Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: What ruse did Ferrari use to explain the appearance of a spoiler on their 1961 246 SP racer to conceal its true aerodynamic purpose?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you’re right.
How do you make a race car go faster? There are several ways. You can give it more horsepower. Of course, there are limitations there based on regulations, capacity, and budgets. You can make it lighter. This was Colin Chapman’s jam when faced with the limitations noted regarding adding horsepower. This adds its own limitations as a racer can only be so light based on available materials technology, before it starts to become unsafe and unwieldy. The third way to make a racer faster is to cut down on wind resistance, and use the airflow to your advantage by creating weight over the tires or to change a car’s balance depending on its speed.
Aerodynamic aids on race cars may seem like par for the course these days, and in fact going back to the dawn of racing attempts were made to limit wind resistance by removing impeding parts. A lot of automotive aerodynamic design followed that of aircraft and the slippery nacelles of discarded fighter plane belly tanks even served as bodies for speed record cars back in the ’40s and ’50s.
The advent of real attempts to understand and harness airflow around a race car at speed didn’t take place in earnest until the mid 1950s when tail fins began showing up on distance racers. These improved the airflow around the cars and helped move the center of pressure rearward. One of the companies at the forefront of this aero technology was Ferrari, however, they didn’t want to give away the true purpose of their efforts to gain an edge on the competition lest they all copied the Italian company turning that edge into a level playing field. To that end, when confronted with questions regarding the tail spoiler affixed to their 1961 246 SP they made up a story.
Initially Ferrari told enquirers that the rear spoiler was “intended to keep petrol from splashing on the exhaust pipes when the car was being refueled!” This was done to hide this “speed secret” from the competition, but it didn’t last long before they caught on.
Driver Richie Ginther had tested the mid-engine 246 SP at Monza and found the car to be fast but wicked problematic in the corners. The cause was deduced by Ferrari’s engineers to be centered on the car’s low-drag shape which helped it push through the air on the straights, but caused improper loading on the wheels during transitions, making it a hairy ride when things got twisty. The rear-end spoiler was the idea of Ferrari engineer Vittoria Jano who suggested its addition to break up (or spoil) the airflow over the rear wheels thus eliminating the lift it caused.
Of course, today aerodynamics is part and parcel of every professional track star out there, and aerodynamics are checked in wind tunnels and on computer models even before a tire is turned on a track. A lot of those efforts find their way to road cars, and of course today nobody has to make up stories about their true purpose.