One of the household names in British post-War motor racing is Costin. The two brothers Frank and Mike Costin have had a lasting impact on the design of race cars and engines. Frank worked for Lotus for a long time and was responsible for the slippery shapes of some of Lotus' finest sports cars. After his Lotus years he formed Marcos and leant part of his name to it, just like Mike did when he started Cosworth, one of the sport's best known engine builders.
After his stint at Marcos, Frank Costin teamed up with Roger Nathan in 1965 to construct a new prototype racer. In the early 1960s Nathan had made a name for himself racing Lotus Elites very successfully. He then started a tuning company for Hillman Imps and his main input in the project would be the engine for the new sportscar. Costin was to design the chassis and body.
Although the end-result looked little like anything he had designed before, Costin did incorporate many of the same ingredients found on his Marcos design. Most notable was his use of plywood for the centre section of the chassis. On both ends a tubular subframe was mounted to support the suspension and mid-mounted engine. One of the main reasons for the extensive use of wood was that it offered a strong, lightweight construction at the fraction of the cost of a similar aluminium chassis.
Nathan supplied a highly tuned version of the 1 litre Imp engine. Many of the internal parts were strengthened and two twin-choke Weber Carburetors fitted to finish off the job. The endresult was quite impressive, with an output of 97 bhp the engine produced almost 100 bhp per litre. The small engine and lightweight chassis meant that the Costin-Nathan Imp weighed in at less than 400 kg, giving the car a power to weight ratio of almost 250 bhp per ton.
At its first appearance in 1966 at Brands Hatch a very low spyder body was fitted. Despite being brand new the Costin-Nathan was not plagued by the teething problems most new cars have to face in their first few outings. It was raced sixth times in 1966 by Nathan, which resulted in five class victories. To be able to take the car to Le Mans in 1967 a new coupe body was constructed and the Costin-Nathan GT was born.
Despite the big successes Nathan had with the Costin-Nathan in the UK, the French track with its long straights was not quite suited to the nimble racer. Before he dropped out with failing electronics in the fourth hour, the Costin-Nathan was running in a solid last spot. Put down by this poor result and the failure to homologate the car for the Group 4 class, Costin pulled out of the project, effectively killing the development.
Nathan continued running the now dubbed Nathan GTs or Astras with a lot of success in the UK up until 1968. Before Costin pulled out 6 open and 6 closed Costin-Nathans were built, Nathan built another 18 GTs and Astras. Some privateers fitted a less high sprung 2-litre engine in the Costin-Nathan chassis in the hopes of making it more competitive. The pictured example is one of those. It is seen here back at Le Mans for the first Le Mans Classic, 35 years after the Costin-Nathan's first appearance.
Despite its very short career, the Costin-Nathan proved to be a very capable racer, but it failed to impress potential clients and left the scene almost as quickly as it burst onto it. The remaining examples still showcase Costin's unique talent for designing lightweight and very aerodynamic racers.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated before 12 / 01 / 2004
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