Rumblings, July 1972
• GROUP 1.—The face of Group 1 saloon-car racing is changing as the season advances. After BMW 2000 Tii cars had won eight out of nine races for the Castrol Championship, the ninth going to a 3-litre Ford Capri, Gabriel Konig won three-in-a-row over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, driving, very competently, a Chevrolet Camaro. Watching the last of these three races, over the Club circuit at the BRDC Silverstone Meeting, there was no doubt whatsoever of the superiority of the big Camaro. It kept very comfortably ahead of Markey’s BMW 3000 CS, hard as this driver, who had driven with great spirit to win the Sports GT race in Gresham’s Lotus 30, pressed after the girl. The Chevrolet showed no sign of tiring in 20 laps, and the other Camaro, driven by Peter Graham, finished in third place, having passed Bloomfield’s BMW 2000 Tii, with Boult’s Capri tailing them.
The spectators thoroughly enjoyed the Group 1 saloons, judging by the numbers who left after it was over and before the last race, for the Formule Libre cars, began. We are now more than ever convinced that someone should give them at least a full hour of such racing, perhaps three hours, and we think there could now well be an additional class, because at present anything priced at over £1,100 is classed together and Lotus Cortinas, Capris and the smaller BMWs have to compete against the very expensive BMWs and the multi-litred American cars. The girls are doing splendidly in Group 1, for although Gill Fortescue-Thomas’ Ford Capri retired at the second corner, she finished a very convincing second in a Ford Escort BDA in the Special Saloon-Car Race, which was won by Howes’ American Motors Javelin—the big Yanks are top saloons again. Incidentally, Bell’s BMW 2009 Tii, the other front-row starter in the Group 1 race, experienced continual trouble.
This BRDC Meeting was quite like old times, with Tony Salmon riding with Gabriel Konig on her well-deserved lap-of-honour and Kenneth Evans waving the chequered-flag. The closeness of Formula Ford racing, of which we had 20 laps during the afternoon, was nicely expressed when the commentator referred to the leader as having “an incredible lead—of at least three lengths” !
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• JALOPIES.—There are many kinds of motor racing, most of which have been covered by the motoring Press at one time or another, and as we permitted A.R.M. to do the IMCA Sprint cars in colour some time ago, the Editor didn’t see why he shouldn’t have a look at Jalopy racing, which is the least-expensive kind of motor racing in existence.
You may have seen notices in rural districts advertising such races, in some farmer’s field, and seen queer-looking vehicles on their way to it. If so, you have probably dismissed it as a rather foolish frolic of the motor-minded farmer’s lads and their “bangers”. That would have been true when it started, some ten or more years ago, but not any longer. It is now very efficiently run and properly controlled, and has been for the past two years, by the British Jalopy Racing Association, as their very efficient PRO, John Holmes, explained to us when we dropped in at a meeting near Leominster.
Safety is regarded as of paramount importance, although no official body other than the BJRA is involved. Cars are required to have efficient welded-up roll-over cages, seat harness, labelled and accessible ignition switches, fire-walls, properly-vented fuel tanks, etc., as in full-scale racing, and they are scrutineered before each event. The drivers must wear crash-hats and goggles, the former, like their harness to BS specification, and saloon bodies with all glass removed and wiremesh frontal screens are insisted upon. Drivers hold BJRA licences and those of 18 or under have to have their parents’ consent before they can race; lady drivers are confined to 1,200-c.c. class cars. Spectator safety is looked after by leaving ample space between the parked cars, the on lookers and the single wire-rope safety barrier. Normal flag signals are used, with marshals at the corners and drivers who nudge deliberately are black-flagged.
The cars race in various classes, beginners being restricted to unmodified under-1,500-c.c. vehicles. There is the under-1,200-c.c. side-valve class, in which engine tuning can embrace a dual-choke, or twin carburetters, the engine can be in any position, but with standard transmission and axle. The same applies to the under-1,200-c.c. o.h.v. class.
Then there are the Specials for which anything goes, within the safety requirements with categories for under-1,200 c.c., 1,200 cc. to 2,500 c.c. -and over-2 1/2-litre cars. Supercharging puts you up a class and, in the interests of cost-control, fuel injection is not allowed.
We were surprised by the number of competitors and the interesting variety among the cars. At a closed meeting an entry of 40 is not unusual and an open meeting can have 100 or 120 competitors. A gate of 2,000 to 3,000 is expected, at 30p a head, car parking free, and the farmer whose field is ploughed-up over a lap distance of 1/8 to 1/4-mile or so gets between £25 and £50 in compensation. Incidentally, the BJRA has no paid officials.
This is unquestionably an inexpensive sport. The lowest form of jalopy life is a perpendicular Ford Popular bought perhaps for £10, although its safety requirements will cost a bit more and it has to be taken to races on a trailer or transporter. Asked what a truly competitive jalopy costs, the driver-constructors quoted from £150 to £350, qualified by the fact that such cars will last for many years, fingers (and arms) crossed, and tyres for a couple of seasons. Some people are beginning to spend real money, like £300 for an engine, but in general the cost is impressively low. Starting money is 50p per race, with prizes in the heats and finals, up to £5 for a first place. Nine cars race at a time, pole position being occupied in heats by the first driver to get there, but in the finals they ballot for places on the starting-line.
The cars are a mixed bunch. Front, mid and rear engines are used, and they range from ancient s.v. Ford to Lotus Ford twin-cam and include V6 Ford, Vauxhall Cresta, older in-line six-cylinder Ford with triple SUs, 2.3 Fiat and 3.8 Jaguar. Ford GT power units are popular, often in conjunction with VW back-ends, but battered Minis, mostly with 998-c.c. engines and valued at about £60 go very well, and specials predominate, such as a rear-drive Mini-powered creation (cost about £100), or a s.v. Ford Popular with engine set so far back that the driver is said to be able to tweak its single Weber carburetter while he is racing! Although breakers’ yards provide much of the material, many of the under-bonnet machinery is fully-professional. and jalopy racing is obviously doing some good to the tune-up shops. Tractor tyres are used, with “knobblies” on the driving wheels, and the Minis make good use of rotavator tyres, normally restricted to a speed of seven m.p.h.! Soft suspension ensures good grip in what is really car grass-track racing and two dampers one side, singles on the other, and similar dodges, assist on the oval circuits. Some cars have limited slip differentials and reverse gears can be dispensed with. Steering is usually geared-up about 2 to 1 by means of close-set chains and sprockets coupling steering column to rack-and-pinion shaft, eliminating a steering box.
Racing takes place in the SW, with 32 meetings from April to October scheduled for this year, at which eight regional clubs compete on points for the BJRA National Championship, the final to be contested near Ledbury on August 6th. All the races we saw were run almost immediately after the previous one had finished, with no fuss, no fireworks, and with the spectators audibly enthralled. There was a commentator and refreshments, but no loos. Speeds may not be high (races are not normally timed) but the drivers undoubtedly have fun, without being involved in anything like the heavy expenditure which all the other “poor man’s racing”, FF, FV, F3 and so on, now involves. Moreover, so far there have been no serious accidents.