Ok, its a Pinto engine, alright? There, I’ve said it and its true. My single seat, open wheel, fun as hell Formula Ford race car is powered by a Ford Pinto engine. This may mean little to those born after cell phones were everywhere and vinyl records nowhere, but to those of us who have been around a bit longer, it does mean something and regrettably, in the minds of many, not a great something.
The Pinto was one of Ford’s very early attempts at producing a small, economical four passenger car. It’s power plant was a very reliable, cheap to build, and cheap to maintain 1600cc four cylinder engine that produced a whopping 95 brake horsepower, give or take a few. The car was not much to look at or drive. But, in it’s day, the engine was a good little work horse and therefore the power plant of choice for a new racing class that, because of the engine choice, became known as Formula Ford. Actually in use prior to the Pinto, in cars marketed in Europe, and known as a Kent engine, the iron block, push-rod motor, was installed in entry level race cars driven by budding professionals. A cheap way to race with other identically engined cars, show your skills, and become a professional race car driver–or not, depending upon the depth of the afore mentioned skills and other things like, money, maturity, and more money.
And one more thing we may as well get out in the open. The four speed non-synchronized gear box is from a VW beetle. Well, the case and only the case is. It’s guts are rock crushing, rock solid, straight cut, Hewland gears. Four speeds in all, selected with an H-pattern shifter. Manly stuff to be sure, and used in all manner of race cars for many many years.
So my car is a 1972 Lola T204 Formula Ford, powered by a Ford Pinto engine, and has a VW gearbox case. You may think that summary a bit dull, but such thoughts would be misguided. It weighs just 1125 pounds with me in it. And it’s engine is skillfully balanced and tuned to produce 115 brake horsepower, give or take a few. The car is fast. Not super-car fast, break your neck, go 100 mph in first gear fast, but fast nonetheless. Quick they’d say in Europe. Top speed is about 150 mph if you install gears tall enough and have a straightaway long enough. At most road racing tracks in the United States, and Europe, too, for that matter, top speeds rarely exceed 120 mph. But that’s enough to keep most people’s attention. Certainly mine.
The frame is simple, cheap, steel tubing, the body equally simple and cheap fiberglass. Neither the four wheel disc brakes or rack and pinion steering are powered by anything but human muscle. It even relies on points, condenser and a single coil for its spark. Not a single computer aboard. Couldn’t be much simpler.
Its old, but there are modern versions powerered by the same engine type running every weekend at club races around the world. It’s a good formula still, 50 years after the concept was conceived. For hobbyists like myself, who long ago gave up the idea of being a professional driver, old (the car that is) is good. It keeps things cheap. No need to buy the latest aerodynamic version. Or the one with lighter suspension pieces. Or the one with upgraded brakes. When raced at vintage racing gatherings, the car must be built no later than 1972. Everyone on equal ground. Nice.