The cost of motoring sport
5: Single-seater club racing
No matter how popular saloon car racing becomes, the added excitement of single-seaters will always ensure the survival of one or more formulae at club level. In fact, though it is now possible to race an 850 Mini for as little as £200 the monoposto classes are flourishing, so obviously the credit squeeze has not done anything to depress the generally wide base of motor sport.
Two months ago we talked to John Fenning about Formula Three racing and it became clear that to be in any way competitive it is necessary to spend at least £550 on a good engine, and a minimum of £1,000 will be invested before the beginner races for the first time, more likely £1,500 – even then, there is not much hope of success for to be out in front one needs to spend at least £2,000. Also, of course, Formula Three is these days fast and fiercely competitive and may no longer be the best place for the newcomer to find his way around.
The real interest nowadays is centred on Formula Vee, Formula Ford, and Formula Four, plus the Monoposto Formula which is rather special and allied to the 750 or 1200 formulae we talked about last month. All these categories offer single-seater racing for £1,000 or less, with the added advantages of low maintenance costs, cheap repair bills, and relative similarity in performance. Going one stage further, to the ultimate in single-seater club racing, is Formule Libre which offers some very exciting (and expensive) possibilities. Some of the Forrnule Libre cars, like the Kinecraft, are extremely sophisticated and may be almost as fast as a current Formula One car in the right hands, but one does not have to be a graded driver to race one. Neither, on the other hand, does the owner get contracts, substantial starting or prize monies, or trade discounts for appearing at national or international meetings, so this category must be classified along with other non-professional formulae.
All these amateur classes provide the individual with excitement and fulfilment, but they do not necessarily, or often, make good spectator attractions and for this reason race promoters are acting more out of charity than anything else when they put a race on the programme, that is in terms of cash. On the other hand they do owe it to the sport to encourage racing at its base and we should not be so strong in international racing, numerically at any rate, if amateur racing were not encouraged.
These formulae do not necessarily produce good drivers, either, but they do provide everyone with a yardstick. People who will never make the grade do find out to their own satisfaction, if they are honest with themselves, and good drivers will always find their own level.
Most of our readers would come straight to the point and ask: "How cheaply can I go single-seater racing?" To start our enquiries we asked the R.A.C. about go-karting and discovered that no less than 4,000 licences are issued each year for the category, which means that more people drive karts than racing cars! An average meeting at Blackbushe brings in some 170 competitors, yet the sport is more heavily subscribed in the Midlands and the North. A kart is not a racing car, we all know, but it is a start with the right sort of atmosphere and quite a number of drivers have gone on successfully into circuit racing. The average kart circuit is about half a mile in length, and the cheapest machine can be picked up for around £75 secondhand. A new kart chassis costs about £120 so a complete machine, with a 200 c.c. Villiers engine, will cost up to £175.
There are many classes in kart racing, and the experienced people go for the 250 c.c. class, where a maximum of around £250 may be spent. A 200 c.c. Bultaco-powered kart costs £230 and the alternatives in the next highest class are Villiers, Ducati or Montesi.
Essentially karting is a participant sport, and Formula Four interests may have over-reached themselves by trying to make this class of spectator interest before the machinery had reached a sufficient level of development. Johnny Walker, chairman of the Formula Four Association, designed and built a much more sophisticated single-seater chassis, clad with a glass-fibre body; both this and the Evad single-seater sold for £500 without the engine (a limit imposed) and were priced at £650 with a Merlin 250 c.c. engine or £645 with a Villiers. Unhappily the cars were not very reliable and a shortage of customers has left the future of this category in jeopardy, despite later efforts to introduce 650 c.c. and 875 c.c. classes at costs up to £700 and £800 respectively without engine. Without wishing ill on the effort, it looks already as though new and well-backed classes will have owners of Formula Four cars relegated to hill-climbs, sprints and Formule Libre events.
With little doubt the Monoposto Formula provides the cheapest "real" single-seater racing. Our first question is "how cheap?" – the answer is £250 – the second question "how much?" For an answer, we are told that John Derisley's Class A (1,500 c.c.) monoposto cost £600, and as he was the 1966 champion it seems fair to say that the latter figure is a fair one for anyone ambitious to bear in mind. To do this Derisley bought an outdated Formula Three car, sold the engine and bought a Ford Cortina GT 1,500 c.c. push-rod engine with the proceeds, spending some money on Cosworth modifications. In Class B, up to 1,000 c.c., Anglia push-rod engines are favourite, and any amount of modification can be carried out so long as normal valve operation is retained and the engine is not supercharged.
Do not underestimate the Monoposto Formula. Although the chassis must have been built before the end of 1964 if proprietary, specials are encouraged and most people buy an old Cooper or Lotus space frame chassis and up-to-date suspension modifications, making the classes both fast and competitive.
It would be fair to estimate that £250 is sufficient for a start, and maxima of £500 to £650 should take a skilful competitor to the front row of the grid. Works, trade-supported or sponsored entries and drivers are excluded, which in itself keeps the cost down, and there are at least 10 championship meetings on each year, starting at Silverstone on May 6th. The Monoposto Racing Club, which is affiliated to the 750 Motor Club, has 90 members and has iust started a new and helpful magazine which should enable newcomers to learn what it is all about. Again, success depends very much on how much personal effort the competitor puts into preparation and modifications, and is therefore a good background for any form of professional racing later on.
Inevitably there are questions to be asked about the future of Formulae Vee and Ford, simply because they are as yet unproven. Anyone who had his fingers burnt last year might be forgiven for being apprehensive, but both appear to be substantially backed as Formula Vee is already an international formula, heavily backed in this country as elsewhere by the Volkswagen organisation, while Formula Ford has the backing of the Grovewood enterprise and will have a guaranteed life of five years.
Of the two Formula Vee is somewhat cheaper, since several makes of simple space frame chassis are already available in this country for about £325-£425 less engine and suspension. Various makes are available including the American Beach, South African Peco, the Belgian Apal and the Swedish Dolling.
Adding the cost of a 1,300 c.c. engine and gearbox, which are turned around in the chassis to give mid-engine configuration, wheels, front axle and minor parts all available from VW agents, the total cost ot a brand-new car will be about £750, though by picking up secondhand mechanical parts the enthusiast can fit up a new chassis for some £200 less. The regulations permit a small increase in compression and reshaping the combustion chambers on 1,200 or 1,300 c.c. engines, taking maximum power to about 55 b.h.p., but every other component including the camshaft, valves, etc., must be left strictly standard. Road wheels and tyres, normal suspension parts including ordinary drum brakes, all ensure that not only are initial costs kept down, but accident repairs are no more complicated or expensive than similar repairs on a family saloon.
A series of 12 races has been arranged in England and four in Scotland, those North of the Border carrying cash prizes, and these will carry points towards a British National championship. The B.A.R.C. are organising races at Silverstone, Croft. Castle Combe, the Scottish Motor Racing Club. at Ingliston, Thames Estuary A.G. at Lydden and the West Essex C.C. also at Lydden. An entry of 20 cars has been guaranteed for the first event at Silverstone on June 18th.
Because it is a new concept, Formula Ford is not quite so far advanced but its sponsors expect to make a start in July – the rules about construction are due to be ratified by the R.A.C. and are expected to stipulate the use of space-frame chassis to the Formula Three minimum weight when completely assembled. Completely standard 82 b.h.p Ford Cortina GT engines, save for oil-surge baffles in the sump, must be used but the choice of four-speed gearbox will be free (probably the Renault 16 transmission will be favoured). Motor Racing Developments at Brands Hatch initiated the formula and Lotus will be supplying them exclusively with a modified version of the 31, probably designated the 51 – they will be sold for £995 complete with trailer.
The first dozen will have been delivered by the end of June if on schedule, but a number of rival companies such as Diva, Piper and Gemini are taking the first steps toward entering the formula so by next year the scene could be in a healthy state. M.R.S., incidentally, plan to hire their cars out for meetings and are starting a racing subscription scheme; they will also sell cars on hire purchase. The prototype car has lapped the short circuit at Brands inside the minute on road tyres, so the class should be providing novices with plenty of excitement when it gets going. There will not be any shortage of people buying up old Formula Three chassis and making their own cars for a lot less than £1,000, neither will they be very much handicapped by the lack of money to buy new equipment.
In terms of speed for money the Monoposto Formula appears to have most to offer, being similar to Formula Ford, necessarily less expensive because new chassis are barred, but without restriction on tuning. The two "commercial" formulae however will take more of the limelight because of the backing and the meetings selected, so as ever you pay your money and take your choice. At any rate; disillusioned Formula Three drivers must be rubbing their hands with glee!
Formule Libre (not formula, please!) has been slow catching on in the South but the B.R.S.C.C. run a popular championship on Northern circuits and really the sky is the limit so far as expense is concerned, though it offers excellent opportunities to the beginner who isn't too ambitious to start with.
Quite a reasonable Formula Three chassis can be picked up for between £300-£500. Front suspension can be brought up to date quite cheaply and the rear end will have to be modified fairly substantially to accommodate any of a variety of engines. Running through a list of engines recently advertised, we noted an ex-Formula Junior 1,100 c.c. Ford engine going for £70, and quite a number of Ford 1 1/2-litre engines in various states of tune for under £200. More efficient, and more expensive to maintain, are the early twin-cam Coventry-Climax engines which start at £150. If you want a real "return to power" a Chevrolet or Ford V8 engine ready for racing can be picked up for upwards of £300.
The foregoing ideas are obviously going to take some skill and patience before fruition, and don't forget that Monoposto, Formula Vee or Ford cars are eligible, as well as Formula Three cars which are these days quick enough to hold their own in almost any company. Ready-made Formule Libre cars can be bought secondhand for under £1,000, good ones with twin-cam Ford engines for £1,500 or £2,000.
Talking of the "big-banger" single-seaters, which really capture the imagination, Chris Summers was the first to drop a Chevrolet engine into a Cooper chassis back in 1962, and he had a wonderful season in races and hill-climbs. The work was done by John Farley and Jack Newton at the latter's workshop in Thornton Heath, at an estimated cost under £1,000, and Newton has retained his interest in the formula as he now prepares and maintains Jim Moore's Cobra-powered Kincraft single-seater, which has had six wins in a row recently. Now that Group 7 cars have faded from the English countryside these cars may well flourish, and Moore tells us that the car was built for Jack Pearce in Staffordshire at an estimated cost of £14,000 including development work! The Kincraft was designed by Len Terry, who designed the Eagle Formula One, and when Moore bought it thirdhand the price was £3,250. Moore has strong ambitions to be a works driver and reckons that his heavy investment is worth while – certainly his name is better known than most others, and his lap times are creditable.
The basic law of economics still applies, that it you are searching around for every penny to buy a single-seater you must invest in a car which is cheap to run and repair. Engines and gearboxes should last a long time with the two new formulae, but Monoposto and Vee will provide the cheapest "real" racing.
Do not forget, while on the subject of cost, than any, single-seater needs a trailer which costs upwards of £25, and the tow-car needs to be suitable for pulling about 12 cwt. – M. L. C.