The Original Formula Student Project (1967)

Five Birmingham Mechanical Engineering postgrads sat in the coffee bar one June morning in 1967 idly chatting about the various bits of cars each had. A Ford 997cc engine, a VW gearbox, a cannibalised Fiat 600, an Arnott blower, plus other minor parts. Suddenly a Eureka moment – “We could build a sprint car with that lot. Single seater. Open wheel. Space frame. Turn the gearbox upside down and make it mid-engine”. “Fiat suspensions and brakes – transverse upper leaf spring and lower wishbone front, semi- trailing arm and coil spring rear”. “Definitely use the blower”. “Anyone know about supercharging?” “Err – no!” “Better do some research then.” In the DBI (days before internet) that meant the library. “Where shall we build it?” “In the department of course. It has everything – machine shop, sheet fabrication and welding facilities, Schenck balancer”. “Work in the evenings and weekends; hide it in that big services tunnel off the loading bay during the day”. “Better set a budget”. “100 quid should do it”.

So it came to pass. In true John Cooper fashion it started with a bundle of square tube and a welding set. H, the biggest of the five sat on the floor with the engine and (upside-down) gearbox behind him while Ken Pomfret welded up the space frame round him. Suspension pick-ups and engine mountings were added. Dave Retallick fashioned the body panels from aluminium sheet. Pete Cliefe and Malcolm Addy stripped, ported, polished, lightened and balanced the engine. Scrappies yielded missing parts such as the steering rack and a big SU carb. The research and calculation suggested we would run a boost pressure of 15psi and that we had better run on pure methanol to avoid melting pistons.

On the last weekend in August the car was entered at the Curborough Sprint Meeting. It ran on road wheels and tyres taken off Ken’s Fiat 600 but it did pass scrutineering and run. By next season 2nd hand racing tyres had been found and it was within 10% of the fastest lap times at Curborough.

Finally, the project certainly fulfilled the Formula Student aim of producing the next generation of successful engineers. “H” was the late and very much lamented Harvey Postlethwaite; one of the best and most innovative Formula 1 designers ever. 

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