Fridge Magnet - 1974 Maki F101 Cosworth
Ever since its inception in 1950, the Formula One World Championship had been all about big name manufacturers engaging in high stakes technological warfare, sparing no expense to out-do each other on the race track. For the first two decades, this hierarchy relegated privateers to using discarded factory cars, or building botched designs based on those machines.
This all changed in 1967, when engineering firm Cosworth released the Double Four Valve V8 engine for the new 3.0L era. With support from automotive giant Ford and winning constructor Lotus, Cosworth had merged two of its FVA four cylinder engines to create one of the single most long-lived and successful designs in motorsport.
The engine made its debut in the back of the revolutionary Lotus 49 at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix. Because of their backing of the project, Colin Chapman’s Lotus initially retained exclusive use of the engine, but pressure from Ford quickly changed that situation.
Ford’s British PR-representative Walter Hayes saw a massive opportunity for the company, since the DFV had the potential to completely dominate F1. As a result the fantastic V8 became a publicly available item, giving everyone with a relatively small budget access to tremendous power, usability and reliability. In essence, Walter Hayes had democratized power, and given it straight to the people.
Following its introduction to the aftermarket, the DFV became one of the cornerstones of what became known as the F1 “kit car”. Creating a reasonable competitive F1-car had never been any simpler. To do this, one would simply have to buy a DFV, a Hewland FG400 five-speed gearbox, a host of off the shelf suspension and braking components and build an aluminium monocoque chassis to connect the lot of them.
Sure enough, the gap in the market was filled by numerous small Cosworth-powered outfits like Hesketh, March, Tyrrell, Matra, Surtees, Tecno, McLaren, Shadow and Ligier. Although these teams were all very new to the sport, most of them at least had some experience in motor racing, and all of them were very European in nature.
In 1974 though, the world of Formula One was shocked to learn of the arrival of a non-European Cosworth team. Japanese firm Maki Engineering unveiled its ungainly-looking F101 model at an incredibly formal even hosted by the posh Carlton Towers Hotel in London.
The car looked unlike anything the paddock had ever seen. Its bulky oversized bodywork made it appear much bigger than it actually was. With its sizable airbox and gigantic sidepods, the car looked as gracious and nimble as a block of freshly hewn granite. Along with the heavy look and the snow shovel-like front wing, a huge yellow-tinted canopy gave the F101 a truly alien appearance.
Despite this, Maki’s high-profile launch of the car and its mysterious background lead many in the F1-scene to suspect they were operating as a front for one of the big Japanese car companies. Ever since Honda left the sport after a grim end to their 1968 season, Formula One hadn’t seen a Japanese company attempt to break through into its ranks.
In reality, Maki Engineering was a small firm started by engineers Kenji Mimura and Masao Ono in an effort to create an all-Japanese Formula One squad. Their ambitious plans involved the production of a bespoke engine and a customer car program.
For the moment though, they would rely on the by now ubiquitous DFV to bridge the time needed to create their own engine, and to gain valuable experience in the mad F1-circus. As with any other private design, the F101 featured a Hewland FG400 gearbox and an aluminium monocoque chassis. The customer-spec engine fired 465 horsepower to the rear wheels, which should have resulted in inspiring performance.
Sadly, it did not. During initial testing, Masao Ono’s brick-like design proved to be just as heavy as it looked. In fact, the car weighed as much as 150 kg (330 lbs) over the minimum weight of 575 kg (1267 lbs). The car had been developed late in 1973 in Japan, and was then shipped to the shop of lead river Howden Ganley.
The New Zealander had previously driven for BRM and Frank Williams’ Iso team, with a highest finish of 4th at the 1972 German Grand Prix for BRM. Ganley thought to have found a new opportunity in Maki Engineering, but when the car parts started arriving his confidence quickly waned. He was appalled by the chunky chassis, but the PR-moment at the Castle Towers Hotel couldn’t wait, so the F101 was sent off to be presented to the press.
Following the presentation, Maki moved to Silverstone to test their new machine. During this test, Howden Ganley’s suspicions were confirmed. The needlessly large and thick bodywork slowed the car down to an alarming degree. On top of that, heat management was also a problem. It became clear the spectacular bodywork didn’t really provide any meaningful cooling, as the engine kept on overheating.
To combat these issues, the team moved to completely turn the failed design around. Instead of the previous fusion of a secondhand washing machine and a Soviet main battle tank, the new F101B took on an altogether more traditional appearance.
Its sidepods were trimmed down considerably, its airbox much more slender its front wing was no longer suitable for landscaping and the engine was partially exposed to improve cooling. More importantly though, the car was hundreds of pounds lighter than the original.
With the improvements successfully implemented, Maki Engineering could finally turn their attention to actually running the car. Filled with good spirits, the team traveled to the swooping hills of Kent to give the F101B its debut at the gorgeous circuit of Brands Hatch for the British Grand Prix, the tenth round of the 1974 season.
Howden Ganley gave it his all, but sadly he was one of nine entrants which failed to qualify for the race that day. Out of 34 entrants, he was only 32nd. His time was 1.4 seconds off from last-placed Arturo Merzario’s Iso-Marlboro, and a shocking four seconds behind pole-sitter Niki Lauda and his Ferrari.
The car had definitely been changed for the better, but it still wasn’t quite good enough. The performance at Brands Hatch was disappointing, but it was only the first entry for the tiny team. Maki was confident the good results would come with even more hard work.
Before they had a chance to alter the car further however, it was time for arguably the most challenging race on the F1-calendar: the German Grand Prix. Held at the impossibly long and terribly challenging Nürburgring Nordschleife, the undulating 22.8 kilometer (14.2 mile) track with its 160 corners presented the ultimate test of the F101B’s capabilities.
Sadly, the Maki would again fail to set a time good enough to earn a spot on the grid, This time it wasn’t purely down to a lack of pace however. As Howden Ganley was pushing the car hard through the tricky Hatzenbach combination during Friday practice, the F101B’s rear suspension collapsed, sending him into a violent spin and into the wall.
The car had been completely torn apart by the impact, and Ganley’s legs were dangling freely out from where the car’s nose had been. The New Zealander stepped out under his own power, but collapsed near the armco after the adrenaline had worn off. His ankles turned out to have been so severely injured in the crash he was forced to retire from racing forever.
With their driver incapacitated, Maki Engineering had nowhere to go, so they decided to skip the remaining four races of the season and. Instead the money saved from abandoning the rest of the season was spent on a new evolution by the name of F101C.
The latest Maki featured slightly retouched bodywork, but otherwise looked largely the same as its forebear. Maki had focused most of its attention to making the car stronger and more reliable. Even though work on the car had started early in 974, the F101C didn’t show its face until the eight round of the 1975 season at the lightning-fast Zandvoort circuit for the Dutch Grand Prix.
Now in a striking blue color owed to new sponsor Citizen Watches, Maki hoped to make an impression in their second season. Unfortunately though, they were unable to secure the services of another veteran F1-racer. As a result the team reverted to its proudly nationalist motto and hired a complete nobody from their home country: a young man named Hiroshi Fushida.
His only international credit was taking the first all-Japanese car to Le Mans two years prior, as he had driven the rotary-powered Sigma MC73. Now though, he was thrust into a world he perhaps did not fully understand. Regardless of his lack of experience, Fushida was blessed with an enormous amount of luck.
Zandvoort’s entry list was down to just 25 cars, the exact number of cars allowed to start a Grand Prix. This meant the Japanese rookie had been guaranteed a place on the grid. His luck turned on him during practice however. A blown engine sidelined his car, and with no spares on hand, the team was forced to withdraw it from the race.
Maki Engineering chose to sit out the French Grand Prix following the Zandvoort disaster, but was back for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. There Hiroshi Fushida would have to step up his game, as 27 entries left room for two non-qualifiers.
Unsurprisingly, Fushida was one of those two. Finishing the sessions dead last behind Dutchman Roelof Wunderink and his Ensign, Hiroshi was denied the race start. The embarrassment of qualifying dead last was too much for the Maki team, leading to Hiroshi Fushida being unceremoniously sacked.
Fushida was replaced by 1970 British Formula Three Champion Tony Trimmer (GB), ironically also a first-timer in Formula One. Surprising only the Maki team, Trimmer was unable to make the lackluster car work and recorded a string of bitter failures to qualify. Of the three races he entered, he started exactly none.
At the Nürburgring he was the only one with a DNQ behind his name, being beaten by Leila Lombardi and her March to 25th spot. Zeltweg in Austria saw him finish 29th just in front of Wilson Fittipaldi in his dreadful home-built machine, and in his final appearance of 1975 he was again 27th and last behind Roelof Wunderink.
Trimmer experienced more success in the non-championship Swiss Grand Prix, confusingly held at Dijon-Prenois in France. He qualified 16th out of 16 starters, but rose to 13th when Jean-Pierre Jarier (FRA) encountered transmission failure, Emerson Fittipaldi’s clutch packed up and local boy Jon Vonlanthen proved too slow even for the Maki. As if by a miracle he finished the race, albeit 6 laps down on winner Clay Regazzoni.
With budgetary concerns now grabbing a hold of Maki Engineering, the firm opted to skip the remaining two rounds of the 1975 season. Stubbornly, they again regrouped to create a third evolution of the F101 concept to be introduced at the end of 1976.
This time the changes were more substantial however, as the FIA had banned the use of large snorkel-intakes during the 1976 season. This forced a hasty change to its bodywork, and saw the intake morph into two smaller examples places beside the rollbar.
Additionally, the sidepods were had been all but removed in favor of a set of tiny nacelles barely covering the side-mounted radiators. Aside from these modifications though, the car was still based on the horrendous concept shown in London two years prior.
Tony Trimmer had remained with the team for 1976, but had to wait until the team’s home Grand Prix to finally get a drive. Incidentally, this race was also the last of the season. In the process Trimmer had missed one of the most thrilling seasons in Formula One history.
The Brit took the helm on the immense Fuji Speedway, but once again failed to qualify. With that final disappointment, Maki Engineering’s ill-advised Formula One adventure was finally over. Kenji Mimura told his team to pack things up, and the team were never heard from again. Meanwhile, Masao Ono moved on to a second privately-funded Japanese F1-project at Kojima Engineering.
The Maki F101 was a series of horrendous cars powered by the hopes and dreams of a small group of fanatic enthusiasts. Seeking to revive the optimism felt by Honda in the 1960’s, Kenji Mimura’s Maki Engineering stopped at nothing to achieve their dream to field an all-Japanese Formula One team.
Sadly the firm’s good spirits weren’t matched by good management or good engineering, leading tot a car which looked more at home in a cheap Chinese Star Wars rip-off. The immensely ugly, heavy and awful-looking F101 was just the beginning of a huge misadventure for Maki.
The shoddily-built car ruined a man’s ankles and his career, but the Japanese company wouldn’t accept the bitter truth. Various F101 derivatives never even qualified for a race, but Maki’s unwavering resolve made them wrestle their way through three intensely disappointing seasons. The otherworldly look of their first car should have been a clear warning sign, but Maki Engineering just kept on going, straight off a cliff. Today, three of the four original chassis still exist, reminding us that blind ambition can be a very dangerous thing.