Estonia 21 1989

Nowadays, it’s fashionable to discuss what was and wasn’t in the once-great USSR. Some recall the sausage and its composition, others remember the water for 3 kopecks and labor distribution, and yet others think of “Kuzka’s mother” and translation difficulties. But today, as true petrolheads, we’ll remember whether there were open-wheel ring bolides back then.

In 1980, an engineer from the Tallinn Experimental Auto Repair Plant (TEARP) named Raul Saran began designing a formula – that is, an open-wheel – bolide. By the end of that year, the plant started assembling the first examples of the new sports equipment, named “Estonia 21”. Raul was inspired by the Lotus Formula-1 team’s bolides of that era, reportedly having access to their documentation. The resemblance is visible to the naked eye, but talking about copying is pointless – the level of technology and Formula-1 car regulations were almost unattainable for reproduction without access to the team’s technology. However, this does not mean that the Estonian bolide was significantly worse.

The motor, as befits a formula, was installed behind the pilot, longitudinally to the body. True, the power unit used was not the most outstanding – a 1.3-liter VAZ 21011 engine, boosted to 85 hp. Using an existing aggregate increased repairability and allowed the formulas to be serviced outside TEARP. The bolides with such an engine participated in the “Formula East.” The story with the gearbox was a little more complicated since using a unit from a Lada was not possible for layout reasons. But the casing from a car from another part of the country – Ukraine – came in handy. There already existed a serial rear-engine car – the very Zaporozhets. From this unit, they removed the gears unsuitable for motorsport, developed new ones, and got an excellent gearbox with the ability to change the main pair without removing the box.

The 70s in Formula-1 were marked by perhaps the most breakthrough experiments in aerodynamics. Engineers began actively working with the downforce of cars, leading to the use of the so-called ground effect. Its principle is simple: create an area of low pressure between the bottom of the car and the track surface. The bolide starts to literally suction to the road surface, providing additional downforce, leading to increased cornering speed. To solve this, Brabham even experimented with a fan sucking air from under the body, but the most common solution was using the car’s floor of a certain shape.

The domestic chassis received a thought-out aerodynamic package and ground effect. The stiffness of the shock absorbers could be adjusted from the cabin – that is, the pilot was not just driving on the track but could also influence the car’s settings directly during the race. Disc brakes were also installed at the rear. Of course, the main feature was the spatial tubular frame with attached fiberglass forms. For engine cooling, two radiators were used on the side of the car. Moreover, just making the radiator cooling was not enough – the vents also provide additional downforce.

The level of engineering and thoughtfulness corresponded to the realities of those years. The resulting bolide became, with the replacement of the gearbox and motor, suitable for the “Formula-3” championship – the junior “Formula-1”, which was undoubtedly a success for Estonian engineers. Some chassis were even sold to capitalist countries, where they were highly valued. The response to Chamberlain was glorious – only, unfortunately, it practically stopped developing later.

In 1983, the already successful bolide was further developed, lightening the chassis and adding the option of installing a 2106 engine, boosted to 120 hp. The weight reduction was achieved largely thanks to the use of light metal alloys, but such a version did not go into “series” production due to excessive cost, so most bolides weigh 460 kg. The lightest and most advanced cars were given to the pilots of the national team. The new formula received the letter “m” in its index – “Estonia 21M”. A little later, “Estonia 21.10” appeared. One of the main features was moving the rear brakes from the drives to the wheel hub.

Naturally, for formula-class cars, it was impossible to use the existing Soviet “casting,” just as it was inappropriate to use welded wheels, so unique discs of enormous width began to appear specifically for them. No joke, now, as then, the diameter of the disc is limited to 13″, and the wheel width – 11.5″! The formula had to be fitted with special “slick” type rubber – a sports tire without a tread – which began to be produced specifically for new cars.

With the advent of perestroika, the production of the 21st was stopped, although the existing cars continued active participation in various cups of the former socialist countries until the end of the 90s. Only in 2001 did an active successor appear, pulling the blanket over itself – “Formula Rus,” but that’s a completely different story. A total of 295 Estonia 21 and derivatives were produced at TEARP – the most mass-produced formula bolides.

Now the somewhat stagnant bolides have had the opportunity to start in the Moscow Classic Grand Prix – a series of historic cars, which we have already touched upon in the story about the 2103. At the same time, the formulas run exclusively mass start, which brings us as close as possible to the bygone days of former glory. Competitions gather pilots not only from Russia but also from the nearest republics, where the mastodons of the past remain. In addition, the “Estonias” are frequent guests at various historical runs throughout Europe.

The bolide presented in the photos has the symbolic coloring of “Estonia’s” in some way ancestor – Lotus 87. The legendary Lotus’s livery is so unique that confusing it with something that is not a copy of the original is almost impossible. Nigel Mansell once competed in such a black-and-gold bolide, a pilot who easily makes it into the top-10 drivers of the “queen of motorsport.” By the way, he came to Moscow from Germany, and his owner deals with servicing sports equipment and tuning “Ladas”! That’s internationalism for you!

The Soviet motorsport school prepared pilots for various competitions, including, as we see, open-wheel races. If circumstances had turned out a little differently – who knows, perhaps the first Russian pilot in Formula 1 would have been a citizen of the USSR? Thanks to the people whose efforts these bolides continue to start, and we have the opportunity to see motorsport history in all its glory!