THE CORRECT FORMULA
GM versus Ford
While Historic Formula 5000 (F5000) continues to grow internationally, particularly down in this part of the world, it is 40 years since waning fields in both America (where it started in 1968) and the UK (where it was embraced in 1969 — and given its name) brought about its demise. The big 5.0-litre V8-powered cars continued on in Australia into the very early ’80s, but, internationally, the category had a relatively short life.
For all that it achieved, one thing which never happened was a decent ‘GM versus Ford’ power play — the Boss 302 that worked so well in the front of Mustangs was never a serious contender in F5000 and, indeed, the only serious challenge to the ubiquitous small-block Chevy came from another GM product, the Repco Holden — and even then, only down under. In fact, the best Ford F5000 came along just as the end was nigh for the class that once promised so much — and it wasn’t even a V8! use of the 3.4-litre Cosworth V6, which we only ever saw and heard here in the front of Cologne Capris. There weren’t many takers for the lighter, more compact little engine that was giving away as much as 56kw (75bhp) on the best Chevs; however, the two most successful contenders were future world champion Alan Jones and David Purley — both won races, but the higher-revving little Ford-powered cars weren’t able to consistently beat the Lola- Chevs. During the off season, Purley’s team largely re-engineered his Chevron for the new ‘Group 8’ championship that would mix 5000s with both Formula 1 (F1) and Formula 2 cars — and, despite most predictions that this last-ditch attempt at keeping the series on life support would be a dismal failure, it actually turned out to be a great success. Purley and his Chevron with the Cosworth-adapted Ford V6 did so well that he had the title sewn up prior to the last race.
In the US, F5000 continued from 1977 under the guise of ‘Can-am’, a class that, initially at least, saw little more than 5000s with full-width bodies, but, in Britain, the ‘super-libre’ Group 8 open
formula ran in 1977 before 5000s were ditched completely for 1978. So, Purley’s Chevron became the only car anywhere to win an ‘F5000 championship’ with Ford power — and that car, a one-off, is in New Zealand, being prepared to return to the track, four decades on from when it took on Goliath and won.
I visited the workshop recently at which it is being rebuilt, and the accompanying photographs here testify to the superb standard of the restoration. Its driver will be someone who, in recent years, has become a firm crowd favourite at Hampton Downs and who is well used to taking on the V8s with considerably less power …
In recent years, spectators at Hampton Downs have been wowed by the giant-killing performances of an orange BMW 2002. Often incorrectly assumed to be powered at least by a 16-valve BMW and probably fitted with a turbo to achieve what it does, there is typically open-mouthed astonishment when the information is disclosed — two valves per cylinder, no turbo, and a only whisker more than 156kw (210bhp). So, how does it hang with the Mustangs, Camaros, et al. and, inevitably, show them a clean pair of heels if the track is damp? Well, it has everything to do with the pilot, Howard Wood, a former Formula Ford racer from the early/mid ’70s, who then raced a dated March in the first New Zealand Grand Prix for Formula Pacifics in January 1977. A massive crash while testing at Pukekohe in early 1978 wasn’t quite enough to stub out his passion for the sport, and he was back with the rebuilt car in 1979. After a totally frustrating campaign, he built a boat and tried to forget all about motor racing.
However, a discreet 31 years later, he was describing motor racing as “an itch that never went away”, and the 2002 was built up to Group 2 standard. The skill that impressed observers such as Jim Palmer back in the ’ 70s was very soon being shown as still being there, as giantkilling acts marked Wood and the orange BMW as firm crowd favourites. Palmer told me, “Back in the day, Howard looked like he was going to be quite good”, and David Oxton recalls “the steelyeyed determination of a guy who clearly had huge talent — and was seemingly completely without fear”. Wood is also a clever engineer but is very aware of the ongoing development of 5.0-litre Chevs over the past four decades, whereas the Cosworth GAA V6 is pretty much where it was in 1976 in terms of power — “Back in the day, Purley and co. would have had around 470bhp [350kw] — at best — whereas some of the Chevs, from what I hear at least, are now getting close to 600bhp [444kw],” Wood said. So he has hopes pinned that the lighter weight of the overall package will allow him to try to replicate some of David-versus- Goliath feats he’s been accomplishing in tin-tops.
The bad news for North Island fans is that, for January 2017, his full focus will be on the Chevron, so the BMW will be parked up until the combo is reunited at Mike Pero Motorsport Park for the Skope meeting in early February. From there, the plan is continue south to Teretonga via Timaru raceway. All three South Island tracks should perfectly suit the superb handling of the little Beemer, while, for the pilot, it will be the first time he has raced in the South Island in 38 years.
F1 versus F5000
Howard Wood and the V6 Ford–powered Chevron will compete against more than just the stock-block F5000s at Hampton Downs and Taupo in late January, because we will apparently see up to 18 F1 cars from the 1970s. We’ve had a taste of F1 cars from this era in recent years with the Mclaren M23, formerly owned by Phil Mauger and now with Sir Colin Giltrap; the pale blue Amon that came here for the festival in Chris’ honour in 2011; and the V12 BRMS we’ve seen and heard more of recently. The prospect of 18 Grand Prix cars from the 1970s racing here is truly mouthwatering, and I understand the plan is races for them alone, races for F5000s, and then — in a repeat of the combined grids in period — F1 versus F5000.
In the day, the power produced by a 5.0-litre small-block Chev was broadly comparable to, say, a 3.0-litre V8 Cosworth DFV. In head-to-heads, the F1 cars came out on top, mainly because they were lighter and had pilots like world champions — but there was one famous day, in early 1973, when Peter Gethin won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in a F5000 Chevron — from Denny Hulme and James Hunt, no less. Leading the charge of 5000s will, of course, be the 75-yearsyoung Kenneth James Smith, and we will feature more on the tantalizing prospects in our next issue — together with a focus on Kenny, who will be honoured at the 2017 New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs and the book covering his unique career, which will be out before Christmas.
More on Beggs
If the emails I’ve received since last month’s column on Beggs are anything to go by, there is not only interest in the cars produced in a workshop in Drummond but also, might I say, a degree of affection for George Begg and his faithful band of helpers. Some of the photos I’ve since been sent are too good not to publish. Above, in ‘Begg works yellow’, is the twin-campowered car that had been on Trade Me owned by Grant Clearwater in Kerikeri, while Noel Atley, soon after completing a long restoration to his exacting standards of one of the three Begg FM3S ever built, sent me the photo below of the trio, reunited for the first time in over 40 years, at Mike Pero Motorsport Park. His is the white car on the left, while the original Rob Allen car is on the right and, in-between, is the navy blue FM3 of Roger Mckenzie.
Of course, Begg wasn’t the only guy to build his own cars here — but he not only built more than anyone else; he had the most success with drivers of the calibre of Graham Mcrae, David Oxton, and Jim Murdoch. Indeed, Murdoch had so much input into the penultimate Begg that it was called ‘JM1’, and, after finishing second, in the 1973/’74 New Zealand Formula Ford championship, it was sold to that colourful car-dealing racer Johnny Riley for his promising son Brett. The young Riley also finished runner-up in the Formula Ford championship with the car the following season, when the championship was won by Grant Walker; however, in third was hard-charging young Hamiltonian Howard Wood, who we met earlier and who — with his brother Donald — built a car each. The Wood brothers concluded that they weren’t going to be able to afford to import state-of-theart cars from England, so they did the only obvious thing that any Kiwi with a welding torch and a dream would do — they built their own.
Their cars — the ‘Cheetahs’ — still exist, and Gerald Duncan
As I write this column in late October, the outcome of the 2016 World Championship is still unclear, but it very much looks like Nico Rosberg’s to lose. Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his fourth title, and third in a row, in another season in which the Mercedes-benzs have simply been too good everywhere. Forty years ago, Nico’s father was announced as a last-minute replacement for our upcoming inaugural Formula Pacific championship, after we followed the lead of America and the UK in unceremoniously dumping F5000 following dwindling grids and awful levels of reliability. Keke Rosberg was almost everything his son isn’t — the chain-smoking, moustachioed Finn was an absolute acrobat in his pale blue Chevron — and was as hard charging out of the car as he was in it, a far cry from the generally very measured Nico. He won three of five rounds, including the Grand Prix, to take the 1977 championship — a feat he repeated the following year. Amazingly, F1 still hadn’t realized what we’d seen — this guy was world class, and the first time he got his hands on a competitive F1 car — in 1982 — he finished the season as world champion.
To a very large extent, Rosberg senior’s career was launched in New Zealand — and much of that was down to his entrant Fred Opert. The New Jerseyan had been a leading private entrant on both sides of the Atlantic, and, of the many drivers he ran, Rosberg emerged as his biggest star. On the mechanical side, arguably the biggest name to work for Opert was Dick Bennetts. The Dunedin-born guru of the spanners worked for Opert during the ’70s before carving out an enviable reputation as the man to go to win the once-prestigious British Formula 3 title and, more recently, the British Touring Car Championship.
Opert, a prolific importer of racing cars into the States, died recently in New Jersey aged 77.
Once, the place to be at Labour Weekend was Bay Park, where the maverick promoters would generally come up with something creative to bring in the crowds. In memory of those great days, we ventured to Mount Maunganui in late October, where we happened upon a display of classic cars — a pristine DKW proved that they weren’t all ‘muscle cars’, but Detroit iron was very much to the fore. My wife was already taken by this 1955 Packard Clipper Panama 9 (above) even before she noticed the dice-inspired tyre caps — absolutely stunning …
The answer to the question ‘Who was the first Kiwi to make a name in England as a motor racing journalist?’ is not Eoin Young. The answer is, in fact, Bill Gavin, who was an early editor of Autocourse and then wrote the highly acclaimed biography on his great friend Jim Clark — still regarded by many as the best of the numerous works on the Scottish ace.
In the late ’60s, Bill teamed up with Chris Amon as the manager of Ferrari’s Can-am challenge, before venturing off into the world of pop-music management (anyone remember ‘The New Seekers’?) and then the film industry. Bill celebrated his 80th birthday in early October, and we toasted yet another Kiwi who has achieved great things on the international stage.
Bill Gavin cuts the cake on his 80th birthday