Great racing cars: Chaparral 2F and 2H



A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here

To buy the lead image click here.

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

1967 Chaparral 2F

Charlie Whiting
Former Brabham chief mechanic, now tech chief for F1

I thought the Chaparral 2F was just one of the most incredible cars I had ever seen. I watched it at Brands Hatch, which was my home circuit, when I was about 16 years old and to this day I don’t think anything surpasses it.

I kept an immaculate lap chart from that day and still have it, along with the programme!

It looked like a spaceship, it was just fantastic. I loved the approach that Jim Hall took to designing racing cars. I was at the BOAC 500 when it won in 1967 with Mike Spence and Phil Hill driving. They beat the Ferraris, Alfa Romeos and Porsches that day and they did so handsomely.

Previously, a lot of how that car was designed and worked was totally unknown. Thankfully it was one of the rare occasions that the transmission didn’t break, as previously they struggled to finish races due to the more powerful 5.3-litre engine they had decided to use.

The moveable suspension they had was brilliant, too. It was mounted on the uprights and then they had this dam at the front that kept it planted to the track. Looking back now it looks a little bit crude, I suppose, but to me sitting in the grandstand at Paddock Hill Bend it was just totally mind-blowing. It was a full year ahead of the Formula 1 teams adopting rear aerofoils, so Hall was well ahead of the game when it came to understanding what could work on a racing car.

Just over 10 years later I was working in F1 with Gordon Murray, who I suppose was that generation’s Jim Hall. The Brabham fan car was totally different and an amazingly quick concept, which I suppose you can trace back to some of Hall’s theories too.

These days, of course, the rule books generally don’t allow for that kind of creative thinking, which in some ways is a shame, but times change.

I remember well when Ross [Brawn] came to me with the Jaguar XJR-14 when I was technical delegate for world sports cars in the early 1990s. That had some very interesting interpretations of the regulations on it, but Ross was clever enough to know how to exploit the loopholes within them. As I said, different times.

Chaparral in Europe
Denis Jenkinson on the American car that came to Europe and conquered Brands Hatch

Anyone who was at Brands Hatch for the BOAC 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 BOAC-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. For those of us who have followed the Chaparral activities this season, it was all the more enjoyable to see them finish the BOAC 500 race and win it after a great battle against Ferrari and Porsche.

I was all set for Mike Spence to take me around 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 5pm 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 pitstop the getaway was almost instantaneous, the car gathering speed as the engine fired, and accelerating away from very low rpm 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 pit straight, left alone around 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 interesting, 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.’

Taken from the September 1967 issue of Motor Sport. To read more click here.

1969 Chaparral 2H

Ricardo Divila
Veteran designer/engineer

Chaparral 2H is the one for me. I just love that car. The Ferrari P3 is a work of art, but when it comes down to engineering the Chaparral is just a step up from everything that came before and probably after, too.

It is hard to separate what was Chevrolet and what was Jim Hall at that period. The whole sucker concept comes from the vehicles that they used to tow B52 bombers on frozen Alaskan runways. It gave the necessary traction to get things moving. Remarkable.

Chevrolet was involved in this and it is actually hard to understand what Jim Hall’s standing with the company was, but they certainly used him as an ideas man.

The 2H had a fibreglass composite monocoque with technology that came from Chevrolet. It was very advanced for the time. The wing applications it had, the moveable wing, was for sure a high point in engineering of the period. It came when I was just feeding myself in to racing and, sadly, I never saw it competing in period.

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