The origins of FF1600 by David Parkinson and Patrick Huston
This piece started as a book review, but Dave Parkinson became busy at work and agreed that I should add material to his review and turn the piece into an article.
A friend of mine was recently having a clear out and discovered a book
on Formula Ford. Thinking I’d be interested, which I was, he thoughtfully
handed it over.
1. The Formula Ford story.
There are also two appendixes, the first of which is a list of FF champions whilst the latter is a business directory.
The Formula Ford Story
I’ve read different accounts of how and why Formula Ford started.
This book lays the blame solely on expense and advises that the first
step was taken by a company called Motor Racing Stables who were located
at Brands Hatch. The idea was suggested by John Thomlinson, one of their
instructors of the time. MRS was one of a number of racing schools that
operated at differing circuits. Cost was a major problem as the lowest,
cheapest formula was Formula 3 which ran 1000cc screamer engines. The
cost of these engines was £1,000 and a set of slicks was £80.
This was costly machinery for mere amateurs to slide around in. So JT
had the idea of fitting the standard 1500cc Ford Cortina engines into
their F3 chassis’s. At £65 the engine was a much more cost
effective unit. Soon to follow would be standard Cortina wheels and Firestone
road tyres. This was an ideal package for the first steps into motor racing.
The less powerful engine had a much wider power band and the road tyres,
being more flexible, skittered across the track and were better for learning
A similar situation soon developed with gearboxes. Nearly all FF1600s have been rear engined, initially the VW Beetle gearbox was favoured. But Mike Hewland designed a cluster of interchangeable straight cut gears that fitted inside the alloy VW casing, and the Hewland gearbox empire was born. I am continuously amazed at the abuse the Beetle casing tolerates. Some builders took to feeding suspension loads through it, and quite how it tolerates the power and torque of one of our 2litre engines escapes me; Dr Porsche did not abandon quality design when he drew the VW Beetle.
The MRS Manager was called Geoff Clark and he discussed these ideas with John Webb who was the Motor Circuits Development Managing Director of Brands. Whilst MRS were simply looking at furthering their racing school business, John Webb realised that a grid of these cars could put on an entertaining race at one of his future promotions. Henry Taylor was then the Competitions Manager of the Ford Motor Company and after discussions with Webb he agreed to supply the first fifty Cortina engines at a discounted price of £50 per unit. Webb then approached several chassis makers to come up with a design rather than modify existing F3 cars. Bruce Mclaren was not interested, but Colin Chapman was and the design of the Lotus 51 F3 car was soon amended and renamed the Lotus 31 Formula Ford. A complete car could be purchased for the previous cost of an engine with running costs that more people than previously could afford. The first race was held at Brands Hatch and the rest, as they say, is history.
The formula was introduced with the headline grabbing intention of marketing a proper racing car for less than £1000. Colin Chapman advertised the 51A at this price, but £1,000 was artificially low and soon dropped. By 1984 a new FF1600 was costing ten times more, and according to MotorSport magazine the realistic cost of a season’s racing was £30,000. Being an avid MotorSport reader at that time, I took this at face value, and did not see motor sport as something that I could afford, so I stayed with yachts. Ignoring the true club end of the sport creates the impression amongst the general public that participation in motor sport is only for the playboy rich, or those in the motor trade, a view that Monoposto tries to dispel.
The shape of a FF1600 car has changed over the years. The classic front radiatored shape being superseded in the eighties by slippery side or central radiatored shapes. This move was partly dictated by fashion, and partially by trying to sell in America where the straights are longer. By the 1980s FF 1600 had become a truly international formula.
It is humbling for the average Monoposto driver to read that the FF1600
lap record for the Brands Indy circuit was 50.00s in 1976, ten years later
it was 49.00s. Intense competition refined the breed and produced competent
racing cars from the race school based originals. However, the view in
the MotorSport article is that the improvement of a second a lap had been
gained at considerable expense because it was the consequence of extensive
The chapters on both sponsorship and counting the cost are really no longer relevant so have therefore been essentially ignored.
Going to School.
This chapter dealt with the various racing schools in existence at the time and advised that tuition from a professional driver could save you pounds in the long run. The individual could also find out much sooner if he had any talent and future in motor sport other than as an also ran. I suppose it’s as valid now as it was then other than many people now enjoy "low cost" (that’s a joke) motor sport with no illusions that they will ever progress further then club activity.
Formula Ford 2000
This formula was launched in 1975 and had a somewhat hesitant start
but its popularity soon increased and it became a stepping stone from
FF and also a feeder series to F3. What was particularly attractive that
if you’d purchased the right FF car then you changed the engine
and bolted on the wings and different tyres and you were ready to go*.
There was now a definite path which could take a successful driver from
FF to FF2000 to F3 to F1. (Subject to money) F2 was still around in these
days but many went from F3 direct to F1. (*I believe that the David Parkinson
Reynard and Ian and Sara’s Agent have been modified in the reverse
Setting up and driving technique.
This is still as relevant as it was then but I’m sure that most club members are generally up to speed with how to set their cars up.
The top ten circuits.
These are listed as:
The book gives you instructions on how to drive these circuits but because of circuit amendments and different tyres etc these are no longer valid. Snetterton, for instance, which I think is exactly the same as it was in 84, recommends third gear for Riches, second for Sears and then second for both the left and right at the bottom of the back straight. Cadwell also has some interesting gear recommendations which I wouldn’t like to try. Like third round Mansfield and the mountain bottom for instance.
Formula Ford design.
Whilst this chapter is quite interesting, as of 2010, a little bit dated so therefore has been ignored.
Adrian Reynard had some input to the book and therefore gets the lion’s
share of copy regarding manufacturers.
I think the most interesting part of this addendum was to spot the names that you’ve heard of.
Tony Brise was second in the championship in 1971. He made it to F1
but was killed in the plane crash with Graham Hill.
By 1976 there were five championships:
In 1977 BARC had taken over one of the championships from DJM Records.
1978 saw Kenny Achieson win three of the five championships.
1979 saw two 3rds for Jonathan Palmer.
1980 saw Roberto Moreno win one championship whilst our own Simon Davey took second, behind Andy Wallace, in the BRSCC Pre 74 championship.
1981 and now seven championships. Winners were:
1982 saw drivers such as Andy Wallace, Mauricio Gugelmin and Julian Bailey.
David Parkinson and Patrick Huston
The book cover
Ford Consul Capri, from whence derived the 1500 pre-crossflow engine
A Hewland Mk 5
A Lotus 31 spins
RF75 sales handout. Click for a bigger view.
Medina/VD still supplying FF Kent chassis new in 2010
Senna in a Formula Fordat Shaws, Mallory
John Booth started as a Formula Ford driver, started manor Motorspprt and ended up as team principal of Virgin Racing. On the other hand, some people have done well.
Sinon Davey. Whatever happened to .........
FF driver Jonathan Palmer got a namecheck on Motor's cover from 1981. He had rather more success than the Talbot Tagora