Forbidden Fruit: Cars So Outrageous They Got Banned
Auto racing is a thrilling and profitable form of entertainment, which also contributes to modern technology. The automotive industry is well known for deriving consumer vehicle technologies from experiments first carried out in racing. Sometimes, however, the technologies developed for race cars are so outrageous that those cars are banned from racing entirely. Here are some cars that were banned from racing, as well as the reasons why they were blacklisted.
“Sneaky” Pete Robinson and his Jumping Jacks
Pete Robinson was a champion drag racer, race team owner, and aftermarket parts seller in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. He was known for adding tricky race systems to his dragsters to increase performance, and was obsessed with weight savings, earning himself the nickname “Sneaky Pete.” However, he didn’t get away with his nifty “Jumping Jacks.”
In 1962, Pete was running in his Dart Dragmaster sporting a supercharged Chevy small block using magnesium components, which only reached peak torque at high RPMs. He installed a set of folding jacks, which lifted his rear tires up off the ground. He would spin the tires, and thus the engine, up to speed in the air, and then drop to the ground and take off at full speed. All it took was one run in the NHRA nationals to have the tech banned from the dragstrip forever.
The Dodge Charger Daytona: Too Successful To Stay in the Race
The Dodge Charger Daytona sports a huge, beak-like front bumper and a massive rear wing. It was crafted by Mopar to shatter NASCAR speed records. The magic of the Charger Daytona was not in its engine choices – two powerful 7-liter V8s – but in the aerodynamics. Designed in a wind tunnel, the Charger Daytona was built with aerodynamic modifications that dropped the coefficient of drag to an impressive 0.28. The Daytona was so good that it beat world speed records both on and off the track. Mopar’s rear-winged cars won so many races in the 1969 and 1970 NASCAR seasons, that NASCAR changed the rules to keep them from competing again.
Hendrick Motorsports’ 1997 T-Rex: Politely Asked not to Return
The 1997 Hendrick Motorsports chassis 2429, also known the “T-Rex,” due to designer Rex Stump and the Jurassic Park theme on the car, was just too good for its own good. It was a specially designed Chevy Monte Carlo NASCAR racer, built by Stump, who was a former Corvette engineer. Stump was given free rein in the design of the vehicle. Jeff Gordon drove the car to a dominating victory at the All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. After that one outing and a post-race inspection, an official pulled crew chief Ray Evernham aside to tell him “Don’t bring this car back,” and that was that. The T-Rex did comply with all NASCAR rules, but only because no rules yet existed to limit the innovative aerodynamic and weight-saving technologies it implemented, like thicker frame rails and a nose that dove down in the turns to create negative pressure under the car.
1968 Lotus Type 56 had a Turbine Engine. Wait, what?
The 1968 Lotus type 56 was built for that year’s Indy 500 race, and was one of the most technologically innovative cars of the time. It ran on regular race gas, but used a turbine engine like the ones you might find on a jet fighter. Built by aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, this lightweight engine pulled hot air into a combustion chamber, where it ignited to power a fan that turned the car’s driveshaft.
The car had huge potential, but was held back by reliability issues and regulation from the officials to reduce the engine’s air intake by 35 percent. If not for these issues, the car could have been a surefire winner; racer Joe Leonard set a track record in qualifying of 171.559 MPH. Soon after the 1968 Indy 500, the organizers banned turbine engines altogether. The engineering of a turbine engine racecar was considered too radical, and unfair to the competitors sticking with internal combustion engines.
Brabham BT46B: Downforced because of a Fan
The Brabham BT46B, designed by renowned Formula 1 racecar designer and engineer Gordon Murray, used an unconventional system to develop extreme downforce. Murray found that the Brabham’s Alfa-Romeo-built flat 12 engine was too wide for conventional aerodynamics, so he designed a system that used a fan—mounted in the back of the car—to both suck the vehicle to the ground and cool its massive engine. The car competed in one race, won handily due to its incredible cornering speeds, and was summarily banned. There was a rule at the time that parts dedicated to aerodynamics could not move, and the organization that regulated Formula 1 racing decided the Brabham’s fan was in violation of this rule, despite its dual function.
Tyrrell 025: X-Wings are Dangerous!
The Tyrrell 025 was a Formula 1 racecar that made its first outing in 1997. The team was low on funds, downforce and horsepower, and their engineers thought up a creative solution: “X-wing” aerodynamic features. At the time, there were rules prohibiting downforce-generating wings in key areas of the car, but no such rules governing the areas above and to the sides of the driver’s head. Therefore, the team installed some old wings and cross-bars they had lying around, providing instant downforce – meaning better cornering speeds and a more competitive car. By 1998, even top competitors like Ferrari had started using the technology. The FIA, Formula 1’s governing organization, subsequently banned the wings for being “unsafe.”
Chaparral 2E: Moving Spoiler Alert!
The Chaparral 2E is responsible for revolutionizing racecar aerodynamics, first inventing a system that has become standard in today’s Formula 1 race cars as the Drag Reduction System. The 2E, designed for Can-Am racing, got around this by employing a moveable spoiler. It could be set at a steep angle for massive grip in cornering, or at a less severe angle to reduce downforce and improve top speed in straights. Sure enough, the Can-Am series banned movable aero after the 2E competed in just a few races, citing safety concerns.
Chaparral 2J: Vacuum Car?
The Chaparral 2J was the predecessor to the Brabham BT46B, using an even more extreme vacuum system to create downforce. The car used a 680 HP V8 to power the wheels, and a snowmobile engine to power two huge fans that sucked the ground effects kit down without adding drag. It raced only four times in the 1970 Can-Am series. Reliability issues kept the car from winning, but it earned position for setting fastest laps in every race. Other racers were able to convince the governing bodies that the system gave the 2J an unfair advantage, and it was banned from competition.
Toyota Celica GT-Four: Too Clever a Turbo
The Toyota Celica GT-Four was already a race winning car by the early 1990s, with Toyota having campaigned the fast little four-wheel-drive coupe since 1988. Speeds were approaching unsafe levels at the time, and in 1995 the FIA decided that cars participating in the World Rally Championship would need to install restrictor plates in their turbochargers, to artificially reduce speeds by reducing airflow and thus engine power. Toyota engineers figured out a way to bypass this restriction – in the Celica GT-Four, the restrictor plate used a clever spring system to move out of the way at speed, restoring normal airflow, and giving Toyota’s cars an extra 50 HP. It was found by the organizers and got Toyota banned from the rest of the 1995 and 1996 WRC season.
Williams FW14B: Active Suspension Activated the Ban
The Williams FW14B Formula 1 racer used a clever suspension to beat the competition. The hydraulic, active suspension was able to stiffen or soften independently at each wheel, allowing the car to hunch down in the corners and rise up for less drag in the straights. Williams won 20 races in the 1992 and 1993 seasons with the car before the FIA banned active suspensions in 1994. The reason? They were considered too expensive to be within reach of the less well-funded teams, and therefore unfair.
Group B Rally Cars: Just Too Much Power
The only entry on this list where an entire racing series ended up being banned, the Group B rally cars were simply too insanely powerful for their own good. The cars weighed somewhere around 2,000-3,000 pounds due to an advanced cage system and incredibly light bodywork, with some making as much as 500 or even 600 HP. The acceleration was brutal, and top speeds on crowded, gravelly racetracks were extremely high. As one might expect, all this power took a toll. There were multiple deaths in 1980s Group B rallying – of drivers and spectators alike – and the racing series was banned for being simply too dangerous.
Throughout history, there have been a number of race cars that were too clever, or too ahead of their time for their own good—resulting in their banishment.
How many of these cars had your heard of?
Do you think these bans were justified?
Let us know your thoughts, and any additions you might have to our list, in the comments.