There are some important differences between a Formula Vee as raced abroad and as raced in the Sports Car Club of America
. The engine for all cars is the stock 1200cc boxer four. While the engine may be blueprinted
in the SCCA all engine components are stock, with the notable exception of the exhaust
, where any header may be used.
SCCA rules madate stock brakes, wheels and supspension, though aftermarket shocks and bushings, and brake shoes may be substituted. The swing axle suspension is retained. Formula Vee is intended to be a low cost class. When beetles were common, a formula Vee could be built for next to nothing. Components are becoming scarcer now, but the intent is the same-- strip the running gear off an old beetle, mount it on a small tube frame and go racing. The car's speed comes primarily from light weight, less than 800 pounds with driver.
A legal FV engine produces around 40HP. With a stock cam, carburetor and internals it can't be revved much above 6,000 RPM, The stock pistons limit compression ratio. A professionally prepared Vee engine is affordable and reliable. All the cars basically weigh the same, and have the same power. Such even competition enlarges the importance of tiny advantages. Vees traditionally let out a puff of smoke on downshifts and under braking. This is because most FV engine builders use very loose piston rings in order to minimize parasitic drag. Cutting friction losses is something of a fetish in Vee engines.
The paucity of engine power affects how Vees are driven. Vees are the classic example of a momentum racing car, where fast laps are obtained by keeping speed high as possible because once lost speed is hard to recover. Tiny errors are enough to lose a position, and a successful pass may cost enough momentum that a re-pass will soon follow. A top Vee driver is very skilled indeed, particularly as low cost ensures competitive racing even at the smallest events. On long races Vee's will often 'hook up'. One Vee will literally stick its nose into the leading cars transaxle and push. That boosts the lead cars max revs by 300 RPM and draft of the leading car will pull the trailing car along. On a course with lots of long straights like Road America Vees may form a long train of cars running nose-to-tail in a manner not unlike bicycle racing. Like in bicycle racing, it also makes for spectacular accidents when something bad happens at the front of a pack.
As race cars go Formula Vees are very inexpensive. A running car can be had for as little as $2,500 US$, though such a car would not have top parts or come with many spares. $10,000 US$ will buy a first class car with a large spares package, including spare engines and transmissions. Though a Runoffs contending package would bring many engines with the strongest being run.
A Vee's light weight also makes it an easy race car to tow. The car in an enclosed trailer may be pulled behind small pickups or a minivan.
Vee chassis offer a lot of variety and are open to home builders. in fact several home builders have turned their racing program into a tube frame chassis business. Frames can be had of many different shapes, and frames are available for almost every body type. Most formula cars work best with skinny drivers.
All in all, Formula Vee is a good place to start racing, very affordable to purchase and operate and with plenty of competition to run against every time out. They are easy to work on. However they are a very low-powered race car and will thus frustrate some drivers. in addition, no more 1200cc VW motors are being made and donor beetles are becomng both scarce and high priced. It may happen that the same thing will happen for Vees that has happened for the 1600 and 2000cc Ford 'Kent' engines used in Formula Ford. There a cottage industry supplying replacement parts sprang up. But new parts cannot be guranteed, particularly at low cost. Parts availability and cost may one day spell the end of one of racing's most interesting and enduring classes.