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 1961 Ferret G-Modified 
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Joined: Sat Dec 14, 2013 11:25 am
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I'm planning to auction the Ferret sports racer on Bring A Trailer. The start date hasn't been set yet, but the following YouTube video has the basic information and will be updated when the auction begins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx1rhJMXiMg

A full description is below.

Ed Valpey

1961 Ferret #2 G-Modified Sports Racer

Builder: Peter Dawson
Designers: Peter Dawson & Christopher Kennedy
Chassis: Square Tube Spaceframe
Weight: 600lbs (estimated)
Engine: 75hp, 1,037cc McCulloch 3 Cylinder two-stroke
Trans: Harley-Davidson Knucklehead 4 speed, Chain Drive
Differential: FIAT 500
Suspension: Four Wheel Independent, Heim-Jointed
Brakes: Airheart Four Wheel Disc, Dual Masters
Wheels: Magnesium BMCD Junior 13”


History

The builder of Ferret #2, Peter Dawson, was an engineer with degrees from DePauw University as well as the Case and Chrysler Institutes. He began racing circa 1956 with a Crosley. In 1958, while in his mid-twenties, he went to work for Lotus Engineering, Ltd. in England, focusing primarily on the first generation Lotus Elite as well as development of the Coventry Climax motor for that car. It was while working for Lotus that he became motivated to design and build his own light-weight racing car. He returned to the U.S. to work for Chrysler, where he remained for 17 years before spending another 22 years with Ford. Immediately after arriving at Chrysler he decided to act on the knowledge and motivation acquired at Lotus. He understood the scope of such a project, however, so while he began designing Ferret #2 he partnered with Jan Mueller, then Director of Engineering at American Standard, to build a racing special out of the remains of a SIATA 300BC that had been wrecked at Cumberland. This SIATA-based special became Ferret #1, which he raced in the H-Modified class with the Sports Car Club of America.

He raced Ferret #1 for three seasons, 1959 through 1961, while at the same time designing and building Ferret #2, which was, in Peter’s words, a far more sophisticated car. His first priority was low weight, a task made more difficult by Peter’s 6’4” stature. He designed a unique spaceframe chassis and employed the talents of Christopher Kennedy, who headed Chrysler’s Suspension Design Department. All suspension links were built with single or double heim joints, making them unusually adjustable for the period, and the rear swing-arm suspension had geometry advanced for its time, creating a very low roll center. Kennedy came to see the car in 2005 and remarked on his “Low Pivot Swing Axle” suspension, mentioning that he had begun the process of patenting the design before coming to the accurate conclusion that the swing-axle layout didn’t have a future in production cars. The rear axles were originally mated to a locked spool, but the car tended to understeer so a differential from a FIAT 500 was fitted. The original Albion gearbox, built for smaller motorcycles, proved unreliable and it was replaced with a unit from a Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. Steel wheels were initially fitted while the magnesium wheels of Dawson’s own design were being cast. The latter incorporated the outer bearing race in order to eliminate hubs and save weight, something Dawson learned while working for Colin Chapman, who had learned it from the aircraft industry. Airheart disc brakes, with dual master cylinders, were chosen for their small size and light weight. The rear differential was originally fitted with a single, centrally located brake disc, but this proved inadequate and independent disc brakes were later fitted at each rear wheel. Dawson wanted to race in the G-Modified class, so he did some research and settled on the McCulloch 75hp outboard motor because he said it produced more bhp per pound than any other production motor in that displacement range. He chose aluminum for the pontoon fenders to more easily create their compound curves, but chose 20 gauge magnesium sheet metal for the rest of the body panels.

He began campaigning Ferret #2 in 1962, racing at tracks such as Watkins Glen, Road America and Mosport, among others. While an internet search yields few results, and those mostly DNAs with a couple of DNFs, Peter recalled several wins with the car during the two-plus seasons he raced it, including a first at the Indian Summer races at Mosport. The November 1962 issue of SCCA Sports Car magazine, published at the end of his maiden season, lists Peter as 36th nationally in G-Modified points. Peter sold Ferret #2 in 1964 or 1965, perhaps in response to a change in the 1965 SCCA General Competition Rules (GCR) requiring equal seating space for both driver and passenger. The location of Ferret #2’s engine, in the space where the passenger would ride, would make it ineligible according to this rule change. Dawson’s desire to design and build his own race car persisted, however, so while racing a Lola MK I he began designing and building the last car he constructed, the PMD Special, which was an A-Sports Racer powered by a Chrysler Hemi. This effort was interrupted when Chrysler appointed him Program Manager for the Summers brothers’ Goldenrod land speed record car, which was powered by four fuel-injected Chrysler Hemis producing a combined 2,400bhp. In November 1965 the Goldenrod achieved 409.277 MPH, setting a class record that would last for more than 42 years. It was broken by Charlie Nearburg in 2010, driving the Spirit of Rett. Following the Goldenrod project Peter returned to road racing with his PMD Special. Peter’s last racing car was a Lotus Formula Ford, in which he unfortunately lost an arm during a crash.

The history of Ferret #2 from its sale in 1964/65 until its purchase by a New England collector in the early 1980s is unknown. Little has changed on the car since it was raced by Dawson and being ineligible for the SCCA’s Modified or Sports Racer categories it’s unlikely that the car raced much, if at all, following its sale by Dawson. The aforementioned collector stored the car as he purchased it, knowing nothing of its history, until it was bought by the present owner in 2002. Included with the sale are many photos of the car being built and raced, as well as a letter and a few notes from Peter Dawson and Chris Kennedy, both of whom have unfortunately passed away.

Condition

The car is quite complete and unmodified from when it last raced, likely in the mid-sixties. At some point the body was painted yellow, but the original maroon color can be found in places on the fenders and on various components (the original color code is mentioned in a letter from Peter Dawson). The car is partially restored mechanically, with the chassis and body panels still in their as-found condition. The chassis and mechanical components are solid with only minor surface corrosion. The engine and transmission came with the car and were likely in the car when it raced. The engine was rebuilt (including new cylinder sleeves from Advanced Sleeve) by Bill Price Racing, a regionally noted builder of racing kart engines. The transmission was rebuilt by Steve Wilson of The Biker’s Emporium using USA-manufactured components from Andrews Gear. The shift lever, integrating a hand clutch, is not with the car.

The original 12” magnesium wheels no longer exist; the centers of the original front wheels were cut out and now serve as the front hubs. 13” magnesium BMCD Junior wheels are currently on the car… they are a tight fit and may require adjustments of the bodywork (the tires currently mounted are over-sized, 155/80-13). These wheels were used primarily on Huffaker Formula Junior racing cars and are period-correct… they are nearly identical to, and likely come from the same patterns as, those used on the factory Austin-Healey Sprites that raced at Sebring, Le Mans and Bonneville. 13” wheels would be preferable to 12” due to tire availability. The Airheart brake master cylinders and calipers appear to be original, though one caliper is missing. A newer replacement comes with the car, but it is slightly different and will need to be adapted. Airheart rebuild kits are included.

The right sidepod, lower tail section and interior sheet metal are missing, but the bodywork that would be difficult to fabricate – pontoon fenders, “passenger seat” (which doubles as an engine cover), and doors – are with the car. Also missing are ½” square tube stanchions, roughly 4.5” tall, where the doors hinged against the windscreen. The four pontoon fenders, doors and passenger seat are hand-formed aluminum, while the nose, cowl and tail sections are made from magnesium sheet metal. These magnesium panels should not be used for vintage racing, but can be easily replaced with simple rolled aluminum sheet (there are no compound curves other than the fenders). The framework for the body panels is made mostly from .75” x .0625” aluminum angle, much of which is missing or will need to be replaced. Current photos show the bodywork in place, but some of the small fastening tabs and many of the associated mounting holes in the bodywork will need repair. Included in the sale is a bag of original Dzus Lion ¼ turn fasteners, commonly used on Cessna aircraft, that Dawson retrieved from a relative and sent to me soon after I contacted him; several still show paint from the original body color. The headlights, mounted inside the nose air inlet, appear to be original. There is no radiator with the car; Dawson said the original was from a Lotus. There were no gauges with the car, though it comes with a McCulloch switch panel and a correct tachometer, unfortunately with a broken plastic bezel. The rearview mirror is a replacement, but appears to be the same design as the original. The original windscreen did not come with the car; a cardboard template is shown in its place. A replacement screen made of ¼” hard-coated polycarbonate is being fabricated by AIA Plastics in Colorado and is included in the sale. It will come over-sized and will need to be cut, but I felt this was the best way to insure that it fit properly with the body panels.

Engines

In addition to the rebuilt engine there are 4 complete spare engines, 4 more engines that range from a bare block to mostly compete and a couple of boxes of spare engine parts. I bought the car intending to restore it, and given that the engine is a bit uncommon I searched for spares. In addition to insuring that there would always be a correct motor for the car, I was also interested in the potential for improved performance. A stock engine, which has four main bearings, uses scavenger pistons designed to minimize plug fouling at idle, but at the expense of peak bhp. Further, all three cylinders exhaust into a common chamber within the block. A 1,037cc two-stroke motor built using squish-band pistons and having the exhaust properly isolated and tuned should produce considerably more than 75bhp (which in this car already yields a power-to-weight ratio of approximately 250bhp/ton).

Ferret #2 is a unique American-built racing car, and an early example to incorporate many of the engineering advancements that would later become standard among its descendants in the various sports racing classes. As mentioned, I purchased the car intending to restore it, but commitments to family and work leave too little time to both restore a car and go racing, so I’ve decided to spend that available time racing my last project.


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Ferret High Res Scan.jpg
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Tue Dec 08, 2015 1:12 pm
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