This article is provided courtesy of the Vintage Racing Club of BC. It was originally published in the May 2003 issue of the VRCBC Vantage Newsletter.
by Tom Johnston
What is Formula Ford?
In the 1960s, the starter formula for aspiring road racing drivers was the FIA 1000cc Formula Three. The cars were generally tube space frame chassis with a rear mounted engine with a Hewland VW-based transaxle. The engines were mostly based on early Cosworth Ford 105E (Anglia) based MAE (modified Anglia Engine) known at the time as “screamers” due to their high RPM. The 1960s were also the time that the concept of commercial racing driver schools was coming into popularity, mostly in the UK. The Jim Russell School and Motor Racing Stables were examples. These schools used current F3 cars for the advanced students. Needless to say the students were not very kind to the delicate cars and motors causing the schools real maintenance problems. Some bright light at MRS suggested that they fit a standard Ford 1500cc Cortina GT motor. The GT put out about the same power as its smaller cousin (the engine blocks were very similar) was much easier to drive, weighed about the same, was a neat fit and was cheaper and more reliable. While they were at it they fitted steel road wheels with road going high performance radial tires. The first car modified was a Lotus 31 and everyone was very pleased with the result. By 1966 Ford agreed to support the concept of a low cost “starter” formula and so, Formula Ford was born. Now 37 years later it is still a very important world wide starter formula.
The Early Cars
Lotus created a specific car for the formula based on the Lotus 31 and dubbed it the 51, which became the first series produced car for the class. Other manufactures did similar conversions, but soon many were producing their unique FF designs. Popular early cars were Merlyn, Alexis, Titan, Palliser/Winkleman and others. There were a few Canadian cars (Ferret from Ontario and Patterson from BC) and American (Le Grand, Caldwell and others) but most came from the UK (and still do).
Formula Ford in North America and in particular, Western Canada.
By 1968 the formula was going strong with future stars like Emerson Fittipaldi and Tim Schenken doing very well. 1968 was also the inaugural year for Edmonton’s Edmonton International Speedway, a long gone comprehensive motorsport facility. The first road race at the circuit was held on July 28 of that year. The first race of the day, the novice race, was won by Barry Fox of Edmonton, driving a Lotus 51, although Merlyns went on to dominate other races of the event. I was there that day and I was very impressed. So impressed, in fact, that a year later I sold my Lola Mk 1 Climax (I wish I still had it!), bought a Merlyn Mk 11A and moved to Vancouver and became one of the first Formula Ford Drivers at Westwood. Formula Ford racing was bursting out everywhere. The 1970 ICSCC Championship for FF (that I was fortunate enough to win), had ten drivers score points which made it one of the largest classes. For some reason, North American racing organisations never adopted the street radial tire rule so the cars raced on real racing tires right from the beginning (years later the “spec.” tire concept returned). Both CASC and SCCA adopted the formula quite early.
Professional Formula Ford Racing
During the 1970 season at Westwood, I was approached by SCCBC president Bob Randall and was asked if I thought they could gather up enough cars to hold a professional race. I thought so, and sure enough on September 20 the first Western Canadian Pro Ford race was held at Westwood (maybe this event was the first pro Formula Ford race in the world); the Export Invitational. A field of about thirty cars turned up, the racing was great and everyone was thrilled. I remember Pierre Phillips of Portland OR won in a Titan Mk 6.
There followed a series of events, sometimes twice a year at Westwood. The biggest and best were the Pepsi-Pro races run 1971 through to 1974. The Pepsi Pro had been previously for Group 7 Can-Am style sports cars and had been a feature of Westwood’s program since 1966, however, in 1971 based on the Export race success, it was switched to the new popular Formula. Formula Ford was perfect for Westwood at the time, relatively economical and suitable for the narrow twisting circuit. Literally hundreds of drivers from all over North America participated in these races during the early 1970s.
The last Pepsi Pro ran in 1974 – the winner was Mary Loft – but pro Formula Ford racing continued for several years with smaller, but just as intense racing events. The McLoughlin and Levy Motors Series, later known as the MCL Series ran at Westwood in 1976, and the Western Province wide Canon Yokohama series ran at various tracks in 1989 to 1991. Finally there was a Hankook Tire backed series in the 1990’s. Active Club racing and hill climbing continued through all of this and Formula Ford is still popular at Mission today.