The Scarbo Performance SVF1: Experience the Golden Age of Formula One
Modern Formula One often feels like a computer-generated exercise. Over fifty years of racing, a fairly simple combination of chassis, wheels, body, engine and gearbox has morphed into carbon fiber spaceships with aerodynamic devices sprouting in all directions to manage the wind.
Engineers simulate what the car ought to be able to do before arriving at the race track. Cars are infused with complicated electronics, drawn on computers, and refined through wind tunnel testing. Impenetrable regulations construct tight boxes within which the race car is permitted to exist.
The driver manages the car’s “optimum operating window” rather than wrestling it through the corners calling upon reservoirs of their own skill and bravery. In a prior age of Formula One, things were different – simpler, but arguably more visceral.
Speed Journal principal Jeff Francis recently found himself at Buttonwillow at the helm of a machine that seeks to pay homage to the best of the 1960s era of Formula One but with modern touches sympathetically incorporated.
The machine was a SVF1 – the brainchild of Joe Scarbo of Scarbo Performance. While the SVF1 visually evokes a 1967 Ferrari 312, the “SV” stands for “Scarbo Vintage” rather than “Sebastian Vettel.”
Approaching the SVF1, the adrenaline starts to pump. Feelings range from excitement at driving this magnificent machine to trepidation regarding its power. In 1967, drivers became heroes partially because they knew the peril and faced it. However, the lure of the svelte shape, the sound of the engine, and the opportunity to fully involve the driver combines to form a compelling experience. They offer a way to experience the thrill and sensations of vintage open wheel formula racing but with modern touches.
As a single seat, open-wheel formula car, the SVF1 is specifically designed to engage the driver in the experience. The V-8 engine howls just inches behind the head and rumbles through the chassis. The driver can see the suspension flex as the chassis absorbs the bumps and kisses the curbs.
Unlike a finicky and temperamental vintage race car that might be suffering of age and wiring gremlins, the engine quickly comes to life with a stab at the starter button with no coaxing.
A slight blip of the throttle calls all cylinders to life and makes them ready to run. The clutch is forgiving and getting underway is little different than driving a modern performance car with eight cylinders producing the power.
Shifting actually requires the driver to move a hand to push a lever and a foot to press a clutch. The five-speed gearbox shifts with precision and the foot petals handily accommodate a heel-toe down shift. There is some weight to the steering, but it feels just right – especially at speed.
The car is lively and confident and the SVF1 feels like it belongs on a track. The years of Scarbo experience comes through in the suspension and the nimble handling. Weighing only 1300 pounds, the powerful engine makes for a quick ride. With access to over 400 horsepower (and Scarbo offers options with more), the modern electronics provide traction control and means by which to limit the power depending on the need and the experience of the driver. The power to weight ratio demands respect and attention.
The experience isn’t purely about lap times. It is about being exposed to the wind, feeling the topography of the track through the wheel and seat, hearing the big V-8 howl behind your ear and feel its vibrations through your chest. It is about the violent acceleration that throws you back into the seat and challenges your ability to sweep through the turns. It is about the same visceral feelings that made heroes out of the drivers of the era, made icons out of the cars of the era, and made “Grand Prix” the benchmark for open-wheel racing movies.
The movie “Grand Prix” took fans inside and alongside engineering marvels as Formula One was undergoing a transformation. Sitting in a movie theater watching a drama set in the 1966 Formula One season, your admission ticket featured soundtracks from 8 and 12 cylinder engines.
“Grand Prix” followed drivers as they strained to steer their missiles through the narrow streets of Monaco with close-ups from the driver’s view, looking back at the driver, pavement-level views of the asphalt flying beneath the car, and driver’s-eye level views between cars showing how close they ran together and to the curbs and barriers. Arial views showed the car snaking through concrete canyons. “Grand Prix” not only immortalized an iconic period, but it gave a voice to all of the small aspects that combined to make the magic.
What if there was a way to grab a piece of that magic? Few cars from that era survive and those that do are often hidden in museums and would carry a price tag made of unobtanium. The solution comes courtesy of Joe Scarbo and his team at Scarbo Performance and their SVF1.
The goal of the SVF1 is a track day delight that recalls the best of the original vintage look but with use of modern materials and construction methods. Why a 1967 design? The answer is simply due to the fact that anything after involved more visible aerodynamic wings and more complicated bodywork.
In addition to the march of progress over the past 50 years, Scarbo and his team have years of racing experience – design, fabrication, engineering, rapid prototyping and more. What’s more, Scarbo recalls having a poster of the 312 on his wall as an 8-year-old and always dreamed about the car and the era of racing, so he is the perfect ambassador to create a sympathetic but new-and-improved version.
Visually, the SVF1 is striking. Particularly when presented in racing red, the long and narrow body is slender and slick draped over the steel frame. The wide slick tires are mounted on custom-forged gold wheels with Wildwood disc brakes and gleaming modern steel suspension components bare to the wind. The engine sits upright with eight intake stacks pointing to the sky and a marvelous exhaust that takes eight pipes, snakes them around and behind the engine, and joins them in a single exit tube at the rear. Designed all internally, the treatment gives the V-8 a unique sound all its own.
Mixes of materials and features permit the buyer some degree of customization depending on their preferences and budget. For example, bodywork options range from fiberglass to carbon to aluminum and power comes via a 6.2 liter V-8 with different flavors producing 430hp, 480hp and 525hp via a General Motors LS small-block engine.
The SVF1 comes in three packages each available as a rolling chassis or a full turnkey version. A basic rolling chassis will require $79,500 and a check or wire for $112,800 will let you take a turnkey model straight to the track along with 430hp. A top-level version runs $117,500 for the rolling chassis and $172,400 for the full turnkey version with a 525hp engine. The mid-level option roughly splits the difference.
Scarbo has taken care to honor the original, but build a package that is approachable and serviceable. Critically, the buyer gets a car with a timeless shape that has been built to balance performance, value, and maintenance. Without the need to conform to a specific set of racing regulations or optimize performance for competition, the SVF1 package is a practical exotic if such a thing exists.
This is where the experience of Scarbo Performance pays off for the customer who will spend more time navigating corners than turning wrenches to tame a temperamental vintage race car. If you need an illustration, the V-8 engine is fuel injected and happy with 91 octane gasoline available from any gas station. The setup saves a customer the pain of trying to adjust carburetors or find expensive racing fuel.
As you might have guessed, the Speed Journal was impressed with the SVF1.
For less money than many Porsches, Ferraris or Lamborghinis, the SVF1 is a rolling sculpture that you can drive with a million dollar look and proudly display in your living room. It is a vintage race car that will be unique, fast, tactile, and visceral, but without the mechanical drama of a cranky, cantankerous and finicky vintage car.
If you’re looking for a window back to an experience where you can see the suspension moving, be encouraged by the V-8 only inches behind your head, and drive the car with your hands and feet rather than negotiate with a computer, the SVF1 might be for you.
All of that adds up to a platform that provides pure passion. Even if you’re not in the market, take comfort in the fact that such a beast exists and there are people whose heart pumps to a little faster rhythm.
The Speed Journal would like to thank Joe Scarbo and his team for providing the opportunity to test and enjoy such an amazing machine. Please follow this link for further information on Scarbo Performance and the SVF1.