Posts Tagged ‘John Smith’

(Bennett)

It’s an exciting time for Formula Fordsters in Australia, the fiftieth anniversary of the first FF race in Australia, at Sandown on 25 November 1969, takes place in 2019…

The shot above is of Paul Harrington keeping an eye on a journalist about to have a spin aboard a Bowin P4A at Calder, date and drivers name folks? John Joyce built twelve P4’s, one of which was acquired by Ford for promotional purposes, this car, chassis ‘P4A-108-70’ still exists in the hands of Geoff Fry at Bathurst.

LCCA Sandown program entry for the first FF race in Australia in November 1969 (A Mann)

Harrington came to Australia from the UK in the late sixties and was initially employed as General Manager of the Queens Road, Melbourne based Light Car Club of Australia, well known to Australian enthusiasts as the promoters of Sandown and Lakeland Hillclimb in its latter days and venues such as Albert Park earlier on. Being an entrepreneurial type Harrington established Auto Action in 1971, a magazine which exists to this day, although Paul died some years back.

He is at Calder given the role the LCCA had in providing administrative support for the FF category which continued until the clubs demise as a result of the fiscal disasters which occurred due to running two poorly attended World Sportscar Championship races in the mid-eighties. Jon Davison saved the sports bacon by picking up the circuit lease but that central LCCA gathering place and watering hole on the corner of Roy Street and Queens Road for Victorian racing folks has never been replaced.

That first Australian FF race at Sandown on 25 November 1969 was contested by a mix of bespoke FF’s and converted Formula 3 cars. The race was won by Richard Knight’s Bib Stillwell owned Elfin 600 from Murray Coombs’ Lynx and Allan Ould’s Aztec AR8 driven by Bob Minogue- many years later a fast F5000 competitor in the ex-Brown/Hamilton/Costanzo Lola T430 Chev. The Elfin 600 is still about with Allan Ould looking for a Hewland Mk4 or 5 gearbox to complete the car in time for the Sandown fifty year celebration meeting. The Lynx, I’m not so sure about.

Bowin Clan Meeting in early 1975 at Oran Park: Track day attended by John Joyce on the lectern’s left with John Leffler in dark Grace Bros clobber standing on the start line addressing the troops. Sitting down on the tyre opposite Leffo is Paul Bernasconi, shortly off to Ralt and European F3. Cars are a mix of front radiator P4A’s and chisel nosed P6F’s- front and centre is Leffler’s P8 Chev F5000. The day was reported at length by Barry Lake in Sports Car World magazine- drivers and their fettlers were coached on car preparation, set-up, with on-circuit suspension adjustments made throughout the day inclusive of reasons for the changes recommended (SCW)

When John Joyce- I’ve another article on Bowin half-cooked which provides the background to the marque, returned from his long stint with Lotus in the mid-sixties he initially built three monocoque F2 cars.

These machines designated ‘P3’ (Project 3) were raced initially by Glynn Scott, Ian Fergusson and Barrie Garner. Glynn’s was the first built and was fitted with an ex-Piers Courage Ford FVA engine, Ian’s with a Lotus/Ford twin-cam whilst Barrie’s was a hillclimb machine powered by a Holden ‘Red’ six cylinder motor.

Joyce’s 1959 ‘P1’ and 1962 ‘P2’ were both Formula Juniors- one was Cooper based and the second was named ‘Koala’, both cars raced by John.

Barrie Garner in his Bowin P3 Holden at King Edward Park Hillclimb, Newcastle, NSW in 1971 (D Harvey)

 

Glynn Scott’s Bowin P3 Ford FVA and Lotus 23B Ford in the Lakeside paddock in October 1968. The 911 T/R is Alan Hamilton’s, just arrived and so impactful in the 1969 ATCC (G Ruckert)

With the advent of FF in Oz, Joycey adapted the P3 design’s conventional upper and lower wishbone and coil spring/shock front- and single top link, inverted lower wishbone and twin radius rod, coil spring/shock rear suspension design to a (mandated) spaceframe chassis to suit FF.

Power was of course the class issue cast iron, four cylinder, Ford 681M, 691M, 2737M- and from 1971 in Australia the 711M 1968/69/70/71 Cortina/Escort/Capri pushrod, OHV, twin-choke Weber fed 105bhp’ish motor. Hewland Mk8 or Mk9 4-speed transaxles completed the key mechanical elements of the package.

Mike Stillwell in Graham North’s Wren- the first FF Wren built by Bill Reynolds, Graham Gilbert’s self built Corsair FF and Brian Beasy’s self built Beasy FF at Calder in 1970. These days, since 1972! Ian Mayberry owns the Wren with the Corsair and Beasy still extant (A Clifford)

 

Richard Carter in the Tony Simmons built Hustler FF, Warwick Farm circa 1972. Tyres are Goodyear RR12’s (N McDonald)

 

One of the neat things about the class in its early Australian days were the number of one or two off cars encouraged by rules which initially excluded foreign designs. So, in those early years Corsair, Aztec, Hustler, Fielding, Beasy, Nota and others chased race wins together with ‘factory’ built Wrens, Bowins, Elfins and a little later Birranas.

The WA built Fielding FF driven by future quick Bob Creasy during the 1971 Warwick Farm Tasman meeting (L Hemer)

 

Garrie Cooper’s highly adaptable Elfin 600 design (variants of which won in FF, ANF3, ANF2 and ANF1!) ‘dominated’ early on with Richard Knight, who made his name in an Improved Production Cooper S the winner of that first Sandown race in 1969 and victor in the Bib Stillwell owned 600 of the first national FF Championship in 1970.

Knight moved to the UK, racing a ‘Palliser WDF3 FF at the head of the UK/Euro fields against Scheckter et al until funds ran out. After several attempts in other categories including F5000 he set up Richard Knight Cars and became a highly successful Mazda and Lancia dealer in the UK’ wrote FF and Hillclimb ace Peter Finlay.

Larry Perkins in another of Bib’s 600’s won the title in 1971 and took his Trans Australia Airlines sponsored ‘Driver to Europe’ prize in late 1972 contesting the inaugural Formula Ford Festival at Snetterton in the first Elfin 620 FF.

John Leffler in his P4A at Hume Weir in early 1973. TAA (later absorbed into Qantas) were the then government owned domestic airline carrier and provided great support sponsoring the ‘TAA Driver to Europe Series’ for well over a decade, inclusive of providing some ‘hosties’ at some of the rounds. These days from amongst the old gay blokes and boilers you couldn’t put any eye candy on a grid from inside a Qantas cabin…(Bennett)

 

1972 Bowin P4A DTE champion with his new P6F- the very first one built, chassis ‘P6F-119-72’ alongside Larry Perkins equally new Elfin 620 far, far from home in the Snetterton paddock during the Formula Ford Festival weekend. Rising or progressive rate suspension linkages of the P6 clear. This chassis returned to Oz, and fitted with Hart/Ford twincam, Hewland FT200 box, appropriate wings, wheels, tyres and brakes contested the 1973 ANF2 Championship. Larry stayed in England and did rather well, the 620 came home (Bennett)

Fellow Aussies John Leffler and Bob Skelton also made the trip and raced Bowin P4A and brand new P6F respectively. I wonder how Skello would have gone had he raced the known quantity P4A in England in which he won the 1972 DTE rather than the radical, chisel shaped, side radiator, rising-rate suspended and ultimately very successful P6F?

Leffler and Skelton finished fourth in their respective heats but did not make the final in which Perkins was third behind Ian Taylor and Derek Lawrence. Aussies Buzz Buzaglo ran in third early and then faded when his distributor shifted and Peter Finlay was tenth in his Palliser in a field which included later F1 drivers Danny Sullivan, Patrick Neve and Tiff Needell in addition to Larry.

Skelton, Leffler (who won the 1973 DTE title in a P6F) Bob Beasley and speedway star Garry Rush- who Joyce rated very highly in a conversation I had with him in the early nineties, were early very fast P4 exponents.

Garry Rush Bowin P4A leads Phil Webber Elfin 600, another Elfin then David Green Wren and Richard Knight, Elfin 600 in the November 1970 DTE round at Warwick Farm (L Hemer)

 

Perhaps the best credentialed of all Bowin P4 pilots was Australian triple world champion Jack Brabham in car #1!, the P4X raced that year with Jack Brabham Ford sponsorship by Bob Beasley. Jack won this 1971 Calder Park ‘Race of Champions’, his last event ‘in period’- he retired at the end of 1970 of course but could not resist appearing at this meeting- I wonder how much practice he did at Oran Park in this car?! Calder was not new to him- he tested his BT31 Repco Tasman machine at Calder on the day it’s assembly was completed in January 1969. The field for the ROC included Bib Stillwell #6, and Bob Jane #7, both in Stillwell Elfin 600’s raced that year by Larry Perkins and Mike Stillwell in the DTE Series, Frank Matich is alongside Jack with Allan Moffat, Kevin Bartlett and Alan Hamilton the other starters (Bennett)

The P4 design had a second wind in the mid-seventies with the sudden 1975 mid-season change in Australian FF regulations back to road tyres.

Australian FF evolved from mandated road tyres from the classes introduction, to the Goodyear RR12 ‘all weather’ race tyre and then to a Goodyear slick- shortages of that tyre forced a mid-season change to the Bridgstone RD102 during 1975- a great road-going radial of the time, I had a set on my uni-student special (read rooted) burnt orange Capri.

After cutting his teeth in Australian Formula Vee Peter Finlay left Australia and lived the life of a racing gypsy with his wife in the UK, doing so very successfully for several years, finishing third in the EFDA/European FF Championship in 1973. Peter recalls ‘coming back from the UK to Australia at the end of 1973, my Palliser WDF2 arrived early in 1974 and I fitted Goodyear slicks straight away. The ‘wets’ were Goodyear ‘RR12’s. In 1975 I joined the Grace Bros team and we ran the Goodyear slicks and a different type of Goodyear wets until Matich (Frank Matich was the Goodyear Race Tyre importer) was unable to continue supply from about mid-year. I was on the Formula Ford Australia Committee and used my car to test the Bridgestone RD102 radials…They were as cheap as chips but the car(s) handled poorly…Having driven the Palliser on Goodyear slicks I can’t say that the Bridgestones were any fun at all’.

It soon became clear that the good-ole P4 and its suspension geometry suited the tyres very well so the sight of the old-school, front-radiator Bowins knocking off the vary latest of FF designs from both Australia and Europe- imports by then were allowed, became the usual sight in mid-later seventies Oz FF.

John Smith in his Grace Bros sponsored P4A at Oran Park in very Smithy- and very Bridgestone RD102 radial tyre slide. Not necessarily what the drivers preferred (in terms of a tyre) but very crowd pleasing (Bennett)

 

1976 DTE round at Amaroo Park. Richard Carter Birrana F73 on pole- unseen on the front row is his Grace Bros teammate John Davis in the P4X, in blue is John Smith and yellow Mike Quinn, both P4As. The red car is Birrana F71/1 with Terry Shiel at the wheel- the very first Birrana initially raced by John Goss. Carter won the 1976 DTE with the P4’s of Smith, Davis and Quinn second to fourth (Bennett)

 

Gerry Witenden Birrana F71/1 (same car above albeit modified by Elwyn Bickley) ahead of 1978 DTE Champ John Wright P4A and Richard Davison, Hawke DL17 getting a helping hand from a P6F, Amaroo Park 1978 (C Davison)

Great P4 exponents in this later renaissance era for the older chassis were John Davis, Mike Quinn, Warren Smith, Graham Smith, John Wright and John Smith (none of the Smiths related)- the latter one of the high-priests of Australian FF and a bit later Formula Pacific. Smithy and John Wright won the DTE in 1977 and 1978 respectively. Wright was also an awesome racer who jumped straight from FF to the ex-Leffler F5000 Lola T400 Chev, and made the thing look as easy to drive as the FF he had just stepped from.

Who is that man in a P4? Surfers circa 1978. Meanwhile Ron Barnacle, later DTE winner in a Royale RP31 in 1984 makes up ground having done some lawn-mowing for circuit owner Keith Williams, Elfin 620B (C Davison)

 

Oran Park 1976 DTE Bowins as far as the eye can see! John Davis, John Smith and Mike Quinn all in P4s, then Richard Carter Birrana F73- Carter still prodigiously fast in historic racing to this day (Bennett)

 

1976 Oran park P4A butt-shot, Quinn chasing Smith. Mk9 Hewland box, single top link, lower inverted wishbone, coil spring-/shocks and mechanic adjustable roll bar all period typical albeit by this stage a few rockers were starting to appear on cars such as the Royales and Lolas in Oz (Bennett)

These days Bowins are not the familiar sight they should be in very healthy Australian Historic Formula Ford despite classes which should encourage all to compete. A number of us, me included, pushed hard to admit cars built up to 31 December 1989 into historic FF which has had the knock-on effect of drivers buying cars of this later period- owners of the pre-1977 and pre-1983 classes these days stay away in droves. Come back folks!- please bring your Elfin 600, 620B, Birrana F71-3, Lolas, Royales, Hawkes, and especially your P4 Bowins along…

Smithy made it look so easy- rest assured folks it is not! Here the maestro leads Grant Walker, the Kiwi aboard a Tiitan at Amaroo in 1977. A year later I was lookin’ after me mate Alan Bisset’s ex-Brabham/Davis Bowin P4X at Amaroo and witnessed some almighty ANF2 racing between ex-FFers Smith and Larner in the Ford pushrod powered Galloway HG1 and Elfin 700 respectively on this late, lamented outer Sydney circuit (Bennett)

By the late-seventies the going was getting tough for the old P4 with a swag of English cars adapted locally to suit the needs of the Bridgestones and some newer local designs on the scene. The Richard Davison Hawke DL17 developed by Bill Reynolds, the ‘everybody raced’ ex-Arnel Lola T440, several Royale RP21’s and Van Diemen RF77’s, David Earle’s Elfin Aero and Elwyn Bickley’s superb Elwyn 02 all spring to mind.

Warren Smith (no relation) still made Smithy’s old jigger sing well enough to finish second in the 1980 DTE with one win, but time for a car first built in late 1969 had finally arrived…

We have lift off- Sandown DTE 1978. Elwyn Bickley Elwyn 02, obscured Peter Krefel Royale RP21, Richard Davison #5 Hawke DL17, to the right near the fence Lyndon Arnel Lola T440- look down on the fence side of the grid and you can see the distinctive P4 nose of that years champ- John Wright’s car (C Davison)

Etcetera…

Bowin…

 

The Bowin P4A- PR shot of John Wright’s chassis. 12 cars built between 1969 and 1972 (Bennett)

 

The Bowin P6F, John Leffler at Amaroo Park in his 1973 DTE winning mount ‘P6F-120-72’. Geoff Brabham also raced this chassis doing his first full year of FF in 1974- he won the 1975 ANF2 Championship in a Birrana 274 Ford/Hart and then left for European F3. 26 cars built between 1972 and 1976. Leffo perhaps the greatest of all the Bowin racers?- winner in the P4 and P6 in FF, in the P8 ANF2 car and a ‘coulda been’ 1975 AGP winner aboard the much maligned P8 Chev F5000 machine had the planets been aligned and the cars ignition not drowned in the latter stages of the Surfers Paradise race, won in the end by Max Stewart’s Lola T400 Chev (Bennett)

 

Sandown November 1969…

Brian Beasy, Beasy FF exiting Dandenong Road with a gaggle of cars including a winged F3 or F2 car. Decades later Historic Formula Ford in Australia would not have happened without the late Brian’s influence and guidance in the CAMS Historic Commission on all things related to FF inclusive of car eligibility (Beasy Family)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allan Ould’s Aztec AR8 was raced to 3rd as in this photo in the November 1969 first Oz FF race

 

FFA membership list as at the end of 1970

 

Current historic Van Diemen RF86 racer Anthony Mann dreaming of his own Formula Ford as a 9 year old kid aboard the FF ‘display car’ a Wren FF in Shepparton 1969 (Mann)

Arcane and Irrelevant…

Australian Formula Ford tyres- strictly for FF anoraks only! List developed during some Facebook banter mainly between me, Peter Finlay and Nick Bennett

1969-1971 Road tyres of drivers choice. In the UK Finlay notes the Firestone Torino ‘wide ovals’ were a road crossply with a racing compound

1972-1973 Goodyear RR12 all weather

1974-1975 mid-year Goodyear slick with RR12 wets and very expensive but superior G10 winter treads for sopping wet races

1975-1980 Bridgestone RD102 road radial

1981-1983 Dunlop slick ‘592’ compound

1984-1994 Dunlop CR82 all weather

1995-2015 Avon ACB10 all weather

2016 on Yokohama A048 all weather

Peter Finlay, Palliser WDF2 from Peter Larner, Elfin 620B, Calder early 1975 just before the Goodyear slick- check out the tyre distortion folks, were changed due to supply problems to the Bridgestone RD102 radial. Finlay won 3 rounds that year and Larner 1 with both tied for second in the title chase won by Paul Bernasconi in a Mawer 004. Finlay later owned and ran Peter Wherrett Advanced Driving and was a hillclimb ace- Larner still is a great engine builder and raced an AGP or two in the Formula Pacific era (Finlay)

Photo and Other Credits…

Laurie and Nick Bennett Collection, Chris Davison, Nick McDonald, Oz Classic FF Facebood site, Lynton Hemer, Dale Harvey, Anthony Mann, Sports Car World, Peter Finlay, Graham Ruckert, Beasy Family Collection, A Clifford, Grant Burford

Tailpiece: In Search of An Apex…

(SCW)

John Leffler, Australian Gold Star Champion in a Lola T400 Chev in 1977 and kneeling John Joyce trying to get their Bowin charges to apex correctly during the Oran Park Bowin test day in early 1975.

Harry Macklin aboard the ex-Leffler P4A John raced in the early 1973 DTE rounds before switching to his new P6F.

Finito…

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(Spencer Lambert)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bowe elfin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

elfin mr8

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

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

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

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

bowe 792

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

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

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

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

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

elf smit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bowe ralt

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

Bibliography…

Special thanks to John Bowe for his time and insights

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

Photo Credits…

Stephen Lambert, Ian Smith, oldracephotos.com, Peter Brennan

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

elfin mr9

(Peter Brennan)

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

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

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

The MR9 is a story for another time…

elf cooper

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

Finito…