I’ve long been obsessed with the idea of cab-forward or cab-over designs. Essentially, van-like designs where the driver sits above or even in front of the front axle. I’ve even imagined cab-over supercars. What I didn’t know what that my fever dreams were once realized, long ago, by a Romanian in Brazil. Yes, there was a cab-forward racecar, and it was called the Star Hunter.
The story of the cab-forward racecar starts with Bica Votnamis, a Romanian who immigrated to Brazil as a child in 1954. Votnamis started a racing career in 1964, beginning with an 1100cc Renault, and then onto Renault Gordinis and a Simca Chambord V8.
He entered a lot of races, and eventually ended up with a Corvette V8-powered Maserati. After a series of mechanical issues with his car in 1965, a move to an Oldsmobile-based car in 1966 and 1967 that also ended up with technical issues, by 1968 Bica was ready to try something new. Really new.
Inspired by seeing a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet fighter plane, Bica decided that his new racecar would have a roughly similar sort of advanced design. It would also have a name inspired by the fighter: Star Hunter.
Using a new Corvette engine bought in the U.S. as the powerplant, Votnamis and his small team began to build a tube-frame chassis. Other American-sourced components like a limited-slip differential, brakes, and suspension components were used as well. Some sources suggest the gearbox was from a Jaguar.
Initially, the car was going to be a pretty conventional front-engined two-seater. That wouldn’t last, as William Decanini, son of the owner of the workshop Bini used, relates (machine translated, if you’ll bear with me):
[He] then hired two of my father’s workshop mechanics and began assembling the car. Started from scratch with initially sought to build a sports-prototype two - seater, front engine, with tubular frame and aluminum body. He hired welders and left for assembly. All rode well until the moment the Bica decided to change the design. Instead of a car with front engine, he decided to do it with central engine. Measures here, measures there, and it was decided that the cockpit would be mounted on the shaft of the front wheels.
Puta madness, Bica bought a van to get used to fly with that fantastic position, and believe me, the car’s steering box was indeed, a box van, with the cut bar is mounted vertically in the cockpit and pedals obviously separated by the column - that is, accelerator and brake on the right side of the clutch column and the left side.
So, well into the build process, not only does Bica decide the car should be mid-engined, but also that the cockpit should be in front of the front axle. And, even better, he bought a cab-over van to get used to driving like that! This may be the only time in history a van was used to get a racing driver prepared for driving their racecar.
The body of the Star Hunter looked more like one of the ‘kinky’ hot rods that George Barris or Dean Jeffries was building in the ‘60s, with the exception that this car was actually meant to race, not park and look cool as people ogled it.
The Star Hunter had a short, tapered nose like a bird’s beak, gullwing doors/windows, and proportions that make your brain hurt to look at. It was nothing short of revolutionary.
Unfortunately, revolutionary is often the sort of adjective used to describe things that don’t go a little too far, which was the fate of the Star Hunter. Bica wanted to run the car in the Brazilian Mille Miglia, but race officials deemed the car too unsafe and refused to qualify it.
Angry but undaunted, Bica abandoned the cab-forward race car idea and soon started on a more conventional mid-engined car. After that Bica seems to have continued his racing career, eventually opening his own racing machine shop.
One source does suggest that Bica went to Israel to fight in the Six Day War, but it’s just one anomalous reference, so I’m not exactly sure what to make of it.
What I do know is that Bica Votnamis did build a forward-control racing car, and for that I’m thankful, even if it never really got a chance to run. I just feel the world is a slightly better place simply because it once existed.
Thanks for making me aware of this, Eduardo!