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The marque that failed to take the Cooper straight



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Ken Wharton


Scuderia Franera Frazer-Nash-Bristol FN48




IV BARC International Trophy (10 May 1952)


The car to rival the all-conquering Cooper-Bristol MkI was the long-awaited Frazer-Nash single-seater that finally made its debut at the 1952 International Trophy at the hands of Ken Wharton. Years before, sportscar builder Frazer-Nash already made the offer to create a monoposto derivative of their well-known Bristol-engined Le Mans sportscar but it had also made it known that it needed an outsider to commission it. In 1952, Peter Bell and his Scuderia Franera finally took up the factory's offer and ordered a MkII chassis for Ken Wharton to drive.

The long and bulging air duct of the FN48 made it look like the rival Cooper T20 and although that probably wasn't on purpose, Bell and the factory were certainly aiming to emulate the Cooper's performance. Although heavier than the ephemeral Coopers, it made a promising debut in the International Trophy, Wharton finishing sixth in the heat and seventh in the final, out of the 19 runners. It was also the event that saw Harry Schell taking over from Nello Pagani in the second Maserati-Platé, Enrico Platé's self-built answer to the sudden new-for-1952 F2 formula. The stop-gap cars - essentially Maserati 4CLT/48s with bored out, long-stroke Maserati engines stripped of their two-stage supercharger - were never close to being truly competitive but Schell's team mate Toulo de Graffenried took third at this event all the same, the Swiss baron only equalling the result in the minor Cadours and Aix-les-Bains GPs later in the year when the cash-strapped team was unable to keep the cars in fit trim. Tellingly, at the British GP they were six seconds off their own pace set at the International Trophy… The event, which was downgraded from F1 to F2 on very short notice, was won by Lance Macklin in his HWM-Alta, from Peter Whitehead's Ferrari 125, who took fastest lap of the race. Pole man Robert Manzon. had the transmission of his Gordini break on lap 1.

With the downscaling to F2 regulations, both the Cooper and Frazer-Nash became eligible for World Championship events on the spot, and so the Scuderia Franera took their car to the first WC event run to F2 regs, the 1952 Swiss GP. At Bremgarten, they were up against the Ecurie Richmond Coopers of Alan Brown and Eric Brandon. Much is made of Cooper's first points that were gained through Alan Brown right here in this event, but on the WC debut by Wharton, Frazer-Nash and Scuderia Franera the combination managed to outrace Brown's Cooper, plugging away from 13th at the start to finish 4th - one place ahead of the Cooper. This made the promise even greater.

Two minor events followed, the Eifelrennen and the Monza GP, with a splendid third at the 'Ring the best result, before the team ventured out to Spa for the Belgian GP. Joining the Richmond Coopers after their encouraging Swiss result was the fastest Cooper man of all, Mike Hawthorn, and once again Wharton showed the FN's potential by dicing with Hawthorn for fifth. But while Mike went on to repeat Wharton's Swiss performance and take fourth on his WC debut, Ken crashed out, severely damaging both car and driver. Meanwhile, Tony Crook raced a BMW-engined Frazer-Nash in the British GP, while a second and third chassis were delivered to local boys Bill Skelly and RE Odlum who briefly raced the cars exclusively in British events.

With Hawthorn on a roll, taking an amazing third at Silverstone, Wharton and the team had to sit out their home race while the car was being repaired. At Zandvoort they were back, but now Hawthorn had the momentum. Putting the car an amazing third on the grid, he eventually finished fourth. Wharton's qualifying was equally impressive, Ken recording 7th best time, but a failing wheel bearing had the rear axle break, pushing him into retirement.

After that, Wharton raced the car just once, at the Scotland National Trophy, a minor event at Turnberry won by Hawthorn in a Connaught, before Peter Bell decided to switch allegiance to Cooper and go for a T20 himself. Ironically, Wharton's 4th place at the 1952 Swiss GP would remain his best result and only points finish in a career that would last until the 1955 Italian GP.

Reader's Why by 'Uechtel'

More and more new designs of Formula 2 cars mushroomed up in the early fifties, especially when it was clear that Formula 1 would lose its importance after the retirement of the Alfa Romeo factory at the end of 1951 and that Formula 2 would take over its place as the world championship formula for 1952 and 1953.

But this is not the only reason for the increasing number of race cars built for this series. Perhaps for the first time in motor racing history there was a proprietary race engine available, that could be installed in a home-built chassis to form a relatively cheap but still competitive race car, the BMW 328 or its even more popular and more successful descendant, the Bristol BS2. And with its capacity of 2 litres this engine the car would just happen to fit under the Formula 2 rules of that time.

The picture shows one of these derivates, the Frazer Nash-Bristol FN48 at its first outing at Silverstone in the hands of Ken Wharton. Certainly being one of the most ugly of race cars, nevertheless this incorporates perfectly the standard layout of Bristol or BMW-engined cars with the characteristical "snorkel"-shaped air intake on the bonnet, necessary because of the height of the downdrought engine.

The original BMW 328 was developed out of earlier designs of that make, intended to satisfy customers who wanted a true sports car, lighter and less luxurious than the normal BMW production cars. Of course it was a good base for a race car and to promote selling of their cars BMW introduced it at the 1936 Eifelrennen, where Ernst Henne proved the quality of the design by superiorily winning its debut race.

Selling of the car began in 1937, the first serial production car with light alloy cylinder head, which delivered a power output of 80hp, really a great amount in those days. Being a long-stroke engine it was not suited for high-revving, but it had an enormous torque at lower and mid-range revs, giving the race cars it was built in really impressive acceleration rates.

Of course its derivation from a standard production engine brought along some disadvantages, too, that would expecially hinder the German constructors, who after the war had to struggle with generally less quality of material than their British colleagues. In particular the complex valve drive with its low camshaft and its 18 (!) long and inclined push rods ranging almost completely around the engine and the unsufficiently outbalanced crank shaft with only four bea-rings was a frequent cause of engine failures.

Inspired by the car's success in sports events the Frazer Nash company made a licence contract and produced BMW 328s for the British market. After the war this production started again, of course now without paying the licence fee as this was regarded as a form of reparation payment. When Frazer Nash and Bristol were connected for a while the engine production was taken over by the aeroplane company, fitting it into their own designs and supplying also Frazer Nash for their sports cars. Only the high manufacturing standards of the Bristol company finally guaranteered sufficient engine reliability.

German designers, using modified versions of the original BMW engine, had to struggle on from engine failure to engine failure. But it was nearly all that was available for the German racing enthusiast and so the BMW 328 was the favourite engine not only for a large number of small companies (like Veritas or AFM) and special builders but also the basis for the East German EMW company's efforts to enter international motor racing. The EMW company (Eisenacher Motoren Werke) had upheld the production in the former BMW factory at Eisenach, where all cars of the Munich marque had been built before the war (later the company's name was changed and the cars rolling off the Eisenach production lines became the famous East German Wartburgs). And to show the superiority of socialism over western capitalism the East Germans started even a sports and race car programme which led to Edgar Barth's start in the 1953 German Grand Prix being the only entry ever in a world championship race from a manufacturer from the Eastern Block.

Meanwhile in Britain H.J. Aldington, owner of Frazer Nash, had persuaded Bristol to develop a high-performance version of the Bristol/BMW engine for his sports cars. These Bristol FNS engines were installed in the famous Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica and achieved considerable success in road racing and rallying. Encouraged by this Bristol began to build a new series of sports engines of their own, called the BS. In contrast to the standard engine this was fitted with a high camshaft and delivered between 130 and 150 hp.

Bristol offered it for sale and with the prospect of world championship status for Formula 2 races in 1952 the Cooper company was among the first to take the opportunity. The result was the famous Cooper-Bristol MkI in which Mike Hawthorn earned his first Grand Prix laurels in 1952.

But not only Cooper benefitted from these engines. Also Frazer Nash with their long-time cooperation with Bristol were asked by Peter Bell, who backed the driving career of Ken Wharton, to build a single-seater version of their succes-sful Le Mans Replica. The not very convincing result can be seen on the photo. The car was completely standard, twin-tube chassis frame, suspension and slipper body.

The team of Peter Bell and Ken Wharton entered this car in Formula 2, for sports car events they used a Le Mans Replica, while for hill-climbs their famous old ERA R11A was retained, this being expressed in the team's name, Scuderia Franera.

The FN48 made its debut here during the International Trophy at Silverstone, a race early in the calendar and therefore the traditional event for the introduction of new cars. Wharton showed a solid performance, finishing sixth in heat 1 and seventh in the final. But it was already obvious that the car was not really a match for the Cooper and Gordini cars, neither for the superior Ferrari 500.

Despite this the team entered also for the Swiss Grand Prix and, profiting from the high atrition rate, Wharton managed his way up from 13th on the grid into fourth position to score four world championship points (the only ones of his long career) at his and the car's Grand Prix debut.

Next stage was the Eifelrennen an Nürburgring where he finished third behind Rudi Fischer's new Ferrari 500 and Moss in the HWM against only weak German opposition, consisting mainly on BMW derivates. At Monza he finished ninth in the heat before he suffered a chassis failure in the final. At Spa Wharton showed an impressive performance. Having qualified seventh on the grid he battled with Hawthorn for fifth position before he crashed out of the race.

He recovered in time for the Dutch Grand Prix where the rear axle failed after an uninspired race and then the engine broke at the race at Turnberry, thereafter being replaced by a more competitive Cooper-Bristol. At the end of the season Wharton made a brief return to the Frazer Nash for the club events at Goodwood, Castle Combe and Charterhall with his best finish, 2nd at Castle Combe.

During that time Wharton was also involved in the ill-fated BRM V16 project and he continued this also into 1953. In Formula 2 he drove a brand-new Mk II Cooper-Bristol, but with only limited success both in British events and also some world championship races. The highlights were a 2nd at Dundrod and at Crystal Palace, a 3rd at Castle Combe and two wins in minor races at Charterhall. In 1954 he drove the Maserati 250F of the Owen Organization and again the BRM in formule libre races. Besides that he stepped into sports car racing, too, winning the Reims 12 hours with Peter Whitehead in the works Jaguar.

For 1955 he joined the Vanwall team, sustaining burns in a fire accident at Silverstone and despite the fact that he recovered the rest of the season was not very successful. In 1956 he freelanced, having an outing in Rosier's old Ferrari 625 and finishing fourth in the Oulton Park Formula 2 race in a new rear engined Cooper-Climax. Besides that he finished third in the Australian Tourist Trophy at Melbourne in a Ferrari Monza. Sadly early in 1957 he was killed in an accident, crashing the Ferrari in a sports car race at Ardmore in New Zealand.