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While the original blueprint for modern-day single-seater racing in the United States (published in 1965) pegged the top formula, Formula ‘A,’ at three litres, there were few takers, hence the move, in 1968, to open it up to ‘stock block’ engines of up to five litres.
Having already produced a successful V8-engined sportscar - the Lola T70 – it didn’t take long for British manufacturer Lola to build a similar single-seater, the T140, to suit the new formula.
Though that car was beaten to the first two US Formula A titles by locally made Gurney-Eagle Mk 5s in the hands of Lou Sell (1968) and Tony Adamowicz (1969)
By this stage interest in the simple, practical and – above all - affordable, formula had spread world-wide, with South Africa running its first national ‘series’ for Formula A/5000 cars in 1968, and Great Britain and New Zealand (1969) and Australia (1970) following suit soon after.
New Zealand – and New Zealanders – played a key roll at home and abroad, Graham McRae winning his first Tasman title behind the wheel of a self-modified McLaren M10B Formula 5000 car in 1971 before winning his second and third in a car of his own design, the McRae GM1.
Inbetween McRae competed with success on both sides of the Atlantic, winning the L&M Championship in the United States outright in 1972 and being one of the front-runners in the Rothmans Championship series in the UK in 1972 and 1973.
The florescent pink STP-backed McRae GM1 was – and for many fans still is – the quintessential F5000 car, successfully bridging as it did the olde-world look and feel of a conventional front-radiator car like Lola’s original T140 with the race-winning dynamics of the new-generation side radiator models like Lola’s T300, T330 and T332 models.
Despite its mercurial rise around the world, however, Formula 5000 peaked early then entered into a long, slow decline. Ironically, considering the fact that the formula has had a real renaissance here, New Zealand was one of the first countries to replace the 5000s with the smaller, lighter and supposedly cheaper to run 1.6 litre Formula Atlantic/Pacifics machines for the 1977 season.
In doing so the local motorsport authorities cut their ties not only with the formula but also with their counterparts in Australia with the last Tasman Series going to Australian Warwick Brown, driving a Lola T332, in 1975.
America and the UK followed New Zealand’s lead at the end of 1976, leaving Australia the only country that persevered with the 5-litre stock block formula, not finally replacing it until 1982.