How the big names of racing and tuning have survived the fuel drought
For a country which seems to have the most stable economic base in Europe, West Germany displayed astonishing panic symptoms when the fuel crisis threatened to interfere with its Utopia. The motor car, the very life-blood of practically every German, overnight became a dirty word, leadfoot autobahners turned into mimsers, and that performance image so carefully created by BMW, Mercedes and Porsche was carefully obscured under a baffling veil of economy figures. The very future of German high-performance cars and the racing and tuning industry surrounding them seemed precarious.
On our recent visit to Germany it was interesting, therefore, to see how the road and racing high-performance industry had survived those black days. We were armed with memories of that “Battle of the Giants” in the 1973 racing season, when Ford and BMW works teams, supported by privateer tuning firms, engaged in a war of attrition in the European Touring Car Championship and the men and companies we sought out were the generals and regiments of that exciting season.
There is a definite geographical split between the opposing Ford and BMW factions: Ford, along with Zakspeed, their major works supported privateer team, in the Cologne region; Bayerische Moteren Werke in Bavaria, the factory in Munich, Alpina and Schnitzer, their main supporters, to the West and East of them. In the concrete No-Man’sLand at Russelsheim, near Frankfurt, lie Opel, not ETC contenders, not even racing orientated, but their increasing rally participation suggested that it might be opportune to point our XJ-S’s nose off the autobahn ‘twixt Ford and BMW to see what ex-BMW Rally Manager Helmut Hein was up to in his General Motors job as Opel Sport Department Manager. Actually, our journey took in Porsche (as described elsewhere in this issue) and Mercedes too, but they are outside this particular context.
Both geographically and in purpose, Ford’s Cologne-based Michael Kranefuss is most closely related to Britain. Last autumn, Kranefuss, then Ford Germany’s Competition Manager, took over from Stuart Turner as Director of Motorsport, Ford Europe, when Turner turned his hand to being Director of Public Relations. As such, Kranefuss’s brief includes control of Boreham’s rally programme. However, we found very little direct competition activity surrounding Roger Clark’s new boss in his Cologne lair. The German end of the Ford competitions activities is resting from its European racing programme, girding its loins for a probable sortie into the World Championship of Makes for Group 5 Silhouette cars next year This season Kranefuss is concentrating on building up the commercial side of his activities, aiming to make his department self sufficient, the parts counter to support the future factory competitions programme.
“We’re all in favour of motorsport within Ford”, says the skiing-bronzed Kranefuss. “Bob Lutz (new head of Ford Germany, imported from BMW) is absolutely motorsport orientated, but this doesn’t mean we automatically get a budget. We’ve got to look for ways of making it more economic; the days have gone when you can spend millions”.
Kranefuss’s commercial activities are concentrated initially upon the droop-snoot
Escort RS2000, upon which Ford are perpetrating one of their ambitious homologation exercises, in this case aimed at Group 1. Two twin-choke, downdraught Weber carburetters, a more efficient camshaft, a big-valve head, a close-ratio Rocket gearbox, a Capri rear axle with limited-slip differential, a high-ratio rack, stiffer front anti-roll bar and ventilated front discs have been homologated. My own view is that this makes a nonsense of Group 1, but so long as the regulations are left wide enough open. . . . These bits won’t just be available over the parts counter: 100 competition specification Group 1 RS2000s will be built on the normal production line at Saarlouis. The engines will even be blueprinted in production. “In Germany these cars will cost 20,000 DM (about £4,000) each, 6,000 DM dearer than the standard RS. This is much cheaper than it would cost a dealer to build one because we don’t have to throw away standard items.” Kranefuss sees the RS2000 as Ford’s answer in Germany to the loss of the sporting BMW 2002, for the 320 is regarded as being aimed at a different market.
Turning away from his commercial responsibilities, Kranefuss reveals that the Capri has had its day in racing. It might just be possible to make it reasonably competitive in Group 5 in 1977, but by 1978 it will be the day of the mid-engined car, like BMW’s proposed new 400-off model. Could Ford do a similar exercise? “Well, the GT40 was good for the Ford image throughout the World, but it’s not even worth discussing doing a similar thing now. How could anyone in this Company sanction 400 mid-engine cars, the minimum necessary for homologation? The ideal situation would be to have a GT70-type car capable of doing racing and rallying, but we couldn’t do it because the CSI is moving towards Group 3 which will mean Porsche will win everything: other makes couldn’t compete against them in this category for standard cars. If the CSI stuck to Group 4, such a car might be more worth our while.”
Last time I visited the Ford Cologne Competitions Department, in that memorable year of 1973, the light and airy workshop was crammed with an impressive line-up of blue and white racing Capris. Now, during Kranefuss’s sabbatical, the reduced band of racing mechanics work on Gp. 1 production Escort and new-style Taunus development. But this is not to say that Ford are neglecting the European Group 2 Touring Car scene; wielding the cudgel on their behalf is the amazing Erich Zakowsky and his Escort-concentrated Zakspeed Team at Neuheusel, about an hour out of Cologne in the Frankfurt direction. Zakspeed, an ostensibly private Escort race preparation company with a record of an outright win for Ford in the 1974 European Touring Car Championship and German Championship victories in 1973, ’74 and ’75, coupled with such prestigious wins in the 1974 Nurburgring 6-hour race and the 1975 Kyalami 1,000 kms., have support from Ford to a tune which includes the employment of recently retired saloon car ace Dieter Glemser as Team Manager. If pitting Escorts against the might of the Luigi BMWs and, if all works out, the Leyland Jaguars, seems like setting a terrier against a rhino, considered optimism is more justified than that. As the Escorts have proved before, they remain capable of outright wins by reliability defaults of the big cars, and by consistency could easily win the Championship on class points.
Zakspeed is an offshoot of Zakowsky’s large heavy commercial vehicle sales and servicing company. It is housed in a concrete labyrinth beneath Zakowsky’s main offices and lorry workshops, themselves a tribute to the abilities of this Prussian who, at eleven years old, escaped across frozen wastelands from the Russian advance into his homeland near the Polish border. Zakowsky’s main Escort efforts this year are being put into an ETC Group 2 car for Martino Finotto/Siggi Mueller, an Italian Championship car for Finotto and German Championship cars for Hans Heyer, Bernd Ringhausen, Peter Hennige and Klaus Ludwig.
The issue is complicated by the variety of different touring car regulations pertaining in the different championships. Zakowsky reckons on 245 b.h.p. from the wet-sump ETC Group 2 car, a pittance against the 370 b.h.p. of the Luigi BMWs and 575 b.h.p. of the Jaguars, but offset by lightweight and agility. Cosworth parts are used in the Zakspeed-built engines. Zakspeed are working very closely with Boreham on the Group 2 project (costs are shared between Cologne, Zakspeed and Borehain) and Kranefuss hopes that the joint development exercise will enable Ford to sell productionised Group 2 parts to customers. For the moment Zakspeed will build cars for clients as well as their own cars, though development will see the Team cars always one step ahead.
In reality, Zakowsky admits that Group 2 doesn’t really interest him: “You can’t play about with development. It’s a step backwards. I would prefer to do Group 5 for the World Championship of Makes”.
General Motor’s attitude towards competition is somewhat different to Ford and BMW. Officially, of course, Detroit doesn’t want to know about the business. Unofficially, rallying isn’t quite the dirty word that racing is so far as direct or semi-direct company participation is concerned. Helmuth Bein’s Sport Department reflects this conflict within GM. Within the Opel factory at Russelsheim he heads a fully-fledged competition department engaged on a full-scale international rallying and rally development programme. Yet this can’t be acknowledged as a factory effort and runs under the guise of Opel Euro Handler, or Dealer Team. The idea is to use the team for development and as encouragement to persuade privateers in Europe to use Opel products. It’s meeting with a great deal of success: in 1974 Opel won the Acropolis and the European Rally Championship, came fourth in last year’s RAC and fourth again in this year’s Monte. The current tool of the trade for Walter Rohrl, Opel’s number 1 driver, is the Kadett GT/E, an RS 2000-type, sporting four-seater built in production with competition ultimately in mind. In standard form this fastback coupe carries the same Bosch L-Jetronic injected, 105 b.h.p., 1,900 c.c. engine as the new Manta GT/E. With competition in mind it is homologated in Group I with both four-speed and five-speed gearboxes and a choice of final drive ratios. Outside Group 1, I3ein’s department has developed a 212 b.h.p. cross-flow version of the cam-in-head four-cylinder engine and are now putting all their effort into perfecting a 16-valve, 240 b.h.p., twin o.h.c. unit. The general idea is to develop these competition parts to make them available to customers through Dealer Teamoffshoots in other European countries—Tony Fall runs a British Dealer Opel Team for example.
At BMW in Munich, factory competition participation is absolutely clear-cut, cultivated by the most organised department in Europe, 90 staff under the perfectionist control of the already legendary Jochen Neerpasch. There is nothing at all to show that Neerpasch’s department suffered during the fuel blight: after last year’s attack on IMSA racing with CSLs in the States, Neerpasch this year is putting his direct factory participation into Group 5 World Championship of Makes. Neerpasch doesn’t profess that the Group 5 CSLs will be all-conquering: “We’re looking ahead to when — and if— we run our mid-engined Group 5 car in 1978. This year and next year we shall use for engine development—the mid-engined car will have the six-cylinder engine. But we are also trying to build up the Championship by giving Porsche some opposition”.
There will be no factory participation in the Group 2 ETC, BMW instead helping with support for the Luigi and Peltier CSis. Their 2-valve engines will give about 370 b.h.p. compared with 470 b.h.p. in Group 5.
Formula 2 is by far the busiest side of the Competitions Department activities. No less than 200 BMW Formula 2 engines have emanated from the factory, which is big business indeed at 32,000 DM each. And even bigger business, each top-line engine needs rebuilding every race, at a cost of 5,000 to 10,000 DM each.
There’s much more to BMW’s competition activities, of course, most of which is well-publicised. Less well-known is the Department’s increasing interest in fast road cars, particularly the 528. To special order, and for an extra 10,000 DM on top of the standard 528, it is possible to have them produce a 3.3-litre injection-engined version with Bilstein shock-absorbers, ventilated discs all round, special seats and special, 7 in. wheels. A standard, part-completed 528 is taken from the production line, two Competitions Department mechanics carry out the conversion and then the car goes back to the normal production line for final finishing. The cars even carry the normal factory warranty, for the engines are unmodified.
A recent addition to Neerpasch’s strength is Joseph Schnitzer, famed for his Company of the same name based at Freilassing, near the Austrian border. Joseph has joined BMW on the engine side with particular responsibility for straight-sixes, presumably with turbochargers in mind. Meanwhile, brothers Herbert, Dieter and Chancy are looking after the Freilassing ranch, building and rebuilding their own F2 and 2-litre sports car BMW engines, Toyota rallying 16-valve engines, and running a Group 5 CSL for Dieter Quester.
Such properly modified road ears remain big business in Germany, now the fuel crisis panic has subsided. Without mandatory maximum speed limits on autobahns, such cars remain a sensible proposition. Benefiting more than most from this attitude is our old friend Burkard Bovensiepen, owner of Europe’s largest tuning establishment, Alpina, at Buchloe, near Munich, “We are not tuners, we are producers of high-performance motor cars”, this BMW specialist reminded us. His main business is modifying brand-new BMWs for sale through normal BMW dealers: 500 a year to dealers plus another ISO sold direct from Alpina, produced by 60 employees.
“Sales dropped off a little in 1974, but they are bigger than ever now”. Bovensiepen told us. “Many German tuning companies went bankrupt in 1974, others couldn’t afford the cost of complying with meeting German Government homologation for road modifications, so we benefited.” To cope with this pressure of road work, he has pulled out of direct racing involvement, though he is closely involved with the Alpina-Faltz Group 5 CSL and the Luigi Group 2 cars.
“It is particularly important for us to do something for the less sporting image of the 320. We are producing three standard versions, one with 125 b.h.p., running on two twin-choke 40 mm. Solex carburetters, a 150 b.h.p. car with 45 mm. Solexes and a 165 h.h.p. conversion on the 320i with Kugellischer injection.” Bilstein suspension is fitted to these cars, cross-drilled, ventilated discs and progressive springs. Bovensiepen hopes to increase his English business— restrained by high prices—with the aid of the 320. Brian ,”Yogi” Muir is his agent, at Pershore Trading Estate. Pet-shore. Worcestershire.
Alpina continue to modify the straight-six BMW engines of course and it was one of these, installed in a 528, which we were able to sample when we visited them. While Neerpatch concentrates on dropping larger engines in the 528, Bovensiepen modifies the standard one, the complete package of engine, suspension, seats etc. working out at a similar 10,000 DM extra. The car we tried had triple, twin-choke, 45 mm. Solex carburetters (Webers are fitted for export), a modified head, the traditional Alpina 300 deg. camshaft and a modified exhaust system, resulting in 230 b.h.p. We were amazed at the smoothness, and refinement of this excellent engine, which showed exceptional throttle response and little sign to the ears of its triple carburetters. The Bilstein suspension was firm without the ride suffering and the handling exceptional. More rubber on the road and some front suspension tweaks made the powcr steering feel like a good manual system.–C.R.