Formula Vee – Volkswagen’s first major success story in international motorsport.
It all started in the USA, with the first official Formula Vee race being held at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida in August 1963. This was around the time when the Volkswagen Beetle produced in Wolfsburg was just beginning to take the American automotive market by storm. Many motorsport enthusiasts believed that the vehicle’s chassis and its 1.2-litre engine which generated just under 40 hp offered the right amount of drive for a very inexpensive racing car construction and the first-generation Gene Beach and Formcar Constructors assembly kits for single-seater racing cars were subsequently developed by these garages. They were simple and robust, and boasted a spacious cockpit. But aesthetically speaking, they looked more like a bathtub on wheels.
A colourful mix – Volkswagen Beetles and Formula Vee racing cars in 1963 in the Bahamas.
How it all began.
The first Formula Vee generation sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was ready to hit the racetrack in 1963 and embarked on an impressive triumphal march taking in the whole of the country. These forerunners were soon joined by other manufacturers such as Zink, MacVee and Autodynamics. The Americans are incredibly proud of their Formula Vee and don’t miss an opportunity to mention Volkswagen dealer Hubert Brundage in Florida, who had already built the first Formula Vee racing car a few years earlier, purely for his own driving enjoyment. From then on, the crowds in Daytona, Sebring and elsewhere in the country were able to marvel at those magnificent men in their driving machines as they battled it out for substantial prize money and points towards the Brundage Trophy. The cheapest form of motorsport then became an integral part of the line-up at all the major motorsport events in the US when the first official Formula Vee Championship was announced.
A typical Formula Vee field in the USA (1967).
Across the pond.
With a purchase price of less than 2,500 dollars, the Formula Vee developed into the most successful racing car type in the USA. Race entry lists comprised up to 80 vehicles and the definitive entrants had to be determined on the basis of initial and intermediate heats. Up-and-coming American drivers such as Bill Scott, John Magee, Buddy Cox and Bill Campbell made a career of driving Formula Vees. Then, in 1964, the Volkswagen drivers came to the attention of Dr Ferry Porsche and his Chief of Racing, Huschke von Hanstein, during a visit to Daytona. The German delegation spontaneously decided to have twelve assembly kits shipped to Stuttgart, with a little friendly assistance from the sports-mad head of Volkswagen USA and subsequent Volkswagen CEO Dr Carl H. Hahn and also the US racing manager Jo Hoppen, who had close ties with Volkswagen. “We want to do something for the next generation of German racing drivers, so we’re giving them the Formula Vee as an inexpensive alternative entry route to motorsport,” announced von Hanstein back then in a press statement.
The boss tests it all personally – Huschke v. Hanstein in the Formcar in 1965.
The German premiere.
Porsche mechanics assembled six Gene Beach and six Formcar assembly kits for the first Formula Vee demonstration drives at the Eberbach and Rossfeld hill climbs in the spring of 1965. These were followed by the Formula Vee’s official German and European racing premiere on Nuremberg’s Norisring in front of a crowd of 50,000 on the first weekend of July 1965. At the end of ten laps of high-octane and turbulent racing, Günther Schmitt of Würzburg came through as the winner. His average speed over the fastest lap was 115 km/h. 4 July 1965 therefore marked the beginning of a magnificent Volkswagen success story in Europe too. Huschke von Hanstein’s ‘Porsche Formula Vee wandering circus’ toured the length and breadth of Germany with a pool of drivers, some of them familiar faces and some of them less well known. The Schloss Solitude palace on the outskirts of Stuttgart, the Mainz-Finthen and Wunstorf airfields, the Schauinsland hill climb and the Nürburgring’s Südschleife southern loop – all of these venues played host to highly entertaining Formula Vee racing.
Spreading around like wildfire.
At this point in time, nobody could have even remotely imagined that from 1966 Formula Vee would become the wildest and craziest racing series that the German and European world of motorsport had ever seen. In next to no time, countries everywhere were hosting their own national championships. There was also a European championship, USA vs. Europe challenges and even an unofficial world championship. The Bahama Speed Weeks in Nassau and Daytona were the scene of some immense battles, with the Europeans coming through victorious in Nassau, but with the Americans then turning the tables in Daytona. The Formula Vee idea spread around the world like wildfire and there were soon more than 1,000 Volkswagen racing cars registered around the world, including new chassis constructions such as the Austro V, Kaimann, Fuchs, Olympic, Apal, Bora, HAS, RPB and Swiss-V. By 1967 at the latest, there was no longer any doubting that Volkswagen had conquered the world of motorsport with its Formula Vee.
The last Formula Super Vee – a March 81 SV with Kennerth Persson.
A second Volkswagen racing car class.
Many of the stars of later motorsport generations, such Dieter Quester, Dr Helmut Marko, Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg, started out behind the wheel of a Formula Vee. Austria became a leading Formula Vee nation, with unfettered Austrian drivers clinching one title after the other. Expert tinkerers such as Pauli Schwarz (Porsche Salzburg, Austro V) and Kurt Bergmann in Vienna (Kaimann) produced a string of winning cars and car models. The vehicles’ engine performance rapidly increased from 40 to 70 hp and even went on to eclipse the 100 hp mark. A second Volkswagen racing car type was then established alongside the Formula Vee 1300 when its big brother Formula Super Vee was launched in 1971. The Volkswagen engines boasted displacement of 1.6 litres and initially delivered up to around 120 hp. Here, too, engine performance improved rapidly and hit the 150 hp mark after just a few years, eventually even rising to almost 200 hp.
Out of control.
Professional racing teams and drivers then began to dominate the proceedings and left little room for the amateurs on the winners’ rostrum. And here, too, it was initially the Austrians who basked in victory – until the big British chassis manufacturers Lola, March and Ralt came along to all but dominate the Formula Super Vee market. But the costs began to spiral out of control and the budget for a season increased dramatically from one year to the next. Eventually, the Super Vee cars even surpassed their Formula 3 counterparts in terms of speed, causing Volkswagen Motorsport to slam on the brakes, metaphorically speaking. So just like Formula Vee 1300 a few years before, the Formula Super Vee story came to an end forever in 1982. Walter Lechner of Austria succeeded in clinching the very last European championship for his country in 1982, thereby firmly establishing Austria as the most successful Formula Vee nation of all time.
2013 Formula Vee Revival in Daytona: Markku Alén, Arie Luyendyk, Michael Andretti, Mika Arpiainen, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Klaus Niedzwiedz, Leopold Prinz von Bayern.
Too much of a good thing.
Volkswagen’s discontinuation of its Formula Vee activities brought a 17-year history of fascinating and highly entertaining success to a close. But the association “Historische Formel Vau Europa e.V.” (Historic Formula Vee Europe) based in Munich continues to keep the spirit of those heady days alive. Its members painstakingly restore and look after the Formula Vee treasures of yesteryear, of which there were once around 3,000 around the world in the car type’s heyday. “We are proud to be able to uphold the Formula Vee idea and continue the Formula Vee story with our members,” says the association’s President, Dr Frank Orthey. The association, which boasts many members, now hosts its own historic racing series using Formula Vee and Super Vee cars dating from between 1965 and 1982, all of which have been retrofitted to comply with modern-day safety standards. And part of their vehicle inventory will be travelling overseas when Volkswagen Motorsport goes to Daytona together with former Formula Vee drivers to participate in the anniversary celebrations at the end of January 2013. The most impressive Formula Vee racing cars from Europe and the USA will be putting in a demonstration performance ahead of Daytona’s 24-hour race with Formula Vee heroes of yesteryear behind the wheel – all of whom are now in the age bracket of 65 to 75.
Niki Lauda in the Kaimann (1969).
|Dieter Quester (Austria)||Third place, Formula 2 European championship 1971|
|Jochen Rindt V (Austria)||Formula 1 world champion 1970, Le Mans win 1965|
|Niki Lauda (Austria)||Triple Formula 1 world champion 1975, 1977, 1984|
|Helmut Marko (Austria)||Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1971|
|Helmut Koinigg (Austria)||Formula 1 with Surtees 1974|
|Emerson Fittipaldi (Brazil)||Double Formula 1 world champion 1972, 1974|
|Nelson Piquet (Brazil)||Triple Formula 1 world champion 1981, 1983, 1987|
|Gijs van Lennep (Netherlands)||Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1971|
|Arie Luyendijk (Netherlands)||Double winner of the Indianapolis 500 1990, 1997|
|Keke Rosberg (Finland)||Formula 1 world champion 1982|
|Tom Pryce V (England)||Formula 1 with Shadow 1974–1977|
|Gunnar Nilsson V (Sweden)||Formula 1 win with Lotus at the Belgian Grand Prix 1977|
|John Nielsen (Denmark)||Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1990|
|Jochen Mass (Germany)||Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1989, F1 McLaren|
|Marc Surer (Switzerland)||Formula 2 European champion 1979, Formula 1 with various teams 1981–1986|