Nye

Unnecessary gear change

New FIA rules could cost historic F1 car owners thousands – or scare them away. Who’s to gain?

f a valuable boat is frail and leaking, it’s always a good idea not to rock it. At present what I regard as one of historic racing’s many jewels, the 1961-65 Formula 1 category, has been destabilised – by the governing body.

For years past, at each Goodwood Revival Meeting, I have taken groups of sponsor VIPs around the paddock. On each occasion, the cars over which they spent most time – extolling (for once) not their monetary value but their Swiss-watch-like complexity and aesthetic looks, have been these 1½-litre F1 gems. And the names the cars evoke – Clark, Hill, Stewart, Moss – have all the finest connotations.

The core of this sustainable class is the V8 engine, by Coventry Climax or BRM – backed by the cars’ current preparers. But power is only part of the equation. Ferrari and BRM, even Cooper, largely made their own gearboxes, while the teams that Mr Ferrari sneered at as being mere assemblatori – Lotus, Lola, Brabham etc – commonly bought in transaxles from ZF, Colotti and later Hewland.

Today, Hewland variants have become the mainstay of most cars in a ’61-65 Historic F1 field – on grounds not just of affordability, but more so of availability. These V8 cars are already expensive to run (especially compared to Historic Formula Junior, which has become almost as quick) so 1½-litre F1 owners need to be truly enthusiastic to persevere. Until this year FIA regulations permitted the F1 cars to run alternative period gearboxes if original equipment is unavailable, a sensible measure compensating for the class’s largest single car group – the Lotus 24s – having used Colotti gearboxes as new, which are pretty much used up and rare today. 

Consequently, preparers fitted Hewlands instead. With all due respect, few amateur Historic F1 drivers display front-line ability. Even slightly fluffed gearshifts will damage an engagement dog. Replacing a Hewland dog ring is relatively cheap. In a rare Colotti – with integral gears and dogs – the bill soars. So practicality overcame concerns for originality.

But now a Colotti facsimile is under development, and FIA regulations have changed to suit. During Monaco scrutineering this year, Lotus 24/Hewland runners were abruptly told that while they could race they may not feature in the results. Basically the ACM had accepted the entry (and their eye-watering entry fee) to ensure a grid of cars, and then – together with arm-banded FIA officialdom – left owners embarrassed and demeaned in front of friends and family – and far from impressed… 

Many current custodians of these cars are not those who chose to alter them. Instead they bought the cars subsequently as raceable weaponry. But suddenly what was viewed as acceptable when they invested is not now the case. 

The FIA regulators, and their advisors, claim that Hewland gearboxes had been adopted more as a performance upgrade than due to any force majeure. If the drivers were good enough to exploit the difference – since in a Hewland intermediate ratios can speedily be changed on site to match a circuit but you wouldn’t want to attempt the same with a Colotti, and couldn’t with a ZF – there might be merit in this view. The purist within me approves, but the realist rebels. The dubious benefit of better-tailored ratios barely justifies banning non-original-equipment gearboxes ‘of similar period’ when the alternative looks so financially prohibitive. 

Cost of a new-made Colotti is predicted to be £30-£35,000 per ’box – against £5-6000 for a suitable Hewland. Inevitably development to adequate reliability will cost still more, and running costs – remember dog damage – will also soar. A few years ago, owners found their years-old ‘Tasman’ 2-litre BRM engines banned, having to convert them to 1½-litres, or forget racing their cars. The sterling cost to each owner was five figures – sometimes six! – to make their cars go slower, and feel worse to drive. 

Now the FIA is demanding that the remaining Historic F1 faithful again dig deep… to turn up the pain of supporting an amateur hobbyist category that’s meant to be fun.

I just detest the thought of international authority imposing professional-type racing regulations – intended to govern professionals building front-line careers – upon an entirely amateur historic category that provides a wonderfully attractive ‘tribute band’ celebrating our sporting past and entertaining our racing crowds. Joe Public doesn’t care one jot what name appears on each car’s gearbox.  Treated yet again with such disdain by a remote authority, many paying passengers on board Historic F1’s leaking boat could well now seek their fun elsewhere. Entries will surely shrink, and the class will die. 

So what does the FIA really bring to our historic table? Entries? Drivers? Preparers? Sponsors? Race promoters? Spectators? No – none of the above. They bring, they tell me, ‘Sanction’…

Well, I’ve never yet seen one of those race – but many true enthusiasts have become acutely aware of its cost. In contrast, a common-sense rethink would cost nothing – and a full grid of those lovely little cars could, once more, be assured.

Fun and games down under

Famous for their party mood, Tasman races were also seriously hard work

ifty years ago – in January to early March, 1967 – the fourth annual Tasman Championship series ran in New Zealand and Australia. That form of racing had become a regular part of the annual calendar, catering for F1-derived cars with engines no larger than 21/2-litres. It was well supported and gave the finest NZ and Australian teams and drivers the chance to race against the best. It was also a convenient testing opportunity for F1 constructors – and perhaps more usefully for their part-contracted, part-sponsoring tyre suppliers to prove new constructions and compounds before the serious business began ‘back home’.

As I write it’s just about the 50th anniversary of the BRM team loading three P261 monocoque cars and six 2070cc V8 ‘Tasman’ engines onto the Port Line freighter, the MV Port Nicholson, bound from London to Auckland, New Zealand. This kit would spend six weeks on the high seas, sailing south until retrieved by the BRM Tasman team.

The opening round of the F1 world championship – the South African GP – had just been run at Kyalami, South Africa. Amid mechanical mayhem the unexpected winner was Pedro Rodriguez, in a works Cooper-Maserati V12. Blimey! Cooper and Maserati had just taken two in a row, as John Surtees had won the 1966 finale in Mexico. 

Among the leading GP drivers, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme and Richard Attwood all flew immediately to Auckland for the opening Tasman round – the New Zealand GP on January 7.

Tim Parnell was on site to manage the BRM team, and when unofficial testing began at Pukekohe the preceding Wednesday, his mechanic Stan Collier was grumpily cleaning salt encrustation and corrosion off their cars, while Alan Challis and Jimmy Collins sorted the spares before preparing the cleaned-up cars.

Team Lotus would provide BRM’s fiercest opposition, but its team was just a one-car affair, with lead driver – who was after all Jim Clark – and mechanics Leo Wybrott and Allan McCall to run it. The car was the unique 2-litre Lotus-Climax 33 – chassis ‘R14’ – which had been built for Jimmy to campaign in 1966 F1 races, before his full 3-litre Lotus-BRM H16 Type 43 came on song.

Three tyre suppliers threw their hats into the ring – beleaguered British Dunlop and their daunting American challengers Goodyear and Firestone. After Jackie Stewart had qualified on pole, using the latest low-profile tubeless Goodyears, Tim and Jackie decided to run those tyres in the race. In the Lotus corner of the paddock, Jimmy selected Firestone Super Sports GP R125s for his race – tubeless again. Oh my. This set the officials ticking and clucking, because supplementary regulations – merely carried over pro forma for many years – forbade tubeless tyres. A petition to approve their use was circulated and received unanimous approval. Problem solved – and that’s the way it went in Tasman racing…

So how matey was it? Jackie Stewart: “Jimmy and I were actually sharing a hotel suite in Auckland. The local Shell people wanted to advertise this expected win in the next day’s papers and were worried the race might finish too late to get a picture in the latest issue… so they asked if they could take some in advance, of me holding the trophy, just in case. I said ‘You can’t do that, it’s tempting fate’, but they insisted and sent a photographer to the hotel. This embarrassed the hell out of me, but I managed to choose a moment when Jimmy was in the shower. As the photo was being taken, out walked Jimmy – to find me in full race gear with the next day’s trophy. It took a while to live that down…”.

Great friends they might have been, but never doubt that theirs was also a fierce rivalry. Jackie did win the next day’s GP impressively for BRM, after Jimmy had clouted a backmarker Cooper, losing his Lotus’s upper body panel and nosecone. He was left lying in the bathtub monocoque, overalls fluttering in the 150mph airstream, but finished second.

He then won the next round at Levin, and the third – the Lady Wigram Trophy on the airbase at Christchurch. Followed by the fourth – at Teretonga, Invercargill, the world’s southernmost racing circuit. The Tasman tour then hopped to Australia, where Jimmy won at Lakeside, before Jackie’s BRM won the AGP at Warwick Farm, Sydney with Jimmy second. Clark won again for Lotus at Sandown Park, Melbourne, and placed second behind Jack Brabham on the rural road circuit at Longford, Tasmania. And he returned home as champion.

Leo Wybrott recalls how Colin Chapman had put him – at 24 – in charge of Lotus’s Tasman tour: “I looked after transport, running the car, timing and all things that needed to happen at each race. Jimmy looked after PR work, start money and so on, while Allan was mechanic and pit signaller and we shared driving between races. In NZ we had posh transport, towing the 33 on a trailer with a canvas cover.

“Jackie was our main competitor and, as most races had a prize of 100 bottles of champagne for pole position, between BRM and us we had some fantastic parties. If there were things that needed my attention during practice which meant I missed some laps, there was always Ginny Parnell – Tim’s wife – who timed Jackie and other top runners.

“In Australia we started with a win at Lakeside then on to Sydney, and somewhere along the line in true Lotus style they sent out the new F2 Type 48 for Graham [Hill] to drive in the Australian GP – but no extra mechanic, so we had to finish building the car once it arrived. Its gearbox for some reason was a Mk4 Hewland and we spent the whole weekend repairing the gearbox as it just wasn’t man enough for the FVA engine’s power.

“Allan had to look after the car and we were lucky that Jim Palmer and Graeme Lawrence were visitors and agreed to help run it. The gearbox gave up in the race.

“On a lighter note, at the last race in Tasmania where we had a great party to finish the champagne, I have this memory of Ross Greenville [who years earlier had come to Europe to race Juniors, only to lose a leg in a savage crash at Aintree] doing cartwheels on the motel lawn and his false leg with shoe and sock flying out of his trouser leg…

“Only a few weeks later we were all back in England, and Allan and I were off to Monaco with that Tasman car for Jimmy and a 2-litre BRM-engined 33 for Graham. We used the brand-new transporter, which Allan swiped against overhanging cliffs on the coast road. We never seemed to be out of the management’s bad books…” Aah, nostalgia – in so many ways the real thing…