If you were told that a car designer had built his own house, had used carefully stressed wood extensively in its construction, and had designed it to be aerodynamically sound, you would probably not need to see the title of this article to know that the individual in question is Frank Costin. Costin is the man who, in the Fifties, became synonymous with racing car aerodynamics and who subsequently became linked with the use of wood for car construction. The aerodynamic roof of his house, incidentally, like all Costin’s work, is entirely functional for the house is built on the south coast of Ireland where, from one direction, the wind can travel 8,000 miles across clear sea from South America and it is travelling at a fair lick when it hits County Cork.
If one takes the parallel of the house a stage further, it is also typical of his work in that it is designed for his own requirements, is perfectly functional, combines his twin skills of aerodynamicist and stress engineer, and is not intended for wide-scale reproduction. In commercial terms, Costin-designed cars have been disastrous for him, but in terms of pure engineering they have almost always been admirable.
Take the Marcos, when it first appeared it caused a ripple of surprise for here was a car, intended for both road and track, backed by two respected racing personalities (Jem MARsh and Frank COStin, hence Marcos) which was so unbelievably ugly that, had it a mother, she might have smothered it at birth and escaped serious criticism. Further, it was made of wood, not marine laminated ply; as is generally supposed, but standard plywood such as you and I might buy at the local hardware shop. True, it was smoothed up a little before going into production by the addition of a fibreglass nose, and it quickly established a reputation on the circuits, with Bill Moss winning nine consecutive 1,000 cc races in 1960, but the fact remains that it was so ugly that almost nobody save racing drivers would buy one.
There is an adage: “If it looks right, it is right.” Yet the Marcos was right, though didn’t look it. Frank says, “It depends who is doing the looking. If we find an aircraft flies better with three rudders and five tailplanes, that’s what we use. Style is only allowed to intrude into the cabin decoration area and the exterior paintwork — an aircraft sells on its performance curves.”
After 11 Marcoses had been built, Marsh and Costin had a falling out over marketing policy. Marsh wanted to restyle it to make it attractive to roadgoing customers but Costin wanted to keep the concept as it was because it was the right way to do things from a pure engineering viewpoint. Costin’s reaction was typical of the man. He lost interest, turned his back on the project and handed over the sole rights to Marsh.
Later, Dennis Adams, who had been with Costin at Lister and followed him to Wales to help build the early Marcoses, designed the lovely fibreglass body which has become the classic Marcos shape. Frank dismisses this car as “the heavyweight. They added 500 lbs and reduced its performance.”
“But Frank,” I remonstrated, “it sold cars, it has become a classic.” “But it wasn’t right from an engineering point of view,” he answered. Pressing the point further, I referred to the Costin Amigo which cost nearly as much as the V12 Jaguar E-Type in the early Seventies, but which was generally agreed to have a poor interior with such features as sliding perspex windows. True, it had outstanding performance, 0-60 mph in just 7.1 sec and a top speed of 127 mph (with a Hart-tuned Ford twin-cam engine it topped 147 mph and went to 60 in 5.5 sec) but only eight Amigos were built.
The car used a standard 2-litre Vauxhall engine at a time when Vauxhall were not perceived as having a sporting image, a decision made for engineering, not marketing reasons. The same reasoning dictated its wooden monocoque. He tried to make a pleasant interior but his heart was not in it because it was not an engineering exercise and, besides, he admits to having little sense of visual aesthetics. Given its price, and finish, it was not perceived by the potential market to be a serious car.
“My attitude,” he says, “is that the interior didn’t matter. The Amigo was better than a Porsche or Ferrari Dino on almost every score but only cost half as much. If someone was that fussed about the interior, he had £3,000 change from not buying a Ferrari to have his own done.”
The stories of the Marcos and Amigo have been touched upon at this point because they illustrate a great deal about the man. He is an engineer, arguably of genius, who has designed dozens of cars, as well as boats, aircraft, bobsleighs and the dipper arm for a JCB digger. His mind is so fertile that as soon as a project is completed from an engineering point of view, he is impatient to be starting the next project. This is one reason why the cars for which he has been entirely responsible have, in total, numbered only a few dozen. He completely lacks interest in production engineering and has precious little business acumen.
“It’s very interesting to set production up, and the best engineering is basically simple and lends itself to production, but who wants to keep turning a handle just for money? My religion is engineering but I’ve often dealt with people whose religion is money and there have been conflicts when each of us has been true to his own creed. In fact, my main problem seems to have been that although my charges have been stupidly low, I have mixed with people who have had just, but only just, enough cash for the project but my keenness to do the technology blinds me to the ‘cold hard look’.
“When the conflicts occur, I don’t shout or run to my solicitor, I simply lose interest and walk away. I might have been a commercial success if I’d worked in conjunction with someone like young Mike.” Mike Costin, Frank’s younger brother, is the COS of Cosworth and the man Keith Duckworth acknowledges as the reason for the company’s success due to his ability to realise, and make practical, Duckworth’s own ideas. “Young Mike has said of me, ‘Frank’s a brilliant engineer but a commercial catastrophe.”
As Frank tells the story against himself, he laughs. He is ebulliant, has a rich sense of humour and is completely lacking in “bull”. The time I spent with him was hugely enjoyable for he has a wide range of interests, though cars are not among them. “I regard a motor car as more or less a wheelbarrow to move things about in. It’s not real engineering, like aircraft. Motor racing is only the pop scene of engineering, there’s no need for it now. Thirty years ago, there was a need, to help progress cars from what they were to what they might be. There was so much progress and change in so short a time that it was exciting, and one of the most enjoyable periods of my life.” When you see the villainous wreck he uses for transport, you know he means every word.
When he says that his religion is engineering, he does not mean it literally, for he is a committed Christian and, at the time of my visit, was preparing to take a group of local unemployed youngsters through a course in practical engineering, to give them a taste of their own potential. He writes music, too. He is at once both a simple and a complicated man.
Before we look at his work in detail, there are other things to know. During our conversations, a long stream of accepted racing lore connected with his name, turned out to be false. For example, he did not design the body of the Vanwall in a wind tunnel. “I’ve used wind tunnels for aircraft, but everything on my cars has been done by calculation. I might have to use one, though, if somebody demonstrated he could make a car go faster than I can with the same weight and horsepower.” There are photographs of a Vanwall in a wind tunnel but this was in 1958, when Costin was no longer associated with the project.
Further, Costin did not design the bodies of either the Lotus Fifteen or Sixteen (mini-Vanwall) — which is a statement to rewrite a few books and articles. Both bodies in fact, came about by Chapman suggesting shapes to Charlie Williams and Len Pritchard and the firm of Williams and Pritchard completed the “design”.
Costin was born in 1920, the son of a soldier/explorer whom he adored and his future career was set eight years later when he was introduced to Euclid’s Theorum One which proves there are 180 degrees in a straight line. “It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in my whole life and thereafter I never had to consciously study geometry.” On leaving Harrow Weald College, he enrolled at Acton Tech studying for his BSc in evening classes. War was threatening so he became a fitter at General Aircraft, rising to the drawing office within a year and quickly making a mark.
His speciality was wings and after a year and a half in the drawing office of General Aircraft, he began a planned 2/2 1/2 years with, first, Airspeed, then Supermarine, Percival, Pollard and back to Airspeed, but this time in the Aerodynamics Flight Test Department at Christchurch. When Airspeed was taken over by De Havilland he was, for a time, at Hurn on the Experimental Aerodynamic Flight Testing of Vampire and Venom jet fighters and was subsequently given responsibility for all Aero Flight Testing at De Havilland, Chester Division.
In 1957 he returned to the Pure Aerodynamic Department at Hatfield — and frustration. There was no testing, no flying, no fun, so after 365 days, he resigned. Besides, the nature of the aircraft industry was changing as small firms merged into large corporations and the old “gentlemen’s club” was breaking up.
In the meantime, he had become involved with the young Lotus company and by the time he turned freelance, he had established a substantial reputation as a racing car aerodynamicist. Brother Mike was already committed to part-time work at Lotus when, in 1953, he sent Frank a model of the shape with which Chapman intended to clothe the Mk8. “That wound me up, I knew I could do better than that!”
So Frank became involved with the most exciting young racing car company during the heady years of experiment and growth which are so well recorded by Ian H. Smith in “The Story of Lotus, 1947-60”. He was responsible for the shapes of the Mk8, Mk9, Mk10 and the Eleven and carried out detail aerodynamic modifications to the Elite. His designs were characterised not only by low drag, and an increasingly small radiator aperture, but by straight line and pitch stability.
He also produced the special bodies Lotus used at Le Mans, with their high tails and compoundly curved windscreens which made them almost coupes, and the Eleven record breaker which had a perspex bubble canopy and which, by clever ducting, kept the driver remarkably cool. The use of ducting, utilising air at different pressures, became another Costin trade mark. Once Stirling Moss queried the use of some ducting in the Vanwall, removed it in testing and nearly had his head blown off by the blast of air to the cockpit.
It was, of course, the Vanwall which really made Costin’s name. In 1955, Derek Wootton phoned and asked Frank if he could produce some aerodynamic mods for Vanwall at Monza. The result was a new windscreen, which had some effect, improved cooling, and fairings for the front suspension which were designed but not made.
“David Yorke, the team manager, then invited me to Oulton Park where Desmond Titterington was to drive the car in the Gold Cup. On the night before the race, Tony Vandervell, a fabulous man, took me down to the garage and asked what I thought of the car. I replied that the engine was fantastic but the rest was rubbish. His next question was to know if I could do better and I said I could certainly design a better, lighter, chassis — if I knew all the load inputs. At that he accused me of backing down but I told him that the man he should get to design the chassis was Colin Chapman, he was the best in the business. If Colin did the chassis, I would do the body.”
“We went back to the hotel and sunk a few jars and the Old Man was turning over my suggestion. Sure enough, Colin and I were later both approached by David Yorke.”
No British enthusiast who lived through the period 1956-8 could forget the rising excitement as the Vanwall team first challenged the opposition and then trounced it. “That car was so beautiful,” I sighed, recalling its smooth, unlouvred, integrated shape. “That’s not what people said when it first appeared,” Frank replied, “but in motor racing, if a car wins it becomes beautiful.” The philosophy which produced not only the Vanwall but the first Marcos.
It was a great shame that neither Stirling Moss nor Tony Brooks was fit enough to take part in the 1957 Reims GP for Costin produced a breath-taking streamliner for the circuit. Neither of the two drivers who had been drafted into the team for the race, Stuart Lewis-Evans and Roy Salvadori, were sufficiently at home to do the car justice and it completed only a handful of practice laps. With Moss or Brooks at the wheel, it had the potential to be sensational.
Moss, who had come to admire Costin’s work, persuaded Maserati to commission from him a coupe bdoy for the 450S he was to drive at Le Mans. The experiment was a disaster. Bertocchi, the Maserati chief mechanic, was unconvinced by the idea and his opinion carried a lot of weight. The result was that Zagato, who built the body, did not take it seriously and paid little attention to the carefully considered design. Ducts were omitted, or took in air when they should have expelled it. They even managed to place the cockpit ventilation intake inches away from the duct exhaling hot engine fumes, thus filling the cockpit with oil vapour. An access hole for the radiator cap was cut in the body and not covered, destroying the airflow over the nose, they missed off the under tray, and an ordinary windscreen wiper was used instead of the aircraft spec one required — it blew off the first time the car was driven fast.
Frank’s reaction when he saw the mess was to head off to the nearest bar and stay there, though the car, with all its faults, did run as high as second. The cavalier approach of the builders set back the cause of the enclosed sports racing car by several years.
Though Costin had become regarded as the racing car aerodynamicist, he refutes the idea. “The first serious aerodynamicist was Malcolm Sayer, of Jaguar, another ex-aircraft man. I got the publicity because of my links with Chapman. Lotus were producing more advanced cars than Jaguar and we were progressing more quickly, generating excitement. I hated the publicity and the bull, it just wasn’t done in the aircraft industry where your work was signed only by your initials. It embarrassed me acutely though, now, I’ve learned to wear it as part of the game. The aircraft world is ultimate, there’s no bull, no egos, no hype. I eventually drifted away from motor racing because it had got too far away from advanced technology.”
One obvious question to ask an aerodynamicist involved in racing is why he had not conceived some of the aerodynamic advances we’ve seen recently on cars, for the principle of both ground effect and wings had both been known in the aircraft industry. “I discussed ground effects with Colin about 25 years ago but we knew we had to seal the air under the car and neither of us could think of a way to do it. As for wings, there was first of all no need for them because we were winning and then with the relatively low power at our disposal, the skinny tyres and so on, they would have generated an unacceptable amount of drag. In fact the only one of my cars to use wings was the March 711 and none of them have ever used air dams though it is true that I did once design an aerodynamic ‘fly screen’ for Lister to use at Le Mans in 1959.
“The idea was that we would mount an aerofoil section on the bonnet of the car which would be horizontal until you wanted braking. Then a small tab, activated by a cable, would cause the aerofoil to flip up vertically and act as an air brake, taking a (calculated) 410 feet off the braking distance at the end of the Mulsanne Straight, and the section would return to the horizontal, again by means of the tab. There was a clear area in the section for the driver to see through, but finally we decided it was stretching a point to claim it was a fly screen, though the flies there are like 747s.” Others have suggested that the time, money and effort spent on this exercise might have been more profitably spent on preparing the cars. Dick Barton, the Lister chief mechanic, is reported as saying that the system was tried on the Thetford Straight, near Snetterton, but did not have the effect which was hoped for.
Leaving De Havilland in 1958, Costin first produced a nose section for Speedwell who marketed them for racing A-H Sprites, and then the body for the record breaking Speedwell Sprite.
Then came the association with Brian Lister (see Motor Sport, August 1984, “The Other Cars of Brian Lister”) and the bulbous body for the Lister-Jaguar, which cannot be counted a success. Though the cars were quicker in a straight line than the “knobblies”, drivers did not feel at home in so large a car.
A lightweight space frame chassis was also designed and built, but Lister withdrew from racing before the car could be completed. It was certainly lighter and stiffer than the standard Lister frame which had seen service for nearly six years but the days of the large front-engined sports car were already numbered. Doug Nye has, rightly I think, called it “a great leap sideways”.
Lister and Costin did not part on the best of terms, there being a clash of priorities where expenditure was concerned, and Frank took off to Wales to begin work on the Marcos.
“I’d always admired the concept of the Lotus Seven but the early ones let in water and were prone to corrosion and frame failure. I was approaching forty and wanted something like a Seven but dry, with a long chassis life. It had to be light, stiff and easy to build with the tools I had at my disposal. Having examined all the possibilities, I found to my horror that it would have to be made of wood. Technically there was no problem, for we’d used wood a lot in the aircraft industry, but I was afraid of what people would say. Finally I thought, ‘Blow what people say. If it wins it will be accepted. They’ll only sneer if it doesn’t.’ It won first time out.
“I would claim that the Marcos was the first car to have a monocoque in the sense that we know it today. The Lotus Elite was more of an integral type of construction since it relied on its roof for stiffness. whereas the roof of the Marcos contributed none. A lot of us at Lotus in the old days had been on to Colin to build a rear-engined monocoque racing car but he’d always said that it would be too sophisticated and too costly. At the Racing Car Show, when it appeared, Colin told me that the Marcos was too complicated to make any money. When I described to him how simple it was, a certain look came over his face and he immediately went home. Later came the Lotus 25.”
An article like this can only scratch at the surface of the work as diverse as Costin’s. Since 1959, he had classified all his projects according to type, and they range from high speed printers to improving the performance of an ocean going yacht. Here is a brief run-down of the two dozen designs which he classifies as ‘Autos’.
Auto I — 1959/60. The Marcos.
Auto II — 1959. The spaceframe Lister Jaguar. It was completed by Jim Diggory and, with it, Bruce Halford held the outright short circuit lap record at Brands Hatch for a number of years. In 1963 with a coupe body, designed by Costin, it raced at Le Mans and in the Nurburgring 1000 kms, retiring on both occasions. Converted back to open form, it has passed through various hands and is now owned by Dr Phillipe Renault.
Auto III — 1961. A Lotus Elite modified for Jean Francois Malle for an attack on the Le Mans Index of Performance using a 750 cc Coventry Climax engine which had the valve gear of the then unraced V8 1½litre engine destined for F1.
The Costin mods consisted of a flush fitting windscreen, faired-in headlights, a fractionally raised wing line and a nose which not only reduced drag but also improved cooling. This latter point was especially important on the Elite since hot air in the engine bay reduced engine power. The Malls Elite was timed at Le Mans at 141 mph (with a 750 cc engine!) which bears out Costin’s claim that the modifications were worth the equivalent of 16-20 bhp. Subsequently, Les Leston’s DAD 10 and one other car were Costin modified. It is generally believed that there were more than just three cars with the Costin treatment but this is because a lot of people tried to imitate at least the nose intake. Most copies were probably not at all effective.
Auto IV — any repair work.
Auto V — 1962. The Ultra Low Drag Vehicle commissioned by TVR with a view to production. The construction became Costin’s hallmark for the next few years: a wooden monocoque, all round independent suspension, disc brakes on all four wheels, and light tubular subframe sections fore and aft. A bench seat took three people (statistically, an average passenger load), the wooden tear-drop body had a veneer of fibreglass to improve finish and, powered by a DKW engine giving less than 35 bhp, the car was so slippery that it could exceed 100 mph. “Drag coefficient?” asks Frank, “I’ve never quoted them. It’s just a current buzz word, meaning whatever people want it to mean. Aircraft men laugh at those quoted nowadays.”
The prototype was startling in appearance and suffered from cooling and ventilation problems — Costin says he used too much glass in it. Having spent £7,000 on the project, a tiny amount by any standards. TVR decided not to spend any more. Given Costin’s track record as regards cooling, the prototype could doubtless have been made to work and it was probably the car’s unusual shape which caused the board to have cold feet. The car was last heard of three years ago in the Bedford area.
Auto VI — 1962/3. A low drag nose for TVR, put into production.
Auto VII — 1963. A sports racing car commissioned by Jim Diggory but sold to a Dr Norbet McNamara in the States before completion. Intended to be competition for the Lotus 23, it performed extremely well after McNamara had roll bars fitted. In 1965 it was involved in a huge shunt which damaged the wooden monocoque but left the car intact. The scrutineers were amazed to find splinters where they expected twisted metal! McNamara eventually persuaded Costin to build a replacement which he fitted with a 2-litre Climax FPF engine. This blew up in testing and, regretfully. McNamara was forced to sell the car.
Auto VIII — 1963. The spaceframe Lister fitted with a coupe body built by Playfords.
Auto IX — 1963. A wooden monocoque given to BRM for evaluation purposes. It was originally intended for a “hydrodyne”. a hydrofoil variant.
Auto X — 1963. A lightweight, Iow drag, Lotus Elan built for Stirling Moss’ SMART team and raced by Sir John Whitmore with considerable success. Whitmore won all but two races in which he was entered (the two failures being when wheels came off) and this car was the first successful racing Elan.
Auto XI — 1964. A four wheel drive chassis for JCB.
Auto XII — 1964. There was a current race for urban cars and this was a lightweight shopping car designed to accommodate a housewife and a cook’s groceries for a family of four. Allowing for a hire purchase deal of two years’ duration, it was designed to have running costs of less than £2 per week at a weekly usage of 140 miles. Naturally, it was made of wood. with three specially modified 20 in bike wheels. A 50 cc Honda engine drove the single back wheel, it weighed just 164 lb and could be parked by lifting up the front end, as Nan Costin, who used it for shopping, was able to demonstrate. With a top speed of 40 mph, it could climb quite steep gradients and was actually a practical proposition.
However, the fad passed, Costin’s interest waned, and the prototype was last heard of rotting in a Welsh barn.
Auto XIIB — 1964/5. A high speed nose for Peter Sellers’ Lotus 35 F2 car, which was driven by Brian Hart. The nose improved cooling and reduced drag.
Auto XIII — designation not used.
Auto XIV — 1965/6 and Auto XIVa 1966, the Costin-Nathan cars. Visiting the workshops of Willie Griffiths, the ex-Lotus chief mechanic who was employed by Roger Nathan to prepare Imp engines for racing, Costin was intrigued by a tuned 1-litre Imp unit which gave 96 bhp and yet, with a Jack Knight gearbox attached, weighed only 230 lb. Nathan heard of the interest and commissioned him to begin a joint project. The result was a very light and slippery wooden car along the lines of Auto VII. Some potential customers may, however, have been put off by the seemingly fragile subframes but they had been correctly stressed and never gave trouble. Ready to race, the car weighed just 860 lb.
Nathan took six class wins and six lap records in 1966 and commissioned a GT version which featured the bulbous door hinges (with hidden ducting) seen later on the Amigo but which can be traced back to the Vanwall’s mirror fairings. Fourteen lap records and two national championships followed in 1967/8 but only about a dozen examples of each car were built. The design was developed further as the FVA-powered “Astra”. Eventually Costin lost interest, for the usual reasons, but the car remains a prime example of his art both as an aerodynamicist and as a stress engineer.
Auto XV — 1965. Costin was one of several people, Bruce McLaren being another, approached by Ford to outline a possible successor to the GT40. This exercise, which reached model form, was very similar to the Costin-Nathan GT car, which it pre-dates. In the end, Ford did not replace the GT40 but put its money behind a Can-Am car called the ‘Honker’. It was aptly named.
Auto XVII — 1966/7. This was a single seater powered by an Imp engine which was commissioned by Johnny Walker for Formula Four. Formula Four had begun with 250cc engines and eventually the power units grew ever larger as it failed to catch on. After completion, Costin showed no further interest, for reasons which may be guessed at, and the formula anyway succumbed to the much more sensible FF1600.
Auto XVI — 1967. The Protos F2 car, commissioned by Ron Harris and driven by, among others, Brian Hart and Pedro Rodriguez. The commissioning fee was £20,000 but there was a stipulation that the car had to be ready for the start of the 1967 F2 season, which left just 127 days from the first pencil line to racing.
The time factor was the car’s undoing for it was never properly tested and developed. It featured a wooden monocoque with a nose which recalled the Vanwall and, unusual for F2 at the time, inboard suspension. Typically, Costin sacrificed cornering speed for outright speed, but was prepared to reconsider had money been available for testing. In a straight line they were sensational. Without a tow, Hart was a second a lap quicker at Reims than Jim Clark’s Lotus could manage without a tow, and Hart held the Hockenehim lap record for two years.
They were sensibly stressed, too, for when Rodriguez crashed heavily at Enna, few thought he would survive, but the wooden monocoque, though destroyed, acted as a survival cell and the Mexican was unharmed.
The unusual windscreen which almost made the car a coupe, also worked very well as Brian Hart discovered when following a car which shed all its oil. The Protos was Covered in oiI hut Hart’s vision was unimpaired.
Although there was much more to come from the design in terms of lowering the centre of gravity, shedding a little weight, and improving cornering power, the team did not last until the end of the season, Harris withdrawing his backing. The respect which Hart had for the design may be judged by the fact that he and Costin have remained close friends and have been jointly involved on subsequent projects.
Auto XVIII — 1968/71. The Costin Amigo, already mentioned, which was backed by Paul Pycroft who has recently restored one to impeccable condition. Only eight of these cars were built for, though few designs have ever achieved so much performance from so little power, neither the shape nor the finish were attractive to buyers who could buy an E-Type for very little more money.
Auto XIX — 1970/71. The body for the March 711 which Ronnie Peterson drove with such effect in 1971, finishing second in the World Championship, though without scoring a win. The monocoque of the car was suggested by Costin but the aerodynamics were his alone. It was possibly the first F1 car in which the shape of the driver’s helmet became part of the aerodynamic equation. The enclosed rear bodywork was quickly discarded and the high mounted “Spitfire” front wing proved something of a mixed blessing, working very well in clean air but giving unpredictable handling in close quarters.
“We’d worked out a deal whereby I’d be paid, on a sliding scale, for each theoretical horsepower gained by the aerodynamics,” says Frank, “but March were somehow always too busy to conduct the tests.”
March used a more conventional body the following year but never again did a March driver finish so high in the Championship.
Auto XX — 1973. “Big Bertha” the Repco-engined Vauxhall Ventura which Gerry Marshall drove for six races (winning the three times the car finished) before encountering brake failure at Silverstone, which he resolved by scrubbing off speed along the armco. Because of Vauxhall’s insistence on using a number of standard components, the car was something of a compromise, the steering being impossibly heavy for most drivers. It weighed 25 cwt, had 496 bhp on tap and could reach 155 mph, and the way in which it overtook some rivals with higher claimed speed left a few red faces.
“An early problem was that some exhaust gases filtered into the cockpit via gaps in the doors. I simply sealed them off with race tape and the buzz went along the pits that the demon Costin tweak was to seal the doors. You’ve guessed it, everyone was sealing the doors for no reason!”
Auto XXI — 1974. The “Timera”, an advanced “dream car” commissioned by a consortium which ran out of money before the car was completed.
Auto XXII — 1973 to present. The Ultra Economy car which, if a backer can be found, will be made from plastic (not GRP, plastic). I was shown a model of the car but not permitted to photograph it but can report that it is aesthetically very pleasing, something which has not always been the case with Costin’s designs. When the Costin-Nathan appeared, Colin Chapman said, “you’ve done it all wrong, Frank, it’s a good looking car!”
If it is put into production, then it will use a long stroke engine aiming for torque with relatively little bhp — the shape and weight will take care of the performance.
Auto XXIII — 1975. “Baby Bertha”, the Repco-engined Vauxhall Firenza which Costin had hoped Vauxhall might have built initially instead of “Big Bertha”. Costin’s part was the front suspension and some structural work. Driven by Gerry Marshall, it won from all but two of its starts, passed through several hands and is now owned once more by Gerry who is restoring it to its former condition, intending that it should once more return to racing.
Auto XXIV — 1983. The TMC Costin sports car described and tested in Motor Sport, August 1984.
Auto XXV — ? Costin has one more car in him and during our conversation he gave several intriguing hints, which were off the record. His current work is involved with the design for a biplane.
At present, almost any car which is above a few years old will be described by somebody as a “classic” and, very likely, a club will be formed to promote the idea. My own definition of a “classic” is a car in which one can see the signature of a designer who is out of the ordinary (in the same was one can instantly recognise a painting by Rembrandt or Turner) and the whole car is in harmony with that designer’s special contribution.
The contribution may be a chassis, an engine or a body, frequently there will be the marriage of several distinctive designers’ contributions, but whatever it is, the whole car will be in harmony with it. In my book, any car with the hand of Ettore Bugatti or Colin Chapman visible in it, is a classic, but the Farina-bodied Austin A40, is not, though Farina was a stylist of genius. It’s a question of the whole car being in harmony and the designer being able to make his contribution without restrictions.
It seems to me that every car Costin has designed merits the frequently abused description “classic” for each and every one has the clear signature of a major designer. It does not matter that all the Costin cars of the past 30 years equal a production total of only a few minutes of some mass-produced designed-by-committee-and-market resarch wallymobile. The man is self-admittedly a commercial failure but then, a company producing garden gnomes makes more figurines in an hour than a serious sculptor creates statues in a lifetime. — M.L.
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