Current Formula One rules are very restrictive when it comes to the innovation of race cars. But it was not always like that. In the past, there were several Formula One cars with innovative designs that now seem extremely strange.
With an odd-looking stepladder design at the front end, the Ensign N179 is undoubtedly one of the most unusual Formula One car designs of all time. The 1979 car’s scoop-like nose was home to three massive, front-mounted radiators arranged in a shallow-staircase configuration. It helped the chassis’ aerodynamics, but it did nothing for the car’s aesthetics. Indeed, the N179 is often called the ugliest Formula One car of all time.
Ligier’s first Formula One car was the JS5, which raced in 1976. You will never have seen a Formula One car that looks like the Ligier JS5. Its strange air-intake feature looks somewhat like a teapot. Regardless, famous driver Jacques Laffite raced to three podiums driving a car that looked as though it was straight out of Wacky Races. If you cannot remember what the classic cartoon’s cars were like, check out the Wacky Races see the Arkansas Chuggabug and Dick Dastardly’s Mean Machine. The JS5 would fit right in.
With its strange, high-front wing that resembles a large tea tray, or perhaps a surfboard, the March 711 is one of the oddest-looking cars to have ever participated in Formula One. However, despite its bizarre appearance, the March 711 proved to be a fast machine. With Ronnie Peterson as the driver, the car reached five podiums in 1971.
Brabham BT46 Fan Car
To get around Formula One’s ban on moveable aerodynamic devices, the Brabham team designed a modified version of the BT46 that used a fan to cool the engine. The fact that, as a sort of side effect, the rear-mounted fan enabled the car to have a tremendous amount of downforce without having to sacrifice straight-line speed was, of course, purely coincidental. Driven by Nicki Lauda, the car won the Swedish Grand Prix in 1978, but it was to be the Brabham BT46 Fan Car’s only race. The car’s fan device caused plenty of controversies, so the vehicle was quickly banned, even though its one-win stood.
The Tyrell 025 is sort of the equivalent of a race car superhero. In one life, it was a regular Formula One car. But when it raced in twisting circuits like those at Monaco, it donned its disguise to gain superpowers. For such races, the car was fitted with diagonally-mounted wings on either side of its cockpit. The struts were not actually that effective, and they are remembered more for the distinctive aesthetic they gave the 025.
The additional struts earned the Tyrell 025 its nickname of the X-Wing. Despite fans ridiculing the space-age looking car, other manufacturers began coming up with their own takes on the concept. But by the end of the Tyrell 025’s first season in 1997, Formula One authorities banned the technology, due to safety concerns.
The Tyrell P34’s design was unique for one major reason: it had six wheels. Four small wheels were at the front, and two large wheels were at the back. That meant drag was reduced, and the total contact patch of the front tires was increased. At first, the bizarre car was quite successful for Tyrell.
The P34 competed in 30 races throughout 1976 and 1977, winning one race and 13 podiums. However, the team behind the car struggled to develop its design further or find the funds to do so.
Therefore, it was retired in 1978 and soon became obsolete. It did inspire other tests of six-wheeled cars, though, such as the 1981 Williams FW07D, which had four driven rear wheels and two non-driven front wheels. But in 1982, Formula One specified all cars must have no more than four wheels. As well as being a six-wheeler, the Tyrell P34 has another claim to fame. It was the inspiration for the car that is featured in the credits of the 1970s’ Pink Panther cartoon.