Si­mon Tay­lor Full throt­tle

‘It lasted six laps be­fore the lead­ers came past, and their wake blew it off the road into the ditch’

Classic Sports Car - - Contents -

Iwheel f you think about it, cars have fol­lowed the same ba­sic lay­out pretty much since the be­gin­ning: a wheel at each cor­ner, people in the mid­dle, en­gine ahead or be­hind. There have been ex­cep­tions, of course: three-wheel­ers with the sin­gle

at the back or the front, and even two-wheel­ers. The Schilovski Gy­ro­car, de­signed in 1912 by a Rus­sian count, was a mas­sive sixseater with one wheel at the front and one at the back, and a gy­ro­scope to stop it fall­ing over. It weighed nearly three tons. There have been other ef­forts to build gy­ro­cars down the years, and even a large-di­am­e­ter mono-wheel with the sin­gle pas­sen­ger sit­ting in­side it.

With a racing car you don’t need to worry about com­fort, lug­gage ca­pac­ity, fuel econ­omy or ser­vice in­ter­vals. It’s just about go­ing fast, in a straight line and around cor­ners. A car’s over­all length is de­cided, broadly, by the length of the driver and the en­gine, be­hind or in front of them. But sev­eral de­sign­ers have rea­soned that if you put both driver and en­gine in the mid­dle, you can build a more com­pact ma­chine, and there may be aero­dy­namic ad­van­tages, too.

The Grand Prix driver Piero Taruffi was a clever en­gi­neer, and in the 1950s he cre­ated the 500cc Tarf I and the 1720cc Tarf II for record­break­ing. Each con­sisted of two fuse­lages with the driver in one and the en­gine in the other, and each was steered in its tiny cock­pit with two hand levers. In the early 1950s they broke a lot of dis­tance speed records at up to 185mph.

But Taruffi was only try­ing to go in a straight line. In 1955, En­rico Nardi brought to Le Mans a car with two na­celles, one for the driver and one for the en­gine, with a cen­tre sec­tion which held a sur­face ra­di­a­tor to cool the 750cc en­gine and a tiny pas­sen­ger seat to com­ply with the sports car reg­u­la­tions. It lasted six laps be­fore the lead­ers came past to lap it, and their wake blew it off the road into the ditch.

The STP Pax­ton tur­bine car that so nearly won the 1967 In­di­anapo­lis 500 had its en­gine be­side the driver, but the strangest Indy car of all was Smokey Yu­nick’s 1964 ef­fort. The car fol­lowed a con­ven­tional lay­out ex­cept that it had no cock­pit. The brave driver sat in a sort of side­car be­tween the left wheels. It went back­wards into the wall in qual­i­fy­ing. The ’81 Ardex-bmw Le Mans coupé had a nor­mal cock­pit – but the en­gine was in there too, be­side the driver.

Re­ally weird was a ter­ri­fy­ing Can-am car built in ’83 by Herb Adams. It was as wide as Can-am cars were by then, but with the driver far out on the left be­tween the left wheels, the en­gine on the ex­treme right be­tween the right wheels, and the huge area in the mid­dle en­tirely de­voted to ground ef­fects. For Milt Minter, who had the job of driv­ing, it was im­pos­si­ble to feel what the car was do­ing from where he sat. No mat­ter: the huge down­force in ef­fect pulled the car to bits.

Oc­ca­sion­ally an orig­i­nal idea re­ally works, and ev­ery­one has to fol­low suit – or protest that it is un­fair. Gor­don Murray’s 1978 Brab­ham fan car sucked it­self down onto the track so ef­fec­tively that it won its first Grand Prix, so the rules were rewrit­ten to ban it. The 2012 Nis­san Deltaw­ing sports-racing car, de­signed by Ben Bowlby, was tri­an­gu­lar in shape with the front wheels very close to­gether. It worked quite well and was raced at Le Mans and in the USA for sev­eral sea­sons be­fore rule changes shut it out.

Orig­i­nal thinkers will keep on look­ing for the idea that will give them an un­fair ad­van­tage. If it re­ally works, within a year or two it will have be­come the new every­day way to do things. I’m sure Count Shilovski reck­oned that by now we’d all be driv­ing around in three-ton two-wheel­ers, and keep­ing our gy­ro­scopes well pol­ished.

Weird, weirder, weird­est. From top: the Deltaw­ing Nis­san; Smokey Yu­nick’s Floor Shift Spe­cial Indy car; Nardi’s 750 Bisil­uro Le Mans com­peti­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.