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Posts filed under ‘Aesthetics of Racing’

The Aesthetics of Racing: Ford GT40

August 8, 2012 by Matt

Ford GT40 Mark II 2 Gulf Racing

Pure function can be brutally attractive.

Even though its profile changed in detail between its four incarnations, whatever specific shape it took, the legendary Ford GT40 epitomizes the function-as-form racer aesthetic.

The Mark I and II shape, shown above, remains the most well-known GT40 variation. The car’s genesis is familiar to most car buffs: After an aborted attempt to buy Ferrari outright, a racing-victory-hungry Henry Ford II decided to build his own Ferrari beater, and after a few years of working out the kinks, scored 4 straight 24 Hours of Le Mans victories from 1966 through 1969. The body of the 427-powered Mark II, which delivered the first Le Mans victory in 1966, was a British-based Lola creation, so it was technically an Anglo-American car. Still, whoever made it, the GT40’s design is absolutely arresting (especially for the mid-’60s), devoid of anything that would compromise its singular mission. There were no wings, no frills, no fancy multi-cam V12s—just brute American pushrod force to complement the stubby, blue-collar shape.

Ford GT40 Mark III 3 Road Car Blue Gray Grey

With the Mark III, shown above, Ford civilized the GT40 just a bit for road use. It’s a tribute to the basic appeal of the car’s proportions that the only major external changes came in the form of different headlight clusters and a slightly lengthened tail for additional storage. A contemporary of the groundbreaking Lamborghini Miura (the first mid-engined supercar), the GT40’s dynamics and racing pedigree easily trumped the Italian exotic’s. Sadly, only 7 were made.

Ford GT40 Mark IV 4

The wholly made-in-America Mark IV was a substantially different beast. Even though it retained the same overall look and feel as its predecessors, much of its aesthetic appeal was sacrificed in the name of additional aerodynamic refinement. Dispensing with the Lola-designed bodywork, Ford brought the design in-house, tweaking and refining the basic theme. The Mark IV kept the GT40’s signature stubby shape, and delivered the only true all-American Le Mans victory, driven by the all-star pairing of Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt in 1967.

I don’t know that there’s even been a car quite as effective looking as the GT40. Delicate F1 racers and more modern endurance machines are typically festooned and underpinned with far more sophistication, but the results seem to be cars that politely ask the elements (air, road surface, etc) to cooperate. The GT40, on the other hand, commands respect; its shape demands compliance from its partners in victory. It gets the job done, not glamorously, but effectively, and there’s an undeniable beauty in that.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series examining the aesthetic merits of cars designed almost wholly with function in mind. Read the other installments here:

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The Aesthetics of Racing: Toyota GT-One

June 25, 2012 by Matt

Toyota GT-One GT1 Red Le Mans Racer Race Car

With respect to what it set out to do—secure a 24 Hours of Le Mans victory for manufacturer Toyota—the GT-One was a miserable failure. Aesthetically, however, it’s a fascinating car, especially from a Japanese outfit.

Purpose-built to conquer Le Mans, the GT-One nestled into the then-top-tier GT1 class in ’98, and the GTP class in ’99, the shift necessitated by a regulation change that required more roadgoing examples built in order to homologate a car for the highest-level class, an effort Toyota was unwilling to put forth. Although its twin-turbo 3.6l V8 and Dallara-developed chassis gave the GT-One a competitive turn of speed, it was let down by mechanical failures, tire disintegrations and just plain bad luck (read: collisions initiated by other racers). Even with the enormous resources of the Japanese giant, the car could finish no better than 25 laps back of the winning Porsche 911 GT1 in ’98. It did manage to hold on to second place overall in ’99, but that achievement was tempered by the fact that it was running in a class by itself, the other race cars having to abide by slightly more stringent rules.

Toyota GT-One GT1 Red Le Mans Racer Race Car

In spite of its lack of success around the Circuit de la Sarthe, I’m fascinated by, if not necessarily drawn to, its looks. Perhaps the most arresting aspect of its lines are their utter organic-ness. To generalize, even when incorporating sweeping, curved shapes, Japanese-sourced styling isn’t known for being the most romantic, as it were. But on a race car, no less, where form should be fully subservient to function, the GT-One’s shape looks downright fanciful. Examine the gothic curve of the nose cone, check out the insectoid headlight clusters and the rippling expanse of bodywork aft of the cockpit, terminating in a full-width ducktail and baroque spoiler. Looking so much like an idle concept exercise, I couldn’t believe Toyota had actually raced one “in anger” when I first beheld it (admittedly, in the video game Gran Turismo 2). They deserve recognition for creating a car so distinctive, if not successful.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series examining the aesthetic merits of cars designed almost wholly with function in mind. Read the other installments here:

4 Comments on The Aesthetics of Racing: Toyota GT-One

The Aesthetics of Racing: Ferrari 412T

February 28, 2012 by Matt

Ferrari F1 Formula 1 One 412T1 1994 1995 94 95

As much as automakers (especially those in the performance business) would like you to think otherwise, 95% of any road car’s external shape is driven by style. The aerodynamicists may have a bit of input around the edges, and there are certain interior volumes dictated by marketers and engineers, but by and large, style rules the roost.

Race cars, on the other hand, are designed and built with no concern over whether or not a pleasing shape results. If severe, brick-like contours will help it “do the job” and cut through the air faster on its way to a win, those are the priorities that shape the car. That said, in spite of the fact that form overwhelmingly follows function in the auto racing world, stunning and often beautiful bodywork frequently emerges from the engineers’ drawing boards. Today we begin a new series looking at race cars that, successful or not, in their single-minded pursuit of speed, happened to be visually arresting as well.

The Ferrari 412T, campaigned by the storied Italian team during the ’94 and ’95 F1 seasons, with Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi at the wheel, was the last hurrah for the Ferrari V12 in Formula 1. After turbocharging was banned starting with the ’89 season, teams had reverted to naturally-aspirated 3.5l V8s, V10s and V12s, Ferrari being the last holdout for the latter configuration. Compared to its competitors, the Ferrari engine was more powerful, offering more straight-line speed, but was heavy and complex, impeding handling and making reliability an issue.

Still, the 412T undoubtedly represented the beginning of Ferrari’s comeback after the championship drought of the ’80s and early ’90s, a resurgence that culminated with Michael Schumacher’s string of 5 world titles starting in 2000. Conservative and simple, the 412T also happened to be quite a beautiful car, and its shape, along with Ferrari’s underdog status that year, secured my fandom for the seasons that followed.

Ferrari F1 Formula 1 One 412T1B 412T2 1994 1995 94 95 Jean Alesi

In a constant state of development throughout the ’94 and ’95 seasons, the 412T appeared in two primary external shapes, the switchover happening partway through the ’94 season. The first iteration was called the 412T1 (shown at top) and featured a raised, rounded nose and smaller sidepod air intakes. The 412T1B and 412T2, the latter pictured above driven by Jean Alesi, eliminated the raised nose and greatly enlarged the sidepod intake area. Coupled with the knowledge that they’re sporting a hugely powerful, classic Ferrari V12, either variation of the 412T shape is brutally elegant and completely stunning. In my mind, it’s the last “classic” Ferrari F1 car, its immediate successor the F310 and all the cars that followed being maimed by safety and regulatory changes, and looking far too computer-designed as well. The 412T was the swan song of the organic, assembled-by-an-actual-human Ferrari F1 car, and as such it stands alone.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series examining the aesthetic merits of cars designed almost wholly with function in mind. Read the other installments here:

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