Part 8: BMW & Mazda to the fore as fuel crisis eases

After the fuel crisis’ hardest-hitting initial period, South African Motorsport once again started to thrive as a by then less-tuned Sar Modified saloon car championship evolved to see BMW and Mazda fighting for honours. Still, fuel restrictions were into their second year, which affected travel arrangements to a degree, causing smaller motorsport clubs and outlying branches to suffer most. 

Big news was that Louis Luyt had stepped in to the rescue in a dramatic no strings attached R220 000 sponsorship to see the ‘76 South African Formula 1 Grand Prix named after his planned English morning paper, The Citizen. Just as significant perhaps, was news that had the Star Modified Saloon Car Racing world abuzz on the prospect of BMW preparing its new 530M for road and track with stories of much ado in a quiet corner of the Bavarian Motor Works’ Rosslyn, Pretoria plant.

BMW was plotting its first major attack on South African motorsport, as Basil van Rooyen flew to Munich to conspire with Motorsport boss Jochen Neerspach on the specification of the race version of its much anticipated 530M homologation special. Ever the professional, Basil expected to be fully compensated, but he was not equipped to find sponsorship himself, so he relinquished the deal to Eddie Keizan.

Up to then, the only genuine large-capacity production cars with real race pedigrees had been Ian Frazer-Jones and Chris Griffiths’ early Group 2 Jaguar 3.4s of a decade prior. Of course, previous homologation specials like Perana’s V6s and V8s and the Little Chev Firenza V8 fitted the bill, but they were basically limited production runs of big, bruising engines shoehorned into little bodies to produce fearsome road and race cars.

BMW’s philosophy was different – and ultimately fundamental as this project would indeed lay the foundations for what would eventually become BMW M. No, it was not going to bastardise its car, its vision was more a highly-pedigreed start-of-the-art race-bred streetcar that would also win on track.

The brand new first generation 5-Series was designed and developed to scale up from the 4-cylinder 518 through to the a straight-sixes from the outset, so all that BMW SA Motorsport had to do to achieve its goals, was further develop the car it was already building at Plant Rosslyn. They simply took the biggest six out of the 3.0L and uprated the gearbox, drivetrain, suspension and brakes to suit.

Much of the 530M’s initial development was done by Schnitzer with input from BMW factory and F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson, all of which played a major part in the car’s final success. The increased performance of course brought its challenges – differential temperatures were reaching reach close to 200 degrees on track and there were other issues too, each addressed in typical Teutonic style, long before the sensational candy-striped 530M would ever break cover on road or track.

BMW built just over 200 units of the spectacular 530 Motorsport streetcar for homologation purposes in its two years of limited production. 530M packed Bilstein Sport McPherson struts up front and Bilstein dampers at the rear, so all that really was needed to get it race ready was a touch of negative camber all round, while its tandem brake boosters featured release valves to curb the rear brakes locking on track.

The road car was sensational enough – like a Porsche or a Ferrari, you just felt that pedigree the moment you sat in the 530’s race-like satin bucket seats and pulled away. The 530M was conceived, designed and developed by people who knew that performance was associated with a crisp ride, sharp handling, powerful brakes and a positive gearbox – far more than could be said for its many lorry-like apparent rivals of the day. If anything, the new BMW 530M was a grown-up Alfa Romeo.

The  BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition proved a runaway market success as it established itself as an instant classic – unlike some blatant copycats that were all dressed up with nowhere to go, the 530M was the real thing through and through – something that meant the world to buyers and enthusiasts alike, never mind that a couple of 530Ms went into the racing department to be prepared to take over on track too…

Significantly tighter Group 2-based Star Modified Saloon car racing regulations limited modifications to mild camshaft tweaks and cylinder head work around inlet and exhaust porting. Still The 3-litre 530M developed 200kW at around 7300rpm. Suspension alterations were also minimal around damping, geometry and re-positioned roll bars and 530M was all set to come, to see and to conquer.

Conquer it duly did as Eddie Keizan put his brand new car on pole position and led the way, only to retire early and leave Alain Lavoipierre to a convincing win in the sister car on the BMW 530M's race debut, in spite of Roger Harradine’s best efforts in his rapid Ford Capri V6. From there the BMW 530 M remained unchallenged up front in Star Modified Saloon Car Racing. 

Almost unnoticed amid the drama of BMW’s arrival, the ’76 Star Modified Saloon Car Championship went down to the wire in an inter-class fight between Arnold Chatz in the Alfetta, Tony Woodley in a Mini and Barry Flowers' Ford Anglia as Chatz and Woodley ultimately finished in a tie. 

Still running del’Orto carburettors instead of the GTA’s fuel injection, Arnold's Alfetta developed around 170kW at 7400rpm, of which some 124kW reached the rear wheels, enabling Chatz to break Kyalami’s magical 1min 40sec barrier and nudge 210km/h down the end of the main straight. The Alfetta shared its suspension with European Touring Car GTAs and ran light-alloy calliper brakes – it proved only a second shy of one of those similar but far more highly modified Euro GTA’s that came out to compete in the Wynn’s 1000 endurance race.

There was good news in early 1977 when government confirmed that it would not cut back on motorsport, as many had feared, in a call that would soon see to more national races and increased racing budgets. But it seemed that the frontrunners in Star Modified Saloon Cars Racing were also feeling a little lonely.

Eddie Keizan was the first to complain that the race was only between ha and his teammate Alain Lavoipierre. Until Mazda pitched up for the ’77 season with its latest rotary bomb, that is...

The revolutionary rotary had already proven beyond capable in modified form in a few Mazdas that had visited South African international endurance races and then also standard in Group 1, where the Capella’s relatively small 1146cc capacity rotary engine already had the beating of Alfa Romeo’s 2-litre piston power plant. The little Mazda was about to prove even more of a giant killer in modified form...

The stakes were however significantly higher too – the task was no longer to just beat a 2-litre Alfa Romeo – at just over a litre capacity, the rotary was up against BMW’s powerful modified 3-litre straight-six this time around. There was however the advantage of significant available Mazda rotary tuning know-how, both locally from Formula Atlantic and from Japan and the US, which made development relatively easy. Never mind a few lenient new Modified rules to help the Capella along. 

Still the task at hand was more substantial than expected with significant porting carried out and a Holley carb bolted on sideways. But cutting out in corners soon saw that dropped in favour of two IDS Webers off the Alfasud. Those also had their challenges and the team ended up fitting a single 50mm Weber IDA as the quest for power proved inexorable. Attempts to increase compression ratios by building up the chambers with Stellite or similar materials proved futile when the weld simply spun off at elevated 9000rpm engine speeds.

They persevered and the little rotary was soon producing around 275bhp – right on the button for the race-ready 970kg Capella to compete with that 530M thanks to an unheard-of 240bhp/litre specific power ratio in a racing saloon car. That compared to the 800bhp that later normally aspirated 3-litre V10 F1 engines would produce, all of which meant a new competition gearbox had to be imported to handle all that grunt too!

Raucous and deafening, the new Star Modified Mazda rotary was entrusted to two relative newcomers in Group 1 rising stars Hennie van der Linde and Willie Hepburn as the Capellas rasped far above the Beemers’ sweet straight-six howl. 

Hepburn stunned the Kyalami faithful by out-dragging Keizan and the evergreen Paddy Driver’s latest-spec BMWs off the line – the 530Ms were indeed heavier, but they had gained considerably more grunt and they developed and dominated, which ultimately aided Keizan to overcome Hepburn’s pesky Mazda to beat him by a second that day.

The Mazdas edged ever closer to the BMWs as the season wore on, with van der Linde and Hepburn often finding good luck in the races as was once again soon broke out up front, with the BMWs generally overcame the oft-fraught rotary attack.

Behind them, Arnold Chatz was generally in charge in his Class B Alfetta, with Abel d’Oliveira’s Berlina chasing hard and Tony Viana in the mix in his 2.5-litre Chevy Firenza, while Ritchie Jute’s rapid Ford Escort fought over Class C with Errol Shearsby’s quick Fiat 128 and Ron Samuel’s works Mini dominated D in spite of Datsun opposition from Sarel van der Merwe’s 140Y and George Santana’s 1200 Deluxe and the Macintosh Passat. Minis also dominated class E over Paddy O’Sullivan’s Renault and Don Bruins made Class F his own in his Fiat 128.

The fuel crisis was still hurting by the time late ’78 came around, but life was carrying on and South African saloon car racing was entering yet another fantastic new era. Come back next week to read all about the short, mad, anything-goes Manufacturer’s Challenge…

Issued on behalf of SA Saloon Racing History

What:The History of South African Saloon Car Racing Part 8
Where:South Africa
Community:South Africa National

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