Hot curries, Cold Wars and the history of Moskvich...

There is a lot of excitement in Formula 1 circles at the moment about industrial espionage and the supposed theft of intellectual property from Ferrari. It is interesting that police are raiding factories and engineers are being questioned but it remains to be seen whether or not any of these actions will lead to any charges. The first rumours of a problem were knocking around in F1 circles last Spring so one must presume that there is not much of a case - or else we would have seen some action before now.

To be quite honest, industrial espionage in Formula 1 is nothing new. It has been happening since the sport began and in fact it is part of the reason that the motor racing industry is as strong as it. Ideas circulate quickly and so the industry has to remain fast-moving to survive.

As a result my chief investigation in recent days has been to try to find a regular supply of bai krapao, the Thai version of basil with slightly purple leaves and an exquisite aniseed taste, which is used a great deal in cooking in Thailand. Having eventually tracked some down I embarked on a new series of annual culinary experiments, this time with an Oriental twist. The first attempt at Thai red curry, I have to admit, was a good attempt to warm the bones on an otherwise frigid November evening but hopefully the next will be rather less dramatic.

When not cooking and writing articles, I have been delighting in staying in one place and only the imagination has been allowed to wander. With the World Wide Web at our fingertips, flights of fancy have become easier than ever and it was while I was surfing in the dark recesses of the Internet the other day that I stumbled upon the Moskvich Formula 1 project.

Now you might have thought that the Soviets were not much interested in such a gaudily capitalistic sport as Formula 1 motor racing but between 1960 and 1976 Russia boasted its own Formula 1 series. The cars were pretty hideous single-seaters powered by unheard of engines and the result of the first year (not surprisingly) read Valery Shakhverdov (Soviet Army Team) first, Mikhail Kovalev (Soviet Army Team) second.

It is said that in the 1970s there were some Russian cars which might have been capable of competing in F1 with the right engine in the back. That is probably true given some of the terrible pieces of equipment that appeared in F1 in that era.

However, the Moskvich F1 project was secret - and very serious.

The story goes back to a piece of industrial espionage that would have Ferrari men weeping. Back in 1945 the Soviet Army invaded Germany. At Russelheim, near Frankfurt, they found the Adam Opel factory relatively intact. This facility had been converted to produce aircraft parts for the Luftwaffe but in amongst the machinery the Russians found the entire pre-war production line for the Opel Kadett K38. It was decided that this would very nice inside a nice big factory in Moscow and so it was shipped back to the Motherland.

This spectacular piece of industrial theft led to the establishment of the Moskovsky Zavod Malolitrazhnykh Avtomobiley factory, which even the Russians could not pronounce and so began calling it MZMA. In 1947 this began producing cars called the Moskvich 400. Funnily enough these looked the spitting image of the four-door Kadett.

With an automobile company up and running, some of the engineers at what was quickly known as Moskvich began looking around for more exciting things to do and in 1951 Igor Aleksandrov Gladilin embarked on a research programme to build small capacity racing cars.

His prototypes had 1300cc engines adapted from the Moskvich engines but these were never raced and used only for experiments and a few speed records.

The world back in the early 1960s was a very different place to how it is today and the Americans and the Russians were engaged in what is now known as The Cold War. In 1960, for example, the Russians shot down a U2 spy plane over Russia and then in 1961 beat the Americans to put the first man into space (if only by three weeks). The tension was not merely political but also technological with both sides trying to show the world that they could build bigger and better and faster machines. International tension ran high particularly in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built and in 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis flared up.

Russia was acutely aware that Britain and France were developing the supersonic Concorde and that the Americans were moving more quickly in the race into space and would get to the Moon before the Russians could do.

And it was in this light that the Soviet authorities fell upon Gladilin's experiments with Moskvich racing cars.

The Formula 1 regulations since 1961 had been for small capacity 1.5-litre engines and Gladilin was instructed to begin development of an engine, which would be capable of beating the best that the West had to offer. He and his engineers designed a space-frame car with fiberglass bodywork and even went so far as to use as a windtunnel to shape the car (unheard of at the time). Perhaps it was unrelated but the programme accelerated after President Nikita Kruschev was deposed in 1964 and Leonid Brezhnev took over.

Alas for the Russians, the engine was not ready until early in 1965 by which time the FIA had decided that it was going to get rid of the 1.5-litre Formula 1 and replace it with new 3-litre rules. This caused lots of problems for the existing F1 teams with Jack Brabham being the smartest and getting hold of an obsolete aluminium Oldsmobile V8 production engine and using it as the basis for a F1 engine, which was financed and developed by the Repco company.

The Russians were not as fortunate. The Cold War was beginning to cool down and the Soviet authorities felt that it would be better to spend their money on missile development and on the space programme rather than showing the West the automotive muscle of the USSR...

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