Formula Ford – The Most Successful Junior Formula Ever

Formula
Ford is a single seater racing car formula that started in 1967 using
a sixteen hundred cc Cortina engine in the back of a space frame,
open wheel chassis with a fibreglass body. The first Formula Ford car
ever was based on a Lotus Formula Junior. By this time the more
sophisticated formulae were using alloy monocoques which were
expensive, fragile in the event of an accident and often unrepairable
at least economically.

The
steel space frame of a Formula Ford was still light, but very strong,
relatively cheap to manufacture and it could be cut, welded, even
straightened in the event of a ‘shunt’. The heyday of Formula Ford
was actually a rather long period, primarily all of the nineteen
seventies and eighties, although it remained very healthy in the
nineties and continues today. There were spin offs, many of them, too
many really which diluted Formula Ford itself for a while, Formula
Ford 2000, Sports 2000, Formula First and Formula Forward, but none
enjoyed the success, or attracted as much affection from race goers
and drivers as the original Formula Ford sixteen hundred formula.

Thousands
of drivers around the world cut their racing teeth in Formula Fords
in the decades mentioned, when the engine in use was the Ford Kent
engine, not so easy to get hold of now, but as common as muck then.
Early Formula Fords generally had front mounted radiators and
outboard suspension, but because of the popularity of the formula and
the relative simplicity of construction the number of racing car
constructors ballooned. Joining Lotus were Merlyn, Royale, Van
Diemen, Reynard, Swift, Elden, Hawke, Lola, Ray, Titan, Tiga and
more. Some just made Formula Fords, whilst others like Lola were
involved in numerous formulae right up to and including World
Championship Sportscars, Indy cars, Formula 5000 and Formula 1.

Motorsport
has always been intensely competitive and so, with all these
manufacturers competing to sell their chassis the development was
rapid and mirrored developments in more senior formulas. As an
illustration look at the Formula 1 cars of nineteen eighty three,
such as the John Player Special Lotus where the driver appears to be
well forward in the car and then look at the Van Diemen RF84. All Van
Diemens’ model numbers reflected the year of the particular model.

Soon
there were side mounted radiators, inboard suspension, bodywork that
smoothed the airflow around the engine and gearbox, but some things
remained the same. Everyone raced with the Kent engine in those
decades and although the Zetec engine and latterly the Duratec have
taken over the formula is a shadow of its former self. It was so
successful in the seventies and eighties for a number of reasons,
firstly it was affordable, secondly it was exciting, this was due to
narrow control tyres and a lack of aerodynamic devices, the cars
could and did run close together, slipstream and slide. The variety
of manufacturers added to spectator interest and you really could see
new stars in the making.

In
1972 the inaugural, end of season Formula Ford Festival was held at
Snetterton in Norfolk, it would move to Brands Hatch from 1975 and it
evolved into a World Cup event for Formula Ford drivers around the
world. It still runs today and even in the nineteen nineties was
attracting hundreds of entries from around the globe, with supporting
races for other Ford formulae and historic Formula Fords.

Winners
of the festival include Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine and more
recently Mark Webber, although some fourteen winners have gone on to
reach Formula 1 and many who came close to winning the Festival such
as David Coulthard went on to the pinnacle of the sport. It’s
possible that the Ford Motor Company took theirposition as the number
one in grass roots motorsport for granted, or perhaps they thought
their position unassailable, but other companies wanted in on the
action, prompting Formula Renault, Formula Vauxhall Lotus (Opel in
other markets), Formula Palmer Audi and others.

In
1981, when Formula Ford was at its height the young Ayrton Da Silva,
who later changed his name to Senna moved to England and won both the
major British Formula Ford championships in that year. Unfortunately
he returned to Brazil for family reasons prior to the Formula Ford
Festival. Formula Ford has been pivotal in the development of modern
motorsport and has brought enjoyment to millions. To share the
experiences of one privateer Formula Ford driver read the book ‘Of
Land, Sea And Sky’. http://www.oflandseaandsky.com

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About sailorsnook

I live on a boat and travel most of the time. I used to be a skydiving instructor, car and motorcycle racer. I ran my own advertising agency for many years. I'm interested in ski-ing and snowboarding, writing, music and dancing, particularly swing dancing. I have plans for a world peace campaign.
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