The Begg FM5
IWe take a look at the FM5, one of the more striking looking cars on the Formula 5000 grid
n 1973, Drummond car-builder George Begg and works driver David Oxton travelled to England with the latest creation from the Southland workshop, the Begg FM5, to take on the best of the European drivers and manufactures in the Guards Formula 5000 Championship.
While they did not win anything, the tiny New Zealand equipe, travelling on a shoestring budget, certainly did not embarrass themselves, indeed they did a fine job of showing just what could be achieved on a miniscule amount of money.
When fellow Drummond resident Allan McCully returned from a season of European Formula 3 racing, he was looking for a car and he convinced George Begg to sell him the spare FM5 tub (chassis 16) which had been built by Begg as a spare for the European campaign.
With the tub secured, it was sent to the PDL workshop in Christchurch alongside the PDL Mustang where Fred McLean, no longer working for George Begg, built a car around the tub using the engine and transmission McCully had brought back from Europe.
Suspension was McLaren, half-shafts came from a Surtees and the car was a development from the works FM5 with a longer wheelbase and a two piece alloy cowling in aluminium, the work of Robin Officer which, as well as looking brilliant, made accessing the pedal box a much easier task. The completed car, running in the very distinctive colours of PDL was ready for the 1973/74 Tasman Series.
Highlight of the season for McCully was an impressive second place at Levin, only beaten by Australian Johnny Walker in a Lola.
Selling the car to Graham Baker before the end of the 1974 season, the PDL scheme was repainted black and the car ran in his hands in both the Tasman and New Zealand Gold Star series until 1976, an accident at Ruapuna bringing about the need for a rebuild. With Formula 5000 in New Zealand being phased out in favour of the smaller Formula Pacific cars, the Begg went to Australia, swapped for a Formula Pacific Birrana which he fitted with a BDA engine. The Australians stuck with Formula 5000 much longer than New Zealand, extending the competition life of the big V8 single seaters and the car was active until 1985, doing hillclimbs (a particularly daunting prospect) as well as racing.
Now running a Matich in the Australian Formula 5000 series, Bryan Sala made his F5000 debut in the Begg as a 14 year old!
In the 1990s Ken Smith returned the car to New Zealand in a deal involving the “Peanut Slab” group A Ford Sierra Cosworth and for a time it sat on display in the Clevedon lounge of car fanatic Gavin Hicks, alongside the rest of his impressive collection of competition cars.
Lindsay O’Donnell bought the car from Gavin in 2003 and had Eric Swinbourn rebuild it, its return to the track being at Sandown later that same year. Since then it has had regular use, the highlight being when, along with several of the New Zealand Formula 5000 association cars, it went to the UK to race at both Brands Hatch and Silverstone.
Two years ago it was time to give the Begg a spruce up and Lindsay took the plunge to take the car from the blue which he had painted it, back to its original PDL colour, a peculiar pinkish/ purple hue, referred to at the time as “Possum Scrotum Pink”! Having not been too closely associated with the reproductive organs of that particular Australian marsupial, I will take their word for it. It does certainly make the car very distinctive on the track.
Despite the fearsome reputation of the Formula 5000 car, Lindsay says the car is not a beast to drive at all. Despite pushing out just over 500hp, the Chevrolet V8 engine has a very wide power band and is one of the easiest cars of its type to drive. The wide cockpit is a comfortable size for historic 5000 drivers, who may not share the Whippet-like frames of the young-charges these cars were originally built to fit. The seat is fitted with an original Southland sheepskin cover and while Lindsay wasn’t so sure of its fireproof qualities, have you ever seen a sheep catch fire?
While he has decided not exactly to retire the car, he has certainly reduced the number of competitive outings it gets. It isn’t going to run in the full Formula 5000 series this year but it will still be raced in selected special events and it was seen on track doing some demonstration runs as part of the Highlands 101 race meeting at Cromwell recently. Its eye-catching PSP body is certain to be seen on the racetracks of New Zealand for some time yet.
Alan McCully came this close to winning the Tasman International race at Levin in 74 from Johnny Walker's Lola
A pensive McCully on the grid at Wigram
Fresh from its 2003 restoration, following time served as a hillclimb car and a lounge exhibit!
Refurbished in 2011 and put back to its original colour. From this angle, the distinctive Coke bottle shape is obvious, making this one of the most comfortable F5000 cockpits around