In designing the Spice Pontiac during 1985, Graham Humphrys drew heavily on his Formula One experience with Hesketh and Theodore. He produced a straightforward and classical honeycomb aluminium monocoque with great strength and rigidity, meeting the F1 safety standards at least of the early 1980s.
On a trestle in the workshop in the bare chassis looks rather large for a formula car, as though it had been designed for Gerry Marshall! Barely 34in wide inside the tub, it has just sufficient room for the driver’s seat and the mandatory “passenger”.
A carbon-fibre top panel is added, then the carbon-fibre body in three main sections – first the unitary cockpit shell, then the nose and tail sections. Front suspension is by a double wishbone pushrod system, while the rear features top rockers and lower wishbones.
The Spice was designed to accept any engine up to 700 horsepower. For World Championship racing, the works cars are powered by Nicholson-tuned Cosworth 3.3-litre DFL V8s (though customer Hugh Chamberlain runs a Hart four-cylinder turbo in his) and weighs on average 713kg. For the Camel Light class (or “Camel Heavy””, as many people refer to it!), Pontiac’s four-cylinder engine is installed, at 3-tlires with normal 2-valve cylinder heads or at 2.7-litres with the Cosworth 4-valve heads, the latter also having Cosworth engine-management.
Three Spice Pontiacs were delivered to the States for the 1986 season, one being kept as a spare, and all were fitted with 330 bhp four-cylinder engines with a considerable amount of ballast to bring them up to the legal 823kg. Four cars were made for American customers in 1987 and four more SE88 versions for 1988, including a Buick V6 installation for Scott Schubot.
Seven cars have been built altogether for the Wold Championship Group C2 series; Costas Los now owns the second SE87 chassis, Hugh Chamberlain runs an SE87 – Hart for Nick Adams/Graham Duxbury and an SE88 for Jean-Louis Ricci, and the Spice team itself has two new cars for the season.
The basic monocoque was unchanged for 1988, but the SE88 is the true customer-car, with spice’s own bodywork designed by Humphrys and developed in Southampton University’s wind tunnel.
The bodywork is noticeably narrower, especially around cabin and doors so that more air can pass over the rear wing, and the narrower windscreen reduces the frontal area. Larger AP disc-brakes are installed, but the principal gain is the aerodynamic package which makes best use of the more restrictive ground-effect regulations.
Although the underfloor reference-plate is full-width, and longer, the venturi effect is actually increased. In terms of lap-times, the SE88 has been two or three seconds quicker than the SE87, a huge gain which is even more impressive than the performances of the C1 cars. At Le Mans last year, Spice’s SE87 was timed at 217 mph on the Mulsanne straight, and the target for this year is 220 mph.
For American racing, the move into the GTP class was made with the Pontiac Firebird 4.5-litre V6 engine (from the Fiero GTO), and ballast was again needed to achieve the 757kg minimum weight. A similar chassis, but with larger brakes and wheels, was prepared for the 5-litre 32-valve V8, which needs steel-sheet and lead installed to come to the 810kg minimum.
Special fuels are allowed in IMSA, and the 5-litre delivers over 550 bhp looks very competitive with the 6-litre Jaguars (60 bhp, officially) and Porsche 962s (circa 650 bhp) which must weigh 930kg.
For the World C2 Championship, the Spice engineering two-car team has a total of five Nicholson-prepared Cosworth 3.3-litre DFL engines, with Lucas Micos engine management. Each runs for 2000 miles between rebuilds with complete reliability, the equivalent of two 1000km races plus testing and qualifying. For qualifying they develop 490 bhp at 9000 rpm (next year’s engine-speed limit), and they are raced at 8000 rpm and 470 bhp.
In the whole of 1987 Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez covered 7107 racing miles – a total of 12,229 miles including testing and qualifying. There was a single non-finish, at the Nürburgring when the starter motor failed seconds before the flag came out, and Jeff Hazell estimates that the total cost of running the car was £35 per mile, including overheads and depreciation.
A Spice SE88 chassis is currently priced at £95,000 without engine, and each DFL costs £40,000. A full season of World Championship racing, in a car capable of winning the C2 class, could cost a customer under £300,000, according to Hazell. MLC