To many people the idea of putting an American engine into a European chassis, to produce an acceptable hybrid sports car, is a recent innovation, but it has been going on for quite a time. I don’t know who was first to do this, it may have been Reid Railton in about 1935 when he used the straight-8 Hudson engine, and Sidney Allard was not far behind with his side-valve Ford V8 specials of the same era. Allard continued this trend in 1946-50 and went on to bigger things with Cadillac o.h.v. V8 engines, but all the time there was no great enthusiasm by other special builders, as the twin-cam Jaguar engine was available, and it was a better engine than a Cadillac or Chrysler of those days. The American engines were great iron affairs and they did not give anything very remarkable in the way of b.h.p., and you had to do all your own development and tuning, whereas with the Jaguar works competing in racing there was continual development work going on and improvements in power output were passed on to customers and special builders.
When Jaguar withdrew from racing the high-pressure development work on engines relaxed and cars like Cooper-Jaguar, Lister-Jaguar, Tojeiro-Jaguar and H.W.M.-Jaguar, quickly became obsolete as far as racing was concerned. This was also caused by the introduction of the 2.7-litre Coventry-Climax racing engine, which powered Cooper and Lotus sports cars, built on the latest trend of mid-engine layout, and even if Jaguar had gone on with the racing development of the XK series 6-cylinder engine, it would not have fitted into the modern conception of the sports/racing car. Obviously the 4-cylinder Coventry-Climax engine had a limited power output, and special builders looked for more power. In the United States the production V8 power unit had made enormous strides, since the days of Allard’s Cadillac engines, and this had been brought about by an active racing programme on the part of Ford and General Motors, thinly disguised under saloon car racing and other activities where a production power unit could be used.
Few people realise how extensive the research and development has to be where engines are concerned, and it is not until a big manufacturer gets down to the job, that any real strides are made. The small man can open out ports, enlarge valves, make better cranks and camshafts, but all this activity depends on having a basic unit to improve. It is the big manufacturer that provides the basic unit, so that when Ford and G.M. began serious racing, the big V8 engines became very interesting, and for sheer b.h.p. and compactness there was nothing available that could compete. The American racing enthusiasts soon removed the little 2.7-litre Climax engines from their Cooper-Monaco and Lotus-19 and with a little bending and straining they installed 4.7-litre Ford engines. The results were real home-made specials, but it soon encouraged chassis builders to provide a proper collection of tubes and suspensions, and a revival of the Anglo-American “bastard” sports car was well under way. Lotus weighed in with their Type 30, Bruce McLaren set up his own business and built the McLaren, later to form an association with Frank Nicholls and Elva, and Eric Broadley built the Lola 70. Reception of this new breed of mid-engined car with 400 b.h.p. American V8 power unit, was a bit mixed as far as race organisers were concerned in Europe, but in America and Canada, it was grasped firmly by organisers who needed something that was more attractive than the ” sports car gentlemen ” racing things like TR Triumphs and M.G.s. The continent of Europe, which is in effect the F.I.A., were not interested in these ” monsters ” with rather crude push-rod power units, for all the classic long-distance races were being run to Prototype GT formula and the “sports car” was long dead, even though it was still acknowledged on paper. The only interest for American engined sports cars was in England, which was not surprising really, as the three chassis builders were all in England. The R.A.C. and the B.R.S.C.C. gave encouragement for this type of racing vehicle, at Goodwood and Brands Hatch, as did the B.R.D.C. at Silverstone, but France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Holland ignored them completely. It was not that they did not like them, but it was difficult to see where to fit them in to the existing calendar.
This year the F.I.A. have had a big revision of the rules governing the classification of various types of cars competing in International racing, and they have been divided into three basic categories as from 1966. These are Production, Special and Racing, the first category being mass produced Group 1-4, the second being small production or one-off, Groups 5 and 6, and the third being pure racing cars. At first the Anglo-American specials were ignored and they did not fit into any of the proposed categories, for under Racing were Group 7 for Formula racing cars, i.e. to any existing Formula, and Group 8 for Formule Libre racing cars, i.e. any racing car not built to a specified Formula under Group 8. Recently the F.I.A., under great pressure from the R.A.C. and the American Federation, added Group 9, also under the Category C for Racing Cars, and this is for “2-seater racers.” This gives a pretty free hand to special builders and is seemingly an extension of Formule Libre, which just about sums up the present crop of specials.
If a manufacturer builds the engine, chassis, suspension, gearbox and other mechanical components he is justified in calling the result after himself, like Ferrari, but if he takes an engine from manufacturer (a) , a gearbox from manufacturer (b), and puts them in his own chassis then the result must be a ” special.” We have come to accept Lotus-Climax as a single entity, but this is wrong, and the withdrawal of Coventry-Climax from racing has left us with Lotus, and Lotus on its own will not do any racing; it needs the name of an engine manufacturer to tag on behind, to make it go. The new F.I.A. Group 9 would seem to be the happy hunting ground of the “super special builders.” some of whom are close to being considered manufacturers, but whichever way you look at it. Group 9 has solved everyone’s problems and race organisers can now go ahead with putting on races for these cars and the builders can continue with their plans, no doubt for bigger and better specials.
At the time of writing there are three makes of “2-seater racer available to the racing customer, these being Lotus 30, Lola 70 and McLaren-Elva. There are numerous other projects on the go but they are either one-off specials, or cars built for the works team only, and under the latter heading are the Chaparrals of Jim Hall, though presumably they will be for sale one day. The Lotus 30 uses a Ford V8 engine of 4.7-litres, the Lola 70 uses a Chevrolet V8 of 5.9 litres originally, but recent examples have been built using Ford V8 engines, and the McLaren-Elva has an Oldsmobile V8 engine normally, though Chevrolet or Ford can be installed. All these American production V8 engines are very similiar in manufacture as regards weight and size, so that it is no great problem for chassis designers to accommodate any of the current range of engines. Now that this form of racing vehicle has been officially accepted and catered for, there are likely to be many more races for them, and the American firms making the engines are going to get more interested in providing research and development on the power units, and more than likely on transmissions as well. Already the Chaparral has perfected an automatic 2-speed transmission, which is officially a General Motors experimental unit, or it is not, depending upon who you talk to or which American magazine you read. Lotus have recently introduced the Lotus 40, which is a development of the Lotus 30, the most notable change being the use of a 5.7-litre Ford V8 engine direct from Ford’s experimental department in America. Someone was heard to ask why Colin Chapman could get the latest racing Ford V8 engine, and the answer was simple. ” If you had won Indianapolis you would have got the new engine. Having another 100 b.h.p. in the back of the Lotus chassis, meant having a stronger gearbox/rear axle unit. So the standard 5-speed ZF gearbox of the Lotus 30, was replaced by the latest 4-speed Hewland gearbox. The extra weight and speed meant more powerful brakes, and Lotus developed their own ventilated discs, with 3-pad calipers, in conjunction with Girling, and these were naturally more powerful and heavier than those of the Type 30, so suspension units, wishbones and radius arms all had to be improved and so the car developed from the Type 30 into the Type 40. The Lotus uses a fabricated sheet steel backbone chassis, that forks at the rear of the cockpit, and in this fork is mounted the engine. Fabricated steel box-section structures at the front and rear carry the suspension, double wishbones at the front and double wishbones and lower radius rod at the rear with coil-spring/damper units. The Lotus 30 uses a 4.7-litre Ford V8 engine, while at the moment the 5.7-litre is exclusive to the Lotus 40, and both of unit use Tecalamit Jackson fuel injection. A further change on the Type 40 is the use of 15 in. wheels, against the 13 in. of the Type 30 this, like many other things, being brought about by the great increase in horsepower with the new 5.7-litre engine.
In direct contrast to the Lotus with its back-bone chassis frame, the Lola 70 uses a very wide “multicoque” or pontoon chassis frame of sheet steel and aluminium, the whole unit being between the centre lines of the front and rear axles. Suspension is almost identical to present day Grand Prix cars, with double wishbones and coil springs at the front, and a lower wishbone, pivoted to the chassis at its apex, a single transverse top link, double radius rods and coil spring/damper units. A Hewland gearbox is used whether the engine be a 5.9-litre Chevrolet unit or a 4.7-litre Ford V8. and the General Motors engine uses four horizontal double-choke Weber carburetters arranged on a cross-over manifold, while the Ford engine uses four downdraught double-choke Weber carburetters. Like the Lotus 30 and 40 the Lola has an all-enveloping fibre-glass body, though the heat generated by the big V8 engines calls for numerous cooling ducts and hot-air outlets in the otherwise smooth contours.
The third “2-seater racer” manufacturer is Bruce McLaren, whose team of designers and builders have produced a simpler and more conventional car. The McLaren-Elva has a tubular space frame, obviously inspired from Cooper and Brabham, and the suspension is orthodox Grand Prix. To start with a 4-litte Oldsmobile V8 engine was used, but later this developed to 4.5 litres, and the most recent car delivered to a customer, that of Dan Gurney, has a 4.7-litre Ford V8 engine, while the American Wintersteen has a Chevrolet unit in his car. At the recent Brands Hatch meeting there were six McLaren-Elvas taking part, and altogether this small group have built some 16 cars. A Hewland gearbox is used as standard, but McLaren’s own works car, and Gurney’s new car were both using ZF gearboxes at Brands Hatch, a reversal of the Lotus development. Creature comforts, such as seats, doors, windscreens, spare wheels, luggage compartments, and so on, all have to comply with certain minimal regulations and each manufacturer has his own ideas on such things. The McLaren has regulation doors which are hinged along the bottom edge with part of the wrap-round Perspex screen being attached to the top edge of the door. When mechanics are working on the car with the doors open, which is to say they are hanging down outwards, they are rather vulnerable, so on the latest McLaren the whole hinge is attached to the body by two quick-action aircraft fasteners, so instead of opening the doors; you merely detach them completely. Spare wheels are a problem, especially now that tyres are getting so enormous, and the McLaren normally carries it mounted flat above the driver’s feet, under the large low Perspex screen. McLaren himself found that it tended to restrict his vision, he not being very tall, so on his works car the wheel is mounted at the rear above the gearbox. This space is normally allocated for the regulation ” luggage compartment,” so a bulge has been built on to the car, under the tail, and this covers the regulation luggage compartment. On the Lola the spare wheel is buried deep in the nose, its covering forming a duct to deflect the hot air from the radiator upwards and over the windscreen. The Lotus spare wheel is also mounted low at the front with a radiator on each side, the cooling system being divided. Exhaust systems are another regulation that causes problems, and token silencers are fitted to all systems, though none are effective. The Lotus 40 has a pure Indianapolis system, developed from the original Coventry-Climax V8 cross-over system. All three makes of ” 2-seater racers ” use their own design of alloy wheels and at the moment the battle for tyres is very strong, Firestone, Goodyear and Dunlop all supplying enormously wide tread tyres for these cars. Sizes naturally vary with the make of car, but rear tyres of 7.00 x 13 in. or 7.00 x 15 in. are popular. The latest Firestone tyre is marked up at 12.00 x 15 in., which at first is confusing, for it does not mean a 12 in. depth, as does the 7.00 measurement on other makes, but refers to the caliper width across the wall of the tyre. The 12.00 x 15 in. is similar to a 7.00 x 15 in., but the important thing is that it has 9.20 in. of tread width, not 12 in. of tread as many people think.
Designing the basic car is no great problem, the headaches come when complying with regulations for the doors, windscreens, spare wheels, passenger seats and so on, which brings me to the final point in this article. If we are going to have 2-seater racers then why don’t we fill both seats during the races? For many years now the thinly disguised Grand Prix car has been masquerading as a sports car, with room for a passenger, and until 1957, when the Mille Miglia was abandoned, there was reason for this, as passenger or co-drivers could be carried. Since that date there had been no point in having a passenger seat, as it was never used, but nobody was brave enough to say “scrap the sports car idea, and have Formule Libre single seaters,” The F.I.A. tried to introduce an element of GT into the scene, with more stringent rules as regards cockpit space and seating, but the passenger seats were still unused. Now we have this new era of big sports cars; or ” 2-seater racers ” with us, and nobody has considered using the second seat. My contention is that if it is not going to be used then why not scrap it altogether, for I am sure that the designers of Lotus, McLaren and Lola would be much happier using all the same components to make single-seaters. Whenever the opportunity arises I take a ride in the passenger seats of any of these big sports cars, principally for the fun and enjoyment of being driven by Graham Hill, Jim Clark or Bruce McLaren, but also to see how practical it would be to have riding mechanics. Until 1957 this type of vehicle did carry a passenger, riding mechanic or co-driver, call him what you will, so there is no reason why we should not restart the idea. I know a great many people who would be only too happy to become professional passengers in events for ” 2-seater racers.” and if the point of all this racing is to “improve the breed” and develop cars for the customer, then surely the passenger side of the cockpit is just as important as the driver’s side. After riding with Graham Hill in a Ferrari 330P I asked him how he could stand the heat in the cockpit, and he said he had been complaining about it for a long time but no-one would believe him, so nothing got done about it. If the practice of carrying a second person was normal, someone might believe the drivers when they complain. Recently I had a run in the Lotus 40 and commented on the vibration front the front end under heavy braking, and Jim Clark was most pleased to have corroboration of what he had been saying earlier. The racing driver is a lonely fellow when he is racing, and it is absolutely impossible to appreciate what is going on out on the track until you have ridden with them. As a group the racing driver tends to exaggerate and complain, so quite ‘often his comments fall on deaf ears after a practice run, unless something is visibly wrong. Many of the people involved in designing and building racing machinery do go out with their drivers during private practice sessions, and Colin Chapman has even sat in the back of a Lotus-Cortina while driven by Jim Clark, but if it was regulation practice for ” 2-searer racers ” to carry two people, it would not only give twice as many people a lot of enjoyment, but would help development. It would also have another advantage in that it would be wonderful training ground for new drivers, for a few laps sitting beside Jim Clark would teach you more than a year’s racing on your own. If you drive round in a single-seater you may never find out that you are doing it all wrong, whereas a lap in the passenger seat with a first-rate driver would soon show you.
I am all for “2-seater racers” providing that both seats are used, but if they are not, then why not move down a group in the new F.I.A. code to Group 8, which is “Formule Libre racing cars.” If there were enough of them, organisers would soon promote events for them. There seem to be two types of onlooker where these cars are concerned, and after some laps round Brands Hatch in the passenger seat of the Lotus 40 there were those who said ” You must be mad,” but there were just as many who said ” Lucky blighter, I wish I could have a go.” As a final thought on this subject I offer a suggestion to organisers, who always want new stunts to attract the paying customers. Why not a return to long-distance sports-car racing, in which there are two drivers to each car, and they must both be in the car all the time. This would help designers enormously, because at the moment driver A will say the car oversteers, and driver B will say it understeers; if they went out together in the same car, they might realise that neither of them know what they are talking about. After all the Mille Miglia race was over 1,000 miles, and the co-driver had to be there all the time, as it was one long lap of 1,000 miles, he could not sleep in a caravan while his chum was working, he had to go along with him.
Before any old fogeys amongst our readers write in about ” danger, foolhardiness, public outcry etc.,” I will warn them that if we do get proper 2-seater racing, I might start advocating the carrying of pillion passengers in production-machine motorcycle racing, for I have a production “racer” motorcycle that is a pure single-seater, and this is all wrong.—D. S. J.