Is the Chaparral 2J the weirdest, coolest race car you’ve ever seen?

Chaparral 2J

The brain-child of a Texas millionaire, the 1970 Chaparral 2J sucked itself onto the road but it was way too ahead of its time.

Proudly brought to you by Oricom: Jim Hall was born into a family that made it rich in the oil boom in the 1950s. Despite his wealth a privilege or maybe because of it, Hall had no plan to play in the family game; he left that to his brothers.

Hall went on to study engineering and use his skills and wealth to go racing. Together with another son of a wealthy family, James Sharp, the two put together a team and commissioned a new race car for their team, the Chaparral.

This thing was pretty conservative but it was quick, and so Hall and Sharp bought the rights to the car and developed the Chaparral 2 which was more dynamic boasting an adjustable wing…the first race car to have one. With his new race car and wing, the Chaparral (with a closed cockpit, called the Chaparral 2D) won the 1000km Nurburgring endurance race. One year later, Hall’s adjustable wing was banned from racing.

Pissed off, Hall and Sharp developed the ‘Sucker Car’, the Chaparral 2J. Developed in secret because it was mental, it looked like something a child had drawn. It was all boxy and weird looking, with a skirt all the way around and what looked like two jet engines at the back.

Chaparral 2J

Running a Chevy ZL1 engine making 650hp, the Chaparral 2J’s greatest trick was that it could suck itself onto the track for constant and consistent downforce. It meant, as Jackie Stewart (who drove it a one-off race in the US) wrote: “The car’s traction, its ability to brake and go deeply into the corners, is something I’ve never experienced before in a car this size or bulk […] Its adhesion is such that it seems to be able to take unorthodox lines through turns, and this, of course, is intriguing”.

With an auxiliary motor working like a vacuum, the Chaparral 2J would be sucked onto the road, pumping all that air (and debris) out the back through two giant fans and straight at the face of the cars behind. Indeed, Hall drew plenty of complaints whenever his creation took to the track…he would respond by simply saying that if the other drivers didn’t like it, they should try and pass him.

Chaparral 2J

But the Chaparral 2J was simply too complex to be the world beater it could have been. The skirt which runs around three-quarters of the car was controlled by an intricate system of pulleys; switch on the fans and the car would suck down two inches onto the road.

Speaking about his creation in 1970, Hall said it could travel at full throttle without wheelspin or uncontrollable oversteer. But the thing was fragile and it was retired almost as soon as it raced, with the motor breaking in the last race it entered. And the 2J was flying. Raced by Vic Elford at Laguna Seca Raceway, the 2J was the only car in the field to qualify under one-minute, even though Elford had never driven the track before. And the next day, Elford and the 2J smashed Bruce McLaren’s 1969 lap record. But the 2J was broken. During its blitzing runs, a connecting rod punched through the V8 and there wasn’t time to fix the motor. The Chaparral 2J was retired. For ever.

Hall was an innovator and had designed, developed and deployed to adjustable rear wing years before Colin Chapman was credited with its deployment in racing. And his Chaparral 2J was and still is a marvel of engineering.

Watch an interview with Jim Hall:

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.

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