Wasted Warhead - 1992 HKS-Lola T91-50 Test Mule

1y ago


In 1989, Formula One put an end to one of the most legendary eras in modern motorsport. Following complaints about the sheer cost and complexity of running turbocharged engines, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile decided to reform the sport around much simpler 3.5L naturally aspirated engines.

The new units were phased in for the 1987 season to run alongside 4-bar boost-restricted turbo engines, but were miles off the pace. A separate Jim Clark Trophy for drivers and Colin Chapman Trophy for constructors of 3.5L cars was contested that year to promote the switch, but turbo cars remained dominant, even after a further restriction to 2.5 bar in 1988.

Formula One said goodbye to turbo engines in 1989.

With turbo engines gone for good and the much more affordable 3.5L engines looking to stay, the FIA had opened the floodgates for an immense stream of wide-eyed entrepreneurs and charlatans. During the turbo years, starting a new team from scratch was nearly impossible. Turbo technology was still very much rocket science.

As Formula One engines were at the pinnacle of all things turbo, with power figures in excess of 1200 horsepower in qualifying, independent engine builders were having an incredibly tough time to compete with industrial powerhouses such as Renault, Honda, BMW and Porsche. Small firms like Zakspeed, Hart and Motori Moderni found themselves constantly picking up the pieces…of their own exploded engines.

Small firms like Zakspeed saw their hopes go up in smoke on a regular basis.

Thanks to the FIA’s simplification of the engine regulations though, virtually any decent racing or tuning business could theoretically build a powerplant good enough for the pinnacle of motorsport.

In fact, the new rules gave veteran constructor Cosworth a new lease of life, as well as welcoming in Judd, Yamaha, Life, Isuzu Lamborghini, MGN, Subaru, and Ilmor by 1991. Adittionally, it sparked the return of Renault and Porsche, which had left the sport near the end of the turbo era.

Hiroyuki Hasegawa (middle), founder of HKS.

Another privateer looking to break into the lucrative new market for F1-engines was Japanese tuning giants Hiroyuki Hasegawa, the founder of aftermarket specialist HKS. Hasegawa-san had started the company together with Goichi Kitagawa, after both left respected positions as engineers at Yamaha.

Hasegawa-san dreamed of building the ultimate racing engine, but found the environment at Yamaha too constrictive. Helped by funding from tuning pioneers Sigma Automotive, he was able to start a business of his own to fabricate the engines and performance parts major manufacturers could not or would not produce themselves.

The FET turbo kit for Nissan's L20 engine put HKS on the map.

HKS’ first major breakthrough came less than a year later. In July of 1974, the company unveiled world’s first aftermarket turbo kit. Dubbed FET, the kit was designed to bolt directly to Nissan’s 2.0L L20 straight six, as used in the contemporary Skyline and Bluebird 2000 GT. Performance improved massively, as the engine went from 115 to 160 horsepower.

Over the years, HKS expanded to include more and more Japanese automobiles to its tuning repertoire. After starting production of its own original turbochargers, HKS diversified by creating the first electronic boost control and turbo timer, before investing in various electronic control devices.

In 1981 the firm expanded overseas with the establishment of HKS USA Incorporated, while scoring a record back home in 1983 by creating the first Japanese car to break 300 kph, the Celica Supra-based HKS M300.

The M300 was another major image booster for HKS.

After developing the first complete HKS-vehicle available to the public, the R32 Skyline-based ZERO-R, Hasegawa-san was now looking to raise his outfit’s profile even further with an entry into the most prestigious championship of all: Formula One.

Up until this point though, all HKS-products had been brilliant derivations or improvements of existing designs, but the company had never produced an engine of its own before. After seeing the embarrassing failure of his former employers Yamaha and compatriots Subaru running engines with questionable backgrounds, Hasegawa-san chose the high road.

Using his best engineers, he modeled his new engine on the efforts of Ferrari and Lamborghini, who where both using the classic V12 layout. Coincidentally, Yamaha had switched to a V12 in 1991, and Honda were planning to do the same for 1992. The V12 promised a smoother-running, more drivable engine with more torque and power than the V8’s favored by most smaller manufacturers, at the cost of fuel consumption and overall size and weight.

For a V12, the engine used unusually wide 75-degree Vee-angle, which helped to bring down its center of gravity. The cylinder heads featured a HKS-developed 5-valve system, making for a grand total of 60-valves. Dubbed the 300E, the 3.5L screamer could punch out 680 horsepower at 13,500 rpm on commercially available gasoline.

These figures brought on par with Ilmor’s 2175A V10 awfully close to Ferrari’s Tipo 037, which produced 710 horsepower in 1991. As a first attempt then, the 300E wasn’t half bad, but it wasn’t very good either. Most of the engines it was designed to compete against were either being heavily updated or replaced completely, meaning the 300E would find itself immediately lagging behind. HKS needed to match their competitors’ break-neck pace in testing and development work in order to get the engine sufficiently up to speed in time for its debut.

HKS opted to test the engine in an F3000 chassis before getting involved with F1-teams.

Testing the engine came with its own set of challenges however, as HKS didn’t have the means to develop their own chassis. This meant they had to look elsewhere to find a carrier for their new mechanical jewel. To this end, the company acquired a British-built Lola T91-50, a Formula 3000 chassis used in the previous season of the Japanese F3000 Championship.

HKS struggled to mate the Lola to their new engine.

This choice was rather problematic, as the compact chassis had been designed with much smaller 3L V8’s in mind. HKS-engineers did their best to modify the Lola to accept the comparatively bulky 300E, which included fabricating a rather ugly modified engine cover to clear the big V12’s cylinder heads.

Thanks to the low bodywork, the engine was now located directly behind the drivers’ head, making for a very odd appearance. Further visual deviations were from the standard T91-50 were a large F1-style air intake to provide the engine with plenty of fresh air, and a raised rear wing in response to higher airbox. The 300e was mated to a modified Hewland 6-speed manual-transmission, and then sent on its way.

Fitted with Yokohama Advan F3000 tires, the FrankenLola was tested several times at Fuji Speedway in 1992, running in a more conservative tune netting a weak 650 horsepower and 411 Nm (303 lb ft) of torque. However, testing was all the engine would ever experience. In an unfortunate turn of events, the Japanese economy had imploded in on itself thanks to a massive asset price bubble, which brought down numerous major banks and plunged the country into an economic abyss.

Faced with a dire economic situation, an underdeveloped engine and a lack of resources to quickly catch up to rival engine constructors, Hasegawa-san saw no merit in continuing the 300E-project. Interest from the rather conservative world of Formula One was low, as few people wanted to invest in a relatively unknown company from a financially ruined country. As a result, the HKS Formula One effort was shelved, and the V12-engined Lola T91-50 found a home in HKS’ museum as a testament of lost dreams.

The HKS-Lola T91-50 was nothing more than a handy tool to help facilitate one man’s dream to build the ultimate racing engine. Hiroyuki Hasegawa hoped his beautifully-sounding 300E V12 would take the pinnacle of motorsport by storm, but lacked the resources to thoroughly establish his company as as serious constructor.

Although he had managed to create a decent enough engine for the back of the grid, he had no way of properly testing and developing it, leading to him using the F3000-spec Lola as a last resort. Sadly though, the engine never got much track time, as its fate was sealed by a total economical meltdown.

As the whole of Japan braced for what would later become known as The Lost Decade, frivolous projects like a bespoke F1-engine were the first to suffer. A combination of lackluster performance, a lack of prestige and very little in the way of funding killed off one of Japan’s most ambitious motorsport ventures in modern history.