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  Huron 4A Cosworth DAF Variomatic      

  Article Image gallery (13) Specifications  
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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced from:1971 - 1972
Numbers built:1 (3 Huron 4As)
Introduced at:1972 Brussels Auto Salon
Designed by:Jo Marquart for Huron
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:June 30, 2011
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Click here to download printer friendly versionDutch manufacturer DAF began fielding entries in rallies and trials in the early 1960s to show that the revolutionary 'Variomatic' gearbox was capable of much more spirited drives than the daily commute. These efforts were remarkably successful and by the end of the 1960s the typical continuously variable transmission (CVT) also appeared on the tail of a variety of single seaters.

DAF's most ambitious project yet came about when Belgian racer Jean-Louis Haxhe asked the Dutch company to prepare a purpose-built sports racer to challenge for the 1972 national hillclimb championship. In the previous year he had campaigned a DAF 555 prototype, which combined the Variomatic gearbox with an all-wheel drive system. Funding for the 1972 campaign was provided in part by DAF's Dutch and Belgian subsidiaries, and Reynolds Tobacco.

In addition to sponsorship money, Reynolds also supplied two complete racing cars that were repossessed from Huron after the small Canadian owned, London-based manufacturer folded halfway through the 1971 season. Liveried in 'Camel' colours these two '4A' had debuted a few months earlier during the BOAC 1000 at Brands Hatch. Sadly the money troubles prevented the Cosworth-engined machines from competing in any other international events.

Responsible for the design of the Huron 4A was Swiss engineer Jo Marquart, who had previously worked at Lotus and McLaren. Like most sports racers of the day, it featured an aluminium monocoque with a rear subframe to support the engine and fully independent suspension. More unusual were the radiators mounted on either side of the driver and fed by very typical intakes mounted high in the nose, just in front of the driver.

When the two cars arrived at DAF they were fitted with a Cosworth FVC engine and a Hewland FT200 gearbox. It was decided to focus on preparing a single car first (chassis 02), leaving the second for later in the season. The complete drivetrain was removed from the car. It was replaced with a 210 bhp version of the Cosworth BDA four-cylinder engine and a Variomatic gearbox that had previously been used on a Formula 3 car.

Pioneered by DAF-founder Hub van Doorne, the Variomatic was the world's first CVT. It consisted of two pulleys with moveable conical drums connected by a belt. The engine vacuum in the inlet manifold continuously controlled the diameter of and the distance between the drums and accordingly the gear ratio. This allowed the engine to run at optimum revs at all times providing good traction characteristics. The F3 variant featured two sets of belts and pulleys to simulate the effect of a differential on a conventional gearbox.

The Variomatic Huron was completed in time to be officially revealed at the Brussels Auto Salon in January of 1972. Finished in a striking yellow, Haxhe debuted the car in March of 1972. The Belgian scored its first victory a week later at Codroz, setting a new course record in the process. He added several more wins to his tally on his way to winning the Belgian hillclimb title. This was the very first championship won by a DAF Variomatic equipped machine.

At the end of the highly successful season the program was abandoned. With the Variomatic removed, the championship winning machine and the other Huron were sold off. A few years later the company was acquired by Volvo and the DAF name gradually disappeared. What remained was the manufacturer's most famous invention; the CVT. Today it is offered on a wide variety of road cars and with Van Doorne's help Williams also tried CVT on one of their F1 cars in the early 1990s. A rule change prevented the CVT Williams from ever turning a wheel in anger.

From the early 1980s, former DAF President Martien van Doorne and his son Paul began to assemble a collection of the most important DAF vehicles. The Hurons proved to be among the more elusive machines and did not join the Van Doorne stable until 2009. Fitted with conventional drivetrains they had been in the ownership of historic racer Lee Chapman and restorer/preparer Simon Hadfield. Both men had campaigned the Hurons in historic events on both sides of the Atlantic.

Immediately after acquiring the ex-Haxhe Huron, Paul van Doorne asked Hadfield to restore it to its Variomatic configuration. Amazingly the original gearbox and the all important belts were tracked down. With the help of former DAF engineer Toon van Heumen and Erik Huijsmans, Hadfield completed the complicated task in little over a year.

After a successful test at Mallory Park in February of 2010, the unique Variomatic Huron was readied for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Here it was driven up the hill by Paul van Doorne, wearing a replica of Haxhe's yellow and white helmet. With the engine running at a constant speed, it was one of the most unusual sounding machines of the weekend.

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  Article Image gallery (13) Specifications