Continental notes, October 1966

JUST outside the royal park in which the Monza track is situated is a residential area of large Victorian-type mansions, and one of these was taken over some years ago by Signor Dei for his Scuderia Centro-Sud racing school and club. It is also used by numerous organisations for social functions, and the gardens on a hot summer evening are an ideal setting for an informal cocktail party. During the time of the recent Italian G.P. both the Dunlop Tyre Company and the Goodyear Tyre Company used the gardens of the Centro-Sud club for friendly gatherings, to which racing drivers old and new came, as well as the trade and industry, the journalistic and photographic world and a lot of hangers-on.

On the Saturday evening after the last practice there was yet another visit to the Centro-Sud, but this time in company with a very small and select group and it was at the invitation of Alessandro de Tomaso and Colin Chapman. The purpose of this visit was to see a new engine built by de Tomaso in collaboration with Lotus, and Lotus technical people and drivers were also present. The engine is an all-aluminium pushrod o.h.v. 5 1/2-litre V8, with Tecalemit fuel-injection, designed to run at 7,000 r.p.m. or more and give around 500 b.h p. Known as the Type 868, the aim behind the project is to produce a light American-type V8 engine and this one was based on the 351 cu. in. Ford V8 engine. While introducing the engine and explaining the Lotus-de Tomaso collaboration Colin Chapman would not say what the destination of the engine was, except that it would he in a car behind Jim Clark. As Group 7 sports/racing two-seaters are a dying race in the world of international racing, one can only assume that Lotus are getting interested in long-distance Group 6 (Prototype) racing next year, such as Sebring Le Mans, Nurburgring, etc.

The following week while I was in Modena I took the opportunity of calling on Alessandro de Tomaso at his little workshops on the outskirts of the town, and was able to see this new 5 1/2-litre V8 engine in its component form, and learn a bit more about its history. Last year Carroll Shelby commissioned numerous engine-design offices to do experimental work on the 4.7-litre Ford V8 engine, using Ford money, and one of these was de Tomaso. It was not a question of production design work, but purely research and development, and de Tomaso made some aluminium cylinder heads for the 4.7-litre Ford engine, which had revised porting and valves and used down-draught Weber carburetters straight on to the ports, without the need for complicated manifolding. This engine was on show at Monza in 1965 in the exhibition of racing and sports cars organised by the A.C.I. and it took the notice of Lotus engineers who were soon in contact with de Tomaso. They had been thinking about improving the 5.1-litre Ford V8 engine that they had been using in the Lotus 40 works car and weight-reduction of the basic American unit was uppermost in their minds, as well as improved breathing, better cooling, stronger bottom-end and all the usual things that designers tackle when they start developing a production engine.

It would seem that caking and machining aluminium in Italy is no problem at all, whereas British firms either can’t or won’t, and if they do they make a bog-up of it, so Lotus got together with de Tomaso to design and build a prototype all-aluminium V8 engine based on de Tomaso’s 4.7-litre and the knowledge Lotus had of the Ford 5.1-litre, and the Type 868 engine of 5 1/2-litres is the outcome of this collaboration. The dimensions are 107.44 mm. x 76 mm.-5,512 c.c. in 90-degree see formation with pushrod-operated overhead valves. The cylinder-head faces are completely flat and the combustion chamber is in the top of the piston. Although the design is based on the Ford V8 the only Ford parts used are the front timing-case cover and the water pump.

This Lotus-de Tomaso joint effort could well lead to other things, but equally the engine could well blow to pieces when it is put on full power, but whatever happens it indicates that Lotus are not standing still and we can expect something interesting in the near future.

The village of Zeltweg is almost geographically in the centre of Austria, so that no matter from which direction you approach, it affords an interesting and fascinating motoring trip. The circuit itself is dull and uninteresting, being laid out on an airfield, but no one appreciates this more than the Austrians who are in the unfortunate position of having no alternative if they want to organise an Austrian Grand Prix. The people in the Austrian Automobile Club and the local dub at Zeltweg could not be more enthusiastic about motor racing, but like Great Britain the government will not allow the closing of roads for motor racing, or even for rallies during the summer months, for fear of upsetting the tourist trade. In 1963 the Austrians organised a Formula One race on the Zeltweg airfield, won incidentally by Jack Brabham, and the following year the F.I.A. let them hold an Austrian Grand Prix as a round in the World Championship series. Unfortunately a lot of the Grand Prix cars fell to bits on the rough concrete surface of the Zeltweg airfield, but the organisation of the event was good and everyone enjoyed the enthusiastic atmosphere of the race. The general opinion was that it was a great shame that the Austrians had not got a good permanent circuit, or that they could not use the public reads, for they had everything else needed to run a proper Grand Prix event of Championship status. This feeling was international, and was voiced by people from Italy, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden and England.

I am very happy to be able to say that the opinions expressed in 1964 were listened to in the right quarters and the Austrian Government has now given the O.A.M.T.C. financial practical support so that they can go ahead with plans for a permanent racing circuit. While at the recent Zeltweg 500-kilometre race I had the opportunity of looking at the plans and visiting the site of this proposed circuit. The Zeltweg airfield is on a plateau in the middle of the mountains and on the north side there are fir-clad foothills leading up to the mountains. The circuit is planned in these foothills, following the natural contours of the land and will be 6 kilometres in length (3 3/4 miles and will be a miniature Nurburgring, with blind brows, steep descents, a long undulating straight and with natural banks for spectators. It is probable that the circuit will be used. anti-clockwise, which will not only make a change for drivers, but will provide an interesting climb up to the top straight, through some hairpins, and a very fast winding descent at the other end. The site is two or three miles off the main road, at present served by small lanes, but the Government has agreed to build new access roads and the three small towns of Knittelfeld, Zeltweg and Judenhurg will still be the main centres of accommodation. If all goes well, construction will begin next year, and it should be ready for racing in 1968. The Austrians are well aware of the pitfalls in having a permanent circuit and realise how easy it is to become over-enthusiastic and tc, use a circuit too much so that everyone becomes stale; they plan to hold only three meetings in 1968 or 1969, depending when the construction work is finished.

When the Austrian Grand Prix was held in 1964 and Zeltweg was “invaded by the circus” there were a great many people who really enjoyed the motoring trip to get there, and were very sorry when the race was not on their calendar for 1965. If all goes according to plan they will soon be able to enjoy another motoring trip to the centre of Austria. Of course, there were the “dismal jimmies” who moaned about the motoring difficulties, and some of them were actually parading as motoring journalists! Perhaps by 1968 or 1969 they will have returned to whatever they were doing before they “discovered” motor racing, and then everyone will enjoy the trip to Zeltweg.

A year or two ago a small but active business grew up in this country, having been prompted by American activity, in the building of two-seater cars for racing using American V8 engines. The idea began in America with such things as Cooper-Monaco and Lotus 19 being bought with 4 cylinder Climax engines, and replacing thein with a big iron V8 engine, such as a Ford or Chevrolet. There were no races on the International calendar for these “Specials.” but the B.R.S.C.C. arranged a Brands Hatch meeting and last year other organisers had races for these cars. In International F.I.A. they had no real place, for the racing sports car had been replaced by the G.T. Prototype and the home-brewed special could not compete in any of the classic long-distance races. The Sebring organisers accepted them and let them run with the Championship Prototypes and the Chaparral ran away with the 12-hour race, even though it did not conform to regulations. The outcome was opposition from the recognised Prototype GT Manufacturers, such as Ferrari and Porsche, and interest from British special builders,

The American clubs organised a lot of races for these non-regulation racing/sports cars and McLaren, Lotus and Lola soon got into this market, building V8 engined two-seater cars, using all their chassis knowledge gained in Grand Prix racing. With the beginning of the new Grand Prix Formula in 1966 the F.I.A., drew op a new set of regulations for all types of racing, under the appendix J and this sorted out racing activity into neat and sensible groups, from standard saloons to Grand Prix cars. Interest in the Anglo-American “bastards” was lukewarm in Europe and it was persuasion by English and American interests that Caused the F.I.A. to make an Appendix J category for them; this was originally “Group 9-two-seater racers,” but later this was changed to Group 7, so that they became the logical step after Group 6 Prototype cars and the single-seater Formula cars.

During this season the interest for Group 7 has been virtually nil in Europe, and only England and America have had races for these “two-seater racers.” This is not surprising as there has not been any interest in building such cars in Germany, Friince or Italy (apart from iine car from de Tomaso). In England the activity has been Centred around Lola and McLaren, with Lotus and Brabham making half-hearted attempts, and such races as have been held were made up mostly of private-owners. The cost of buying these cars and operating them had been nearly as much as Grand Prix racing and starting-money demands were causing organisers to think in financial terms on the scale of Formula One. Equally the Trade that finances professional racing, such as the petrol and oil people, eleetrics, brakes, tyres and so on. were finding themselves spending more money than the results justified. Back in the summer everyone got together and it was generally, though not unanimously, agreed that Group 7 was a bit of a blind alley that was leading nowhere, and costing a lot of money. In addition a lot of this money was being spent on the development of American engines and it was felt that it would be preferable for it to be spent on British engines in other branches of racing. Race organisers agreed with the Trade that Group 7 was costing more than it was worth so no one showed much interest in organising races for Group 7 in 1967. As far as the rest of Europe was concerned Group 7 hardly existed. This withdrawal of support caused many people to say that Group 7 had been banned. This was not true and if twenty-five wealthy amateurs with Lolas or McLarens care to buy all their racing requirements, do without financial retainers, and compete without starting money, then I am sure the B.R.S.C.C. would organise a race for them.

Personally I could never get very enthusiastic about Group 7 “two-seater racers” specially as they were two-seaters only in name and regulations; and there was as much effort going into their design and building as into a Grand Prix car. I would much rather have seen all that effort producing 5 1/2-litre 6-cylinder single-seater open-wheel racing cars. Group 6 Prototype cars make sense as they are presumably the prototypes of cars that will become homologated Group 4 sports cars, as exemplified by the Ford GT40, Carrera Six, Ferrari LM and Abarth. There were no signs that the Lola 70, Lotus 40 or McLaren-Elva were ever going to become Group 6 Prototypes, so I felt that they might just as well be open-wheel single-seaters-. If any of the specialbuilders were interested in Group 6 Prototype cars then there was nothing to stop them complying with the regulations. Group 7, with its scant regulations, seemed a sideways step away from the Prototype, Sports car, GT car line of thought.

When the announcement was made of the withdrawal of support there were those who said that this country would lose vast sums of money due to the loss of exports, assuming that no racing in this country would mean the cessation of building of Group 7 cars. This struck me as an exaggerated case, for the small amount of Group 7 racing this season cannot have done much towards the development of the cars, and all the circuits are available for testing these “export-Specials.” Bearing in mind that all the engines are bought from America, the carburetters from Italy and most of the gearboxes from Germany, I feel that the export losses were a hit exaggerated.

I like to think that “racing improves the breed” and that F.I.A.-classified racing has some rational line of thought behind it. Drive a Lotus Elan, a GTA Alfa Romeo, an E-type Jaguar, or a Ferrari and you will see how a firm’s racing knowledge can eventually filter through into production cars. Today you can drive a production E-type Jaguar or a 330GT Ferrari down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans nearly as fast as the factory racing cars of ten or twelve years ago, and in ten years’ time there is no reason why you should not drive a production Ford GT 7-litre nearly as fast as this year’s factory ears. All this sort of racing and development makes sense to me, but Group 7 just did not fit in anywhere. It was born in America and it looks like it’s going to be sent back there.-D. S. J.