Chaparral Cars - Unique by Weird Design and Aerodynamics

  • Chaparral Cars, Petroleum Museum Midland Texas

Chaparral Cars was an American racing team which built race cars from 1963 to 1970 and which earned a special place in the history books of American and global motorsport. Chaparrals recorded some good results, historic victories, and championship titles, but was mostly famous because of their design and aerodynamic experiments.

Chaparral Cars company was Jim Hall’s masterpiece

Chaparral Cars was founded in 1962 by the two racers Jim Hall and Hap Sharp. The first Chaparral had been built earlier by Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes. Jim Hall raced in that car and afterward, he and Sharp decided to build their own car with the same name which Troutman and Barnes left to them. Because of that, all their Chaparrals contain number 2 and a certain letter in their name.

a white Chaparral 2C racing in 1965

Chaparral 2C in 1965

Pole position and track record in the debut race

Chaparral 2A was built in 1963 to compete in the United States Road Racing Championship and other race series of that time. It was a mid-engined car with an aerospace inspired semi-monocoque chassis made of fiberglass. It featured a conventional sharp edge to cut through the air.

In his first race at Riverside near the end of the 1963 season, Hall qualified with Chaparral 2A on pole position, with a new track record. He was in a dominant lead during the first few laps of the race but stopped because of electrical problems.

Two victorious USRRC seasons

As an engineer, Jim Hall was constantly making changes and improvements on the car. For the 1964 season, he prepared the next generation of Chaparral named, of course, the Chaparral 2B. Hall won the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) with that car. In 25 races, the Chaparral 2B had scored seven overall wins and eight more podiums.

Chaparral 2C standing out at Bahamas Speed Week 1965 event, sepia

It’s easy to guess which one is the Chaparral

2C came in 1965 and it was also the winning car

The following year came the next car – Chaparral 2C. It featured a conventional aluminum chassis and an innovative in-car adjustable rear wing. The integrated spoiler/wing was designed to lie flat for low drag on the straights. When driving through the corners, the driver could operate the wing mechanism with left foot, which was free because of the clutchless semi-automatic transmission.

In 1965, Chaparral 2C dominated the USRR Championship with 16 wins in 21 races, but the biggest surprise was winning the 12 Hours of Sebring against the international competition in rainy weather conditions. The drivers were Jim Hall and Hap Sharp.

Chaparral 2D, closed cockpit model in action, side rear view

2D was the first closed cockpit model

Chaparral 2D was the first closed cockpit model

Chaparral 2D was the first Chaparral car with a closed cockpit. It was designed for endurance racing in 1966. It won at 1000 km Nürburgring in 1966 with Phil Hill and Joakim Bonnier driving. The same pair also competed in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, retiring after 111 laps. The Chaparral 2D was equipped with a 420-hp 5.3 liter Chevrolet engine and the car weighed only 924 kg.

Chaparral 2E presents the most advanced aerodynamic theories

In 1966, Chaparral introduced the 2E for the Can-Am series. The biggest racing success was the one-two finish at Laguna Seca with Phil Hill and Jim Hall driving. But, with this car, something else was much more important: the Chaparral 2E, with its high-mounted wing, presented Jim Hall’s most advanced aerodynamic theories to the racing world and established some rules for the future of building race cars worldwide.

Drawing of Chaparral 2E car layout the first model with highly mounted large wing

2E was the first model with highly mounted large wing

Revolutionary adaptive rear wing

2E had a revolutionary design and aerodynamics, with the position of its radiators moved from the traditional location in the nose to two ducted pods on either side of the cockpit. The large wing was mounted several feet above the rear of the car on struts. The wing generated downforce directly to the rear suspension. A driver was able to operate the system by depressing the floor pedal. On the straights, when downforce wasn’t needed, the drag was reduced and the car had an increased top speed.

Mike Spence driving the 1967 Chaparral 2F, Chevrolet engine

Mike Spence driving the 1967 Chaparral 2F

FIA outlawed Chaparral 2F

The next model, Chaparral 2F, introduced the aerodynamics from 2E on a closed fiberglass chassis of 2D. Chevrolet’s aluminum 7-liter engine replaced the 5.3-liter engine of the previous cars. The car was used in the 1967 World Endurance Championship and it set the fastest laps in five of eight races. Phill Hill and Mike Spence won the final race at Brands Hatch. After this race, the FIA changed its rules, outlawing not only the 2F, but also Ford GT40 (winner of 24h Le Mans) and two Ferraris (330 P3/4 and 365 P4).

Chaparral 2G, introduced in 1967, was again a roofless car. It was an evolved version of 2E with a bigger engine, wider tires and a stretched chassis. The car was used for the 1968 Can-Am series and the next year, it was supposed to be replaced by 2H. Jim Hall wanted a radically different concept for 2H, and he succeeded to surprise once again.

Roofless Chaparral 2G racing

Roofless 2G was an evolution of 2E

Chaparral 2H – the first composite full monocoque chassis ever

Chaparral 2H was a racing car concept the world had not yet seen. It was a completely different car, both technically and aerodynamically. It was the first composite full monocoque chassis ever. Chassis components were fabricated in Pre-preg, a brand new type of glass fiber reinforced plastic. Different components were bonded to become one structure, and then the entire structure was cured in the oven.

Hall crashed and took Surtees as a test driver

Developing the chassis met lots of serious troubles, with De Dion suspension for example, or with testing the car. Jim Hall had a massive accident at the last race of the 1968 season and after that, he spent months in a wheelchair. He had to find a driver to test and develop the car and he chose John Surtees. Chaparral 2H had its racing debut in the Can-Am series in July of 1969. It was a very disappointing season mainly because of technical reasons: everything was too unusual and too complex. The car ended its racing career against a concrete wall during practice for the last race.

Chaparral 2H, composite full monocoque chassis

Chaparral 2H was the first car ever with a composite full monocoque chassis

Chaparral 2J – ‘the sucker car’ shocked the world

And then, in 1970, Chaparral 2J was born. It was the most unusual and most controversial of all Chaparrals. Some called it ‘the sucker car’ because it had a separate engine to drive two fans that exhausted air from beneath the car to create suction downforce. Big fans were sourced from a military tank and provided a downforce of 1.25-1.50 G so the car had a tremendous gripping power and great maneuverability at any speed. Fans created the same levels of low pressure under the car at all speeds and downforce was constantly big.

Revolutionary concept was banned

This revolutionary concept proved at the track and Chaparral 2J was at least two seconds quicker than the next fastest car in the Can-Am series. The car took pole positions at three of four events but it had technical problems during the races. It ran in the 1970 season, after which it was banned by Sports Car Club of America. Although originally approved by the SCCA, they succumbed to the pressure from other teams, McLaren in particular, that argued that the fans constituted “movable aerodynamic devices”, outlawed by the FIA. There were also complaints from other drivers claiming that when they drove behind it, the fans would throw stones at their cars.

Chaparral 2J racing - rear view

2J was the most unusual and the most controversial of all Chaparrals

2K was a successful Indy race car

Chaparral also had one successful Indy car called 2K. The car was designed by a Briton, John Barnard, and debuted in the 1979 Indy 500 with Al Unser Sr. as the driver. The greatest success came in 1980 when Johnny Rutherford won both the Indy 500 and the CART championship. In total, the Cosworth-powered Chaparral 2K Indy car had won six races in 27 starts over three seasons.

The famous Chaparral cars are exhibited in The Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas. Visitors can also see them running at the Museum’s track, because this is a part of the maintenance routine to keep the cars in running condition.

Video : Tribute to Jim Hall, the creator of the incredible Chaparrals