Le Mans test week-end

Le Mans (France), April 2nd/3rd.

The provision of a week-end of use of the Sarthe circuit in early April is now well established and apart from allowing entrants to do serious testing, it allows the organisation to get into its stride in readiness for the 24-hour classic in June. With 30,000 spectators attending there was more than enough opportunity for the organisation to get in some practice at control and order. However, the race organisation had nothing like as much work to do as only 24 cars turned out over the entire weekend, and at times there was a mere handful circulating. At the last moment Ferrari announced that he would not be sending any factory cars, saying that he could do all the high-speed testing he needed at Monza. As Jim Hall’s Chaparral did not arrive this left the Ford entries on their own with no one to evaluate themselves to. Shelby American came with three 7-litre cars, run in close co-operation with Dearborn and the new J-car was wholly Dearborn. Alan Mann had two modified GT40 Fords with 4.7-litre engines and there were numerous privately owned production GT40 models. Apart from a standard GTO Ferrari run by two Frenchmen, the Maranello fortunes were upheld by the yellow 375/P2 of the Ecurie Francorchamps, this being a 1965 car with 1966 style bodywork, and 4.4-litre single camshaft per bank of cylinders engine. Although the Fords appeared to dominate the scene this lone Ferrari was going extremely well driven by “Beurlys” and was putting in lap times in amongst the Fords, though not as fast as the 7-litre cars.

The new Ford J-car was the major interest, being of an entirely new construction and shape, the body/chassis monocoque unit being built from a “sandwich” material consisting of two sheets of aluminium, each 0.014 in. thick, spaced an inch apart with the space between filled with an aluminium honeycomb, the whole lot being bonded into a very light, yet very strong material. Suspension pick-up points and such like are in steel or aluminium and are bonded to the main structure with aircraft adhesives. The dry-sump 7-litre push-rod o.h.v. engine is the usual V8 layout, with one 4-choke Holley carburetter, but unlike the 4.7-litre and previous 7-litre engines the exhausts are collected in bunches of four on each side of the engine and run into their own tail pipes. Previously all the GT cars had “Climax pattern” cross-over exhaust systems. A Ford 2-speed and torque-converter transmission was used in this car, being of the fully hydraulic type, the driver’s lever merely operating a valve that permitted the hydraulic mechanism to select “Drive,” “Low” or “High.” Suspension followed normal GT40 Mk. II practice, being fully independent and sprung on coil springs with double-wishbones at the front and transverse link, wishbone and double radius arms at the rear. This car was fully instrumented to measure brake temperatures, suspension movements, throttle openings and engine r.p.m., the whole lot being collected on a recorder on the passenger’s seat. The 7-litre engine was quoted as giving 475 b.h.p. at 6,200 r.p.m., which didn’t appear to be straining the unit unnecessarily. The bodywork was extremely functional and intriguing, the roof line running straight back to the tail, reminiscent of the very first car of this conception that Eric Broadley built called a Lola-Ford V8. The Ford J-car is the sort of shape that Maserati and other people in Modena have been trying to achieve for many years and have not quite succeeded. The Ford engineers have definitely succeeded with this one, and anyone who thinks these big Fords are crude lumps of ironmongery should study the J-car closely; it is anything but crude and is a first-class technical exercise. Because of the unusual roof-line there is a rear-view mirror mounted on the roof and the driver looks into it through a slot in the roof, this giving him an unobstructed view to the rear. The other two Shelby-American cars were 7-litre Mk. II versions of the GT40 as raced at Daytona and Sebring, using Ford’s own 4-speed gearbox, but one of these was completely destroyed when Walt Hansgen crashed in the escape road just beyond the pits. He suffered multiple injuries, from which he later died. There were a selection of drivers available for Ford’s test programme, including McLaren, Amon, Miles and Lucien Bianchi. The Alan Mann team had two 4.7-litre Fords, modified by them with aluminium body panels in place of fibre-glass and numerous small weight-saving efforts that made them 120 lb. lighter than the production cars. Finished in red with gold stripes the cars were as raced at Sebring, still carrying the quick-action oil pipe connectors protruding from the offside of the body through which oil could be squirted straight into the sump during a pit-stop. The drivers sharing these two cars were Graham Hill, Stewart, Whitmore, Gardner and Hawkins. Privately owned Fords of Ford-France, with Greder/Ligier and Scuderia Filipinetti with Mairesse/Muller were representing Detroit in the Sports category.

In the 2-litre category there was great interest, for Porsche were being strongly challenged by the new Matra-B.R.M. driven by Jo Schlesser and by the end of the week-end this lone Anglo-French car was quite a bit faster than the cars from Stuttgart. It had been a rush to get the angular coupe finished in time and it was covered with a hasty coat of grey undercoat. In a conventional tubular space-frame a 2-litre B.R.M. V8 engine, complete with Lucas fuel-injection, is mounted behind the cockpit and coupled to a 5-speed ZF gearbox/differential unit. All round independent suspension, of conventional Grand Prix lines, is used and the car did not seem to suffer from any handling problems or high speed aerodynamic problems. It was lapping at close to 130 m.p.h., which was remarkable in view of its seemingly un-aerodynamic shape, though in fact the shape was developed in Matra’s windtunnel, the body being designed around the Le Mans regulations, but being devoid of holes and scoops, which may explain something. Undoubtedly the V8 B.R.M. was pushing out a lot of power, probably well over 250 b.h.p.

The works Porsches, driven by Linge and Nocker, were sounding terrific and will certainly be running at the end of the 24-hours if their performances at Daytona and Sebring are anything to go by. Linge’s car was running on fuel-injection and carried a flow-meter in the passenger’s seat, while it also had a slimmer nose cowling and on Sunday did some experiments with a long tail attached to the standard tail. A third Carrera 6 was that of the French entrant Veuillet, driven by Robert Buchet. The works team were also running a standard 911 coupe, which looked very out of place amongst the exciting Le Mans coupes.

The French Alpine-Renault team were out in force with 1,300 c.c. and 1,000 c.c. cars and a whole list of drivers headed by Mauro Bianchi and Henri Grandsire. The cars were unchanged outwardly from 1965, being mid-engined coupes with long tails, on space-frames, using F.3/F.2-type suspension and Hewland gearboxes. The Gordini designed 2 o.h.c. 4-cylinder engines built by Renault were giving a lot more power and Bianchi lapped at 125 m.p.h. with the 1,300 c.c. car and was as quick as Buchet’s Porsche Carrera 6.

Another small French car that was interesting, if not very fast, was a new C.D. built by Charles Deutsch. It was a rather oddshaped coupe with a Peugeot 204 engine mounted transversely behind the driver and driving the rear wheels through the Peugeot transmission, modified to 5-speeds.

The lack of any factory Ferrari opposition to Ford, or the European appearance of the Chaparral took a lot of the excitement away from this testing week-end, but those that were there had plenty to do, especially as Dunlop, Goodyear and Firestone were very much in evidence and most teams were experimenting with more than one make of tyre.—D.S.J.


In the leading article on modern front-wheel-drive cars last month the Le Mans gas-turbine Rover was quoted amongst examples of cars built to this formula. In fact, the Le Mans Rover had the turbine in the tail driving the back wheels and what was intended was the T4 Rover gas-turbine car publicly released in 1961, which had the turbine at the front, driving the front wheels. Also, a printer’s error in this article caused the writer to state: “… the Tornado gets away without putting all this power through its front wheels only because it is a heavy car.” What should have been printed was : ” . . . the coronado gets away with putting all this power through its front wheels only because it is a heavy car. . . .” The printers also omitted a complete line from the Lancia Fulvia road-test report—for the record the truncated sentence should have read : “The washers, wired independently of the ignition, are worked by pulling out a rather stiff-to-operate facia knob, after which squirts from a dual central nozzle function for some time.” But the Editor takes full responsibility for captioning the Fulvia on this page as a Flavia. . .