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The 6 Wheel Experiments

Autounion Type C 1937

The Type C was the first Grand Prix racer developed by German manufacturers Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, after they joined forces to become Autounion. The car featured a 4.4 litre supercharged V16 situated behind the driver, a first for Grand Prix cars. It was thought that the rear engine allowed for better traction, something that the tyres of the day really struggled with (especially with top speeds approaching 300 km/h!). However they still struggled for traction. Their fix? Bolt another one to each drive wheel. Did it fix the problem? Not really. The tyre technology is not what it is today. While they scored many victories the Type C was notoriously difficult to drive. There is a single surviving example left today along with some commissioned replicas. These cars are regularly on display and some even make it onto the track.

Tyrrell P34

The most famous of all the 6 wheeled Grand Prix cars. The P34 designed by Derek Gardner, Tyrrell’s chief designer, was introduced to the disbelief of the press prior to the 1976 season, who thought it was a publicity stunt.

It was thought the small frontal area of the 10″ front wheels would offer a performance advantage with reduced drag, and extra braking and cornering traction due to the additional tyre contact patch and extra set of brake discs. The height of its’ success came at the 76′ Swedish Grand Prix where  Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler finished first and second. 

The P34B was introduced for the 1977 season but it was overweight and the results were not forthcoming. The FIA soon moved to ban 6 wheeled cars, thwarting plans from other teams who had begun experimenting with the concept.

March 2-4-0

The March 2-4-0 was an constructed in late 1976 after the success of the Tyrrell P34 during that season. The March differed in that it ran 4 driven wheels at the rear. The Tyrrell suffered from a lack of tyre development because it’s front 10″ tyres were made specifically for the Tyrrell. The March used 6 front tyres meaning there was no special manufacturing required and development was the same as every other tyre. The front tyres had an overall lower front area (unlike the Tyrrell that had enormous rear tyres, somewhat negating the reduced drag benefit of the front tyres) and the benefits in acceleration would have outweighed the cornering benefit the Tyrrell exhumed.

The 2-4-0 was simply a March 771 chassis with a bespoke gearbox casting which helped keep costs in check, but it was this gearbox casting (which was very expensive in itself) that proved to be its achilles heel. The 2-4-0 never raced, although a version did compete in some hillclimb events with moderate success.

Ferrari 312T6

Ferrari took a different approach to the 6 wheel concept. The car followed in the footsteps of the Tyrrell P34, but instead of four smaller front wheels, the T6 used 4 normal sized rear wheels on one rear axle.

The car was tested by both Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann in 1977, but it never raced. Apart from the fact that it was far wider than the regulations permitted it also proved a challenge to drive. During one test session at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, Carlos Reutemann crashed the car, which then burst into flames. On another occasion, it suffered a rear upright failure. Reutemann was not impressed with the 312T6.

The biggest surprise however came when the Scuderia was seen testing an 8 wheeler. It was an attempt to divert the media away from their true development, which was elsewhere. The car featured extra front and rear wheels, however they were non functioning!

Williams FW08B

The Williams team were the most serious next to the Tyrrell. They extensively tested the FW08B with lead driver Alan Jones but it was never raced due to rule changes.

The FW08B was a six-wheeled (four driven wheels at the rear and two none driven wheels at the front) variant based on the championship winning FW08, that originated from the FW07D (also six-wheeled). The Williams team wasn’t able to source a turbo engine to combat the hugely powerful Renault and Ferrari powered cars so it looked to increase traction and reduce drag.

“At the time, the turbo engines were about 180 horsepower more powerful than the normally aspirated Ford Cosworth DFV we were using,” Frank Dernie says. “We really struggled to produce a car that had enough downforce and little drag to compete with them.”

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