On Grand Prix engines



It has always been my contention that the engine is the true heart of a racing car and that it is possible to judge the worth of a Grand Prix car by its power unit, as far as design and construction is concerned. For this reason I have always had more sympathy towards those manufacturers such as Ferrari or B.R.M., who design and manufacture their complete machine, as compared with Lotus, Brabham or Cooper, who merely build a chassis frame and then install someone else’s power unit. However, the last three racing-car builders have, between them, caused everyone to have the greatest respect for Coventry-Climax, the engine builders. This Coventry firm, headed by Leonard Lee with designers Walter Hassan, Peter Windsor-Smith and Harry Mundy, has produced racing engines that have won more races than any of their current rivals, but as these victories have been gained in Lotus, Cooper and Brabham chassis frames, Coventry-Climax have had to share the satisfaction three ways. At a recent press conference, Mr. Lee expressed a slight regret that his firm had only made engines for the present Formula, obviously feeling that it would have been nice to have had a complete Coventry-Climax Grand Prix car, and as it has been shown that almost anyone using a Climax V8 engine can be in the running for a Grand Prix win, providing he has a competent driver, the idea of a Coventry-Climax car winning races is not unreasonable.

Nowadays the Coventry-Climax firm is part of the ever-growing Jaguar empire, ruled over by Sir William Lyons, and Climax have more than enough work to do with their own engine products, without the added burden of Jaguar interests. Because of this, 1965 is to be the last year in which Coventry-Climax will be supplying engines to the chassis builders for Grand Prix racing, but as a sort of swan-song or farewell gift to the Grand Prix scene they have produced an entirely new 16-cylinder 1-1/2-litre engine for use by Lotus, Brabham and Cooper. This engine should have been running at the end of last season, but continued development work on the existing V8 engine, together with the necessity of continuing work on money-making industrial projects, caused design and building to go a bit slower than hoped for, and the engine has only just started test-bed running. Even so it is barely 12 months since the first drawings were begun and only 15 months since the decision was made to start the project of a new engine to replace the successful V8 engine. It is unlikely that the flat-16-cylinder engine will be seen before the Belgian G.P. at Spa in June, but if it develops the anticipated 220 b.h.p. it should make the Lotus and Brabham of Clark and Gurney go pretty fast.

The Lee family have been designing and building engines of all types since the turn of the century and the name Coventry-Climax has been associated with engine building since 1917, so the fact that the firm is not building any Grand Prix engines after this year does not mean that they are giving up building engines. Far from it, in fact, for it is more urgent work on other types of engine that has caused Leonard Lee to make the decision to stop Grand Prix activity. It is obvious to anyone who has talked to Mr. Lee, that he loves racing engines of all types, and the knowledge gained by the firm, over the recent years, of the production of high-power outputs, is not going to be abandoned or forgotten. But he says his firm is not going to support the supercharged 1-1/2-litre/unsupercharged 3-litre Formula.

While Coventry-Climax have been, and will be this season, concentrating on more b.h.p. for the use of Lotus, Brabham and Cooper, their rivals are just as actively occupied on more r.p.m., more b.h.p. and new engines, and 1965 is going to see one of the most interesting Grand Prix seasons since 1954/55, as regards engine design development. I have always found that variety in Grand Prix engines has led to interesting Grand Prix racing, whereas a one-engine monopoly invariably produces a doldrum. At the end of 1954 there were four widely differing Grand Prix engines capable of propelling an equally differing range of cars round any circuit with the same potential. These were the straight-8-cylinder Mercedes-Benz, the V8-cylinder Lancia, the in-line 6-cylinder Maserati and the 4-cylinder Ferrari. These main contenders had a backing of in-line 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder Gordini, 4-cylinder Alta-inspired Connaught and 4-cylinder Vanwall, and any Grand Prix event of those years was full of mechanical interest. The approaching season looks as though it might surpass that period of motor racing, for not only do we have a great variety of engines, but the supporting cast are much closer to the leaders of engine design.

The Coventry-Climax main attack will be provided by the well-proven V8-cylinder engine, developing 200 b.h.p. at 9,800 r.p.m., but now giving good results is the version of this engine that utilises four valves per cylinder, resulting in lighter valve gear, higher r.p.m., and subsequent improvement of b.h.p. While at Coventry-Climax recently this engine was seen on the test-bed holding a sustained 10,000 r.p.m. under full load. As and when it is ready, the new horizontally-opposed 16-cylinder engine, with two valves per cylinder, should be taking over the attack from the V8, which is now nearly five years old; this new engine should give 220 b.h.p. at 11,500 r.p.m., its 54.1 x 40.64-mm. bore and stroke being particularly conducive to high r.p.m. Against this three-pronged attack from Coventry will be the three-pronged attack from Maranello, for Ferrari is in an even better situation, having three widely differing power units, all proven and race-worthy. His 120-degree V6 engine, which dominated the beginning of the present Formula One, is now getting a bit out-dated, but can still be used to give good support to his team. His V8 engine, which powered the Championship-winning car last year, is more than a match for any opposition, especially on a fast circuit, as we saw at Monza last year, and his latest engine, the horizontally opposed 12-cylinder, has now done sufficient races in Bandini’s hands to be proven, and to be used by the team leader Surtees. The flat-12-cylinder engine allowed Bandini to put up some very good performances, so it should be capable of getting Surtees well out ahead of the opposition, especially on the faster circuits, always assuming that the opposition have not made equal progress, which would be a wrong assumption, I feel.

While Coventry-Climax and Ferrari are battling against each other they may well find they are trying to catch B.R.M., for the Bourne-designed V8 has always been competitive, and the improved version that got under way at the end of last season will undoubtedly be their mainstay. This is the V8 with the inlet tracts running down between the inclined valves and the exhaust outlets in the vee of the two blocks, which must give in the order of 205 b.h.p. at 11,000 r.p.m. The original and more conventional version of the B.R.M. V8 engine is still very competitive and can be counted on as a good supporting unit for the B.R.M. team.

A relatively unknown quantity on the engine scene is the V12-cylinder Honda engine, capable of well over 12,000 r.p.m. and presumably more than 210 b.h.p. Its spasmodic appearances last year were very much in the nature of experimental probes into Grand Prix racing, but even so it showed good potential and will almost certainly be well in the running this year, for Honda are not a firm to tackle anything half-heartedly or just for fun.

During the approaching season any engine that is going to be in the running will have to develop over 200 b.h.p. and be turning at 10,000 r.p.m. or more, and this on pump petrol, such as Esso Golden. These figures will be a minimum requirement, while the maximum might well be 225 b.h.p. and 12,000 or even 13,000 r.p.m., so that apart from anything else the sound of 1965 Grand Prix races is going to be better than ever, and I can foresee a front line on the grid of a race towards the end of the season holding cars with 8-, 12- and 16-cylinder engines, or VI2 and flat-12, 2-valve heads and 4-valve heads, and a total sum of r.p.m. and phons such as we have never heard before.

It is interesting that in December 1958 I suggested in Motor Sport that Grand Prix engines should be giving 200 b.h.p. from 1-1/2-litres in 1961. It would seem that development is three years behind the possible, but this year should see it well up to the desired standard. At the end of 1955 Daimler-Benz had set a very high standard of engine design, especially with the 3-litre 300SLR engine, which gave 298 b.h.p. at 7,400 r.p.m. on pump petrol, using completely vice-free high-pressure direct fuel Injection into the cylinder and desmodromic valve gear which allowed drivers to over-rev to 8,000 r.p.m. without mechanical disaster. Had Daimler-Benz continued with racing-engine development they would have made great strides with flame-front control within the combustion space, having mastered the complete control of the poppet-valve mechanism and the method of induction without the aid of a supercharger. On 1955 power output standard, a 1-1/2-litre Daimler-Benz engine would have given only 149 b.h.p. as against today’s 200 b.h.p., but that was ten years ago, so it is reasonable to suppose that if the effort had been put into racing-engine design over 10 years that the Stuttgart people were putting to the problem in those days, a 1-1/2-litre Grand Prix engine would be developing 250 b.h.p. by now. But that is theory; what we have in practice is the approach of a very interesting Grand Prix season with four widely differing power units all capable of producing the same lap speeds, the only unfortunate part being that it is to be the last year of 1-1/2-litre engines. Had engine designers been really on their toes in 1958 we could have been in this year’s situation in 1961, as the F.I.A. hoped we would be, so that by 1965 we should have been at the end of 1-1/2-litre development and ready for a new Formula. The fact that we look like being far from ready for a new Formula in 1966 is another story, perhaps attributable to conditions that appertained in 1958! — D.S.J.