Two weeks later both of Reventlow's cars developed bearing trouble in practice for the French Grand Prix. At this he decided to write them off and build, with all possible speed, a rear-engined model. If all goes well, it will be ready in time for the U.S. Grand Prix at Riverside, Calif. on December 12.
Next, take Italy's Enzo Ferrari. The most faithful and one of the most successful postwar manufacturers, Ferrari has failed so far to get the bugs out of his rear-engined car and is stuck with a stable of front-engined autos. These are not badly outclassed by the best British cars, but they are measurably inferior. It took phenomenal driving by California's Phil Hill to keep one on the tail of Brabham's leading Cooper for a good part of the Belgian Grand Prix, and by both Hill and Taffy von Trips to dispute the lead with Brabham in the French race. The builders of the British Lotuses and BRMs proved to be cannier than Reventlow and Ferrari. Between seasons both makes became rear-engined and, in consequence, serious threats to the Coopers.
Cooper himself did not stand still. He further reduced in size his already small racer and replaced the old four-speed gearbox with a five-speed box. As usual Cooper fitted out the cars in his two small brick shops in Surbiton, a suburb of London, and as usual his driving aces had an important hand in their preparation. Both Brabham, the 34-year-old Australian, and Bruce McLaren, a 23-year-old New Zealander, are savvy mechanics.
In London, Cooper's greatest rival, Colin Chapman, produced a rear-engined Lotus that looks like a big cigar on wheels. All of this year's Grand Prix cars have their weird aspects, but Chapman's baby is the most bizarre. The driver's torso projects up and out of it as though he were sitting in a canoe. It is an amazingly light car, weighing only 900 pounds (to 1,000 for the Cooper), and it is powered by a Coventry Climax engine identical to the Coopers.
"We went to rear engines," Chapman says, "because they make the cars very much easier to build, they remove some handling problems, and they eliminate the power losses we were having last year."
The bulk of an engine prevents the streamlining of a front-engined car beyond a certain point. Reventlow laid the Scarab's engine on its side but still couldn't match Cooper's or Lotus' aerodynamic shape. With lower wind resistance, rear-engined cars go faster and handle better and therefore give drivers more confidence while tiring them less.
It is easier to build rear-engined cars because they need no drive train from the front. This permits a compact power and transmission package at the rear. It also permits some valuable weight saving.
Neither Cooper nor Chapman has tinkered with the engine itself.
A tight little rivalry
"Cooper and ourselves have such an intense personal rivalry that we tend to outstrip the others in our own little efforts," Chapman says. "But we don't worry a bit about using the same engine. We spend all our time on chassis design. It would put the cat in among the pigeons if either of us bought a dynamometer and started playing with the engines, too."