Archive for June, 2016


Al Unser blasts out of the pits during his victorious 1970 Indy 500 win in his Lola/Colt ‘Johnny Lightning Special’…

Opportunistic American mechanics, drivers and team owners were slow to recognise a good thing.

Jack Brabham’s first appearance at the Brickyard in 1961 with his little 2.7-litre Cooper T54 Coventry Climax FPF saw him qualify 13th, finish 9th and take home a big payday by the GP standards of the day.

indy jack

With John Cooper and Jack having made clear the advantages of mid-engined cars on their patch American team-owners and mechanics followed the path started by Cooper in the early 1950’s, their first GP win, in Argentina 1958, when Moss won in a 2 litre Cooper T43.

The first in the US to recognise the mid-engined trend was Mickey Thompson, he teamed with Dan Gurney with a proprietary chassis and aluminum Buick V8 power to qualify 8th in 1962, he was classified 20th with 92 laps.

dan in mt spl

Dan Gurney in Mickey Thompson’s Buick stock block V8 powered ‘Harvey Aluminium Special’, Thompson in the dark shirt at right, Indy 1962. This engine, famously the brother of the F85 Olds, the block of which formed the basis of the Repco Brabham ‘RB620’ 1966 World F1 Championship winning 3 litre V8. Chassis designed by Brit John Crosthwaite, 3 cars built for the ’62 race (unattributed)

1963 made it clear the Indy roadster’s days were numbered when Jim Clark and Gurney brought Colin Chapman’s lightweight Ford pushrod V8 powered Lotus 29 to The Brickyard. In that first year Clark was barely beaten by Parnelli Jones in a Watson Offy roadster. Some say given the oil the Watson was dropping that only the Indy ‘establishment’ prevented a victory that was rightfully Clark/Chapman’s. Jones took the lesson to heart.

jim and dan

Jim and Dan (right), Lotus 29 Ford, Indy, morning practice 18 May 1963, note offset suspension. Superb bits of kit (Bob Jennings)

In 1964, 12 of the 33 of the grid were mid-engined cars. Their builders are a directory of Gasoline Alley; Watson, Epperly, Huffaker, Vollstedt, Thompson and Halibrand, only two constructors were ‘furrin, Lotus and Brabham.

In 1965 only a single roadster, Gordon Johncock’s Watson Offy, finished in the top ten. There were only 6 front-engined roadsters in the 33 car field, Clark finally won in his Lotus 38 Ford. By 1966 there was only one roadster left. The transition was complete, in five years the Indy field and the shape of American champcar racing had been transformed.

indy lotus

Lotus 38 Ford erotica Indy 1965, the year of Jim Clark’s win in one of these cars, Bobby Johns drove the other factory car. Essential elements the aluminium monocoque chassis, DOHC Ford ‘Indy’ V8, mid-engined layout of course and superb Lotus attention to detail (Bob D’Olivo)

The period of innovation continued throughout the ’60’s…

Andy Granatelli’s STP Corporation raced a four wheel drive Pratt and Whitney turbine engined car driven by Parnelli Jones at Indy in ’67. After leading nearly every lap of the rain interrupted race a 25 cent part in the gearbox failed, bringing the ‘whooshmobile’ to a halt giving the win to A.J. Foyt’s now conventional Coyote-Ford V8. Jones was classified 6th.

What made this period a golden one apart from the innovation of cars like Parnelli’s Granatelli turbine were a confluence of events which included Ford’s global drive to dominate all forms of racing; Grands Prix, Le Mans, drag strips, NASCAR and USAC. Firestone and Goodyear also battled each other like the heavyweight champs they were, in the process creating tyres of great grip as the understanding of polymer chemistry developed exponentially.

indy parnelli

The advantages of 4WD were shown by Jones in 1967. George Bignotti sought to exploit it by combining 4WD grip with the dominant Ford V8 in 1968 with a 4WD Lola T150 for Al Retzloff , founder of a Houston based chemical company, to be driven by Al Unser. And so the basis of the later ‘Johnny Lightning Special’ was born.

I wrote an article about the equally iconic ‘American Red Ball Spl’ Lola T90 Ford, which provides some context in terms of Lola’s early Indycars and which took Graham Hill to his 1966 Indy win, click here to read it;

indy al snap

Al Indy ’68, Lola T150 Ford (unattributed)

In the 500 Unser qualified the new 4WD Lola outside the second row in 6th but crashed on lap 40 when a spindle broke, brother Bobby won in an Eagle Offy.

indy lola red

Lola T150 Ford at Indy ’68, note the vestigial ‘wing’, their is no such thing as an ugly Lola, bias duly acknowledged! (unattributed)

After repair back at Lola’s Bromley works in England the T150 returned in time for the USAC road course race at Indy Raceway Park. Unser proved his versatility on road circuits, winning both heats. His victory came a week after taking his first USAC Championship victory on the dirt at Nazareth. He followed up both wins with another victory later in the season at Langhorne.

indy lola upright

Al in the T150 on 21 July 1968, he won at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Indiana. Aluminium monocoque tub, upper and lower wishbone and coil spring damper unit front suspension all clear. Look carefully and you can see the front driveshaft behind the steering arm (Alvis Upitis)

al and jo

Unser’s Lola T150 Ford chasing Jo Leonard’s Lotus 56 Pratt & Whitney turbine 4WD, Clermont, Indiana, 1968 . The photo says everything that was good about Indy in the ’60’s, innovation! For a while anyway, inevitably political pressure was applied to maintain orthodoxy and contain ‘runaway costs’ (Alvis Upitis)

A major development in 1969 US racing was the foundation of the ‘Vel’s Parnelli Jones’ Ford team which would go all the way to F1 with Mario Andretti in 1975.

Supported by Ford and Firestone, Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones set up their own team, buying out Al Retzloff, acquiring his Lola Fords and the services of legendary chief mechanic George Bignotti, his co-chief Jim Dilamarter and Al Unser. Their objective was to dominate USAC racing and also to race competitively in F1, taking the Firestone banner into Goodyear dominated territory.

USAC reacted predictably to the advantages of 4WD by restricting them to just 10-inch tyre widths, effectively robbing the promising but expensive technology of its advantage and protecting the status quo of USAC car owners.

Bignotti and Dilamarter converted the T150, carrying USAC #3 signifying Al Unser’s 1968 driving championship standing, to rear wheel drive with side-mounted fuel cells and the distinctive ‘coal chute’ rear decks feeding air to rear-mounted oil coolers. The Lola was renamed the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Special.

In its first race at Phoenix, Al put the VPJ Spl on pole but the Ford V8 dropped a valve on lap 14 whilst in the lead. After Hanford on April 13 the show headed for Indianapolis for the long month of May.

It rained continuously throughout the first week of qualifying. Unser was fast, but broke his leg in a motorcycle accident whilst waiting for the weather to clear! This car was given to veteran Bud Tingelstad who qualified 18th and was classified 15th when a Ford valve again broke on lap 155.


Bud Tingelstad in the VPJ Lola T150 Ford, at Indy in 1969 (unattributed)

Jim Malloy qualified and finished 2nd in the T150 in the ‘Rex Mays Classic’ at the Milwaukee Mile, then 7th at Langhorne. Unser crashed in practice for the 151 mile road course race at Continental Divide on July 6, taking over Malloy’s car for the feature but dropped out with broken suspension.

Al capped the car’s season with a win from pole at Phoenix on November 15, finishing 2nd in the 1969 driver’s championship to Mario Andretti, amazing given that after his motorcycle accident at Indy he had only 19 starts to Andretti’s 24.

Unser spoke to Gordon Kirby about 1969; ‘If I hadn’t broke my leg in 1969 the car was totally capable of winning the 500 in ’69,’ he said. ‘It was already there and 1970 showed it. Look at the races I won through the last half of ‘69 and in ‘70 I just dominated everything. The Indycar and the dirt car (King Ford) were both fantastic cars to drive’.











For 1970 the Lola-based Vel’s Parnelli Jones Special was again modified with aerodynamic improvements and changed its identity yet again to ‘Lola-Colt’… Bignotti and Dilamarter built two more cars using this proven and highly developed car as the pattern. They were known as ‘P.J. Colts’. In 1970 Unser used two cars; the 1968 continuously modified Lola T150 Ford as his short paved oval/road course car and one of the new Colts as his long circuit car including Indy.

Miletich and Jones signed Topper Toys as the team’s sponsor, its ‘Johnny Lightning’ blue livery with bold yellow lightning bolts outlined in red became one of racing’s most recognized, brilliant and striking liveries.

Unser had an amazing 1970 in which he won 10 of 18 starts including the Indy 500, had a record 15 top-5 finishes and 8 poles. It was close to total domination and set Al Unser on the way to his 4 Indy 500 wins.


Unser in the winning PJ Colt Ford ‘Johnny Lightning Spl’ during the 1970 ‘500 (unattributed)

With the Lola T150 he won at Phoenix in the season opener, at Indianapolis Raceway Park in July, the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee in August and the Trenton 300 in October. He was two laps in the lead in the California 500 at Ontario in September when the transmission broke with just 14 laps to go.

Other placings included 3rd at Sears Point, Trenton and in the Rex Mays 150 at Milwaukee, 2nd at Langhorne, 5th on the road course at Continental Divide and 2nd at the season-ending race at Phoenix.


The 54th Indy 500 was held on Saturday, May 30, 1970, Unser dominated the race, winning  pole position and leading 190 laps en route to victory in the PJ Colt Ford. He joined his brother Bobby as the first duo of brothers to win at Indy. It was the first of 4 wins there for Al.

Joint car owner Parnelli Jones, race winner in 1963, became the second person (after Pete DePaolo) to win separately as both a driver and team owner. Unser carted $271,697 back to New Mexico of a record $1,000,002 purse, the first time an Indy prize fund topped $1 million.

Rain on race morning delayed the start by about thirty minutes. On the pace lap, Jim Malloy smacked the outside wall in turn 4, which delayed the start further. All 33 cars in the field were turbocharged for the first time.

al victory lane


In his MotorSport interview with Kirby Unser gives full credit to George Bignotti. ‘Once George understood you he was absolutely a terrific mechanic. He could figure things out. George also always hired the right people. He put a team together and made it work. George had a knack for that. He was good at performing and making sure the car finished the races. As long as I didn’t crash, i finished the races. George Bignotti made my career. Without George I would’ve never been able to handle it.’

king ford

Another ‘Johnny Lightning Spl’ 1970 win for Al on the way to his USAC crown, this time in the King Ford during the ‘Golden State 100’ at California State Fairgrounds, Sacramento on 4 October 1970. Al led 99 of 100 laps of 1 mile after Mario Andretti crashed his King Ford on lap 69

Big Al has fond memories of a great era in American racing and is disgusted with modern Indycar racing and the arrival of the spec car age. ‘People were always trying new things and looking for new ways of doing things. Today there isn’t any of that. It just tears me up. There’s nothing but a spec car to buy and you’re told what to do with it. You not allowed to do anything. It’s unbelievable!’

al clermont

Unser in the ‘Retzloff Racing’, see the badge on the cars nose, at Clermont, Indiana in 1968 (Alvis Upitis)

Lola T150 Specifications 1970…

Aluminium monocoque chassis, Ford DOHC 4 valve turbo-charged 159cid V8 giving circa 900bhp@ 8500rpm, 4 speed Hewland LG500 gearbox.

Suspension; Front upper and lower wishbones with coil spring/damper units. Rear single top link, inverted lower wishbone, coil spring/damper units and single radius rod. Adjustable roll bars front and rear. Disc brakes and rack and pinion steering.

Originally delivered as a 4wd car for 1968, the car was converted to normal rear wheel drive as per the text in 1969. The T150 still exists, beautifully restored as does the PJ Colt ’70 Indy winner.


Unser’s Lola T150 Ford beside Ronnie Bucknum’s winning Eagle Offy prior to the Michigan International Speedway race at Brooklyn, Michif gan on 13 October 1968 (Alvis Upitis)



al and mario

Al Unser’s Lola T150 Ford leads Mario Andretti’s Hawk Ford at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Clermont, Indiana on 21 July 1968, Al took the win (Alvis Upitis)

al and jlspl

Unser and the stunning ‘Johnny Lightning Spl’ graphics. Lola/PJ Colt Ford, Indy 1970 (Bettman)

Credits…, Alvis Upitis, The Enthusiast Network, Bob D’Olivo, Bob Jennings


MotorSport magazine interview by Gordon Kirby of Al Unser, Sotheby’s

Tailpiece: Al Unser in the Indy Museum with the 1911 winning Marmon Wasp and tyres indicative of progress…






A few images from the French Grand Prix with the focus on Jacques Villeneuve…

It was a Schumacher race but a Jacques season win, his second in F1. He won 7 events and the title in his Williams FW19 Renault, Frentzen a distant 2nd in the drivers chase in the other Williams.

It was the season in which Schumacher was disqualified from the Drivers Championship for one ‘attempted homicide’ on another driver too many, the FIA proved they weren’t completely pissweak after all. Schumacher collided with Villeneuve in the season ending European GP at Jerez, the assault upon Jacques an attempt to win the title in accord with the ‘whatever it takes’ mantra of Senna and Schumacher.


At Magny Cours Jacques qualified and finished 4th, Schumacher Q1 and 1st in the race in his Ferrari F310B from Heinz Harald Frentzen and Eddie Irvine in the other Fazz. It was the days of the 3 litre Formula, all of the cars mentioned powered by V10’s, marvellous cars…


Michael Cooper all images





(Fox Photos)

Dick Seaman and Herr Heck in their Mercedes’ at Crystal Palace in 1937…

This promotional shot dated 7 October preceded the ‘International Imperial Trophy’ race, ‘the first international road race organised in London’ on 9 October. The event was the decider of the 1937 ‘BRDC Gold Cup’ between B Bira and Ray Mays ERA’s.

The cars above are Seaman’s Mercedes W125 GP car and Heck’s 1903 Mercedes Tourer. Seaman, a works Mercedes driver was back in the UK having contested the 1937 Donington GP a week earlier. He retired from the Leicestershire event after a collision with Muller’s Auto Union having started on the outside of the front row, Bernd Rosemeyer’s Auto Union Type C won the thrilling race.

Seaman did not contest the International Imperial Trophy race but was scheduled to thrill the crowds with some demonstration laps in his Mercedes. The race was significant as the first ever live BBC TV outside broadcast of motor sport.


BBC man in evidence as one of the Maserati 4CM’s and an Austin passes. Interested to know both driver names and the name of this corner if any of you can help? (Imagno)

The entry included Britain’s best plus the Scuderia Ambrosiana, which fielded Maserati 4CMs for Count Piero Trossi, Count Johnny Lurani and a Maserati 6CM for Luigi Villoresi. Private Maseratis were driven by Robin Hanson and Peter Aitken (6CM’s) and Archie Hyde (8CM). They were challenged by the ERA’s of Ray Mays , Arthur Dobson, B Bira, Ian Connell, Peter Whitehead and Charlie Martin.


It looks a bit chilly! L>R: Trossi, Senor Rovere, Lurani and Villoresi with one of the Ambrosiana Maserati 4CM’s (David Savill)

During Thursday practice Mays blew his ERA’s 1100cc engine, becoming a non-starter and effectively giving the ‘Gold Star’ to Bira by 3 points.

Leiff Snellman reported the race in thus; ‘The race was run in two heats plus a final and raced as a handicap event with Hyde and his 3 litre Maserati starting from scratch, the 1.5 litre Maseratis and ERA’s having a 10 seconds advantage and the Austins, MGs and the MG-Riley having a 50 seconds advantage’.

‘Winner of the first 10 laps heat was Maclure (Riley) followed by Dobson (ERA), Lurani and Whitehead. Villoresi retired with an engine problem. Trossi (Maserati) won the second heat after a tough fight with Martin (ERA) and B Bira (ERA) who finished second and third with Goodacre (Austin) fourth’.


Top left; Seaman, Bira, Trossi. Top right Trossi Maserati 4CM (David Savill)


Unidentified gaggle of cars during the meeting (Central Press)

Between the races Seaman jumped into the ‘Benz W125 and carefully did several laps in 2 min 4s, about the same speed as the cars during the heats. Many of the spectators must have heard stories about the spectacular show by the German cars the week earlier and were as thrilled by the speed, wheel spin and noise from the ‘Silver Arrow’ as the Donington crowd had been.


Seaman practices his W125 at Crystal Palace prior to raceday, the slippery nature of the surface evident from the gloomy English day (Getty)

‘Twenty cars started in the 15 laps final to fight for the £150 first prize. The race became a great duel between ERA drivers Bira and Dobson who left the rest of the field behind. Bira won by half a car length while Dobson received the Jarvis Trophy for the fastest lap. Goodacre’s Austin finished third. The Scuderia Ambrosiana cars were unable to challenge for the lead with Trossi an early retirement and Villoresi and Lurani having problems to follow the ERA’s. Villoresi finally finished in fourth place’.


Bira the happy winner (Central Press)

The Mercedes W125 went on display at the Mercedes-Benz showrooms in Park Lane, as was Rosemeyer’s car at the Auto Union showrooms.


Fox Photos, Imagno, David Savill, Central Press

Leif Snellman’s Crystal Palace article in






Oddjob shows off James Bond’s Aston DB5 outside the Hilton Hotel in the PR hoopla around Goldfinger’s release in 1965…



Goldfinger was the third film of the Bond ‘franchise’, James copped a new company car of course, an Aston DB5 and so commenced a relationship between Bondy and Aston’s which has endured down the decades. It was an astute bit of product placement on the part of David Brown and his marketers, sales and company profile grew as a consequence.

Aston Martin’s haven’t been Jame’s only conveyance of choice, click on this link for a list of all the cars used in the Bond films;


Sean Connery on ‘Goldfinger’ location with DB5 (Donaldson Collection)

Because I know you simply have to know, here’s a comprehensive list of all the goodies ‘Q’ fitted to the DB5 to keep James away from the baddies;





And One for the Rich Kids…


The portly young chap is at the wheel of a DB5 ‘Junior’ in the Iranian Embassy, London December 1966. Its a gift from Aston’s to the Shah of Persia or Crown Prince of Iran, dude at right the Iranian Ambassador









(Spencer Lambert)

Now that’s a ‘Wing Car’! Garrie Cooper awaits clearance for takeoff at Adelaide International, ‘Elfin 792 Cessna’ in 1979…

When I originally saw this shot on the wonderful ‘Elfin Monocoque Aficionados’ Facebook Group page I thought it a promotional pisstake, the additional wings added to get some column inches for Elfin’s sponsor, Ansett Airlines of Australia. Ansett was an Australian icon, our ‘other’ domestic airline until its corporate failure in 2001. Reg Ansett would have turned in his grave that day.

Whilst it was John Bowe’s car the helmet was Cooper’s, JB confirmed it was the Elfin chief at the wheel; ‘Garrie kept and prepared the car in Adelaide, he was always fiddling around with new ideas and this is one of them. I met the car and raced it at meetings but GC did all of the development work on the chassis’.

Elfin boss Cooper and mechanic/engineer John Porter were experimenting to understand the forces their new ‘ground effect’ designs would be subjected to by trying to create the downforce of GE tunnels by the addition of the side mounted wings.


Gunnar Nilsson, Lotus 78 Ford, Japanese GP 1977 (unattributed)

In 1978 Colin Chapman, Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson ‘swept the boards’ with their dominant ground-effects Lotus 79, Mario took the drivers and Lotus the manufacturers titles that year.

The complexities of aerodynamics, what a ‘black art’ it was then with the technology of the day was such that the dominant team of 1978 didn’t win a race in 1979!

Chapman pushed the envelope ‘too far’ with the ‘wingless’ Lotus 80 despite all of the knowledge Peter Wright, Tony Rudd, Chapman and the rest had acquired during 1976/8. The best ‘Lotus 79 copy’, the Williams FW07 was the fastest car of 1979 albeit Ferrari ‘nicked’ the title with its T4 design as Patrick Head and Frank Williams didn’t get their new car onto the grid early enough which allowed the ultra reliable, just fast enough Fazz Flat-12 to win for Jody Scheckter.


The technical challenges manufacturers of production racing cars like Elfin faced in 1979 were the aerodynamic forces unleashed on their structures. They both needed to understand how to create the downforce Lotus harnessed and then strengthen their structures to cope with the download and cornering forces applied to the cars chassis and suspension componentry as unheard levels of grip were created.

The difficulty for people like Cooper at the ‘far flung ends of the planet’ was not being able to see how things were evolving directly week by week at race meetings in Europe, get the ‘goss from suppliers and the press etc.

The Elfin 792 VW Golf was Cooper’s 1978 ANF2 car (1.6 litres, SOHC, carburettor formula, engines gave circa 185bhp) but it arrived late so took the 792 appellation. GC had a huge F5000 shunt in 1978 at the Sandown Gold Star round from which he was lucky to escape, a story for another time, an impact was the delay of a swag of Elfin projects including the F2 car until Garrie was back on his feet.

When laid down the little single-seater was designed as a neat, conventional aluminium monocoque with outboard suspension. It was a replacement of his Type 700, originally built as an ANF3 (1300cc) car but evolved into an F2 car by many racers when fitted with a Ford Twin-cam or various pushrod/SOHC 4 cylinder engines as the class evolved from a 1.6 twin-cam to a 1.6 SOHC formula with effect from 1978.


Garrie Cooper did ‘a million miles’ at Adelaide International and Mallala testing his Adelaide built cars over the decades, here the 792 is running a high airbox, with which it did race (Spencer Lambert)

Later Australian Gold Star and Touring Car Champion, John Bowe raced both the factory MR8 Chev F5000 and 792 and with more luck could have won both the Gold Star and the 1979 F2 Championship.

Bowe may not be known to all overseas readers, he is one of Australia’s pro-driver greats over 4 decades. He had a great career in single-seaters before turning to ‘the dark side’, touring cars where he was and still is, an ace. He won 6 Australian Championships in four categories including the then prestigious ‘Gold Star’ for our champion driver, 2 Bathurst 1000’s and the Australian Touring Car Championship.

bowe elfin

JB in his Elfin 500 F Vee #132 during his 1971, debut racing year in which he won the Tasmanian FV Championship, aged 16 (

‘I grew up surrounded by cars in Tasmania, my dad had a dealership and raced, I went to lots of local meetings at Symmons Plains, Baskerville and Longford. I raced an Elfin Formula Vee when I first started and an Elfin 600 after that, and it was Garrie who gave me the chance to race on the mainland, which is something I really wanted to do’.

‘He was great to me by giving me the opportunity and also the guidance. The Elfin drives were the big boost my career got, everything that happened later was a function of the success I had in the F2 Elfins and especially the F5000 MR8 drives I had, which established my big-car credibility’.

elf dick

Dick Johnson left and John Bowe in their 1993 Ford ‘EB’ Falcon V8 Supercar heyday, JB won the Australian Touring Car Championship, for the last 30 years really the ‘Australian Drivers Championship’ in 1995 in a Falcon (Shell)

‘The 1.6 single-cam F2 formula was really good at the time, it had some young, fast guys involved; Sheady and Sambo in the Celica powered Cheetah’s, John Smith in his Ralt RT1, Davo in the Hardman, Norden in the March copy and others. The fields had depth, the racing was hard, that (younger not Shead and Sambo!) group of us were young guys pushing up so we gave the class a real shake’, said John.

‘The 792 was a good car, it was quick but it wasn’t too long before it got a bit floppy at the back. The weakness or lack of stiffness was in the mounting of the frame to the tub, in the end Garrie said we should sell it. Cooper built three of the cars and they are now all in the hands of the one guy, although none of them are running’ in historic racing.

The chassis was an honeycomb aluminium monocoque with conventional outboard wishbone suspension at the front and single top link, twin lower links and radius rods for fore and aft location at the rear. New uprights were used as well as Elfins own steering rack. Hewland’s Mk9 5 speed ‘box with slippery diff was fitted and 190’ish bhp claimed for the VW Golf engine which was built in-house at Elfins using the best Super Vee bits from the ‘States. The suspension was finished in cadminium plating, the superbly presented car glistened in the Benalla sunlight as I shared the scrutineering bay with it in at Winton in late August 1979, my Venom F Vee feeling very ‘povvo’ in comparison!

elfin mr8

John Bowe ahead of Kevin Bartlett in the ill-fated Brabham BT43 Chev and John Walkers Lola T332 Chev, Chas Talbot and Rob Butcher both in T332’s then Graham McRae McRae GM3 Chev Sandown Gold Star 1979. KB crashed the BT43 destroying the car and badly injuring himself when a wheel broke in the very quick Causeway/Dunlop Bridge section of the circuit  (Ian Smith)

The class of the 1979 F2 field was John Smith’s Ralt RT1. He raced this as an F Pac with a Cosworth BDD fitted and an AN2 with a pushrod Ford ‘Kent’ 711M, which was pretty neat. The ‘Kent’ is the same block used in Cosworth’s BDD, in pushrod form modified with lots of Cosworth bits. The car was heavy as an F2 but Smithy’s skills more than made up for any weight disadvantage the package had. He was fast but he didn’t have reliability on his side that year.

JB debuted the 792 successfully in Baskerville’s end of February meeting, he won the F2 race and set a new outright lap record. Still in Tasmania on 14 March he won 3 races and again set an F2 lap record, besting the Birrana 274 F2 twin-cam mark set by Leo Geoghegan.

At Sandown on 8 April Bowe again set an F2 lap record besting Leo’s time again but was 2nd in the race between the Cheetah twins; Brian’s Shead and Sampson in Cheetah Mk6 Toyota’s. At Oran Park 6 weeks later he was 3rd.

bowe 792

JB all cocked up at Sandown’s Shell corner, turn 1 in April 1979 chasing Brian Sampson’s Cheetah Mk6 Toyota. Note the ‘Tyrrell’ bluff nose on the 792 early in the season, both sweet little cars, Mk5/6 Cheetah a very successful series of cars (unattributed)

In the Gold Star chase Bowe was 2nd in the AGP at Wanneroo Park in WA, the winner John Walker in a Lola T332 Chev, for a change JW was the lucky beneficiary of others misfortunes. John followed this up with a flag to flag win in the first Gold Star round at Oran Park on 29 July, a great drive for an F5000 relative novice.

JB on the speed of the Elfin MR8; ‘When I stepped up into F5000 I was a young driver and by that stage the Elfin MR8 Chev was well sorted, GC built the first one around 1976. Garrie, Vern, (Schuppan) James Hunt and others had raced the things so they were developed by guys who knew these big cars, I didn’t have a yardstick but I reckon the Elfin was every bit as good as the T332 Lolas and other contemporary cars of the day’.

Bowe took the first F2 Championship round at Calder in early August beating Brian Shead over the line by less than a second, both drivers did the same fastest lap and became joint holders of the F2 lap record.

Later in August Bowe was knocked off the track at Winton whilst lapping a competitor, breaking an upright and spinning into the infield in the second AF2 championship round. John Smith was the quickest car that weekend, but went off in the wet, the winner was Graham Engel in a Cheetah Mk6 Ford.

elf smit

Late 70’s to mid ’80’s Oz single-seater aces John Smith and the forever beardly! Bowe, circa 1979/80 (Ian Smith)

On September 9 Bowe contested the last round of the Gold Star at Sandown and was convincingly in the lead after the brakes on Alf Costanzo’s Lola T430 wouldn’t release but a left rear tyre deflated. In trying to get back to the pits John damaged the rear suspension cradle. John Walker took 2nd, the series and promptly retired from the sport he loved. Costanzo won the race.

John then travelled back to Winton for the ‘Rose City 10000’ F5000 race contested by both 5 litre cars and Formula Pacific cars which were incredibly fast around twisty Winton with its multiple changes of direction. JB qualified on row 2 but was in the lead leaving behind the scrapping Costanzo Lola T430 and Smith Ralt RT1 BDD. With 8 laps to go John spun, broke the Elfin’s nose and was black-flagged, Alf won the race from Smithy by less than a half a second.

At Symmons for the final round of the AF2 championship on 11 November Ian Richards set fastest practice time in a Golf powered car called a Tudor, but Bowe was only a tenth slower with Brian Shead 3rd on the grid. JB won the first heat from Shead and had the title within his grasp but in the final, in the wet, a plug lead came loose whilst in the lead giving the round win and championship to the evergreen, muti-talented Cheetah constructor, Brian Shead.

JB’s F2 season ended at Calder’s sportscar championship round in late November with a win over Ian Richards Cheetah Golf, Ian having won the preliminary race and giving intent of his increasing competitiveness as a driver which would be fully exploited in his own, beautiful ground-effect Richards 201 Golf with which he took the 1981 AF2 Championship.

With the season ended Bowe sold the 792 putting pressure on Cooper to finish the GE225 F2 car for 1980, a story for another time. It was an amazing 1979 for Bowe, he didn’t win either title, both of which seemed a strong possibility at one point but he had absolutely established himself as one of the top drivers in the country.


Cooper in the AIR pitlane, 792 shorn of its wings in some ‘back to back’ tests on the same day the side winglets were tried in 1979 (Spencer Lambert)

If the Elfin looks familiar to some of you its probably its March 792’esque nose. That BMW engined car won the 1979 Euro F2 Championship for Marc Surer. The Elfin also raced with a ‘Tyrrell’ bluff nose but Bowe’s definitive spec was with this nose and an airbox fitted atop the downdraft Weber carbs.

In 1980 John Bowe contested the ANF2 title again, this time in Cooper’s GE Two-25, his first completed ground effect design, no doubt the research found on this 1979 test day was instructive in that cars design!

In the UK Ron Tauranac was struggling to get his first G-E car, the F3 Ralt RT3 to go quicker than the old RT1 (he succeeded bigtime!) whilst Cooper and Porter were simulating the sort of forces they would encounter in designing their new car by running Bowe’s 792 with this wing amidships. No way could it have legally raced with an additional wings mounted where these were.

The GE Two-25 was an F2 race winner for Bowe in 1980 but Richard Davison won the title in a Hardman JH1 Ford in an interesting and competitive ANF2 Championship, a ‘wing-car’ story for another time and one with a potentially better Elfin outcome had Cooper finished the car in time for Bowe to contest the full championship…

bowe ralt

JB is his Ralt RT4 Ford BDD at Oran Park during his successful Gold Star tilt in 1985, he won the title in 1984 as well, by 1985 the ‘aero’ of these cars well and truly resolved! The Ralt RT3/4/5 F3/Pac/S Vee series of cars one of the greatest series of production racing cars ever built (unattributed)


Special thanks to John Bowe for his time and insights

Elfin Monocoque Aficionados’ Facebook Group, Barry Catford and John Blanden ‘Elfin Racing Cars’

Photo Credits…

Stephen Lambert, Ian Smith,, Peter Brennan

Tailpieces: Cooper quickly got the hang of the design of ground effect cars; John Bowe in his only Elfin MR9 Chev drive at Sandown on 22 February 1981 after Cooper was a ‘bit spooked’ by the car in Gold Star practice…

elfin mr9

(Peter Brennan)

Alfie Costanzo’s Allan Hamilton owned, Tiga converted ground-effects ex-F1 McLaren M26 Chev was the class of the field that weekend but JB drove very well to 2nd after a big fright in practice when the MR9’s left rear rocker bent after underestimation of the down force created. The components on all four corners were strengthened overnight at Porsche Cars Australia’s workshop just up the road from the circuit in Dandenong.

John; ‘I was at Sandown racing my Elfin GE225 F2 car and Bryan Thomson’s Mercedes sports sedan when Garrie asked me to have a drive of the MR9 on the Friday. He said he was a bit ‘spooked’ by the car and wasn’t sure whether it was him, he’d had a big accident at Sandown a couple of years before, or the car. It was the early ground effect days, the Elfin MR9 was a great design but the forces weren’t fully understood by many designers’.

‘One of the many wonderful memories I have of GC was being in restaurants with him all over the country and him scribbling notes or diagrams of ideas on paper napkins! What was happening was the chassis was flexing a bit, the front wheels losing alignment and any semblance of castor so the car was very unpredictable under brakes in particular, you had to stop the thing by braking down the middle of the road. And then the upright broke which was very exciting! He strengthened the car in various areas and got it sorted later on but I only drove it the once at Sandown’.

The MR9 is a story for another time…

elf cooper

Garrie Cooper testing one of his great masterpieces, the world’s only purpose built F5000, the Elfin MR9 Chev (Spencer Lambert)



Harry Schell on the limit of adhesion in his ‘Yeoman Credit’ Cooper T51 Climax at Madgwick Corner, Goodwood…

Harry Schell was a press-on kinda driver wasn’t he? Here the Franco-American is delighting the ‘Glover Trophy’ spectators with some delicious Cooper T51 drifts…

The 1960 event was held on Easter Monday, 18 April. Harry was bang on the pace too, equal 2nd quickest in practice with Stirling Moss in a similar car. Chris Bristow demonstrated his undeniable pace though, he was on pole by a couple of tenths and finished 3rd in the race behind Moss, the winner Innes Ireland in his factory Lotus 18 Climax, the quickest of 1960’s GP grid. Harry’s engine popped on lap 20 of the 62 lap 162 Km race…


GP Library, National Motor Museum

Tailpiece: Harry telling a naughty joke by the look of it, Crystal Place, July 1955…

Stirling Moss, Schell and Mike Hawthorn during the ‘London Trophy’ meeting which Mike won the feature race in a Maserati 250F from Harry’s Vanwall.


(National Motor Museum)

Mike won his heat in the Moss’ family 250F chassis #2508, Harry his in Vanwall ‘VW2’ and Mike the final. Moss was contracted to Mercedes Benz that year, this non-championship 30 July event not one in which Benz entered their W196’s.



John Goss races his new Matich A53 Repco for the very first time, the ‘Oran Park 100’ Gold Star round on 4 August 1974…

‘007’ was the last and best F5000 the Matich team built, arguably it’s the best F5000 built in Oz. The story of Frank Matich and his cars I chronicled in a long treatise a while back, have a read if you haven’t seen it;

Goss extended himself, buying the car and some spares. Later he also bought A51 ‘005’ which he converted to A53 spec, racing both cars for years inclusive of the ’76 AGP win at Sandown, check this article out on Gossy;

John Goss: Bathurst 1000 and Australian Grand Prix Winner…

This short piece is inspired by these photos posted on social media for the first time this month. They are ‘mouth-watering’ for me as i’ve always loved this car especially in its Matich original ‘mellow yellow’ Repco livery. Its just the nicest, oh-so-fast bit of beautifully integrated kit.


Grant O’Neill at the back, he looked after John’s cars right thru from this point ex-Matich as he was. Peter Hughes in red and Repco’s Ken Symes at the right. John Davison in Matich A50 ‘004’ behind Oran Park, Gold Star, August 1974 (Neil Stratton)

To have seen FM race it in the US L&M Series in ’74 would have been really something, A53 showed it could run and beat the best of the Lola T330/2’s in Goss’ hands in Oz. Frank would definitely have given a few folks some curry with all of the teams learnings from its unsuccessful 1973 American campaign.


John Goss, Tornado Ford at Catalina Park, Katoomba in Sydney’s Blue Mountains, 1970 (

As a young enthusiast I thought F5000 a big step up for JG, a mere ‘touring car driver’ in my mind, I was ignorant of his pedigree in real cars tho. Whilst he started in tourers he quickly progressed to a largely self built, potent Falcon in-line 6 cylinder mid-engined sportscar, the ‘Tornado Ford’. It was in that he made his name in his adopted Tasmania and later when he moved to the big smoke, Sydney and Ford Falcon GTHO ‘Series Production’ fame…

In F5000 Gossy was ‘on it’ from the start, giving the established aces plenty he was as ‘quick as his mouth’, legend that he was for saying so little in so many, many words!

What a driver and what a car…


Goss in the McLeod Ford, Falcon GTHO Ph3 at Amaroo Park 1972 (

Credits…, Neil Stratton

Tailpiece: Goss at Oran Park again in ‘007’, this time the ’75 Tasman round in February 1975, DNF with electrical problems. The first of many livery and body ‘evolutions’ over the years John raced the two A51/3 cars…