Water colour country. Here the hills
rot like rugs beneath enormous skies
and all day long the shadows of the clouds
stain the paddocks with their running dyes.
Tasmania ~ Vivian Smith
Four entwined exhaust pipes emerged in the wake of the front left wheel, melded themselves into one entity, and purposefully snaked their way along the side of the car. An elongated front nose, adorned with four foil-covered air intake funnels, followed by a curvaceous tail-end further declared the car’s racing heritage.
As the lone front-engine car in a field of more modern machinery, it was like a single scarlet tulip surrounded by a kaleidoscopic array of roses…both beautiful, but the sleek, bulbous lines of the first exquisite. It could have been a Vanwall, but it was red, and no self-respecting Vanwall owner would ever adorn their car in the hated colour of the enemy.
I was at the Baskerville Historics, held just north of Hobart, Tasmania. In use since 1958, Baskerville is a spectacular track. Shaped like an amphitheatre, the pits are nestled in the centre hollow, and an ebony ribbon of tarmac winds up, over, around and down the encircling hills. Vehicles of many colours dot the slope at the southern end that functions as a natural grandstand, giving their occupants a level of comfort and breadth of vista unobtainable even to the rich and famous at most race tracks.
Just over two kilometres in length it has a little bit of everything. A series of esses going down a hill, followed by an uphill climb to a left-hand turn, two straights – one short, one long. The latter leads into a sharp right-hand corner, a favourite passing place for many drivers.
From inside our car parked on the hill, sheltered from the vagaries of sun or, more common in Tasmania, wind and rain, every inch of the track could be easily viewed. Walking down to the fence, our senses were engulfed with a heady fusion of dazzling colour, pungent fumes, and roaring engines as a mass of muscle cars thundered their way towards us down the back straight. It felt like if they missed their braking marker, they would end up in our laps.
Leafing through the official program, I found a name for the exotic front-engined beauty: Gemini – Formula Ford. The only Gemini I had heard of was an utterly unremarkable car made by Holden that was popular in Australia during my teenage years. This car was certainly not a Holden! The Formula Ford appellation led me down the wrong rabbit trail for a while. Formula Ford didn’t start in Britain until 1967…much too late for this obviously 1950s born car to be competitive against the rear engine domination of the time.
Eventually, I discovered a Gemini that had competed in Formula Junior, but what was Formula Junior? It sounded like a racing series for children…or at least teenagers. Instead, it was an Italian innovation. Intending to give more Italians the skills required to make the leap up to Grand Prix racing, one-time racer and now motor journalist Count ‘Johnny’ Lurani proposed the new formula.
Despite Lurani’s enthusiasm for evolution and innovation, there remained a significant faction who wanted to keep things cheap and simple. They preferred a local spec series based on a Fiat engine. Lurani knew that for the racing to be exciting, manufactures needed an element of freedom with engine choice and chassis design. International participation would make it even better…partisan support adding passion to the phlegmatic discipline of engineering. Lurani eventually got his way, and Formula Junior was born.
Begin with an engine (up to 1100 cc), gearbox and brakes from an FIA recognised production car and put them all into a frame of your own making. Homologated by the FIA at the end of 1958 it was dominated by the Italian duo of Stanguellini-Fiat in 1959. Swiss engineering student Michael May won the inaugural international championship. May would later end up at Ferrari where he would ably assist them with both fuel injection and aerofoil development.
Formula Junior could have been custom-made for the garagista mindset, so it’s not surprising that the British manufacturers didn’t take long to get in on the act. Elva was the first, and they were the only participants at the first British Formula Junior race held at Snetterton on April 19, 1959. Tommy Dickson finished 10th in the first race, run combined with Formula Libre. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish the second race and was therefore classified as not finishing overall.
A few months later Elva won its first Formula Junior race at the French circuit of Cadours, competing against a field of thirty Italian, German and French cars. Bill de Selincourt came second to Michael May’s Stanguellini in the first heat and then took advantage when mechanical difficulties beset the dominant Stanguellini-Fiats in the final. The Elva had now jumped to the top of the list for any British privateer interested in competing in Formula Junior, and the orders rapidly flowed in.
Competing with the Elva for private sales was the Gemini. Starting out in life as a Moorland, it had been designed and built by Les Redmond. With no means to put the car into mass production, Redmond had offered the car, along with its plans and jigs to Graham Warner.
Warner had begun life after the air-force selling sports-cars, first from home until the neighbours complained, and then from premises at Chiswick which he called, “The Chequered Flag”. He was the Lotus distributor for London, and he ran a bare-bones racing team, fielding his personal Lotus Elite, along with a variety of other cars, often garnered from the current sales stock, and raced by his salesmen. This gave an active demonstration to his customers of the hidden potential of the vehicles sitting on his showroom floor.
What better sales technique than to give a potential customer a chance to race your car. The Moorland debuted at Brands Hatch on August 3, 1959. Warner had planned to drive the vehicle himself but got caught in a traffic jam near the circuit on his way home from Germany where he had been racing his Lotus Elite in a support race for the German Grand Prix the day before.
Telephoning the circuit from a roadside phone box he quickly arranged for Ian Raby to give the car its debut outing. Raby started at the back of the grid and passed two Elvas on his way to winning his class in the mixed Formula Three and Formula Junior grid.
Selling the design of a proven race winner is a more straightforward proposition than a vehicle that has never visited a race track. Warner took the bait, quickly leaping from the car selling business to the car making business. Slimmed down and stiffened, the Moorland became the Gemini Mk ll. The plan was to make six cars, race two and sell the others. He had underestimated the demand and would eventually make thirty of them.
The majority of Geminis sold would utilise the BMC A-Series engine. Starting life in 1951 in the Austin A30, It would only cease production in 2000, along the way powering multiple Mini Coopers to race victories, both on and off the road.
But a new small engine had just come on the market, ensconced under the hood of the fourth Ford Anglia model, the 105E. Massively over-square, it had been fashioned for the frugal family, endowed with the necessary requirements of fuel economy and reliability. Despite this lack of racing purpose or pedigree, Warner was interested in what horsepower Keith Duckworth of Cosworth Engineering could unmask despite its seemingly pedestrian purpose.
When Warner approached Ford to buy six of their power trains, the answer he eventually got was that of course, he could have the engines, as long as he bought the six cars they came in. That obviously wasn’t going to work. He then tried the back door. One of his former salesmen worked at Lincoln Cars which had the concession to sell all of Ford’s American brands. They also sold industrial engines made by Ford at their factory in Dagenham.
Garnering an interview with their managing director, Warner eventually managed to get him at least slightly interested in what Ford’s new engine might do in a race car. Lincoln cars would now add passenger car engines to their list of sales products. Six Ford 105E engines went directly to Duckworth, one of which was to be prepared for the upcoming Boxing Day meet at Brands Hatch.
A year before, Duckworth had opened his own engineering premises, the insalubrious situation of a former coach stable, causing his cynical rivals to nickname the fledgling enterprise: “Cosbodge & Duckfudge.” When his local bank refused him a loan, he had to cash in some family bonds to obtain the essential equipment for an engine tuner…a dynamometer.
Duckworth was already working on Warner’s Lotus Elite engine, preparing it for races, and took on this next project with alacrity. He had had difficulty in paying his bills in recent months and was considering whether he would have to find a more dependable source of income than the engineering business. This would at least stave off that dispiriting decision for a few more months.
Turning an Anglia engine with 39 horsepower into a 75 horsepower Formula Junior engine was no straight forward task. It was a bit more complicated than changing the spark plugs and exhaust pipes, and obviously, the addition of a turbocharger was out of the question.
The first problem was too much squish. Squish is the ability of the surfaces of piston and cylinder to increase the motion of the fuel/air mixture and push both towards the centre ready to be exploded by the flicker of flame kicked off by the spark plug.
Although too much squish was preferable to too little squish, excess fuel turbulence was actually threatening to extinguish the flame, wasting both fuel and horsepower. Duckworth solved this by “merely” reshaping the top of the chamber and then re-milling the piston head to fit.
The next problem was harder to solve. The engine was initially designed to rev to 5000. To get the required output Duckworth needed it to go to 7500. With an oversquare engine, this was a reasonable goal, but he was stymied by valve-spring surge at 6000 RPM. This was eventually solved by increasing the length of time the valve was held open, allowing the valve to open and close gently. Though not perfect, it at least gave them an engine they could race.
Colin Chapman was also interested in the new Ford engine, providing Duckworth with an order for an engine to be readied for the same race. Despite working Christmas Eve…which turned into Christmas Day…only one engine was completed. Gemini would get the full Cosworth-Ford. Lotus would have to make do with the more standard engine, only upgraded with twin carbs and a better exhaust manifold.
The 1959 Boxing Day Races at Brands Hatch, despite the cold, wet and windy weather, was the place to be. There were six Elvas – four with BMC engines and two with the three-cylinder, two-stroke German DKW engine. They were joined by four Coopers, three Geminis, a Lola and last, but not least, a new Lotus 18…Colin Chapman’s first rear-engine design. It was so new that they had run out of time to even paint it.
It was also Jim Clark’s first open-wheel race. He was in one of Warner’s Geminis, but not the one with the Ford 105E engine…that privilege went to Warner himself. Mechanical failure resulted in Warner crashing his car during practice. In the rush to install the engine into his vehicle his mechanics had forgotten to put the spigot bearing in the middle of the flywheel…
The Lotus 18 was also having challenges. Having had minimal testing, and none with its new engine in situ, its too soft suspension was causing it to bottom out over the bumps, slowly wearing through the sump. This eventually resulted in a cascade of oil flowing onto places where oil was never supposed to be. With his Gemini already out of the race, Warner offered Chapman the use of his Ford-Cosworth engine.
Jim Clark sat on the third row of the grid, having qualified in eighth. He was cramped; the narrow confines of the Gemini a tight squeeze for the Scott. He was cold. It had started to rain again. The boss had been busy, helping to transfer the 105E out of his Gemini and into the Lotus 18. All involved were keen to see the performance of the new engine in race conditions.
When it came time to start the race, Clark’s battery was flat, and he had to be pushed started. He trundled around, keeping out of trouble, still in eighth place at the finish. He would later be disqualified because of the push start. Alan Stacey in the Lotus 18 would finish behind Clark in tenth.
Despite its lowly finishing place, Colin Chapman was sold on his new engine. Up until now, Duckworth had been living from hand to mouth. His local bank had even refused to loan him enough money to pay his phone bill. Chapman’s first order was for 25 specially tuned Cosworth-Ford 105Es. By the end of the year, this would multiply to 125 engines. Once again Duckworth was refused a loan of 200 pounds to buy five Ford 105E engines. Fortunately, his father-in-law loaned him the money. He would never again ask any bank for a loan.
In the 1960 International Championship the Fiat powered continental cars continued to dominate, but in the United Kingdom a Cosworth tuned Ford ensconced in a rear-engined Lotus driven by a young Jim Clark would give a foretaste of the trio’s eventual domination in Formula One. Clark, Lotus and Ford would win their next Formula Junior race and by the end of the year, Jim Clark had won the British National Championship tied with teammate Trevor Taylor, along the way scoring his first points and first podium in Formula One.
Formula Junior would only last until the end of 1963 when it was replaced by Formula Two and Formula Three. In 1975 Formula Junior would be the first class formula to be revived as a historic series, and today, on a track in Tasmania, I can still see the car race that sixty years ago a young Jim Clark drove to eighth place in his inaugural open-wheel race. It may have been the last ordinary thing Jim Clark ever did…
Photos: Cameron and Jennie Mowbray
A Chequered Life – Graham Warner and The Chequered Flag: Richard Heseltine
Formula Junior: John Blunsden – Motor Racing Publications 1961
First Principles – The Official Biography of Keith Duckworth: Norman Burr
Colin Chapman – Inside the Innovator: Karl Ludvigsen
Cosworth Ford 105EL: Keith Howard
Formula Junior: 25 years on
Boxing Day at Brands Hatch
Sisters under the Skin: Ford Cosworth powered Formula Junior cars
Formula Junior : 1960 Time Capsule