THE COR­RECT FOR­MULA

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Photo: Phil No­ble

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 …

Howard Wood

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

The Ros­bergs

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.

Amer­i­can beauty

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 …

Bill Gavin

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

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