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The British motorsport industry

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#1 D82

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 12:49

I was reading Peter Wright's book titled Formula 1 Technology (which is also illustrated by fellow forum member Tony Matthews) and I thought his analysis on the British motorsport industry was very interesting.

In the article he sorts the reasons behind the leap of British motorsports when compared to other countries:

1. A pool of designers and engineers skillled in aeronautical sciences: Engines, structures, flight dynamics and aerodynamics.
2. The establishment of new aeronautical engineering colleges by a government (temporarily) commited to a strong indigenous aircraft industry.
3. A diverse components industry that had grown to support the war machine.
4. A country literally covered in airfields that had no further uses but were ideal for holding motor races.
5. A nation confident in its engineering ability to win an ever more technological struggle.

He also points some other important subjects:

- Individuals were designing and building racecars in their garages for club races, where the competition was intense.
- New companies of the early days helped the unemployed engineers to find jobs and have become even more succesful.
- High costs to build new engines or mechanical parts caused to establish a strong component industry. Thus, unknown modifiers slowly became famous builders like Coventry Climax (engines), Hewland (gearboxes), Cosworth (engines), AP Racing (brakes and clutches) and Specialized Mouldings (composite bodywork).
- Technical regulations of the clubs like the 750 Motor Club gave great freedom to chassis design and improved aerodynamical designs where best chassis designs, aerodynamics and setups usually won.
- Colin Chapman's discovery of sponsorship helped the teams to gain more money.
- The staff were being exchanged between teams frequently and in an industry based in a small area this was leading to information exchanges between teams.

I would like to read your opinions about these. What do you think?


#2 HiRich

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 10:59

In the first ten years post-War, I'd expand on a couple of points, having looked closely at the 500 mvement.

Immediately post-War, the movement started. During the War there were discussions about a new formula. The core logic was that there would be no petrol available, and any remotely serviceable road car in Britain would be pressed into service - so no free suppy of engines. Motorcycle engines would however be plentiful (ex-military).

What hadn't been counted on were two other factors.
- Returning soldiers looking for a new thrill
- Many (from all walks of life) were now well-trained engineers and mechanics.
So you had this mass of people looking for something, and a cheap formula for them to get involved in - both driving and constructing. Whilst Cooper quickly came to dominate in numbers, it's often forgotten how many specials were built in those first five years (many not seeing the light of day, others appearing only at obscure events and still unknown).

From there, we see the rapid rise of Cooper Cars. By the end of 1950, they had built about 100 cars, with anther 70-odd in 1951 alone. As far as I'm aware, this was a scale unheard of, and created an industry rather than just a business. In parallel. Coopers also sat at the heart of a motorsport valley along the Thames, running from Battersea to Staines (with, probably not coincidentally, several aircraft manufacturers along the way). Even if you were in competition with Cooper, their success gave you a business model to aim for, and the confidence to chuck in your day job and take it up as a full-time business.

Add in that if motor racing was not your bag, Britain was still the heart of motorcycle racing, and trials (a similarly free formula for creative designers) gave you alternative outlets for the relatively poor man on the street. The 500 story is littered with motorcycle racers (McCandless, Daniell), speedway riders (Bottoms) and aero engineers (Heyward, even one Maurice Phillippe who did quite well in later years).

So you're building a huge pool of talent at the grass roots. Inevitably some will rise to the higher series, whilst others will specialise in component production. Only Germany (more West than East) seems to have come close, plus Australia (perhaps hampered by its remoteness). France and Italy don't seem to have been in the same league (and based much more on the gig manufacturers), whilst America remained fixated on sports cars.

By the early 1950s, Britain had become the place to buy a racing car, outside of the biggest formulae and sportscars. It also became the place for Australian racers and engineers to come to test their mettle (they, and to a lesser extent the Kiwis, contributed significantly from the mid-50s). When Chapman moved to road & racecar production, you had two world class production teams and the ball was rolling.

All the points Peter Wright makess feed into this, but I see the point of coalescence being when Cooper created a significant business selling a string of very successful 500 chassis. As soon as this happened, the other parts of the jigsaw quickly fell into place, and Britain established a technical lead that crushed most opposition (in a business sense as much as on track - look how in Formula Junior the original Italian constructors were quickly extinguished by the technically superior British latecomers).

#3 DOF_power

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 12:16

^ And how a book on how the british led by Molsey, Ecclestone and the other racertainment team bosses killed the privateers, destroyed the technological relevance/direct link to production cars, banned innovation and therefor ruined Grand Prix racing inexorably.

#4 Rob

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 15:41

^ And how a book on how the british led by Molsey, Ecclestone and the other racertainment team bosses killed the privateers, destroyed the technological relevance/direct link to production cars, banned innovation and therefor ruined Grand Prix racing inexorably.

Grand Prix racing doesn't need to have a link to road cars. In fact, the prime motivation for going racing in the first place was likely, "Hey, this'll be fun!"

#5 ensign14

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 15:58

Could the circuits have been a factor? Twofold benefit - one, they could host racing as and when, no need to get public roads closed; two, being on big wide open spaces, you could be fairly confident of returning home in the car you competed with, even if you went way off.

The 500 formula seems to have been key. Geography and the government's rationing of cars may have helped. In that people relied on motorbikes more, and their engines were useful for 500cc cars...

#6 kayemod

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 17:41

^ ...the british led by Molsey...

Why do you want to bring Wind in the Willows into this?