Chaparral Cars was a United States automotive company which built prototype race cars from the 1960s through the early 1980s. Chaparral was founded by Jim Hall, a Texas oil magnate with an impressive combination of skills in engineering and race car driving. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Chaparral's distinctive race cars experienced strong success in both American and European racing circuits. Despite winning the Indy 500 in 1980, the Chaparrals left motor racing in 1982. Chaparral cars also featured in the SCCA/CASC CanAm series and in the European FIA Group 7. It is also said in popular culture that the Chaparral race cars were barred from events because of them being too effective and fast, especially the 2J.
Chaparral was the first to introduce effectively designed air dams and spoilers ranging from the tabs attached to the earliest 2 model to the driver-controlled high wing 'flipper' on the astoundingly different looking 2E, all the way through to Hall's most idealistically inspired creation, the 2J, the car that would forever be known as the 'vacuum cleaner'. The use by Jim Hall of a semi-automatic transmission in the Chaparral created flexibility in the use of adjustable aerodynamic devices.
The development of the Chaparral chronicles the key changes in race cars in the '60s and '70s in both aerodynamics and tires. Jim Hall's training as an engineer taught him to approach problems in a methodical manner and his access to the engineering team at Chevrolet as well as at Firestone changed aerodynamics and race car handling from an art to empirical science. The embryonic data acquisition systems created by the GM R&D group aided these efforts. An interview with Jim Hall by Paul Haney illustrates many of these developments.
First raced in 1963, it was developed into the dominant car in the series in 1964 and 1965. Designed for the 200 mile races of the sports car series, it was almost impossible to beat. It proved that in 1965 by winning the 12 Hours of Sebring on one of the roughest tracks in North America.
As the car was being developed, Jim Hall took the opportunity to implement his theories on aerodynamic force and rear wheel weight bias.
In addition, the Chaparral 2-Series featured the innovative use of fiberglass as a structural element. Hall also developed 2-Series cars with conventional aluminum chassis.
It is very difficult to identify all iterations of the car as new ideas were being tested continually. There are three generally accepted variants:
Coincidental with the development of aerodynamics was Hall's development of race tires. (This is is a complex subject that should have a separate article.) Jim Hall owned Rattlesnake Raceway adjacent to his race shop; that proximity allowed him to participate in much of Firestone's race tire development.
A two-article series in "Car and Driver" magazine featured Jim Hall's design theories. The article turns speculation about vehicle handling into applied physics. It was the precursor to the elaborate data collection and management of current racing team. Hall's methodology was probably the first documented approach to measuring and managing the properties of race cars.
The 2E scored only one win in Laguna Seca with Phil Hill driving, but the reason for this may have been the larger engines the other competitors were using. Hall stuck to an aluminum 5.3 liter Chevrolet engine in his lightweight racer while the other teams were using 6 and sometimes 7 liter iron engines, trading weight for power.
The 2E was a crowd favorite and remains Jim Hall's favorite car.
As with the 2D, the 2F raced wearing Texas license plates.
Jim Hall's racing career was effectively ended in a savage crash at the Stardust Grand Prix, although he did drive in the 1970 Trans Am series while fielding a team of Chaparral Camaros .
Generally deemed a failure, it eventually sprouted a huge wing.
The most unusual Chaparral was the 2J. In addition to a powerful 700 hp engine, and a three-speed semi automatic transmission, the back of the 2J housed two 17-inch fans driven by a 45 hp snowmobile engine. The purpose of the fans was to 'suck' air from under the car and propel it out the back. This gave the car tremendous gripping power and enabled greater maneuverability at all speeds, which cannot be achieved by simpler aerodynamic devices such as diffusers and wings. Since it created the same amount of vacuum under the car at all speeds, down-force did not decrease at lower speeds. With other aerodynamic devices, down-force decreases as the car slows down or achieves too much of a slip angle, both of which were not problems for the 'sucker car'. It also had ground effect skirts to keep air from leaking in, a technology that would appear in Formula One several years later. The 2J competed in the CanAm series and often qualified at least a couple of seconds quicker than the next fastest car, but was not a success because it was plagued with mechanical problems. It ran for only one racing season in 1970 as its technology was quickly outlawed by the SCCA (even though it was approved by the SCCA prior to the car's first race). The SCCA succumbed to pressure from other teams, McLaren in particular, who argued that the fans constituted 'movable aerodynamic devices' which were outlawed by the international sanctioning body, FIA. There were also complaints from other drivers saying that whenever they drove behind it the fans would throw stones at their cars. McLaren argued that if the 2J was not outlawed, it would likely kill the CanAm series by totally dominating it - ironically, something McLaren had been doing for years. A similar suction fan was used in Formula 1 eight years later for the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, by the Brabham BT46B but was banned soon after. The 2J is the other Chaparral to appear in Gran Turismo 4.
Speed Racer's Mach 5 appears to be inspired by the Chaparral 2C, by the pointed nose, open cockpit, and bulging fenders. Racer X's Shooting Star is even closer, looking like an exaggerated version of the real thing.
In 2005 a wing of the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas was dedicated to the permanent display of the remaining Chaparral cars and the history of their development by Midland native Jim Hall.