APRIL 1966 — THE POWER AND THE GLORY
The decision not to attend the 2016 Australian Grand Prix (GP) was a simple one. For several years, we’d headed to Melbourne in even-numbered years — a far cry, granted, from the days when I attended all 11 GPS at Adelaide … but that was a different era that marked the end of Formula 1’s (F1) first ‘turbo phase’, which ended around the streets of South Australia’s capital in November 1988. Engine architecture was open — there were both straight-fours and V8 turbocharged 1500cc units, and, although V6s ultimately proved the most effective design, the fact is that engineers had options. Even better, in 1989, you could stand at the second-gear Stag Hotel corner and get your earwax dancing with the normally aspirated glory from the 3.5-litre eights, 10s, and 12s.
Return to power
Today, there are no options — F1 no longer has an engine but rather a ‘power unit’, which the rules stipulate must be a V6. Contrast this with what was going on in England, Italy, and Australia half a century ago this month. After five seasons of the echelon of world motor racing being for normally aspirated engines of 1500cc, 1966 marked a return to power. The decision to increase F1’s maximum engine capacity to 3.0 litres was made in late 1964, and, just as it did in 1961 when the 1.5s were introduced, Ferrari looked in great shape. Its Le Mans– dominating cars were powered by 3.3 V12s, and so, after a wee bit of tinkering, it was ready.
After Ferrari’s domination of 1961 with its V6, the British teams got into gear, and, in 1962, every GP was won by either the V8 from Coventry Climax, or from BRM. Climax decided to pull out of F1 at the end of ’65, leaving Lotus, Brabham, and Cooper needing to make other arrangements. BRM mated a couple of its superb 1.5 V8s and came up with its H16. Lotus also signed up for those, while Cooper’s connections married them to the Maserati V12 that had had a short competition life in the late ’50s. Brabham took another option completely and, together with the Australian Repco company, de-stroked the Oldsmobile V8, figuring that lightness and reliability might come in handy.
Honda produced a largish V12, while Weslake also built a ‘double-6’ for Dan Gurney’s new Eagle outfit. And there was one other new team — after spending all of his F1 career to that point with Cooper, Bruce Mclaren had followed the lead of his mentor, Brabham, and built his own GP car. It was powered by a de-stroked version of the 4.2 Ford V8 Indy 500–winning power plant. As was once suggested to me by a Mclaren employee at that time, “After all the time and cost of making that thing three litres, we should have left it as it was — it still would have been too big, still wouldn’t have won anything, but we would at least have been slightly more competitive.”
The opening round of the 1966 world championship was not until late May — around the streets of Monaco — but there were three non-championship events prior to the trip to Monte Carlo. Brabham debuted its new Repco V8 in South Africa on New Year’s Day, and, although it failed, it did start from pole. However, it
was the only 3.0-litre car entered, so there was no benchmark. On April 1, Ferrari rolled up for the Gran Premio di Siracusa in Sicily. Lead driver John Surtees had the 3.0-litre, while Lorenzo Bandini had a 2.4-litre V6 mated to the previous year’s F1 chassis. The Ferraris were fastest, followed by a trio of Cooper-maseratis. Brabham didn’t set a qualifying time and was out after two laps with an engine failure. Italy had every reason to feel confident — more so after the red pair came in one-two.
If laurels were being rested upon in Maranello, that most certainly wasn’t the case for Brabham and Repco — 50 Aprils ago, it was all go for Jack and the boys, and so, by the time of the last race before the championship kicked off, they were ready. The scene was Silverstone, and the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) International Trophy — Brabham took pole, two-tenths quicker than Surtees, but, in the race, he sent shockwaves straight back to Northern Italy by winning by over seven seconds after 35 laps. Notice was served, and, although neither Brabham nor teammate Denny Hulme finished in Monaco, once Brabham had thrashed the Ferraris on the all-out speed circuit of Reims, he was on his way to becoming the first, and probably only, man ever to win the title in a car with his name on the nose.
Back in the days when GP drivers drove things other than F1 cars, most of them were committed to Le Mans in mid June; however, in order for the teams to have a run, the Le Mans test weekend was held in April. This year marks half a century since the black Ford GT40 of Bruce Mclaren and Chris Amon narrowly beat the pale blue sister car of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, but, for the test weekend, the youngest member of the ‘trio at the top’ was entrusted with the ultimate development of the GT40 — the J-car. It was eventually held back from racing that year while it underwent further development — which clearly worked, because one won in 1967 with Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt.
In late 2010, while we were working on
I pointed out to Chris that he was fastest … “Was I? I think the J-car was something I saw as having a lot of potential. It was definitely going to be a step forward from the MKII, but bear in mind this was all happening in April, and there was still a bit of time to develop it.”
A mere 50 years ago, and Kiwis were well to the fore of the international motor racing stage. In addition to Le Mans and F1, Denny was at the sharp end of Formula 2 with the BrabhamHonda, while, if Bruce didn’t already have enough on his plate, the first Can-am series was due to start in September.
NZ Festival of Motor Racing
Jim Barclay, the tireless man behind the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing, says that planning for the next one starts almost straight away — I can confirm this to be true. On the Monday morning following the second weekend of the highly successful 2016 iteration, the Porsche Festival, I was in attendance at a meeting with Jim and the honouree for the 2017 festival in the diminutive form of Kenny Smith. The terms ‘ legend’ and ‘ icon’ do not sit comfortably on his shoulders, yet he remains a phenomenon — over the first weekend, aboard his Lola T332, he was never beaten, and started every race from pole. The second weekend featured Formula Libre — covering everything from a Can-am car to Clubman sports cars. Kenny rolled out his Swift Formula Atlantic, and, despite some Formula 5000s being present, won four out of four — and in August of this year, he will turn 75 …
As I said — phenomenon — and not just on a New Zealand or Australian stage. No one else, in the history of the planet, can match this record — to put this in perspective, in January 1976, he won both the New Zealand GP and the Lady Wigram Trophy in a red Lola T332.
With a bit of subtle persuasion from his family — and Jim Barclay — Kenny has agreed that a book be put together to acknowledge this extraordinary life, and, if the guy commissioned with the responsibility to bring it together can get his head down, it will be out by the end of the year.
Kenny Smith wasn’t the only septuagenarian racing at the Porsche Festival — Vic Clarke is even older, and for him, just getting there was a victory. In January 2014, Vic’s Formula Ford tangled with another car, and Vic was seriously injured. At one point, there was a concern that he might lose his right arm, but a combination of natural fitness and dogged determination for the little guy who has, for years, been the Targa rally chaplain, meant he remained intact. The car was a real mess, but, with the assistance of fellow members of the Historic Formula Ford group, Vic set to in getting it back together. He probably told his devoted wife June that this was to get the car in a saleable condition — but Vic still hoped … June gave her consent for ‘ just some practice laps’ at the Historic Racing and Sports Car Club Picnic meeting we referred to in the February issue. I took the photo as he removed his helmet for the first time after being back out there. Having successfully navigated his Palliser through that event, the green light was granted for him to enter the festival. He steadily went quicker and quicker, and it was highly appropriate that he — and June — were awarded the group’s ‘spirit’ award at the festival prizegiving: ‘the Kid’ is back!