A look at Monoposto racing from behind the wheel of Peter Gillett's Genie Mk 13-Ford
In nearly 20 years' existence the Monoposto Racing Club has attracted some of the most distinctive individuals to be found in motor racing anywhere. Their machinery, either proprietary single-seater chassis pre-1970, or self-constructed of any age, is often unique as well which makes the glassfibre monocoque Genie assessed here a particularly suitable candidate for comment. The Monoposto Register was inaugurated in 1958 and went independent during 1965, when current President Frank Tiedeman left the board of the 750 MC.
The regulations for Monoposto are astonishingly simple, though the RAC general competition edicts must also be taken into account when registering the Monoposto lists of items on which there are "no restrictions". The theme behind the club's existence is not dissimilar to the moral tone of the 750 MC, "thou shalt have clean racing with strong bias toward the impecunious and ingenious amateur". Originally this meant a fair number of tatty cars which looked a little out of place when the era of semi-professional sponsored teams arrived in what had been British club racing.
As with the 750 MC people there has been considerable heartache and argument over the definition and admission of sponsorship for the cars. The Mono Championship series is sponsored itself by Varley Batteries. Monoposto politics, if anything, are rather more volatile than one would expect with a collection of strong characters striving to provide racing and principles simultaneously! None of this seems to affect the cars and drivers unduly, and there has been a definite improvement in turnout in terms of full grids with some very well prepared machinery. That this has been so despite the fact that Alan Baillie has won the last three annual club championship titles shows the usual human desire to knock those on top back to earth!
Of an eleven car selection from the top runners last year, I found that eight had been home-built-or in this test case, based around a prototype and virtually re-engineered over the years-and only three were proprietary chassis. Within these ranks you can find the front-engined Anco, the rear-engined tubular and monocoque cars of the "Do-it-yourself-with-the-help-of-some-friends-and-relatives" school and just about every design feature. Front radiators, side radiators, rising rate suspensions, the whole thing emphasises what sort of challenge to designers can exist outside the magic Formula One circle.
Having acquired a chassis along the lines outlined earlier, our would-be Monoposto man finds that he can use any pushrod engine up to 1,600 c.c. This effectively means that the majority are the faithful Ford 1600 from the FF category, but with the kind of comprehensive modifications that allow 160-plus horsepower to be extracted from within; i.e. a Clubmans A class engine does very nicely, though one could add fuel injection if a reliable advantage could be found this way. So far injection has not proved itself and our test car was typical in using a double Weber twin-choke carburated 1.6-litre Ford. In this case it was purchased from the most successful Clubmans A driver of last year, Nick Adams, and that did mean a really nice Davron-based unit. Overhead camshafts and superchargers are specifically banned. The only successfully proved combination outside the Ford units seems to be the David Coombs Manta, with an alloy Renault 16 engine, a very important part of this very light tubular chassis design.
Having secured an engine our potential competitor, especially if he is from another formula with the usual proliferation of regulations, must be quite startled for he finds no laws to govern him in respect of bodywork, wheels, tyres, suspension, brakes, and even weight, for there is no minimum or rnaximum set! This really does make a refreshing change and even the electrical equipment requirements do not include the need for a starter: there is no penalty applied for push starts, so we spent a day in "our" typical car getting fit pushing . . . especially with the rather eventful day enjoyed by all. No, I did not spin but Mr. Anonymous took a huge slide from Maggotts to Becketts, the Genie just missing the barrier on the way. Then we had a flattening battery and the car stopped, but the Genie was in fine spirit for a last wet fling, in what was my second session of the day around Silverstone GP layout.
Before we look at the Genie Mk. 13 tested here, it is worth pointing out that the 1977 Monoposto Championship should be the most open one toot long time. Those who ruled the roust for so long, including triple champion Baillie, Trevor Scarrat and possibly David Coombs too, are said to be retiring. Thus leaving newer men like Peter Gillett an unpredictable field to conquer, especially as engines from Toyota and Chrysler are also expected. I must admit to being puzzled as to which decent Toyota engine one can use, without s.o.h.c., but obviously somebody in Monoposto has worked it out.
We can reflect how one's natural image of the clubman can be wrong these days when talking to 24-year-old Peter Gillett. He is a professional Public Relations man, which is quite a common employment in racing these days (well if they cannot chat a client into assistance, presumably they should not be doing the job!) Gillett has graduated from to successful Karting spell, including 74-75 as a member of the British team. In fact he was one of those brave souls who raced 250 karts around car circuits such as Brands Hatch, an occupation for the outstandingly courageous. In fact it must be rather like being a passenger in a racing sidecar with a far more effective power/weight ratio and a steering wheel!
Gillett brought the car' from an amiable engineering genius simply known as "Woody" Harris, the proprietor of ADA Engineering in London M12. Mr. "Woody" had bought the car over with him from America with a view to trying his luck in Formula Three in 1973. The basic car, by which I mean the unique glassfibre tub—which extends back past the engine at the rear and is reinforced with polyeurethane—and much of the suspension and hubs date back to 1968. Then a West Coast American by the name of Jo Huffaker manufactured the car with a view to putting it into production. At that time his affinities were toward BMC, but the car has always raced either the Ford twin-cam, BDA, or 1600 pushrod engine.
In fact Harris raced it with distinct success until he came to Europe, showing up the potential that has made the car so effective over such a comparatively long life. The car arrived in Europe ready for a season of F3, but without enough money it took until 1974, and a rather ropey F/Atlantic engine deal to put the Genie back on the track. Then it was a disaster, but Harris did rnanage to show, in 1975, how the car could go by appearing in four Monoposto events, winning three and setting a similar number of lap records.
Not surprisingly Peter Gillett, who had kidded himself into a kind of retirement, snapped up the car and raced it last year. However, there was a surprise in store, for it went out and won his first ever race. In all the car did 10 events last year, won two and finished third three times as well. As Gillett says, "When we won that first race I was over the moon, but you can only be a hero for a few days in British events. The win was on Good Friday and we'd blown the engine by Easter Monday!" Easter 1977 was more profitable with a Lydden win and a second overall at Silverstone: the next Championship round is at Thruxton on May 8th.
Describing the car to me Gillett and Harris added the engine information that an r.p.m.limiter was built in at 8,400 r.p.m. and that the safe time between rebuilds—carried out by former Davron partner Dave Morgan of Aston Martin—was an anticipated 500 miles. Power outputs of slightly over 170 b.h.p. are talked of in the formula, but using 8,000 r.p.m. as a maximum to try and ensure safe operation between rebuilds probably means that even the terrifically smooth Genie's engine installed for this season is yielding more like 165 b.h.p. in practice.
The gearbox is a reasonably straightforward Hewland Mk. 5 with for forward gears. However, the side plates were Huffaker-manufactured and the limited slip differential is a hybrid of homemade and proprietary parts.
One interesting transmission snippet is the construction of the drive shafts in Vascomax steel with a 3,000 p.s.i. tensile strength, roughly twice that of conventional chromemoly steels. When the Harris-Gillett partnership began to use this material they found that the universal joints were breaking up very quickly. Working on the basis that, should the UJs be strengthened up the next link in the transmission chain of events would only begin to break as well, the team machined approximately 1/8 in. from the driveshaft diameter, introducing some element of whippiness, and since then there have been no problems.
The Genie is a startling 780-790 lb. all-up, startling because the car looks a lot bulkier. This Genie is actually considerably lighter than a F3 with the same b.h.p., due to a large degree of magnesium construction, and that unusual monocoque. Apart from the uprights, even the foot pedals are constructed in magnesium.
Magnesium and the like are excluded from the 360 degree roll-cage hoop. In steel, this hoop also picks up the lower arms of a fairly unconventional suspension system. Normally one expects the leading parallel links to align in the top plan view as well, but—as I hope you can see from the photographs—this is not the case on the Genie. Part of the development for the anticipated F3 season moved the bottom arm to have a slightly shorter ruts than the top the lower link picks up on quite an intricate wide-based lower wishbone, which features a pattern like that of a kinked triangle with a bracing bar diagonally across. The unconventional thinking continues at the front: again there is the normal combined coil spring shock absorber units, the dampers by Armstrong, but the lower arm has a leading link into its wide based, square tube wishbone assembly, while the top has trailing arm arrangement, Both front and rear have anti-roll bars, set at 3/4 in. tubular at the front and 1/2 in. solid tube at the rear.
There is a spare rnonocoque with the water pipes from the front radiator to rear engine mounted within, but the suspension changes on the car tested here have moved the water pipes outside. The bodywork consists of an abbreviated Genie top body section, a March nose and a Scheckter/McLaren F2 wing. Harris commented, "We did try running one of the old high level wings in the States and you would not believe the difference to this current device. The high wing acted directly on the suspension, and in clean air, so you could get a fast car in straight line coupled to this incredible downforce... my one broke, just like those hot shot F1 guys did, but I was lucky it was on the straight at low speed in the wet. Let me tell you it still made one helluva difference though!"
Initially we went out on Goodyear G53 slicks, the 1975 F3 specification covers on 8 in. and 10 in. wide rims by Revolution. When conditions got worse a very effective mixture of Dunlop front and Firestone rears combined, to a hybrid wheel mix of to F1 Speedline fronts gave me complete confidence on all but the worst of Silverstone's puddles.
A couple of other unique features that impressed me were the Airheart discs with twin piston calipers, anti the ADA corner weight checking device. The latter reduces this pernickety chore to a rather simpler operation than checking tyre pressures. In fact we lent it to one of March's F3 people in the afternoon and it rapidly disappeared, to the sound of paddock chuckles, for instant tests. The ADA "corner-checker" appeared to have passed the instant exams by the end of the day, for you can also check spring rates with the same lever and upright principle.
What was it like to drive? Well the power, coupled into a light chassis, should produce a result very similar w that of the Morrison Super Vee I tcsted a few months ago. In fact the two cars have been locked together in a race-long dice at Thruxton when Harris was driving in a Libre event some seasons ago, but it feels very much quicker on an initial acquaintance.
The heart of the matter is that superb engine, which balances the kind of torque you would expect from a decently modified, dry sump, production engine with a very respectable poke in the back between 6,500 and 80000 r.p.m. Because the engine is mounted in the back it feels even better than the accelerative device I once enjoyed in Barry Foley's A class Clubmans car, smoothly delivering more than enough urge for our miserably wet or greasy sessions. Because it was such a cold day getting up any oil temperature at all was a bit of a problem, but the water staggered above 50 degrees with plenty of blanking in place: oil pressure remained unfalteringly at 80 lb. sq. in. whenever you pressed the accelerator seriously.
The gearchange was very good, but the lever is awkwardly mounted, rather too closely to the driver on the r.h. side, so you occasion ally miss fourth to third of the conventional 2 4 1 3 5 gate. I have forgotten if there was even a reverse gear installed. The lack of a starter and the wet conditions made me agree with the team that I probably didn't need to know where reverse was: if I had spun, they would come and retrieve it!
The brakes were most unusual. In pouring rain conditions, when I could view the track behind a visor of moving droplets, and enjoy pointing the car into Silverstone's deserted corners, I never locked the wheels. Now this was not for want of trying. Time and time again I would come into the slowest part of the track at Becketts, mentally reserve a grass and tarmac run-off area, and very nearly stand on the centre pedal. Al first I thought the pads had glazed, and even now I am obviously not sure how good they would be in sheer stopping power whilst racing other cars. They did slowly warm up to the point where they just became a pleasure to use.
Traction out of the faster corners was not in the same class as braking, but still good enough for a newcomer to be happy enough squirting the tail briefly out of line. Very occasionally the cold rubber would lose grip completely on faster corners. This occurred on what should be the flat-out Abbey left-hander, but the car responded so very fast to correction that you twitch rather than go off, until you are motoring very fast indeed.
The cockpit was designed to hold the lanky Gillett and I had to recourse to pillows to find any semblance of driving position. Besides an inevitable full stretch arm ache, I found the car exceptionally comfortable. You could crouch slightly behind the screen to avoid the worst of the puddle soakings, but I was generally surprised at how warm and happy I was in the atrocious conditions. Mind you, the occasional 80 m.p.h. twitch, oops, slide, twitch, foot back down routine kept my circulation up to scratch in this case.
Although it was wet the final drive gearing installed allowed an ego-boosting 8,000 r.p.m. to be achieved in fifth very easily indeed; about halfvvay up the Hangar straight and just before the pre-chicane bridge for example. I am told this r.p.m. represents about 130 m.p.h. Normal times recorded by this Genie in "Woody's" hands include a 58.8 sec. Silverstone club circuit record, and what they describe as a very slow "1.11s on old B33 Firestones" for the current Snetterton layout.
I thoroughly enjoyed driving the car in the atrocious conditions, and I think that tells you a lot about the Genie Mk. 13. How a man on the West Coast of America came to contribute such a fine basic idea for a novice at a wet Silverstone is something I hope this article has helped explain. Those who wish to know more about the Club can write to Tony Parsfield, "Tonjea", Hilltop Manor, Wrotham Hill, Wrotham, Kent, DA2 8BH. Current membership numbers about 100 at an annual £5 for competition members, £2 less for supporters.—J.W.