—a Gearbox for Every Racing Car
Monopoly is a word which is sometimes over-worked, and it often has pejorative overtones. Yet in the space of eight years, the name of Hewland Engineering Ltd. and the winged cog which is the Company’s trademark have become associated with literally every type of British racing car, from the humblest Formula Ford to the 3-litre Formula Ford which is Formula One. Mike Hewland, the man behind the Company, is now one of the most important men in racing: if he stopped designing racing gearboxes, there seems little doubt that the entire British racing car industry would grind to an instant halt.
Motor Sport recently visited Hewland in the crowded little factory at Maidenhead from which racing transmissions are despatched all over the world, from the British Isles to the USA, Australia and Japan. There are Howland agents in all those countries, and Jo Bonnier has taken over responsibility for the European market. Hewland doesn’t need to advertise his wares: a quick glance round the paddock at any race meeting where rear-engined racing cars can be found will show that his Company indeed monopolises the sport. But Hewland himself, a man who has been an engineer for over thirty years, says that he only dominates the market because he had forethought while others stumbled along with hardly a glance to the future. Hewland will shortly be expanding into additional premises close to the present small factory, and if the builders don’t finish their work by the beginning of the new season, there are going to be some very disappointed racing drivers.
Until the new premises are ready, the 92 Hewland employees work in a neat two-storey building under clinically clean conditions. They have to share the cramped space with some of the most expensive and specialised machines in the World. Hewland himself works in a pleasant carpeted office in front of a drawing board from which have flowed the thoughts and inspirations which help to make World Champions. He proved to be just as knowledgeable and authoritative as we expected and was more than ready to justify Hewland’s commanding position in the racing world.
Hewland is reputedly a cautious man although demand for his gearboxes has invariably far exceeded the available supply. Yet he claims not to have made a deliberate attempt to monopolise the racing gearbox market, although he foresaw that racing, as an expanding business, would require more and more specialists in the individual fields such as those which are currently dominated not only by his own firm, but by such others as Specialised Mouldings (suppliers of fibreglass bodywork to virtually every major car manufacturer), Racing Frames and Arch Motors (tubular chassis builders), and even Cosworth. Hewland’s company almost certainly has more machinery and equipment invested in racing than any other British racing firm except the Northampton engine experts. “Motor racing is becoming a light industry in its own right and is possibly going through the same formative process as the Motor Industry generally in that during its first years everybody had to make everything because it wasn’t easy to go outside. But as the industry and its technology advanced it became the old story of everybody knowing more and more about less and less.” Just as British Leyland and Ford buy their brakes and many outer proprietary items from outside suppliers, so the racing-car constructors go to Hewland for their gearboxes. “They simply couldn’t put the necessary research and time into it themselves”, says Hewland, “and anyway they’re better than they could make themselves.” The truth of this can be proved by the fact that Lotus and Cooper, both of which firms at one time designed and built their own gearboxes, ultimately found themselves on Hewland’s doorstep as customers. “Mr. Chapman had it demonstrated to him very clearly when Graham Hill was blown off by five Matras at a Reims F2 race, because he was persistently losing time on one corner through having the wrong ratio.” Lotus gearboxes at that time were being built by the German ZF company, which is best known for much bigger gearboxes than those to which Chapman remained faithful for so long. “If ZF concentrated solely on racing gearboxes, they could wipe the floor with us, because they’re so much bigger.”
Whether we like it or not, the day of the “kit car” builder is with us, and Hewland eloquently justifies this state of affairs. “Let’s say that if all the cars with Cosworth engines, Hewland gearboxes and Specialised Mouldings bodies all went at the same speed and all handled the same way, then the whole thing would have been a nonsense. But this simply isn’t so. The fact that people can take the same so-called ‘kit’ of parts and produce either a competitive car or a non-competitive car proves that individuality is not yet lost.”
So how does Hewland set about the task of drawing up a design for a new gearbox? “If it’s a 3-litre formula, for example Formula One, then we know that a high-performance 3-litre engine is going to produce about 80 ft. lb. of torque per litre, so you can safely assume that you’re going to get between 240 and 250 ft. lb. of torque, which is really of more interest to us than ultimate horsepower. The two things you want to know after that are the maximum revs, and the tyre size: when you know these things, you can start to design. A lot of these things are laid down for you—as in Formula Ford and Formula Three, where only four forward ratios are allowed—so you’re designing within a parameter.” In the two examples indicated, the current Hewland offering is the Mk. 8 VW-based design first in a Lola as the MK1 under the old Formula Junior regulations. Although it only utilises the actual VW casing and clutch arm, the Mk. 8 and its predecessors (some of which offered five or even six speeds for the appropriate forms of sports car and 1-litre F2 racing) are the mainstay both of Formula Ford “poor man’s” racing and Formula Three. An indication of the lengths to which Formula Ford is going can be gauged from the staggering figure of 900 FF/F3 gearboxes which will have been manufactured by the end of the year, and Hewland, unlike other pundits, thinks that Formula Ford is going to go even further, especially abroad.
While the Mk. 8 is the staple product (“it’s the bread and butter which enables us to afford other projects”), sales of the other gearboxes in the Hewland range go ahead steadily. The FT200 is a medium five-speed transmission which was first designed for use in Formula Two and on the Louts 47 Europa Sports/racing cars which used the Lotus-Ford twin-cam engine. It will accept engines of up to 2½-litres and is virtually standard wear in American Formula B racing. In the more powerful sports/racing cars, such as the several Cosworth FVA-powered Chevrons, there is a tendency for the enclosed rear bodywork to inhibit the flow of cooling air and a modification to include an oil-cooler in the rear of the car is in hand to keep the temperature between the 70° at which the oil viscosity is ideal and the 100° which is suggested as the highest permissible operating temperature.
The FT was the basis of the FG gearbox for Formula One at the beginning of 1968. The FT’s internals were mated to a heavier-duty DG crown-wheel and pinion and wrapped up in a new case. “It was and is the lightest Formula One gearbox ever used in F1 or which ever won a race”, recounts Hewland, “but at just about that time the first wing came out, increasing the pressure on the rear tyres, and the (capacity of) gearbox became marginal. We knew that this wasn’t possibly the ideal way to go, but it enabled us to produce a very lightweight transmission at a reasonable cost.”
Although Hewland is keen to use the FG again in Formula One, the current gearbox which is used most extensively in Grand Prix racing is the more robust DG300. Because it is the teams which use Cosworth-Ford DFV engines which are doing all the winning this year, this gearbox has won every Formula One race of 1969. It was also tried briefly by BRM before a Bourne-designed transmission was available and must surely have been cheaper than the BRM box, simply because the latter is produced in such small quantities.
Apart from the fast-spreading Formula Ford design, the most successful Hewland gearbox in the USA has been the LG family of super heavy-duty transmissions, which are seen not only on the big Chevrolet and Ford V8-powered Group 7 Can-Am cars, but also on USAC Indianapolis-type single-seater machines. “The Lola T70 was the first car to use the LG gearbox. At that time (1965), if you had 350 horsepower, then you had a lot.” It was at this stage that Hewland played a hunch which saved him a great deal of time because they went out on a limb with a new design. “I saw that there were these large American engines available and I thought that if they were available, then sooner or later they would be used. I said so at that time and everybody laughed and threw themselves about. In time they were not only using 7-litres, but also 8-litres as well”. The LG was designed to accommodate the “impossible” engines, and of course they are now commonplace in Can-Am. “That was a bit of crystal ball gazing”, says Hewland, although even he did not realise that tuning these engines would produce ‘peaky’ power outputs of over 600 horsepower and that the drivers would be yelling for five instead of the original four speeds. Tyre sizes have added to the strain by doubling over a period of four years, so the gearbox loadings have doubled and even trebled, and even the improved LG is getting marginal again. “I don’t know which way Can-Am is going: it’s becoming a double-millionaire’s sport, even more expensive than F1.”
A business like Hewland depends for its future existence on being able to come up with the right ratio at the right time and the question of expense takes on a decisive aspect. “Formula One is normally sponsored”, pleads Hewland, “—we’re not sponsored, we have to carry our own development costs. Nowadays it’s so expensive to go over to anything new—unless you can foresee reasonable sales for it—that the cost of the individual gearboxes becomes astronomic.”
With those considerations in mind, it was only sheer accident that brought Hewland into the world of Indianapolis-type racing. “There was difficulty changing the ratio of the ZF gearbox they were using, and I didn’t know anything about USAC racing at all until Eric Broadley of Lola came to me and said he simply had to have a two-speed gearbox for Indy-type cars would we do one?” Hewland declined, but Broadley was soon back with the widely-respected and influential US mechanic George Bignotti, and between them they twisted Hewland’s arm. “It was explained to me that when you’ve got a car which is in virtually one gear all the time, as on an Indy-type oval, getting the correct gear ratio for the day, the tyre size and the engine is so critical that they must run at (say) 9,000 r.p.m., not 8,900 or 9,100. We made a most peculiar range of gears with the most stupid, the most tiny, of steps and with a bit of luck won first time out.” The USAC Championship now runs on road courses as well as oval circuits, so the two-speed is virtually dead, but the LG in later four-speed form has won all but one Indianapolis races since that 1966 win by Graham Hill in the Red Ball Lola.
It seems inevitable that one day the World’s most sophisticated racing cars will have driven wheel at each corner. Hewland has already produced a 4-w-d system which proved itself by running well in two cars at Indianapolis this year, one of which ultimately took second place, but he is not optimistic about the chances of the teams which have tried 4-w-d Grand Prix cars this year, although all of them have used either components or essential parts made in his own factory. He is convinced that the front-positioning of the gearbox is entirely wrong: for one thing, ratios are exceptionally difficult to change and, for another, the transmission gets far too hot.
Although the American Grand Prix seems to have proved without much argument that drivers are having more difficulty than anticipated in adapting themselves to the handling characteristics of the new system, Hewland says that 4-w-d will have to come, but in a different form. He is working on a new system himself and is naturally reluctant to talk about it.
Automatics—Have They Found a Future in Racing?
When Jim Hall’s chaparrals followed up an all-conquering Can-Am season in 1966 with a successful foray into European-type sports-car racing, it seemed for a while as though the automatic transmission might offer some definite advantage in racing. But Chaparral’s extra-special Chevrolet engines offered far more power than any European engine of that era, camouflaging the hard fact that an automatic takes at least 10% of the available power. Hall’s competitors lost little time catching up on the missing power and he was quickly forced to mate the Corvair torque converter to a three-speed gearbox instead of the previous two to keep his advantage. “Hall is a brilliant designer”, says Hewland, “but there is no mystique about his cars.” Now everybody in Can-Am racing is level-pegging in terms of power that 10% handicap has proved critical.
The automatic transmission must not be written off in a racing application, but it seems that until a method of reducing the power loss has been found, the advantage to be gained by cutting out the fatigue and loss of time in changing gears will be outweighed.
A Hewland engine was at one time mooted, but the factory presently has more than enough work on hand producing gearboxes. Hewland was engaged on the design off a new type of driveshaft for use in Can-Am downwards when we visited will come as a relief to many teams, notably in Formula 5000, which have suffered drive-shaft failures during the current season. He will be busy with the year. “The first three months of the year are sheer insanity”, he says, but Hewland, as usual, will bring an element of order to the early-season rush of orders for gearboxes.
If he doesn’t, one thing is sure: there is nobody at present in his field who can take his place.—M.G.D.
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