Enthusiasm and Enjoyment: A Clubmans Formula

Cheerful comradeship, front-engined racing cars bearing a squashed resemblance to the inspiration of Chapman’s Lotus Seven, and some remarkable lap times from cars and drivers who have deliberately side-stepped much of modern racing’s pressures, simply for the fun of competing and constructing their individualistic machinery. These are the impressions left after coming into contact with Clubmans racing, a separate RAC-recognised British racing Formula. Currently the class is as popular as ever, with a rather confusing four National Championships that competitors can aim for, and some very smartly prepared machinery, as I hope you can see from our colour pictures.

We were exceptionally fortunate in that we were able to try two cars that represent what Clubmans is about. Alex Ferrada’s sparkling white U2 Mk. 16 represents the Class B Formula Ford-engined contenders very well, and also pays tribute to the work of Arthur Mallock’s small constructor’s business at Roade in Northamptonshire, from which site many Clubmans cars emerge in one form or another. Barry Foley’s St. Bruno Roughcutter represents superbly the ingenious hard labour needed to make your own car, and effectively demonstrates what a good Class A (modified 1,600 c.c. British production engines) car does.

Clubmans Formula was announced in the winter of 1962 and the first cars, including the independent rear suspension Lotus Seven, were on display at the first Racing Car Show in January 1963. The need for Clubmans grew out of the increasing sophistication and speed of sports/racing cars like the Cooper Monaco and Lotus 23, which were simply outpacing the best that conventional front-engined Sevens, and those of that ilk, could manage.

The BRSCC inaugurated Clubmans on the very simple basis of catering for Lotus Sevens, Mallock U2s, or any other special resembling a Lotus Seven. As Barry Foley recalls it, “the Club judged the suitability of such specials by the constructor sending in a picture of his proud creation . . . if it looked like a Seven it was in!”

Obviously the Seven, by virtue of the numbers made and therefore available for cheap cannibalisation into racing cars, formed the backbone of the new formula, but it seems likely that the organisers had under-estimated the speed of the highly modified i.r.s. examples. Ironically the Clubmans cars swiftly found themselves banned from competing in events like the Guards Trophy, in case they beat those sophisticated sports/racers. When you recall that Derek Bell and Colin Chapman have both driven such Sevens, it’s hardly surprising that the sports/racers were worried about being beaten!

Arthur Mallock’s U2 Clubmans cars grew alongside the new formula, reaching the point where Arthur could adapt the same car for Formula Junior, Formula Two and Clubmans. I think the F2 outing came as a result of new tax laws which said, in effect, “if your car doesn’t comply with the regulations for an International Formula, then it’s a road car”. So Max Mosley (who else?) entered one of Mallock’s creations for a Formula Two event at Crystal Palace, thereby confirming what Mallock already knew . . . that he really did make racing cars.

Clubmans Formula progressed well until the late sixties, when the scruffiness of many cars, their cost when equipped with F3’s high-revving engines, and the fact that John Webb wanted to launch Formula F100 sports cars, made the category’s future look at best grimly restricted, and at worst, terminal.

It hurts to be generous about publishing rivals but it must be said in fairness that it was Simon Taylor, now on the board at Haymarket Press, who took the initiative to put Clubmans back on the road to health. He phoned every competitor he could get hold of, invited them to a meeting with the BARC and BRSCC in London, and set out at that meeting the idea that there should be a Championship for Clubmans cars. Foley recalls, “the clubs were embarrassed at putting in £50 each and felt they couldn’t name the series after themselves, so it was named in honour of Gregor Grant”. By 1970 the series had been taken over by Shell as Webb had been impressed with the resurgence of Clubmans machinery, especially their presentation. Since then support has grown to the point where there is now a Lec Championship (succeeding Shell and likely to be for the more powerful A Class cars only next year); a National Organs series (likely to be restricted to the ever-growing band of FF-powered Class Bs) and two other Championships, one sponsored by Tricentrol and the other by Pole Position — which is a shop, not a contest based on quick practice times, as this reporter felt it ought to be.

Rules today are very simple, which helps a lot when it comes to scrutineering arguments. All the cars must be front-engined, and that is defined by saying that the distance from the centre of the rear differential, forward to the rearmost plug aperture, must not be less than 36 in. The cockpit cannot be narrower than 32 in. and aerodynamic aids are governed only by FIA guidelines which, says Foley, “means we have the easiest regulations on wings of all formulae, in respect of size etc. In fact this is one area where all the competitors are really working hard for an advantage at present”.

Both engine and gearbox must be derived from British production sources. The power unit must be of less than 1,600 c.c. and feature push-rod operation. The Class B cars must have engines built according to Formula Ford regulations, which allows around 100 b.h.p. The A cars have modified motors (again from Ford in all competitive cases) which, with all steel internals, twin Weber carburetters and all the rest of the best witchcraft, will give around 165-170 b.h.p., and that is exciting in less than 8 cwt.

Gearboxes must be four-speed units. In practice 99% of competitors use either the Lotus Cortina Mk. I or Ford Competition Bullitt box, normally mated up to a standard Escort Mexico clutch. The cars are not restricted to live rear axles, but they are again derived from UK production sources. In practice the rear end will usually carry lightweight casings, as will the gearbox, but operate on production ratios, without the benefit of limited slip equipment, which is banned in the same way that fuel injection is for the power units.

The separate mudguards give the cars a distinctly old-fashioned look, but the regulations only demand their use at the front, while the rears can be faired-in, like those on the Ferrada U2. No control is exercised over water radiator locations, and this is an area where quite a lot of work is going on at present. There are cars with complete side radiator location, but the examples we tested had a front cooler (Foley) and one large rear radiator on the Ferrada car.

While the tyre war seems to have been temporarily resolved on the F1 front, the ramifications echo down through the British club racing world. Goodyears are considered essential wear for a competitive Clubmans car, but the problem is that the successive introduction of softer compounds — often stemming from the 1,600 c.c. F/Atlantic Class — has pushed the asking price for a set of four suitable covers well above the £200 mark. On the FF-engined machines you can just get a full competitive season on one set of such rubberwear, but the more powerful A-category cars consume at least two sets a season.

Ferrada has F3 slicks of spongy G53 compound resting on Revolution wheels of 8 and 8 1/2 in. rim widths, while Foley has harder G50 compound covers on 8 in. front rims and 10 in. rears, the wheels of the Lotus 47 knock-off variety. Ferrada commented a little sadly that a projected deal with a tyre manufacturer for next year — along the lines currently operating for many British-based formulae, including F5000 — seemed to have fallen through for Clubmans. This is a pity as it involves everyone in great expense merely to get back to square one.

This is the second occasion that we have found Snetterton bathed in sunshine, and ideally suited for our purposes as there is very little traffic even on the public test day that we participated in. The track was in ideal, short circuit configuration with the latest, and now hopefully final, solution to the S-bend configuration before the Coram bridge.

The U2, driven by 27-year-old Mallock Development Engineer Ferrada, was our first taste of a formula that the writer has always been prejudiced toward accepting as a true representation of all that is best in British National racing. Perhaps the 750 and 1200 cars represent the impecunious Clubman better — for Ferrada’s completed car would cost £2,500 and Foley’s at least £1,000 more, if he hadn’t done so much of the work himself — but Clubmans does provide real speed. This teaches some very valuable lessons, and keeps the experienced happy to compete past their 50th birthdays, beating the youngsters on occasion.

The Mk. 16 is the latest in a long line of U2s, distinguished from the previous 14 by the rear radiator, 1 1/2 lower bonnet line and detail suspension geometry improvements. The important heart to a U2 is the space frame tubular steel chassis of 3/4 and 1/2 in. (18 gauge, round and square tubing) at £200. Alternatively a complete car, without what Ferrada refers to as “the expensive bits” (engine, gearbox, wheels, tyres), is sold at £1,695. Most U2 customers tend to buy a secondhand model and gradually add the parts to become more competitive. The car that Ferrada drives is partially owned by Brian Mitcham, a former competitor who has temporarily retired for family reasons, but wants to stay in touch with the formula, and this sort of partnership is quite common in Clubmans during the current economic situation. The car is sponsored additionally by ACE Plant, of Stony Stratford.

The Davron FF engine retails at £550, complete with clutch and carburetter, sans exhaust system. For that price you get a unit that gives 101 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. and which, for the impecunious, could do a complete season without overhaul: to get the best results it would be better to have one rebuild though. Exceptionally, Ferrada’s mount utilises a Wooler uprated Anglia 1200 gearbox, and this mates via the stubby propshaft, to an axle that is violently shortened on the nearside, its original ancestry tracing back to the Wolseley 1500. Double wishbone front suspension incorporates anti-dive characteristics, while the live rear axle is restrained beautifully by twin radius arms and a Panhard rod. Spax adjustable shock-absorbers are used front and rear, as are anti-roll bars. Front springs are rated at 230 lb., while the rear does its work at the comparatively soft rate of 85 lb.

Unusual features of this racing U2, which was so cleanly constructed by the driver and friends at the beginning of this, his fourth season in the formula, include standard road front disc pads and rear linings. Inside the squish comfort of the cockpit one finds another individualistic touch, there is a small alloy glove-box” to hold things like a cloth to wipe a visor.

The similarities to a road car don’t end there. The engine still has a strong imitation of road-going idle left, starting is prompt and uncomplicated, and the mirrors don’t vibrate in the usual useless fashion: very civilised. There’s clean power in fourth from 4,000 r.p.m., but it naturally pays to change at the recommended 6,300 r.p.m., trying not to abuse Ferrada’s hospitality and exceed the overall limit of 6,600 r.p.m. However, the car is so easy to use, especially once you have acclimatised to having your posterior mere inches above the rippling Norfolk tarmac (passing below at speeds of 110 m.p.h.) that we found top gear was returning closer to 7,000 r.p.m. The tyres relay any hint of skidding faithfully through the Triumph Herald-based steering rack, and the brakes are extremely good, though more prone to lock than the more sophisticated Foley system.

Altogether a brilliant car for novice or expert who wants to get out in the open air without the hustles of the aspiring Grand Prix participants in Formula Ford. First class handling really lets you try some amazing things on short acquaintance, and the complete equipe is a great credit to the category. Last year Ferrada won the B Class Championship, this season he is second overall in the Tricentral and third in the LEC series at presstime.

Foley’s is a very different machine. Ferrada summed it up, after he too had tried it and recorded a time 1 sec. quicker than the writer, “that’s a real racing car, with teeth, whereas mine is so much easier to drive”. Mechanic Ken Robinson (brother John was the constructor of the Tim Goss Lotus 7X and now works for Vels Parnelli F1 team) constructed it exactly around Foley’s dimensions. The result is very low, with a reclining seat position that makes an F1 look like an old Ford Pop.

The engine sticks out of the bodywork and is the handiwork of Norvic’s Norwich establishment. There’s little power until you get over 6,000 r.p.m. and you can use up to 9,000 revs, though we stuck to 8,400. Such a unit will cost between £1,300 and £1,450, which is expensive, but there’s a very real 168 b.h.p. to force the rear wheels out of line, even in third gear. A Bullitt gearbox is fitted, driving through a very short propshaft to the Lotus Elan-based differential, VW halfshafts, and a rear end very much in the mid-engine formula racing manner.

The complete car took about a year to construct, and has been racing quite successfully since 1973, reflecting an untold number of dedicated weekends and evenings for both Foley and Robinson. All the more remarkable an achievement, when it’s remembered that Foley is the Catchpole cartoonist for Autosport, and the other partner in the Stanbury-Foley promotions company. The space frame chassis is of 3/4 in. and 5/8 in. steel tubing, carrying L72 alloy panelling for the main bodywork. Ferrada’s machine carries a bit more glassfibre, especially for those double curvature applications like the nose, rear mudguards. It is also interesting to note that it takes the U2 professionals just 150 hours to build a car, a fact that causes dedicated constructors like the Robinson-Foley duo some envious anguish at the sociable evening lost in the cause of motorsport.

Advanced features included the tremendously efficient Safety Braker system. This anti-wheel lock device is coupled to really effective discs all round (the rears inboard) and progressive rate springing. Working in conjunction with Koni adjustable shock-absorbers, the St. Bruno car features a rate that stiffens from 130 lb. to 280 lb. at the front, and from 120 to 265 lb. for the back units.

The dual Webers were providing an expensive direct spray-bath when I drove the Foley machine, but that didn’t prevent me feeling the full meaning of 168 horses really trying to snatch the rear wheels away from the direction of travel as the throttle was cracked open. The car weighs 840 lb. and the acceleration to 100 m.p.h. is exceptionally exciting. I unfortunately couldn’t really get to grips with the handling because of the lay-back seating and heavy steering (the wheel is one inch smaller than on the U2). However, the slingshot acceleration in second gear out of the complex and Sears (where the U2 was in third, providing flexibility, but not this expensive excitement) proved that it is easy enough to catch tail-slides with never a hint of lifting-off.

Apart from the engine — which shot me round 2.2 sec. a lap quicker than the FF-powered car, despite not once driving it correctly — the outstanding feature was the brakes. Despite some oil on one of the inboard rears, the St. Bruno machine just stopped at the end of the main straight in the same distance as the slower (probably by 20 m.p.h.) machine tried earlier.

It was nice to talk to real enthusiasts who regard the sport as the important part of their weekends. For more details than we can give here write to the hardworking Clubmans Register secretary, Peter Evans, at 10 Gonnerston Avenue, St. Albans, Herts. — J.W.