Austin FW Special 750 Formula
Austin FW Special 750 Formula
This car, the FW Special, has been built in 1957/8 by the technical Design and Engineering students Michael Featherstonhaugh and Harry Worrall. The idea was to build a racing car on an Austin A7 basis to run it in the 750 Motor Club. An A7 racing engine with an alloy performance cylinder head, high compression pistons, lager valve ports and twin choke SU carburretors was used for the power output. A lot of other parts were used to make it competitive: adjustable telescope dampers, independent front suspension using a converted Austin front axle, Morris Minor brakes, Dunlop Racing tyres and more. They made a semi space frame with a aluminium centre tub (similar to racing cars at the time like the Jaguar C-Type or the Maserati Birdcage). Front and rear sections were made from fibreglass. The car was raced in the late 50s and earyl 60s on tracks like Silverstone, Goodwood, Brands Hatch or Snetterton. Along it's siter car they called themselves "Team Sigma". Featherstonhaugh claimed several podiums, he drove on the 3rd overall place in the 1960 seasons "Goodacre Trophy". Jem Marsh, who later founded Marcos Cars, was impressed by the modern design of the car and made a deal with Featherstonhaugh. Under his license he made bodyshells with his original moulds, put them on his car and sold it as the "Speedex Silverstone". For the Speedex adverts he even used original photographs of Featherstonhaughs FW Special.
The car has a very good documentation including original black & white photos, invoices, even handwritten notes and letters of its builde himself, Michael Featherstonhaugh. The whole detailed story about the car and its specification he told in the 750 MC Bulletin in 1994:
I originally got the bug for competition cars before National Service, when I was living near Southampton and studying graphic design. I cycled to see my first motor race at Goodwood and the noise of the V16 BRM did it! A little later the principal of my college took me to a 750 Motor Club evening at the Red Cow, Hammersmith. The principal had just completed a Ford/Austin Special called a Fairley, I believe, rather like a miniature Allard to look at. I attended local 750 meetings in Hampshire and met Arthur Mallock, Leslie Bellamy and other A7 and Ford Specials enthusiasts. My first car, in which I learnt to drive, was a 1929 A7 fabric saloon, which I later converted into a 2 seater sports! (It was in bad repair and these cars were everyday transport at the time). I later graduated to a modified 1929 Chummy and did one or two rallies and trials locally.
Then followed National Service in the Far East which, apart from giving me an opportunity to see some of the wonders of the world at HM Government's expense, was spent thinking about the building of a 750 Formula car, sketching designs and making models.
Shortly after National Service I moved to London to continue studying design· this time engineering orientated industrial design. I met Harry Worrall, who was studying engineering, at a party and started talking cars and about my ideas for a 750 Formula car with IFS, semi-space frame and allenveloping aerodynamic body. Harry was intrigued and volunteered to help with the project. We agreed that the car should be a modern sports racing car to the 750 Formula, which would perform well and also hold its own against other modern machinery in the paddock in terms of design, build and preparation. As I had no space at my flat, we started building the car at Harry's parents' house (they were long suffering and supportive) in Banstead, Surrey.
Shortly after work started I learnt to weld at college, which was convenient as it enabled me to construct the tubular space frame on to the A7 'A' frame members, which formed the basis of the chassis. I chose an Austin Big Seven front axle for the swing axle IFS because of its larger king pins and bolt-on back plates. Ford 8 radius rods were used. The front suspension was by special coil damper units. The steering was by central steering box and divided track rods. The steering column had two universal joints and a three-spoke light alloy wheel made by me with leather covered rim (rather modern at the time). The engine had a modified camshaft, enlarged inlet valves, flowed ports, high compression alloy head, polished and balanced rods and crank, lightened pistons and flywheel and twin carbs. The distributor was mounted directly off the end of the camshaft. A Nippy gearbox drove the 5.25 back axle via a shortened Ruby Hardy Spicer prop shaft. Rear suspension was by flattened soft leaf springs with telescopic dampers. The braking system was hydraulic, with light alloy back plates and 7" drums. The wheels were new West London Repair Company wide rimmed spoke type, shod with Dunlop Racing tyres.
The body featured fibreglass front and rear sections hinged to light tubular outriggers on the space frame to allow full access to mechanicals. Fibreglass, a newish material at the time, was chosen as it was the only way we could economically get the double curvature shaped areas of body I had designed. We couldn't do panel beating and GRP offered an affordable method of getting complex body shapes.
The master pattern for the fibreglass body sections was made on the car using wooden frames, chicken wire and plaster of Paris. Many hours of smoothing and polishing later, we shellacked the plaster, coated it with release agent and took fibreglass female moulds. In these we laid up the fibreglass body panels. In order to maintain the right temperature for this work the mouldings were made in Harry's bedroom. The scuttle area side panels and full length under-tray, which were either single curvature or flat we made from light gauge aluminium alloy. We could make these without panel bashing know-how. The car had an alloy tonneau cover over the passenger seat and a wrap-round fairing with perspex screen for the driver.
We received moral and practical support and visits from John Home, a Singer Le Mans enthusiast, David Berry and others during the process. John, I believe, introduced us to Tony Densham, who had also started to build a 750 Formula car and was at that time partner in Sutton Rebore Service, an engine reconditioning business which did a fair amount of A7 road and competition engine work. Tony had also started to work on an Austin racing special. I don’t remember the exact specification of Tony's car except that it had a Bowden type twin leaf spring IFS. His car was nearly complete except body. It was decided to make another body like mine. We made a second set of body mouldings and these were fitted to Tony's car, together with alloy centre panels similar to mine.
By now we had now outgrown Harry's parents' garage, not to mention the bedroom and moved to a two car lock-up nearby in Carshalton, where my car was completed. In the evenings and weekends I commuted by A7 saloon from my flat in Kensington to Carshalton. The saloon's radiator leaked and somehow never got repaired, so I always carried spare water on board for topping up. Sometimes the journey took a long time in winter with pea soup fogs, a feature of London life then, which reduced traffic to a crawl. Since virtually all the work was done by Harry and myself in spare time, it took us over eighteen months. Meanwhile we had become friendly with Keith Dixon, who at the time owned an ex-works Austin Seven Ulster, known as The Blood Orange, It was painted orange as it had been when it was run by the Austin works team in the 1930's. This car at that time had an un-blown Ulster engine and was, for its type, fast. Brakes were not its strong point - I had one or two hair-raising rides on the road with Dixon. Harry, Keith, Tony and I talked Austin Seven racing and engine tuning when we weren1 car building and decided to give our collective efforts a name - Team Sigma (can’t quite remember why Sigma) and we adopted an orange stripe on a white background as team colours. My car and Tony's were painted in the team colours (as was subsequently the Worden 750). They looked very smart.
My car, the FW Special, had had its racing debut I believe at the 1958, 8 Clubs Silverstone subsequently. I was racing it in most 750 Formula and some suitable handicap races at the principal circuits in England and also Scotland, coupled with a few hill climbs. The car was also driven a few times by Ian Bennie, a Scottish RAC Scrutineer friend, who latterly shared preparation and driving to and from meetings. 750 Formula cars of the period were required to be road legal and were often driven to circuits. However, after all our time and effort and the highly tuned engine's vulnerability, we opted first for a rigid tow bar (tough on the person who had to sit in the car and steer for miles looking at the back of a tow car) and later to use a trailer. A bit frowned upon at the time - some thought it not quite in the spirit! But it did save money and time on rebuilds and you could always get home. I never broke a crank.
When my car appeared, it set new standards for special building generally and 750 Formula cars in particular. At its first race, at Silverstone, led the field but was so surprised I lost concentration and finished second. The car performed well and was 'in the money' on most outings. I remember being rather pleased to win our class and beat an early works Austin Healey Sprite at a hill climb.
Tony Densham's car was raced by him for a short period. Tony then sold it and Harry and he then built the very fast Worden with abbreviated body. This car went on to win the 750 Formula Goodacre Formula 1960 and is described in Martin Eyre's Austin Seven competition Cars'.
A regular competitor in 750 Formula races during the period was Jem Marsh, whose Speedex company sold A7 go-faster goodies and competition parts - suspensions, engine and gearbox parts, alloy bodies with cycle type wings, etc. Jem admired my car's all-enveloping body and proposed he make versions for general sale. We agreed to loan him the front and rear body moulds. To these he added a GRP centre section with dashboard (not entirely to my liking). We agreed to name it the Silverstone body, Silverstone having been my car's first outing.
I believe 25-40 bodies were made and sold by Jem Marsh. The original car and body was much admired and some few examples still exist, notably the version recently raced by Terry Brown.
After a considerable period away from Austin Sevens and competition, mostly building a business, raising a family and messing about with boats, I had my interest re-kindled by an invitation to go to Mallory Park for a 1990 anniversary meeting. I met old friends and made some new ones and I decided to become more actively involved again.
I visited a number of race meetings with A7 races during 1991 and 1992 and talked to competitors and with encouragement from Nigel Cowley, Reg Nice, Nick Windley and others, decided to prepare a Silverstone bodied A7 engined early 750 Formula type car, similar to my original, for circuit racing.
Meanwhile I had been contacted by Russell James, who was interested in forming a Silverstone Register. (This is still on the cards). In turn he told me of a contact in Northern Ireland who had a Silverstone bodied A7 special for sale. I contacted the gentleman concerned, one Joseph Lynn, who had owned a number of A7's including a Grasshopper and who regaled me with stories of Austin 7 racing in Ireland, including a fast racing vicar! I bought the Silverstone bodied car - it proved to be a cooking A7 road special, based on standard Ruby running gear lowered, with Bowden IFS. The body was badly trirnmed and fitted and had had a few knocks. Nevertheless the body basics were there.
As the body was damaged and generally a little tired, I decided to use it as the basis for a pattern and make new moulds for the body for my car. The car would have GRP front and rear sections and the alloy centre panels as the earlier version. After much bracing work, shaping, filling and sanding, the body was ready for the moulds to made in GRP. A set of mouldings were made. For anyone interested, further mouldings can be made. These can be tailored for either competition or road cars. The road version will have provision for lights.
The car's space frame chassis has 2" x 2" side members and quarter elliptic rear springs and an Austin Big Seven based IFS axle and springs and dampers, as the earlier car. The main differences from the original car is the installation of a desiamesed A7 engine with twin second-hand Weber carburettors, a BMC A series back axle and 10" alloy road wheels. All major components are of correct period. It is hoped to race the car in the 750 Trophy Series in 1994.
I have had a lot of fun from Austin 7's and greatly appreciate the people I've had the pleasure to meet through interest in cars and in Austins in particular. For some few years they were my daily transport. My first view of Florence and Rome was from an Austin 7. Harry Worrall and I took two '34 saloons to Rome and back with three passengers and camping gear. No problems except we both had a broken rear spring, caused by a pothole (we saw it too late) just outside Rome. Italian mechanics made us new spring leaves in a day! My introduction to competition motoring was in Austin Sevens. Austin’s are still offering enjoyment and affordable competition at various levels. The 750 Motor Club continues its tradition of low cost motor sport and is, no doubt, starting a few new motoring racing luminaries on their careers, as it has so notably in the past. They include Colin Chapman (Lotus), Eric Broadley (Lola) and Arthur Mallock (Mallock Cars). There are many other famous and important names who started by modifying Austin’s. In fact it's fair to say that without the opportunities offered to inventive car enthusiasts by the Austin 7 and the 750 Motor Club, British motor sport generally and racing car constructors in particular would not be in the world forefront as they are today.
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