February's manufacturer of the month is English Formula Ford maker, Van Diemen.
Although based in the UK, Van Diemen International Ltd had a strong connection to Australia. The company was founded in 1973 by Ralph Firman and Ross Ambrose. Ambrose's Tasmanian origins were key to deciding the name of the newly founded car manufacturing company - Tasmania was formerly known as Van Diemen's Land.
The first (and only) car built by the duo was the FA73 (FA standing for Firman-Ambrose). A fine example of this car can be seen in the Historic field of Australian Formula Ford, driven by Andrew Barron. After the build of their first car, Ambrose left the reins of the company to Firman, who went on to build some of the most competitive cars in the history of our category.
In the mid-80s Van Diemen started dominating Australian Formula Ford and have since won 17 National Championships, including 11 consecutive titles between 1987 and 1997. Although not competing in the outright National Championship anymore after the introduction of the Duratec engine, Van Diemen racing cars keep being competitive in the FF1600 National Championship (for Kent-powered cars) and in the Historic Formula Ford scene.
In the late 80s and throughout the 90s, some of Van Diemen's finest cars inspired two newly founded Australian-based Formula Ford manufacturers for their first cars: Spectrum and Stealth. In fact, Stealth Formula Fords started off as a modified version of the Van Diemen RF94 chassis, with an upgraded suspension and body kit. Some of these Stealth-upgraded Van Diemen's were also exported to New Zealand, where they are still competitive at National level.
In 2001 Van Diemen released their most competitive and renowned "modern" chassis, the RF01. Although it won only two Australian Formula Ford titles, this model is still one of Van Diemen's most acclaimed chassis. This was also the base for the RF04s and RF05s that won three additional Australian Formula Ford titles.
In 2002 Van Diemen was purchased by Don Panoz and was slowly incorporated by US-based company Elan Motorsport Technologies. The last Van Diemen Formula Ford chassis was built in 2008, although their designs were used in USF2000 and Formula Mazda in the USA until the mid-2010s.
In 2008 Ralph Firman started another race car manufacturing company, Ralph Firman Racing, and is still making cars for various categories in the UK.