It was a class where being faster than the other guy meant you were a quicker driver, not that you had spent more money


Introduced in 1967, the Lotus Type 51 was the Norfolk concern's first specific Formula Ford design. Derived in part from the earlier Type 31 Formula 3 cars, it utilized a multi-tubular space frame chassis complete with steel undertray. Equipped with all-round independent suspension, disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering, it was powered by a 1,600-cc Ford Cortina cross-flow engine and became the new formula's performance benchmark.
Part of the collection since 1995, this particular Lotus Type 51 FF has been re-imported from America. Seemingly original, it is reputed to have scared a previous novice owner so badly with its pace that he retired it to long-term storage after just one outing. It would require careful re-commissioning prior to making a track comeback.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1967 Lotus Type 51 FF
Number Produced:218
Original List Price:$2,700
Tune Up Cost:Cost per hour to race: $350
Distributor Caps:$20
Chassis Number Location:Tag on dash
Engine Number Location:Boss on right side of block Club Name: Monoposto Racing, P.O.Box 688, Dubuque, IA 52004
Alternatives:1968 Alexis Mk 15; 1969 Titan Mk V; 1969 Merlyn Mk 11A
Investment Grade:B

This 1967 Lotus Type 51 FF sold for $24,537 at the H&H Brentford, U.K.., auction October 3, 2005.
Ever since the explosion in participant motorsports in the early ’50s, both organizers and participants have been searching for an affordable, entry-level, open-wheel formula, a place where the grand prix racers of the future can learn their craft. In the early to mid ’50s, Moss, Brabham, and company learned on English Formula 3 cars, spindly little things with 500-cc motorcycle engines. Though quick, they proved to be too fragile for long-term success.
Count Giovanni Lurani made his mark in 1958 when he created the Formula Junior, an international and durable formula intended as a cheap and competitive class based on production engines. It was extremely successful through 1963, but fell victim to its success when the front-running cars became so exotic and expensive that only the factory and sponsored teams had a chance of winning. A successor Formula 3 filled up the mid-’60s, but abandoned any pretense of populism or affordability. The market niche for a really good, relatively cheap, training class of open-wheel cars remained unfilled.
Geoffrey Clark was an Englishman who ran a driver’s school at Brands Hatch circuit, and he had the idea of an extremely design-limited formula around basically a bone-stock Ford Cortina engine and a four-speed transaxle. Previous attempts had all fallen victim to technology creep during a time of spectacular innovation in both materials technology and automotive design, so Clark’s solution was unabashedly retro: require a relatively heavy tube-frame chassis for durability; don’t allow exotic materials (to avoid expensive temptations for the designers); limit wheels, tires, and brakes to control the stick and handling; and require a standard engine. In many ways it was a giant step backwards, but it accomplished his goal. It created a class where being faster than the other guy meant you were a quicker driver, not that you had spent more money.
Thus was born the class we often call “Formula Frightening.” That’s a flip line, but true for a number of reasons.
First, these cars are fast. With 115 hp and weighing perhaps 1,150 pounds with fuel and driver, a well-driven Formula Ford can turn lap times to match a Corvette or a 289 Cobra (less spectacularly than the thunder bunnies, but just as fast).
Second, they’re formula cars, which means open wheels. Open- vs. closed-wheel racing is a matter of personal preference and much debate, but there is no doubt that close racing in open-wheel cars is more dangerous. If you touch wheels with another car, what happens next is going to be a big one, and you’re along for the ride.
Third, they’re cheap. More about this later, but if you’re looking for bang for the buck, there’s no way to go as fast for as little money as Formula Ford. This tends to produce a group of very competitive, not very experienced drivers who don’t have a lot of money in their cars. This can be a scary combination.
Fourth, they’re ultra-competitive. Formula Ford is easily the most level playing field in all of vintage racing; everyone has the same weight, horsepower, brakes, and tires. This makes for very close racing and everything that comes with it. There’s an enduring image of 40 virtually identical cars in a tight pack storming into the first turn, with some hero in the back convinced that he can out-brake everyone. I don’t know if there really are more “incidents” in Formula Ford than any other vintage group, but FF races are not for the faint of heart.
Did I mention cheap? In the U.S. these days, most Formula Fords sell for $18,000-$22,000, with projects below and heart-throbs a bit above. Aside from a Sprite or a Formula Vee, you’ll be hard put to come up with anything for less. They’re relatively inexpensive to run, too. A set of tires will last a full season, and the mild tune on the engine means there’s no reason to spin it very high, which is what uses them up. You can probably expect 50 hours between rebuilds, twice the time of a sports racer. Assuming you don’t hit anything, there’s not a lot else to spend money on.
The “classic” Formula Fords that we vintage race were built between 1967-72, and the Lotus 51 is where it all started. Many people consider it to be the prettiest of the bunch; it’s certainly the most classic. The later cars worked out chassis stiffness and aerodynamics a bit better, so if you want the ultimate car, something like a Titan is a bit quicker than a Lotus, but not much. At the end of the race day it’s all about the quality of preparation, and that’s what you pay for when you buy a car. This car had obviously been sitting for a while and required “re-
commissioning,” which bothers me a bit. If the new buyer puts a couple thousand dollars on top of the purchase price, I think he’ll be pretty deep into what is fundamentally a generic race car.

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