ECURIE SCALPEL NEWS - SEPTEMBER 2005

ANOTHER IRISH CONNECTION

In the later 1960’s and early 1970’s circuit racing in Ireland was restricted somewhat by several factors. First and foremost were the financial problems – Ireland had not enjoyed the economic explosion of the 1990’s Celtic Tiger and money was scarce in the Republic. Indeed Ireland was to a great extent the poor relation in Europe and enthusiasts were certainly at a disadvantage compared to the folk living in the North of Ireland. The other problem was the lack of race tracks. The famous Phoenix Park races had been running on and off for almost 100 years, but “The Park” was made up of public roads and was only used once a year, if that. Ireland had a proud tradition of motorsport dating back to the turn of the century when the second Gordon Bennett races were held near Athy. Since that time races had been held over a series of famous and in some cases infamous road courses such as Dundrod, Rathdrum, Skerries and the Curragh. Racing legends such as Fangio, Hawthorn, Bira and of course Stirling Moss had all taken part in these events over the years but times were changing.

The increasing speeds made the dangers of road circuits increasingly unacceptable and what was clearly needed was a purpose built race track. Enter Mondello Park near Naas just South of Dublin. Today the track – now owned by Martin Birrane of Lola fame – has hosted events as diverse as British F3, the BTCC and the FIA GT Championships. Over the years the track has been extended twice and is currently quite a challenging layout with off camber blind sweeps that are quite unforgiving even for the most talented. However back in 1970 it was still finding its feet. Originally built as a kidney shaped loop – not unlike a short version of the Indy circuit at Brands Hatch – it was very much constructed to a budget and had struggled financially for many years passing through several owners.

The race events held there in these early years were nonetheless action packed and saw many a famous face cut their teeth as well as make their name. Personally I saw F2 races with Peter Westbury, John Watson, Tommy Reid and others battle it out wheel to wheel. Saloon car aces included Alec Poole in his fire breathing Mini, David Hall in a series of beautifully turned out Chrysler Imps – sometimes with Rosemary Smith driving – Des Donnelly hustling Vauxhall Vivas as an Irish Gerry Marshall, Des Cullen – father of current Ferrari Challenge driver Michael, in a whole range of tin tops and on occasions a Mercedes 6.3 saloon would be squealed around by Bosco O’Brien.

Single seater racing was largely dominated by guys from the North with Tommy Reid – still frighteningly fast today aged more than 70 – leading the charge. Other notables were Damien Magee, John and Jay Pollock, the Acheson family and from Dublin one Ken Fildes. Ken is now a Citroen dealer near Dublin and in recent years has returned to racing using a Ralt RT4 with a Zetec engine – just for fun. In those days he was rising through the ranks of single seaters and in 1970’s Ireland that meant Formula Atlantic. Atlantic was effectively a poor man’s F2 with Brabham BT 28’s and 30’s up against very Lotus models including the beautiful 60. 1600 cc Ford engines – BDA’s usually but sometimes FVA’s – running on carburettors for economy and reliability purposes were the order of the day. The action was frantic and the entertainment of the highest order.

In 1970, just like today, any aspiring racer needed money or a generous patron to fund the sport. In Ken Fildes’ case the patron was one Luke Duffy. A diminutive garage owner from Glasnevin, Luke had been a racer himself before deciding that many others before him that running others with more talent was a better idea. At the time he had two drivers – Ken Fildes and Damien Magee – and a good relationship with John Crossle and his race car business.

John Crossle is probably best known for making a series of championship winning Formula Ford cars in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s some of which are seen today running successfully in historic events. Eddie Irvine cut his teeth in one of these cars that came out of very modest buildings near Belfast and there was a time they totally dominated FF racing on both side of the Atlantic. They did not restrict themselves to making FF cars and in fact had started out by making sportscars. Interestingly I drove another unique Crossle – the V8 special on behalf of Ean Pugh at Goodwood in 2004. Today they continue to make the pretty and very rapid 9S sports racer under the direction of current company owner Arnie Black. There is a lot of interesting history on the company and their various cars to be found on their website – www.crossle.co.uk – and this includes a brief description of the subject of this article, the 19F.

The 19F was the latest offering from Crossle and was the only one made by the company. It bore a striking resemblance to the very successful 18F F2 car (one of which is now owned by Tommy Reid and appeared at Phoenix Park in 2003) and the chassis is very similar indeed. In fact from a distance the 19F looks very similar indeed. Three 18F cars were produced to the single 19F which first appeared in 1969 running on treated tyres and without wings. For 1970, the bodywork was slightly different and like the 18F this car featured the latest in aerodynamics – wings front and rear. Ken Fildes was the chosen driver for the new model which was powered by the Ford FVA lump. 1970 proved to be very successful for the pairing and Ken won several races around Ireland and held a number of lap records at Kirkiston, Mondello Park and Ingliston.

1971 saw the international scene return to Mondello Park with the arrival of a full round of the European F5000 Championship which was almost at the height of its popularity. The event was to be the Rothmans Grand Prix of Ireland and to fill up the grid the local aces were added to the field. More about this event can be found in the article “The Life of a Car” about the Surtees TS8. The race was won by eventual 1971 Champion Frank Gardner with the Surtees coming third, driven from pole position by Mike Hailwood. Bringing up the rear of the field was one Ken Fildes in the 19F alongside the local Atlantic hot shoes.

It must be admitted that the 19F was not Fildes’ most successful car – that was probably the Lotus 60 now owned by Irvine Laidlaw – but he campaigned it very actively in many races. One of these events was in Aintree (Liverpool) where the car probably had its finest hour in period becoming the first car to lap the club circuit at over 100mph.

Like all old race cars it was soon replaced by the latest faster model – in this case the very unsuccessful 22F – and was sold on to become progressively hidden away in old age. However, almost 20 years later in 1986 the car was found rather bizarrely by Arnie Black lurking in a Renault showroom in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Immediately recognising what he had stumbled upon he bought the old stager and restored it ready for action in the growing historic racing scene. So successful was this venture – Arnie and the 19F won the HSCC Historic Championship twice in the ‘90’s that a second car was constructed by the factory using spare parts – Yes , in the back like always – for his fellow Crossle campaigner Billy Gowdy. Together they travelled around the UK and were very successful indeed.

Of course Arnie was not satisfied with owning just the car and soon decided to but the company! 19F had to go as fund raising was essential and the car went to Bill Wood in Scotland who had aspirations to conquer the European F2 scene. Now armed with period Lucas fuel injection Bill did not have a very happy time it must be admitted. Before long the series run by Freddy Kumschick became so successful and competitive that major budgets were required to be competitive – there was even talk of some people borrowing the Sauber wind tunnel to make the old wings actually do something useful other than acting as a handy drinks stand.

Bill withdrew gracefully and 19F was resting once again before being put up for sale. It didn’t sell immediately because by now the European historic F2 series had also essentially fallen apart so cars such as this were not very attractive propositions. It was at this stage that I spotted the car – always a sucker for a lost cause – and realised that I knew the car from being at the Mondello race and of course remembered Ken Fildes well. Whats more the Surtees was already at home and this meant that I would have two cars from the same race in my garage. What a sentimental fool?

So how has it been to drive this pretty green machine? Well the answer has to be “very frustrating”. Having checked everything over we decided to ask Simon Hadfield to set the car up. A long list of alterations later a new set of Koni dampers were installed and the car was up and running. It handles well and has a great gearbox along with excellent brakes. But the engine is a different matter! I was always worried about that fancy fuel injection stuff although I don’t know if it is actually to blame for the performance. The bottom line is that in the three events to date the engine has become progressively less powerful and increasingly difficult to drive. BDA engine are pricey lumps and not to be fooled with. They should produce well over 200bhp and be the most usable of the 1600 Ford racing engines. After the Silverstone HSCC finals event the decision was forced on me – the engine is off to Geoff Richardson for a winter re-build and conversion back to run on twin Webers. I dread the bill but hope the car will be a different beast for 2006 when I will try my best to do it some justice. Here’s another thought – should I take off the wings and slicks and return the car to its earliest form on treated Dunlops? I would think it might be pretty competitive in the Classic Racing Cars series at the HSCC!

 

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