Should the Cisitalia-Porsche 360 Have Changed GP Racing?

The mid-engine revolution was, of course, prompted by Jack Brabham’s 1959 World Championship win at the wheel of a Cooper Formula 1 car. Shortly thereafter Cooper took the 1960 championship winning T53 car to Indy for a test in 1960, entering the race the following year. The Indianapolis 500 community initially shunned the goofy little car, but eventually Indy was running the configuration as well.

What I don’t understand about this is why the rear and mid-engine platform wasn’t adopted more quickly after the war. The Auto Unions certainly showcased the viability of the configuration before the war. Was their dominance so quickly forgotten?

Dr. Porsche’s engineers built upon his design for the Auto Union after the war, working with Cisitalia in 1947 to build a mid-engined Formula 1 car borrowing largely from the basic construction of the Silver Arrows. Their were, of course, some changes. The engine was more powerful, for one. Laurence Pomeroy’s text, The Grand Prix Car, describes in far more detail than I could.

The horizontally opposed twelve-cylinder engine is placed directly behind the driver’s seat and the vertically split light alloy crankcase extends outwards to form the water jackets. Individual cylinder liners in direct contact with the water are inserted and are sealed by light alloy detachable cylinder heads which are cast in one piece for each block. Each head carries two valves at an included angle of 90 degrees which seat direct, the inlet valve having an o.d. of 35 mm. giving a total inlet valve area of 17.9 sq. in. This is slightly greater than the area available on the 1939 3-litre Auto Unions and in accord with a projected output of 500 b.h.p.

The valves are opened by two camshafts for each bank through the medium of followers and a single 18 mm. plug is used set well back and with a 6 mm. passage connecting the points to the combustion chamber.

The bore and stroke give a piston area of 45.7 sq. in. and the seven-bearing Hirth type crankshaft has the remarkably large diameter of 54 mm., which is nearly equal to the bore itself. Even the gudgeon-pin is 18 mm. diameter, or one-third of the cylinder bore, and although the connecting rods which are one-piece types are conven- tionally proportioned with a length between centres of crank radius x 4 they are absolutely only 4 in. long. In consequence, that section of the rod lying above the big end radii and below the gudgeon-pin fillet is little more than 13⁄4 in. long, giving an exceptionally stiff assembly

The suspension did deviate somewhat from the Pre-War Auto Unions. Rather than following up on the swing axles of the Auto Union A-C cars or the de Dion unit of the Auto Union D-Type, the 360 favored independent suspension in a radius arm configuration with a hydraulic damper and torsion bars. Up front was the VW/Porsche type trailing arm independent suspension.

So you see, I just don’t get it: mid-engine, independent suspension all around, 500 horsepower, and this was 1949… Shouldn’t this have made the mid-engine revolution come a decade earlier? Why wasn’t the Cisitalia-Porsche a massive success and powerhouse on the track? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it all came down to finances.

The project’s backer plain ran out of funds as the project was finishing. In a scramble for cash, the development team shipped to car to Argentina to try and persuade Juan Perón to help finance the project. But by ’52, the Formula 1 rules had changed and engines displacements were altered, killing the Cisitalia-Porsche 360 before it had any real opportunity to take on the Formula 1 competition. The car participated in a few Formula Libre races in South America before it was shelved.

The project wasn’t a total loss. It did raise enough funds to spring Dr. Porsche from French prison in what was basically a simple ransom. Although Dr. Porsche was held as a war criminal, no charges were ever brought against him and no trial was ever scheduled; there was just the simple matter of his 500,000 Franc bail. Today the car is part of the Porsche Museum’s collection.

What do you think? If the Cisitalia-Porsche had raced alongside Formula 1 competitors in the early 1950’s, would the mid-engine revolution have some sooner?

6 responses to “Should the Cisitalia-Porsche 360 Have Changed GP Racing?”

  1. scroggzilla says:

    It’s been a few decades since I last read a biography on Ferdinand Porsche, so my memory is sketchy. But I seem to remember that the 360, in addition to it’s mid engine configuration, was also all wheel drive. Had they come up with the necessary development money to work out the teething problems, it would have certainly spanked the competition.

  2. Heath says:

    I also recall the 360 having all wheel drive, it was selectable by the driver. I think the idea was to provide more traction out of corners, then switch it off for the straights.
    But I don’t think it would have hastened the mid-engine revolution. Auto Unions were winning consistently before the war, but only Alfa Romeo produced a running mid-engine Grand Prix prototype (the 512, but it also never raced because of WWII). So I think the conventional wisdom at that time was that a mid-engine layout didn’t inherently offer a competitive advantage. In fact, a lot of drivers believed it was a DISADVANTAGE, because the forward driving position made it more difficult to anticipate when the rear wheels were breaking loose. Finally, I don’t think the overall technology available at the time would have enticed other constructors to go down the rear-engine route; the advantage gained by not needing a driveshaft wasn’t big enough for all the other engineering knowledge that would have been needed.

    So in the end, something like the 1958 win at Monaco of the Cooper-Climax mid-engine Grand Prix car was needed – a win where an underpowered car gained a clear advantage by being lightweight – thereby mirroring the power-to-weight ratio of the larger cars but also being able to corner at higher speeds. The eventual championship the next year sealed the deal.

  3. newbookscout says:

    Another point of view maybe the fact that in the late fourties neither a car manufacturer nor a racing team would have been able to execute a design of the complexity that the Porsche design office had delivered. Most probable Dusio gave the team unter Karl Rabe the impression “We want the most advanced” and “Money does’nt matter”. Consequently they put all their knowledge and design ability into the project. When it became obvious that the car will not run in the 1950/51 F1 World Championship it is reported from Karl Rabe: “They probably did not realise that it is allways very expensive to complete a Porsche design.”

  4. Tito Young says:

    Need to look at the history of Carlo Abarth as well. This car developed a certain background with his history in mind. It was with some of his design ideas that he then got to develop the Abarth.

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