Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Allison’

‘Joisus Harry and the boys look after me pretty well’ is perhaps the thought going through Peter Brock’s mind…

Harry and the Boys are the Holden Dealer Team- Harry Firth, Ian Tate, Bruce Nowacki and others who built and prepared the various Holdens that Australian Touring Car Greats, Peter Brock and Colin Bond raced.

The Birrana 272 Ford ANF2 car Peter is looking after at Hume Weir in 1973 was a Father and Son operation between Geoff and Peter Brock.

This wasn’t new to the touring car ace mind you- the Austin A30 Holden Sports Sedan which thrust the lad from Diamond Creek to fame was run in just that manner but by 1973 he had been a works driver for four years with all of the cossetting- and expectations which goes with it.

Brock has that ‘where the hell is Tatey’ look about him!? Mind you, he may have just spotted a pretty young filly at the burger stand and doing that instantaneous, nano-second process of visual assesssment we all do.

This is another of my whacky-dacky articles in that it started as a mid-week quickie but grew like topsy into a feature as I chased a few tangents- so its not as cohesive as some of my efforts. Its a bit of this and a bit of that, without being a whole lot of any one thing! Bare with me all the same.

Chunky lines of the new Birrana 272 in the Victorian Trophy Sandown paddock. Single top link and radius rod and bottom lower wishbone, coil spring/damper front suspension. Note the ‘stay’ between the front and rear front suspension mounts on the tub (Kym)

I’ve written about this important car- ‘272-002’ and Brocky’s time with it before.

The car is significant in the pantheon of Birranas in that that it was the first monocoque chassis Tony Alcock and Malcolm Ramsay built, as well as the first of a very successful run of Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars constructed by Birrana between 1972 and 1974- noting that production spluttered along into 1978 with a couple of additional cars built in the interim.

In 1972-3 ‘272-002’ was raced by Ramsay, 1971 AF2 Champ Henk Woelders once, Leo Geoghegan and Brock before passing into Bernie Zampatti’s hands in Perth- he still has it, so rather a nice jigger to own in every respect.

Some of the additional photographs of the car were taken in the Sandown paddock during the weekend Malcolm Ramsay contested the ‘Victorian Trophy’ Gold Star round in April, i’m wondering if this was the car’s race debut? Frank Matich won the race in his Matich A50 Repco, with Ramsay seventh- FM took the Gold Star that year, his only Australian Drivers Championship in a couple of decades at the pointy end of Australian motor racing in both sports cars and single-seaters.

For most of the year Malcolm raced the car in South Australia and Victoria- in addition to the Gold Star round at Sandown there was a ‘Repco (fiftieth) Birthday Series’ of five rounds at Calder contested by F3, F2 and F5000 cars- won by Kevin Bartlett’s Lola T300 Chev

Tony Alcock built the first Birrana- the Formula Ford F71-1 initially raced by John Goss and then David Mingay in the garage behind his house in the Sydney suburbs. By the time the later F72 FF’s were constructed he was in partnership with Malcolm Ramsay back in his native Adelaide.

Ramsay had previously raced Elfins and Alcock worked for Garrie Cooper both before and after a sojurn to Europe working for McLaren, Cooper, Cosworth and others- both were mates of Garrie, so in a way it must have felt strange competing with the much respected outfit from Conmurra Road Edwardstown.

Ramsey- is that him sitting on the tub? and 272 at cold, windy Calder during 1972- possibly the August meeting (oldracephotos.com.au/Hammond)

Mind you, the story is that Malcolm approached Garrie to build him a car with some design features he wanted, the ever accommodating Cooper was fully committed with the build of the 620 and MR5 series of cars at the time so really didn’t have the capacity to do a ‘one off’. So Mal decided to do it himself and approached Tony who was at a loose end at the time.

Ramsey, Victorian Trophy meeting, Sandown. Note the injected Lotus-Ford twin cam and its metering unit and breathers on the roll bar. Box FT200, shocks I think Armstrong- half moon steering wheel a distinctive Birrana feature- Frank Matich the other proponent of those in Oz (Kym)

The 272 was an utterly conventional racing car of the period but what was different from the Elfin 600- which had pretty much ruled the small-bore racing car roost in Australia since its 1968 Singapore GP win with Cooper at the wheel, was that the Birrana had a monocoque chassis whereas the 600- a winner in FF, F3, F2 and ANF1 guises was a spaceframe.

The 272 was beautifully built and quick out of the box- its performance when driven by Malcolm and ‘Dame Nellie Melba’ Geoghegan when Leo- the 1970 Gold Star Champion returned from short-lived single-seater retirement to drive the car later in 1972- and Birrana Australian Formula 2 Championship wins in 1973 (273) and 1974 (274). For the record, Birrana national F2 titles were also taken by Geoff Brabham (274) in 1975 and Graeme Crawford (273) in 1976.

Leo first raced the 272 in the Hordern Trophy Gold Star round at Warwick Farm in November only completing 3 laps before having gear lever problems. He raced the car again in the final Repco Birthday Series round at Calder in December and was convinced of the Birrana’s potential so signed to drive one of two works ‘273’ cars- the other raced by Ramsay in 1973.

The 273 took Alcock’s concepts further, the 274 further again with sales and wins aplenty- the full history of Birrana is for another time.

Leo Geoghegan gridding up for the Hordern Trophy at Warwick Farm late in 1972- that’s Garrie Coopers ELfin MR5 Repco to the left (S Geoghegan)

 

Brock squirts his 272 around Calder in early 1973 (G Moulds)

At the end of the 1972 season Birrana sold the car to Brock- who made it available for Malcolm Ramsay to race in the opening round of the 1973 championship at Hume Weir whilst Peter attended to Holden Dealer Team commitments.

Malcolm handed the car to Leo who had broken valve spring problems with his 273 Hart motor throughout the weekend including raceday. Geoghegan took a great and somewhat lucky win from the rear of the grid when Tony Stewart’s leading 273 had overheating dramas and had to reduce his pace- the plucky, quick Victorian was second and Chas Talbot, Elfin 600E Ford third.

Tony Stewart’s 273 from Geoghegan in the 272 with an the Skelton Bowin P6 on the outside- and Clive Millis’ abandoned 600B on the inside of the corner. A shame Stewart ceased racing this car after so few meetings- very fast driver, with support from Paul England should have, and could have gone far (ACY)

 

Geoghegan on Hume Weir’s Pit Straight, Birrana 272 1973- race run in tricky conditions including some rain, tailor made for the experienced Leo (ACY)

Brock raced the 272 for several more meetings before he too acquired a 273. Brock’s too short single-seater/Birrana sojurn is told here; https://primotipo.com/2018/05/07/brocks-birrana/ , with some Birrana history here; https://primotipo.com/2016/04/29/birrana-cars-and-the-1973-singapore-gp/

The 272 had a locally built 1.6 litre Lotus-Ford injected twin-cam engine- the Hart 416B variant de-rigeur in Australia from 1973 when all of the top-guns used these motors excluding Peter Brock.

Hewlands ubiquitous 5 speed FT200 gearbox was specified with lower wishbone bottom, top link and radius rod suspension at the front and single upper link, two lower links and twin radius rods deployed at the rear. Roll bars were used of course with cast Birrana uprights, wheels and steering rack finishing off a very nice package.

Wide, shallow, very rigid monocoque chassis, Varley battery beside the gearbox, locally built twin-cam by Peter Nightingale fitted with Globe injection (Kym)

Tailpiece: ‘Formula Birrana’ Adelaide International 7 October 1973…

(ACY)

Geoghegan and Ramsay in works 273’s sandwich the #18 Bob and Marj Brown owned 273 driven by Enno Buesselmann at Adelaide International in 1973, this race was won by Enno after Leo suffered a puncture.

Evolution of the 272 to 273 clear in this shot inclusive of period-typical ‘Tyrrell type’ enveloping nose.

Marque experts rate the 273 the pick of the Birranas with the 274 said to be not really a quicker car- as proved by the pace of Buesselmann’s car when driven by Bob Muir for the Browns in 1974 fitted with 274 nose and rear wing.

Geoghegan crushed the opposition in 1973- demonstrating amazing reliability, he finished all seven of the championships rounds, winning six of them- one in the 272, the balance in his 273. In a busy season, Geoghegan and Ramsay also raced the cars in Asia- this tour is covered in one of the articles linked above.

Bob Skelton, Bowin P6 Ford-Hart from Peter Brock, Birrana 273 Ford, Oran Park 1973 (ACY)

Afterthoughts…

Bob Skelton and the Bowin P6.

An interesting thing looking back at this F2 season is the performance of 1972 ‘Formula Ford Driver to Europe’ (DTE) winner Bob Skelton and his spaceframe chassis Birrana P6 Ford-Hart.

He was, despite being a far less experienced open-wheeler pilot than Leo who had been racing Tasman 2.5’s since 1966, and was racing wings and slicks for the first time- right up Geoghegan’s clacker on raw pace if not finishing record that season in a brand new, unsorted car. Two second placings from four of the seven rounds he finished was his best.

Let’s look a bit closer in terms of raw speed- at Hume Weir both Leo and Bob didn’t record a time- Tony Stewart started from pole on 45.4 seconds with no race times disclosed.

At Oran Park Geoghegan was on pole 42.3 secs, with BS right behind him on 42.5, Brock 44.2.

At Amaroo LG pole 48.7, BS again in second slot with 48.9, PB on 51.9- the last round of the series Brock contested.

At Surfers the cars raced within the Gold Star Glynn Scott Memorial Trophy F5000 race- Skelton bagged the F2 ‘pole’ with 1:9.5 from Leo on 1:10.4 with BS a tenth quicker in the race- the first occasion that happened that season.

Kneeling John Joyce fettles Skelton’s P6 at the Hume Weir opening round (ACY)

 

Symmons Plains grid with Geoghegan and Skelton on the front row. Chris Farrell, Dolphin 732 Ford (Brabham BT36 copy) and Enno Buesselmann Birrana 273 on row 2 with the distinctive #62 black Bowin P6 Hart of Bruce Allison on the right- to the left is Ian Fergusson’s Bowin P3 Ford. The #3 white 273 is Don Eubergang in the ex-Tony Stewart ‘273-007’- then an assortment of Elfin 600’s and a couple of Cheetah Toyota F3’s towards the rear- a very young John Bowe is in one the 600’s (ACY)

From Queensland the circus moved down South to Symmons Plains in Tasmania where Leo put the championship beyond doubt- both did 55.7 secs in practice. Skelton didn’t contest the final rounds in Adelaide or at Calder.

The conclusions to be drawn from the above are firstly that Skelton was a very quick driver- no shit Sherlock- he had won the DTE in 1972 apart from demonstrable pace in the sports and touring cars from whence he came. On raw pace the Bowin P6 was the equal of the Birrana 273 despite being brand new and untested prior to the seasons outset- and in the hands of a ‘wings and slicks’ novice.

It is a great shame Skelton’s single-seater career ended at this point, he deserved another crack at F2 or elevation to the F5000 Big League.

Bob got the babes, or TAA ‘hosties’ air- hostesses as they were before the days of political correctness! Bob Skelton taking a Ford Falcon XA GT Amaroo Park lap of honour after wrapping up the 1972 DTE. Slumming it on Fairlanes are second placed John Leffler and third place-man Bob Beasley- all raced Bowin P4A’s (unattributed)

In fact Skello’s ‘P6-119-72’ was the very first P6 built by John Joyce, completed, according to Bowin records, on 8 September 1972.

After winning the DTE in his trusty P4 Bowin Skelton raced the P6 once or twice in Oz to Formula Ford specifications- the P6 was an FF/F3/F2/Formula Atlantic spec car, four of the latter were exported to Canada in 1973/5, before shipping it to the UK and contesting the Snetterton Formula Ford Festival or ‘World Championship’.

He raced in the UK together with fellow Australians Larry Perkins (1971 DTE winner), John Leffler (1973 DTE winner) Buzz Buzaglo and Peter Finlay- the latter duo were at the time living in the UK and were ‘jets’ in British/Euro Formula Ford. How the Aussies fared is covered in this feature on Buzz I did yonks ago;

https://primotipo.com/2014/07/08/buzz-buzaglo-australian-international-racing-driver-and-the-eternal-racing-story-of-talent-luck/

Bob Skelton and ‘P6-119-72′ in the Snetterton paddock in late 1973, variable rate rear suspension linkages clear, alongside is Larry Perkins’ equally new Elfin 620. Both cars successful Formula Fords models for their respective makers (unattributed)

After shipment of the P6 back to Sydney the Bowin lads removed all the Formula Ford clobber- ‘Kent’ 1600 motor, Mk9 Hewland, brakes, wheels etc and added Hart 416B, FT200, wheels and calipers and wings and the rest and had the car ready- just, for the first 1973 F2 round at Hume Weir.

Hey presto, now I’m an F2! ‘P6-119-72’ in F2 guise with a nice shot of Skletons trick, schmick alloy, short-stroke Hart 416B twin-cam, circuit unknown (MRA)

These days the beautiful, radical P6/P8 Bowins with their progressive or ‘variable rate’ suspension are somewhat maligned on social media- it really is time I attack Bowin as a subject and address the facts armed with statistics in relation to the P6/P8- favourite racing cars of mine!

The colour photo above is Skelton’s P6 in front of Brock’s 273 at Oran Park during the ANF2 Championship round on 5 August- Geoghegan won from Brock and Skelton. Peter’s second place was the best of his two 1973 championship appearances, the final one was at Amaroo Park, also in outer Sydney, a fortnight later where he was sixth.

After that Brock ceased racing the 273- as quickly as he started it- the lure of touring cars was too great, Holden weren’t happy for Brock to race a Ford engined car and no doubt the self-running nature of the program was no fun- and by then not what was required to win in F2.

Mark Fogarty quoted Brock as saying ‘Brock was disillusioned by the formula…in 1972 F2 meant a simple chassis and twin-cam engine, but in 1973 monocoque chassis and supertrick Hart motors were the rule if you wanted to be competitive’. ‘Brock, in between HDT commitments, struggled on…until it became apparent that he was banging his head against the wall without a Hart…’

PB was second in the ’73 Oran Park round, here in his new Birrana 273- unsponsored. Odd the lack of support for the 1972 Bathurst winner (ACY)

Peter Brock and single-seaters.

The opening photograph in this article aroused plenty of Facebook chatter about Brock’s prowess as an open-wheeler driver- the fact is of course we can never be definitive about Peter’s capabilities because he simply didn’t stick at it for long enough to make a determination.

He had good equipment in both the 272 and 273 chassis but the cars were not, as noted above, fitted with the Ford-Hart 416B engine. Good for about 205 bhp, these motors were 15-20 bhp, depending upon accounts, more powerful than the best of the local twin-cams.

Most of the quicks in 1973 had them including Geoghegan, Ramsay, Buesselmann, Stewart, Skelton and Bruce Allison (Bowin P6- a sixth and a fourth Bruce’s best in a car he loathed- the 274 he raced in 1974 was much more to his taste and his results reflected it!) Winter (Mildren Yellow Submarine).

What we do know is that Brock was quick in anything and everything- in machines as diverse as the Austin A30 Holden, Touring Cars of god knows how many number from Holden Monaro GTS350 to V8 Supercars, rally and rallycross cars, Bob Jane’s 600 bhp plus Chevy Monza Sports Sedan to the Group C Porsche 956 Prototype he shared with Larry Perkins at Silverstone and Le Mans in 1984. In all of these cars and disciplines Brock was a winner or at least very competitive.

By all accounts- and so many of us watched him for four decades, so we all have a view- Brock was a versatile, adaptable, mechanically sympathetic, consistently fast and aggressive but thoughtful, analytical racer of elite international level and standing.

That does not mean he would have been an ace in single-seaters, but on balance, my ‘I reckon’ is that he would have been at least the equal of the best Oz resident open-wheeler guys had he focused in part or exclusively in the rarefied end of the sport…

Let the debate begin!

Brock, in Birrana overalls bending Ian Tate’s ear (i think) at Calder in 1973 (unattributed)

Photo and other Credits…

Dean Oliver, Kym, Glenn Moulds, ACY- Australian Competition Yearbook, Mark Fogarty in Australian Motor Racing Annual, Racing Car News, oldracingcars.com, Shaun Geoghegan

Etcetera…

Brian Hart and Hart engines article; https://primotipo.com/2016/10/21/hart-attack/

Brock, Birrana 272 Ford, Calder 1973 (AMRA)

Tailpiece 2…Leo G and Birrana the dominant 1973/4 F2 combo…

(AMY)

I’ve taken a few twists and turns in this article but let’s not lose track of Leo’s superb driving in 1973- Birrana gave him a brilliantly designed, built and prepared car that year and in 1974which he put to very good effect.

A shame was that he didn’t switch into F5000 after his 1970 Gold Star win aboard a Lotus 59B Waggott- Lord knows we needed a few more cars on the grid, but it was great, having read so much about Leo before I first went to a race meeting, to be able too see so many of his F2 races in 1973 and 1974! He was ‘the goods’.

RIP Leo Geoghegan.

Finito…

 

 

arr ric sa

Patrese debuts Arrows A1-06 Ford at Kyalami, South African GP 1979. Q8 and 11th in the race won by Gilles Villeneuve’ Ferrari 312T4 (Schlegelmilch)

What’s it like livin’ and lovin’ the most successful race engine ever built?…

Our ‘Racers Retreat’, Peter Brennan owns and cares for ‘DFV250’. I have decided in fact he is a ‘perick’! Not only can he drive ‘big cars’ very quickly but he can  also reconstruct, rebuild and maintain the things which makes him a multi-talented ‘perick!

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Pete Brennan in the Arrows at Phillip Island, Paul Faulkner’s ex-Jones ’81 Williams FW07 behind (Brennan)

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Villeneuve and Patrese, 7th and 5th in the 1979 Belgian GP at Zolder. Ferrari 312 T4 and Arrows A1 ’06’ May 1979 (unattributed)

‘DFV250’ sits in the back of his Arrows A1-‘06’. It was Ricardo Patrese’s car for the early season races in ’79 before Arrows switched to the more advanced but unsuccessful A2 which was not Tony Southgate’s best work. A1-06 was then sold for Aurora Series and Historic F1 use, eventually ending up in the Al Copeland Collection from whom Pierre acquired it after Copeland’s passing.

We will get to restoration of the Arrows and the Ford DFV which was at the ‘dismantle, crack-test and reassemble’ end of the spectrum rather than the ‘reconstruct around the monocoque bulkheads, four corners and ‘box’ huge task which Lola T330 ‘HU18’ represented, soon. Click on this link for a series of articles on that mammoth job which shows Peter’s talents.

https://primotipo.com/2014/06/24/lellas-lola-restoration-of-the-ex-lella-lombardi-lola-t330-chev-hu18-episode-1/

For now I just want to focus on the care and maintenance of a DFV race to race which I expect is rather more involved than that of my ‘Peter Larner Engines’ 105bhp Formula Ford ‘Kent’ moteur?

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Clark on the way to the DFV and Lotus 49’s first win, Dutch GP, Zandvoort 4 June 1967. Clark leads Brabham Brabham BT19 Repco 2nd, Rindt Cooper T81B Maserati DNF and Hulme Brabham BT20 Repco 3rd (Schlegelmilch)

 

 

Why the DFV you ask?…

Keith Duckworth’s Ford sponsored 1967 3 litre, 4 valve, fuel injected, 2993cc V8 is both the most successful grand prix engine of all time with 155 championship GP wins from 1967-1983 but also part of the winningest ‘family’ of engines. The DFV spun off the 3.9 litre Le Mans winning endurance racing ‘DFL’ and single turbo-charged 2.65 litre ‘DFX’ Indy victor.

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Theo Page cutaway of the Ford Cosworth DFV in 1967. All the key elements referred to in the text covered in this superb drawing

Phil Reilly Engineering…

Brennan has tackled all manner of race engines over the years including lots of Chevs, Repco Holden F5000, Repco Brabham V8’s and various Coventry Climax FPF’s, but the DFV was new to him. His ‘guru’, a source of advice from afar and the fellow to whom he sent the his heads was Phil Reilly who has forgotten more about these engines than most people ever knew. His ‘shop, well known to American enthusiasts is in Corte Madera, California. Reilly Engineerings ‘Care and Feeding Your Cosworth DFV’ and Peters practices in looking after ‘250’ form the basis of this article.

dfv lotus

Butt shot of one of the Lotus 49’s upon debut at Zandvoort 1967, ZF 5 speed ‘box, the ratios of which could not easily be changed about to be swapped. Shot shows the brilliant packaging of the DFV. Lotus’ Chapman prescribed a stress bearing V8 to Keith Duckworth inclusive of the way he wanted to attach the engine to the chassis at the bulkhead aft of the driver. Note the tubular brackets either side of the Borg and Beck clutch to which the suspension mounts. Their is no tubular frame or monocoque structure aft the driver, the engine itself forms the function of being the bit to which other bits are attached! Part of the brilliance of the DFV is its combination of power, weight, reliability and cost, the other aspect is the way it integrates with the chassis (Schlegelmilch)

DFV’s and DFV’s…

The development of these engines has effectively never stopped, you can still buy the bits from Cosworth Engineering, inclusive of a new engine should you buzz it to 15000rpm on an errant downchange and pop a rod or three thru its slender aluminium or magnesium flanks.

The DFV in Jim Clark’s winning Lotus 49 at Zandvoort on 4 June 1967 gave a smidge over 405bhp, its power delivery in the early days quite ferocious, coming in with a bang all up top, making it a bit of a challenge for Messrs Clark and Hill. A long stroke, same as Jims, engine like DFV250 gave around 470bhp and 260 lbs/foot of torque at 10500/9000rpm respectively whilst being thrashed to within an inch of its life by Patrese in early 1979.

A wrong turn of phrase really as the talented Italian multiple GP winner was both mechanically sympathetic and great test driver.

ickx

Jacky Ickx, Ensign N177 Ford, Monaco GP 1977, 10th in the race won by Scheckter’s Wolf WR1 Ford (unattributed)

dfv dfv

All go and no show Cosworth Engineering. Subtle stamping of engine number in the engines valley (Brennan)

In fact when ‘250’ was first born it was a Cosworth lease engine used by Team Ensign and supplied to them on December 3 1976.

It was fitted to the N177 chassis’ driven by Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni, multi GP winners both, during 1977.  Without the teams records its not possible to know into which chassis ‘250’ was installed race by race.

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Launch of the Arrows A1 at Silverstone in late 1977, maybe they figured the white body against the white snow would disguise its similarity to the new Shadow DN9, the design drawings of which Southgate erroneously thought were his! Patrese in car, Jack Oliver behind left and Tony Southgate at right. The High Court writ was shortly ‘in the mail’ (unattributed)

The engine was then bought by Arrows when the team spun out of Shadow. Jackie Oliver, Alan Rees, Tony Southgate and Dave Wass all felt they could ‘build a better mousetrap’ and left Don Nichols outfit at the end of 1977. The High Court legal stoush about ‘IP infringement’ which followed is a story for another time; in some ways Nichols had the last laugh as Shadow won a GP, the 1977 Austrian when Alan Jones took his first win in an a DN8 Cosworth, whereas Arrows never did win one albeit the business lasted a lot longer than Shadow…

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(Brennan)

The Calm Before The Storm…

Here is ‘250’ all ready to rock on Peter’s dyno; ‘It takes about a day to plumb the thing up, its godda be done very carefully of course. Cosworth prescribe very fully how to do it (see below) Having gotten thru all the preliminary stages of running it in, i gave the thing ‘a tug’. All was okey-dokey for a bit and then all hell broke loose, a huge bang and then schrapnel everywhere!’

‘Thank christ it wasn’t the engine itself. The DFV’s vibrate so much it broke the dyno driveshaft @ 9200 rpm precisely! I have had all manner of donks on that dyno, over 500bhp Chevs etc but nothing has done that before. Having had that happen i still haven’t given it a full power run on the dyno anyway!’

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, the rebuild of the engine itself we will cover in an article about the car.

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Brennan’s dyno driveshaft after Cosworth assault @ 9200rpm (Brennan)

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Cosworth’s dyno running in procedures dated 31 October 1977 (Cosworth)

DFV use in Modern Times…

Phil Reilly; ‘If you rev the engine to 10800/11000rpm as Messrs Hunt, Fittipaldi and Jones did you will get the sort of engine bills Messrs Mayer, Fittipaldi and Williams paid!’

‘The DFV with an 11000rpm rev limit is a 3-4 hour motor…which will blow up big-time every now and then…needing an injection of $10-15K of parts and lots of (expensive) TLC…for vintage events use 10000rpm as a normal shift point. Doing this keeps the engine well below its stress point yet still provides enough power to test any drivers skills…the bonus is the engine will live 15-20 hours between rebuilds’.

Geoff Richardson Engineering have been looking after the engines since their heyday, James Claridge provided their perspective; ‘The routine rebuild interval for an engine limited to 10000rpm is approximately 1000 miles’.

‘This would comprise of us stripping it down, crack testing components, inspection of all parts, followed by re-assembly and dyno testing. Replacement of valve springs happens every time.Possible replacement of pistons depending on condition, if they were re-used they would certainly be replaced at 2000 miles. The same applies to all of the valves, they are taken on condition. New con-rod bolts are fitted, all new bearings, a new set of piston rings, and all new seals and O-rings are fitted. Nearly all the other parts are taken on condition and replaced accordingly’.

‘An engine with no issues or catastrophes that we knew the history of and is well looked after might cost somewhere in the region of £12-15000.00 to completely refresh’.

Peter Brennan provides the drivers perspective; ‘ The DFV has three quite distinct phases of power, one bangs in at 5500rpm, the next at 7000, then it goes ballistic at 9000 and all you do is chase gears with the tach going bananas…’ ‘Its not that difficult to get off the line, it obviously doesn’t have 500 plus foot pounds of torque like an F5000, sliding the foot sideways off the throttle at around 8000 rpm and then modulating it to match wheelspin with circuit grip soon has you motoring in the direction of tomorrow pretty smartly!’

Click on this footage of Brennan in the Arrows at the Adelaide Motorfest in 2014, the event uses part of the Adelaide GP circuit and some other streets.

‘The howl of the thing at 10000rpm as it yelps its way from cog to cog along the main straight at Phillip Island; with a 22/24 top fitted, fifth is 183 mph @ 10000rpm is unbelievable and Patrese would probably take it flat! Its not to be believed and relished every time you do it, Southern Loop comes up all too soon, its not the seagulls you are focused on as you turn the thing in believe me’.

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Bruce Allison in the March 771/781 Ford, Thruxton or Oulton Park in 1978 (Allison)

Bruce Allison raced Cosworth powered March’s in the Aurora Series in 1978 ‘The record of the engine speaks for itself, it will still be popular in historic racing in 50 years! The engine was powerful, smooth and reliable the cars of course handled better with far less weight at the back than the F5000’s i was used to. The 781 March may have been the 782 with a DFV shoved in it but it was a beautiful handling car, the 761 chassis i used early in the season was not as good but the engines were always great, beautiful to drive’.

Lookin’ After Cossie: These things are like a mistress, stunning to look at but always wanting attention, never happy and a constant sap of cash…

dfv ball

Brennan’s sense of humor never too far from the surface! ’06’ at Sandown historics 2014. Dissertation on the chassis and suspension i will save for the article on the car itself. Shot included to show just how much the engines compact size, packaging and stress bearing nature assists the chassis designer. Compare how Tony Southgate mounts his suspension to the engine via these fabricated aluminium plates compared with Chapman’s tubular structures in the Lotus 49 of 1967. Note back of sparkbox in the Vee, ‘two towers’ behind that to connect with air scoop to cool inboard mounted rear discs, rear suspension outta the airsteam and clear of G/E tunnels, single support for gold rear wing, oil cooler and black painted starter motor with drive going forward (Bisset)

Storage and Fuel System.

The engine needs to be turned over by hand one revolution each week. Turn on the fuel pump as well, this will ensure no two valve springs remain fully compressed for too long and will circulate fuel through the metering unit to prevent corrosion and keep all the seals from sticking in one place.

The fuel filter needs to be changed every 500-700 miles, the engines have a high pressure pump to start and a mechanical one for normal on circuit running. The engine won’t run below 2000 rpm on the mechanical one, the electric one is needed for starting, fuel pressure of 120psi needs to be maintained at all time, at least 95 psi is needed to fire her up.

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‘250’ ‘right bank’ showing both the auxiliary drive belt housing (right) and the super clever oil scavenge/de-aerator pump at left and one of the water pumps in between. The black coupling between oil and water pumps is called an ‘oldham drive’, a flexible joint (Brennan)

Olio.

A more critical liquid than fuel is oil. The engine must be plumbed to Cosworth specs…its data sheet DA0626 for ‘DFV250’ and the like. Its critical the engine never sucks air, at high revs bearing failure will result. At 10000rpm the engine is rotating at 166 times plus per second.

Peter; ‘I use Kendall 20/50 mineral oil, which has a high zinc content which is great for the cams and followers’. The Cosworth oil filter (Part #PP0404) needs to be changed every 300 miles, the oil level needs to be checked religiously as the engine uses as much as 4 quarts every 100 miles.

Oil temperature should be 90-100 degrees centigrade measured at the inlet to the pressure pump. 7000rpm should not be exceeded before the oil is at least 50 degrees centigrade.

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‘250’ ready to be refitted to ’06’ in Brennans eastern Melbourne workshop. Note spark box between the Vee and behind it the fuel metering unit below the ‘aeroquip’ lines, Lucas injection of slide as against butterfly type. ‘Knurled wheel’ beside rear LH injector sets mixture, ‘behind’ this is the drive for the mechanical tach. Line at far right is cable drive for electro-mechanical fuel pump. The more you look the more elegant the packaging of it all is (Brennan)

Spark.

‘250’ has the Lucas ‘Opus’ system which has a pickup on the crank which fires the Opus at 38-40 degrees BTDC. The Opus also has a retard mechanism which is set for starting at 12 degrees BTDC.

The DFV has an alternator which provides sufficient power as long as the electrical  fuel pump is switched off, DFV pilots need to remember this as they zap away from pitlane. ‘Pump Off’ was a familiar pit signal for decades!

Ignition timing is set on the dyno and is usually impossible to change in the chassis. Opus runs at 38-40 degrees BTDC, the sytem needs to be mounted in a cool place, the stock Cosworth mounting between the injection trumpets is usually fine.

The engine must be connected to negative earth with rev limiters set to 10400rpm.

The plugs are 10mm Bosch surface discharge to special order. Warm up plugs aren’t required, with plug life 3-4 race weekends. The plug wells need to be blown out, the HT leads removed with pliers. Plugs are tensioned to 9-10 foot pounds having been coated with ‘Copaslip’ first.

Spark boxes are delicate devices, you will kill them by voltage spikes caused by breaking the earth, so be clear on shut down procedures.

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Throttle linkage of Brennans Arrows at Sandown 2014, ’06’ about to fired up. Note the ‘Opus’ spark box between the injection trumpets and black electro-mechnical fuel pump atop the centrally mounted, between driver and engine, fuel cell. Note radiator header tank and cap, bottom right is roll bar support bracket (Bisset)

Mechanical Installation.

The valve cover engine mounting bolts are 5/16 inch UNF and should be tightened to 16-18 ft pounds, be careful not to over-tighten to avoid cracking or deforming the magnesium casting.

The engine throttle slides have four over-centre return springs at the rear, these are a unique Cosworth invention which both reduces pedal pressure and ensures the slides close fully when you lift your foot. But they are not the throttle return springs which sould be well designed and of the ‘compression type’.

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‘The Bomb’; Distributor cap missing at left, alternator in the middle and fuel metering unit at right, This is driven by a quill shaft off the complex gear set (shaft is only 6mm in diameter and designed to snap in cold weather rather the metering unit itself!) (Brennan)

The system needs to be cleaned and lubed regularly. The metering unit fuel cam should be flushed with aerosol ‘brake clean’ and carefully lubricated with a dab of ‘Copaslip’ before each event. If the fuel cam mechanism is gummy it will cause the throttle to seem to stick on.

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‘250’ this time showing the ‘left side’ of the engine with combined water pump and oil pressure pump/filter assy. 250 engine a ‘twin water pump long stroke engine’ as against later ‘slim line’ from circa 1980 which only had one water/oil pump to maximise the space available for ground effects tunnels (Brennan)

The cooling system must not trap air, use bleeds as required, the system uses a 15-20psi cap. A 50/50 mix of water/glycol keeps corrosion in check and lubricates the water pump. Temperature strips should be used to monitor ‘real’ engine temperatures. The water outlet temps at the back of the heads should be 90-110 degrees centigrade and inlet temps 70-80 degrees.

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‘250’ during its disassembly. Complex gear train to drive 32 valves, with degree plate to record engine valve timing during disassembly as a matter of record (Brennan)

Fuel & Fuel System.

Peter uses 100 octane avgas. Light engine oil is always added to the fuel to increase the life of the metering unit, fuel pumps and valve guides/seats. 20/50 Kendall is used, the ratio 2 ounces to 5 gallons of fuel.

The Lucas system needs 120psi to operate properly. Individual injector nozzles should seal at 50-65psi and thus not leak when the electrical pump is switched on, some leakage at 100psi plus is not unusual but it shouldn’t be pissin out…

The metering unit cam is set to run at specific clearances, typical DFV settings are .006 inch idle and .078inch wide open, these settings are 1 notch from full lean. These settings will be on the engine build sheet, check them periodically.

The mechanical fuel pump seal should be lubricated every 500 miles

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Cosworth DFV and its constituent parts (unattributed)

Trivial Pursuit Question?

The firing order is; 1-8-3-6-4-5-2-7

Cold Weather Operation.

Clearances in the metering unit are so tight that in cold weather the quill drive or the metering unit drive will break. Not a good idea.

In weather below 45 degrees fahrenheit the engine shouldn’t be spun over before warming the metering unit with either a hair dryer or judicious amounts of boiling water being poured over it.

Firing Her Up: The Good Bit.

Warm up plugs and oil heaters aren’t needed, so some of the theatre of a bygone era is lost!

Make sure Arrows isn’t in gear!

Set the fuel cam datum pin to full rich

Switch on the electric fuel pump

100psi of fuel pressure should be present

Crank the engine over for 8-10 seconds with the throttle full open

Then prime each injection trumpet with a delicate squirt of fuel

Hit the Opus system retard switch (switch back across for on circuit work)

Switch on the ignition

Hold the throttle open about 25%, start the engine, but don’t race it as it fires. Hold her steady above 2300rpm, savouring the beautiful music it plays, settle the revs wherever the mechanical chatter is minimised but @ around 2300rpm

Its important not to run the engine below 2000rpm as the cams are not properly lubricated below that

Once the engine settles down with a little temperature switch off the electric fuel pump.

As the engine warms, the engine should be leaned one datum pin down, one notch at a time. With each notch it will spit and crackle a bit until it warms to it.

Engines are set normally to run one notch from full lean, they will be ‘grumpy’ at low speed which is normal.

Oil pressure should be 40-60 psi, make sure your driver has a look every now and then on circuit!

Unsurprisingly running a DFV is more complex than its Ford ‘Kent’ little brother! If the maintenance regime is followed and the driver keeps the engine in its optimum band and doesn’t buzz it on the down-changes, something Ricardo did during his Arrows days according to Tony Southgate then ‘DFV250’ will last around 1700-2000 miles  between rebuilds…

DFV Engine in the Ground Effect Era…

Credits & Bibliography…

Peter Brennan many thanks

Phil Reilly Engineering, Geoff Richardson Engineering

Dossier on Arrows A1-06 written by Alan Henry for oldracingcars.com

Rainer Schlegelmilch

Tailpiece…

arr sticker

 

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Birrana Engineering chief Malcolm Ramsay in his Birrana 273 ‘010’ Ford Hart during the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix, the last until the F1 era commenced in 2008…

I have been meaning to write about Birrana’s jewels of cars for a while. I tripped over this shot of Ramsay researching the Leo Geoghegan Lotus 39 article a while back, Leo was Birrana’s works driver from mid-’72 to the end of 1974.

This article started as a ‘quickie’ stimulated by the shot above, but segued into a longer piece when I found heaps of photos of the ’73 Singapore GP in the Singapore Government Archives. Too good to waste, low-res shots but still great to circulate. Bonuses were finding an existing article about the pre-F1 Singapore GP history and a contemporary ’73 race report. The basis of something interesting. Bewdy!

I need to a write a bit about Birrana Cars too though.

I don’t for Australian readers but that’s only 15% of you. So I have written what should be treated as ‘An Introduction to Birranas’, Part 2 ‘Birrana In Detail’ to come soon. Hopefully there is enough to explain how important the cars were to those who haven’t heard of the marque whilst being clear to Birrana enthusiasts, and there are plenty of us in Oz, that there is more to come.

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The photos above and below are ‘compare and contrasts’; top of Leo G in his 274 at Oran Park, the bottom of Bob Muir in his 273/4 at Symmons Plains, Tasmania. Bob’s car is 273 ‘009’ with 274 nose and rear wing. Compare with ‘standard spec’ 273 shots in the Singapore GP 1973 part of this article (unattributed)

Leo won the Australian F2 Championship in 1973/4 with a 273 and then 274 model cars, powered by 1.6 litre Brian Hart Ford ‘416B’ injected 205/210bhp variants of the venerable Lotus/Ford twin-cam four cylinder engine first used in the Elan in 1963.

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Bob Muir, Birrana 273 Ford ‘009’, Symmons Plains 22 September 1974. Bob took the win from RayWinter’s Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’ Ford and Sonny Rajah’s March 712M/732 Ford (unattributed)

The F3/F2 Birrana’s were typical, orthodox aluminium monocoque chassis, outboard suspension cars of the period but built to a very high standard of design, construction and finish with particularly careful attention to aerodynamics. ‘Boxes were Hewland Mk9/FT200 for ANF3/2 use respectively.

Twenty-one cars were built, (FF 4, F3 4, F2 11, F Atlantic 1 and Speedway! 1) the first car was the F71 FF built in Sydney by Alcock before he joined forces with Ramsay in Adelaide, their home town. The last ‘A78’ Ramsay built for his own use in 1978 after the factory had closed in terms of ‘volume production’.

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Graeme Lawrence’ Rothmans March 76B alongside the very last built ‘Golden Churn’ sponsored Birrana A78. Graeme is the guy far right of his car and Ramsay the dude in the beard behind his. Selangor GP, Batu Tiga circuit 24 September 1978. Nose of Steve Millen’s Chevron behind. F Pac race, all cars Ford Cosworth BDD 1.6 powered. Of interest to Birrana historians; car was entirely new based on 273 tub design with forward braced roll bars as required then by FIA regs, and upper body panel, 274 nose with bottom lip added, bigger than 72-4 rear wing, no rear engine cover; the 272 and 273 did not have rear covers the 374/274’s did (Choong H Fu)

The pick of the cars, given driver feedback seems to be the 273, although the evolved 274 was built in larger numbers and won F2 titles for Leo G ‘015’ in ’74 and Geoff Brabham ‘018’ in 1975.

Visually though the F3 374 was a gorgeous bit of kit…if not as successful as the ‘works’ Cheetah Mk5/6 Toyota’s of ‘The Two Brians’ Shead and Sampson. Shead built the cars in his Mordialloc shop and Sambo the engines in his ‘Motor Improvements’ emporium in St Kilda Road, Elsternwick. All three of the 374’s were fitted initially with Sambo’s (ANF3 1300cc) Corolla based engines.

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Dean Hosking in the John Blanden owned 374 Toyota ahead of the similar Lew Wade owned, Paul King driven car at Adelaide International in August 1974. Little jewels of things  (Robert Davies)

Our ‘Racers Retreat’, click on the link atop the page for earlier articles, Peter Brennan was the mechanic on Paul Kings ‘Lew Wade Fiat’ owned Birrana 374 in 1974.

‘Lew had sponsored Paul King in an Elfin F Vee for a couple of years in Victoria, he was a really quick driver, so Lew decided to take the step up and buy an F3 car for Paul. He was a Fiat dealer in Cheltenham (in Melbourne’s bayside south), he figured the way to beat Sambo and Shead was a different chassis and a race prepped Fiat 128SL SOHC engine. The car was then new, the engine more advanced than the pushrod Corolla and he could cross-promote the sales of his Fiats.

Soon boatloads of lire were being sent to ‘Luigi The Unbelievable’ in Italy, when the engine finally arrived, late of course, we put it on the Challenge Motors dyno, it barely pulled 110bhp, not enough to pull the top off a rice-custard, the MI Corollas made a genuine 130/135bhp, even the customer engines’.

‘Lew had been serving it up to the Brians, who were both closeby in bayside Melbourne about how the Fiat engine would give them a belting and then had to eat big doses of humble pie and buy one of their donks!’

‘The day came to pick up the Birrana, so Paul and i were despatched to Adelaide in Lew’s big, lumbering Chev Impala and trailer. I don’t remember much about the factory other than it was small. Back in Melbourne, we soon had the thing plumbed and completed, Paul tested it at Calder and was immediately ‘on the pace’, he was a very quick driver but beating the Cheetah twins was another matter.’

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A little bit of biffo in this 1974 Calder combined F3/FF race. As best as i can work out its Peter (brother of Larry) Perkins Elfin 620 from Paul King’s Birrana 374, with 2 Elfin 620’s outside him, one ‘yumping’. #68 is a Wren FF with another FF beside him and on the very outside you can just make out the light covered rear engine cowl of Dean Hosking’s 374 (unattributed)

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Paul King’s 374 ahead of Brians Shead and Sampson in this Winton promotional poster circa 1974/5 (Paul King Collection)

In those days FF’s and F3’s often raced together, there was no national F3 Championship, the quicker F3’s raced against the F2’s in their championship races (which from 73-75 in particular was well supported, comparative car specs; FF 1600 circa 105bhp, no wings or slicks. F3 1300 SOHC or OHV circa 135bhp wings, slicks, 5 speed box. F2 1600 DOHC 2 valve circa 205bhp, wings, slicks, 5 speed box)

‘The car itself was beautifully built and engineered, the only problem we had during that year was leaking fuel tanks, we had to take the car back to the factory to have them re-sealed, its before the days of bag-tanks in these cars. The car was easy to work on, the Toyota engine was bullet proof, and the Hewland Mk9, which was also new gave no problems with only 135bhp tearing away at it.'(these boxes sometimes fitted to 205bhp Ford Cosworth BDD engines, not particularly reliable all the time mind!)

The Mk5 Cheetah was a top car in both the hands of the ‘factory’ drivers and also as a customer car ‘the Birrana was a better engineered and finished car’ but Shead and Sambo had evolved the cars over the years into very quick devices and both of them were experienced, fast competitive drivers. Sampson won the Bathurst 1000 with Peter Brock in 1975 and only stopped racing, in his mid-seventies, in the last few years.

‘Whilst Paul was an F3 front runner Lew started to lose interest when he wasn’t winning all the time, Pauls marriage was also going down the blurter, the car was sold and that was that. Paul drifted from the scene and Lew crashed his Tiger Moth and killed himself some years later’.

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Bruce Allison’s 274 ‘017’ in the Lakeside pits, the Queenslander was 3rd in his home race,during the 1974 AF2 Championship, an 8 race series in 5 states. Workmanship and finish of these cars absolutely world class (Allison)

All of the F2 Birrana’s were fitted initially with Lotus/Ford/Hart twin-cams built by a raft of preparation outfits. During the period we are looking at Peter Nightingale was the designated factory engine and gearbox bloke, he also prepared, from memory (always dangerous) Geoff Brabham’s 274 ‘018’ in his ’75 AF2 Championship winning year so that makes Peter the most successful ‘Hart fettler’ of the day. He still looks after a few cars in his Adelaide home town.

Later, various of the F3/2 cars were fitted with a variety of 1.6 litre SOHC engines when the ANF2 rules were stupidly changed.

Some of the F2 cars had the Ford Cosworth 1.6 litre BDD’s later fitted for F Atlantic/Pacific. The Birranas were too long in the tooth as F Pacs in the mid/late ‘70’s in NZ when they adopted the class, but Bob Muir was competitive in the UK in mildly updated 273’s in 1975.

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Bob Muir, Birrana 273 Ford BDD, Mallory Park, British F Atlantic Championship, Bank Holiday meeting August 1975 (Alan Cox)

The 273 derived European 2 litre F2 Ford BDG engined ‘Minos’ was a slug and optimistic in the extreme given the competitiveness of that class at the time with factory BMW and Renault V6 engines in March/Martini/Alpine chassis. More about ‘Minos’ in the later Birrana article.

One chassis was raced late in its life with a Waggott 2 litre DOHC 4 valve engine, which is the car I would personally like to own! However I am getting ahead of myself and starting to write the article I said at the outset I would do at another time. So, back a step.

By the middle of 1974 Ramsay and Tony Alcock his designer/partner in Birrana, decided it wasn’t commercially feasible to build cars profitably as they wanted to in Oz.

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Bob Muir, Birrana 273 BDD ‘009’ at Mallory Park 24 August 1975, DNF with fuel surge, Jim Crawford’s Chevron B29 won. Later GP drivers Gunnar Nilsson and Tony Brise were also in this race (Alan Cox)

Tony travelled to the UK and initially ran the two Bob and Marj Brown owned 273’s for Aussie Bob Muir in the 1975 British F Atlantic Championship before he joined Graham Hills team. Unfortunately he was on ‘that flight’ which ended tragically at Elstree Airport, the whole team perished on that sad trip in difficult conditions.

Ramsay then focussed on his engineering business servicing the mining industry in Adelaide, where all but the first Birrana was built.

He very successfully applied his organisational and management skills by getting back involved in motor racing and winning multiple Gold Stars for other drivers in the Formula Holden era. His stable included Mark Webber, Paul Stokell, Jason Bright, Simon Wills and Rick Kelly. In addition, for a time he ‘turned to the dark side’ and ran V8 Supercars.

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Geoff Brabham at Oran Park in his 274 ‘018’ the last built car originally sold to Neil Rear in WA but bought only slightly ‘shop soiled’ by the Brabham family for Geoff’s second full season in racing, he raced a Bowin P6F successfully in the Australian FF Championship in 1974. Brabham comfortably won the ’75 AF2 title but Alfredo Costanzo in Leo Geoghegan’s ’74 championship winning chassis kept him honest, Brabham’s the better prepared car. Their was no championship AF2 round at OP in 1975, so not sure when this is, clearly a Friday tho, only a few folks in attendance! Brabs was off to British F3 in ’76 (oldracephotos.com)

Without thinking too hard about it, the rollcall of drivers who ‘parked their arses’ in Birranas in the short period the cars were built is impressive…

Later Bathurst and AGP winner John Goss raced F71, Alcock’s first car, an FF whilst he was making his name in the McLeod Ford GTHO Falcon in 1971. Jumping from the nimble, responsive FF into the ‘big powerful barge’ of a Falcon at the same meeting must have been a challenge. And test of versatility. JG was one of a relatively small number of Aussies who were awesomely quick in both ‘taxis’ and single-seaters. Frank Gardner, Kevin Bartlett, John Bowe, Mark Skaife and Craid Lowndes spring readily to mind as some of the others. Click on the link at the bottom of this article to read about ‘Gossy’.

Andrew Miedecke, Richard Carter and Gary Brabham, the latter long after the car was built, (1982) raced F73, a superb FF built for Miedecke’s ’73 national ‘Driver to Europe’ championship FF assault. Carter won the ’76 DTE series in this chassis, Birrana’s only Australian FF Championship victory.

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Bucolic Winton, Central Victoria, FF action in 1978. Steve Moody’s Birrana F72 from Gerry Witenden’s F71-the first Birrana built. Then, i think, obscured David Earle’s Elfin and Ron Barnacle’s (or Don Bretland’s maybe?) Van Diemen RF77. Lots of sideways action, Aussie FF’s raced on Bridgestone RD102 road-radials in this period which made them wild to drive having driven my share of laps at the time! A funny bi-product of this was that older chassis, which were designed around radials when the class first started, came to the fore. Witenden, a terrific bloke from Goulburn way, came within a point of winning the ’78 title in this 7 year old Birrana. He went to the UK too, did a few FF2000 races, maybe with Delta if any Brit enthusiasts remember him. Steve Moody is still around historic FF, Barnacle also won an Oz FF title (unattributed)

Drivers of the Birrana F2’s included Leo G, Bob Muir, Bruce Allison, Alfredo Costanzo and touring car ace Peter Brock who did his only single-seater season in 272 ‘006’ in 1973.

Allison very much showed ‘he had what it takes’ in 274 ‘017’ in the very competitive 1974 ANF2 Championship. He jumped up to F5000 in an ex-Bartlett, well sorted Lola T332 Chev in ’75, ‘rattling the established F5000 order’ as the category’s ‘enfant terrible’ in much the same way Warwick Brown did in ’72.

Bruce recalls the Birrana and that ’74 season with a lot of fondness; ‘I’d started racing an Escort Twin-Cam against the best of the guys in Series Production and realised how hard it would be to get an ‘equal car’ so we decided to buy an open-wheeler. Dad organised an Elfin 600FF from Garrie Cooper, the car we got was one that was coming back from South Africa or something, it hadn’t been paid for. Picking it up from the Brisbane docks is not something we looked forward to but a few slabs of beer my dad had brought along did the trick, we were soon on our way!’

‘I did well in that at Surfers and Lakeside then we got Garries 600D F2 (this car is pictured later in this article) which was a good car. Dad got Ivan Tighe to drive its first meeting at Oran Park, but he crashed it, not a big one, it was soon repaired and away we went but by that time the category was getting more competitive. A few people said we should get a Bowin P6 which looked sensational, we painted that car in the black ‘Hobby & Toyland’, Dads business’s colors. It had rising rate suspension but it was an absolute pig. We couldn’t get our heads around the thing, i know John Leffler and Bob Skelton did but i got rid of it after only about 6 months. In fact i boofed the car at Surfers after we had sold it and had to take a big chunk off the price.’

Birrana 274 at Lakeside

Bruce Allison hustles his 274 ‘017’ around, fast, demanding Lakeside, Qld, rear engine cover removed in deference to the summer heat.He was 3rd, the race won by Ray Winter’ old but fast Mildren ‘Yellow Sub’ from Geoghegans 274. Bruce’ results got more consistent and better as the season wore on (Allison)

‘By then it was clear we had to have a Birrana to run with the top guys. Dad did a deal with Malcolm Ramsay, both he and Tony (Alcock) were great to deal with and gave us all the help we needed that year. The car handled well, was forgiving and put its power down nicely. We had good engines, Harts which i think Ivan Tighe looked after, the car itself was maintained in a Hobby & Toyland workshop at Castles Road’.

‘I was 20, very brash and thought i was unbeatable. Leo was smooth, quick and had all of our measure, the grids were great, there were always 6 or 7 blokes scrapping at the front. For outright speed though Bob Muir was an absolute demon in that car. It was the previous years 273, but updated. Bob and Marj Brown who owned the car were wealthy Adelaide people who had a business which made oven glass, heated windscreens and the like. For a ‘part timer’ Bob was bloody good, he went to the UK with the Browns of course’

‘I was never the greatest at setting a car up, Peter Molloy (the very experienced engineer who looked after Bruce in his F5000 years) always rated my speed though and i did get quicker and more consistent that year as the season rolled along and proved it with my results. It was time to move up. The Birrana was important as it proved i could cut it in a competitive car, the 274 was the first of those i had’.

Bruce was soon off to European and US success with annual summer visits back to Oz to remind us of his skill. He won the Grovewood Award and raced in the British national F1 Series but didn’t get the ‘real’ F1 seat his talent and results warranted.

(Bruce lost most of the photos of his career in a fire some years back, these are the only two he has of the Birrana for example, if any of you have photos of Bruce in any of his cars, you are prepared to share with him please email them to me at mark@bisset.com.au and i will forward them on, Mark)

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Bob Muir’s Rennmax Ford ahead of Garrie Cooper’s Elfin 600D Ford (the car Bruce Allison raced after Garrie) and a March 722 during the 1972 Singapore GP. Help welcome as to which corner and driver of the March (NAS)

Bob Muir was a seasoned professional by the time he jumped into the Brown family’s 273’s in 1974. Bob and fellow Sydney motor trader Geoghegan had an almighty battle for the AF2 title that year. If 1973 had an element of ‘cruise and collect’ for Leo, ’74 was the exact opposite with fields of depth rarely seen in Australian single-seater racing outside FF. The F2 grids that year had all of the local aces racing ‘down’ from F5000 in F2 as well as all of the ‘comingmen’ contesting a well sponsored series.

Bob had done two years in F5000 in 1972 and 1973, the latter in the US L&M Championship before jumping into the Browns cars after the first couple of ’74 rounds. After his Oz F2 season he then raced the 273’s in F Atlantic spec in the UK in 1975. After the F2 ‘Mino’s nee Birrana ‘bombed’ he was impressively fast in a Ford BDX engined Chevron B35 Derek Kneller built and prepared for the team. In ’76 he was 37 though, if only he was in Europe 10 years before. Like so many competitors of his period, his business funded his racing for much of his career, he wasn’t a ‘spoon-fed’ prat of the type we see so often today.

I digress, as usual. Suffice it to say, plenty of great steerers were attracted to Birrana’s. More of the above in ‘Birrana 2’.

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The official party prior to the 1964 Malaysian GP at the Thomson Road circuit

Keying ‘1973 Singapore GP’ to Google inevitably led to lots of tangents and some good information to go with these shots which are a bit scrappy, but still worth circulating and are from the Singapore Government archives

The balance of this article is a heavily truncated ‘cut and shut’ with a reasonable addition of my own words of two articles; one written by Eli Solomon in the March 2006 edition of MotorSport and the other a race report by (the) Peter Collins published in Australia’s ‘Racing Car News’ and posted on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’ by ex-RCN journalist Ray Bell.

Eli has his own magazine, ‘Rewind’ which has great South East Asia current and historical content. You can either subscribe (pay) or access some of his material via Facebook, just click ‘Rewind’ into the FB search engine.

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Not long after the start of the 60 lap 1964 Malaysian bike GP. Thomson Road circuit, #79 Shershall from Perry, Sang and Dingle (MCI)

The first Singapore Grand Prix was the 1961 ‘Orient Year Grand Prix’, held on a stretch of Upper Thomson Road.

In 1962 the race was renamed the Malaysian GP, until Singapore gained independence in 1965. Singapore ran its own event from ’66 while Malaysia held two events, one around the Singapore race near Easter, called the ‘Malaysian GP’ and another in September labelled the ‘Selangor GP’.

The racing season in Asia began at Macau in November, moved to Australia and New Zealand with the Tasman Cup, and returned to South East Asia with back-to-back races in Singapore, Johore, Selangor and Penang, followed by Japan.

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Food vendors 1971 Thomson Road circuit style (NAS)

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Alfa GTA, Albert Poon? winning the 1971 Touring Car race, start/finish is on ‘The Thomson Mile’ (NAS)

From 1966 to 1973 the Singapore Grand Prix became the main racing event on the local calendar each Easter. The 3.023-mile street circuit was a challenge, its narrow 24ft width offered little run-off area in a sport that was increasingly seeing faster speeds.

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(Gel Motorsport)

Australian Vern Schuppan and British-born Hong Kong man John Macdonald both loved it. Never one to mince his words, Macdonald describes the track:

‘Flowing? In places, but hairpins were not exactly flowing. Dangerous? In those days no more so than expected and certainly safer by far than Macau. Monsoon drains? Yes. Bus stops? One after that lovely curve on the straight and a few lamp posts. None of these things got in the way and I did not go looking for them!’

The start-finish line was on the main straight, on a normal day the two lane black-top served as a major trunk road, on the right were fruit plantations and on the left new housing estates and industrial parks.

The bend halfway down the straight was ‘The Hump’, this had a false apex which sat on the turn-in that lifted cars off the road; it was this section that Frank Matich got wrong during 1970 practice, his McLaren M10A Chev F5000 hit a bus stop and was out for the weekend.

After ‘The Hump’ was ‘Sembawang Circus’ or ‘The Hairpin’, dangerous as cars approached it ‘flat’ until it was ‘chicaned’ in 1969 to preserve spectators generally and Singapores Cabinet sitting in VIP stands!

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Garrie Cooper Elfin 600D Ford ahead of Vern Schuppan’s March 722 on ‘the Thomson Mile’, 1972 GP (NAS)

‘The Esses’ comprised several sections; ‘The Snakes’, four bends, then ‘Devils’ a rounded off v-bend which caught many out, then ‘Long Loop’, a right hander.

Then came ‘Peak Bend’, where TV and radio stations located themselves. The circuit then went down right to ‘Range Hairpin’ and then ‘Signal Pits with pit entry after ‘Range Hairpin’.

Then it was left onto ‘The Thomson Mile’ a fast undulating one mile stretch on what was then the start of Nee Soon Road and back to the start/finish line, a lap was circa 24 gear changes dependent upon type of car and ‘box of course.

It was not until 1968 that Australian constructors started to venture to South-East Asia. Garrie Cooper of Elfin Cars won the Grand Prix that year in his very first Elfin 600, powered by a Ford Twin Cam. ‘Nobody had ever heard of Elfins,’ said Aussie racer/constructor Frank Matich.

Cooper had also suggested that the Singapore GP be confined to racing cars, for qualifying times to limit the number of entrants and for a reduction in the number of laps from 60 to 50. Subsequent years saw the main race run as two heats of 20 and 40 laps over different days.

Local racers were increasingly sidelined by foreigners, 1967 the last year a local won the GP. In 1969 Kiwi Graeme Lawrence won in his McLaren-FVA M4A amid some very powerful machinery including Cooper’s Elfin 600C Repco 2.5 V8, which the locals thought was an F1 car.

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Mal Ramsay in the Thomson Rd paddock 1970. Elfin 600C Repco 2.5 V8 4th place in the race won by Graeme Lawrence’s Ferrari 246T (Rewind)

For the 1970 race Matich arrived in ‘Rothmans’ team livery with his McLaren M10A Chev F5000 that had recently won the NZ GP, while the Australian Alec Mildren ‘juggernaut’ consisted of Kevin Bartlett in his Mildren ‘Yellow Submarine’ (the Alfa V8-powered  Len Bailey designed, Alan Mann Racing built monocoque racer which Frank Gardner debuted in the ’69 Tasman Series and was then handed over to KB upon Gardner’s return to Europe and in which KB won the ’69 Macau GP and Australian Gold Star Series).

Max Stewart raced the 2-litre Rennmax Mildren-Waggott, and Malcolm Ramsay the ex-Cooper Elfin 600C Repco. Mildren was there to supervise, as was Merv Waggott, designer/builder of the Waggott engines. Not to be outdone, Poon had the ex-Piers Courage Brabham-FVA BT30. While Matich wrecked his M10 in practice doing 160mph on the Thomson Straight, Lawrence went on to take his first win in Singapore in the ex-Amon Ferrari Dino 246T in which he also won the 1970 Tasman Series.

Lawrence made it two out of two in 1971 with his Brabham-FVC BT29 against formidable competition.

The big change was that the single-seaters now had to follow Australian F2/Formula B rules to ensure decent sized fields. So FVAs and BDAs were out. The new rules meant that single-seater racing would become the domain of the professional and semi-professional.

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Stewart’s Mildren Waggott from Geoghegan’s, Graeme Lawrence owned, Brabham Ford in the 1972 GP  here on ‘The Thomson Mile’ (NAS)

Max Stewart arrived in the Mildren-Waggott in 1972 — not only would it be the first time he finished a race in Asia, he would win it as well. By that stage the Mildren Tean had disbanded but Max bought his car off Mildren and promptly ‘nicked’ the ’71 Gold Star by a point with consistent performances from close mate Bartlett who won twice, Max took one race, but was more consistent in the 2 litre DOHC, 4 valve Waggott engine car than  KB’s McLaren M10B Chev.

By 1972 the carnival had grown to 15 events, there were 430 competitor entries from around the globe, 146 ‘bikes and 284 cars.

The 1972 Singapore GP field included Bartlett, Schuppan and Macdonald, who had the ex-Rondel Racing Graham Hill Brabham BT36. Sonny Rajah raced the ex-Ronnie Peterson March 712M. Rajah was the local hero and looked the part with his long hair and Zapata moustache.

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Sonny Rajah in the ex Petersen March 712M Euro F2 champ car, 4th in the ’72 Singapore GP (NAS)

But to gain admittance into a country where long hair was associated with drugs, he had resorted to using a short-hair wig! A fellow competitor once remarked: ‘He had brilliant car control but someone other than bullshit artists had to take him in hand! Natural talent and character to boot. Rajah was a very popular addition to the 1974 Australian F2 series when he raced the updated March that year.

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Singapore’s last pre-F1 GP was held in 1973 and was won by Schuppan in a March-Ford 722 (above)…

Schuppan vividly remembers the monsoon drains on the circuit: ‘It was a fast, flowing circuit, a lovely race track. No one talked about lack of run-off area because we were so young then.’ Of Schuppan, Macdonald said: ‘Vern, of course, got to the top but probably never reached the absolute top because he’s too darned straightforward, nice, honest and all those other good things that come up all too rarely.’

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John MacDonald’s new Brabham BT40 Ford ahead Steve Millen’s Elden Formula Fords(NAS)

Macdonald was another favourite and had a brand new Brabham BT40 delivered to him in Singapore ahead of the race. Macdonald said the BT40 was a ‘magic car with a big ‘but…’ The team had a terrible time of it with fuel pick-up problems. A letter to Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham’s owner, resulted in a PR reply to say he was behind them all the way! Once sorted, the car was a prolific winner in Asia.

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Lawrence’ Surtees ahead of Kiwi Steve Millen’s Elden Mk8 FF. Millen later a champion F Pac driver (NAS)

Schuppan, Kiwi Kenny Smith and Sonny Rajah were in March 722’s. Vern’s car was interesting in that the March had been modified by Canadian aerodynamicist Denis Falconer who developed a package of changes from Robin Herd’s original design. There were 5 (!) body configurations depending upon circuit type. The car also had a narrow track suspension set-up for faster circuits.

Graeme Lawrence raced the Surtees TS15 which first broke cover in that summers Tasman Series powered by a 2 litre Ford Cosworth BDG. Ramsay ‘010’ and Geoghegan ‘007’ were Birrana 273 mounted. Poon had a Brabham similar to MacDonald’s.

Tony Stewart’s Paul England owned ‘Dolphin’, a Brabham BT30 or 36 copy was powered by one of Englands very powerful twin-cams. Jack Godbehear built mighty-fine FF and F2 engines re-building many of the Hart 416B’s which were plentiful in Oz as the 1.6 litre AF2 flourished from 1972-5. (the ANF2 1.6 litre twin cam, 2 valve formula applied from 1971 to 1977 which cost effectively, and sensibly mandated variants of the Lotus/Ford t/c engine)

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Tony Stewart in the Paul England owned Dolphin Ford a Brabham BT30/36 replica. Both John Leffler and Andrew Miedecke had one-off drives of this car in Australia (NAS)

Max Stewart’s Rennmax, twin-cam powered was faster than it had been with the more powerful Alfa GTAm engine the year before. Chain was in a Lotus 69, Bussell a Palliser WDB4, Wiano a GRD 272.

The cars had, by the way, come from Selangor where they had run in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Macdonald had won this from Canadian Brian Robertson and Poon, all drove BT40s. The Selangor GP was held later in the year.

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Jan Bussell’s Palliser WDB4 Ford (NAS)

Starting Grid…

V Schuppan (1:57.3)______G Lawrence (1:57.1)
K Smith (1:59.1________L Geoghegan (1:57.8)
M Ramsay (1:59.5)______J Macdonald (1:59.1)
A Stewart (2:01.5)________M Stewart (2:01.3)
A Poon (2:04.0)____________S Rajah (2:02.6)
P Chain (2:07.5)_____________M Hall (2:04.0)
H Wiano (2:08.9)__________J Bussell (2:07.6)

Further back were: Kiyoshi Misaka (BT36 Toyota), Steve Millen (Elden FF), Harvey Simon (Elfin 600B ), John Green (Chevron B20), Dave Hayward (Hawke FF) and Chong Boon Seng (Brabham BT30) a very slow 2:49.1.

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Geoghegan’s Birrana 273, Leo set the all-time lap record in his catch-up drive; 1.54.9 (NAS)

The Race…

Leo Geoghegan passed early leader Lawrence on the sixth lap. Schuppan’s March was third at this stage, but was under pressure from Ramsay, then Macdonald clear of Tony Stewart, Smith, Max Stewart and Rajah.

For fifteen laps Geoghegan’s Birrana 273 stormed away, but then had to pit when the engine began to stutter. The master switch on the roll-over bar had failed, it was shorted out to enable him to continue.

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Geoghegan ahead of Lawrence in their great dice early in the race (NAS)

At the same time, Schuppan showered Ramsay’s 273 with rocks when he ran wide on a fast corner. One rock punctured the fuel tank, Ramsay’s car trailed flames for a couple of laps and then stopped. Another report of this incident had it; ‘Malcolm soldiered on until the pain of the petrol burning his balls forced him to retire.’ So, Ramsay’s retirement was due to either a burning car or burning balls!

And while Geoghegan was heading for the pits, Lawrence’s Surtees lost the use of its mechanical fuel pump, and whether this slowed him as he switched on the electric one or it meant the engine lost power, the net result was that Schuppan’s March swept into the lead.

Geoghegan’s return saw the lap record (Bartlett’s from 1970’s preliminary race) under threat as he carved his way through the backmarkers trying to regain as much of the two laps he lost as possible. He had to pit again later, but the record was his and he completed 41 laps for ninth place. Leo was razor sharp, his Birrana beautifully set-up given the intensity of the competition at home.

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Kiwi star Ken Smith, in his youth. In his 70’s he is still a formidable F5000 pedaller! March 722 Ford, note the differences in his standard spec body and Schuppan’s modified 722 (NAS)

Rajah’s March was out at 25 laps with the battery dragging behind the car and Smith, March, struck problems to lose contact with the Stewarts, big Max passing young Tony as this happened for fourth. Tony Stewart, now there is a lost talent! If memory serves he raced a Birrana 273 for a while before leaving the sport and later making his fortune in ‘Car City’ on Ringwood’s Maroondah Highway in Melbourne’s outer east.

Both leaders had problems. Schuppan’s airbox was falling off, but that wasn’t as bad as the battery losing charge in Lawrence’s car and causing his engine to run roughly. The race ran out like this.

Results (50 laps – 150 miles)

1. Singapore Airlines: Vern Schuppan (March Hart 722) 1h 38:58.3 (1:56.8)
2. Singapore Airlines: Graeme Lawrence (Surtees TS15) 1h 39:36.8
3. Cathay Pacific Air: John Macdonald (Brabham BT40 Hart) 49 laps
4. Singapore Airlines: Max Stewart (Rennmax England t/c) 49 laps
5. Paul England Engineering: Tony Stewart (Dolphin England t/c) 49 laps
6. Air New Zealand: Ken Smith (March 722 Hart) 47 laps
7. Team Rothmans: Jan Bussell (Palliser BRM t/c) 47 laps
8. Air New Zealand: Steve Millen (Elden Mk 8) 43 laps
9. Grace Bros Race Team: Leo Geoghegan (Birrana 273 Hart t/c) 41 laps
10. Camel Melinda: Harvey Simon (Elfin 600B) 40 laps

Fastest lap and new outright record: Geoghegan, 1:54.9.

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A gaggle of cars in the ’72 GP passes a group of flaggies doing their best to say out of the tropical heat, car at the rear perhaps Leo Geoghegan’s Brabham (NAS)

The demise of racing in Singapore was somewhat sudden given the level of publicity and government backing the race received. The social and economic issues (the oil shock and terrifyingly rapid infrastructure growth) that the country was facing may have contributed to this.

The government claimed that the GP promoted dangerous driving in its citizens, these were the very successful times of the ‘paternalistic democratically elected despot’ Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The government acknowledged it would be impossible to implement adequate safety measures for the Thomson Road circuit. Although a permanent track was proposed which  included an all-sports complex, this never materialised.

Over time the view of the government eased with the Malaysian GP at Sepang growing in stature, the ban on motor racing was reconsidered and dropped in 2005.

The Macau Grand Prix, of course, thrived through this period, but after 13 years 1973 was the end for Singapore’s big race’, until the F1 era of course, a story for another time.

Etcetera…

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Field before the start of the 1971 bike GP, help welcome on competitors/bikes. What a wild, fast, narrow place! (NAS)

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Kiwi, Geoff Perry winning the bike GP on a Suzuki 500 (NAS)

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’73 Touring car race, help with cars/drivers welcome! (NAS)

Bibliography…

Eli Solomon Singapore GP article in MotorSport March 2006, Peter Collins race report published in ‘Racing Car News’, oldracingcars.com

Photo and Other Credits…

A very big thanks to Peter Brennan and Bruce Allison for their recollections

National Archive of Singapore, Bruce Allison Collection, oldracephotos.com, Alan Cox, Rewind Magazine, MCI, Choong H Fong, Robert Davies, Paul King Collection

Tailpiece: Kiwi Geoff Perry hustles his Suzuki 500 thru ‘The Snakes’ on the way to ’72 GP victory, the exciting perils of 50 Thomson Circuit laps evident…

geoff

(NAS)

 

 

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Ian Smiths’ wonderful shot shows James Hunt balancing his Elfin MR8B Chev on the turn into the Winton Esses, 29 October 1978, his final race win. Winton ‘Rose City 10000’. (Ian Smith/ autopics.com.au)

James Hunt wins the ‘Rose City 1000’ at Winton Raceway, Benalla, Victoria, Australia in October 1978…

hunt and friends

James Hunt was a hit with the spectators, media, and the Elfin Team, a professional in every respect. ‘Kojak’, McLaren mechanic Ray Grant to Hunts’ right. Winton paddock. (oldracephotos.com)

Racing in Australia…

Hunt enjoyed his interlude in Australia, he was frustrated with his McLaren M26 in F1, McLaren having lost their ‘design mojo’, the Colin Chapman/Peter Wright ground effects Lotus 78 and 79 dominating the 1977 and 1978 seasons. Mario Andretti easily won the World Drivers Championship in 1978, Hunt finished thirteenth, and failed to complete races on nine occasions.

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In search of grip, downforce…the ground effect Lotus 79 got something for nothing whilst everybody else played catch-up in 1977-8. Hunt in his bi-winged McLaren M26 Ford, Spanish GP 1978. Andrettis’ Lotus 79 won from pole, James a lap down in 6th place (pinterest)

James joined Wolf for 1979, optimistic that his old mate and designer from the Hesketh days, Harvey Postlethwaite could ‘produce the good’s, but frustrated with the nature of ground effect cars generally, and the lack of competitiveness of the Wolf WR9 specifically, retired from racing at Monaco.

So, we were lucky to see the first recent World Champion in Australia at all, his late 1978 Winton victory, in fact his last race win of any kind!

The whole exercise was bizarre really, the Winton event an annual stand alone race outside the ‘Gold Star’ the then prestigious series to decide Australia’s Champion Driver, the Australian National Championship Formula at the time was Formula 5000, for single seaters powered by 500BHP production based V8’s.

‘Kenlaw Promotions’ Ken Campbell, together with the Benalla Auto Club, the Winton promoter, secured Hunt for $30000, half paid up front and half after he raced plus expenses, a lot of money at the time. Elfin were to be paid $10000 for supply of the car ‘end to end’, that is prepared and maintained at the circuit.

A huge amount of publicity was generated by Hunts presence in Australia, attendances at the circuit on the weekend, of around 15000 people on raceday reflective of interest in both his driving talent and flamboyant tabloid lifestyle. He arrived ‘pissed’ but still handled the media upon arrival with aplomb! Hunts’ entourage included his brother Peter, his McLaren mechanic Ray Grant, and a friend.

The car was entirely prepared by the Elfin crew, lead by Peter Fowler, based at racer Bryan Thomsons’ workshop in nearby Shepparton…Hunt arrived in Australia after the season ending Canadian GP, no doubt the experience in country Victoria was a reminder of his English Club Racing roots!

John Lanyon in the ‘Elfin Bible’ (‘Australia’s Elfin Sports And Racing Cars’ by John Blanden & Barry Catford) outlines in detail how professional and easy Hunt was to deal with, treating the car, team and Garrie Cooper with a great deal of respect..

Elfin MR8 Chev…

cooper race debut

Garrie Cooper debuting the brand new Elfin MR8 Chev # ‘8761’ at the Sandown round of the ‘Rothmans Series’, February 1976. Chisel nose and relative size of the car a contrast to the smaller MR5/6. No airbox at this stage, side deformable structure nicely integrated into side, rearward mounted radiators. Car beautifully finished and detailed, suspension all nickel plated and gleaming in the Summer sun…

Elfin were Australia’s foremost manufacturer of racing cars, Garrie Coopers small concern in Edwardstown, South Australia producing well over 250 cars and over 20 different models from the late 1950’s, until the late 1980’s after his death. The company still produces road sports cars.

The MR8 incorporated all of the knowledge Cooper accumulated in building ‘big bangers’ ; the 400, ME5, and MS7 V8 Sports Racers and particularly the MR5 and MR6 F5000 cars.

Elfin built 4 MR5 Repco Holden engined cars; ‘works cars’ for Cooper and John McCormack and customer cars for Max Stewart and John Walker. The MR6 was bespoke for McCormack, and designed around the light, aluminium Repco Leyland ‘P76′ V8.

Consistent and dogged development of McCormacks MR5 and MR6, by both Elfin and McCormacks’ own team based ‘around the corner’ from the Elfin factory, the MR6 once fitted with a Repco Holden engine, produced race and championship winning cars.

But the bar was raised with the Lola T330/332, so Cooper needed to produce something special for 1976.

Garrie considered using Repco Holdens again but Repco had long withdrawn from racing so the cost and ongoing development of the small block Chev made that the sensible choice, his first car powered by an ex-Bob Muir Peter Molloy ‘prepped Chev.

The chassis was a conventional aluminium monocoque made of 16 and 18 gauge aluminium, with tubular steel sub frames used front and rear and a roll bar braced fore and aft.

Familiar Elfin rear suspension practice was followed with twin radius rods, twin parallel lower links, single top link, and coil spring dampers. Front suspension was by wishbones top and bottom, again using coil spring damper units, alloy Konis front and rear, and adjustable roll bars front and rear.

rear end

MR8 # ‘8761’  rear suspension. Complex fabrications supports conventional set up of single top link, twin parallel lower links, twin radius rods , and combined coil spring damper (Koni) units, stood up vertically as was the trend of the day. Battery mounted at rear in ‘single post’ rear wing support (Peter Brennan Collection)

Front and rear track was 1625mm, similar to the T330/2, and the wheelbase 2640mm, 30mm longer than the MR5.

A special Elfin casting replaced the standard Hewland DG300 gearbox item and incorporated mounts for both the rear wing and attachment points for the rear suspension subframe.

Brakes were Lockheed and steering Elfins own rack & pinion.

The aerodynamics of the great looking car were a departure from the full-width ‘Tyrrell Nose’ of the MR5/6 to the chisel nose setup Cooper had experimented with on his MR5B.

Three MR8’s were built, one each  in 1976, 77′ and ’78 the cars raced by  champion drivers including Vern Schuppan, John Bowe, Larry Perkins, Bruce Allison, Didier Pironi, and of course Hunt…

Garrie Cooper also raced the cars, his unique contribution as designer/builder/driver critical in keeping the cars competitive throughout this long period.

Hunts car was the Reg Orr owned MR8B Chev, chassis # 8783, the last of the MR8’s built.

The very last Elfin F5000, the only bespoke ground effect Fornula 5000 car built in the world, perhaps the very last F5000 car built in the world, the MR9 Chev is a story for another time…

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Front suspension conventional unequal length upper and lower wishbones, coil spring/ damper unit and adjustable roll bar. Cast magnesium Elfin uprights front and rear. Car built by the same team but to my mind the MR8 was built to a higher standard of finish than MR5/6 (Peter Brennan Collection)

The 1978 ‘Rose City 10000’…

On the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the meeting the car was adjusted to suit Hunt; seat, pedals, steering, gear shift and a small lever added to the belts to aid exit.

He covered six laps on Thursday but the circuit was dirty and wet Friday, so Hunts first serious drive of the car was on Saturday.

Garrie Coopers diary records as follows ‘ James was very impressive right from the start being very smooth and precise and getting the power on noticeably earlier than the others. Right throughout practice fine adjustments were made to the car to balance it as required. He was always adamant when he pulled into the pits that he see the times he recorded and those of his nearest rivals . After making an adjustment he would go out and improve on his time. This continued through the practice sessions until he finished up putting a string of low 55 second laps…however he seemed to pace himself to the opposition and could have gone quicker again. At no time did he appear ragged or put a wheel off the bitumen…’

Hunt told the local media the Elfin was ‘ A lot better than the Eagle I drove. (He raced an eagle for Dan Gurney in 1974) It seems a good car, it is very forgiving and drives a lot easier. It’s good to have a competitive car for a change. It’s a nice feeling!’ referring to his hapless 1978 season.

Hunt was on pole with a 55 second lap, John McCormack next on 55.7, the race was easily won by Hunt with Alfie Costanzo second around 40 seconds behind in his Lola T332. Mac was credited with the fastest lap, Hunt pacing himself and taking it easy on the car. John Lanyon recalls ‘There was no wear and tear on the car at all. Nothing at all. You would think he hadn’t taken it off the truck. That’s both after practice and the race. he brought the car back in beautiful condition.’

Whilst Hunt was paid, the race was a financial disaster for the Benalla Auto Club and Elfin who were only paid $1000 of the $10000 contracted…still, Barry Catford observed in his book that the win was the fillip the team needed for 1979 after a tough season including Garrie Coopers horrible, but lucky escape from the accident caused by his wing mount failure at Sandown shortly before Hunts’ visit.

hunt close up

How Good Was the Elfin MR8 ?…

Its interesting to speculate about how good the MR8 was in relation to its ‘competitor set’ ; the Lola T332 (first model 1974), Lola T400 (1975), Chevron B37 (1976) , Lola T430(1976), Matich A53 (1974) etc.

Two drivers raced the Elfin and other F5000’s, Vern Schuppan and Bruce Allison.

There are various quotes in the ‘Elfin Bible’ of Schuppan comparing the MR8 favourably with the Lola T332 but later in life he seems to have changed his view.

Despite buying an MR8 to use as a Single-Seater Can Am car, having raced both the Lola T332 and MR8, Schuppan rated the Lola T332 the better car, which begs the question, why buy the Elfin if you thought the Lola the better car?

In any event Vern observes’…The Lola T332 was certainly significantly better than the Elfin MR8, Gurneys Eagle, the Trojan T101 0r the Chevron B28’s. The Chevron I raced was quite tired and also a bit flexible but not in a good way’ Schuppan wrote in Wolfgang Klopfers book, ‘Formula 5000 in NZ & Australia Race by Race’.

He continued, ‘The Lola T332 was a wonderful car, it was quick everywhere, I believe it handled well because it was rather flexible…It was a bit like a big go-kart, and although the flex wasn’t designed into it, it, coupled with quite long rear suspension travel , helped to soak up the weight of the Chevrolet engine. This seemed to give the car an advantage in both slow and fast corners. It didn’t always look quick in slow corners…it just put the power down so well without a lot of sliding around or oversteer. It was excellent too, in the wet.’

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Vern Schuppan in his MR8, chassis # ‘8772’ in Single-Seat Can Am configuration, Road America, Wisconsin 1979. Vern was 5th in the race won by Jacky Ickx Lola T333CS (Glenn Snyder)

Bruce Allison’s F5000 CV started with his ex-Bartlett T332 straight out of  an ANF2 Birrana 274, he took to the 5 litre cars like a ‘duck to water’ and instantly became the ‘enfant terrible’ of the F5000 grid in Australia in 1975, guided, prepared and advised by the great Peter Molloy, as Warwick Brown and Niel Allen had been before him.

Bruce raced the ex-VDS Chevron B37 in both the UK, winning the prestigious Grovewood Award in 1977, and in Australia. He raced an F5000 March for Theodore Racing as teammate to Alan Jones, and also the MR8, once, after he had retired for the first time!

‘I hadn’t raced since my last race in the UK, I got a call from John Lanyon, of Elfins’ to bolster the numbers at Calder in early 1982. I duly practiced on the Friday and raced the car on the weekend finishing in the top 5, I don’t remember exactly where. (Looking at the Elfin book, Bruce finished second to John Wrights’ LolaT400, just in front of Garrie Cooper in the Elfin MR9 and took the fastest race lap) It was such a long time, five years, since I had raced a 5 litre car, I raced a March 781 F1 car in the Shellsport Championship in the UK, that I can’t really make comparisons of the MR8 to the other cars.’

‘I had a lot of success with the Lola, but in the UK the B37 was the quickest of the F5000 and F1 cars running the Shellsport Series that year, and I didn’t finish the season. The Chevron was quicker I believe, through the faster corners, the T332 quicker both through the slower stuff and in a straight line. Overall the Lola had the edge.’

‘In the Theodore Team in the US in 1976 i was number two to AJ (Alan Jones), so AJ got the T332, the March 76A allocated to me, it was a shocker of a car, although it was good in the wet, AJ won a race in it late in the season in wet conditions, when he raced it having boofed the Lola. With the benefit of hindsight I would have been better taking my T332 to the US, it was such a well-sorted car, Molloy Chev and all, I would have been far more competitive…’

Bruce was generous with his time and anecdotes but I’ll save those for an article on the one off, gorgeous Chevron B37 itself.

Peter Brennan has raced and restored an Elfin MR5, MR8, Matich A50, and recently the Lola T330 we have covered in ‘Racers Retreat’. I asked him about the construction of the MR8 relative to the other cars…’The tub on the MR8 is much stronger than the T330/332. It has a good forward roll-hoop, the Lola got that only when it was mandated. The Lola is weak from the drivers knees forward’.

‘The T330 was light, mine is 620Kg, my MR8 was 684 Kg, the T332 will be closer to the MR8 in weight with its deformable side structures, oil lines forward, bigger radiators and heavier bodywork, which in some cars is all-enveloping’.

‘The Lola was much better built than the Elfin in the driveline, spindles, uprights, radius rods etc’.

Race-winner though the MR8 was, their is little doubt, no revelation here!, that the Lola T330/332 was the F5000 of the era, the greatest F5000 car ever, as well as one of the most successful single-seaters of any class in any era of racing history.

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Bruce Allison in the Reg Orr owned Elfin MR8, chassis # ‘8783’ at Calder , February 1982, nose of the Cooper ground effect Elfin MR9 Chev alongside…This is the same car James Hunt drove to victory at Winton in 1976 and in which John Bowe had  much success. (Velocity Retro)

Wolf WR9 and Hunts short 1979 Season…

Hunt started 1979 with plenty of optimism and hope but ground effects was a ‘black-art’, designers and engineers learning what aerodynamic shapes of sidepod worked and coping with the sorts of loads the aluminium monocoques of the day struggled with.

Narrow chassis’ to accomodate ground effect tunnels created torsional rigidity problems not encountered by designers to that point. Even Colin Chapman lost his way…the wingless Lotus 80 was a flop, the class of the 1979 field the Williams FW07, the best ‘refined Lotus 79 copy’ of the year, albeit Ferrari won the title as a consequence of the FW07’s late arrival…

Postlethwaites Wolf WR9 was unsuccessful. James ‘pulled the pin’ on a short but stellar GP career in Monaco, opening the door to Keke Rosbergs’ first ‘good drive’, one door closes and another opens…In Hunts case his wonderful partnership with Murray Walker as broadcasters of the BBC GP coverage commenced.

Few of us will forget the Hunt magic and charisma on display at Wonderful Winton all those years ago, and yes, by all accounts the Hunt Touring Group partied hard at the end of the meeting!

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James Hunts’ Wolf WR9 Ford in his last Grand Prix, Monaco 1979. DNF with transmission failure on lap 4, the car was not Harvey Postlethwaites’ most successful design. (pinterest)

Etcetera…

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MR8 ‘8761’ : cars used chisel nose unlike the earlier MR5/6. Roll hoop provides driver protection and chassis bracing, mandated from 1975 season. Car alongside is the ex Brown/ Costanzo Lola T430 then owned by Bob Minogue (Peter Brennan Collection)

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MR8 pictured is the Ex-Cooper chassis # ‘8761’ then owned by Peter Brennan. Nice profile shot shows beautifully integrated body, deformable structure, the MR8 equal if not faster than any of its imported contemporaries from 1976 to the classes end in Australia in 1982…(Peter Brennan Collection)

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‘Motor’ Magazine Australia track test of the MR8 in early 1979. Racer Sue Ransom tested the car with Vern Schuppan doing the timed runs; 0-100kmh 2.9 sec, 0-160 4.9 sec, 0-240 10 sec. Standing 400 metres 9.75 sec. Top speed geared for Adelaide International Raceway 275kmh.     (Peter Brennan Collection)

rose city 10000 poster

Credits…

Ian Smith, autopics.com.au, oldracephotos.com, Glenn Snyder RJS Collection, Pinterest, Peter Brennan Collection

‘Australias Elfin Sports and Racing Cars’ John Blanden & Barry Catford

‘Formula 5000 in NZ and Australia Race by Race’ Wolfgang Klopfer

Many thanks to both Peter Brennan and Bruce Allison for their contributions to this article

Other F5000 Articles…

Frank Matich and his cars.

https://primotipo.com/2015/09/11/frank-matich-matich-f5000-cars-etcetera/

Shadow DN6B Dodge.

https://primotipo.com/2015/10/07/shadow-dn6b-dodge-road-america-f5000-1976/

Finito…