ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 4

  Rear View Mirror

Backward glances at racing history

Three of Three: A Tale of the Life andTimes of the Grand Prix World, 1966 to 1968
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

An Introduction

We're Back!

To a surprising degree, Charles Dickens is the inspiration for what this latest excursion into the history of the motor racing world. True! Several months ago, my eyes happened upon a book I had not read in some time, but once I opened it to the first page and then started reading the opening sentence, I knew I had a Mission...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859

What follows is not a tale of cities, but rather of seasons. It is a narrative of the years 1966 to 1968 in Grand Prix racing. However, it is more than just reports of Grand Prix - Formula 1 - races, but where they fit into the context of their times. It is in no way meant to be a - much less 'the' - definitive history of those times. That is a task best left to others far more talented.

This is simply a personal narrative reflecting your humble Scribe's views and thoughts of those years. When your Scribe started working on this project with his research staff - Mister Peabody and Sherman of The Way Back Machine fame, and the talented researcher Karl Oakie, that was not the intention. It was to be a traditional story of the gossip, the players, the report, and then the results. However, the more your Scribe and Narrator mulled it over and thought about this project, the more it veered off in directions not anticipated.

What clinched the idea of doing it this way was the realization that during these three years, racing was somehow different than the years that preceded them and the also in the years that followed. Something happened, and what is still not exactly clear - to paraphrase the Buffalo Springfield. But, December 1965 was light years away from January 1969. It wasn't just the Grand Prix world, but sports car racing in its various form, the USAC (United States Auto Club) National Championship, the NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing) Grand National Championship, the Can-Am (the Canadian-American Challenge Cup), and other happenings in the racing world - great and small.

It was a period of amazing amount of intertwining of drivers and series in motor racing. For several years - these years - there was a blurring of lines in racing: it was not unusual to find Jim Clark in Rockingham, North Carolina in Holman Moody Ford; or A.J. Foyt at Le Mans in a Ford GT Mark IV; or an American car winning a Grand Prix race in Belgium. It was really like that. Really.

Racing was not immune to what was going on in the "real world," but it was somehow separated from it to a remarkable extent. To examine the racing world in those years to almost forget that the Cold War still occasionally got warm - the Warsaw Pact rolling into Czechoslovakia and a near war along the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas; that the Civil Rights movement still waged its campaign against racism in the United States; that there was a war in Viet-Nam that was garnering more and more attention of the American people; that students took to the streets one Spring and stood much of Europe on its head almost as they had done 120 years previously; and the race most on Earth were aware of was the one to the Moon...

If you bear with your humble Scribe and his Loyal Staff, we hope that the journey will be worth your while.

Part 1: Every Journey Must Begin Somewhere

This journey could begin in any number of places or times. For any number of reasons, therefore, we will begin it on the evening of 29 October 1958 in London. That was when the President the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), Augustin Perouse, rose to announce the new formula to be used in Grand Prix - Formula 1 - racing starting with the 1961 season. The CSI neatly sliced a litre off the existing Grand Prix formula - from 2,500cc to 1,500cc and also imposed a minimum weight limit to boot - 500 kilograms which was later reduced to 450 kilograms. Coming on top of new regulations introduced that season - the use of gasoline (actually of the 130-octane aviation grade variety, not the automotive type from the local gas station) rather than methanol as fuel and the reduction of the length of races from 500 kilometers or three hours to 300 kilometers and two hours - the very face of Grand Racing was in the throes of significant change.

The British teams listened to the announcement in stunned silence. Mike Hawthorn, a Briton, was the World Champion driving for Scuderia Ferrari that season and the G.A. Vandervell - Vanwall - team won the first Championship for Constructors. Where English was once little heard in the paddocks of the Continent, it was now a common and highly vocal language in the racing business. The news was not taken well by the many members of the British racing and automotive establishment.

With Albion smarting from the affront from the blow the CSI delivered in its very moment of triumph, members of the British racing community met several weeks later to discuss the situation. One result was the suggestion for what was to be called the "Inter-Continental Formula." It was to allow for displacements up to three litres and was to be developed jointly with the United States. It was to commence business in 1961 as well, by coincidence.

The 1959 and 1960 seasons witnessed the greening of the grid. And the podium as well. Even on the odd occasion when a red car won, it was usually driven by a driver who spoke English as his native tongue. Albion was triumphant on the Grand Prix circuits of the Continent and the World. When the Vandervell team dropped out prior to the 1959 season, the small Surbiton firm of John and Charles Cooper stepped up its game to capture the Championships for those two seasons. English was now the language of the paddock, the grid, the podium, and to an ever increasing extent, the sport itself.

Then came 1961. Ferrari came out of its corner ready to rumble and captured the Championships, with only the pesky Stirling Moss capable of giving the Scuderia fits from time to time. Not a good year for the teams in green. However, in 1962 the momentum shifted from the red team to the green teams once again. Ferrari had imploded in a series of internal strife that saw it stack arms before the end of the 1962 season. In 1962, the Champion was Briton in a British car powered by a British engine. Only in 1964 when John Surtees used a Ferrari to barely snatch the Championship from Graham Hill and Jim Clark was there to be an exception to this combination. Once again, Albion was triumphant.

The problem was that the triumph was hollow in many ways. The new Grand Prix cars were small in both size and power. Although they eventually did match the times of the previous Grand Prix machines at most circuits, in many cases sports racing cars held the outright lap record. While popular, the "twiddlers" were not loved. They were often jewels of the mechanical art, but something was lacking. Such as power. At the end of the formula the best engines were capable of cranking out perhaps 205-210 or so horsepower. The few horses available were now in machines that were capable of translating those horses to the road to a degree never known before.

Meanwhile, as they say in the history business, other things were afoot. With the new Grand Prix formula proving more successful than anticipated, the alternative formula - the Inter-Continental Formula - was easing backward from its seat in the front row to one near the rear of the room. This was as much the doings of the Continental organizers as with the quality of the racing. The various clubs or other folks that made the racing venues available had lined up behind the CSI and soon the British clubs were doing the same.

In September 1961, members of the CSI and other various representatives of those organizations still interested in the I-CF met in London. The topic was the regulations for the formula and its incorporation into the CSI as a recognized international formula. What came out of the meeting was a revision of the formula, with an eye looking straight in the direction of the United States in the expansion of the powerplants now eligible:

  • Racing engines with a maximum displacement of 3,000cc and a minimum weight of 450 kilograms.

  • Production engines from touring cars using an overhead cam system for value actuation with a maximum displacement of 4,000cc and a minimum weight of 550 kilograms.

  • Production engines from touring cars using a pushrod system for valve actuation with a maximum displacement of 5,000cc and a minimum weight of 550 kilograms.

  • The minimum weight would include oil and water, but not the fuel.

    The deal was brokered by Nick Syrett of the British Racing and Sports Car Club. It was remarked at the time that it was an excellent means to entice the United States into an international road racing championship in which it provided not only drivers, but the cars and the engines as well. Most left the meeting in good spirits convinced that this was the beginning of Something Big.

    While all this was going on - actually prior to the meeting in London, in the United States there was a similar effort being launched around the table in the break room of the editorial offices of the august automotive publication, CAR and DRIVER. It was noted - correctly - that the I-CF was apparently withering on the vine in Britain. Rounds scheduled for Italy and the United States never materialized - the date of the latter being given to the United States Grand Prix which Cameron Argetsinger and his dedicated staff managed to turn into a reality in the space of literally only a few weeks.

    The staff at CAR and DRIVER did a quick look around the world and figured that Formula Libre cars were more often than not starting to use big block engines from American production cars. There was also the existence of three cars which also fired their imagination - one from Reventlow Automobiles International, a 1960 Scarab Grand Prix with a Chevrolet 301 cubic inch V-8; the Sadler rear-engined car with a big Chevrolet V-8 stuffed in it; and the other was from General Motors, the CERV-I, the "Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle" which was used by Zora Akus-Duntov at the General Motors Proving Grounds as exactly what it claimed to be, a research "mule" for testing components for the Chevrolet Corvette or other similar projects.

    The skinny on the proposed "Formula 366" looked something like this:

  • Racing engines - defined as engines produced in quantities of less than 1,000 in any 12 month period, would be allowed a maximum displacement of up to 3,000cc or 183 cubic inches.

  • Production engines - defined as engines produced in quantities exceeding 1,000 in any 12 months, would be permitted a maximum displacement of up to 6,000cc or 366 cubic inches; the engine would also have to retain its original block, heads, and valve actuation system "in principle" - apparently with modest modifications allowed.

  • The fuel would be pump gasoline and supercharging was to be banned.

    After the usual round of bull sessions, the editor sent the proposal around to those inside the "business" for any feedback on the proposal. There were some interesting responses: Bill Sadler stating that he would support it with customer cars if there were enough pro races - two or three; John Fitch questioning the whole idea of displacement limits and recommending Formula Libre instead; Tom Binford of the USAC expressing general agreement with the approach, but noting that USAC was looking at 5.5-litres versus the six litres suggested; Augie Pabst personally liked the idea but thought it would be "suicidal" for those inexperienced drivers who tried to drive the cars; Dick Troutman called the proposal "extremely exciting" and lent his support to the effort; and Cameron Argetsinger and Tom Binford are cited as suggesting that it could used to redefine the I-CF. It was also noted that USAC was considering a proposal to change the displacement for the Champ Cars to 3-litres in 1964.

    The young editor of CAR and DRIVER - someone by the name of Karl Ludvigsen - did manage to put in some laps around Riverside in the Scarab and expressed that feeling that it was "a morning to remember."

    The topic was discussed in several subsequent issues of CAR and DRIVER covering events of the waning months of 1961. Sport editor Herb Williamson reported that the USAC Road Racing Advisory Committee met and discussed the formula for its 1962 Championship Road Racing Circuit. The Committee announced that it would allow engines with overhead cams up to 3-litres and those based on production stock-block engines of up to 5-litres in open-wheeled cars and engines up to 8-litres in sports cars during the first season. The formula was said to be good for two seasons, but expected to reviewed for the 1964 season in light of the possibility of USAC changing the formula for the Champ Cars in 1964. The 1962 USAC National Championship Road Racing circuit was to consist of 10 to 15 events, with races being 200 miles in length, and the purse $7,500 or 30% of the gate. This was fully in line with the campaign of USAC to "take-over" road racing - or at least professional aspects of the it - in the United States.

    In another article on both Scarab and the proposed CAR and DRIVER Formula 366, the magazine reported on the progress of both the formula and the new rear-engined Scarab formula car. It was optimistic about both - especially with the prospects of the formula "Down Under" and in Europe as Formula Junior was rapidly reaching a point where it was saturating the grids, the only alternatives being sports cars or Grand Prix cars - the former options being cheaper. The new Scarab was sporting a Colotti gearbox and an aluminum block General Motors engine - in this case a 215-cubic inch Buick. The engine was eventually increased in displacement to 239-cubic inches or 3.9-litres. There were - as is our habit to say in this business, high hopes for the new Scarab.

    However, fate was not kind to the proposed I-CF, the USAC proposal, or Formula 366. The 1962 saw none of these materialize as serious proposals. This meant that the Scarab was now redundant. Any hopes for enticing the United States and it engines and machines into the international scene faded for the time being. All the discussion and hopes for the Grand Prix alternatives seemed to be stillborn for reasons that had as much to do with inertia as with the merits of the contemporary formulae.

    However, the Scarab did run a race in 1962. For reasons not really clear - it was possibly accurately described as a "lark," Lance Reventlow and his entourage showed up in Melbourne, Australia to run a Formula Libre race at the local race circuit, Sandown Park. Chuck Daigh was the driver and head wrench Warren Olson was there to prepare the car for the race. Most of the attention was on Reventlow - son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and Danish Count Kurt von Haugwitz-Reventlow - and his current wife, Jill St. John, not the car.

    The Scarab was still using gasoline to fuel its Buick engine whereas it opponents were in cars using alcohol to power the Coventry Climax FPF engines in the various Lotus and Cooper cars on the grid. Daigh qualified sixth and managed a fourth in a preliminary heat. In the final, Daigh had a spirited battle the entire race with Stirling Moss, nipping across the line ahead of Moss and capturing fourth in the results. And it was then returned to the shop in Venice, when it then led a life of mystery after Reventlow closed down RAI. It perhaps ran one more race, but that is another story for another time...

    A few items before we close and scramble to create the next installment. One is to remind everyone as the specifications of the USAC "formula" for Champ Cars for the 1963 season:

  • A minimum wheelbase of 96-inches, a minimum thread of 47-inches - front and rear, and a maximum length of 16 feet overall.

  • Maximum displacements for the following types of engines: supercharged - 2,800cc or 170.856-cubic inches; unsupercharged - 4,200cc or 256.284-cubic inches; turbines - unlimited; Diesel - 5,500cc or 335.61-cubic inches.

  • Other requirements: brakes on all four wheels; a clutch; a transmission incorporating neutral.

  • At tracks other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, "stock block" engines with a maximum displacement of 5,500cc or 335.61-cubic inches permitted.

    In the Fall of 1964, two American racing organizations looked to the future and they both saw that it held three litres. However, now we are getting ahead of our story. Before we look at these happenings in the Fall of 1964, we will need to see what another important year in our story holds in store for us. When we pick up our story in the next installment, the first Number One tune of the year as recorded in Billboard will be Telstar by the Tornadoes; the song blaring from radios when Significant Discussions are held will be Jimmy Soul - known to his mother and neighbors as James McCleese - singing If You Wanna Be Happy, which carries with it an irony all of its own...

    Until next time, Mister Peabody, Sherman, Karl Oakie, and I wish to remind everyone that the only substitute for cubic inches, cubic brains, cubic talent, and a lead foot is - cubic money. Our next recalls when A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Formula...

  • Don Capps© 2007
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