Features Walter Hayes Trophy

Racing a FF1600 oddity: the Zeus convert-a-car

At first glance, it looks remarkably like Gilles Villeneuve’s 1977 Ferrari Formula 1 car. It could be almost a 7/8th scale version with the addition of a white bonnet stripe.

Yet the Zeus is a Formula Ford through and through. The rectangular-bodied rarity had not been raced on a circuit since 1990 until Gaius Ghinn took it into fourth place in the Carl Hamer Trophy for cars built between 1967 and ’81 in this year’s Walter Hayes Trophy meeting.

It has the requisite 1600cc engine and control tyres, its bodywork may look like the sliding skirts of the ground-effect F1 era, but it’s just the shape of the tub, the roomy dimensions of which made it popular with racing schools.

The car’s current owner is Mark Haynes. He has three of the 1980 Zeus cars. He acquired the chassis, body moulds and original spares from Zeus designer Peter Sneller, who he still works with.

“I’ve got chassis number two, six and seven, Dave Matthews has got three,” Haynes says.

“One was a chassis that they made the body moulds from, it wasn’t really a race car.”

He is keen to track down any of the other chassis that still exist.

“There’s got to be a four and five somewhere, and there may well be eight and nine. Pete never kept serious records.”

Russell Haynes, Mark’s son, has been campaigning the WHT car in hillclimbs for the past two seasons as a medical condition has prevented Haynes from aquiring the MSA license so he can race it himself. When Ghinn asked to rent the car for the WHT, it was something of a surprise.

“I said, it’s not in a state to do that,” recounts Haynes. “It’s in hillclimb spec, so if we’re going to run it at the Walter Hayes, we’ve got to change the suspension, the springs, fit a fire extinguisher… I had to change the diff because I had a very low diff on it. But oh hell, come on Pete [Sneller], let’s do it.

“Gaius’s first drive in the wet, he came back beaming. He said he’d never driven a car that handled so well in the wet.”

The Zeus has another surprising aspect: it’s a convert-a-car. Exchanging the Kent engine in the back for a Pinto block and attaching some wings to the provided anchor points turns in into a Formula Ford 2000 car. The wheel nuts are extra long to accommodate the larger FF2000 tyres.

Haynes is hoping to continue developing the Zeus and raising awareness of this interesting car. Whether it will be in 1600 or 2000 spec next year is yet to be seen.

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