What Is Historic & Classic Formula Ford 1600?

To answer that, first let's explain what Formula Ford 1600 is:

History

The origins of Formula Ford began in the early 1960s, where motor racing schools such as The Jim Russell International Racing Drivers' School and Motor Racing Stables featured single-seat Formula Junior and Formula 3-like machines from world class constructors like Cooper and Lotus. Many aspiring Formula 1 stars looked to these schools in the hope of learning the craft and also looking the part. However, although there was no shortage of aspiring drivers, these schools had much trouble avoiding bankruptcy. The highly stressed 1 litre Formula 3 engines, 1.1 litre Coventry Climax Formula Junior and later the Ford Anglia 105E based engines, cost around £3,000 at the time. These engines were incredibly fragile, meaning they had a tendency to self-destruct. In addition, the Dunlop racing tires cost £80 per set. All these factors contributed to a steep maintenance and upkeep cost of these schools. Simply, Formula Junior and Formula 3 cars were expensive to run and beyond the reach of most aspiring drivers.

Merlyn MK11 Historic Formula Ford

THE CAR IN THE IMAGE ABOVE IS A STUNNING EXAMPLE OF A HISTORIC FORMULA FORD. IT IS A MERLYN MK17 RESTORED AND LOOKED AFTER BY SIMON BROWN AT TRACKSTAR RACING SERVICES FOR HIS CLIENT. IT IS USED ON THIS WEBSITE ONLY TO DEPICT A HISTORIC FORMULA FORD AND DOES NOT IMPLY ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN THIS WEBSITE, THE CAR OR TRACKSTAR RACING SERVICES.

In 1963, Geoff Clarke; the owner of Motor Racing Stables, moved his racing school to the Brands Hatch circuit. This brought him in contact with John Webb; Managing Director of Developments at Brands Hatch. At about this time, two of the school’s Lotus Formula Junior chassis were fitted with a stock 1498cc Ford pushrod engine as featured in the then-recently introduced Cortina GT sedan. The 1500 Cortina, with its sensational reliability and horsepower output fairly close to “F3 proper” proved a resounding success in the school. The earliest experiments with radial tires bore fruit as well: the students of the day didn’t care that these weren’t the racing engines or racing tires, just that the cars were equal.

At an informal meeting at the December 1966 racing car show day at Olympia, John Webb and Geoff Clarke were discussing the possibility of building a fleet of identical open wheel race cars based on the success of combining the Ford power plant and road wheels, radial tires, and Formula Junior style chassis. Not only would they make ideal school cars, but would also provide a new entry level formula for a race series. They felt if they called it “Formula Ford” they could get backing from Ford itself. Webb was on the phone the next day to Ford competition manager Henry Taylor, who agreed to provide Clarke and MRS with 54 Cortina GT engines at £50 each (£15 below retail). Webb also approached the Royal Automobile Club's competition director, to establish rules for this new class. Late in 1967, Ford announced the new Formula Ford class to the world.

Specification

Keeping it simple and to the main points, a Formula Ford 1600 had to:

  • Be an open top, single-seater racing car as defined for Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 3.
  • Have a tubular steel 'spaceframe' chassis.
  • Be powered by a 'standard' (blueprinting was allowed) Ford 1600 pushrod 'Kent' engine from the Cortina GT.
  • Have a 4-speed manual gearbox.
  • Weigh a minimum of 420kgs.
  • Have steel wheels with a maximum width of 5.5" fitted with road tyres (originally road tyres then follwed by all weather race tyres manufactured by Dunlop and today replaced with a 'historic' replica of the Dunlop tyre manufactured by Avon).
  • Have pukka race car suspension.
  • No wings or any other downforce.

The output of the blueprinted Ford Cortina engine was around 105bhp, which gave the Formula Ford a power-to-weight ratio of around 220 bhp/tonne including with an 11st driver on board. To put that in perspective a 2014 Porsche 911 (standard model) has only a 10% better power-to-weight ratio and the 1970's FF1600 has a power-to-weight ratio 25% better than the current top of the range 2014 Ford Focus ST.

The result was a reliable, light, fast, pukka single-seater racing car that quickly became the internationally accepted entry level to 'formula' racing, and in the late 70's and early 80's the standard route to Formula 1 soon became Formula Ford 1600 > Formula 3 > Formula 1.

The highly responsive handling and relatively low grip of the cars made Formula Ford 1600 the perfect training ground for aspiring professional drivers to hone and improve their skills. Many renouned instructors and driver coaches maintain that drivers who have never raced a single-seater have never experienced or attained the level of skill that puts single-seater drivers on a higher plain.

In its heyday during the 70's and 80's Formula Ford 1600 was the place to start if you were a serious carreer driver. There were several National level championships in the UK and abroad and at the end of each season the truly International Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, which attracted more than 300 entries from around the World. Many future World Champions started in Formula Ford 1600.

Formula Ford remained as the first rung on the ladder for aspiring single-seater racing drivers all through the 70's and 80's. In the 90's an new engine was introduced, the more powerful Zetec engine, which was then replaced later by the lighter Duratec engine. More recently, in 2012, the turbocharged Ecoboost engine. Costs increased with all these engines and gradually the popularity of Formula Ford began to wane, with drivers aspiring to the higher echelons of the sport favouring 'wings and slicks' cars such as Formula Renault.

Formula Ford 1600 'Kent' Today

In recent years the 'Kent' (Cortina GT, Escort Mexico) engined Formula Ford categories have gained a renewed poularity with the growth of Historic and Classic Formula Ford categories, helped along by the increasing value of these cars making them a good investment. Historic Formula Ford is for pre-1972 cars, while Classic Formula Ford is for pre-1982 cars. While these cars are technically up to 45 years or more old (Classic's 35 years), they are all very much like 'Trigger's Broom' some literally being brand new.

Today, Formula Ford 1600 'Kent' is enjoying a major resurgence with the HSCC Historic FF1600 Championship, BARC Classic Formula Ford Championship, BRSCC Formula Ford Championships, the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy; enjoying full grids and competitive racing.

Interested? See the Classic FF1600 Hire page...