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ONE SWIFT AND AGILE FORMULA FORD—A GREAT QUARTER POUNDER TOO

TRACK TESTING WAS good fun at R&T. And testing the national champion Swift DB-1 Formula Ford in March 1984 was particularly satisfying. Here are tidbits on our time with the car, its champion driver, and its designer.

David Burns, left, and Peter Egan give perspective to the DB-1’s diminutive size. This and other images from R&T, March 1984. 

Designer David Burns. R&T’s Peter Egan noted in the track test, “… the car was designed by David Burns and constructed by Paul White. In Formula Ford circles, hearing that Burns and White have built a new racing car is sort of like learning that Lucas and Spielberg are about to release a new adventure movie.” 

R.K. Smith at the wheel.

Driver R.K. (Bob) Smith. R.K. didn’t start racing until age 42, but his career soared in the 1980s in Formula Ford, where split-second differences proved definitive in 40-car fields. Indeed, he was later picked by GM to drive a Corvette in the World Challenge Series. 

The Swift DB-1. Like other Formula Fords, the DB-1 is an open-wheel single-seat racing car defined to be elemental: a steel space frame (no expensive fiber monocoques) and devoid of downforce-generating aerodynamic devices.

Though wings are prohibited, extended-plane tails are ok,

Back in 1984, power came from a 1600-cc Ford overhead-valve inline-4, conservatively modified to produce around 115 hp. Gearboxes were four-speed manuals (what’s a “manual,” Grandpa?). 

The Testing. Peter Egan also occasionally competed in Formula Ford, so he was a natural to write the track test report. “What with all the interest generated, and because R&T had never before tested a Formula Ford (and because I was talking with R.K. Smith anyway, trying to wheedle used Crossle parts out of him for my own car), we decided it would be fun to do a full track test on the Swift.” 

Yep. First Class Fun. “The Swift crew,” Peter said, “was also curious about the measured performance of the car, so they agreed to haul it up to Willow Springs Raceway for photos and driving impressions, back down to Orange County Raceway for acceleration, braking and slalom tests, and then north to Santa Fe Springs to the Chrysler skidpad to measure cornering power. We made it worth their while, of course, by catering in nearly $34.00 worth of Quarter Pounders, Cokes, and fries at the drag strip. Everyone was tremendously impressed.”

And no wonder. The diminutive 940-lb. race car scooted to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds; this, in an era where hoi polloi machinery was hard pressed to do it in 10. Its quarter-mile results were impressive, 110.0 mph in 12.6 seconds.  Gearing choices for our testing translated into the Swift reaching a fourth-gear top speed of 116 mph only a few seconds later. By contrast, with Road Atlanta gearing, the Swift will exceed 140 mph.  

Road-racing cars brake as well as accelerate, and the Swift’s disc brakes hauled it down from 60 mph in a scant 84 ft., from 80 in 141 ft. To put these in perspective, the same March 1984 issue has a “Six 2-Seaters” test of a Morgan 4/4 2000, Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce, Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX, Pontiac Fiero, and Honda Civic CRX. Their average stopping distance from 60 is 165 ft.; from 80, 287 ft. 

And, by the way, this six cars’ 0-60 time averaged 10.0 seconds.

Road-course Race Cars Change Directions Too. Peter wrote, “Out on the track, the Swift has a very tight, precise, machine-tool quality about its working parts. The shift lever moves with the shortest, most direct feel of anything I’ve driven, and the steering is similarly crisp.”

“On the Chrysler skidpad, the Swift established a new record, at 1.280g, far higher than anything else we’ve tested. The hard-sticking production Corvette, again for reference, generated ‘only’ 0.880g on the skidpad. The Swift circled the pad like a slot car, maintaining a smooth, neutral arc with little change in throttle required to keep it in line.” 

I found the slalom particularly satisfying. Peter wrote, “Smith and Burns both tried their hand(s) at the cones (the slalom being something of an acquired taste) and very quickly worked up to record speeds for R&T slalom testing. Our Engineering Editor then went out and clipped through slightly faster, setting a recorded of 72.2 mph (9.0 mph faster than the Z51 Corvette and 3.7 mph quicker than our previous record holder, the Lancia Group 5 Turbo tested in June 1981.” 

That Quarter Pounder tasted all the better. Race cars sure are fun. ds  

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

2 comments on “ONE SWIFT AND AGILE FORMULA FORD—A GREAT QUARTER POUNDER TOO

  1. Michael Rubin
    October 1, 2021

    Well done, Dennis. All type way to the end of the yarn before slipping in a well earned self-pat on the back! Beating the builder and pro driver in the slalom.

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