Back in the 1960s I was a staffman on a monthly magazine entitled Motor Racing. It was published by an outfit named Knightsbridge Publications, based in a tiny Portakabin office in the cafeteria car park at Brands Hatch circuit in Kent.
AUG 31st 2016
Doug Nye – Glorious variety
Chairman of Knightsbridge was John Webb – the little entrepreneur who had made his name within the motor racing world with his Webbair charter flights to GPs and Le Mans, by racing his Jensen 541 with considerable success and had then taken command of the Grovewood group’s motor racing circuits, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton and Mallory Park.
Webbie was quite a character. He excelled despite what were known in those un-PC days as considerable physical handicaps. He was bowed and walked with a pronounced limp – but he became a very influential personality within British motor racing, and would contribute greatly to several professional racing drivers’ career paths – heading in both directions…
One day probably in late ’65 I recall him coming into our Motor Racing office and having an earnest natter with our Editors, John Blunsden – now very recently deceased, and very much missed – and Alan Brinton, with whom I did not really get on. They then came into the office which I shared there with Darryl Reach – like John ex-Motoring News – who had taught me pretty much all I ever knew (or indeed cared to know) about magazine production.
Webbie said something like “We’ve got next year’s British Grand Prix here at Brands, the new 3-litre Formula 1 is going to be just spectacular, and we’re going to be pushing it as ‘The Return of Power’…”.
See what he was doing there? Yes, well, perhaps that slogan wasn’t the least obvious to attach to a motor category suddenly doubled in engine size, but ‘The Return of Power’ it most decidedly was. The new Formula in fact did exactly what it would say on the poster.
Now at this September’s imminent Goodwood Revival Meeting we will be running a set of such – now 50-year-old – 3-litre Formula 1 cars, and in period what exciting – and refreshing – projectiles they truly were…
Well, refreshing to the enthusiasts that was, since Coventry Climax – who had supplied most of the British teams in Formula 1 throughout the 1½-litre years – had concluded that development of a 3-litre F1 engine would be too complex and too costly for them into ’66, and so bowed out of racing. Leonard Lee of Climax relented sufficiently to sanction manufacture of two 2-litre Climax V8 engines “to tide over Team Lotus” into the new category’s opening season, but that was it – climacto finito.
Otherwise, Team Lotus pinned some of its faith (wisely limited) upon BRM’s projected new H16-cylinder 3-litre F1 engine (plus an even more optimistically-promoted 4.2-litre H16 for Indianapolis and USAC Speedway racing). The H16 was aiming at 500 horsepower – the best 1½-litre V8s had delivered 220. Colin Chapman, however, was realistic enough, wise enough (and fly enough) to have longer-term insurance in the form of the forthcoming Cosworth-Ford DFV V8 engine, scheduled for 1967 – but which, like the H16, might or might not work out…
Pending raceworthy development of the complex 3-litre H16 engine, BRM also had an option. The works team could run its 2-litre V8 cars and engines, developed from their successful 1½-litre Formula 1 designs primarily for the Tasman Championship which involved northern-wintertime events in New Zealand and Australia.
While the BRM works team would run 2-litre V8 engines in its wonderful, missile-like P261 chassis, the concern would also provide similar 2-litre V8 engines to private customers, enabling their 1½-litre-derived chassis – from BRM itself but also Lotus and Brabham - to race on into the new 3-litre Formula.
In the early-season races of ’66, Team Lotus – 1965 World Champions – would field Type 33 cars left over from the previous Formula but uprated with 2-litre V8 engines from both Coventry Climax and BRM. In the background, development struggled along with the definitive 1966 Formula 1 Lotus – the Type 43 with its 3-litre BRM H16-cylinder engine.
At Maranello in Italy, meanwhile, Ferrari’s finest riffled along their engine parts shelves and came up with sufficient well-proven sports-prototype power unit bits to produce their modello 312 4-cam 3-litre V12-cylinder engine.
A hybrid tube-cum-stressed skin semi-monocoque fuselage chassis was devised to carry it, and the capacious fuel tankage required to feed it adequately – unrefuelled – for a two-hour Grand Prix distance. Meanwhile they had also produced a one-off 2.4-litre Tasman Formula car of their own – the Dino 246 V6-engined 246T – which had ben intended for John Surtees to drive in the January/February ’66 down-under series. However, a broken Lola T70 suspension component had instead consigned poor John to hospital during practice for the 1965 Mosport Park professional sports car race. He was fortunate to escape with his life after the somersaulting car had landed on top of him, and was distinctly second-hand even as the new European season opened that year.
Cooper was owned by the Chipstead Motor Group which had links with Maserati of Italy as UK importer. Maserati developed a 3-litre 4-cam V12-cylinder Formula 1 engine for Cooper, using as its basis their never-yet-developed 2½-litre V12 design, not from the 1960s 1500cc Formula, but from the 1950s 2½-litre Formula which had preceded that – 1954-60. If the Ferrari 4-cam V12 was bulky, hefty, thirsty and – as its drivers would be quick to declare “woefully underpowered”, then Maserati’s effort would initially prove even moreso.
Fuel thirst dictated big fuel tanks which demanded a capacious chassis, and the first stressed-skin monocoque Cooper Formula 1 car design – their T81 – was certainly that; fat, but handsome and pretty happy really. Cooper tested their prototype at Goodwood with team manager Roy Salvadori doing much of the driving despite his then-recent retirement from fulltime competition. They were ready early in the new year, not only with works team cars but also delivering customer cars to Rob Walker, Jo Bonnier, and the debutant French privateer Guy Ligier.
So who else turned-up to race that pilot 3-litre season? Bruc McLaren had just left Cooper to concentrate upon his own McLaren team, and his first Formula 1 offering would be the famous ‘Mallite’ (aluminium/balsa-wood sheet sandwich material) monocoque M2B initially with Indy-Ford V8 4-cam engine linered down from its 4.2-litre birth capacity to 3-litres for Grand Prix racing. Mid-season, as the hefty, thirsty, woefully disappointing big Ford faltered, Bruce would adopt the Italian Serenissima 3-litre V8 instead, and score his first World Championship points with it at Brands Hatch.
A bunch of privateers used former 1 ½-litre Formula chassis uprated for the new class with 2-litre BRM V8 or even Coventry Climax 2.7-litre twin-cam 4-cylinder FPF engines…
But wily Jack Brabham and his designer partner Ron Tauranac looked at the prospects for ’66 with their former engine supplier Coventry Climax having opted out of participation – not that Jack had ever taken to their “rattle-trap” 1½-litre V8 engine. Jack and Ron, however, were both very bright, and very practical; Real Racers both. They looked askance at the development problems probable with cobbled-up V12s from Ferrari and Maserati, all-new V12s due from Honda Japan and from Dan Gurney’s debutant Anglo-American Racers (AAR) Eagle-Weslake team, and especially BRM’s H16 engine designs.
And Jack and Ron famously took the opposite route. They opted instead for reliable simplicity – choosing GM’s alloy-block Oldsmobile F85 failed-production V8 – and getting their engine parts friends at Repco in Melbourne, Australia, to super-tune it for initially 2½-litre Tasman and then full 3-litre Formula 1 use.
Their modest 2-cam Repco RB620 V8 would be light on weight, compact in size, economical on fuel, its simplicity promised reliability, and its 350bhp in a lightweight Tauranac tube-frame chassis driven by ‘Black Jack’ could – just – nick a win or two against the self-proclaimed 400-horsepower glitterati.
Well, in fact that is just the way the script developed. In essence the super-complex new engines were not raceworthy until the very end of that opening 3-litre Formula 1 season. The stand-in engines from Repco triumphed in the Brabham-driven Tauranac chassis – including that memorable run of four GP victories in succession through mid-season ’66 (French, British, Dutch and German) and the inaugural 3-litre Formula 1 World Championship titles for both Driver and Constructor would memorably become their’s. It was a true triumph of Australian practicality and common-sense over high-flown engineering idealism, ambition, and over-optimism…
A few years back a Japanese racing magazine produced a fascinating reader quiz, in which they reproduced side-elevation line drawings of that year’s contemporary Formula 1 cars, each in outline with panel-joint and wheel and tyre detail, but absolutely devoid of any advertising whatsoever. The object of the quiz was for the readers to identify which of that year’s cars was which. Without detailed recourse to similar side-one photos of that year’s F1 cars, it was incredibly difficult to tell Ferrari from Williams-BMW, from Jordan-Honda, from Jaguar-Cosworth, from Arrows-Cosworth, from Sauber-Petronas, from Minardi-Asiatech, from BAR-Honda, from McLaren-Mercedes, from Renault… or, indeed, from Toyota (or whatever that particular year’s entry of F1 cars comprised).
This was simply because the basic laws of physics, as fairly recently better-understood by Formula 1 designers – in conjunction with quite newly-restrictive (and prescriptive) technical regulations governing almost every aspect of the car’s concept, construction and configuration…had simply channeled every manufacturer down the same route.
Now that was most decidedly NOT the case back in 1966 when the 3-litre Formula was introduced to replace the former 1961-65 1½-litre class. Even at Formula 1 level so far as chassis and running gear configurations were concerned the Grand Prix category was near as dammit a case of “run what you brung”.
Japanese magazine-style side elevation drawings of the new-era F1 cars we saw competing during 1966 are dead easy to tell apart, so many widely divergent interpretations of the rules were not only favoured but were possible at that time. Diversity was great, shapes were distinctive, and the 3-litre Formula 1 threw up the handsome simplicity of the Repco Brabham V8s, the muscular classicism of the V12 Ferraris, the podgy porkiness of the ultimately Mexican and South African GP-winning Cooper-Maserati V12s, the aerospace-looking menace of the H16 BRM P83s and P115, and the ’66 United States GP-winning glory of the Jim Clark Lotus-BRM H16 Type 43. Glory be, such complexity really could claim a race win. The Return of Power, indeed…but too late to deny those Aussies…
Take a close look with us at the Revival’s 3-litre Formula 1 cars - and enjoy another trip on board the Goodwood time machine…
Images courtesy of The GP Library
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