Simanaitis Says

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“THE IDEA,” L.J.K. SETRIGHT WROTE, “that I should play Sussmeyer to Pomeroy’s Mozart is one that seems to have occurred, after his lamented death, more or less simultaneously to my friends Richard Hough and Doug Blain, as well as to me; and it was largely due to these two that I was offered the task of writing a third volume to complement Pomeroy’s two entitled The Grand Prix Car.”

The Grand Prix Car 1954/1966, by L.J.K. Setright, W.W. Norton, 1968.

Just as Pom began by citing Horace—in the original Latin—Setright introduces Chapter 1 with, “It was, I think, Dionysius who wrote that history is philosophy teaching by example.” 

L.J.K. continued, “Engineering may at least be considered a branch of natural philosophy, and automobile engineering accordingly a sub-branch; in which case the design and development of racing cars is a twig emanating from it, and each major motor race is a leaf pointing the twig’s way to the light.”

Heady thoughts indeed, especially contrasted with the commercialism of today’s Formula 1. 

Nonetheless, Setright’s analyses of Grands Prix between 1954 (dove-tailing with Pom’s) through 1966 are replete with tidbits. It was a fascinating 12 years, worthy of Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow. By the way, L.J.K has appeared here at SimanaitisSays previously. 

The all-conquering Mercedes-Benz W196.  This and the following images from The Grand Prix Car 1954/1966.

Engine Limits. The 1954 Formula 1 engine bumped displacement from the previous era’s 2.0-liter Formula 2 to 2500 cc, likewise naturally aspirated. 

In the previous era’s Formula 1, Ferrari’s 4.5-liter cars had bested the Alfa Romeo’s supercharged 1.5-liter pre-war leftovers. The new 1954 normally aspirated/forced induction differential was 2.5 liters versus 0.75 liters, with essentially no takers of the latter. 

The Ferrari above supplanted an earlier Lancia design shown below. L.J.K. notes the Ferrari had coil valve springs and direct-acting cams instead of hairpins and finger followers. Like Pom’s books, L.J.K.’s is rich in technical illustrations.

A Fuel Change. This displacement limit was extended 1958 to 1960, with the important change of eliminating fuels other than gasoline. Setright noted this petrol was “subsequently defined as international Avgas of 130 octane rating.”

To put this in perspective, today’s Formula 1 fuel is an E10-blended unleaded gasoline with highly regulated percentages of di-olefins and styrene and alkyl derivatives. Its pump octane ( (Research Octane + Motor Octane)/2) has a minimum of 87, akin to road-going Regular, with no limit on maximum octane, generally given as 95 to 102. 

From top to bottom, BRM, Bugatti, Connaught, Ferrari, Maserati, and Vanwall.

“In the first four years of the 2 1/2-litre formula,” L.J.K. wrote, “cars varied little in dimensions or proportions, and only the rear-engine Bugatti hinted with its central cockpit at the shape of cars to come.” 

A Coming Era. For 1961-1965, the displacement limit was decreased to 1.3-1.5 liters, normally aspirated. Even more significant, though, was to be the engine location.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll pick up with this significant change in racing machinery, together with L.J.K. comments. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

2 comments on “SETRIGHT’S THE GRAND PRIX CAR 1954/1966 PART 1

  1. Bill Urban
    August 4, 2022

    Who remembers the Schaller (?) quarter speed cam with two lobes, later enhanced with rubberized cams that “grew” duration and lift as rpm’s increased?


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