Up until 1980, Formula 1 cars with more than 4 wheels (generally 6!) had been tried and tested with varying degrees of success. Ken Tyrrell had shocked the motor racing fraternity with his Project 34 six wheeler during the ’70’s, scoring a win and several podiums. Also, March, Ferrari and Lotus experimented on the test track but never let their multi-wheeled beasts loose during a world championship event. So back to 4 wheels everyone went. The pros seemed to level out with the cons, so why bother? Nobody had yet come up with a solid winning solution.

Step forward Mr David Cox! In 1980, his incredible design ideas for a Formula 1 car captured everyone’s imagination. Why mess about with only 6 wheels, when you can double up and have 12?! What an intriguing question! And with those 12 wheels, the beast was to be called a Lion! The reason for the high amount of wheels was not really explained in articles of the time, but obviously using smaller narrow front wheels as opposed to the fat wider wheels of the ’70’s, had to have some aerodynamic and traction benefit. One can only imagine the potential calamities of pit stops to change tyres! Ok, so usually we see 2 men to change each wheel, so let’s do the math’s here and multiply that by 12… And add in the lollipop man and the blokes with jacks, and how about some more fuel to go in there? The amount of personnel required quickly soars considerably. That would be some pit stop to watch!

Regarding fuel, the car was going to consume that with a kerosene-burning gas turbine engine of all things. I can’t say I’m terribly well up on this mode of propulsion, and apparently we would lose the usual appealing noisy roar from the exhausts, but the danger of fire would be reduced massively, which can never be sneered at. The exhaust in the illustration somewhat resembles the jet engine outlet on a Harrier Jump Jet! I imagine it can’t achieve vertical take off and landing though. But with a little work, you never know!

No wings are evident on the car apart from a snow-plough styled front, and it doesn’t appear to have the ‘ground-effect’ underbody and rear that was around in the day, so one is left wondering about how downforce would be achieved? In fact, the rear end of the car does look somewhat ‘boxy’ and a bit forgotten about at the drawing board stage!

The braking system was another intriguing element to the design. Instead of a conventional pedal that you put your foot on, the idea with the Lion was to push the steering wheel forward, almost like a pilot’s joystick in effect. This could have disastrous results as the weight of the driver under braking would surely add to the pushing on the steering wheel. At the end of the day, is it any better to go down that sort of engineering route, than just using the tried and tested simple method of pressing a foot down on a pedal?!

To my knowledge, no Lion car was ever built, tested or raced, which is a shame really as it looks incredible on paper! I wonder, if Frank Williams and Patrick Head had read about the Lion car, as they had started testing a six-wheeler around the same time which had proved to be very quick! I think they cracked it, and found real speed with their design, only to be told before the 1982 season that only four-wheelers were allowed! Drat and double drat!

A journalist of the time wrote ‘if this brilliant design, or something like it, ever reaches the circuits, it will cause a wave of excitement and interest.’ Indeed, I agree.


Picture Credit: Unknown, though a tiny signature can be seen! Sourced from Autosport.

  1. This is nothing new. 12-string guitar headstocks are renowned throughout the musical instrument racing world for their superior grip.

  2. I think someone’s found that drawing somewhere and just guessed at what it could be. Looks like one of those wooden free-wheel kits to me.

    Incidently the Williams 6 wheeler was quick because the extra pair of wheels were at the back and worked like a mechanical traction control.

  3. Riccardo Monza says:

    Dave H, the picture is from a genuine 1980 Autosport article by John Bolster, that I have. It’s no wind-up. Another motoring journalist/author Doug Nye also wrote about the amazing Lion car prior to that. By the way, I agree, it does look like one of those wooden free-wheel kits!

    AndrĂ© Lucas, I’m intrigued by the ‘musical instrument racing world!’ -Very funny!

  4. Adam Milleneuve says:

    A tip to all Badger readers – never question Riccardo Monza’s knowledge – he’s our resident (and self proclaimed) F1 anorak/encylcopaedic!

  5. With a name like that who would question him?….. ok i will! just a small thing. Those seem to be wings where i am assuming the kerosene-burning gas turbine exhaust would exit. Looks possibly like a small wing above the drivers head to.

  6. Riccardo Monza says:

    Hello TheBrav3, I’m not so much of an engineer but I’d guess they are more like fins in the exhaust to guide the gasses in a certain direction. There’s probably no aerodynamic thought put into the fins, judging by the chopped off rear end! Of course the car was just an idea, and drawn by an artist who perhaps wasn’t instructed (or didn’t think) to make the rear look more tapered somehow! In my opinion, the bit above the driver’s head looks like a wide flat rollbar rather than a wing designed for downforce.

    It was a very experimental time in F1 with more open rules, so designers came up with all sorts of ideas. The flatish rear on the Lion car reminds me a little of the original Brabham BT48 from 1979
    or the Lotus 80 from the same year.
    Both of those cars look great to me! They were ground effect cars with very curved undersides generating downforce, so they often ran without conventional front and rear wings.

    By the way, feel free to question what’s published on the site. Occasionally, Adam and the others like to promote a bit of a mastermind-like image which is a bit tongue-in-cheek! Really, I’m pretty much old enough to be their Dad and so have experienced more stuff!

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