|History of Formula Vee - From Alan Harding's European website|
In Florida in 1959 VW dealer and motorsport enthusiast Hubert Brundage was trying his hand at motor racing with VW based specials. He found it expensive and they were unsuccessful but he still believed it was possible to be competitive using VW parts so that the average man-in-the-street could maintain and afford it. While on a business trip to Italy he visited race car builder Enrico Nardi. Brundage had been impressed by the quality of their racing steering wheels and commissioned them to produce a Beetle-based single-seater.
By 1962 there were eight Vees racing with cars of similar power;
famously four got a run in an SCCA touring car race(!) in Savannah and
three of them finished 1-2-3.
SCCA Official George Smith and garage owner Bill Duckworth took the concept a stage further by producing the Beetle-based formula racing cars (Formcar for short) in volume. The first other manufacturer to come in was Eugene Beach who produced customer cars in quantity and a Formula Vee series was started by the SCCA in 1963.
At this point Porsche AG got interested in this (after all they were effectively the competition arm of VW) and competition boss Huschke von Hanstein ordered 10 Formcars and Beachs. The Vee concept was therefore explored in Germany and some drivers we recognise today started their careers: Jochen Mass, Dieter Quester, Gerhard Mitter and Marc Surer. Volkswagen themselves saw this as a marketable concept and started to co-ordinate the launch of Formula Vee worldwide.
In the UK the launch included a 12 round Formula Vee championship organised by the BARC which preceded Brands Hatch’s Formula Ford by two weeks in 1967! At the time most were Beachs (or Express cars which were Beachs modified by VW GB) and there was such a thing as a works team). The first race at Silverstone was won by Jenny Na din although well-known journalist Nick Brittan led for all but the last lap till he spun. It is rumoured that this was orchestrated by VW because both were works drivers and more publicity would be obtained by a female winner. Nick Brittan went on to win the championship and was often representing GB in the European Western Zone championship – VW’s way of finding a Vee World Champion. Drivers would fly to these European races and join in the VW publicity bandwagon. Brittan represented GB in the Monaco Grand Prix support race although he didn’t get further than the first corner .
As today throughout the world Formula Vee flourished as the starting racing car formula. The huge number of well-known drivers who have raced in Formula Vee makes it almost easier to list those who haven’t. Four Formula One World Champions cut their teeth in the series: Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg. In the UK Brian “Yogi” Muir, Gerry Birrell, Brian Henton and Ian Flux are best known, Gerry winning a Scottish championship. Also Grand Prix driver Peter Arundel was involved in the promotion of the McNamara Vee and there is our own well-known 1172 stalwart Gordon Rae who raced his own design.
The UK series was managed by The Formula Vee Association under the wing of VW GB Ltd. encouraging series sponsors like the VW camper conversion manufacturers Danbury. The regulations followed the international rulebook, the cars having the link pin axle and 1200cc engine. Chassis manufacturers were few initially and mostly from Europe e.g.. Austro, Celi & Kaimann but some UK companies did offer cars including Wooler (an engineering company producing an Austro copy), Landar (a Birmingham VW dealer called Randal – Landar backwards), Smithfield (another VW Dealer) and CG. (Cotswold Garages in Fowey). Major racing car manufacturers were primarily interested in Formula Ford which was all the rage so Vee regulations were changed to modernise the look of the cars in 1973 allowing 1300 engine, disk front brakes, torsion bar front suspension and rack & pinion steering. With loyal supporter Jan Bannochie arranging the races and Vee enthusiast Ian Bunker producing the newsletter, Vee Sport News the series ticked on.
However, storm clouds were gathering over Europe and VW turned to promoting the water-cooled cars such as the Golf rather than the Beetle, particularly in competition, even introducing the Scirocco Cup to promote their sporting image. Formula Ford was the route to motor racing stardom and as a result Formula Vee grids dwindled in the mid 1970s to no more than about half a dozen with races held mostly at Lydden Hill. Stalwart supporters like the Thames Estuary Motor Club, Sutton Coldfield and North Birmingham Automobile Club (SUNBAC) with their annual Silverstone race kept things going along with Howard Strawford’s BRSCC Castle Combe Easter Monday meeting a regular season opener. Nevertheless Vee expertise fell away and the formula gained a reputation having only few entries of slow, oil-spilling unreliable ugly racing cars. VW themselves ceased its support and the formula was demoted effectively to club racing.
At the time, racing and support was dominated by one man, London Irishman Tim Flynn who saw a way forward. He negotiated with the 750 Motor Club in 1979 for it to be taken under its wing. Membership secretary Dave Bradley saw it as an entry-level single-seater low-cost club racing series dovetailing in perfectly with their other formulae: Formula 750, Formula 1300 and Formula Four. At this stage the series was guaranteed a championship series of races and a full-time administrator. It was around that time that a contract with Dunlop to supply control tyres for the formula was established - one that has run continuously for 25 years! This was quite a coup as there was no alterative supply for the 15inch size wheel. To complete the Formula Vee package as we know it today the standard gearbox ratios were made mandatory. The significance was that you were no longer allowed to use the expensive Supervee gearbox to give you that edge at certain circuits, nor could you fit the tall VW Transporter third gear to keep up. All drivers had the same equipment, theoretically and that has remained so to this day.
However there was still a shortage of available chasses until Vee (and Austin Seven performance) engine guru Stuart Rolt who had produced the Scarab 1 - a space frame car based on the Austro - stuck his neck out and designed and built the Scarab 2, a steel monocoque design based on dimensions of the Van Diemen RF78 and using other proprietary bodywork. Most significantly it was available on the market as a kit and was designed as a customer car. After Flynn won a championship race on its debut Stuart got Andy Diamond to lay down a batch of four cars and took deposits on all, one of them from National Coal Board Museum curator Andrew Storer.
This re-packaged formula brought the class to the attention of lots of potential club racers. For once in a long time they could actually buy a complete new car. A 15 round national championship was formed and sponsored in turn by several aftermarket Beetle suppliers. The series blossomed, often with the need for a qualifying race each round.