Tag Archives: 1981

Half A Car – Lotus Ford T 87 #87/R2 & #87/R4

For the 1981 World Championship Lotus had developed the twin chassis Lotus 86 which I looked at last week, no sooner had testing of that car been finished than the ruling body of the sport outlawed the skirts on which the car depended to seal the airflow beneath the body of the car and mandated a minimum ride height.

Lotus Ford 87, British Grand Prix, Silverstone

This led to the development of the Lotus 88 which had twin chassis as did the 86 but no skirts and a 6cm minimum ride height as mandated by the new rules. Unfortunately while the governing the body of the sport accepted the Lotus 88 as legal most of the other teams did not declaring that the second outer aerodynamic chassis was a banned movable aerodynamic aid and not a fully suspended chassis.

Lotus Ford 87, British Grand Prix, Silverstone

Set against a back ground to these semantic arguments between the grandee teams of Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo going up against the garagistes of Brabham, Lotus, McLaren, Williams et al made of high drama and in this instance almost every body building cars turned against Lotus in denouncing the Lotus 88 which meant that it only ever took part in a couple of practice sessions.

Lotus 87, Hall & Hall, Bourne, Lincs

For the first half of the 1981 season Lotus were therefore forced into running the Lotus 81 from the 1980 season. By the time the Formula one circus arrived in Great Britain Lotus made one final attempt to run the Lotus 88 in practice but were again refused by their fellow competitors and so Lotus ran the 88 sans second aeroydynamic chassis and with more conventional aerodynamic side pods and wings as #87/R2 is seen being driven by Nigel Mansell during practice for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1981 and #87/R4 is seen with the later front wings at Hall & Hall and in the Paddock at Silverstone during the classic meeting earlier this year.

Lotus 87, Silverstone Classic

The single chassis version of the Lotus 88 is known as the Lotus Type 87. The highlight of the Lotus 87’s half a seasons competition career was a couple of 4th place finishes, for Elio de Angeles in Italy and Nigel Mansell at Ceasers Palace.

Lotus 87, Hall & Hall, Bourne, Lincs

Chassis R2 was used by Elio de Angeles in Monaco, Spain and France scoring a best 5th place finish in Spain, Mansell took the car over for the British Grand Prix and failed to qualify. There after this car was used as a spare for the remainder of the 1981 season and the first race of the 1982 season in South Africa.

Lotus 87, Hall & Hall, Bourne, Lincs

So far as I have been able to determine chassis #87/R4 seen in the more recent photo’s was driven by Nigel Mansell in at least four Grand Prix during the second half of the 1981 season. Note that the use of space age Carbon Fiber and Kevlar was becoming widespread by 1981 the following season the majority of Formula One monocoques were made from the material with the exception of Ferrari.

Lotus 87, Hall & Hall, Bourne, Lincs

The absence of any bodywork around the rear suspension and exhaust shows what a rush job it was to get the Lotus 87’s to the grid most of the contemporary cars of the period had the rear axle covered in body panels by 1981 including the 1981 British Grand Prix winning McLaren MP4/1 of John Watson.

My thanks to Rick Hall if Hall & Hall for generously allowing me to take the photos of #87/R4, which is for sale, on his premises.

Thanks for joining me on this “Half A Car” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me again tomorrow when I’ll be relating a Scandinavian Tale about an unusual fire engine. Don’t forget to come back now !


From Metal Bashing to Autoclave – McLaren MP4/1 #MP4/1-02

Thirty years ago I was extremely lucky to find my self working for six months in an accounts department of a double glazing manufacturer during the first of two industrial experience segments of my degree course. This meant I had the time and funds not only to spend a week at Le Mans but I also had the time and funds to spend a weekend at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

McLaren MP4/1, Silverstone BGP

During the 1980 / 1981 off season McLaren’s long time sponsor Philip Morris, disappointed with three years of under achievement coerced team principle Teddy Meyer into a merger with Project Four a lower tier Formula 2 team run by Ron Dennis which coincidentally was also sponsored by Philip Morris.

Ron Dennis had hired the designer, of the Chaparral 2K Indy Car, John Barnard to design a new car for McLaren which became known as the MP4/1. Outwardly the car was a conventional ‘kit car’ using a Cosworth DFV engine that had been the motor of choice since 1966.

However beneath the paint work John Barnhard’s chassis was the first to be wholly manufactured with carbon composite materials, which until 1981 had been primarily used in the aerospace industry. Carbon composite materials when pressure and heat treated in an autoclave, a process developed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment in 1963, can be used produce objects that have high flexibility, tensile strength and temperature tolerance while at the same time have low thermal expansion and low weight compared to similar metal objects.

By the end of the 1980’s all Formula One chassis were being manufactured from carbon composites along with brake discs and suspension components.

John Watson, seen during practice for the British Grand Prix here, qualified fifth for the 1981 British Grand Prix. At the start of the race the two turbo charged Renaults and Ferraris made the best get away but on lap 3 Gilles Villeneuve clipped a curb and spun,see clip 1m 20secs, an incident which took out Alan Jones on the spot.

Somehow John Watson who was right behind Jones managed to avoid the melee almost coming to a stop as he did so, which in turn caused his team mate Andrea de Cesaris behind him to take evasive action and spin off into the catch fencing.

After loosing a lot of time Watson set off in sixth place behind Piquet, Reutemann, Pironi, Arnoux and Prost. Piquet crashed out with a puncture, Watson then over took first Reutemann and then Pironi who’s engine exploded on the next lap. Prost retired with distributor trouble which put John in 2nd place behind Arnoux who had a comfortable lead.

On lap 53 Arnoux started experiencing the same problems as Prost and 8 laps later a huge roar went round the circuit as Belfast born John took the lead of his home Grand Prix which he held until the end of the race.

This was John’s second Grand Prix victory his first was in the Penske PC4 in 1976 and the first victory for McLaren under the guidance of Ron Dennis. McLaren’s last victory had been with James Hunt in 1977.

John drove this same chassis #MP4/1-02 to victory in the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix.

Hope you have enjoyed today’s British GP edition of ‘Gettin’ a lil’ psycho on tyres’ and that you will join me again tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !

PS It is with great sorrow that I learned of the passing of William ‘Bill’ Boddy MBE known to many as ‘WB’ who edited Motor Sport magazine from 1936 to 1991, an organ which played no small part in my addiction to motoring and motor sport in the 1970’s and ultimately to this blog.

He famously ran Motor Sport magazine through the war years during his spare time while working on important Air Publications.

Bill was a vociferous opponent to the 70 mph speed limits introduced to Britain as a temporary measure by Tom Fraser in 1965 after a spate of accidents in fog and the alleged testing of an AC Cobra at speeds up to 180 mph on the M1 motorway.

WB was aged 98, sincerest condolences to his family and many friends. RIP ‘WB’.


Thirty Years Ago – Le Mans 1981

This weekend sees the 79th running of the Le Mans 24 hours , unfortunately I will not be there in person but will almost certainly follow the progress of the race on the internet. Thirty years ago I went to Le Mans for the first time.

Porsche 917 K81, Le Mans

I arrived as practice was already under way, one of the many reasons I had wanted to see this particular race was because the Kremer brothers were running a brand new Porsche 917, see above, that they had built for the 1981 season, ten years after the original 917, immortalised in Steve McQueen’s film that takes its title from the race, had been made obsolete by the FIA.

It looked great sounded even better with a 5 litre / 305 cui flat 12 however it was a disappointment qualifying only 18th. During the race Bob Wollek the cars only professional driver took no further part in the race after his friend Jean-Louis Lafosse driving the #25 Rondeau was killed in an accident. The 917’s remaining drivers Xavier Lapeyre and Guy Chasseuil retired after completing 82 laps.

Le Mans

There is no on track action on the Friday before the 24 hours and back in 1981 spectators had access to virtually all area’s while the teams prepared for the race.

Chevrolet Camaro, Le Mans

Cale Yarborough joined AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti in becoming one of the few drivers to compete at Le Mans, the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500 in 1981. While his #35 Stratagraph Camaro sounded good, easily the loudest car in the race, and was as fast as any other vehicle in a straight line, topping 200 mph, the Camaro’s brakes were puny compared to the competition and simply not up to the job of slowing, easily the heaviest car in the race, down. After the first hour the brakes gave up and Cale resorted to driving the car into the wall, ironically at the corner called ‘Indianapolis’ in order to bring his car to a stop, without injury to himself or anyone else.

Lola Ford T600, Le Mans

The weekend of the 1981 Le Mans 24 hours was an absolute scorcher, Spaniard Emillio de Vilotta prepares to board his Lola T600 which he shared with Guy Edwards and Juan Fernandez, The Ford DFL powered #18 Lola started 12th and finished 15th after a multitude of problems which included running the last couple of hours in top gear only.

Porsche 936 81, Le Mans

For this race Porsche AG prepared two special 936 models fitted with 2.65 litre / 161 cui twin turbo flat 6 motors that had originally been designed to run on methanol in the Interscope Indy car project. The #11 of Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell was the class of the field qualifying 3 seconds ahead of it’s sister driven by Mass / Schuppan / Haywood and finishing the 24 hour race with a record lead of 14 laps over 112 miles after covering a total distance of 4825 kms / 2998 miles.

Le Mans

Like many people I enjoyed taking a pictures of the cars at night, unlike many people this led to an all consuming passion for artificial light and film which after many years took me into the realms of art and animation.

Rondeau M379, Le Mans

The only challenge to the utter dominance of Porsche at the 1981 race came from the 5 car Rondeau team, it was the teams two slower GTP cars that survived the night with Jacky Haran, Jean Louis Schlesser and Philippe Streiff coming home a distant second in the #8 Rondeau M379 with

Rondeau M379, Le Mans

Gordon Spice and erstwhile Connew pilot Francois Migault coming home third in the #7 Rondeau. Both of the Rondeaus were powered by detuned 3 litre / 183 cui Ford DFV motors more commonly found in Grand Prix cars.

Porsche 935 K3, Le Mans

After a couple of hours sleep the relentlessness of 24 hour racing really came home to me on the circuit that used to be known as the world fastest round about. The #55 Porsche 935 K3 of Claude Bourgoignie, John Cooper, Dudley Wood, seen here just after dawn came in 4th overall winning the Group 5 class. I believe this vehicle has passed through the hands of Nick Mason, it may still be in his collection.

Ferrari 512 BB LM, Le Mans

The #47 Ferrari 512BB LM #31589 of Andruet/Ballot-Léna qualified 37th, and finished 5th o/a 1st in IMSA GTX.

WM P79/80, Le Mans

The PRV (Peugeot Renault Volvo) Turbo V6 powered #4 WM 79/80 of Denis Moran, Charles Mendez and Xavier Mathiot started 16th and came in 13th the faster #82 P81 sister car of Thierry Boutsen was not so lucky having an accident on the Mulsanne Straight which resulted in the death of a track worker at the end of the first hour of the race.

Bell & Ickx, Le Mans

Despite two fatalities during the race victory celebrations went ahead as usual, not sure that would happen today.

Hope you have enjoyed today’s trip into memory lane and that you’ll join me again tomorrow for a look at a unique vehicle called The Farrallac. Don’t forget to come back now !


A Big Red Cadillac – Ferrari 126 CK

Taking a one day break from GALPOT’s Indy 500 celebrations, for Ferrari Friday today we are celebrating the life of Gilles Villeneuve, father of 1995 Indy 500 winner and 1998 World Champion Jaques Villeneuve, and Gilles Ferrari 126 CK seen here during practice for the 1981 British GP at Silverstone.

81 07 17 #27 126 CK 054 01sc

The Ferrari 126 CK was a development of Ferrari’s first turbocharged Grand Prix car which was launched in 1980. Featuring a fire breathing 600 hp 1,496 cc / 91 cui 120º V6 twin turbo charged motor and six speed gearbox Villeneuve described this car as a ‘big red Cadillac’ because the chronic turbo lag, ferocious power curve combined with ground effect aerodynamics made this car a real handful to keep under control.

Despite it’s wayward characteristics Gilles pulled off two of the most entertaining victories this writer has ever seen on TV, the first at Monaco (apologies commentary in German) came after Champion elect Nelson Piquet spun off after leading for 51 laps and reigning Champion Alan Jones experienced a fuel feed problem which allowed Gilles to steal a late victory on the one circuit least suited to his cars few strengths.

Two weeks later Gilles pulled off an even more unlikely victory at the equally tight and unsuited Jarama Circuit this time Villeneuve took the lead after 14 laps when reigning Champion Jones spun off. Gilles kept a four car train behind him for the rest of this exciting race by using the Ferrari’s brutal power on the straights to pull away out of the corners, going round the corners his pursuers bunched up time after time but did not have the brute strength to get an edge on the straights.

The finish of the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix was one of the closest in history with the first five cars being separated by 1.24 seconds. Sadly this would be the last time Gilles would take the checkered flag.

By the time Ferrari arrived in Britain they were developing a way to minimise turbo lag by injecting fuel into the red hot turbo exhaust pipe when the throttle was off, as the fuel ignited in the turbo exhaust pipe the pressure difference created between the burning fuel in the exhaust and the turbine wheel mounted upstream caused the turbine wheel to spin faster which in turn increased the turbo boost to the motor so that when the throttle was depressed more power was readily available. In this form whenever the 126 CK was off throttle a lick of flame would appear out of the exhausts.

At some point this system was banned, it being successfully argued by teams using naturally aspirated motors that the turbo afterburner constituted a second engine, when the rules clearly stated only one motor was allowed.

At the British Grand Prix, apologies Austrian commnetary, Gilles qualified 8th and made up five places on the opening lap before loosing it on the apex of the last corner of the first lap. Notice in the clip that despite his totaled car Gilles somehow manages to squeeze another 1/4 lap out of the car before retiring, this guy just did not know how to stop when the chips were down.

Another memorable performance that emphasised Gilles never say die attitude came at the 1981 Canadian Grand Prix where despite his damaged front wing obscuring his vision and adversely affecting the already poor handing of his Ferrari for numerous laps, Gilles kept his car on the black stuff to record an amazing third place finish.

Gilles was killed in an accident during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, May 8th 1982

Salute Gilles RIP.

Hope you will join me for another edition of ‘Gettin’ a lil’ psycho on tyres’ tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !