If you haven’t seen the Ron Howard 1970s Formula One biopic Rush yet, stop what you’re doing and go buy yourself a ticket right now. Yes, yes, I know it’s a bit weird to see Thor playing a racecar driver, but trust me, this is a movie you don’t want to miss.
Without divulging any massive spoilers—spoilers as large as those that adorn the wedge-shaped missiles that howl around the track all through the film—I can tell you that the good guy is kind of a bad guy, the bad guy is kind of a good guy, these other guys are just trying to stay out of the way of the pair of them, and basically all the guys in the racecars are badasses. The human side of the story is gripping, a tale of pride and ambition, courage and determination, love and honour. Plus, y’know, explosions and boobs.
But let’s talk about the cars for a second. Yes, the superhumans who wrangled these machines around the circuit had cojones of such enormous magnitude some sort of specialized seating was probably in order, but the screaming, brightly-coloured, winged demons that all too often turned on their masters are worth a closer look.
Driven by James Hunt
“Devil may care” best describes the attitude taken by the naturally talented, adrenaline-fuelled Hunt. Lucky for him, as his mount might have been designed by Satan himself.
Propelled by a banshee 3.0L Cosworth V12 yowling its way to a 490hp crescendo, the McLaren M23 was already old by the time Hunt inherited it. Happily, aged though the car was, its design was proven, and had been enhanced through constant improvement by its former driver, the Championship-winning Emerson Fittipaldi.
Like most race cars of the 1970s, the McLaren was a brutal-looking thing, twin wings and massive black tires dwarfed by a huge intake cowl that rose high behind the driver, gulping air. It weighed under half as much as a Miata and was more than three times more powerful.
Driven by Nikki Lauda
Though he’s portrayed as a meticulous schemer, constantly honing his racecraft, the real Nikki Lauda was just as mercurial as Hunt was—if not quite laughing in the face of danger, then at least looking Death square in the eye as they shook hands.
His machine was the tightly-coiled 312T2, powered by a near-500hp Ferrari powerplant that revved to 12,200rpm, and outclassed its Cosworth rivals. In order to concentrate weight between the axles to control rotation in the corners—what’s called polar momentum—the gearbox was mounted in transverse fashion.
Blisteringly fast, the Ferrari would also prove to be extremely treacherous, snapping into a spin at the Nürburgring and sending Lauda into the barrier and bursting into flames. For what happens next, you’ll have to watch the film (or just Google it, I suppose), but was it driver error, or mechanical failure?
Driven by Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler
While it’s not mentioned in the film, the six-wheeled blue-and-yellow oddity that often hunkers in-shot behind the twin conventional racers of the two lead characters should have got more than a cameo appearance. It’s the bizarre Tyrell P34, the only six-wheeled Formula One car to ever have won anything.
Racing teams often experimented with wild flights of fancy. They didn’t have computer mockups to test out some of the wilder ideas, so they simply built ’em and raced ’em. The Tyrell’s twin tiny-tired front-wheels surprisingly worked just as well as the big slicks of the normal F1 cars as far as traction went, and the car had better downforce with the wheels tucked in-board.
Sadly, Goodyear would stop development of the 10-inch tires, ending the competitive life of this insectoid racer, but not before two P34s took first and second at the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance auto-writer based out of North Vancouver, BC, and a member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. His work appears in BBCAutos, Road&Track, Autos.ca and elsewhere. Follow him on twitter @brendan_mcaleer