Chaparral in Europe

Anyone who was at Brands Hatch for the B.O.A.C. 500 race at the end of July must have been impressed with the sight and performance of the Chaparral 2F driven to victory by Phil Hill and Mike Spence. It was not only a victory against strong opposition from Ferrari, Porsche, Mirage and Lola, but was also a fine victory against the Brands Hatch Circuit, for a lot of people thought the car would be quite unsuitable for the tight little Kentish circuit with all its twists and turns and no reasonable straights. The entry of this lone Chaparral in the B.O.A.C.-sponsored race was typical of the enthusiasm and outlook of Jim Hall and Hap Sharp, the two men behind the designing and building of the car. The Chaparral team came to Europe at the beginning of the season to take part in European motor racing, and this meant they were prepared to race anywhere Ferrari was prepared to go, unlike Ford who came to Europe for the sole purpose of winning at Le Mans, and would not be drawn into any other European races. All this season the Chaparral people have been saying “We came to Europe to race, we’ll have a go at anything, whether it is suitable or not.” They like racing, and like everyone in racing they also like to win, but this season they have had a pretty bad time, always being strong contenders but never finishing, let alone winning, so it was all the more enjoyable for those of us who have followed the Chaparral activities this season, to see them finish the B.O.A.C. 500 race and to win it after a great battle against Ferrari and Porsche.

Until this year Chaparral kept most of their activities to American racing of the Group 7 two-seater racing-car category, but made a brief trip to Europe last year with a single coupé car to Group 6 Sports-Prototype specification. It was very much in the form of a “feeler” for a full season of activity in Europe in 1967. It was a very successful “feeler” for they won the 1,000-kilometre race at Nurburgring, with Phil Hill and Bonnier as drivers, and went well at Le Mans until electrical trouble due to “cockpit trouble” put them out. Bonnier never did learn the intricacies of the Chaparral switching gear and starting technique! During the autumn Canadian-American Group 7 series of races, Chaparral campaigned a pair of open two-seater cars with an adjustable aerofoil mounted high above the rear wheels. By reason of the air-flow across it exerting a downward pressure on the rear wheels, added adhesion was gained for cornering, while along the straights it could be “feathered” to a neutral setting, but at the same time it controlled the straight-line stability of the car, there being no need for “spoilers” or “trim-tabs” or any other aids to stability.

At the beginning of this season one of the open 2E cars was rebuilt into a coupé version to Group 6 specifications, still carrying the aerofoil “wing” and known as the 2F model. It was finished in time for the Daytona 24-hour race but the “wing” was fixed in the thrust position and Phil Hill and Spence led all the Fords and Ferraris for three hours, when Hill overdid things on a corner and bent the car. At Sebring for the 12-hour race the 2F, now with adjustable “wing,” driven by Spence and Jim Hall, led the race at times between the third and fifth hours, until the oil seal on the front of the gearbox failed, letting all the oil out. Spence had a private test-day at Sebring learning to make full use of the adjustable wing, which was operated by a foot pedal.

In April the Chaparral team had completed the transformation of the second car to 2F specifications and the two cars were brought to Europe, being based in a workshop in Frankfurt, ready to start a full season of European racing. The choice of Frankfurt was two-fold; it was a good central point for going to races in France, Belgium, Germany and Italy, and the Chaparral mechanics are mostly of German origin, some having moved to America a long time ago, others quite recently, so that they were all pretty much at home in Frankfurt, a small point which adds greatly to team morale when a long way from base. The major objective was naturally the Le Mans 24-hour race, for which two entries had been made, and as only two Chaparral 2F cars existed it was decided to run a single car in all the events leading up to Le Mans, ringing the changes on the two cars. The second car, 2F 002, was taken to Monza for the 1,000-kilometre race and Spence had a terrific battle with two works P4 Ferraris, and really made the race for the Italians, but it did not last long for a drive-shaft joint began to break up and the car had to be withdrawn before Phil Hill could have a go. Less than a week later the other car, 2F 001, was racing at Spa in another 1,000-kilometre race, again driven by Hill and Spence, and in practice Hill set up an all-time fastest lap for the Francorchamps circuit, at 146 m.p.h., and was much faster than the works P4 Ferrari and the semi-works Ford “Mirage.” The race was run in appalling weather conditions of rain and mist, and Jim Hall instructed his two drivers to take it easy, and suggested that they did not use the adjustable air-spoiler “wing” on the wet roads, as they had never driven with it in the wet so had no idea of the effects on handling of reducing the downward pressure on the rear wheels on wet roads. This meant that the car had a “drag” handicap of some 12 to 15 m.p.h., so that Spence could do no better than run in fourth place in the opening stages, dropping later to fifth place. At the first refuelling stop Hill took over but the big Chevrolet engine refused to start, due to battery trouble, and a lot of time was wasted before it was got going, so that it was right out of the running. However, they kept going and when the weather improved Spence started to “trim” the “wing” and very soon set up fastest lap, but then the transmission started to spew out oil and their run came to an end.

A fortnight later the same car, 2F 001, was taken to Sicily for the Targa Florio, this time with Phil Hill and Hap Sharp driving, for Spence was occupied with B.R.M. This trip was very much “a bit of fun” and both drivers had to be very careful not to bounce the car off a rock, for Le Mans was approaching and they only had the two cars. The sight of the Chaparral with its “wing” high above its tail motoring through the Sicilian mountains was something well worth seeing, while the sound of that 7-litre Chevrolet engine on full song along the coast road was wonderful. Phil Hill was very funny about the Sicilians, for he knew them from his days with Ferrari. The average Sicilian lives a pretty rugged life, wary of officialdom and the unnatural, and has an instinct that makes him jump first and ask questions afterwards, which is why spectators seldom get bowled over in the Targa Florio. At the slightest thing that is not normal or expected the average Sicilian retreats very smartly, and then turns to find out what it was all about. In contrast the peoples of the Northern climes have a tendency to stand and stare with their mouths open, and get knocked over. When the Chaparral first appeared in Sicily it was at once surrounded by a great crowd of onlookers. Hill was sitting inside the car at the time, so he pressed the pedal that moves the “wing” hydraulically. It sits in a normal attitude at a few degrees down from the horizontal and pedal pressure causes it to rotate into a level position, so by pumping on the pedal the “wing” flapped up and down quite rapidly. At its very first movement the crowd fled, and did not return until the flapping stopped. The excitement when they returned was unbelievable, and they pressed even closer, some not really believing that it had moved and others still a bit fearful lest it should do it again. Every time a new crowd gathered Hill made the “wing” flap, and every time they fled as one man!

Driving the Targa Florio circuit very carefully, Hill and Sharp had the Chaparral in fourth position near the end of the ninth of ten laps, when Sharp got a puncture in a rear tyre and had to give up. The Chaparral was not designed for this sort of racing so was only carrying a front wheel and tyre as a spare to comply with regulations, and as this would not fit on the rear the “fun” was over. This was a pity, for it would have been quite an achievement to have finished the Targa Florio with a car that seemed most unsuitable for the mountain going. Transport of the Chaparrals was being effected by a Chevrolet pick-up truck towing a box trailer, the car fitting snugly into the trailer once the “wing” and its mounting struts had been removed. Rumour had it that this was where Jim Hall got his light-alloy Chevrolet engines, for everyone knows that Chevrolet engines are made of cast-iron. He buys a lot of pick-up trucks for his business and one day found that one of them had a light-alloy engine in it! One of the impressive things about the Chaparral operation was that it was all done very quietly and without an entourage of executives and publicity boys, just Jim Hall, his wife, Hap Sharp, the two drivers and four mechanics, yet this lone car was capable of challenging the world’s best in sports/prototype long-distance racing.

Another two weeks went by and then 2F 002 appeared at the Nurburgring for the 1,000-kilometre race, scene of their 1966 victory. In case anyone had forgotten, someone had painted on the wall of the pit that Chaparral used in 1966 the slogan “Chaparral were here.” With Le Mans very close now Ferrari did not enter the Nurburgring race, and there was no great opposition, except a horde of Porsches and the Nurburgring itself. Spence easily made fastest lap, being nearly eight seconds faster than the next car. In these long-distance races the two drivers tossed a coin to see who would take the start, and it proved to be Hill’s turn. After a slow getaway due to spending time fixing his seat harness, in deference to “the gaffer’s” wishes, Hill charged through the vast array of cars ahead of him in a most impressive manner and by the beginning of the ninth lap took the lead from the last of the Porsches that had got away ahead of him. However, at the end of the 10th lap, just as his pit crew were going to signal him in for refuelling, Hill heard a nasty grinding noise in the gearbox and came into the pits unexpectedly. Although Spence set out to do another lap their race was run. The noise that Hill had heard became a horrid mangling noise that everyone could hear and Spence retired the car.

At long last Le Mans arrived, dominated by a vast entry of 7-litre Ford factory cars, fresh and ready to tackle just this one motor race. The two Chaparrals were overhauled and prepared for the event, Hill and Spence having 2F 002 fitted with a brand new and improved all-aluminium 7-litre Chevrolet V8, while 2F 001 with their regular type of alloy Chevrolet engine was entrusted to Bruce Jennings and Bob Johnson, two steady American drivers who had driven for Jim Hall in American races. 2F 002 was well in the running during Saturday, getting up to third place by 10 p.m., but shortly after this the hydraulics operating the “wing” went wrong and as the centre of pressure is ahead of the pivot axis the wind blows the “wing” into the downward or maximum pressure, maximum drag position, and this robbed the car of as much as 15 m.p.h. down the Mulsanne straight, as well as holding it back on high-speed acceleration out of bends. During practice I was able to observe the operation and use of the “wing” on the section between Arnage corner and White House bends. This section of the Le Mans circuit comprises a fairly long straight from the sharp Arnage corner, a flat-out left curve, followed by a flat-out right swerve up a rise and then a double right curve over the brow of a hill before the descent to the beginning of the White House ess-bend. The Chaparral took Arnage corner with the “wing” in the downward position, and as soon as the corner was finished the driver gave full throttle for maximum acceleration and at the same time pushed the “wing” pedal with his left foot, keeping the pedal held down, so that as he came towards me he had both feet pressed firmly on the pedals. This condition remained round the left swerve and into the right swerve and up the rise, and then he took his left foot off the “wing” pedal, but kept the throttle right down. The effect was that the inclination of the aerofoil acted as an air-brake just sufficient to knock off speed for the double right-hand swerve, and at the same time provided a greatly increased downward thrust on the rear tyres, aiding cornering power at the crucial moment. As the Chaparral disappeared over the brow the engine note did not drop, it merely got “harder” as the big Chevrolet engine worked against the increased drag. Hill and Spence were doing this to perfection, but the other Chaparral drivers were not experienced enough to make this needle-sharp use of the adjustable aerofoil. Other cars, driven by top class drivers, were easing the throttle at the same point as Hill and Spence were lifting up on the “wing” pedal, while the more timorous ones were actually putting the brakes on at this point. During practice it was the Hill/Spence Chaparral that was setting the pace on fastest lap times, and it was not until near the end of practice that one of the works Fords beat it. Watching at Mulsanne corner it was very audible that Johnson and Jennings in 2F 002 were staying in the High ratio and letting the torque-converter deal with the differential between speed and r.p.m., whereas Hill and Spence were obviously using the gearbox ratios as well as the characteristics of the torque-converter; the Chaparral being happy either way.

In the race 2F 002 was driven steadily by the two American drivers in the High ratio but was not competitive and was retired by 11 p.m. with starter and battery trouble. Hill and Spence kept going until just after 5 a.m. on Sunday, when the oil seal on the gearbox input shaft, between the hydraulic torque-converter and the gearbox, failed. The mechanics set to work and removed the gearbox, which meant dismantling the whole of the back of the car, bodywork, suspension, and chassis members. The torque-converter was taken off the shaft, a new oil seal pressed in and the whole lot put back again, and while they were at it they repaired the hydraulic operation of the “wing.” After working for nearly three hours the mechanics had the car running again and it went back into the race in full working order and started lapping as fast as anyone in the race. After running for just over an hour the gearbox broke up and the car was forced out, the loss of oil earlier having obviously started some damage inside the gearbox. This was a great disappointment to the team for they really wanted to finish at Le Mans, no matter in what position.

After this, 2F 002 was sent back to Texas to be prepared for the forthcoming Can-Am races, while 2F 001 was overhauled in Frankfurt and fitted with a normal alloy Chevrolet engine, boxed up and sent to England in preparation for the B.O.A.C. race at Brands Hatch. Its performance on the tricky little Kentish circuit is too recent to mention here, and is described in the race report elsewhere in this issue. Suffice to say that it was a thoroughly deserved and fitting end to a very full European season. The visits by Jim Hall and his Chaparral team have been most welcome and everyone in European racing must hope that they return.

I was all set for Mike Spence to take me round Brands Hatch for a few laps in the passenger seat of Chaparral 2F 001, and demonstrate the driving technique of this very advanced car from Texas, but Grovewood officialdom and their “niggling neighbours” who complain about the noise at one minute past 5 p.m. on weekdays, prevented this. A pity, for I am sure it would have been instructive. Having a torque-converter there is no clutch, so naturally no clutch pedal, and the gearbox, which has three speed ranges, coupled with the spread of the torque-converter, is controlled by a short lever in an open gate on the right of the driving seat. Putting the lever in Low and the left foot on the brake pedal, the engine is started against the drive, the hydraulic torque-converter slipping until the brakes are released and the engine revs speeded up, or you can take off in High. After a pit stop the getaway was almost instantaneous, the car gathering speed as the engine fired, and accelerating away from very low r.p.m. rather like a steam engine. Once motoring the left foot is used to operate the “wing” and the right foot on the throttle or brake, or if required the left foot can be used on the foot brake and the power kept on with the right foot. The “wing” was being feathered along the pits straight, left alone round Paddock, Druids and along the bottom straight, feathered again after the bridge at South Bank, and again along the Portobello straight; in the braking position through Dingle Dell and Stirling’s Bend, and feathered on the rush down to Clearways.

The visit to Europe by Chaparral in 1967 has been an interesting one, bringing new scenes to the racing, and if those people who used to paint slogans on walls reading “Yanks Go Home” want something to do, they can get the paint pot out and write “Texans Come Back.” D. S. J.