With almost 20 years of history, the University of Waterloo Formula SAE Team is Canada's longest continuous running FSAE team.  Here is a look back of how it all began in May 1986, what the first car was like, and how the team did at the 1987 FSAE Competition. 


The Team members




The Sponsors


The Car




Power train

Steering and Brakes

Body Work

The Numbering

The Competition


The Awards


1987 UW FSAE Logo

The 1987 Team Logo



The 1987 UW FSAE Team


The Team members

Left to right -  Cathy Wilton, Al Ashton (kneeling, joined in the second year), Chris Clements, Matt Crossley (in car), and Evan Jones.  The Team also had help from Andrew Strilbling and Greg Lamb, although they did not travel to the event in Texas or participate for course credit.



In 1986, four mechanical engineering students approached Dr. Allan Hale about being their supervisor for their fourth year project – to design, build and race the first ever Waterloo entry in the Formula SAE competition.  Dr. Hale agreed and the project began with a trip to the 1986 FSAE Competition held in Michigan.  During that trip the team saw a lot of pitfalls that they were determined to avoid - cars being tested for the first time right at the competition, poor preparation on various aspects of the judging scheme and some design ideas that were suspect.


Four areas of activity were highlighted by the team

  • getting sponsorship money

  • building the car well ahead of the competition to learn how to drive it

  • learning techniques needed to effectively drive a race car

  • concentrating on the presentation and documentation parts of the competition


The team also decided to choose the simpler route whenever possible – that’s why the car was made of mild steel and used a carburetor.


The Sponsors

  • Honda of Canada – provided a 500cc Interceptor engine at no cost

  • Yokahama Tires – provided racing slicks for the car

  • Schleuter Chev-Olds – painted the body Corvette yellow at no cost

  • Wolf Racing – built the exhaust system at cost

  • Bundy Canada

  • Raytheon Canada

  • Fiberglas Canada

  • Chevron

  • Waterloo Honda

  • University of Waterloo, Department of Mechanical Engineering – supplied some cash, most of the raw materials, and performed the final welding work at no cost


The Car

Concept drawing of 1987 car

1987 Car Concept Drawing



A Honda V4 500cc engine was chosen for its compact size and good power.  Honda Canada donated one engine.  A second engine was taken from a wrecked bike purchased from a local motorcycle shop.  This also yielded a wiring harness, cooling system and brake parts.  It was decided that a carburetor would be used to keeps things simple compared to trying to climb the steep learning curve related to fuel injection.  The carburetor was mounted on a unique intake track that allowed the fuel mixture to gradually expand on its way down to the engine.  The intake tract itself was laid up using Kevlar over a wax mockup.  Once heated, the wax evaporated and a very smooth intake system was left.  Matt Crossley borrowed a water-driven dynamometer from General Motors (he had work terms at GM) and this helped greatly in helping tune the engine to maximize the horsepower. 


Matt Crossley and an unidentified undergrad with the dynamoeter setup

Dynamometer Test Set-up



Although heavier than other materials, mild steel tubing was used throughout the chassis because it allowed easy fabrication at very low cost.  Steel is also easier to repair as the team discovered after bumping the front end into a parking lot curb.  Chris Clements did the bulk of the frame and suspension design and the car was probably the safest car at the competition.  The radiator was mounted on the left side of the car, beside the cockpit.  The added expense and complexity of having two radiators was not warranted.  The team did all of the spot welding and the UW Engineering Main Shop did all of the final welding of the frame.


Side view of 1987 chassis

Side View



Top view of 1987 chassis

Top View



The suspension was independent on all four corners.  The front suspension did not use conventional double A or wishbone design, but a unique system that used four linkage rods.  This was very easy to fabricate and allowed very fine tuning of the steering and cornering geometry.  The rear suspension had lower A arms, upper and leading linkages.  Used motorcycle shocks were mounted on all four corners.  The front wheels mounted on aluminum uprights and the rear used a similar aluminum uprights.


1987 bare chassis ready for first drive

Bare Chassis - Ready for First Test Drive


Power Train

The engine power used a motorcycle chain to drive a unique differential setup.  A Morris Mini differential (found at an auto junk yard) was mounted inside a specially designed housing.  This housing was rotated by the chain from the engine.  The power was then fed through a Morris Mini pair of CV joints to the rear wheels.


1987 Rear Suspension and Drive Train

Rear Suspension and Drive train


Steering and Brakes

A Morris Mini rack and pinion steering unit was used for turning the front wheels.  The steering shaft was set up to allow the steering wheel to be adjusted forward and backwards.  This was to accommodate the different sizes of the team members. (Cathy was about 5’7” and Al was about 6’ 3”)  The rear brake disc was mounted to the differential housing and the caliper mounted on the rear frame.


Body Work

The body work was fabricated using a very unusual technique.  First, blue extruded polystyrene insulation (Styrofoam Blue™) panels were placed on the frame and around the radiator.  Saws and files were used to shape the body to the desired contours, including an NACA scoop in front of the driver.  Fiberglass cloth was then laid up on top of the foam, followed by some minor spot puttying. 


The Numbering

Since this was the first year for Waterloo to compete in the event, the team was left to choose whatever number it wanted for the car.  ME462 was the course number for the fourth year project and so 462 as chosen as the number for the car.


Test Driving the F87 car

Test Driving the Car


The Competition

The 1987 FSAE Competition was held at the University of Texas at Arlington and was spread out over three days.


May 28, 1987 – First Day, Static events

Inspections of the car and review of the documentation, the team placed 5th overall.


May 29, 1987 – Second Day

The first event was the acceleration event and it was a DISASTER!  The team couldn't seem to get the car off the line without stalling.  After checking the car, a broken spring in the carb secondary was found and so too were a rock in the primary jet and dirt in the float bowl.  Fixing these things still does not get the acceleration back.  The team earned 0 points for this event because it did not beat the maximum allowed time.  Later that day the team realized the mistake - Canadian winter gasoline was used for tuning the car before coming to Texas!  The team subsequently purchased gas in Texas to run in the dynamic events.  This Texas gas had a lower evaporation rate because of the higher temperatures and this lead to the acceleration problems.  The team re-jetted the carburetor as best as it could and managed acceptable scores in the fuel economy (3rd place) and maneuverability (6th place).


May 30, 1987 – Third Day

The team stood at 5th place overall despite its dismal result in the acceleration.  During warm ups for the endurance event, the beautiful nose cone came sliding off the front of the car.  Out comes the engineers secret weapon – duct tape – and the car was back in business.  The car and the group of of drivers performed beautifully.  The team was 1 of only 3 teams that complete both heats without any mechanical problems.  This confirmed the belief that keeping things simple and making sure that lots of car testing before the competition would be beneficial.  The Team placed 3rd in the Endurance Event.


The Awards

The team received the following awards:

  • Special mention for innovative use of composite materials - the Kevlar intake manifold had a lot of positive comments.

  • Winner of Team Sportsmanship - because the team members were not frantically fixing things most of the time, they spent a lot of time talking to the other teams and providing tools and food where needed.

  • Best and Most Complete Costing Report - this reinforced the team's original emphasis on the static aspects of the competition.


The team placed 4th overall in the 1987 competition.  This was a remarkable achievement for an first-time entry, especially so when you consider that it has yet to be beaten by any Canadian team since then!  1987 was also the year when the annual award-winning tradition of the University Waterloo Formula SAE Team began.


 Weighing the F87 chassis

Weighing the chassis


1987 Car on Display

The car on display


Text and pictures courtesy of Evan Jones, a member of the 1987 Team. 

Edited by Peter Yang and Will Chan