With Formula Junior regaining popularity, now’s the time to invest in one of Colin Chapman’s creations. Which type will you go for?
By Richard Heseltine
It always was a catchy title. Fifty years young, Formula Junior is undergoing something of a renaissance, an under-the-radar second – or possibly third – coming with packed grids attracting newbies and old hands alike to entry-level historic single-seater racing. Predictably, as with all rebirths, price hikes have followed as demand outstrips supply. And to be at the sharp end of the mid-engined class, being armed with a Lotus 20 or 22 is as good a place to start as any.
“They’re just brilliant little cars,” says Lotus dealer, competitor and former Ian Walker Racing mechanic Paul Matty. “To me the 20 is the epitome of 1960s racing cars – the cigar tube look, almost a mini Formula 1 car – before all the wedges and aerodynamics came into it. All the bits are available off the shelf, too, and I do the engine on my own car [campaigned by wife June] at home. Of course, there are always going to be people who throw money at Juniors in an effort to win, but you can have a lot of fun and save a lot doing your own preparation and the 20s and 22s are a doddle to work on. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in Juniors.”
Quite an endorsement, then, and fortunately there are quite a few to go around if you can afford one. Like Cooper and Brabham, Lotus effectively bested those Italian Johnnies at their own game and established the production racing car industry as a British institution.
It had found huge success with the 18 ‘biscuit tin’ during 1960 and the profitability of this multi-purpose design – there were FJ, F2 and F1 versions – undoubtedly saved the marque at a time when its road car arm was bleeding red ink thanks to the brilliant but complex Elite. For the 1961 season, talismanic leader Colin Chapman moved things forward, the Type 20 taking over the Junior role, further reducing the dimensions of the not altogether elephantine 18 into something which was even sleeker and more contemporaneous.
Built along similar lines to the 18, the new strain comprised mostly of one-inch diameter tubing but with a wider track and shorter wheelbase (86in from 90in). In a typically Chapman-esque bit of lateral thinking, two of the longitudinal frame members carried engine coolant to and from the front-sited radiator, thus saving further space. Twin unequal-length wishbones and coil spring/damper units suspended the front end with an anti-roll bar mounted behind the upper wishbone. Out back, unsplined axle shafts formed part of the upper half of what, in essence, was a wide double wishbone arrangement. Proprietary parts abounded, the Triumph Herald supplying uprights and brakes, the front assemblies being used all round.
Powering the 20 was a 997cc OHV four-banger from the Ford Anglia 105E. Cosworth Engineering had eked out sizable power hikes thanks to trick cams, twin Weber carbs and the like, with works Lotus entries developing a reliable 85bhp. This was subsequently substituted for a sleeved down 1.1-litre version of the closely related 1340cc Ford 109E unit. Transmission was a choice of either inverted Renault or Volkswagen/Hewland ’boxes with four closely spaced ratios. And clothing the ensemble was a beautifully proportioned glassfibre body crafted by regular Lotus contractor Williams & Pritchard.
Unveiled at the 1961 Racing Car Show at Olympia, the 20 predictably enjoyed a stellar season, with factory drivers Trevor Taylor and Peter Arundell divvying up the spoils. The former took eight wins, the latter seven including the Prix Monaco Junior race. Swiss former motorcycle racer Jo Siffert also won seven times for Ecurie Romande en route to his GP career.
Though not a multi-discipline product in the spirit of its forerunner, the 20 did spawn two derivatives. The 20B was built specifically for stateside Formula B and Libre events, and featured all-round disc brakes and 1498cc Ford power. A more unusual spin-off was the Simulator, comprising leftover components. These were near-complete cars minus engine and transmission placed in front of a movie screen with speakers mounted behind the ‘driver’s’ head. As many as 25 were made, one famously appearing in The Avengers episode Dead Man’s Treasure, where Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) was forced to steer her way – anticlockwise – around a circuit to avoid being electrocuted. She did just that, cheated death and thwarted evil industrialist, er, Arthur Lowe (it was the ’60s…). Hurrah.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Lotus continued its policy of updating models on a yearly basis, the Type 22 externally resembling its predecessor. The most obvious outer alteration was the lower rear bodywork, the driver being markedly more reclined in a bid to reduce the frontal area. Beneath the skin, the spaceframe was also much stiffer thanks to thicker gauge tubing and a double-skinned bulkhead. As Chapman said – perhaps optimistically – to Motor Racing’s track tester Jack Fairman: “An over-exuberant type can give the Goodwood chicane a hearty clout with this one and still carry on motor racing.”
While the front end remained largely the same as before, the rear end now did away with using the driveshafts as the upper location member for the suspension, while 13in wheels were specified all round (rears had been 15in items on the 20). Canting the latest Cosworth-Ford motor over to a 30-degree angle resulted in the less lofty outline.
Introduced at the 1962 Racing Car Show, Lotus Components’ new baby cost a cool £1500 complete, making it among the costlier Formula Juniors of the day (and £100 more expensive than the 20). Nonetheless, it was an immediate hit with privateers, with Team Lotus driver Arundell more than proving the design. That year he scored a remarkable 18 wins from 25 starts, including another in the Monaco GP support race. Such was his steamrollering pace that his successes predictably led to cries of cheating – and one of the more celebrated incidents in Lotus lore.
After crashing at the Nürburgring, works driver Alan Rees was quoted by a German journalist as saying that Team Lotus was using 1450cc engines (a relatively easy trick performed by substituting a Ford Consul crankshaft). Legend has it that he made his remarks while heavily medicated. It’s something that Rees continues to deny to this day, claiming that a locally entered 22, believed to have been driven by Kurt Ahrens, had pulled away from him with such ease that he commented to his mechanic – and not German hacks – that this privateer car was possibly using an oversized engine. Former Porsche Le Mans regular and freelancer scribbler Richard von Frankenberg’s story enraged Chapman, whose solicitors suggested claiming damages. Instead, ‘Chunky’ and the aristocratic German settled on a wager of £1000 that Arundell’s race time at Monza could be repeated. The engine would then be stripped, examined and measured.
Early one morning that December, and ignoring ice at the Lesmo curves, Arundell completed 30 laps, almost a minute inside his original race time. The Ilford-born flier also upped his lap record by half a second. The engine was subsequently declared legal at 1092.34cc and von Frankenberg was forced to apologise and hand over a cheque. Chapman’s day was made even sweeter when a smitten local bought the car on the spot…
Though Formula Junior was soon swept away by F3, interest in these single-seaters has never really ebbed. Since the mid-70s they have been strongly rooted in the historic scene, but it’s been largely due to the efforts of Duncan Rabagliati and the Formula Junior Historic Racing Association that the movement has flourished. With 20 and 22s eligible for regional series across the globe and the pan-European FIA Lurani Trophy, along with several blue chip stand-alone meetings, interest in these cars remains high. Around 188 20s are believed to have been made, along with a further 77 of the 22 model.
Renowned marque expert and 20 owner Peter Denty says: “If I’m absolutely honest, the Brabham BT6 is better made and easier to set up, but the 20 and 22s are relatively plentiful and competitive. Both are very good cars, although the 22 is stronger thanks to more tubes: oil and water goes through them, just like in the 23 sports-racer. In the early days of Formula Juniors as a historic movement, a lot of 20s were converted to 22-spec. You’re now seeing them bought back to how they were as the 20 fits perfectly into the drum-brake class as proven by Paul Davis, who’s been a prolific winner.”
While in excess of £35,000 for a halfway decent car isn’t exactly cheap, it’s the most affordable method of getting your bum into anything that’ll be accepted at Monaco or Goodwood. What’s more, it’s not as though you’ll lose money on a historic Lotus as long as you stay shiny side up. They may be as dissimilar as chalk and different coloured chalk, but both models sit neatly in separate categories and offer grown-up the chance to pretend they’re Jim Clark. Which couldn’t be more perfect.
"I raced one"
Though better known for his role in creating March Engineering, and later Arrows, Rees was once a Formula Junior star. The Newport-born ace started racing in 1959 aboard a Lotus 11, but found real success on graduating to a self-run 20 in 1961
“It was a great formula at a time when you could still go racing and make an impression without spending a fortune, unlike now. The 20 was a very good car, pretty straightforward, and though I was a privateer I got a lot of assistance from Team Lotus. I never had any trouble with the 20. It was a proper little racer and helped me make a name for myself, I suppose. I did very well in 1961, but I didn’t see out the season as I had a big crash at Crystal Palace. I was concussed and to this day I don’t know what happened.
“I joined the factory team for the following year alongside Peter Arundell and Bob Anderson [the latter winning at Montlhéry that season and placing second behind Arundell at Monaco]. Lotus was top class in everything it did and, apart from my crash at the Nürburgring, it was a very enjoyable year.
“The 22 was that bit stronger but both cars were nice to drive. I preferred Juniors to F3s, which were slower. I’m not sure I’d want to race one now, but it would be fun to test a 20 or 22 again.”
One to buy
Lotus 20 – 60,000 Euros
From: George Bruggenthies (001) 920 892 6836
Raced by the current owner for the past 30 years, this is one of the most successful Formula Juniors active in the US. A double Monoposto Grand Champion, it comes with a fresh 1068cc Richardson-Ford engine and five-speed Hewland ’box. As with many 20s, it features later 22-style rear suspension and has covered zero miles since a recent nut and bolt rebuild by Ken Baurle. The vendor is also throwing in a number of useful spares including body moulds. He points out that the car has won titles with a driver who is 6ft 2in and weighs 240lb, so one size fits all…
Others to consider
Development of BT2 run in FJ’s final year, 1963. Twenty were made and they’re coveted.
First of Surbiton’s FJs, as driven by Surtees in his first ever car race and Hulme on the Continent.
Pretty FJ by Graham Warner’s equipe. Quick in period, ‘A’ edition having lighter body.
Tony Thompson Racing 01664 812454 www.tonythompsonracing.co.uk
Paul Matty Sportscars 01527 835656 www.paulmattysportscars.co.uk
Lee Chapman Racing 001 860 354 4479 www.leechapmanracing.com
Peter Denty Racing 01953 498529
Simon Hadfield 01509 506054