White Whale - 1969 Chaparral 2H
Jim Hall's Chaparral organization had been exploiting the new found effectiveness of aerodynamic downforce with its 2C and 2E models in Can Am racing during the mid 1960's. After exploring the effects of his concepts on the track, Jim Hall realized that pulling an insane amount of downforce usually also resulted in heaps of aerodynamic drag. To counter the problem he set out to build a car that minimized drag in the most extreme way possible.
He conceived a car with a fully enclosed cockpit, with the driver in an extremely low seating position. Windows would be cut out of the front and the sides to provide visibility. A complicated set of mirrors would be used to try and cover up the inevitable mass of blind spots. When 1964 F1-champion and Chaparral driver John Surtees first saw the car, he immediately demanded a hole cut in the top so he could see out of it. Jim Hall was not pleased with this demand, as the raised seating position made the center of gravity too high and the car unstable.
The wheelbase of the car was both very short and very narrow to further decrease drag.
This naturally resulted in a less than stable car. Hall got around the problem by using slightly outdated solid De Dion rear-axles on all four corners. Hall’s reasoning was that an independently sprung car would always partially lift the inside wheels during cornering, leaving just the inner edge touching the road.
The De Dion axle employed large stiff beams that locked the wheels into place and ensured full contact with the road at all times. With this adjustment the 2H’s narrow design was made viable, at least in theory. Surtees again had complains about this concept, calling the car “unpredictable” because of its short and narrow wheel base. The car's outdated suspension system made it so stiff that it regularly lifted two wheels clean off the ground in high speed turns.
The car's spoiler followed Jim Hall's aggressive low drag mantra. A great departure from the 2E’s high mounted example, the 2H had its spoiler mounted down low on the chassis. Hidden underneath were two powerful hydraulic cylinders. As the air pushed onto the spoiler, generating downforce, the hydraulics would counteract the motion by pushing back. This primitive form of active suspension allowed the car to stay level at high speeds.
To propel the big white beast forward, a 430 cubic inch (7.2L) Chevrolet V8 delivering some 680 horsepower at 6800 rpm was fitted in the middle of the chassis. A special Chaparral-developed three speed automatic transmission transferred the power to the rear wheels. All in all the package weighed a neat 821 kg (1810 lbs).
In testing around his own Rattlesnake Raceway Hall discovered that the 2H’s low drag design worked a little too well. It was lightning fast down long straights, but it lacked immensely in cornering speed. As a result, the older 2E and its developments were actually much faster. It was clear that more adjustments had to be made to the daring design.
To win back some downforce, winglets were attached to the corners of the nosecone and work began on modifying the unforgiving suspension system. Surtees ran a customer Mclaren M12 provided by Jim Hall for the first three races of the 1969 Can Am season while the 2H was being modified to his liking.
Surtees finally climbed into the car for the 4th round at Edmonton. There the 2H would disappoint yet again, qualifying a full three seconds slower than the older high-wing 2G model did the year before. Despite the major setback in qualifying, the car managed a fine fourth in the race.
At Mid-Ohio the car was 4.3 seconds off pole position, though it finished respectably in 5th. The 6th round at Road America saw Surtees retire with a puncture and suspension failure. Round 7 at Bridgehampton was again a disaster due to a blown engine. The disappointing results prompted Jim Hall to skip the next round at Michigan to rethink the car once more.
Stubborn as he was, Hall went all out with what he knew best. The nosecone was rid of its winglets and fitted with a giant snow-shovel like front wing. In addition to the rear spoiler, Hall fitted a truly gargantuan aerofoil mounted on massive thick struts high up above the driver in the middle of the car. This made the 2H one of the most outlandish race car designs in history.
The reworked piece of insanity was ready for the 9th round of the championship at the wonderful Laguna Seca track. All the visual violence in the world could not provide guaranteed success though, as Surtees did not even start the race due to oil pressure problems.
The penultimate round at Riverside revealed the wild bespoilered monster to be even slower than its previous wingless incarnation. John Surtees could not manage more than 14th place in qualifying, a whopping 10 seconds behind the pole sitting Mclaren M8B of Denny Hulme. After just four laps the 2H’s engine failed in a big way, taking the car out of the race for the third straight time.
Surtees, furious, climbed out of the car and quit on the spot.
The Chaparral 2H was a unique and innovative design which ultimately proved to be a grand failure. It made Jim Hall realize that not every good idea would work as well in the real world as it did on paper. Ever the stubborn Texan, Hall moved on with another futuristic project for 1970. After the ban on high-mounted and movable aerodynamic devices, he would seek another cunning way to provide his cars with unstoppable downforce.