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L.J.K. SETRIGHT SET HIMSELF a major challenge in continuing Laurence Pomeroy’s authoritative two-volume The Grand Prix Car. And L.J.K. did just fine, thanks, in composing knowledgable comments of a fascinating era in Formula 1, the years 1954 through 1966. 

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

Today in Part 2, our tidbits pick up with one of the most significant changes in international motor sport: a complete domination of engine location. What had been Auto Union’s domain back in the 1930s was to become ubiquitous.

From Front to Rear. Setright wrote, “The revolt of designers and constructors against the established doctrines of 54 years’ Grand Prix racing had not taken long: so that whereas in 1958 the rear-engine car was a rarity on the starting grid of a Formula 1 race, by 1961 the front-engined car could be considered extinct.”

A Definitional Pause. Here, by the way, let’s adopt the nomenclature of “rear” engines as those positioned aft of the driver. More precisely (but overwhelmed by usage), a mid engine may be thought of as one with its center line aft of the front axle; a rear engine’s center line resides aft of the rear axle. For example, Porsche 911s are rear-engined; as a nit-pick, current Formula 1 machinery is mid-engined.

Above, the front-engine (also mid-engine) Ferrari Dino 246 2.4-liter V-6, 1958. Below, the rear-engine (mid-engine) Ferrari 1.5-liter V-8, 1961. These and other cutaways by James A. Allington in The Grand Prix Car 1954/1966.

L.J.K. Was Spot-on. Just for fun, I compared Monaco GP entries for 1958 versus 1961. Trintignant’s winning Cooper was one of only six rear-engine cars of the 29 entrants in the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix. Even the official Lotus entries were front-engined (of which a movie tidbit anon). In 1961, all 21 entrants had their new 1.5-liter engines aft of the driver.

Driver Safety in 1961. L.J.K. noted, “The driver’s welfare was further studied in the requirement that his seat be constructed in such a way that he could get in or out without opening or removing any sort of panel; and again in the stipulation that the car’s structure must include a ‘safety crash bar’—which was generally understood to mean a sort of tubular hoop as high as the driver’s head and as wide as his shoulders, that might give him some support in the unlikely event of the car capsizing.”

It was a long evolution indeed to today’s controlled dissipation of impact energy (a production-car innovation in the 1950s Mercedes-Benz crumple zones), fire-protective driver suits (Nomex came in 1967), and HANS head and neck support in the early 1980s (see “Race Drivers Evolved”).  If anything, the diminished frontal area and fragility of the 1.5-liter cars made the era especially dangerous.

Normal Aspiration Versus Forced Induction. “The engine capacity…,” Setright noted, “was increased to 3 litres for unsupercharged designs, while the devotees of forced induction were given their chance with engines of 1 1/2 litres. However, the likelihood of the supercharged engine making a comeback was obstructed by the continuance of the existing fuel regulations that postulated the use of commercially available pump petrol of 100 octane by the research method.”

Setright continued, “Since the supercharged engine achieves its high volumetric efficiency at the expense of low thermal efficiency and therefore has an inherent tendency to get uncomfortably hot, it is happier with alcoholic fuels whose usefulness as an internal coolant can be exploited to much greater effect than is possible with hydrocarbons.”

Like Pom, L.J.K, didn’t shy away from technicalities.

And, indeed, it wasn’t until 11 years later that the Renault RS01 Formula 1 car introduced turbocharging as an optimal means of forced induction. (Another of the RS01’s tidbits: Its Michelins were the first radial tires in Formula 1. Indeed, for awhile, there was competition between Michelin’s radials and those with bias-ply designs (Avon, Englebert, Goodyear, Pirelli, during one season or another)

Grand Prix Movie Stars. The year 1966 was pivotal in another way for Formula 1: John Frankenheimer’s movie Grand Prix, seen occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, is a fictional sports drama filmed during the 1966 season, with drivers of the era, World Champions Juan Fangio, Graham Hill, and Phil Hill among them, appearing in cameos and lots of action footage of the era’s cars and race circuits.

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice the Brit driver sampling his late brother’s earlier front-engine Lotus Grand Prix car.

Grand Prix, 1966.

Setright’s cogent comments in Grand Prix Cars 1954/1966 have a way of encouraging such additional entertainment. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022

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