I first became interested in road racing when I was 14. I wanted to be a driver and had delusions of F1. I read all I could and conned rides to races when I was able to. I had no real interest in things mechanical and wasn’t really interested in shop. Basically I was a mechanical klutz.
I do see that today quite a large number of drivers are ‘arrive and drive’ but in my day they were a real rarity. Even I always towed my car to the track and got dirty even if I didn’t have a clue. Almost all drivers worked on and many prepared their own cars. At first I raced my own MGA and all work was done at Murray Motors or later Shelton Mansell.
When I got involved with the Racing Drivers of Canada School Club I started to work on the School MGBs a bit as well as doing most of the on track instructing. Then I bought my Elva Climax Mk6 sports racer and although the major work was done at Reputation Tuning I began doing more and more maintenance, under the guidance of one of the partners, Hugh MacGregor. When I first got the ‘race ready’ car from Fred Opert Racing it was quickly discovered it had a bent frame. Henry Nunn fixed that and set up the suspension which had been pointing every which way.
Originally a Mk6 had a spare tire in the very nose to comply with International regulations of the day. There was even space over the gearbox for a regulation suitcase! Back to the nose. The car had twin rads with the air exiting around the front wheels. In addition to the bent frame the nose had been hit at some time and the twin rads replaced with a single Lotus 23 rad. Hot air now exited either beneath the car (not good), or mostly through the cockpit. We took the car to Mosport for some testing and both Hugh and I drove it. Hugh had a heck of a lot more experience than I did. We would go out and do half a dozen laps and then sit and think or make minor adjustments and then go back out. It was quite a switch from mildly tuned MGs to a pure rear engined racer with right hand drive and to be sitting about 2 inches off the road!
Things went well and the first Cdn Championship race weekend came about, again at Mosport. It was a very hot day. In a preliminary race I started 3rd under 1150 cc car but manged to pass both leaders and win the class. Even got in among some of the bigger cars. Then came the feature 100 mile race. After about 20 laps I discovered that having the hot air from the rad coming through the cockpit was not a great idea nor was my black driving suit. I soon figured out that the reason it was a little cheaper was that it was black! I naturally did not do the full 100 miles or 41 laps with McLarens and so on in the race but did win the 1150 group. I also lost 12 lbs.! From 170 to 158. Gained it back in a day darn it. When the car had run in the US it had always been in shorter races and the hot air was not such a problem.
Now what to do? The way the car was configured with the one rad and where the frame tubes were made ducting the air out around the wheels pretty well impossible. The concept of ducting the hot air out of the top of the nose was a relatively new idea but I thought maybe it would work. Hugh and I put our heads together and figured out it could be done. There would be a frame tube running through the duct on an angle but that was all. Now at this time that sort of work was far beyond me plus I had no shop or tools to do the job so it was up to Reptune as they were becoming known. The air was exiting, in theory, a little in front of the windshield and would be going over my head. This time we went to Harewood to test. Much more comfortable but the car was running too hot. Clearly the air was not exiting either fast enough or not enough. Using a few drops of oil (string would have been better but we didn’t have any) we discovered that the exit slot was in a high pressure area and keeping the hot air from escaping cleanly.
Back to the drawing board. Remember that back then in the 60’s very little was understood about airflow as applied to cars. We figured that if we put a strip of metal about 1 inch high at the front lip of the slot that it would change the airflow over the nose and create a low pressure area so the hot air could escape. If I remember correctly Hugh and I did this at Reptune but outside of regular hours so my bill didn’t get any higher. Back to Harewood and the idea worked and the water temp. stayed down. Discovered something else too! Front end downforce! With the ducting working as it should I had a tail happy car. Or as Danica would say ‘IT’S LOOSE!!!!’
Back to the drawing board again. Now the Elva had fairly high rear fenders and almost fins with a lower main rear deck. Spoiler time. Again this was a fairly recent concept and mostly on bigger cars but what the heck. This time I built it myself using a piece of plexiglass. Aluminum probably would have been lighter but I knew where to get plexi and could do what forming was needed to get the contour of the rear deck. Had to use Reptune’s facilities but Hugh and I stayed in the evening.
Next test at Harewood and it handled like a dream. Probably as much good luck as skill but it worked. I set a new lap record for the 1150 class at both tracks (My Climax was actually a 1100 and I had a 4 speed box). My Mosport record stood for 3 years after I sold the car and then Gord Green demolished it by about 3 seconds. I was never beaten by a class 6 car and I had fun beating bigger cars. That was my intro to aero and it really perked my interest. Years later I even designed skirt systems when they were legal. And my new Nomex suit was off white!!!!
Then there was the day I qualified 3rd at Mosport in front of McLarens etc. plus all the under two litre cars but that is another very wet story to be told later.
Today my old Elva is owned by Steve Lindsay and he is very slowly restoring it. Whether to the spec I raced it or to original I do not know. I would also suggest to all aspiring drivers to learn as much as you can about mechanics and how a car works. It will save you money if you do it yourself and you will understand your car. I became a pretty good race mechanic/fabricator but if I had learned before I started racing it sure would have helped. If you have place to work tools are pretty inexpensive today.
Another future story will be how we built Judy’s shop.