In October of 1958, the Controller of International Motorsport (CSI), now FIA, adopted the formula racing class 'Formula Junior'. Formula Junior is a single-seater racing class started by Count Giovganni 'Johnny' Lurani and intended for young and inexperienced drivers. It was a way for gaining experience in the racing environment while using inexpensive components from ordinary automobiles.
Even though the class was short-lived, ending in 1964, it was responsible for revolutionizing technology and car design and ultimately helping bring about Grand Prix competition. The sport became a victim of its own success. Due to the popularity, the technology in the cars was being enhanced in ever area possible. This included more horsepower from the engines and lighter vehicle designs that were more aerodynamic. For many, the costs associated with being competitive became too expensive.
The original rules for Formula Junior stated the vehicles were to be powered by a production-based 1000cc engine for a car weighing less than 792 pounds. If the car weighed 880 pounds, an 1100 cc engine could be used. Components such as the cylinders, head, block, brakes, and transmission had to come from a production vehicle. Safety was paramount and roll-bars were required. Single or twin overhead camshafts and limited-slip differentials were not allowed.
There were few production based engines that could accommodate the strict rules. Many Italians favored the 1100 cc Fiat engine.
There were no rules to where the engine was to be mounted. Some favored the front while other favored the rear of the vehicle. Much of the decision was based on optimal weight distribution achieving the best performance possible.
During the first year of competition, the Stanguellini's dominated the racing circuit. The Swiss driver Michael May won the first International Championship for Formula Juniors in 1959 driving a Stanguellini. Other competitive vehicles consisted of the German based Mitter and Hartmann vehicles powered by the DKW engines. France had the Ferry and DB vehicles, both powered using Renault engines. In Britain, the Elva 100 series sports cars produced by Frank Nichols were a popular favorite. In April of 1959 The Elva 100 was the first Formula Junior vehicle to start a British race. It was also the first mass-produced Formula Junior vehicle from Britain. Later, other names such as Gemini (Moorland), Lotus and Lola, to name a few, would enter the racing scene.
Things were different in the 1950's and 1960's than they are today. Cosworth Engineering was not a name-plate; rather they were broke engineering's looking for a 'nitch' in the automotive industry. Their big-brake came from a pair of 1959 Ford Anglia engines which they used to power their vehicles. From their, their racing success skyrocketed and their line of vehicles became legendary.
Cooper used the chassis from their Formula One cars for the Formula Junior class. A BMC A-series engine provided the power. Lotus entered the scene with their Lotus 18 featuring an 1100 cc. Ford Anglia engine. Later, the Lotus 20 and 22 were entered for competition. They featured tube-frame construction. In 1963, Lotus revolutionized the sport with their Lotus 27 which was built using monocoque construction.
The sport continued to gain support and the list of manufacturers worldwide continued to grow. By the close of 1963, more than 500 manufacturers were producing vehicles to race in Formula Junior. Most were using rear-engine designs since the front-engine vehicles proved to be less competitive.
The demise of the sport began when the cost of being competitive began to escalate. There were increasing costs associated with producing light-weight and sturdy chassis compounded with tapping into every available horsepower possible from the 1100cc engines. The sport was eventually taken over by Formula 3 which also had a short life span. Ultimately it would be Formula Vee and Formula Ford that would take the place of the single-seater, inexpensive racing sport and bringing it to a whole new level.
Today, Formula Junior is still being raced in vintage race classes. Since there were so many manufacturers producing the cars, many still exist. Most are rear-engine vehicles, with the front-engine vehicles being the most sought-after due being more rare. Some of the designs suffered from under-steer, others were better at drifting through corners, but all provided a level of satisfaction, competitiveness, and fun that is hard to match.