Formula Vee Gives F1 Thrills on a Peanut-Butter Budget
Many of us, I think it’s safe to guess, have had at least some experience in low-level racing, whether in timed Solo events, or for the more dedicated and talented (not to mention deep-pocketed) among our group, in actual production-based circuit driving. As Gearheads we all aspire to drive well, and to hone our skills on track in the heat of competition. It’s a need born of a universal, primal drive, to dedicate yourself to something and do it better than others, to best your peers on an equal field of play and prove yourself the fittest specimen. This instinctual motivation is what first compelled man to conceive of civilization and the roads that feed its churning belly, to harness animals to pull laden carts, and to eventually replace those horses with horsepower. Whether you drive a Mitsubishi or not, your car is the work of evolution, and the ultimate four-wheeled form of this universal force is undoubtedly the open-wheeled, single-seat racecar.
Single-seaters are amazing things, their slender bodywork just barely large enough to contain a driver, fuel, and drivetrain, bursting with elegant, delicately-formed and precisely tuned suspension components left exposed to the slipstream and locating open wheels at four extreme corners. It’s a design whose low center of gravity and highly concentrated mass allow for the lightest weight, most compact dimensions, greatest agility, and highest cornering forces possible—a Formula of 1, 2, 3, 4, Ford, and the focus this article, Vee.
Formula Vee was conceived in the late 1950’s as a low-cost alternative to other open-wheel formulas, in particular Formula Ford, itself originally conceived as less expensive way into single-seat competition. Using existing pre-1963 Volkswagen Beetle drivetrains and front suspension components mounted to a custom tube frame with composite bodywork, Formula Vee cars are designed to be built, maintained, and raced by a single owner on a relatively modest budget—even brakes and wheels are based on stock items.
Stateside, races are primarly sanctioned by the SCCA, while several others maintain a healthy international following, with championships held across South America, Africa, and Europe as well. Like other entry-level forms of Formula racing, Vee is seen as a venue for young drivers to work their way up the open-wheel ladder, with former F1 champs Keke Rosberg, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Niki Lauda all cutting their teeth in the little monoposto bugs.
A race-ready car should cost about $15,000 to build, with a kit not including needed VW parts coming in at about $8,000. Maintenance and consumables are estimated to run about $700 per race—not pocket change, but definitely cheap considering the level of competition, not to mention bucketloads of fun, on offer.
Performance figures for a competitive car include 130 MPH or so top speed, 0-60 in a shade under five seconds, and nearly 1.6 g of cornering force—all on modified torsion bar front suspension, drum brakes, and narrow tires. Formula First, a kind of step-up series ran Stateside and in New Zealand, utilizes larger 1600 cc VW motors and disc brakes, among other upgrades, in an otherwise very similar format.
Air-cooled VWs are ridiculously easy to work on, with unparalleled parts availability, as anyone who’s ever ran a desert sandrail, Westy camper, hot-rod Beetle, notchback, fastback, squareback, or any other pancake-powered purveyance can attest to. If you’ve ever dreamt of getting into open-wheel competition, there’s no better place to start. Those interested in getting involved should head to Formula Vee’s official site, here, or contact your local SCCA rep.