Japanese Prototype: Design Evolution

12 Jun

The 1960’s were a time when car development took a quantum leap forward. This was particularly evident in the race cars of the era. Whereas many cars from the 50’s still looked like ‘old cars’ the next decade brought about a fundamental change in design and engineering. This was a time of fantastic changes in all aspects of life. It was the jet age, it was the Space Age, it was the age of social change. All of this development boiled over into the automotive world in a big way.

The 60’s represent a time where our idea of the modern race car took shape. Gone were the open tubs and skinny tires. Cars took a much more modern, swooping design element to them. Chassis were being made of more modern, lightweight materials, tires got noticeably stickier and much wider. Aerodynamics came to the forefront, and engines began taking on a decidedly modern level of power.

Since LeMans is this coming weekend, and most of us are lucky enough to attend first hand, we thought it would be neat to examine some cars of days gone by. One such vehicle is the BRE Hino Samurai. Many of you will recognize BRE as Brock Racing Enterprises. As in Peter Brock. As in the Daytona Coupe.

Brock worked with Hino Motors, a Japanese manufacturer of the day most well known for their Contessa econo box sedan (which was actually built in Israel of all places!). Toyota fans will recognize that Hino was who made the original FJ’s for Toyota in the 60’s, which are highly collectible today. Eventially, Hino was purchased by Toyota. They are still a worldwide producer of trucks and buses.

As Brock has stated: “I’m obviously extremely proud of the success of the Cobra Daytona Coupe, but another of my favorite designs was the BRE Hino Samurai. It was perhaps the most advanced GT car design of its time. The Samurai, which I named in honor of Japan’s famed warrior class, appeared on track in Japan at the Fuji Grand Prix in ’67, and created quite a stir with famed actor Toshiro Mifune, as BRE’s honorary team manager.

Several unique design features that were never utilized on the Daytona Coupes were successfully applied to the Samurai. Most prominent was the “Ring Airfoil”, which I had initially designed for the Daytona Coupe, an adjustable wing at the rear to enable the driver to adjust downforce to match conditions. Ferrari eventually used a similar wing on its famed F40 racers, but those didn’t appear until 20 years after the Samurai! The Samurai was well ahead of its time and appeared on many magazine covers during those days. It was one of the last of the esthetically beautiful GT racers that relied on minimum drag for extra speed. Under today’s rules, when most aerodynamic devices are about applying downforce to reduce top speed, some of the esthetic grace of that earlier era has been lost.

Study the design, and you can see elements of cars that came afterwards all over. The spoiler design that found its way to the F40, the nose design that made a brief appearance on Toyota’s 2000GT. The rear clamshell that was found not only on Fords GT40, but on many cars since that time. I also spot a bit of Speed Racer’s Mach V.

While the Samurai never really took off on the global scene, it’s a great example of the design theories of the day, that continue in the modern era. While so much of GT racing nowadays focuses on powerplant development, most notably through electric vehicles, and the diesels of Audi and Peugot, firms like Nissan, with their DeltaWing, have taken racing design to a whole new level. Wonder what we’ll be saying 50 years on from this LeMans?

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