The Clubman's Formula
"A Poor Man in Search of Motor Sport" and "A Poor Man Goes Motor Racing" (MOTOR SPORT, October 1959 and March 1961 respectively) were the two articles which leapt to mind when an invitation came into the office from Charles Cook to attend a practice session with the Clubmans Register.
Although I had attended race meetings at which these clubman's cars had participated, or to be more precise, the Sports 1600 (class B) and 2-litre class A cars, they had never really interested me enough to watch them actually race. Ungainly, front-engined single-seaters, with mudguards over the wheels, they were neither one thing nor the other. With their engine layout, I could not relate them to any form of single-seater racing, nor could I see them as sports cars, even with the cycle wings. They bore no relation to anything seen on the public road, and so, in my eyes, they tended to be regarded as unusual hybrids, front-engined cars that had long ago gone out of fashion.
The main proponent, and indeed manufacturer, of these cars is one Arthur Mallock, a man still very much on the scene, and one who is continually working on the next model. It was his articles in MOTOR SPORT 30 years ago in which he set out his stall on behalf of the impecunious racer.
At that time, he had just left the army and was a fledgling constructor. Since his first race in 1947, through two unsuccessful years in Formula Three and periodically up to 1958, he had primarily used just one car, a supercharged, LMB-suspended Austin Seven Special, registered WJ 1515, which was mutilated and re-engined from season to season, but which was the car upon which he first offered to make replicas. "WJ 1515," stated his 1959 article, "was designed to use inexpensive and readily available components with the maximum of modifications, so that anyone wishing to take up 1172 Formula racing at low cost (about £200) with a proven design could do a lot worse than build a replica. The only difficult part is making the frame. Here the Mercury Stable comes to the rescue by offering replicas of the frame at a highly non-professional price, so that U2 can have a chassis like mine." Thus were the roots of the Mallock car, born out of the need for impecunious enthusiasts to go motor racing.
The Mallocks used in the present championship may have been constructed more recently, but there is an underlying trait in all of them which blares out "Mallock". The construction is strong and crude, the engineering basis well developed and any aerospace technology virtually absent. Today's Mallock could have been built in 1977, or indeed 1967.
There is a reassuring quality, though. about this lack of technology and the antique engineering theme, in the sense that if anything goes wrong, it can't be too expensive to rectify, while the longevity of the one hand on the tiller ensures that the cars are terribly well sorted as each succeeding model is a continuation of a theme. It is also reassuring for most competitors that Arthur and his son Richard are at hand at most meetings to sort out problems.
Sometimes wrong turnings are taken, which is why the Mark 22 is hardly seen in Clubman's racing, but in the Mark 18s, 20s and 20/21s there are some cars still competing today which have a history going back 13 years.
It is the propensity of Mallocks never dying which makes them such a popular clubman's car. They inundate hilIclimbs, and they are popular in trials as well. According to Arthur Mallock, there must be at least 190 currently competing, for according to his company's own records, they have logged that number which have needed their back axles straightened. The days have long gone, though, when Arthur Mallock was helped by Colin Chapman in setting up his cars, such as the time when the Lotus founder allowed his rival to trawl Lotus Engineering for high tolerance camshafts which Chapman himself had scrounged from the local Ford agents.
The Clubmans Register is responsible for two championships, one solely for Sports 1600s alone for cars fitted with engines which comply with Formula Ford 1600 regulations, and the other for the 1600s running alongside sealed 2-litre DOHC Astra engined cars as used in the Vauxhall-Lotus Challenge, the cars which have superseded the original class A restricted Ford engines which finally become ineligible at the end of next year.
The cars themselves are simple. The regulations demand that they be constructed from steel, aluminium or aluminium alloy, the steering wheel is in the centre and that cycle-type mudguards, separate from the bodywork, cover the front wheels. The engine, which must be mounted upright, and gearbox nestle in front of the driver between the front axle and the cockpit.
Four forward gears are the maximum allowed, quickly interchangeable ratios are outlawed and the box itself must be derived from a Ford, GM or Rover unit. Other regulated transmission items include the prohibition of limited slip and locked differentials, while Dunlop slicks are the dry weather control tyre. There is no restriction on wet weather rubber.
The only area in which the designer has a free hand is in the suspension set-up, choice of brakes and choice of wheels. Tough though the constraints are, it is done to keep the costs as low as possible while at the same time giving a free enough hand for the better prepared car to have the advantage.
If the regulations are aimed at keeping the costs down, do they succeed? Typical running costs include the £58 entry fee per race (£85 for a trade entry) £600 for a season's travel expenses, £100 for fuel and oil and £120 for replacement wheel bearings, rose joints etc. Annual expenditure would include £300 for a set of calipers, discs and pads, £340 for a set of Dunlop slicks and the same amount for a set of wets and £160 for a Mallock set-up. An engine re-build would cost £1500, but it would then last two seasons while other capital costs would include a set of secondhand wheels (£200), new nose cone and frame (£200), a Quaife gearbox (£650) and a set of differentials (£200 each). The price of the cars themselves vary according to age and model, but £6500 for a Mark 20 would seem to be the going rate which might also include a trailer. As can be seen, the annual running costs work out at around £2500 excluding the cost of the bi-annual engine build.
There is no question, though, that the cars themselves look strange, but what do they drive like? On a warm and sunny Silverstone day, the Clubman's Register had organised a number of cars to be tested. On the one hand was the "Mitchell", a car designed, built and raced by Ian Mitchell, while on the other was a well prepared Mallock Mark 20/21 owned and raced by Simon White.
It has to be said that this is motor racing at its most basic, but the alliance of slick tyres, light weight and tuned engine ensure that even the Sports 1600s are comparatively quick around the circuit, especially those where handling characteristics predominate.
All the cars were alike inasmuch that the stubby gear lever was located on the left of the cockpit, the engine revs were restricted to 6300 rpm and the view to the front was slightly restricted by the Pipercross air filter.
It took a little while at first to adjust to the cornering potential of each car. Despite the advice that Copse could be taken in fourth. I found myself dropping down to third in my first outing in Mitchell's car, and yet I could feel that it was nowhere near the limit. A second outing in a Mark 18 Mallock boosted my confidence a little more, so that by the time I tried the Mitchell again, I could quite happily take Copse in fourth.
But still my times were some seconds slower than similar cars on the track. It was the few laps in White's car, though, which brought home the pleasure of these cars. The machine itself was well set-up, no washers missing from suspension links as on another car, and it was free from vibration and weaving when braking hard. It also had an engine that was capable of being pushed a little further. Within a lap the car gave me enough information about its parameters: how far it could be driven through a corner, how late it could be braked into a corner and how far the engine could be stressed. Despite feeling comfortable in the car, I could never quite simply momentarily lift off for Copse in fourth, although I did reach the stage where I eased off rather than brake. For the rest of Silverstone's national circuit, it was third at Becketts, reach maximum permitted revs in fourth down the club straight before braking hard and taking Brooklands and the complex in third, and then up to fourth again at the clip point at Woodcote. It was really quite easy, although I could never break the 1 min 19 secs barrier which a couple of colleagues achieved. The car remained neutral all the way round, the tendency for understeer easily averted by lifting off, but being the short wheelbase car it is, it's the tail which actually whips out of line once the adhesion is lost. The cars are reportedly a handful in the wet.
The day had been an eye-opener since it illustrated that these funny, squat little cars were actually fun to play in, belying their simplistic and basic appearance.
An Ayrton Senna or an Alain Prost is unlikely to appear from its ranks, but it fulfills many an aspiration by simply being a low cost formula.
MOTOR SPORT would like to extend its thanks to the Clubman's Register and to Charles Cook, the organiser, and to those clubmen who turned up and allowed a stranger to drive their cars. Further information on Sports 1600s is available from Charles Cook on 071-242 2002 WPK