Devious Doorstop - 1969 Keil Porsche
Ever since the very first race back in 1895, motorsport has always been about one thing: innovation. From the moment a bunch of rickety automobiles rumbled from Paris to Bourdeaux, one burning question arose: how can we do this, but faster? In those early days, development focused mainly around engines, chassis, suspension and tire technology.
By the 1920s however, engineers the world over started realizing the influence of the air on a fast-travelling racing machine. The answer to this was the art of streamlining, doing everything in their power to reduce air resistance, something which became especially important for land speed record attempts. Besides this, Grand Prix machinery used by Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz also utilized streamlined bodies to great effect.
Up until the late 1960s, this basic philosophy remained. The formula for a good racing car was simple. All you needed was a powerful engine, nimble chassis and a smooth body. Until a Texan oil magnate turned racecar constructor turned the concept on its head. In 1966, Jim Hall finished work on the Chaparral 2E, one of the first racecars to use aerodynamics for a very different purpose.
By using an inverted aircraft wing, the 2E reversed the lift normally used to get planes up in the air. This "negative lift" helped push down the car into the track, causing its tires to grip harder, and making it more stable under acceleration and braking, and much faster through turns at speed. Hall quickly named this new phenomenon "downforce".
Though the Opel RAK2 rocket car and Michael May's groundbreaking modified Porsche 550 Spyder had already successfully used inverted aerofoils way before Chaparral, the striking machine inspired a far bigger wave of derivative designs, including several F1 cars in 1968.
As even the pinnacle of motorsport had adopted the dark art of downforce, the technology started to permeate throughout the sport. With much yet to be learned about perfecting these ethereal concepts, even for highly trained aerodynamicists, anything seemed possible.
Even at the club level. In September of 1968, a club racer from Raleigh, North Carolina, United States decided to take his hobby into an entirely different direction. That man was W. E. "Ike" Eichelberger. Ike had been racing in the Virginia International Raceway's club series since 1963, campaigning a Porsche 356 Speedster for five straight seasons.
For 1968, Eichelberger opted to move up to the modified B/Sports Racing class. After finding out he couldn't quite manage to purchase a six-cylinder Porsche 906, he settled for a used 1964 Elva MkVII, a British-built chassis equipped with a Porsche 1.7L flat four engine. The type had gained fame for winning the 1963 SCCA Road America 500, and finishing 2nd and 3rd overall in the 1964 Sports Car Club of America Road Racing Championship.
Sadly, Ike Eichelberger would come to regret his purchase. Racing the Elva, he suffered a string of mechanical retirements and accidents. The car broke an axle, leaked oil, lost spark and caught on fire not once, but three times! Along with this mechanical mayhem, the little fiberglass sportster was wiped out by an errant Corvette, taking off its nose.
Unable to repair the foreign material himself, Ike sent the MkVII to Bob Buck, a senior year student at the North Carolina State School of Design. Buck and Eichelberger had known each other for years, as Ike had helped him with his road going Porsche in the past.
Sick of the unreliable, unlucky Elva, Eichelberger pondered what to do next. Buy, or build? On the one hand he didn't want to run the risk of buying another stinker, but building his own original design seemed equally as daunting.
That is, until his wife Romie managed to convince him to go out on his own. She reasoned the name of the game in modified racing was experimentation and innovation, not running store-bought machinery. She then brought the point home by suggesting that creating his own car was something he wanted to do anyway.
With his mind made up, Ike went to Bob Buck, asking him to take on design duties on the project. Buck quickly became enthusiastic, and helped Eichelberger set up some basic guidelines for the design.
Firstly, the Elva MkVII chassis would be retained, both to speed up the process and because it was a strong, easily adaptable template. Secondly, Ike wanted Bob to come up with a radical aerodynamic design, no matter what, and lastly, the car could be any color, as long as it wasn't red.
With the preliminary plan laid out, Bob Buck immediately dived deep into the books to research the principles of aerodynamics. He quickly found that papers linking the subject to automotive applications were virtually non-existent.
In simple terms, very few people were concerned with it, and those that were didn't take the time to write it down. Instead, Buck found himself studying aviation aerodynamics, ballistics manuals, and even some NASA documentation to convert their principles to car design.
The wide variety of sources didn't result in a successful design right off the bat, as Buck's first proposal turned out to generate excess lift. Luckily, Bob had access to a wind tunnel, and a series of tests helped pinpoint the flaws in the original mock-up, and guided the lines for the final product.
The wind tunnel revealed he had to stray from the traditional swooping, rounded lines seen on racecars of the time, instead making the entire car a sharp wedge shape. Taking inspiration from the active wing Chaparrals, Buck designed the body to become a movable aerodynamic device.
The rearward clamshell was hinged just behind the front wheels, and could be raised up at the flip of a switch in the cabin. This would increase the wedge's angle of attack from 7 degrees to 20 degrees, greatly increasing the amount of downforce it could provide.
At 150 miles per hour (241 kph), it was calculated to generate 1200 pounds (544 kilograms) of downforce, about as much as the car weighed. A distinctive black airfoil was placed just behind the big clamshell, helping to reduce turbulence, especially when it the body was raised up.
While the body was being perfected, Ike Eichelberger started work on modifications for the Elva chassis. Under the supervision of Bob and fabricator Ted Hoffman, Ike duly made the changes, completing them in February. A special fuel cell was also drawn up by Eichelberger, but fabrication of it was outsourced to Donn Allen on the other side of the country.
Realizing the increased strain the extra downforce would put on the running gear of the car, he also collaborated with Fred Puhn of Chassis Engineering to design and build special wheels, hubs and spacers strong enough to take the beating. Penske's Competition Tire Division also became involved, helping Eichelberger pick the right set of rubber.
As structural and aerodynamic work was coming along nicely, Ike Eichelberger started to engage in negotiations for a new engine. The tired, old 1.7 clearly wasn't going to cut it after five years, so Ike set his sights on the latest unit produced by Porsche. A 2.2L, fuel injected flat-6 out of the 910 model, which produced a healthy 270 horsepower.
However, once again Eichelberger was held back by a startling price tag. At $8900, the motor was only slightly less expensive than the entire $11.000 Elva had been upon its release in 1963. A further search for more affordable power resulted in Ike receiving the last new 587/3A 2.0L flat-four, intended for use in the famous 904 GTS.
The engine had been part of the inventory of notable Porsche privateer Vasek Polak, who had personally imported it from Germany. Being of similar dimensions to the older powerplant, the 180 horsepower engine was easily incorporated in the chassis, whereas the 910-unit would have demanded extensive modifications.
The engine deal helped get the project to the next stage. Mechanic Joe Hunt joined the team to finish work on the chassis, including fitting the oil cooling system, fuel cell connections and air-ducting. Meanwhile, Bob Buck, who had made the car part of his school work, started producing the fiberglass bodyshell.
As the car came together, Buck also saw fit to integrate skirts in his design. The gap between road surface and the car was sealed by these elements, and the rear wheels were even fully enclosed. Interestingly, the material he used was outdoor carpeting, making many an un-initiated onlooker think it was used to sweep the track clean.
This was an early form of ground effect, as the air travelling under the car was contained and accelerated to form a low pressure area under the vehicle. In conjunction with the downward pressure already generated by the active body, the car sucked itself into the road.
The end result was something eerily similar to the legendary Chaparral 2J, which would come out a year later and use ground effect in a wildly different way. The car was painted bright yellow, and christened "Keil" by Eichelberger.
The name was presumably a result of his German heritage, as it was the German word for "wedge". Unsurprisingly, the pronunciation of the name (actually similar to the name Kyle) was a complete mystery for outsiders.
The Keil was tested for the first time at Virginia International Raceway on May 18th, 1969. With Bob Buck in the passenger seat, Ike Eichelberger performed several installation laps. During the session, the duo tried to get some good readings from the various measuring devices Buck had affixed to the car.
Various pressure readings were made during cornering, acceleration and braking trials, and the car was run in both high-downforce and low-drag configuration to determine the levels of downforce and drag. The results were positive. The Keil surpassed Buck's wind tunnel data several times, and was already clocking lap times within a few seconds of Eichelberger's lap record in the Elva.
Clever use of the active rear clamshell helped the Keil reach a 162 mile per hour (260 kph) top speed in low-drag mode, while providing a slight braking effect and increased downforce through the slower bits. Judged a success, the car was entered in SCCA B/SR club racing.
Unfortunately, little is know about its achievements on track, given the localized nature of the VIR Nationals. All that is know is that it made it to practice, set the fastest time and started from pole.
Its finishing position is not known, nor can other race entries be verified. Despite the hazy racing history, the Keil made a big impression on fellow competitors, and was immediately granted with an expose in the NCR SCCA's news bulletin.
Since then, the car has been restored to its original specification, being fitted with Elva MkVII bodywork once again. In the process, a unique piece of motorsport history has arguably been destroyed. The Keil was a one-off experiment instigated by a passionate racer, and designed by a young, wide-eyed, soon-to-be designer.
Together they had pushed the envelope in racing car design, coming up with concepts that wouldn't become commonplace for another decade or two. And if you ask me, reverting it to a basic 1960s sportscar is nothing less than a total shame. At the very least, we still have the pictures.