The names behind Formula Vee.
The Formula Vee era was characterised by a plethora of brilliant constructors and ingenious team managers. To mark the 50th anniversary of Formula Vee, we present the profiles of three individuals who represent everyone involved in Formula Vee.
The man with the short and bristly haircut stands on his observation point – in this case, it’s the steps of the team bus – much like a general getting the lay of the land. With his thick glasses pushed up into his thicket of short hair, his keen eyes take in a scene of organised chaos. Six fully dismantled Formula Vee racing cars belonging to the contracted drivers and paying clients lie in a field in the drivers’ paddock. Kurt Bergmann, head of the Vienna-based Kaimann racing team, is keeping an eye on the progress being made. This little guy doesn’t miss a trick – he has his eyes permanently trained on absolutely everything his men do. Suddenly, something’s afoot and, in his shuffling gait, he makes a beeline for a mechanic who has just finished some welding. “Hey, you can’t leave it like that or the whole thing will fall apart at the next corner!” he grunts in his distinctive Austrian accent. An expert welder himself, he picks up the blowtorch and proceeds to weld a perfect seam. After all, he wants his ‘Kaimann boys’ to win races rather than miss out on the preparatory work because of sloppiness. And winning is something that Kurt Bergmann’s team is very familiar with: 13 championships, including one world championship and multiple European championships, and more than 100 race victories speak for themselves.
In the golden age of Formula Vee and Super Vee in the 1960s and 70s, Kurt Bergmann’s Volkswagen racers – among them, drivers such as Lauda, Marko, Breinsberg, Huber, Ertl, Koinigg and Rosberg – were a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack. And there were no serious pretenders to the throne occupied by Kaimann and its legendary single-seater cars until the arrival of the major British chassis constructors such as Lola, March and Ralt. Bergmann’s Formula Vee racing team not only established the sporting supremacy of the Austrians, but also gave many young drivers who would go on to become world-class drivers their first taste of glory. To this day, the likes of Niki Lauda, Helmut Marko and Keke Rosberg still have huge respect and admiration for the man with the crew cut. “The first thing we got from Niki was a warped car after he’d performed an impressive roll,” reminisces a grinning 84-year-old Kurt Bergmann. Over time, it became apparent that the strict Kaimann head’s favourite drivers were the Austrians Erich Breinsberg (“he was with me the longest, but he needed the least amount of attention”), Helmut Marko (“the fastest, but also the most difficult”) and Günther Huber (“the best from a technical perspective”).
Bergmann was hit hard by the death of his one-time driver Helmut Koinigg, who, having performed excellently in Super Vee races, moved straight up to Formula 1 with the Surtees team, only to be involved in a fatal accident during the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1974. When the Formula Vee era came to an end in 1982, Bergmann was kept on by Volkswagen Motorsport for a number of years as their Polo Cup technical head, until he decided to withdraw from the motorsport arena entirely, to focus on his car workshop in the Viennese suburb of Essling, adjacent to Aspern Airport. Having manufactured the fastest Formula Vee racing cars here for many years, Bergmann now turned his attention to making remote-controlled helicopters and submarines – a hobby that he indulges in with a passion to this day.
Between 1965 and 1975, Heinz Fuchs’s Formula Vee cars were a permanent fixture on the racetrack. The single-seaters made by this Swabian car constructor from Rutesheim near Leonberg put in some of their best performances in the early days of the Formula Vee movement in particular. There may have been a great deal of chaos around Heinz Fuchs, and some of his intrepid drivers occasionally harboured doubts about the maverick constructor’s technology. But in races, his elegant and beautifully designed cars nevertheless often had the edge over those of the strong Kaimann, Olympic and Austro V factory-backed teams, with the Fuchs drivers clocking up around 100 wins all over the world.
The victorious squad of Fuchs drivers included the fellow Swabians Helmut Bross and Werner and Roland Müller. Werner Müller, who hailed from Ruit near Stuttgart, was the first driver to join the Fuchs team and was also the first to win a race in a Fuchs car, and advanced to become the boss’s favourite. Over the years, Heinz Fuchs built around 120 Formula Vee 1300 cars and some 50 Formula Super Vees, not to mention producing a great many assembly kits too. His cars were in action all over Europe, and even enjoyed a great deal of success in the USA. But when the Formula Vee and Super Vee boom began to lose momentum towards the end of the 1970s, with Volkswagen Motorsport gradually winding down its involvement, Heinz Fuchs closed this chapter of his life in a rather dissatisfied frame of mind. The passionate technician and tinkerer went on to focus on the manufacture of precision parts and worked very closely with Porsche’s racing department in this field.
He also explored a new avenue with his slogan of “Fuchs Powerbikes – Kompetenz auch auf zwei Rädern” (expertise in two-wheelers too), constructing top-quality racing bikes, mountain bikes, full-suspension bikes and city bikes with hand-welded aluminium frames. Even in his retirement, Heinz was making bikes for old friends and loyal customers according to their precise specifications. He was very sad that he had such little contact with his drivers from the Formula Vee era. He was an avid watcher of all the latest motorsport on the TV, no matter what kind. And he would sometimes simply take a seat in the grandstand at Hockenheim like any other spectator or would wander through the drivers’ paddock without being recognised. “That’s just the way things go – eventually, nobody knows who you are any more,” he once said without the slightest hint of resentment. “These days, you’re lucky if somebody gives you a ticket for the drivers’ paddock.”
Fuchs was fascinated by technology throughout his life and, as a firm fan of historic cars, he spent many an hour tinkering on his Porsche 930 Turbo. He also enthusiastically tackled the restoration of a number of his old Formula Vee racing cars. “I’m all right as long as I’m surrounded by my cars and my bikes. I don’t need any more than that to be happy and content.” This is one of the last things Heinz Fuchs is recorded to have said before he died in March 2012 at the age of 78 – taking a major piece of Formula Vee history with him.
It’s the final race of the 1968 Formula Vee season in Hockenheim and the star-studded line-up includes two brand-new McNamara Sebring Mk1 cars. This ‘new kid on the block’ is strikingly stylish and streamlined, and even boasts the luxury of chrome-plated wheel carriers, suspension and driveshafts. If this had been a beauty contest, the McNamara would have won hands down. What’s more, this new Formula Vee construction is also fast and has the potential to win. The first of the two vehicles is in starting position two in the first row, while the second is starting from row five.
This nippy single-seater took its name from the US lieutenant, Vietnam vet and motorsport enthusiast Francis McNamara, who was born in 1938. When he entered his first Formula Vee race, he disliked not only the outfits, but also the cars’ performances. So he decided to be discharged from the US Army and have Formula Vee racing cars built according to his own ideas. With the financial backing of his very affluent wife Bonnie, he opened a large car workshop in the Bavarian town of Lenggries near Bad Tölz and took on the young constructors Jo Karasek and Gustav Brunner. Soon after, they were joined by the Kaimann top talent Dr Marko, who served as a driver, marketing director and company lawyer. The McNamara fleet in Lenggries steadily increased in size and the workshop began to produce Formula 3 vehicles and even Indycars, in addition to Formula Vees. In the supporting programme for the 1969 German Formula 1 Grand Prix on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, team leader Marko won the most important Formula Vee race of the year for McNamara. Marko engaged in a pitched battle with the top Kaimann driver Niki Lauda throughout the race, but was ultimately able to outwit the young Lauda on the last lap. The clash between these two Austrians became a part of Formula Vee history.
McNamara continued to build up his racing car company with the addition of more top names, and he struck deals with the US-based Penske and STP Granatelli racing teams for the manufacture of racing vehicles for the US market. Francis McNamara’s star then suddenly began to fade. He was embroiled in nasty disputes with clients and their letters of complaint were returned to them torn into pieces and without comment. Marko left the team and other key staff members hastily looked around for new jobs. One day, Bonnie McNamara was found dead and inquiries back then into the circumstances of her death failed to rule out suicide and other theories. Francis McNamara disappeared, leaving Lenggries for good and leaving many questions unanswered. His company, McNamara Racing Cars KG, which had been positioned in the small Bavarian town in grand style just a few years earlier, now had more negative connotations for the locals. The US citizen Francis McNamara has been missing ever since. No one knows where he is or indeed whether he is even still alive.