Best foot forward – a backward step

Gazing at a Porsche 908/3 recently reminded me of just how far Porsche’s engineering team under the uncompromising direction of Ferdinand Piech were prepared to go in paring weight and package size to the absolute bone. In this case the bones involved were largely metatarsals – the feet, ankles and shins of the works team’s intrepid drivers, for the foot pedals were outrigged well ahead of the front axle line. Brian Redman, for one, was not unduly thrilled by the prospect of arriving “…first at the accident”.

The 908/3 certainly set pretty high standards for ‘forward control’ in a competition car, but there were numerous other examples of driver exposure which would be absolutely unacceptable today – not least the Porsche 956 Group C cars of 1983-84, and so many more from other manufacturers. ‘The Lola Limp’ became a painful legacy of front-end impacts through Huntingdon’s Formula 5000 and Indycar history, but then I happened across a photograph of really high-speed exposure for the truly intrepid; 400mph forward control in John Cobb’s awesomely successful Railton-Mobil Special Land Speed Record car of 1947.

Dean Moberg was then a 15-year-old from Salt Lake City who won the local soap box derby “by getting his bug up to 43mph”. His prize was a day with John Cobb and local Mormon Meteor record-breaker Ab Jenkins at the Railton service base at nearby Wendover on Bonneville Salt Flats. The photo shows him in Cobb’s seat, resting his plates on the pedals, a good two or three feet ahead of the front tyres’ leading edges. At least at Bonneville there were no brick walls to hit!