Tale of two Clubmen

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One category of racing that rarely merits much more than the passing mention in the pages of motoring magazines yet provides, in its current state of the art, technically interesting and close and shatteringly fast racing is Clubmans Formula, one of the backbone classes of club competition. In those balmy days of racing ten years ago so many people wanted to race Lotus 7s, and a few similar cars, that a special category was ear-marked for them and the name it received was Clubmans Formula. The category has survived several body blows (including a well aimed one in the form of the little lamented Formula F100 from John Webb) and continues to flourish.

We decided to take a close look at two current approaches to Clubmans Racing which, in their different ways, are both extremely interesting and illustrate both the personal and technical astuteness which exists in what is after all a purely club racing class. The first is the Ibec project of Ian Bracey which embraces several interesting peripheral activities, particularly the co-operation of the City University and the Lloyds insurance market. The second is similar in a way to the first in that it was born of one man’s enthusiasm to go motor racing by building his own cars in his spare time but has, subsequently, snow-balled so that man—Andy Diamond—now finds himself in the totally unexpected position of being a full-time racing car constructor.

Just as a reminder it is worth stating the Clubmans Formula rules as they appear in the RAC Blue Book. They say that it is intended for open two-seater cars with the engine and gearbox located wholly in front of the rear axle. The engine must be of British manufacture, of an O.H.V.-pushrod configuration and the gearbox must not have more than four speeds nor may a limited slip differential be used. Structural tubes may encroach upon the minimum cockpit width of 32 in., so long as they only extend diagonally from the body sides or rollover bar and the front mudguards must be a distinctly separate component from the rest of the bodywork and there must be a gap between the mudguards and the rest of the bodywork of not less than 10 cm when the steering is central. Engine modifications are also limited and there are classes for up to 1,000-c.c. and 1,000-1,600-c.c. capacity.

In effect this means that the cars have to be front-engined, are usually Ford powered and can not be covered in an all enveloping body. This description pretty well covered the Lotus 7, upon which the category was originally founded, and adequately suited updated versions of Arthur Mallock’s U2 which was originally designed for Formula 1172 (now 1200) applications.

In fact over the years the Lotus 7 (often in various special guises, some official works projects others not) and Mallock’s successive U2 designs have dominated clubmans racing. While mentioning Mallock, I remember reading his excellent article in Motor Sport back in October 1959 called “A Poor Man in Search of Motorsport” which described so well some of the early days which subsequently led to Clubmans Racing. The U2 is just as successful today as it has ever been, although the latest versions no longer feature swing axle front suspension, which Mallock dropped about five years ago. In fact last year’s Clubmans Championship was won by Geoff Friswell driving a U2 and this year’s championship is currently being led by a similar car driven by Vernon Davies. Noel Stanbury, who drives the works Gryphon, was a close second in last year’s championship and will undoubtedly be a leading contender again this season.

A car which should challenge them is Ian Bracey’s new Ibec 2, a highly organised but purely part-time venture for Lloyds insurance broker Bracey and his happy band of helpers who jointly run under the rather grand title of Ibec Racing Developments Ltd. Bracey, following in the footsteps of his father who raced at Brooklands, took to the track at an early age with some frightening machines which were little more than go-karts with big motorcycle engines powering them. Later he moved on to Clubman’s racing with the inevitable U2 but as Bracey explains “there is no more satisfying way of winning a motor race than doing it in a car designed, built and developed by oneself. In fact I, personally, would rather finish tenth in my own car than win in someone else’s”.

So in 1968 Bracey, along with a very talented friend called Dennis Jones who had been involved in the early kart designs, started to draw up a car to heat the U2. But there were other considerations too and after some informal contacts with London’s City University it was mooted that their aeronautical department may be able to assist with the project and that the mechanical engineering department might also become interested. Construction of the car started in 1969 to a final dual purpose design by Jones for, as well as a racing car, it was to act as a travelling test bed; Jones forseeing various applications for research. One of the University Aeronautics lecturers, Adam Scibor-Rylski, designed a special wind cheating body developed from wind tunnel testing which depended on its underside contours as much as the upper ones. The radiator was rear-mounted and fed from air from a breach which was placed to coincide with a high pressure area. Scibor-Rylski’s overall body shape was more a vertical than horizontal wedge and the effect was to produce a car which, not only had a low drag factor, but was also extremely stable at high speed.

The car was on the tracks by 1970 and raced for two seasons with considerable success although Bracey never took the chequered flag first and, on several occasions, engine trouble intervened. Its very inception as test vehicle meant that the car was rather heavier than most of the competitors. But a good deal of useful data was obtained and the University continued to keep in close contact with lbec.

Obviously the car was rapidly becoming out-dated and a P2 model was starting to formulate in the minds of Jones, Bracey and their colleagues. Meanwhile Bracey’s boundless enthusiasm was directed on a scheme which connected his two interests, motor racing and insurance. He works for the well-known City firm of brokers, Chandler, Hargreaves, Whittal and Co. and spent most of his working hours covering the risk of race horses. What about mechanical race horses he thought? Few people in the past had been prepared to underwrite the risks of motor racing but Bracey was sure that if the whole operation could be done on a large scale by experts, it could become a profitable exercise. Various underwriters were approached and one in particular, Malcolm Blair of Spratt and White, was most enthusiastic. After a pilot six months, the scheme swung into full action in 1971 and now Lloyds of London Racing Car Insurance Contract, Number 1017, takes the majority of Bracey’s time—over 300 covers being issued last year.

As Bracey says with his usual elloquence, “the scheme illustrates the enterprise and originality of the Lloyds market which has made us the insurance centre of the world and one of Britain’s most valuable exports”.

For 1973 Bracey has tied up his lbec racing programme with the insurance interests for he recently persuaded the various syndicates in the racing car scheme to sponsor the Ibec 2 in proportion to their involvement in the insurance cover: Lloyds are not known for their commercial involvement of this kind of project but Bracey convinced them it would help to promote the Racing Car Cover and the Lloyds market in general. Already Dennis Jones had a new car on his drawing board, this time specifically for racing in mind and with no compromises as a test bed. Twenty-nine-year-old Jones shows all the expertise of a profesional racing car designer although it is purely a hobby for him and he is, in fact, the Technical Manager of DISA Electronic, the firm that specialises in manufacturing equipment, used in fluid mechanics research.

The University were brought in again for Jeffrey Howell an ex-BAC aerodynamicist at the University worked on body design and, after various wind tunnel tests, evolved the new body shape. Howell calls it the additive approach as he has added various devices to the simple basic shape and feels that the end result should be aerodynamically more efficient than any current Clubmans car.

Aerodynamic downforce is distributed over the entire length of the body. The underside of the nose and the unique wheel fairings contribute at the front end while the delta sideplates produce considerable downforce about the centre of gravity, in the same way as Concorde derives its lift for flight. The rear wing, which is adjustable, is used to further increase downforce and provide balance for the distribution of the total downforce over the car. The overall downforce at 130 m.p.h. has been calculated to be 300-400 lb. ft.

The drag force has further been reduced by fairing the drivers head and the wheels. At the base or rear-end, low energy air is fed into the wake via the rear-mounted radiator as successfully tried on the Ibec P1. High energy air from the delta wing is channelled between the rear-wheels and the body to the wake and the cross-sectional area decreases towards the rear, all contributing to a lowering of drag. Howell says this is the theory at least and now he hopes to see the full size car live up to the expectations of the wind tunnel tests.

The chassis is also technically very interesting. Amongst the features retained from the P1 is the front suspension which incorporates rocking upper arms with inboard spring damper units designed to give controlled rising rate characteristic and some anti-dive: all rather like the McLaren M19 Grand Prix car. But on the new lbec the front suspension incorporates March uprights, which are much stronger than those previously used.

Designer Jones has gone inboard at the rear as well; the new car using an independent system built around a Lotus Elan differential. A certain amount of rising rate and anti-squat has been built in and the fabricated rear-uprights (made, incidentally, by Andy Diamond—Clubmans people stick together) carry outboard rear-brakes. The chassis is constructed from square tubing and is considerably lighter and less complicated than the P1 and the whole car is much smaller. Bracey and his little team built the chassis and the majority of components, in their spare time but once the sponsorship deal was clinched Mike Chambers of Huron Cars finally bolted the car together. The aluminium bodywork, which looks superb in blue and orange, was the work of Wakefield and Son of Woking.

But not only has the chassis been the work of the little lbec team, but also the engine. Rather than purchase a unit direct from Holbay, who supply the majority of Clubmans engines, the Ibec policy of originality was further stretched and an engine project undertaken in conjunction with Martin Murphy of JM Racing Developments. Instead of taking the usual push-rod 1600-c.c. cross-flow Ford engine as a base and working from there, Bracey started with an old 1600-c.c. Formula 2 FVA engine and converted it from twin overhead camshaft configuration back to push-rod form. The FVA engine was, of course, based on the Cortina block. However, the very strong Cosworth bottom end is retained and the engine has given over 160 b.h.p. on the dynamometer which is reckoned to be more than the quick Clubmans Holbay engines. Replicas of the units will be available for sale.

Finally to tie everything up Bracey has sold the P1 to the City University and it is currently being used by students on research projects for which it is proving absolutely ideal. An “instrumented bump” is being devised from which the forces exerted on the tyre can be deduced and Dunlop have already shown considerable interest in this work which is more far reaching than their own studies. Later the aerodynamics people will be using the car as well and Professor Meyer of the University told me that he was most enthusiastic about the scheme and is sure that the students will benefit greatly from this unique facihity.

The Ibec project is tremendously ambitious and now we look forward to seeing Ian Bracey on the track. It also illustrates well that club racing is not all Minis prepared in back gardens but that real innovation and professionalism can be found. Next time you are at a Clubmans race see if you can find the lbec P2, it is worth a long look.

The Gryphon

Andy Diamond’s history, to date reads rather like the early days of Colin Chapman. He built his own racing car for fun and started to do well in it, someone wanted a replica and that started to win races too, a couple more potential customers came along and the whole thing started to snowball. All of a sudden without realising it, Diamond was a racing car constructor. This year he has orders for ten of his Gryphon Clubmans cars and, when we visited him at his cramped premises at Welwyn, he and his two employees were working flat out on the fifth and sixth.

Diamond had an excellent engineering training at, of all places, a sewing machine manufacturer, but also harboured a schoolboy desire to go motor racing. Like so many before him he decided to build a 750 Special along fairly conventional lines and one has the impression that the apprentice Andy found some of the machine tools which made sewing machines rather useful in the construction of his first car! Whatever, he describes the final result as “a disaster” and though he raced it regularly it wasn’t exactly a winner.

The next chapter starts with a friend who lived locally and raced a U2. Unfortunately he crashed it rather badly so the pair decided that rather than buy a chassis off Mr. Mallock they would build one themselves, after all a U2 chassis isn’t particularly complicated. Once this was underway, Diamond decided he could build a complete copy of the U2 and plenty of welding and sawing of tubes took place into the small hours of the morning and finally a device known as the Clubmans-BMC appeared. Diamond freely admits that it was a straight copy of a U2, The BMC engine, which had previously powered the friend’s U2 for he now had a more powerful Ford unit, found its way into this quasi-U2.

Diamond showed that he had learned a good deal since the 750; for the car proved to be extremely fast and Diamond himself showed considerable talent as a driver and won the BARC Clubmans Championship with the car in 1969. Another friend of Diamond’s, by the name of Stuart Rolt, had also been developing his own Clubmans car called the Gryphon which, unlike the Clubman-BMC, was much more of an original design. For a start it had fully independent rear suspension rather than a rigid rear axle, still to this day retained on the U2s, but Rolt had various other work on his hands and was getting involved with Formula Vee particularly. Thus Diamond took over the Gryphon project and using his talent as an engineer and a test driver, he soon had the car very competitive indeed.

For the 1970 season the Gryphon was regularly in the results of the 1600-c.c. category and the design was obviously ultra-competitive. Meanwhile, during that year another one-off design, the Dino, originally built by some Ford engineers, was winning the 1-litre category, driven by another ex-750 racer by the name of Noel Stanbury. Clubmans Racing is undoubtedly one of the most friendly classes of racing and a great camaraderie exists between the competitors, Stanbury naturally got talking to Diamond and the result was that for the following year Gryphon Cars received their first ever order.

Diamond was still working for the sewing machine firm but somehow he found the time to construct a car for the 1972 season for Stanbury to drive. Stanbury, who runs a thriving motor racing promotion company, subsequently dominated the 1-litre category of Clubmans racing with his new Gryphon, while Diamond continued to do well with his. Half way through the year he decided to leave his job and concentrate on his own engineeering business. The idea at the time was to take in various machinery and fabrication jobs and work on the racing cars in any spare time.

Last year Noel Stanbury became a partner in Gryphon Racing (although not Gryphon Cars) and the works driver. Diamond gave up racing due to pressure of work, but points out that this is only a temporary situation. For 1972 Gryphon Racing decided to aim at overall victories and enter the larger 1600-c.c. class. What a season it was! Stanbury in the Gryphon and Midlander Geoff Friswell, in the latest U2, were tremendously closely matched. There were some epic races with the pair trading the lead lap after lap and, at the end of the season, Friswell just got the championship verdict although Stanbury had won his fair share of races. The Gryphon, in its maroon colour scheme, was undoubtedly one of the most immaculate and well-prepared cars in all of club racing. A second C72 had also been built for journalist Ian Phillips and that was similarly turned out.

This, combined with the excellent results, produced a flood of orders for 1973 which completely overwhelmed Diamond. The Gryphon reputation had certainly spread and two of the ten orders came from Southern Ireland. Diamond had to drop all his general engineering work and concentrate solely on building the racing cars. Naturally the previous chassis frames had been built by himself but this work now has to be subcontracted to Arch Motors, along with the suspension components although Gryphon still machine all their own uprights and many other parts. A friend who had just returned from Australia joined the, until then, one man firm and has proved invaluable and a third member has also been added to the staff. They are all working 70 hours a week at the moment, turning out the cars.

The little workshop in School Road, Welwyn adjoins the premises of Chambers and Gillies who, from experience, we can personally recommend for work with Lotus Elans. Diamond has only enough room for three cars, a lathe and a few other assorted machine tools. In fact. it is quite ridiculous to even consider turning out a batch of ten ultra-competitive racing cars from such a tiny space but Diamond is the sort of man who can achieve that.

However, the situation will soon be alleviated for he is at present negotiating for a new factory in the Huntingdon Trading Estate, which is already known for motor racing firms like Lola, Royale, Specialised Mouldings and Arch Motors. Andy says this is about the biggest step in his life for he has sunk every penny into expanding the business. Obviously the market for Clubmans cars is somewhat limited and Diamond hopes to try his hand at a single-seater in the near future. Even so, the fact that Gryphon is growing shows just how healthy is Clubmans Racing.

The car itself still owes its basic design to Stuart Rolt although each year’s development has improved it. One of the most significant factors has been tyres and the Gryphon uses 20 in. diameter Formula Three-type slicks, and the 1973 models incorporate revised suspension pick-up points to cater for this latest rubber. The basic chassis is a spaceframe with aluminium panelling which gives additional stiffness, while the suspension is fairly standard outboard spring damper wishbone and link. Obviously Diamond has done his sums right because the road holding is absolutely sensational and must almost match a Formula Three car. Diamond uses Spax shock absorbers and has found them particularly helpful. The works car uses an engine prepared by Swindon Racing Engines. The little cars are, of course, extremely light for there is no minimum weight and with less than 8 c.w.t. and 160 b.h.p. on hand, the power to weight ratio is extremely impressive. Thus it is not surprising to see that the lap times compare favourably with single-seater Formula Three cars.

Diamond, a well-spoken 29-year-old, deserves all his success to date and a good deal more in the future. He could well be an embryo Colin Chapman but only the years will answer that one.

The Gryphon and Ibec projects are only two of several in Clubmans Formula racing. Diamond’s set-up is rather-special in that it is now a full-time professional operation but there are several other fascinating one-off cars like the lbec, although few embrace quite so many facets. Motor racing needs people like Diamond and Bracey, so next time you see a Clubmans race, particularly at one of the Gregor Grant Championship rounds, give them a cheer and if possible take a close look at the cars in the paddock.—A.R.M.

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