JAN 23rd 2015

The high‑airbox F1 era is coming to Goodwood – are you feeling the fever?

With their wide, flat radiator sidepods, their enormous slick tyres (much wider at the back, of course), their swoopy stripes and striking sponsors’ stickers, and their distinctive, normally-aspirated three-litre Cosworth Double Four Valve soundtrack, Formula 1 cars of the 1970s were monstrous yet majestic, seductive yet slightly scary.

Well they were certainly all four of those things to me as I embarked on my short-trousered, pre-school F1-fan apprenticeship in the early part of a decade during which drivers’ hair and sideburns and team members’ flares and shiny jackets, not to mention female hangers-ons’ skimpy tops, bell-bottom jeans and high heels, were (allegedly) as visually appealing as the cars.

For me at that age, though, there was another wholly innocent reason why I was transfixed and traumatised – in a lifelong, irreversible way – by this brief era of aesthetic abundance: the cars’ periscopic airboxes, which protruded way above drivers’ helmets and roll hoops ready to swallow whole anything that got in their way.

1975-German-Grand-Prix

De rigueur on everyone’s favourite racing machines from the start of the decade until the early part of 1976, high airboxes were not really there to encourage the swallowing of anything that got in the way of course; rather to force as much high-pressure, undisturbed air as possible into the hungry, high-revving DFVs lurking beneath them.

It was only when the circus returned to Europe from its three-race fly-away start – in Brazil, South Africa and the US – in ’76 that the devilish detailing had disappeared, the protuberances confined to history thanks to a new regulation that stated nothing must sit higher than the roll hoop.

Fortunately, I recall fascination rather than frustration over the new approach adopted by the leading players when I caught a glimpse in Autosport on the Thursday after the fourth race, the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama.

1976-United-States-Grand-Prix-West

Not only that, it was McLaren that I felt at the time had made the best job of its airbox compromise. The twin-scoop spec, with inlets either side of the roll hoop, of the British squad’s M23 worked for me, which was just as well since the team’s new star, James Hunt, was fast becoming the object of my armchair affection.

ligier-js5-teapot

News that the 73rd Goodwood Members’ Meeting – the second such Springtime spectacle at the Motor Circuit during its modern-day epoch – will lay on a demonstration for almost 30 of the brutes that wowed me and my fellow devotees back in the day is bound to trigger transfixion and traumatisation all over again.

Expect to see iconic models from Ferrari, Lotus, March, McLaren, Shadow and Tyrrell, as well as quirky contenders from Amon, Token and Trojan in the high-speed parades. A recent addition to the line-up is French veteran Jean-Pierre Jarier, back in the Shadow DN5 with which he took pole position in Argentina and Brazil – the opening two races of 1975. Now there’s a fiendishly appropriate template for 1970s high-airbox F1.

Whether you’ll be reunited with F1’s original wacky racers after a 40-year hiatus, seeing them in the flesh for the first time, or somewhere in between, I hope you’ll find them monstrous yet majestic, seductive yet slightly scary. I know I will, all over again.

Photography: LATphoto

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