JYS loads up into the Chaparral 2J at Watkins Glen in July 1970 (LAT)

Apart from the Chaparral 2J Chev, name another car raced in 1970 that looks as edgy now as it did way back then?

I still remember flicking through Automobile Year 18 in Camberwell Grammar’s library in 1971 and flipping-my-14-year-old-lid at the sight of the 2J. My oldest mate remembers me saying, “Look at George Jetson’s car!” The only things missing were Jane, Judy, Elroy, and of course ‘rAstro!

John Surtees, Chaparral 2H Chev at Riverside in October 1969
2H butt at Riverside in October 1969. Of note is the world’s biggest fabricated aluminium De Dion rear axle and one of the worlds biggest radius rods. ZL1 Chev has a crossover inlet manifold to get the fuel injection trumpets out of the airstream, ditto routing of extractors. Enormous wing fitted in this shot – you can see the vertical support – which is not installed in the shot above, remember too that this car was originally designed and built with the driver fully enclosed inside, something John Surtees pushed strongly against

Jim Hall has gonads the size of pineapples.

His outrageous 1969 offering, the wedgy, door-stop, knee high, De Dion rear-ended 2H was a complete flop. It’s driver, John Surtees, thought Hall had been smoking wacky baccy at Woodstock rather than working with clean-cut Nixon supporters at GM’s Skunkworks to design a new car.

Ever the poker player, Hall doubled his bets and concepted a machine so advanced and fast it was banned after only four races.

The Phil Hill/Mike Spence winged Chaparral 2F Chev looking lonely on the Daytona banking in 1967, DNF (Getty)

Chaparral had been giving the rest of the racing world aerodynamics and aero-technology lessons for five years or so to that point.

By 1970 the aluminium monocoque chassis was passe, so too was the aluminium block 650bhp’ish Chev ZL1 V8, even Chaparral/GM’s semi-automatic three-speed transaxle was a bit ho-hum.

Legend has it the inspiration for the 2J was a child’s fan-mail drawing to Hall of a sports racer being sucked down to the road by giant fans extracting the air underneath.

Whether it was ‘Elroy Jetsons’ sketch, an extension of previous Chapparral/GM R&D work, or divine providence, GM’s Paul Von Valkenburgh and Charlie Simmons, and Chaparral’s Don Gates started modelling the possibilities on Chevy R&D’s Suspension Test Vehicle.

More of a test-rig than a car, it enabled them to play with roll-centres and stiffness, ride height, pitch axis, anti-dive/squat and lots of other stuff; this rig became the 2J test mule.

“Gates worked out a fan and skirt infill defence system while Don Cox, Ernie DeFusco and Joe Marasco engineered a chassis to match,” Doug Nye wrote.

(sportscardigest.com)
(sportscardigest.com)

The resulting tricky bits were the slab-sided, fully-fenced bodywork and Rockwell JLO 247cc two-stroke 45bhp snowmobile engine which powered two rear fans nicked from an M-109 Howitzer Tank. That combination could move 9,650 cubic feet of air a minute @ 6,000rpm, creating negative pressure equal to 2,200 pounds of downforce. Unlike other racing cars, the downforce was independent of the speed of the car.

For three-quarters of its footprint the car was ‘attached’ to the ground via skirts made of General Electric’s new, trick, Lexan polycarbonate. The skirts moved up and down with the movement of the car via a system of cables, pulleys and machined arms that bolted to the suspension. On the smoother Can-Am venues the seal was good, with the fans on the car hunkered-down by two inches.

The net effect of all of this was that the car sucked itself to the road, thereby creating immense cornering power and traction.

Stewart on the Watkins Glen grid, Chris Ecomomaki in front looking for a mike (J Meredith Collection)
Vic Elford togs-up at Riverside. The car in front is Peter Revson’s Carl Haas entered Lola T220 Chev, Revson is sitting on the pit wall to the right of the Lola’s rear. His performances in that car propelled him into a works-McLaren M8F Chev with which he won the 1971 Can-Am Cup – F1 followed (B Cahier-Getty)

During the 2J’s build Jim Hall was smart enough to give SCCA officialdom a look at the car to ensure it was kosher in the almost-anything-goes Group 7/Can-Am world. The crew-cut mob deemed it hunky-dory to race.

While the car was first tested at Rattlesnake Raceway in November 1969, the complex machine missed the June 14, 1970 Mosport season opener and the following Canadian round at St Jovite. But 2J-001 finally arrived aboard a modest ute (pick-up) at Watkins Glen in mid July.

It’s driver was reigning World Champion Jackie Stewart in a one-race deal supported by GM (weird given the Ford sponsored Cosworth engine which powered his F1 cars). JYS had plenty of sportscar experience, including Can-Am cars, but nothing prepared him for the 2J.

“The car’s traction, its ability to brake and go deeply into corners is something I’ve never experienced before in a car of this size and bulk,” he wrote in Faster! “Its adhesion is such that it seems able to take unorthodox lines through turns, and this, of course, is intriguing.”

Jackie Stewart during practice at Watkins Glen, and below, a wonderful race day panorama (LAT)
(LAT)

Stewart, and Vic Elford, retained by Hall to drive the car for the balance of the series, experienced the same other worldly, steep learning curve – retraining the brain about what was possible – as Mario Andretti encountered with Peter Wright and Colin Chapman’s Lotus 78-79 ground-effect cars in 1977-1978.

In a practical sense, half the problem was keeping the auxiliary engine alive – remember it wasn’t designed for this application – in its new harsh environment with all the trackside detritus the fans sucked up from the bottom of the car and regurgitated out the back at speed. Not to forget the skirts and their support mechanisms. The engineering challenge of this lot was mega.

Stewart qualified the brave-new-world 2J third behind the dominant orthodoxy, Denny Hulme and Dan Gurney’s new Batmobile-Beautiful McLaren M8D Chevs. Jackie closed on Dan during the race before being forced to pit, then went out for another seven laps – 22 in all – he bagged fastest lap before braking problems ended his race.

2J-001 at rest in the Watkins Glen pitlane. Sole sponsor decal is for GE-Lexan. Porsche Salzburg 917 of either Vic Elford or Dickie Attwood behind (LAT)
Stewart blasts past Attwood’s third placed Porsche 917. While Hulme’s McLaren M8D Chev won at Watkins Glen, the next six placings were taken by Group 5 enduro cars, not the Group 7 cars for which the race was run. Said Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512S’ had already done the Watkins Glen 6-Hours the day before, most without an engine change between the two races. The JW 917 of Pedro Rodriguez/Leo Kinnunen won (unattributed)

Context is everything. The Glen’s Can-Am round was always topped up by Group 5-6 World Endurance Championship cars which were also in town for the Watkins Glen 6-Hour.

The dominant 1970-71 endurance racer was the swoopy-rounded, spaceframe, 4.5-4.9-litre flat-12 engined Porsche 917. Alongside the 917 the 2J looked like a Sci-Fi film prop!

The Texans missed the next three rounds at Edmonton, Mid Ohio and Road America to further develop the car before rejoining the circus at Road Atlanta in mid-September.

Elford recalled his impressions of the car to MotorSport, “Drving the car was just out of this world. The start-up procedure was a bit like an aeroplane I suppose, you didn’t just jump into first gear and drive away.”

“I put my left foot hard on the brake to make sure it didn’t go anywhere, then fire-up the little engine which immediately started to drive the two monster fans at the back, sucking up the air underneath. When I did this the car would literally go: ‘Shhhp!’ and lower itself down to the ground by about two and a half inches.”

Such was the suction of the turbines, the 2J could tootle off on its own at up to 30mph if the brakes weren’t applied.

At Road Atlanta Vic popped it on pole and finished sixth after ignition problems with the snowmobile engine.

“You get to the stage of thinking it’s just not possible to go around any corner at that speed, and adapting to it mentally is the most difficult approach because no other car has ever gone around a corner as fast as this one,” Elford recalled.

“Another great thing about the suction is that it doesn’t allow the cars’s handling characteristics to change as you go through a corner. Whichever way it’s set it remains that way at all times, whether its a fast corner or a slow swerve – it remains absolutely constant.”

Come race day Elford was always impacted by the three speed semi-auto transaxle, rather than the four of the LG600 Hewland equipped competition, that wasn’t the problem at Road Atlanta though, it was the subsidiary engine.

Laguna Seca followed a month later. There, Elford was the only car to go under a minute, a smidge less than two seconds quicker than Denny Hulme, despite never seeing the place before…

“I went around Laguna in 59 seconds and it was about five years before the next car managed to go under a minute, and that was an Indycar!”

He didn’t get to start from pole as the Chevy popped a-leg-out-of-bed in the warm-up early in the day, and there simply wasn’t the time for the Midland boys to pop in a new engine. The complexity of an engine change involved pulling much of the car apart and reassembly, a days work. It was an immense bummer for the Californian crowd.

Beautiful Laguna Seca profile shot of Vic Elford shows the unmistakable slab-sided lines of the car and operation of the skirts which appear to be riding the bitumen pretty well (unattributed)
Imagine being showered by fast moving trackside shrapnel at 170mph, Dyson have nothing on this vacuum-cleaner! Elford in the Road Atlanta pitlane

The final Can-Am round was at Riverside a fortnight later. There, Elford was again well clear of Hulme in qualifying, this time the gap was a little over two seconds, these are huge margins folks.

“At one point we came into Turn 9 with Denny Hulme just in front of me. I was right up against the wall and I probably didn’t even change gear. I drove all the way around the outside of Denny in third gear. He went straight off, went into the pits and took his helmet off, sat on the pit wall and sulked for the next half hour!”

This time the Rockwell engine didn’t play ball, breaking its crank. The team managed to patch it up and take the start but it inevitably failed on lap two.

And that was it, the howls of protest were loud and long.

Not that there was any way known the 2J didn’t bristle with illegal ‘moveable aerodynamic devices’! No way can the SCCA officials who saw the car pre-season could have thought it otherwise, but – bless-em – they probably thought “Let ‘em run, the crowds will be huge and we’ll see what happens from there.”

In the process of banning it, the SCCA ripped the soul out of Can-Am in that Hall and his boys walked away.

Can-Am’s attraction was its anything goes nature which invited innovation. Anything goes was great, unless, it seems, it threatened the dominant orthodoxy. To me there was Chaparral-Can-Am and Post-Chaparral-Can-Am and the former was vastly better than the latter, with all due respect to Porsche and Shadow.

Elford in front of one of the Papaya-M8D-Terrors at Laguna Seca. Hay bales still very much around in 1970 (H Thomas/Getty)
Brian Redman, Jim Hall, the Chaparral crew and their Lola T330/332 Chevs were the dominant US F5000 force from 1974-76. Here the duo are in the Elkhart Lake pits in 1974, Lola T332C Chev

Still, Hall kept his core team together running Lolas in the US F5000 and single-seat Can-Am championships, then had the joy of watching Lotus carry the ground effect torch forward, not that Chapman ever gave any credit his way, our Col never did that to anyone.

Hall then returned with the John Barnard designed ground effect Chaparral 2K Cosworth which won the CART championship and the Indy 500 in 1980 with Johnny Rutherford at the wheel.

Lone Star JR on the way to a win at Indy in 1980, Chaparral 2K Cosworth (IMS)

That Automobile Year 18 I prattled on about at the start of this masterpiece was hugely influential in stimulating my interest in cars and racing. Six of my Top Ten cars I first saw in that tome; Ferrari 312B, Lotus 72 Ford, Ferrari 512S, McLaren M8D Chev, Ferrari Dino 246GT and of course the Chaparral 2J. The Ferraris and McLaren are all about sex-on-wheels, the 72 and 2J are a tad more cerebral.

This article made me consider what the most influential racing car in my lifetime is? Its ‘gotta be a toss-up between the Lotus 25 Climax and 2J.

All monocoque racing cars are related to the 25, the first modern monocoque. The aerodynamics of racing cars since the Lotus 78 are related to the 2J. Let’s toss the coin as to which is the more influential, let the debate begin!

PS…

I ‘spose you think I’ve forgotten John and Charlie Cooper, but they were doing their mid-engined thing way before I was born, so, I’ve dodged that debate at least. In any event, Auto Union’s mid-engined missiles won GPs pre-war.

May 1967
Thinkin, always thinkin. Jim Hall at Riverside in 1966 (B D’Olivo-Getty)

Credits…

MotorSport Images, sportscardigest.com, Indy Motor Speedway, Getty Images, J Meredith Collection, Harry Hurst, Sports Illustrated, Sportscar Digest, MotorSport November 2020 article by James Elson

Tailpieces…

“Aw come on Jim, it’s years since you raced in F1, time to return and give things a bit of a shake up.”

Jim Hall and Jackie Stewart pre-race at Watkins Glen. “Just make sure you have your left foot on the brake when we fire it up or you’ll mow down half the paddock!”

Note the fan-covers missing at Watkins Glen but present in subsequent races.

Jim Hall’s British Racing Partnership Lotus 24 BRM during the 1963 Dutch GP at Zandvoort, eighth in the race won by Jim Clark’s epochal Lotus 25 Climax. Carel de Beaufort’s ninth placed Porsche 718 in the distance (MotorSport)

Finito…

Comments
  1. John Ballantyne says:

    Another great story from the golden years, thank you.

  2. Keith Putnam says:

    Yes, great story as always! No mention of the exhaust note on this monolith – V-8 thunder, with a dash of street-sweeper cranked up to 11? Cheers! Keith

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