Ifs, buts and maybes are an integral part of motorsport. Indeed, as Murray Walker would say, IF is (almost) F1 spelt backwards. Watching the radical Lotus 88 that F1 eschewed in the early 1980s speeding to the fastest time at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the hands of Dan Collins got me thinking about what other astounding machines were built to race but never had the chance to fulfill their destiny. Here are ten of my favourites…
Lotus 88 – When the Lotus-pioneered ground effect cars were culled from Formula One Colin Chapman was determined that this drag-less way of achieving serious road-holding would not die. The solution was the 88, an early carbon fibre creation that housed twin-chassis; one for the cockpit, the other for the main car itself. This allowed space for air to flow through the car and suck it to the ground. Formula One never gave the car the thumbs up, it only appeared at a few practice sessions in the hands of Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis in 1981 who gave it rave reviews. Colin Chapman lobbied hard for the 88’s legality, his arguments falling on deaf ears.
Jaguar XJ13 – Amongst the prettiest racing machines ever built was the sumptuous Jaguar XJ13. At the start of the 1960s Jaguar had toyed with shifting the engine from up-front to amidships, although it took until 1966 for the XJ13 to finally hit the track. By this point the glorious green machine was already behind the times. As Ford and Ferrari duked it out at Le Mans with the Porsche 917 waiting in the wings, Jaguar were struggling to develop their swooping creation and after a change of ownership the company ditched the project. The new 3-litre rules at Le Mans mirrored Formula One at the time and would have forced Jaguar to ditch the 500 horsepower V12 that was peeking through the perspex panel in the middle of the car, the gestation of the XJ13 was just too long and its engine was powerful but dated. Like the TSR 2, Britain had lost a truly remarkable machine to economic pressures. Only one car was ever made and was later destroyed in a huge crash while making a publicity film in 1971. It was rebuilt a couple of years later by which time the XJ13’s moment had long since past.
Ferrari 637 – To many the Prancing Horse is Formula One, so when Maranello produced a bona fide Indycar in 1986 the racing world took notice. Sadly the 637 was just a political tool, leverage to help Ferrari get what it wanted from Formula One at a time when the rules were up for discussion. The engine eventually raced at Indy under the Alfa Romeo brand but the car itself never competed despite posing for photos on the yard of bricks. Gustav Brunner’s creation certainly looked the part and was on-the-money technology-wise, it is likely that it would have given March and Lola a real headache. Since the ’80s Ferrari has made vague threats about competing at Indy, though the words were never backed up by deeds ever again.
Allard J2X-C – OK, so this car did compete just the once, but it is still one of the great missed opportunities in racing. I was at the Autosport Show in 1992 when the Allard J2X-C was revealed – I knew I had seen the future of sportscar design right there. Sadly the revived Allard company itself was to play but a very small part in this future, the project was dead by the end of 1993 though its ideas live on at Le Mans to this day. To overcome the understeer inherent in Group C machines with huge rear wings and a tiny front splitter the Allard used ‘pontoon’ fenders with adjustable wings covering the suspension and an early example of an anhedral nose. The J2X-C set the standard for creating downforce where previously there was none, the design also encouraged air to flow around every surface of the car rather than going straight over it – a key philosophy shared by many modern race cars. The Allard even featured a rudimentary version of the current hot-topic of F1 in 2011 – exhaust blowing. Under-developed and down on power from its customer DFR engine, other teams simply sought to design their own evolutions of the J2X-C concept rather than buy one off the shelf, although Honda were amongst the initial suitors for this striking machine. With no customers the company closed and the car was auctioned for a mere £76,000 before being taken to test at Le Mans, sadly proving far too slow on the straights. Eventually the Allard competed just the once at an IMSA race at Laguna Seca, never coming near to the fighting chance it deserved.
Alfa Romeo 164 Pro-Car – Anybody for an F1-powered, 211mph, mid-engined, carbon-bodied touring car formula? The Pro-Car series was floated in the late 1980s as a crazy mash-up of F1, touring cars and prototypes. The series for these hyper-saloons never materialised, but Alfa Romeo had 15 cutting-edge V10 Grand Prix motors and no teams to run them, so they decided to pop one in the 164 Pro-Car in 1988 instead. It certainly looked the part, the body appeared near-identical to its road-car relative, concealing the Brabham-engineered wizardry within. Riccardo Patrese demoed the Pro-Car at the Italian Grand Prix of 1988 – the saloon car bettering the top-speeds of Senna and Prost’s all-conquering Mclaren MP4-4. Sadly there were no other manufacturers willing to join the party and Pro-Car became the series that never was.
Lancia ECV – Did you find Group B rallying too tame? Then you my friend need Group S. The S must have stood for suicidal. Group S was slated to replace the formula that spawned the Audi Quattro and the Lancia 037 with a collection of sports prototypes such as the ECV which extensively used carbon fibre to cut 20% from its already fly-weight predecessors. The 1.8 litre engine used a multi-stage turbo to pump out over 600bhp to all four wheels, although there was talk of limiting power outputs before Group S was sidelined. The Lancia ECV (experimental composite vehicle) never got to tread the forests and mountains of the world as rallying had been turned on its head by Henri Toivonen’s tragic accident in 1986 heralding a new era of safer Group A cars. Unlike the Killer Bs, Group S only required a handful of cars to be built to gain homologation which opened the door for prototypes that majored on innovation. Lancia, Opel and Toyota had already built Group S cars when the category was scrapped in 1986 while Audi and Ford were on their way to producing cars to this exciting new rulebook too. Without the shackles of designing within road car rules there would surely have been more madness just around the corner, something rallying just couldn’t afford at the time. Lancia obviously didn’t get the memo – they later made themselves an ECV2 as well…
Alfa Romeo Tipo 512 – A pre-war Grand Prix car with a flat 12 supercharged motor slung behind the driver and a gearbox over the rear axle was most commonly found painted in Silver, but not the Alfa Romeo 512. No, it was a blood-red Italian stallion built in 1940 to take on the might of the Auto Unions. Swallowed up by the war effort, the 512 was tested until 1943 but never met its rivals; by no means the only racing machine to fade away during the war years. Designed as a successor to the Alfetta 158, the 512 wasn’t eligible for the newly formed Formula One World Championship by the time it began in 1950. Ironically Alfa campaigned the once-outclassed 158 instead, winning the first two world championships with elegant updated versions of this 1930s steed.
Lexus ISF Racing Concept – When Opel left the DTM it sold a Vectra to Toyota so the Japanese giant could evaluate its own silhouette racer. The ISF Racing Concept was shown at the 2008 Tokyo Motor Show but Lexus eventually forgot all about their Opel-based beast, leaving Audi and Mercedes to fight alone in Germany until 2012. The Lexus wasn’t the only new-generation DTM car to suffer a false-start; Zakspeed also developed a Volvo for the return of the series in 2000. The car didn’t quite fit the rules and was declined the chance to race while the Audi TT which wasn’t large enough to fulfill the size criteria was granted an entry and eventually took the 2002 title, such is the fickle world of motorsport.
Toyota TF110 – Intricate aerodynamics, tight packaging and ‘adjustable’ suspension – these were some of the ingredients for Red Bull’s championship success in 2010. They are also features shared by the Toyota TF110 that was designed and ready to roll when the Japanese giant pulled the plug on F1 in a tearful press conference at the end of 2009. The company still intended to lease their services to another team, sadly they picked Stefan GP – the Serbian squad that showed up far too late in the day to get the other teams to agree to their entry. That didn’t stop them signing Jacques Villeneuve and Kazuki Nakajima, nor did it preclude them from sending freight to the first round in Bahrain. After being turned away the cutting-edge TF110 has only ever been driven around the car park at Toyota Motorsport’s Cologne headquarters, a less than glorious way to test such a machine. Who knows, perhaps the underachievers were on the verge of doing a Brawn and shocking the F1 world after losing the backing of a big Japanese manufacturer? F1 moves so fast that despite Hispania looking at buying the design it is now certain that a quick spin in the parking lot is about as much as we’ll see from the TF110 for a while.
Pininfarina Ferrari Sigma – OK, so this 1969 car was created by a styling house rather than Maranello itself and was never intended to race, but the Sigma was one of the first racing machines to put the emphasis on safety – something to be applauded in an era when drivers rarely got old. Oh, and it is well worth drooling over the Pininfarina-penned lines that dictated many a fictional Matchbox car. The Sigma featured a driver survival cell, roll-bar disguised as a wing, automatic fire extinguishers, plastic fuel-tanks, seatbelts, side-impact protection and most striking of all were the ‘fenders’ to help prevent interlocking wheels. This most visible of safety advances was the only one that didn’t find itself in Formula One in the future. The project was instigated by Auto Revue magazine and was backed by other manufacturers, though it was Ferrari that provided the chassis and running-gear to make this ice-cool car possible and will forever prove that safety isn’t just for squares.