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Misfit Motors

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Chaparral Cars was a United States automobile racing team which built race cars from 1963 through 1970. They pushed race car technology and weren’t afraid to test new ideas. The Chaparral 2 was their first big  success. Here’s a Chaparral 2. It’s a bit of a beast.

The Chaparral 2 featured the innovative use of fiberglass as a chassis material. Aerodynamic studies resulted in the wedge shape. However, at high speeds, the front end of the car became too light, making steering less accurate so various aerodynamic bits started to get attached. The tilt of the 2C’s rear wing could be adjusted by the driver so it created maximum downward pressure on corners, and less drag on the straights.

The driver operated this mechanism with his left foot because THERE WAS NO CLUTCH. Chaparral developed the world’s first (semi) automatic transmission. Here’s a 2D.

The 2E/F developed this further. All racing cars since, owe something of their design to it. Radiators are now on either side of the driver, and there is a large movable aerofoil wing.

It was directly above the rear axle, where it needed to be. More air went through the nose of the car and was forced upwards to the wing, but this path could be closed when not needed. Again, the driver used his left foot to adjust the tilt of the wing. It was widely copied, but the use of movable wings was banned after the failures of several imitation designs. Enter the 2J.

At the rear of the 2J were two 17-inch fans driven by a single JLO 45 hp two-stroke twin engine. Their purpose was to suck air from beneath the car so that downwards-acting air pressure would press the car against the road. A flexible “skirt” of material went around the base of the car. This skirt was integrated with the suspension system so it would remain a constant 1″ from the ground when cornering, etc. The downforce generated by the vacuum was greater than gravity and so the car, in theory, could drive upside down across a ceiling. Whereas the effect of wings was proportional to the speed of the car, the fan suction produced better grip AT ALL SPEEDS.

Other racing teams, especially McLaren, claimed it was an unfair advantage. Ultimately, fans were considered to be movable aerodynamic devices and using them was banned under the same regulation.

Since moveable wings and suction fans were not allowed, the Chaparral 2K continued the aerodynamic advances with a feature called “ground effects”. Air passing under the car enters the forward section of two long tunnels under the car. Their decreasing cross-sectional area causes the air to accelerate and create a low pressure zone that pulls the car against the road to increase the tire grip and improving the car’s cornering, braking and acceleration. This was Chaparral’s third way of solving the same problem.

Chaparral were there for all the major changes in race car design in the 1960s and 1970s. They were pioneers in aerodynamic design, handling and, in conjunction with Firestone, with improvements in tyre design and technology. They saw problems objectively and solved them in then-unconventional ways. They changed race car design from an art into a science.

Chaparral – Misfits salutes you!


  • says:

    The engine of the fans was a snowmobile engine:

    “Bitterly disappointed in the failure of the 2H, Hall went back to the drawing boards and came up with something even more extreme. Officially known as the 2J, the 1970 Chaparral has gone into history as the ‘sucker car’. Setting aside his long experience with wings and aerofoil, Hall found a completely new way of generating downforce and without the penalty of additional drag. Using a Rockwell snowmobile engine, all the air was sucked from underneath the car creating a low pressure area; the 2J was literally sucked to the ground. The two cylinder engine was installed on top of the gearbox and the air was blown out the back by two large fans. The area was sealed off by lexan skirts that were connected to the suspension to keep them attached to the ground at all time.”
    (taken from:

    • Thanks a lot for that information Berthold. The word Rockwell was the key! It seems that JLO and Rockwell were (or became) the same company, making snowmobile engines. Here’s a site with some vintage advertisements. That was a nice link of yours, by the way. Thanks again.

  • Just a couple of minor corrections; the Chaparral you identify as a 2E is actually a 2D and the final line should read “Chaparral – Misfits salutes you!” Otherwise a nice concise article about one of America’s most innovative race teams.

    • Thanks a lot Ric – well spotted! I’ve corrected both. One thing I’m also trying to correct/explain is about the 2J. I wrote that it has “two 17-inch, JLO fans driven by a single 45 hp two-stroke twin engine” I think that should be “two 17-inch fans driven by a single 45 hp JLO two-stroke twin engine”? But what does JLO mean? It seems to be the name of the German company that made the two-stroke engines (or engines of that type) but this is the closest I’ve come to finding out. Thanks again.