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(Terry Marshall/The Roaring Season)

Terry Marshall’s shots capture the zesty, attacking style which made Keke Rosberg a crowd favourite throughout his career. Here in his Chevron B39 Ford at Pukekohe during the New Zealand Grand Prix on January 7 1978…

The Kiwi’s changed their national formula from F5000 to Formula Atlantic/Pacific from the 1977 International Series whilst we Aussies persevered with the big V8’s.

Rosberg won the 1977 Series in a Fred Opert Chevron B34 from American Tom Gloy in a Tui BH2 and Aussie Grovewood Award Winner, Bruce Allison’s Ralt RT1.

He returned again in an Opert Chevron B39 in 1978 and took that championship as well; 6 wins of 10 races, 1 at Bay Park, both NZ GP rounds at Pukekohe and 1 apiece at Manfield, Teretonga and Wigram.

Aussie ex-F1 driver Larry Perkins was 2nd in a ‘Scuderia Veloce’ Ralt RT1, Bobby Rahal was 3rd in the other Opert Chevron entry and Danny Sullivan 4th in a ‘March Cars’ March 77B.

The fields were of great depth and included Kiwi Internationals Ken Smith March 76B, Brett Riley March 77B, Steve Millen Chevron B42 and David McMillan Ralt RT1.

Later in 1978 Rosberg contested many European F2 rounds in another Opert Chevron, a B42 Hart 420R 2 litre and critically his Grand Prix career commenced…

His first race was the South African Grand Prix in a Theodore TR01 Ford on March 4, he qualified 24th of 30 entrants and retired with a range of maladies.

The car was a clunker (an F2 Ralt acquired by Yip into which a Ford Cosworth DFV was bolted) with many non-prequalifications to follow later in the season, but things came together nicely a fortnight after Kyalami for his first F1 win, a stunning wet weather drive in the non-championship ‘BRDC International Trophy’ at Silverstone on 19 March.

Whilst many fell off in the streaming conditions Keke drove a fast, consistent race to win from from Emerson Fittipaldi in one of his own Fittipaldi F5A Ford’s and Tony Trimmer, McLaren M23 Ford. The field included Peterson, Andretti, Ickx, Hunt, Regazzoni, Lauda, Depailler, Mass and Arnoux.


Rosberg winning the ‘International trophy’ at Silverstone in March 1978. Theodore TR01 Ford. (unattributed)

Later in the season he had some drives in Wolfs’ WR3 and WR4 acquired by Teddy Yip given the lack of pace of their own Theodore. 10th in the German GP at Hockenheim in one of these cars was his best result of the year.

He also drove an ATS Ford in 5 events and whilst still not a competitive car he showed what he could do, and the rest as they say is history, Keke achieved ‘ a toehold in F1’ with Fittipaldi in 1980!

For sure his Antipodean Formula Pacific wins against strong competition enhanced his reputation by beating his peers in equivalent cars and made him ‘race fit’ by the time he returned to Europe.

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Rosberg on the Wigram grid, 29 January 1978. Chevron B39. (Terry Marshall/The Roaring Season)

Terry Marshall said of this shot; ‘Keke Rosberg what a star, always goofing around.

Here on the grid at Wigram. He had just pulled me down into the cockpit to tell me if i came to Germany with him he would jack me up a job as a magazine photographer there. I had a lovely wife and two kids, so i had to say no.’

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Rosberg, Chevron B39 Ford, Bay Park, NZ. 2 January 1978. 1st place. (Terry Marshall/ The Roaring Season)


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Rosberg relaxing in the Teretonga paddock, 22 January 1978. ‘Motoring News’ maybe?! Beautiful all enveloping body of the B39 helped it slip thru the air nicely. (Kevin Thomson Collection/The Roaring Season)

Chevron B39 Ford and Formula Atlantic/Pacific…

The Chevron B39 was Derek Bennett’s 1977 Formula Atlantic car, 11 were built, Keke’s Fred Opert Racing (the US importer of the cars) chassis was # ’39-77-08′.

Typical of the period, we are just before the ‘ground effects’ era remember, the car used an aluminium monocoque chassis, independent front suspension with upper and lower wishbones and coil spring/Koni shocks. Adjustable roll bars were fitted front and rear. Rear suspension comprised a single upper link, two lower links, two radius rods for lateral location, and coil spring/Koni shocks.

Steering was rack and pinion and brakes disc all round, inboard at the rear beside the ubiquitous Hewland 5 speed FT200 transaxle.

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Rosberg’s B39 being prepared for the Bay Park round of the series on January 2 1978. (Mike Feisst Collection/The Roaring Season)

The engine was the Ford Cosworth BDA, originally homologated for rally use in Ford’s Escort RS1600 to replace the ageing Lotus Twin Cam, which was also based on a Ford block. Other engines were eligible for Formula Atlantic, the class ‘morphed’ out of the SCCA’s 1600 Formula B which commenced in 1965, but the BDA soon became the engine of choice. Formula Atlantic/Pacific soon became a truly global class which was contested in North America, UK, Australasia and South Africa.

bda cutaway

Ford Cosworth BDA engine cutaway. Engine designed by Mike Hall, the original 1969 variant spawned engines successful in Rallies, F2, F Atlantic/Pacific and much more. (unattributed)

The ‘BDA’ had many variants, all were successful, the Formula Atlantic kit was called the ‘BDD’ and like many of the ‘BDA’s was based on the Ford Cortina/Formula Ford ‘711M’, 5 bearing cast iron block.

The head was DOHC the 4 valves per cylinder driven by a toothed rubber belt, one of the the first race engines to do so and one of the first production engines so specified as well. The engine was fed, as mandated by the class rules, by carburettors, usually 48DCOE Webers. The 1590cc BDD developed a reliable 205bhp plus @9000 rpm, one of lifes true pleasures is to drive one of these cars powered by this engine.

Rosberg’s performances were meritorius as, arguably, the B39 was not quite as quick a car as the contemporary Ralt RT1 or March 76/77B, but the dude behind the wheel more than made up for whatever the chassis gave away.

(Peter Brennan Collection)


Terry Marshall, Kevin Thomson, Mike Feisst/The Roaring Season. Click on this link to take you into TRS, all three collections are well worth trawling through for all sots of cars., Peter Brennan Collection


  1. […] Keke Rosberg Attacks the Pukekohe Chicane, New Zealand Grand Prix, January 1978… […]

  2. […] Perkins drove the wheels off this self-run Graham Watson/David McKay owned car, but the ex-F1 driver was bested by F1 aspirant Rosberg who won the series in his much better supported Fred Opert ‘works’ car. Click here; Keke Rosberg Attacks the Pukekohe Chicane, New Zealand Grand Prix, January 1978… | primotipo&#8230… […]

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