Front-Engined Formula Juniors Take The Grid

by J. K. Jackson


Although the life span of International Formula Junior was short (just six years), during that brief time the class scored an impressive list of significant “firsts.”
The first single-seat drives of Jimmy Clark, John Surtees, Denis Hulme and Jochen Rindt all took place in Formula Junior race cars.  The popular Elva 100 front-engined Junior was the first mass-produced ( approx. 80 built) British race car and the first British race car to win an International Race.  The innovative Bond was the first with a monocoque chassis made of fiberglass.   The class also saw the dinosaur-like extinction of the front-engined roadsters, forever vanquished by the rear-engined Lotus and Cooper cars starting in 1960.

For the second year, Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing (CVAR) has chosen to honor the front-engined Formula Junior cars with a special race, awards and monogrammed polo shirts (donated by CVAR Formula Junior driver Pablo Gonzalez.)  The first year had produced an entry of 10 of the front-engined racers and this year produced just seven, but considering several absences due to Monaco and that six of the cars present are now CVAR regulars, both drivers and officials were satisfied with the turnout. The Elva 100 series cars were out in force with four entries, including the visiting John Kimball’s # 04 car from Denver.  Italian Stanguellini’s numbered two and the tiny USA-made Huffaker-BMC rounded out the field.

The feature race on Sunday afternoon saw Bob Merrill in the Huffaker-BMC turning the fastest laps.  While lying in third place, he made casual pit stop to adjust air pressure and set off in hot pursuit over one-half lap down.  In the meantime, Ugo Piccagli assumed the lead in his Stanguellini after passing Lon McKinstry’s Elva.  Pablo Gonzalez’s Stanguellini stayed close behind just waiting for a mistake from the leaders.  It happened when, after fighting to the front, Piccagli went off-track on the next to the last lap  and McKinstry got by for the win. Gonzalez was a well-deserved second with the hard-charging Merrill coming back for third.  The unlucky Piccagli recovered for forth  while Kimball and Dave Edwards succumbed to mechanical gremlins and Tom Desalvo did not start.  CVAR founding member/driving instructor/all-around nice guy J.C. Kilburn presented the awards and special silver cups to McKinstry, Gonzalez and Merrill and Piccagli.

       The Elva 100's on the CVAR grid represent the second largest group of front-engined Formula Juniors ever built.  Approximately 80 of the cars were constructed and they saw early success with drivers like Charlie Kolb, Peter Arundell and Jack Boxtrum.  In fact, McKinstry’s car was originally Boxtrum’s machine from Canada.  It’s in good hands now as McKinstry is a dedicated Elva fan with a business, Elva Cars of Dallas, and an original Elva Courier to complete his collection.  “I had to slow down,” said the smiling McKinstry who had donned a 1930's-style driving helmet for the festivities, “because I had a small leak in the header tank.  Whenever I pressed hard and it got hot, coolant would shoot out of a little hole on top.”  Overheating problems kept the Elva’s of Kimball and Desalvo out of the hot action and Edwards, after chasing “teething” problems with the spare motor, finally succumbed to final drive “grumbles” in the Sunday race.
 
The Stanguellini’s of Gonzalez and Piccagli represent the largest group of  Formula Juniors constructed.  Approximately 150 of the beautiful roadsters rolled out of the workshop of Italian Vittorio Stanguellini.  The famous driver Juan Fangio had a hand in its development.  In the hands of drivers like Wolfgang von Trips, Ritchie Ginther and Lorenzo Bandini, Stanguellini Formula Juniors were unbeatable in the early years until the mid-engined Lotus 18 and Cooper T52 showed up.  Gonzalez’s car lived a full and hard life in Monterrey, Mexico.  When rescued by Gonzalez, it had been street and drag raced and was fitted with 10in wheels from a Mini Cooper.  It has now been restored and developed by Alamo Motorsports of San Antonio.  Ugo Piccagli’s bright red racer was resurrected from a group of four cars purchased about ten years ago.  He sold off the other three and rebuilt chassis # 154 for himself.  Robert Rodgers of Shade Tree Enginetrics handled the mechanical aspects of the restoration and on rare occasions drives the car himself.  This is Piccagli’s second choice for a front-engined Formula Junior mount as he had shipped his early Bandini to Monaco for the Historic Races and was leaving in two days for Monte Carlo.

The Huffaker-BMC, driven by Bob Merrill and now owned by Julio Palmaz, was the fastest of the front-engined cars running laps 15 seconds quicker than his competition.  It is a credit to Merrill’s character that he “required” a lengthy pit stop during the feature race, rejoined in last place and charged back to third.  The diminutive (wheelbase of only 6ft 8in,) San Francisco-built roadster was designed and constructed by Joe Huffaker with strong influence from early American sprinters and Indy roadsters.  This is evident in the almost horizontal position of the large steering wheel.  A highly-tuned BMC “A” Series engine of 1100 cc with a twin-choke Weber 40DCO3 carb provides the thrust and Sprite transmission, brakes and suspension parts put the power to the ground.  The 900 lb pocket-rocket was originally a Texas car and was eventually rescued from a over-grown field behind a trailer park in California before a beautiful restoration.