There wasn’t so much an actual ‘Design Brief’, more a sort of chat about really cool things to have on a car, and which were the best looking desert race cars ever. It was an unusual conversation from the start:
I need you to build a pick up, Dakar rally style with hints of Pre Runner, really massive tyres, and an aircraft wing on top.
A wing? For lift? Do you want it to fly?
No, it’s just to house the swarm of camera drones that need to be launched at the touch of a button.
Oh, right, that’s special. Anything else?
Yes, it needs an emergency survival moped fitting to the load bed. Oh and a winch, some jerry cans, on board tyre inflater, and lights, lots of lights.
An unconventional start to a design and build project certainly, but then again the customer was not exactly conventional either. Mr Tom Ford, known as Wookie for reasons lost in the mists of time (see early episodes of Fifth gear for clues), is and adventurer and ghetto engineer, apparently, with a genuine passion for great engineering and design. Usually he is fairly involved with his projects but in this case he was slightly inconvenienced by having to nip over to the USA to present Top Gear America.
Most sensible engineers would say that this would take a lot longer than the three months we actually had to build it. But I’ve never really got on well with sensible so I leapt at the chance.
Clearly I needed the best team I could find, luckily I’ve worked with Dave Bridges and Brad Harrison before, awesome people who do amazing work (ask Dave about the V12 Studebaker) and who will stop at nothing to get the job done, add to this the legendary Paul Cowland helping by wrangling a whole host of suppliers and that gave me the confidence to take it on.
Everything is bespoke on this build, either built from scratch or using modified parts; the SuperPro suspension parts were for a slightly different model and had to be adapted. The roll cage was a custom build from Performance & Protection but with extra modifications for camera arms and all the other clobber we put in there. They are superb creators of roll cages and every time I asked for some
extra bits of high tensile tube bent in certain complex ways they met the challenge with grace and speed.
Mitsubishi UK were absolutely heroic during the build, their enthusiasm matched by practical assistance whenever called upon.
One thing that struck me as soon as I started working on the truck was how well the Mitsubishi L200 is put together, this is a working vehicle and everything does it’s job properly, robust, reliable and efficient. This made the project that bit more enjoyable to build.
The way I approached this was to start by making it look right, arranging the features in the best way for the filming work it had to do, then engineer it to get round all the hideous compromises that this gave it.
One thing became apparent very early on, there was a lot of weight going on it, but worse than that the weight was high up and a lot of it was behind the rear axle line, this is a bit of a nightmare from an engineering point of view as it makes it very unstable. The roll centre was high too, meaning that as you turn into a corner it takes time for the car to react, and when it does finally react there is a tendency for it to wallow, unload the wheels on the inside of the corner and loose traction.
With all that weight hanging over the back I needed to think of a way of making it handle, so my mind turned to what other cars also this fundamental design fault, so obviously the Porsche 911 sprung to mind. That particular miss balanced relic corners by putting most of the side force through the rear tyres and just using the front tyres to point the car in the right direction, or a close approximation of it. Really, when you analyse how a 911 suspension works, it’s prey similar to steering a wheel barrow backwards…. OK, I can hear the hate building now from the Porc fanciers, might have gone to far with that analogy.
Anyway, using that solution on the L200 meant loading up the rear tyres a lot more than the front, changing the front geometry, changing the drop ling angles on the roll bar and running the rear tyres at 50psi with the fronts set to just 35 psi.
To get some stability at speed I wanted to increase the front caster angle significantly, and as luck would have it the L200 has adjustable offset bolts on the wishbones, but due to the extreme nature of this truck even on its maximum adjustment I couldn’t quite get enough angle without the wheel fouling the wheel arch a full bump. Last thing I wanted was the tyres ripping the arches of when Wookie lands a massive jump of a dune, so further modification followed.
I also needed a rear anti-roll bar (standard L200 doesn’t have or need one) and a stiffer front roll bar. Now, stiffening roll bars actually reduces traction on normal roads as it reduces the wheels ability to react to road irregularities interdependently. Stiffer springs and dampers would be needed, but crucially I needed to increase grip by making the tyre contact patch bigger. Well, any excuse for bigger tyres.
The standard truck has tyres with a diameter of 28 inches, I tried a few ideas out, moving the suspension up and down and the steering side to side though its full movement to see how much space there was for bigger tyres, we could just about
get away with 32 inch with a few adjustments, but that wasn’t really big enough for the look Tom wanted, with a bit more modification I could get 35 inch tyres in, this did involve cutting a chunk of bulkhead out, some foot well too, and welding it back together again in a slightly different shape. I also moved the washer bottle from the front left wheel arch to the rear right one and removed most of the ends of the plastic bumper.
The challenge with the wing was firstly where to put it. If it went on the roof it would look like one of those roof boxes that caravan owners seem to like, and I don’t think Wooky was going for the happy camper look. My preference was to hang it right out the back, like a Top Fuel drag racer, but then it would completely ruin the ability to get the emergency moped out in a hurry, which misses the point somewhat.
So that left the load bed area which is good for several reasons; firstly it looks good, secondly the air flow will be fairly turbulent in this area so the chances of the wing giving us unwanted lift are reduced. To be on the safe side I also angled the wing with its tail up a bit, so if anything it would give a small amount of downforce. Now, I expect you’re wondering why we didn’t just fit it upside down so it definitely gave downforce and not lift, well according to Wooky it’s something to do with aesthetics, meh. And anyway I didn’t want huge downforce there as the rear axle is already loaded heavily enough.
This wing has secrets. All is not as it seems. If you look at most aeroplanes you may notice the wings taper as they go out, so if we just cut a section of wing one side would be shorter than the other. A simple solution would be to cut the left and right wing ends off a scrap plane and join them together to make a symmetrical item, but that was not possible with this plane because one wing had been destroyed in the plane crash…
So the skills of Stuart (Stu-Art) were employed to take the wing section apart and let in new aluminium to even it up. Not an easy job, and one made more tricky by the need to fit a large compartment into the top of the wing so we could get the drones in.
After two week solid work, and a couple of all nighters, Stuart heroically set off from up north at the crack of dawn to bring the wing down to the Bedfordshire workshop. He even brought biscuits, top bloke.
Mounting the wing proved a tad tricky, the main spar which is the back bone of the wing runs diagonally, so the mountings had to be further forward on one side, this didn’t look great so we made wide mounting plates that allowed us to use the rear part on one side and the front part on the other.
I made a real effort to enhance the Mitsubishi styling, so the cut angles in the wings and around the front roll cage reflect the lines of the original front end, the mirror ally insert next to the headlights emphasises the width gain but also enhances the lines of the stock headlight, there’s a lot more detail in there than you might at first notice.
I knew I had to widen the wheel arches, but I didn’t want to just stick some plastic arch flares on, that would be far too easy. Thinking about Dakar rally cars and Pre Runner trucks I kept thinking about boxed out arches with big vents in. I also like the way the Mitsubishi design has angled lines joining with tight curves. Putting these two together was easier said than done, so one day I set the front right wing on the work bench and just cut it in two with a plasma cutter, using the existing Mitsubishi lines as a guide and reflecting the headlight cut out from the front. To be fair, at that stage it looked terrible, but I had a dream…
Fitting the remains of the rear edge of the wing back on the car, I then made some 40mm spacers to mount the rest of the wing. This created some interesting spaces and shapes, time to get creative.
Having mocked up a rough approximation of what I wanted on the wings I tasked Brad with making it work properly, creating a set of plastic and aluminium inserts and finishing it to a high standard. As luck would have it Brads dad runs a rapid prototyping firm which specialises in making tricky plastic thingys. Both of them worked long hours to create the extensions, they also added a bit of their own ides too which makes it a much more personal task.
Everything had to be designed so that it wouldn’t break if it was dropped from a great height or hit with rocks, which is pretty much what happened to it in the desert of Namibia
There are also a load of hidden modifications, I moved the intercooler up 5mm so I could make a better winch mount, it now has two batteries linked with a smart control system to run the winch and extra lights when the engine is idling or off. Lots of engineering detail that supports that stunning exterior.
This project has been an absolute hoot, I’ve loved it, sure there were a few sleepless nights but anything worth while does that. Here’s to the next mad project.
When you fit much bigger tyres the handling and steering is effected in many ways, the steering axis is inclined (king pin inclination) so the new wheels have a greater offset to compensate for the bigger tyres and keep the steering axis in the right place. They are 25mm further out than standard.
The lights, split charge, winch and drone flap are wired up with 360 meters of cable with over 70 connectors.
The second battery can be linked into the main battery at the press of a button to jump start itself.
The battery tray is from a 1989 Jaguar XJ12, it just so happens to fit the Mitsubishi rear wheel arch perfectly.
The on board air compressor can pump up all four tyres from flat on the charge from the auxiliary battery without being recharged.
The shop that sold the tractor exhaust flap also sells Unimogs and cat food.
Ground clearance increased (more than doubled) from 205 to 420mm
Approach angle improved from 30 to 42 degrees
Departure angle improved from 22 to 38 degrees
Ramp over angle improved from 24 to 28 degrees.
Tyres increased from 28” to 35” Reinforced off road tyres.
Track width extended 50 mm front and rear.
Full bespoke external roll cage, FIA race spec, main hoops use extra large 3” CDS high tensile steel tube.
Custom fabricated winch bumper with 9500lb pull high power winch with high tensile synthetic rope, full remote control.
High strength side steps / rock sliders made from 2” high tensile CDS steel tubing.
Modified wing of a Beagle Pup aeroplane mounted on custom aerofoil section tube frame, remote control flap releases camera drones from bespoke drone hangar.
Two ‘trawler arm’ camera mounts swing out from the sides for self filming using GoPro Hero cameras.
Two spare wheels on quick release rally style drop down cages, these incorporate rear view camera and auxiliary rear lights.
All terrain survival Motoped mounted in custom built integrated slide out ramp.
Two fuel cans colour matched to body paint.
14 main high intensity LED light units.
Six built in camera mounts
Two long range CB aerials
High lift jack and vehicle recovery system.
On board tyre inflater / air compressor.
Split charge system with additional heavy duty battery, automatic battery charge control.
Custom exhaust stack through load bed, high flow system.
Full race spec Cobra bucket seats with custom Mitsubishi logos.
High strength six point race harnesses. FIA race spec.
Special tool store for drone remote control, winch remote, compressed air line, survival tools etc.
Custom switch panel for lighting, drone hatch and battery charge control.
In the mountains of Japan drifting was invented, allegedly. There is a car culture like no other in the world, they have cars running over 1000bhp all over the place. And I am being paid to go there.
This all started because a TV production company in Manchester needed two mechanics who were media savy and up for a challenge. A quick call to an old mate Ranen, who I’ve worked with since we both started as graduate engineers in 1990 at Ford’s research plant in Essex, and we had a screen test sorted.
A week later the film crew arrived at my house and described a show where two engineers would do amazing conversions on supercars, sounded ace, then they asked if myself and Ranen could talk about a supercar for the screen test and if possible could we please find a suitable car….
Luckily the crew knew nothing about cars and my better half Diana has a glorious BMW840 in the drive, looks like a supercar to the TV crew so off we go, talking utter bollox and pointing at bits of car. We got the job and would find ourselves filming bits of the series all over the world.
Fast forward a few months and I’m on a plane heading for Tokyo, usually long haul flights are plagued by screaming children and loud mouthed tourists, but the characteristically reserved and polite Japanese on this flight were quite and respectful, a great introduction to the culture we were about to enter. The plane landed in the rain, Japan is a series of island much like the UK and gets even more rain than we do, but as this was July the rain was warm. A bit too warm, leaving the air conditioned coolness of the terminal and walking into the 40C 100% humidity was like walking into a sauna, but a sauna with taxis in it. Taxis in Japan have automatic doors, electric motors powering the hinge mechanism, I like that.
Our first job was to film us arriving at the airport, we had planned to get changed at the airport into the clothes we would wear for the whole episode but the producer suddenly changed his mind and we had to film immediately with myself and Ranen wearing the comfy slob clothes we had worn for the long flight. At this point a Japanese film crew, nothing to do with us, suddenly rocked up from nowhere and started filming us. Apparently they have a series over there where they find random people at the airport and follow them during there trip to Japan, it’s quite popular but didn’t really fit into our plan, after a bizarre ten minuets of us filing them filing us filming me and Ranen, it all hit an overload of daft we and we invited them to bugger off. They bowed, and buggered off.
The crew had a minibus for the trip, and filming continued with me and Ranen in the Taxi going round the streets of Tokyo with the camera dude Steve hanging out the back of the minibus filming us, looked safe to me but worried the heck out of the taxi driver. His Toyota Crown taxi was amazingly clean, had vinyl seats and smelled of jelly beans.
With that in the ‘can’, what ever that means, we all bundled into the minibus for our trip to a rather special garage. There is a legendary custom car builder called Wataru Kato who runs a company called Liberty
Walk. We met him at his workshop where we helped put wide suspension, air springs and bolt on arch extensions on a Murcielago that was going to compete in the national Drift Championship, yes a drift Lamborghini. I was quite impressed with the body kit, unlike may cheap hairy fibre glass kits I’ve seen before this was a well manufactured injection moulded plastic part that fitted the contours of the Lambo perfectly, in fact everything in the workshop was perfect, except the vending machine that only let me have a small can of drink that tasted like kelp. As well as the custom builds they are very active in the drift world, but more of that later. The mechanics there speak no English but we managed to communicate in the universal language of Engineer, fantastic guys who work really hard to make the cars something else. As well as high end modern stuff including Ferraris, Porches and even more Lambos, he also had a few Japanese classics like an original Skyline from the ’70s. The workshop was a wonderland, a very hot and humid wonderland.
Having filmed us slowing progress on the Lambo we had a short trip across town to the showrooms where every car was utterly slammed on the deck with air suspension fully down, more Lambos, Ferraris, Porches and a lone Dodge Challenger. My attention was taken by a matt green Lamborghini painted to look like a Japanese Zero fighter plane from the second world war, Kato-san explains to me with huge pride that the Japanese had made the “best fighter of WWII, feared by the Americans” and he wanted to honour the memory of all that served their country. Interestingly there are a lot of old style Japanese flags about the place, clearly a man with great national pride. I had some interesting conversations with him.
As the day drew to a close it was time to say our goodbyes to Liberty Walk and board the minibus crammed with film kit, suitcases and crew, and head off to the hotel. It’s always interesting to see the little things that are different in other countries, a lot about Japan is familiar such as driving on the correct side of the road and queueing, but some things are very different. In the cities where a road has run out of capacity they sometimes simply build a second road above it, double decker dual carriage ways with fairly steep slip roads. Some of the commercial trucks and lorries are customised with oversized sun visors, aerials, door mirrors and chrome bumpers. In the UK if a lorry has a nice airbrush painting and some extra lights we think its a bit special, over there it would be laughably tame.
After booking into the hotel many miles from Tokyo I discover something else odd; the toilets. They are very clean, clean is a big thing in Japan, and to keep ‘things’ clean the toilets have a dashboard with controls for water jets that wash your arse. You can set the pressure and temperature of the jet, you can control the precise position with a joystick on the better models, you can control duration of flush, apply scent and control a warm air blast to dry your privates. Of course the instructions are all in Japanese and pressing the buttons at random can be quite a thrill.
Another early start and we are soon on the road, driving past huge swathes of Japanese knot weed which is taking over, wrapping rapidly round buildings, motorway supports, bridges and wires. Teams of weed fighters are out cutting it back with sophisticated high tech machinery and hard hats in case a heavy leaf falls on them.
Our next stop is Fuji Speedway, a legendary race track where James Hunt
won the F1 drivers championship in ’76 (one of the truly great races). It’s in the hills and the lush vegetation and tall trees give it a magical feel, like something from the Lord of the Rings. From the paddock area I can see mount Fuji in the distance, a giant traditional cone shaped extinct volcano towering above all around, despite the summer heat the top still has snow. Apparently mount Fuji also has it’s own WiFi, social media accounts and there is a café at the top. It takes a full day or two to climb, so I didn’t.
We had more important things to do at Fuji Speedway, we were filming the drift championships. Now, drifting is a serious business in Japan and
there are two drift championships in town, mention the wrong one and the pub goes quiet. We are here to see Robbie racing the Liberty Walk 370Z, it’s running just over 1000bhp with two massive turbos and a locked diff, all the excess weight has been stripped out and the quick release back bumper shows lots of battle scars. Judging for the event is done in just one part of the circuit where there is a natural amphitheatre in the steep hills, cars enter from a straight at over 100mph into a right hander, they pull the hydraulic handbrake to make the back step out then power slide the car through the corner, using the front brakes to tighten the turn and control the drift too. From the right hander its into a long left where the car has to slide as sideways as possible, then the final right and out of the judging zone. To make it more complicated there are posts at the edges of the corners that the cars have to get as close to as possible without destroying them,
known as clip points, it takes real skill to get close to each set in the right-left-right circuit at high speed sideways. Cars are marked on how sideways they get, speed, control and style. To get the speed they need grip, to get the slide they need power, it’s a lot more technical than it looks and talking to the guys who built it and set it up was utterly fascinating.
It was about this time that Ranen pointed out that mount Fuji had disappeared. Looking across the paddock in the direction of the giant mountain revealed that he was indeed correct, no mount Fuji. The humidity resulted in ever thickening haze that left the horizon a uniform white despite it being a very hot sunny day. Racing these cars in these condition must put a strain on the cooling systems, and the poor drivers in their three layer fireproof Nomex romper suits and insulated crash helmets. We were overheating just watching them, I now know why traditional Japanese artwork so often features someone holding a fan.
All too soon the track action was over and it was time to head to the hills of Fukushima prefecture, you know the place where the nuclear power station exploded, but we weren’t looking for mutated toads, no, we were looking for a school.
This particular school teaches drifting, in a section of the Ebisu circuit called Drift Land which makes it sound like a theme park, which is exactly what it turned out to be. Ebisu has no less than 7 full race circuits plus two skid pans and a zoo, with elephants and giraffes and the such, it’s a bit surreal.
We met up with Naoto Suenaga, an utterly mad yet highly skilled rift racer with Team Orange, who are notable due to the whole team having hair dyed orange. But not only is he a successful racer but he builds his own cars, there is a decent sized workshop right next to one of the circuits with a few cars in various states of build. It’s not like Silverstone, its more rural, there are scrap cars lying about the yard, bit of blown engine and trans in make shift skips, in short it’s perfect. The yard just up from the workshop must have had over a hundred scrap cars, some stripped of useful bits and some tatty but complete, there were piles of R32 and 33 Skylines, Nissan Sylvias, assorted Z cars, it was extraordinary.
It turns out that in Japan it is almost impossible to keep a car older than about 5 years, their MOT equivalent is quite reasonable but very few people work on their own cars and mechanics charge a high rate, so the test could cost nearly £1000, the first test is after 3 years then every 2 after that so cheaper cars become uneconomical to keep on the road. This results in lots of good cars being exported after 5 or 7 years, grey imports, and some very impressive piles of donor cars in the mountains such as the one I’m now looking at. Looking at and dribbling a little bit.
But I’m not here to dribble, no I’m here with Ranen to have lessons in drifting. We are presented with a pair of cosmetically challenged cars, closer inspection shows that despite this they are mechanically excellent, Ranen takes the Sylvia and I hop into the Skyline R32 GTS, it’s almost standard, stripped mildly, push button start, cut off switch and fly off handbrake the only obvious mods. Firing it up suggests non standard intake and exhaust may have been thrown into the mix. We each get a camera person in the passenger seat to film some initial footage, I look at Ranen and he looks at me, both knowing what the other is thinking, the film crew haven’t done much car stuff before so it seems rude not to show them how great the cars are. Both cars pull away in clouds of tyre smoke and significant sideways progress, the R32 slides in a superbly controllable manner, allowing an easy 1st to 2nd gear shift whilst still sliding. There seems to be a funny screaming noise from the left side, then I realise its the camera person. Job done.
For filming purposes we muck about on one of the skid pans, Suenaga-san jumps in and we begin a series of increasingly tricky tasks, starting with drifting round a traffic cone which inevitably ends with the cone being flattened several times. One thing is becoming clear, whilst it’s easy to pull away wheel spinning and going sideways, controlling this to keep the front of the car just a foot from a cone is a whole lot more difficult and these guys who drift for a living are genuinely skilled. I found it genuinely enlightening, and whilst I’m now very slightly better at drifting than I was, I now realize how utterly rubbish I am. As if to prove this my instructor asks me to stop so he can get out, apparently I’m the first student ever to make him feel car sick, quite an achievement.
After a break Ranen comes back and warns me about the toilets; “you’ll piss on your shoes in there mate”, which seems odd. Ranen hops in the car for his go and I feel the call of nature. The bogs are up a small hill, standing at the urinal I can see straight out the open window at an utterly stunning view, huge tree clad hills, layered into the mist, mesmerizing. I’m lost in the view but snap out of it when I hear one of the elephants trumpeting. Then realize my lack of concentration has had the inevitable effect on my shoes. The window is quite high up, myself and Ranen are over six foot tall, apparently the locals who are shorter don’t have the same problem here.
After filming we have a short journey through the winding mountain roads to the next hotel, this one is a traditional Japanese tourist job that gives “an authentic taste of traditional old Japanese”, blah blah blah. Everyone else seems quite looking forward to it, but the idea of sleeping on the floor just reminds me of being a student.
The hotel room has a bamboo mat carpet, a table and chair which both have no legs. There is a teapot with a side handle and paper sliding doors to the balcony. There is a remarkable sense of serenity though, and the view from the balcony is, again, stunning. The tea was nice too.
After a lovely breakfast of fish and eggs were off on the tour bus to a well known top secret location. Top Secret is the name of a company created by a drift hero known as Smokey Nagata, he got arrested on his last visit to the UK for drifting at nearly 200mph up the A1 for a well known car
magazine. His workshop is remarkable, it’s an old steel mill warehouse with a massive gantry crane, it’s also odd for having a massive sign outside saying ‘Top Secret’. Also outside is a normal sized domestic garage with exhaust extracts poking out under the door.
Inside the workshop we find Smokey, a really nice, quiet bloke who smiles constantly. He has a real passion for cars and has a few Japanese classics outside too, inside there are several cars in build, several are getting over 1000bhp tunes and the car Smokey is working is is heading for 2000bhp.
For this part of the filming we need Smokey to show us dyno tuning, and
this is where the small domestic garage comes in, because in there is a 4 wheel drive rolling road dyno. A real dream garage. There is a GTR strapped down and ready to go, we fire it up, get it up to temperature and do a base line power curve, I’m not sure what the health and safety laws are over there and quite frankly I don’t care as sitting at the small computer desk next to and engine chucking out over 900bhp is lovely. After a bit of tweaking on the ECU we got a touch more power and all the filming we needed, time to head of into the sunset, and back to Tokyo.
The last bit of filming needed was myself and Ranen hiring a kei-car, one of the very small cars that make perfect sense in a crowded city, but less sense for two six foot engineers with luggage, the idea was that it would make good telly, which is media speak for making us both look stupid in order to get a cheap laugh. This involved driving round back streets of Tokyo for half an hour with the tour bus in front and the Steve the camera bloke hanging out the back again. I’ve driven in many cities round the world, most of them offer an utterly miserable driving experience, the worst being Brussels, but Tokyo is different. Sure there is traffic, and lots of it, but it all flows and people are polite and thoughtful. It’s possibly the nicest city to drive in.
As we finally board the plane back to good old England I’m struck by what a brilliant country Japan is, particularly for car nuts like me, there is such a thriving car culture, awesome race tracks, amazing cars and great events. Japan, we salute you.
Ralph Hosier is a Chartered Engineer with over 25 years in the cutting edge of vehicle development and research. He has written several automotive books and many articles. He also teaches engineering at the UK forces motorsport charity Mission Motorsport.
For engineering enquiries, project advice or media requests please email on email@example.com and look at the company website www.rhel.co.uk for more details.
On 30th of May 2014 a little bit of history was made, seventy thousand people saw an automotive spectacle that may change the way we see and think about city centers.
At first glance it looked like just another great day out, hundreds of classic cars, bikes and even tractors filed the city center, but the live action events really caught the public attention with a short oval Stock Car circuit near the bus station and the ring road converted into a race track on the Sunday, that’s the bit I have the great honour of looking after. One memory that will stay with me for some time is driving the Jaguar XJR pace car at a good pace through the roundabout on junction 1 of the ring road with a genuine BTCC Rover SD1 looming large in my mirrors followed by a plethora of other superb racing machinery including thousand horse power Time Attack cars, British Cross Country Championship (BCCC) Bolwer Wildcat from Race 2 Recovery, even an LMP1!
However, this was no ordinary car show. This involved the people of Coventry, the people who built many of the cars on display, at some of the great companies that made Coventry their home; Jaguar, Humber, Standard, Triumph, Alvis, Siddeley to name just a few. There were memories and stories flowing out from all over the city. Quite deliberately the event was free to attend and be part of. Staffed by local volunteers the event is not for profit, instead it is part of a council endorsed initiative to promote the people of Coventry and the world class work they do. Motofest also runs community projects such as getting local school children to design a car that will be built in Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations, you will see this car running at next year’s show on the ring road circuit.
We are also working on an idea to deliver automotive training to the people in need of a helping hand. We also have projects to showcase the vast talent of engineering companies in the area, did you know that every F1 car has something made or treated in Coventry? There is a lot going on that deserves wider recognition, and Motofest will be part of the crowd shouting it out. Celebrating the glorious past is just one element, we also promote the present automotive industry, helping with recruitment and creating links. But just as importantly we look to the future, showing concept cars and joining with Coventry University’s design graduate show. A vital part of what we do is inspiring youngsters to join this fantastic industry, from designers to technicians, from factory workers to senior managers. Motofest inspires and is part of the community, it’s celebrating the past and building a future. The legacy of Motofest will be in the lives of the citizens who join in and, in a small way, the future we help to build. Next year will be bigger and better, with competitive motorsport on the city streets, we are the first city to announce street racing following the commitment by the government to change the legislation governing this activity.
We’ve had a long think about how to use the city streets for racing and for next year we are going to start gently with sprint racing, but I will have other race car demonstrations too including Group B rally cars running two at a time through the chicanes, classic LeMans cars, Super Bikes, Formula Ford and many more. We are in the council diary for the next five years and we’re going to grow this into one of the worlds top events. The council have been astonishingly receptive to these plans and we may yet see a Monaco style tunnel and a LeMans style bridge appear as permanent parts of the city.
I’ll be giving you updates as we move forward and hopefully some of you will get involved. Motofest is a charity, we are not part of the counsel and we are not on their pay roll, we are fully independent and anyone can join in. Motofest is all about community involvement so please help spread the word.
I love the whine of superchargers, from the characteristic howl of the Merlin V12 in an old warbird, to the scream of top fuel drag racer, blowers rock.
Clearly it was time I owned one, and in another dangerous moment of ebay browsing I came across a modestly priced Jaguar XJR, first of the V8 supercharged cars, 1997 vintage.
The car looked ideal, sensible mileage, good maintenance, but crucially cosmetically challenged which brings the price down nicely without effecting performance. Also the numberplate was probably worth as much as the car, so in theory I could sell the plate and make most of my money back…
Well, you’ve got to dream.
And in this case my dream was to buy a car cheap, strip out as much weight as I could without actually putting much effort in and then take it racing, or at least a track day or two.
So I did what any sensible and careful car buyer would do, I placed a bid without looking at the car and forgot about it. Oh, hang on, no, that’s the opposite of sensible isn’t it. Yes, often get those two mixed up; sensible / stupid.
The following day I received the email saying I’d got the car, so we had a little road trip to plan. Diana gave me a lift to Kent, just over 100 miles away from home, in her fabulous BMW 840. It was quite a fun road trip, the sun shone, the motoway food was edible, the exhaust roared.
The guy selling the XJR clearly enjoyed driving the car, judging by the tyre wear, which is as it should be. The car was a little tatty, a few dents, a bit of mould but seemed to be mechanically sound. Our five year old son thought it was lovely and spent a good ten minuets checking out how bouncy every seat was.
Documents were exchanged and off we set back home, but the very first thing to do was put some fuel in, the gauge was right at the bottom. The fuel station was a few miles away so I took it easy, it’s one of the exciting things about buying a second hand car; you don’t know how accurate the gauge is and whether you’re going to run out of fuel before you reach the petrol station, quite a fun game.
Soon the green glow of a fuel station arrived, I pulled in and pressed the button to release the fuel filler flap. Absolutely nothing happened. Yes, unbelievably the electronic flap release system had failed, imagine that, and old car with dodgy electrics, got to be a first…
Now there was quite a queue forming behind me at this busy fuel station, not a huge amount of patience present there at that time, which added nicely to the drama. I opened the boot and ripped the side trim out to expose the release solenoid, bent the bracket out the way and pulled the release mechanism by hand. Sadly no one in the queue seemed to appreciate this and kept scowling pointedly.
Anyway, with a full tank of motorway priced fuel we set off for home. On the slip road onto the motorway I gave it full throttle and the car responded with a very civilised yet substantial flow of thrust. I was quite pleased with this until I looked in the mirror and couldn’t see Diana’s 840, not because it was lagging behind, but because it was completely obscured by the thick smoke that had belched from the XJR exhaust. Hmm…
I knew the previous owner had used the car for short journeys, so there was probably some oil in the intake from condensing crank case vent gas, probably, so the smoke could be from residual oil, maybe, so it could be ok, perhaps, and might just need a good blast to clear it out, hopefully. Only one way to find out, more full throttle.
And sure enough, after a dozen high power blasts it did start to clear. Which was nice.
We made ‘good progress’ on the way home, the lead swapping from 840 to XJR several times, both cars are huge fun to drive but in very different ways. The 840 has a sports exhaust, it barks and growls, the ride is firm yet the steering has only modest feedback, it goes like stink and looks like a rocket ship. By contrast the Jag is near silent, the ride is exceptionally smooth but sharpens up when you throw it some curves due to the two stage dampers, it corners very well, more roll than the 8 but with more feedback in the steering, a gentle giant but the full throttle thrust is substantial and constant as the speed rises. And it has 90bhp more than the 8, but they have similar weights, something in the region of 1800kg.
The Jag’s interior is lovely, bright leather and dark wood, very comfortable and a pleasant place to be. The only down side is that it will all have to get ripped out as we enter phase two. It does seem a shame to throw all that loveliness away, but to be fair the seats are worn, the headlining held up with lots of tiny pins and the seat belts are mouldy. In fact there is a distinct whiff of mould all round the car and the carpets a slightly moist. Not encouraging.
Once home I gave it a bit more of an inspection, plugged the computer into it’s diagnostic socket and had a rummage about. Turns out the mileage isn’t genuine, this may be because it has had more than one replacement dash units due to the tendency for them to burn out. Not sure what the real mileage is, probably about 160k, not that this matters for this project.
Then, a few weeks later, I was asked to join the Coventry Motofest team as the Live Action Director, giving me the job of closing the ring road and the largest car park in the city and turning them both into race tracks for the event! This meant two things for the Jag, first I didn’t get to use it much as I was somewhat busy, secondly I decided to use the Jag as the Motofest Pace Car, which is basically a track day car with flashing lights on. Easy.
The Jag is left unused over Christmas, and on returning I find that the whole interior has sprouted a blanket of mould and fungus, the carpets are particularly lively and the seatbelts are now a multi coloured patchwork, I guess there must be a lot of nutrients in 17 years worth of executive belly sweat.
Eventually the sun came out and I set aside one weekend to do the initial strip out. First I set about the boot, obviously the trim had to go but I wasn’t expecting much weight there, but as it turns out there was over 15kg of fluff and rags in there. Then out came the tool kit and spare wheel. Now, the last owner had told me the car had a ‘matching spare wheel’ but seemed a little self conscious when he said it. The reason may have been that the wheel was utterly f##ked, the rim was badly damaged and in some parts it was missing completely, great chunks of aluminium alloy had been ripped off. The tyre had massive cuts in, right down to the cords which were exposed and rusting merrily. I have only ever seen wheels and tyres in this condition in a scrap yard. Which is where I took this one.
The strip out continued with some help from my 5 year old son who set about the CD changer with a socket set, good training. In total about 80kg came out of the boot that day.
Next it was the interior’s turn. This had to happen in a set order because the electric sun roof mechanism can only be removed when the front seats are out. And my lord those front seats are heavy, about 40kg each with all the electric motors and air bags etc. Once the front and rear seats were out and scattered on the drive way, Diana observed that they would look really good in the summer house that I hadn’t built yet.
Next the sunroof came out, which is also quite heavy. My initial thought was to use the sunroof outer panel to fill the gap in the roof, just running a bead of weld round it, but even the panel was heavy with strengthening beams in, so I abandoned that idea and riveted in a sheet of ally instead.
I wondered if it was worth taking the center console out, but the race seats would foul against it so out it came. Again I was surprised how heavy this piece of trim is, turns out it is made on a steel shell which seems a bit excessive, it’s not like the trim is structural.
Whilst I was on a roll I took out the radio (5kg) and some other bits and bobs which all added up. In total I took out about 250kg from the interior!
The seating posed an interesting challenge, I needed something supportive and tall for me, most race seats are too short in the back for me, but as this was going to be the Pace Car I needed a passenger seat that could accommodate a variety of body shapes. Corbeau stepped up to the challenge and supplied two ex-display seats. I bolted the passenger seat directly to the floor, fairly well back much as they do in real rally cars, I then bolted the drivers seat to the original jag seat frame to give it a little more height and make it adjustable.
I bought a 6 point race harness from Sabelt for me, somewhat overkill but it looks nice…
The passenger gets a four point supplied by the most excellent Matt Philips of Retro Warwick fame. The shoulder straps bolted onto the original seat belt mounting points on the rear bulkhead, but the lap belts needed a few holes drilling in the floor pan and some large spreader plates. All the seat and belt mounting was made a little more challenging by the fact that the floor under the seats is double skinned with an upper panel that slopes downward to the rear.
Now, because I have no money the plan was to leave the suspension and brakes standard, after all it already handles well and with the weight loss the brakes should be more than adequate. OK so it’s a fairly dodgy theory, but when you’re skint it makes sense. Of course this does mean that with the weight loss the car will be sitting pretty high on it’s springs, which would look silly, so I had a cunning plan. If you search the web for ‘Dakar Jaguar XJ’ you will see loads of rather fabulous pictures of an old Series 3 XJ hammering through the desert rally, quite inspiring. And of course it had raised suspension…
So all I needed to do was fit bigger tyres and I had an extremely unsuitable rally car! OK, so there’s a hell of a lot more to making a rally car than that, but this is just a bit of fun so I am quite happy to gloss over all those pesky details.
Although the car came to me with 18″ wheels, the choice of off road tyres is greater for the optional 16″ wheels, so I picked up a tidy set off ebay for next to nothing and set about acquiring a nice set of All Terrain tyres from our friends at Falken. I’d measured the wheel arch clearance and found that I could just about get away with 30″ diameter tyres if I made some subtle bodywork modifications with a big hammer. This compares to the standard tyres of 26” diameter, raising the car by a further 2” and filling the arches rather nicely.
It would still be a bit tight near the bulkhead, so just in case I also ordered a set of road tyres for the 18″ wheels, just an inch bigger than standard.
Then I hit an annoying problem, the original wheels wouldn’t come off! I tried encouraging them off with a big rubber hammer, with pry bars, soaking in WD40 for a week and even driving the car up and down a private road with the wheel nuts loose. It took a whole day to get the wheels off! All because who ever had fitted them hadn’t lubricated the mating faces, such a simple piece of maintenance, why do people skip it?
So, with one side on jacks I finally got to offer up the monster tyre to the front wheel arch, and sure enough it fouls on the front end of the sill quite hard, but luckily the sill extends quite a few inches in front of the bulkhead, meaning that the leading section adds nothing to the car’;s strength and is there merely to support the front wing. So I trimmed it back to the bulkhead, and in so doing successfully located the rust! The inner side of the sill was heavily corroded at the front end, additionally where the footwell met the sill there was a thin line of rust. Not ideal, but on the other hand it doesn’t make a huge difference to the vehicle’s strength. If the rust had been a bit further back, under the A pillar for instance, then it would be a different story, luckily that area was solid.
Also the wheel arch rim was in the wrong place and the lip just touched the tyre, with with some gentle persuasion with a big hammer the arch flared out nicely. It’s quite subtle but the top of the arch is an inch further outboard than standard. The rear edge of the front arches were unfortunately rotten, bit of a lace effect. To make it look a little bit less terrible I covered that bit in tank tape, which made it look just as terrible but now it looked like I was trying to hide something.
So now I had the wheels on, seats and harnesses in and a not leaking roof. Clearly time for a test drive! Pulling out of the first T junction onto the main road the weight loss was immediately apparent, the thrust was significantly higher despite the taller gearing from the monster tyres. It was obviously louder in the cabin without the sound deadening, but still civilized, which would prove vital at Motofest when using all the radio communications kit on the track. Going into a swift corner revealed that the chunky off road tyres tended to drift significantly, as expected, in a rather entertaining sort of way. But the tyres and the ground clearance mean that this venerable old Jag can clip apexes onto grass verges on a race track should the need arise, in fact it could probably drive straight through gravel traps!
An unexpected benefit is that parking and manoeuvring is easier as now it can drive over curbs.
Returning home the steering became heavy, and a pool of steering fluid on the drive indicated that the power steering cooler hose had burst somewhere inconvenient. The leak was from the union under the air filter in the front drivers side of the engine bay. The air filter was covered in steering oil which had sprayed up through a large hole in the airbox, the hole was caused by the mounting lug being ripped out, clearly something had been going on here. Further stripping revealed the car had had a frontal impact in it’s past, it had been pulled straight and a new front right wing fitted, although solid it was a cheap repair, with damage to the fog light and indicator wiring as well as the fore mentioned steering cooler. I had to take out the whole radiator pack, intake and chin spoiler to get it fixed. Whilst there I replaced the front drive belt and a couple of pulleys that were starting to make noise, I removed the air conditioning radiator and some other bits it no longer needed. I also left the lower headlight trims off, because I think it looks better without them. In fact it look quite good with no grill either, but then it looks somehow less Jaguar.
At this stage it needed a name, so I asked the Twitter and Facebook community for ideas, based on the car’s ability to push on through poor road surfaces with unreasonable haste. One suggestion caught my imagination; Dreadnought. Dreadnought was a class of battle ship from about a hundred years ago, it was more heavily armoured and faster than previous ships, and although that class of ship saw action the original Dreadnought itself was never used in a real battle. In other words it was heavy, fast and looked the part but was never tested in combat. My jag is heavy, fast and although it looks like a rally car it will never be in a real race.
It also fits into my ship based race car theme, as my last race car was a Jaguar XJ-S V12 called the ‘Black Pearl’ (see previous post for details).
In time honored tradition all the work was finished at the last minuet, and I drove up to Coventry the week of Motofest with several more things still to do. As I set off, driving round the lanes of Cambridgeshire was an absolute joy, then it was onto the A14 and M6 for the 60 mile trip to Cov, this all passed pleasantly enough but just as I slowed for the exit junction to Coventry a helpful warning light pinged onto the dash telling me the gearbox was unhappy, and suddenly I only had one gear, third! The symptoms pointed to gearbox fluid loss, I limped it very gently back to a friend’s house in Coventry where I could test it, Nick is used to race machinery as he races in the British Cross Country Championship in a car called Insanity 2. Cunningly there is no dip stick on the XJR’s Mercedes gearbox, although one can be purchased. I used a bit of wire and found that the sump was all but dry, fluid had been squirting out from a fluid connection on the radiator pack, a quick investigation revealed there was no O ring in the joint any more! By an utterly bizarre coincidence Nick had an old Jaguar X308 radiator pack in the shed that he was thinking of adapting to use on his Land Rover, even more bizarrely it still had an O ring in the hole where the fluid pipe goes! What are the chances of that?
Of course I also needed quite a lot of transmission fluid, now these boxes use a specific synthetic oil that can be tricky to get hold of. Luckily another chum, Franc the guru of Land Rover engines, happened to have a few spare bottles because his Jag also used the same fluid. Another bizarre coincidence.
With that all sorted it was time to fit the all important stickers, the most important one being the Pace Car and Motofest ones that had been cut specially for me by Nathan Ward of Golden Bull Racing fame. There is an art to applying large stickers without getting creases and bubbles in, you apply soapy water first and squeegee it out from the middle, using a heat gun to get it to flow to the curves of the car. As you can see I am rubbish at this and should have left it to the professionals. This is made more embarrassing by the fact that some of the stickers are from Missions Motorsport, the forces charity that uses motorsport to rehabilitate injured soldiers and who also run a very successful graphics course, they trained guys who now fit the graphics onto Formula 1 cars. They would also be at Motofest training volunteers how to do a few stunt driving manoeuvres, so they’d see what a mess I made of the graphics on Dreadnought. And yes, they did verily take the piss.
I also had to wire in the amber flashing lights kindly supplied by Jon Fry of Northants 4×4 club. He is a rally marshal and would bring his Discovery as the course closing car, more of that later…
All in a rush the big day of Motofest arrived, I’d been working past midnight for weeks and was up until 2am rewriting the running order. After a quick sleep I was up at 6am to check the road closure was going to plan, driving Dreadnought through the deserted city streets felt like the beginning of some cult film, I had the windows open to hear the supercharger whine and the drone of the tyres more clearly. It felt good.
Soon participants started to arrive, by 9.30 we had a closed road, I’d done the driver briefing and Darren of Destination Nurburgring fame was doing the signing on. The radio coms truck was set up, we had radios in all the control cars and we had teams on the entrances and exits controlling traffic. Time to deploy the marshal teams, leading the convoy of Land Rovers in Dreadnought round the deserted ring road was an interesting moment, this was the beginning of something special. We started the event with a few parade laps of classic and performance cars, sticking to 40mph and waiving to the small crowds building at the spectator points. I was at the front in Dreadnought and Jon was at the back in his Discovery 1 Tdi, that way we made sure no one went the wrong way or got left behind. In the afternoon we picked up the pace, with race cars running at higher speeds, demonstrating a small amount of their capability. Dreadnought coped with high speed cornering beautifully, drifting very controllably. Jon’s Discovery however may have not been quite so used to high speed cornering, but it kept up…
One memory will stick with me for a very long time, seeing an ex-BTCC Rover SD1 V8 in a long line of very fast race cars in my rear view mirror as I glided Dreadnought through the roundabout on junction 1, the crowd cheering and taking pictures.
In all Dreadnought put in 107 faultless miles hacking round the ring road that day. What a day.
Then it was a return to more mundane duties, for the next week I commuted to work in it, the only down side being that the wings on the race seat make side viability at T junctions a little tricky, that and the lack of air conditioning on a hot summers day.
Since then it has been used for some local trips and also appeared at Kimbolton Fayre along side Diana’s fabulous BMW 840, the fayre is the largest charity classic in the East, apparently, with over 800 classic and performance cars, well worth a visit.
We also took it to Santa Pod for a RWYB day, it managed a 13.8 second standing quarter mile with a speed of just over 100mph. Not bad for an ebay special!
So, mission accomplished. Dreadnought had a month and a bit of MOT left and so I put it up for sale in August 2014, it went to a new home at an Oxfordshire racing company where I’m sure it will continue to make people smile.
Here’s one from the archives, originally printed in 2006 in Classics Monthly magazine, but now with a short update at the end.
The original target – to be on the grid at Silverstone in a classic V12 racing car for less than £3000.
A full English breakfast sits before me as I stare out the window daydreaming about the great races of yesteryear. Last night on telly they showed a touring car race from the 60’s and the sight of Lotus Cortinas two abreast into Graham Hill bend at Brands Hatch was amazing. Even more stunning was Tom Walkinshaws qualifying lap at Bathurst in the 70’s, my god that man had no fear, cresting a blind left hander on two wheels at full power!
At that moment I had a revelation. I could actually go racing myself, ok, not F1 but certainly race a classic and evoke the atmosphere of those great days. By Jiminy, I’m going to do it. And do it in a V12 Jaguar, no less, armed with several spare weekends and an old cantilever tool box. What could possibly go wrong?
I was pleased to discover that some cunning chaps at the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club (JEC) had designed a race series for XJ-Ss. I have always fancied an XJ-S ever since I saw Joanna Lumley in one. The mission statement for the series is to allow enthusiasts to race their own cars for a sensible budget and above all ‘To have fun’. I like that.
I downloaded the race regulations before doing anything dangerous, I cant stress enough how important this was. There are classes for standard cars (both V12 and for 6 cylinder), that keep costs down, and classes for modified cars, which don’t. This is sound thinking, the car already has great handling, good brakes (when cool!) and, of course lots of power. Importantly it also has a very strong and stiff shell, which keeps the suspension working properly and means that you are (relatively) safe in most forms of popular motor sport accident. Class F for ‘Standard V12 5.3/6.0 Litre’ was the cheapest one for me. I am nothing if not cheap.
I took a deep breath and joined the club, registered for the championship and put an application in for the first race at Silverstone. The countdown begins..
12 weeks to go.
The absolute minimum spec for race preparation involves little more than painting the tow bracket yellow, fitting a race harness, fire extinguisher and putting a sticker on the door announcing ‘ignition on steering column’! but you cannot just take a road car, fling it around a track and expect it not to break, because it will, probably by not braking…
It became clear that I could make a good solid basic (back of the grid!) race-car by doing the following modifications:
Uprated brake pads and fluid to combat fade at very high temperatures.
Large air intake, standard has restrictive venturi.
Remove centre exhaust silencer.
Race engine oil to hold it all together at 6500rpm.
Improved cooling, standard is marginal.
Adjustable front dampers to firm things up a bit.
Remove as much weight as I can within the rules.
Use the series control Toyo tyre.
Mandatory safety mods, such as a plumbed in Fire extinguisher and racing harness. Others (such as a roll cage) are not mandatory but obviously sensible, after all, big cats should be caged…
Having digested that lot its time to make a budget. As I am not rich, this will make or break the project. If not realistic then I stand a fair chance of getting half way there and running out of money, that’s when you see adverts on Ebay saying “unfinished project, 90% complete”. I Don’t want to end up like that.
The basic budget is £1500 for a good car and the same for modifications.
There is some flexibility in the budget, for instance I could buy two spare race tyres and not do the track day. We also allow £500 for contingencies which I don’t intend to spend. I will be driving the car to each race so saving on the cost of a trailer, bit of a risk.
Before going out and buying the first XJ-S I could find I restrained myself and did some research, which proved vital, starting with magazines and the club web site/forum.
I found out that I needed to check a few critical areas
Rust at the rear and front end of the sills, where the trailing arms bolt on to the body and on inner wing at the damper mount area (will be worse than it looks, double skinned nightmare).
Oil leak from crank rear seal.
Water pump leaks and bearing looseness.
Rattles on cold start up (engine worn, expensive and time consuming to repair).
Smoke on start up or on overrun with hot engine.
Overheating, ask if there have been any cooling issues.
Rusty front cross member under the radiator and front suspension subframe.
Clonks or whines from gearbox, or burnt smelling gearbox oil.
Smell of fuel in boot (may indicate rusted tank).
If the car has any of these problems then I would walk away and look for another one.
Other common problems are less important because they will be dealt with during the conversion; these include cosmetic faults, trim, tyres, hoses, brake pads and electrical gremlins. Some cars are born with problems and will never be reliable; some are so sweet they are practically blueprinted and that’s the one I was searching for. I found a 1987 model on ebay with 93,000 miles and as a bonus it had the twin headlight kit which will come in useful later, it looked good on paper so off I went to check it out. The owners were just quite simply splendid people. We were plied with cups of tea and talked about the history of the car; they had owned it for fifteen of its nineteen years. The car was kept in the garage under blankets!
Opening the bonnet revealed a industrial scrap compactor, it was as though someone had mistaken the cavernous engine bay for a skip and thrown in a dumper load of old pipes, hoses, wires and random thingys, then smoothed it all down with a rusty trowel. Don’t get me wrong, it was all in good order, the fluids were topped up and clean, there were no leaks and the hoses were in good condition etc, but the photos in the manual simply do not do it justice, it really is full! All XJ-Ss are like that, for instance, to change the front spark plugs it is best to remove the air conditioning pump! I quietly shut the bonnet and turned away wondering what I was thinking of.
The rest of the car had a little surface rust here and there, a sagging head lining and old tyres but was basically in surprisingly good shape.
It sported a new radiator, oil cooler, brake disks, front subframe, front cross member, rear calliper, battery and a centre exhaust. Which was nice.
The engine was quiet from cold and pulled strongly and smoothly on the test drive, with no worrying noises. It gathered pace quite rapidly and handled corners competently with a polite bow. The driving experience can only be described as magnificent, for the first time on the project I had a definite feeling that this was right.
I decided to go for it so I put in my maximum bid and did not look at it again until after the auction, which was tough. Luckily I won it for my limit of £1500 and so the next week I had my first XJ-S.
10 weeks to go.
Having spent a week driving round in splendid V12 opulence, it was with a certain degree of regret and trepidation that I was to start tearing it asunder.
First stop is to remove the interior, remembering that the regulations for Class F state that the trim must go back in, unless its in the way of the roll cage. Loose carpets must be removed. Weight is all important but I didn’t get too carried away with stripping every last ounce, for example I took a day to remove the first 50Kg but the next 50kg took a week.
Out came the centre console, heater controls and a radio retaining box thingy which is riveted into the dash and had to be drilled out.
The regs let me replace the drivers seat only, saving about 7kg, so the passenger seat will go back in later. The regs allow removal of the rear seat but again it proves to be disappointingly (9kg) light!
At this point I successfully locate the rust! There was a bodged repair to the inner wheel arch which let water into the rear seat pan which had rusted along a seam leaving a huge hidden rust lake.
Under the carpets I discover a distinctly aquatic theme, part of the window seal is leaking and water is dripping down the electrics into the foot well! As a temporary fix I tape up the lower edge of the windscreen.
Sound proofing on these cars is quite remarkable, both for its effectiveness and for what a sod it is to remove! There are different types in layers. Under all this glue and matting is the main wiring! So I had to be rather careful with the chisel! About 30kg of sound deadening came out and now there is plenty of clearance in the foot well for my left boot.
Doors present a few challenges. The trim card has lots of hidden screws and a tag behind the arm rest so it has to be lifted up before it comes off. The central locking solenoid and speaker add up to only 1 kilo, manual window winders would have saved another 1kg.
The electric mirrors hardly weighed anything and the saving with the racing items was negligible. Later I would find that having electrically adjustable mirrors whilst I was harnessed in would be invaluable.
Turning to the engine bay.
Starting in the middle I unbolt the heavy (15kg) air con pump and its silencer, yes the air con has a silencer. Also ousted were the fuel cooler, a/c radiator (which had rotted out), visco fan and associated tensioner (8kg)
There is sound deadening foam on the bonnet, I drill out the rivets and attack it with a garden hoe causing odd looks from the neighbours.
Finally, the boot is stripped of trim, spare wheel, tool kit and jack.
The brakes and steering checked out ok, as did the exhaust system.
Electrics were ok if tired. The critical circuits are ignition, fuel injection, starter, cooling fan, wipers and tail lights (nothing else matters!). The bodged immobiliser was removed (it only required swapping two wires to defeat!).
Luckily on this car most of the rubber pipes (which perish after about ten years) had been replaced because of the new radiator and oil cooler and fuel system. Bonza!
The cooling system is a whole different bucket of mice, the Jaguar official service procedure involves adding an annual bottle of Barrs Leaks! This coats all the places you don’t want it, in such high doses. So the radiator, engine and heater core are checked for leaks and flushed. Some people go to the extreme of fitting coolant filters in the top hoses.
Throttle cables are often forgotten but obviously vital for survival, it turns out to be in good condition and gets oiled.
Right, the car is now in bits, but about 130kg lighter. Probably time to start putting it back together then. After a cup of tea, obviously.
8 weeks to go.
Sitting in the car as standard, my head hits the roof. Add to this a crash helmet and a roll cage and I will have to remove four vertebrae!
My solution is to use a high back seat, usually used in off road racing (Ebay, £40). It has a near vertical back which means I can fit it with the rear on the floor and the front on the 4 inch high cross member giving my preferred recline.
I chisel out the rear outboard seat mounting from the floor, sit the seat down and sit in it with the crash helmet on to check the fit and clearance.
I push the seat as far to the left as possible. Now the rear left seat mount is hard up against the transmission tunnel, so I fabricate a bracket that bolts to the seat and then the whole assembly bolts to the car using the original mounting points. The right hand mount is much more simple and bolts through the floor.
The gauges should be easy to read even when I am not looking at them. In the good old days gauges had needles and they were arranged so that all the needles were vertical when all was ok. We are very good at detecting horizontal and vertical lines, which may go some way to explaining tartan.
In this car, however, there is a small rev counter which is not easy to see and the temperature gauge (remember these cars are renown for overheating) is a particularly useless linear affair which reads just above cold when the radiator is at 90 C! So a reading of Normal would only be reached when the engine has seized and caught fire!
For now I will simply stick red tape next to the gauges so that my eye naturally falls on the relevant part, with a small line at danger temperature and min/max rpm.
There is a huge range of harnesses available but very few of the mandatory FIA approved 3 inch items below £100, cheapest I found was £95 four point item, but in the end I went for a TRS five point. The crotch strap pulls the lap straps down, so they stay over the pelvis and don’t ride up over soft tissues, preventing rupturing of various squidgy bits, possibly including the spleen. I have never really know what a spleen actually is or what it does, other than kill you if ruptured, which I guess is the key point here.
The lap straps are secured to the floor via eye bolts which I screwed into the original seat belt mountings. The shoulder straps will be rapped round the cross bar of the rear cage that is provided for just this purpose.
6 weeks to go.
To start with I do a very chap mod, I cut the ram pipes very close to the air box and spend a good half hour flaring the edges out to smooth the air flow into the box. Thus the intake area is tripled.
As an extra treat I fit new standard paper air filters. Years ago some colleagues tested standard paper elements against sponge and cotton performance filter elements. At the start of the test all the filters were flowing about the same so a standard one will be fine for a few races, particularly as a standard one is £6 and a performance one is £45, and I need two of them.
The throttle needs to have an extra return spring fitted, theory being that if the return spring brakes then you have a big accident, this will be checked by the scrutineers before every race.
The exhaust centre labyrinth type silencer is very slightly restrictive, so I removed it and fitted a significantly more free flowing bent piece of pipe. This leaves the rear straight through absorption type silencer only, but the result is still disappointingly quiet and civilised on the road.
The engine oil is replaced with Castrol RS 10/60 racing oil, and of course a new filter. Even expensive oils like Magnatec will break down under racing conditions, so I am told. Its bloomin expensive though, the V12 uses 10.7 litres so this is a significant investment. I eventually got it from Demon Tweeks, race championship registrants get a 10% discount card.
I add water wetter to the new 20/80 mix of glycol/water. People in the club claim this alone has dropped coolant temperatures by 10 degrees, I think it works by breaking the surface tension and allowing better heat transfer with the metal. Also, I fit second hand electric fans where the old air con condenser was, to stop the engine cooking just after a race. Finally I improve air flow out of the engine bay by jacking the bonnet open half an inch on some rather fetching home made (M12 bolts) bonnet pins.
Gearbox remains a GM TH400 auto box! Yes, I am racing an automatic (oh do stop laughing). Once you get the hang of them they do have some advantages such as being able to change up at full throttle. The problem is that there are less gears than in a manual so its harder to stay at peak power rpm. The torque converter is effectively hydraulically locked at high rpm giving minimal power losses and full engine braking. I will be manually shifting with the stick provided, but it does not let you shift into first above about 15mph unless you have the throttle floored, which is an issue if braking into a corner.
Now the seat is on the floor, the gear stick is a little high. Also, it wobbles due to its compliant rubber mounts. Bolting the selector directly to the trans tunnel improves things no end.
4 weeks to go.
As standard the Jag brakes are good. The problem comes with continued maximum use, races can be up to 20 mins and standard fluid will boil, the pads will catch fire and the disks will warp! Apart from that they are OK!
The standard (almost new) discs will be fine for now. I have chosen EBC Red Stuff pads which wont fade but will wear quickly, other racers use the harder Yellow Stuff pads but these are not suitable for road use.
Next up for change is the fluid (a complicated subject). The upshot from many discussions is that I have chosen synthetic (NOT silicone) racing fluid with a dry boiling point well above 300 C. The preferred one is Castrol SRF, but I went for the cheaper Motul RBF600.
To top this lot off I fitted Goodridge 600 series braided brake hoses which improved pedal feel and are better suited to the harshness of racing.
This went quite well until one of the rear calliper bleed nipples sheared off! This meant removing the calliper and drilling it out which took the best part of a day to fix, and this happened with only two days until the Mallory track day!
Suspension and steering
A sports steering wheel allows slightly quicker turns and improves feel. It also looks good. Steering rack bushes give a kind of disconnected feel to the steering, I replaced these with polyurethane bushes.
The suspension is basically very good, if rather soft. I am not going to change the springs yet, Collin Chapman was a strong advocate of soft springs and firm dampers to let the suspension move and do its work, who am I to disagree (oh dear, now I can hear Anny Lennox in my head…). I just fit adjustable front dampers which bolt in very easily.
For safety I have fitted an electrical cut off switch which stops the engine and isolates the car from the battery. The battery is in the boot and has a positive lead running down the left hand side of the trans tunnel and then up to two distribution studs, the switch cuts into this and sits nicely behind the gear selector.
There are two wires near the battery, which feed the engine management and fuel pump circuits, so I cut them and put in new wires from the cut off switch. Next I ran a new wire from the lower part of the switch to the ignition circuit and connected the alternator protection resistor (provides a load when the switch opens, without one the regulator gets confused and explodes).
2 weeks to go.
The rear bulkhead needs to be sealed to prevent any fumes getting in from the petrol tank, I riveted small ally plates over the various apertures.
The extinguisher and electrical cut off switch must be able to be operated by a marshal from outside the car, in case I am incapacitated or too stupid. T handled pull cables go on the scuttle at the MSA recommended position – base of the windscreen on the drivers side.
I cut a big hole and mount the two cables to an ally plate that I can screw on and I cut holes in the inner panel to finally get through to the interior.
Finally I wandered round with some yellow paint, stripes round the battery earth lead and I sprayed the towing eyes.
Possibly the most important component on the car. For this series we have to use the control tyre which is a Toyo Proxes T1-R.
When racing the tyre works very hard, deep tread blocks will move about a lot and thus get very hot, they will go off after a few laps and you skid. So I will have them shaved to 4mm depth, this should give me good stability and still last a few races.
I have bought a set of spare wheels for £50 which are half an inch wider than standard. I am staying with 15” rims because the 50 profile tyres drops the gearing about 11% thus helping acceleration. And its cheaper.
A day at the races.
Now its time to tune the driver so its off to the club track day at Mallory, for a bit of practice and to get to know how the car handles on the limit and indeed where the limits actually are.
In an ideal world I would check and adjust the suspension set up. Realistically, unless it really handles badly, I will just try to get some practice in
When changing the set up it is vital to approach this scientifically, everything effects everything else so we change one thing at a time. All the changes and lap times are then written down in what becomes the race car book of all knowledge.
I even borrowed a pyrometer (in infra-red temperature gauge) so I can check the tyre temps.
We arrived, a little late, and had to wait in a queue to get to the pits area which is in the centre of the circuit. It’s a lovely circuit, quite short and has a lake in the middle which James Hunt nearly drowned in.
We locate fellow JEC members and say hello, everyone is very friendly and soon advice starts pouring in. We then head off to the stewards office to sign on, you have to sign an indemnity form which basically states that you are aware it is dangerous and any accident is your own silly fault. That done, I have to attend a novice briefing which covers etiquette and safety stuff.
As it is my first time here, I am assigned an instructor who was very helpful indeed, he described which lines work, braking points etc.
Once the tyres had gone through their first heat cycle, it was time to push harder. The car seemed to grip and then grip some more, pushing me firmly into the side of my seat round the large corner, with the lake as run off. This is the first time I have heard the throaty exhaust at full tilt, spine tingling.
Tyre pressures seemed best at 30psi cold /34 hot which gave an even temperature, but the outer edge of the fronts was a little colder indicating that I need to stop fannying around and drive faster.
They have a weigh bridge there, with half a tank of fuel the car was 1606kg, which is a good start.
Also, they provided a scrutineer so that I had the privilege of finding out what was wrong before I got to the race! Generally it went well until he put his hand down the inner wing and there was a distinctive rusty crunching noise
1 week to go.
A quick call to Franc (aka Tree Beard) and I was on my way over to his house of wonder to use his welding kit, 15 hours later I left with a solid car! As is usual with these things the rust was a lot worse than it first seemed, the service history shows that the inner wings had been repaired before, at some expense, however we found no evidence of this, just rust! Makes you wonder.
For extra strength I put in replacement panels from 2mm steel between the chassis rails to the front damper mounts.
Turning to the rear, I made new panels for the sill end plates and the lower part of the wheel arch, this area has lots of panels joining together and the seams collect water, unfortunately this is a critical area as all the radius arm loads are put through here (ie, all the acceleration force). The result is not pretty but its definitely solid.
The next major job was fitting the stickers!
You know, they are not as easy as you might think. They are big, giving ample opportunity to trap air bubbles and get them all crumpled up, secondly the car is made from curves so the stickers wont sit flat and you end up with creases and folds.
The rules say we have to have a set size white square for the race numbers, one on each side and one on the bonnet. We must also have stickers for; JEC Racing, JEC club and the Toyo sponsors. In addition, I wanted my name on it and also we thought it would be a good idea to have some green stripes so that it could be easily picked out on camera, its distinctive and gives it the 70s look that I was after.
Every race car has to have a name. This one was suggested by Franc’s daughter who had decided that I was some sort of cross between Doctor Who and Captain Jack sparrow. Which I think is a compliment… Anyway, as the car was black, had a mind of it’s own, was largely a wreck but refused to die and handled like a boat, it was decided by the committee of chums that the car would be called the ‘Black Pearl’. And Rick went about creating the graphics for me, a superb job!
Fitting a roll cage is usually best done before the car is assembled at the factory, what with it being nearly the same size as the interior of the car.
I am using an MSA approved national B cage made by Safety Devices.
So, with no seats, centre console, roof lining or anything else to get in the way in the interior, I fitted the cage in order to mark out where the mounting plates must go. It took quite a lot of jostling to get everything to line up. It fitted about as well as ‘one size fits all’ trousers don’t. Then I marked the points where the cage feet met the car.
Now I take it all out again. I weld the nuts to the mounting plates, cut holes in the sill just big enough for the nuts to go in and then weld the four plates on the sills.
Then I put the cage back in again, I get everything loose assembled first then take up the slack in all the bolts, then progressively do up the bolts.
The bolts in the wheel arch go in from underneath, that way the bolt head gets covered in road salt and weather but the thread stays clean. Same goes for any bolts that go through the car outer shell such as those holding the seat mountings to the floor.
Standing back, it now looks like a proper race car, very nice.
MSA regulations, new for this year, require me to have a 2.5kg plumbed in fire suppression system with a minimum of one discharge nozzle in the engine bay and one in the cabin.
I fit the fire extinguisher bottle on top of the trans tunnel so that it is tucked into the back end of the centre console, where the rear ashtray used to be. The centre console has substantial reinforcement steel inside, so I cut most of that out, it’s a bit more wobbly now but its still central and still a console.
The transponder is bolted to the front of the car and sends a vehicle specific code used by the lap timing computers at the race circuit. It has to have a clear view of the ground and be less than two foot up. It also needs a 12v feed. I decide to fit it somewhere in the front left wheel arch area, but that’s about as far as I get before its time for a race!
0 weeks to go.
It had been only 12 weeks since deciding to go racing, in that time I had bought an XJ-S V12, stripped it, rebuilt it as a racer and driven it round Mallory park circuit for my first ever practice session.
My goal remains to complete one race, at Silverstone in a car that I prepared.
There is still so much to do and the big day has finally arrived, no more excuses.
I woke up at 3am. Then again about 4am and finally gave up attempting to sleep at 5ish. As my first circuit race approached, the totally overwhelming cocktail of excitement and fear kept me from any meaningful form of sleep.
I started faffing about wondering what it was that I had forgotten. Friends are vital to club racing, and several were pressed into service to transport all the tat that is associated with racing.
It took about 40 mins to pack the tools, spares, the jack, race clothing and paperwork into the jag. Ron was also following in his 205 with the race tyres and a collection of scrap iron and an angle grinder! You never know what you might need, or indeed what you might find in Ron’s car…
Unfortunately Ron’s car was a fairly knackered Diesel which made its rattly asthmatic presence felt quite well. As it was still before 6, the combination of this and a racing Jag starting up and manoeuvring off did cause some degree of curtain twitching. We apologise profusely for the inconvenience.
We were not the first to arrive, even though it was only 7:30, so seeing a few other XJ-S’s I parked up next to one with the same coloured stripe as mine, just to confuse people! Everyone was busy unloading, checking tyre pressures, drinking tea and other essential tasks. Even so, I found the other competitors to be a really friendly bunch and more than willing to give help and direction. There was a real atmosphere, difficult to describe, excitement, the sense of approaching battle, the smell of fuel and race oil, the sound of blipping engines and tools being used. The picture was of lines of race cars and transporters, people busy tweaking and preparing the cars, it was a picture I have seen before in magazines, but now I had made myself a part of it.
To be honest I felt like a fraud because I am new, I don’t feel like a racer yet, just someone who wants to be. Never the less it was such a good feeling just to have got this far. The sun was beaming down from a stunning blue sky, glinting of the cars chrome, it was a perfect day.
I took a quick stroll to get my legs working after the long drive to the circuit and had a look at the other cars, its amazing to see how they differed from mine, it seems that although everyone is agreed on what the key issues for these cars is, there is no one particular solution. Already I am getting ideas for modifications such as lowering the front and ducting cold air to the engine.
Its 8:00 and I am off to sign on and find out where scrutineering is.
In the stewards office I find some very helpful staff and once I explain that I am a bit new to this, they explain what I need to do in simple words as if talking to a child, which is about right actually! I sign an indemnity and hand in my race licence, they keep this safe and will record any misdemeanours and if I really cock things up then they can withhold it etc. More relevant, hopefully, is the fact that the clerk of the course will sign it to say I have been a good boy. Once I get six signatures I can ditch the novice cross, this is a bit like when you finally loose your L plates. They then give me a Programme, worth £3, which is nice.
Brilliant, job done. Off I trot back to the pits. Once there I remember that I was supposed to ask where the scrutineering was. Luckily our neighbour knew ‘see that big building next to us with Scrutineering written on it…’.
By now it was gone 9 and I scurry off to the novice briefing, required for anyone who has not raced at this circuit before. In the class room there was about 15 of us rookies, al talking about our adventures and excitement getting here. At 9:30 the briefing started with a friendly introduction backed up with a stern warning that no dangerous behaviour would be tolerated. We were presented with photocopies of the track layout, noting where the marshal posts were and where the entrance and exits are. Then they made a couple of rather useful points, one corner had aggressive rumble strips that would ‘take your wheel off’, oddly now I come to write this, I cant remember which one it was! Then they mentioned that the sand trap at the end of the back straight was extremely effective at stopping cars ‘ if you go into that, just get out of the car, you wont be able to drive out, you will have to wait to the end of the race and get winched out’! The session was concluded by the stewards wishing us well and lots of fun, which was nice.
Last min prep
Ron had changed the wheels for me and the remaining stickers had been attached. But I still had not attached the transponder, and feeling that my art of brinkmanship had been adequately demonstrated, decided to fit it above the front towing eye just before scrutineering.
Somehow it had become 10ish and the scrutineering bay was empty. I parked up in the bay and two chaps came out to appreciate my handy work, yes I was nervous, would they find something I had missed?
Again, I explained that I was a bit new and asked them if they could give me any tips etc. They were both very helpful, explaining what they were looking for and how best to do things. They checked the integrity of the car (all my lovely welding), that the seat was securely mounted and in good condition. They checked the condition and mounting of the harness and that it was certified and in date. They looked at the data on the fire extinguisher to ensure it was full, in date and the correct type. They checked my brake lights, side lights and high visibility rear light (or fog light as it is also known), that’s where we hit the first problem, the fog light didn’t work! Luckily this was just a fuse. That done, the ticket was issued and taped to the side window so track officials can clearly see you have been processed.
By the time this has all happened, the call comes over the tannoy for us to assemble ready for qualifying. There is something odd about the pits tannoy, it doesn’t matter where I stand I can never hear it clearly, it’s a bit like train platform announcements.
The assembly area is just before the pits area and is a copy of the starting grid. You form up here before a race or qualifying so that everyone is ready to go at the same time. The call to form up comes about 15mins before you are due to go out. The pro’s get there with just a min or so to go so they don’t have to wait too long. I, on the other hand, was so worried about missing the slot, got there with the full 15 mins to go.
Here I met Paul Hands who, never being one to mince his words, took one look at the car and said the front was too high, which it was. Then he went on to point out all the other things that need improving, very good advice I am sure, but rather poor timing!
The morning had gone so quickly up to now, this was the first time I had a chance to think about what I was doing. It’s a strangely peaceful moment.
So there I was, in a real racing car, dressed up like a real racing driver, waiting to go out for the very first time at Silverstone. Wow.
Then the whistle went, my heart started pumping harder, and we were off, moving in two columns onto the pit straight. I was surprised by lots of clattering coming from the underside of the car as all the debris, rubber and gravel, on the track hits the un-soundproofed shell.
We move out onto the pit straight for a warm up lap, sometimes called the green flag lap, this is where green flags are waved from every marshal post, no racing is allowed and the safety car is out in front with the fire car following behind us all. Warming up involves driving bloody fast, by the way. As we round the corner back onto the pit straight, the safety car peels off into the pit lane and the flags go in. Then it gets a lot faster and I try to keep up. Holding the throttle open as we hurtle past 100mph with a corner in view goes against all my instincts, my right foot starts to shake on the pedal, I know I have to go faster but something in my mind is screaming to slow down. The engine makes a superb noise, starting with a growl and ending with a roar, its smooth and inspires confidence.
All the video watching and learning the corners before hand counts for absolutely nothing out here! I try and follow the line of the car in front which works quite well, I am amazed how fast the car can go round corners with all the tyres howling in a graceful high speed four wheel drift. The brakes are splendid and powerful when up to temperature, which probably means I am not trying hard enough!. The gearbox is shifting well with under a seconds delay, but suddenly it makes a horrific grinding noise. It seems to be worse at peak torque so as long as I use part throttle from 4000 rpm I can increase to full throttle by 6000 rpm and its not too bad. But rather slow out of corners, hey I must be turning into a real racer if I already have excuses lined up!
I start to build confidence, or more accurately the feeling of complete confusion fades. I cant quite work out the right way to enter the hair pin at Maggots and try a variety of possibilities with varying degrees of success and a couple of sideways moments. By the fifth lap I was being passed, a lot, which made finding a good line a bit more tricky. Rear visibility is challenging, for example when reaching the end of the back straight (roughly 120mph) I glance in the rear view mirror I can see a rapidly advancing Class G car, I look back at the track and glance up again at the mirror and they have vanished. I turn into the left hander knowing that they will be in the process of overtaking me but I have no idea on which side or how fast. As I was going to turn in to the apex they appear on the left causing an abrupt change of plan. I go a touch wide which leaves me on the right going into the tightening right hander and have to slow even more to get round!
After a few more laps I am just getting my bearings and preparing to do a fast(ish) lap when the chequered flag comes out and its all over! Was that really 15 minutes? Well yes, it just goes so fast because my brain is in a warp.
Then we get one cool down lap. This is very important, as the brakes are so hot, as is al the metal of the engine, if you stop immediately after racing the heat soaking in will cook the diff seals, boil the brake fluid, roast the ignition system on the top of the engine etc. So I cruise round without touching the brakes, but get rather behind the rest of the pack who are trying to ensure the next session is not delayed.
As I turn into the pit lane I switch on the extra fan. Marshals direct the traffic all the way through the pit lane to the exit. I feel like I have done a good workout, I feel hot and I am breathing deeply. There is a million things racing through my mind, like can we fix up the gearbox enough to race, have the brakes caught fire, will the engine overheat before I get to the pits, most of it is silly worry but as an engineer I cant help that.
Pulling back into our camp, the team rush to open the bonnet and let the heat out, the heat haze is quite visible. I wave my infra-red temperature gauge across the tyres to see how I am using them. The left hand tyres get more work and are a touch warmer. The inside edge is a couple of degrees lower than the rest of the tyre indicating that I could run with a spot more camber but basically its not too far off.
Friends point out that we have a drivers briefing now back in the scrutineering shed and I am duly bundled off.
Its now 12:30 and the whole morning has gone in a frantic rush. The race is due for about 4:30 so we now have a long pause.
The gearbox mount is suspected of causing the grinding noise, it is a complex sprung mechanism which has a rubber isolator in the middle. Its difficult to see clearly but we think it is this rubber part that is breaking down and allowing metal to metal contact, it wont let go completely so there is no danger of the box falling out so the decision is made to continue as is.
After all that can be done to the car has been done its time for a full racing lunch! The top F1 drivers have a dietician and dine on nutritionally engineered techno food. I had beans, chips, pie and gravy, mmmmmmmmmm.
The results of qualifying have been published with photocopied sheets available from the stewards office. I am last, obviously, the grid arrangement has three columns and I am on the back left. My fastest lap was 1:32 giving an average speed of 63mph! The fastest chap in my class was Gordon Bobic with 1:21 at 73mph and the fastest overall was Derek Pearce with a 1:11 at 83mph. Yes I really was that slow!
I watched some of the other racing, the theory was to analyse how others took the hairpin etc but actually I just enjoyed watching some good racing and relaxed a bit.
My peace was shattered by the call to assemble for the race. I headed for the assembly area, marshals directed the cars to our grid positions and in no time at all we were going out onto the track. Here again marshals directed us to our grid position, which is essential for me because I sit so low that I cant see over the bonnet and the exact location of the grid markings becomes rather a mystery. I make a note of the car to my right and in front so that when we re-form the grid after the warm up lap I know where to stop!
With the safety car in front and the fire car behind, we roar off for a green flag lap. I am very aware that even though I am giving it some beans, the fire car appears to have no difficulty keeping up and wants to overtake me! The safety car peels off into the pits and we reform on the grid, I draw up parallel to the car to my right, I hope he knows where to stop!
On the gantry over the start/finish line, there are a number of red lights, they go out signalling the start of the race. Suddenly it gets load and very busy, the car in front stalls and I make a quick decision to go to his left, I am in front of a couple of cars somehow but they are advancing rapidly. I turn into the first corner, now in second gear and accelerating past 90mph but still way to slow, as the road straightens out I am passed on both sides just as the first gearbox grinding causes me to back off a tad. Into the hairpin and as I brake I get significant under steer, followed by over steer as I power out onto the back straight, the fastest part of the track. I glance at the speedo passing 130 (forgetting that the low profile tyres drop the real speed by 11%) with the engine at full boar, everything seems to be buzzing, including me.
Then its hard on the brakes for the 90 left at Brooklands, I am not entirely sure where to start breaking and do it to early and slow too much. I get lots of vibration from the front, this is a new feature but doesn’t deter me. I down shift to second and turn in, the shift causes the back end to step out briefly and I hear the tyres chirp. As I turn right through Luffield the corner tightens and the car is in a four wheel drift, at motorway speeds and I am pressed hard into the side of my chair. I apply power and upshift to third into Woodcote, from here I go from the left side of the track to the apex on the right taking me out onto the pit straight, again drifting from the right all the way across the track to the left with the speedo indicating 120mph. At the end of the pit straight its hard on the brakes and a down shift that steps the back out again.
I was starting to catch the car in front when I start getting lapped and I make the mistake of moving off the racing line to let them by, turns out this is a classic novice mistake.
After 7 laps the red flags came out, this is never a good thing. We all slowed and as we came round to the pit straight there were marshals across the track. Three cars reformed on the grid, we believed that the race would be restarted, a few moments later and the marshals indicated we should move into the pit lane, game over.
It turned out that a car that was next to us in the pits had come on to the pit straight and just touched the grass on the left, starting a massive slide. He held it heroically but it spun round the other way and found the concrete pit wall. The car was demolished, even the rear axle was loose
A sober reminder indeed that motorsport is dangerous.
Having said that, the car is amazingly strong, the driver was taken to hospital but only had a sore neck! The safety system fitted are life savers, the seat, harness, roll cage, crash helmet, cut off and fire systems are the most important parts of the race car.
Its also a good reminder of why race cars need to be structurally sound, it is never worth trying to get away with a cheap rusty banger.
The tannoy reminded me to collect my race licence from the stewards office. Smiles greeted me in the office and my licence was retrieved with my first signature on it. They also presented all the competitors with a little souvenir plaque. Wonderful.
Unsurprisingly, my final position was last. My best lap was down to 1:28, four seconds faster than qualifying, and my average speed had risen to the dizzy heights of 65mph!
Well it’s a start. We did this in three months, from daydreaming in a cafe to racing at Silverstone. We did it on a very tight budget and with no special facilities on the driveway, mostly in the rain. I did most of the work on my own but couldn’t have finished it in time without the help of friends like Ron and Franc.
As we packed up for the day, I felt a real sense of achievement. The sun setting over Woodcote corner, the car glinting in the orange light, we made it. OK, we didn’t win anything, this time, but we overcame so many hurdles just to get here.
If nothing else, I can now sit in the pub and bore people by saying ‘ah, yes well of course when I raced a V12 at Silverstone…’
And as for the future, well I need to do better than last, I need a little more from the car and to learn how to overtake. Dangerously, I have a plan, forming in my head….
I had an idea, usually that’s the start of trouble.
I spent my months allowance on another car. It is a 3.6 XJ-S.
Now this is my theory; the new car has the sportspack springs on and a new set of road tyres (which I need desperately), it only cost £400.
I will transfer the front springs, then later I will swap the whole rear axle with its lower 3.54 diff and rear anti roll bar.
This will give the racer more roll stiffness and acceleration, plus a set of new road tyres, which is good.
I will be left with a 3.6 with a ridiculously high diff and soft springs, giving rubbish handling and amazingly good fuel economy. I will then re-sell the car on Ebay as a silly project or spares.
What can possibly go wrong?
I start with just changing the front springs, and after some very interesting experiments with jacks and compressors, I got them on to the racer. They are the same rate as the old ones but drop the front by about 2 inches.
This increases the camber and lowers the centre of graffiti, or something like that, which reduces the roll a bit.
Crucially, it also means I can see more of the road, which might come in handy.
I used bits off the 3.6 to make a solid rubber gearbox mount which brings a little more noise into the cab but holds everything in place exceedingly well.
The 3.6 also donated a few bits of switch gear and ods and sods that needed mending.
I finally got round to ducting cold air from where the inner head lights used to be to the air boxes. I chiselled out the various panels between the head light and the engine bay and used the old 3” ducting (from the interior heater to the rear foot well) to get the air directly into the air boxes.
The old fan cowling had to go, it was restricting the free flow of air, a little bit, and it was rusting and generally getting in the way. It also contained the standard electric fan which is a very old design, i.e. heavy and not very good. To remove it I had to take off the top radiator bleed hoses and lots of wiring.
I became curious about this. There is still a lot of wiring on this car that serves unknown purposes, well, unknown to me anyway. Turns out that the two relays on top of the cowling are for optional headlight washers, which I didn’t have, so I was able to remove them and a substantial bit of wiring.
I also removed the old bonnet release mechanism and various brackets that were no longer needed.
The car handles a little better now and is about 20kg lighter, best have another race.
Donington – a revelation.
I decided to camp at the circuit in a tent on the Saturday night and get the car all ready to go for the morning to avoid the early morning rush that leaves me drained.
This seemed like a good idea at the time.
It turns out that the circuit is directly under the take off flight path from East Midlands airport and they fly all night! Funny old world.
The morning arrived, more or less on schedule and we set about last minute fiddling, checking cold tyre pressures, re checking fluids etc. The smell of early morning fry ups and race car exhaust began to fill the air.
I attended the novice briefing at 8:30 where I met a fellow Devonian racer, Bruce, who runs in the 6cyl Class D. It was good to catch up and we discussed car set ups and the such like. I was informed that the gravel traps were in-escapable and that live recovery was possible (recovering a car whilst the race is still on) due to video surveillance all round the track. This also meant that any transgressions would definitely be picked up on, so a degree of caution was in order.
Sign on was at 9:00 and scrutineering at 9:20, the only comment my chariot received was that the recovery points should ideally be more accessible, the standard recovery points on the XJ-S are on the axles and this would need a degree of excavation in a gravel trap! Possibly an on board shovel..
I had just got back to our camp when the qualifying session was called, which meant I missed breakfast!
Qualifying was eventful, I saw two cars spin and saw more parked at the side of the track. Redgate was claiming many, this is at the end of the pit straight and is deceptively sharp and feels like a skating rink. The art seems to be to turn in late and drift the full width of the track coming out, which is difficult when being overtaken on both sides! Once some space developed I put in a relatively swift lap (for me) then took it easy again to let the brakes cool.
The race was about 4ish, queuing in the assembly area my heart was thumping. Could I actually overtake someone? I knew John was positioned ready to take the best photos of me, as were assorted other friends, all watching with cameras poised. No pressure then.
As we went out for the green flag lap I was looking at the other cars near me, they all had much more experience than me, and my car may be the cheapest on the grid!
We regrouped on the start line. Revs picked up as the red lights on the gantry came on. Heart thumping even more now. The lights go out and there is the roar of 25 Jaguar engines at full throttle, some tyre smoke and cars dart for various opportune gaps,
I accelerate but with the tall diff still in there is a long wait till I am in the power band which lets the car to my right roar past. I see a mass of cars all heading for the hard right hander at motorway speeds, surely they cant all get through? There is a cloud of dust hanging thick in the air where someone must have gone off but the growling throng of cars carries on at full power, I cant see much and back off very slightly which allows the only car behind me through.
Into the legendary Craner curves, the feeling you get going flat out here is awesome. Like a supercharged roller coaster with a V12 soundtrack. I am hooked.
A gap started to develop between the last three cars (with me in my traditional last place) and everyone else. I quickly become aware that I can go faster than the car in front, so now I have to do my first ever overtaking! But where, we are using nearly all the track, sliding through corners. I start to see how he takes corners and got along side him as we go into the blind right hander at coppice, I cant see the apex and I know I am going too fast to be on the inside going in, so I back off.
Coming out of the corner at full throttle on to Starkeys straight I let the engine rev to 6500 before shifting to 3rd and catch up, but I brake way too early for the dogleg onto the start straight.
As we go past the pits again, I know I can go faster than him, the adrenaline is pumping but the fear is still there. I draw alongside into the Craner curves but he takes the racing line and he seems so close that I think we will touch, as he goes into the old hairpin I turn in a little later and carry a touch more speed out on the exit, drawing along side as we slide left up the hill, the engine is screaming in 2nd and I dare not look at the rev counter, I just want to make this stick with all my heart. I get past but now I am going much faster into Mcleans and skid from the apex right across and over the rumble strip on the exit, it all holds together, crikey the car is good. Now I can see a fellow class f driver about two hundred yards ahead. Gulp, lets go for it. I leave braking for the Esses as late as I dare (still way to early though) and the rear wheels momentarily loose traction as I change down to 2nd. I am closing the gap fast as we slide into Redgate, another car has gone off and the view is totally blocked for a moment by dust, I hear gravel smashing into the underside of my car and it squirms under me, then we emerge into craner. I snap at his heals but I just don’t have the talent to overtake. I am pushing him for another two laps and we are both sliding round a lot more, then we start being lapped by the front runners who stream past as if we were parked! I take a tighter line on to Starkeys and draw along side, flat out the cars are matched and we both accelerate to about 110, then some more faster cars come past as we go into the Esses, one of them starts to spin right in front of me and I have an intense second darting from one side to the other trying to predict which way he will go, I squeeze past just in front of his front bumper but have slowed to about 50, the car accelerates (relatively) slowly and my rival is just off my left flank as we dive into Redgate. I am going faster and am totally committed to the line I am taking, any deviation will result in a spin so if he arrives on my inside then we are going off, and at about 80 that will be a long way off. Two faster cars wait till the exit before streaming past and I fly through Craner. With no one in front of be I am battling against my own fear to go faster through each bend, at Starkeys there is a totally clear road ahead, we were so slow that the rest of the pack is half a lap ahead. I press on but when the final lap board is held up with still no one else in sight I ease up and don’t use the brakes again until after the cool down lap and I come into the pits.
What a race, what a circuit. I achieved my goal and overtook two cars. I am exhilarated and tired all at once. Already plans for the next race are forming..
The saga continues with the ‘Black Pearl’ at Snetterton in 2007.
Racing is bloody brilliant, the thrill and excitement of a fierce battle on the circuit, the feeling of achievement, the nomex underwear…
There was a point where I didn’t think I was going to get to the first race of the season, I had to make large repair sections to the underside of the car, many of the ageing bolts on this classic Jag had sheared during the rebuild, the trailer I bought on ebay didn’t turn up, the race tickets didn’t turn up and the day before the race the gearbox developed the ability to engage more than one gear . But we like challenges don’t we?
I put all other work on hold and tackled each problem in turn, and by the day before the race the only problem left was how to get the car to the race. Luckily Dave Ried turned up trumps and lent me his new trailer for the weekend, top bloke.
I got to Snetterton at midnight, pitched my new tent (special offer from the supermarket) and passed out. I awoke at 4am because it was bloody freezing, the cheap tent offered no wind protection and even less insulation, so I took it apart and covered the back of the Disco with it and slept quite comfortably on the back seat instead. Never buy cheap camping equipment.
Glorious sunshine greeted me as I emerged from my nylon and tank tap encrusted retreat on Saturday morning. It was great to meet up with my fellow racers again and swap similar tails of last minuet repairs. Last minuet is one thing, but Crash Gordan trumped us all by actually rebuilding his entire cooling system between races, turning up to a race in a car you haven’t finished building yet is pure class.
The morning started at a rush, Signing on, briefing, scrutineering and qualifying all managed to be timed to overlap, resulting in a significant amount of running and swearing.
Once out queuing up for the qualifying session I had time to relax a bit, but then it occurred to me I couldn’t remember if I had torqued up the wheel nuts, needles to say my first lap was conservative. But after a few laps, gathering pace with nothing major falling off, I started to feel quite happy with the car.
The suspension and final drive mods seemed to work rather well and inspired confidence, my home brewed exhaust sounded commandingly raucous and the engine pulled strongly all the way past about 120mph. Crikey, it felt good.
I am used to qualifying last, but this time managed to have four cars behind me at the start of the first race. As the start lights went out I managed to loose all four places in the first hundred yards. Now I was in familiar territory, but it soon became clear that the car was faster than the one in front which meant it was time to practice the high art of overtaking. Unfortunately I am crap at this, but after dithering on several corners I worked out a safe place to go for it and dived up the inside of the first car, then I remembered to breathe again. The next car was taken on the straight, the new diff proving absolutely spot on as I crept past at about 130mph, whilst all the time my mind was screaming to slow down for the next corner. Another two cars were taken before the end of the race leaving me 22nd out of 28 starters with two cars not finishing.
Gordans old car was driven by Mike Sharman, new to the series, who took off like a thing possessed and won the class 1st rather decisively. So it looks like I had a lot more competition that year and my hopes of getting a few class 2nd s started fading.
The second race was on the Sunday and the grid positions were based on the results of the previous race which meant no less than six cars starting behind me. I was determined to get my start right this time so I talked to the drivers starting around me to get an idea of what to do, Paul Reynolds and Crash Gordan were really helpful and a strategy was hatched.
Sitting on the grid I was still nervous, but when the start lights went out I dived up the outside of two cars in front of me, excellent! Into the first corner surrounded by sliding jaguars, it seemed impossible get that many cars round such a small corner. I conceded the two places to my fellow racers who were much faster, not wishing to slow them up. On the straight I was behind Crash Gordan who is the fastest chap in our class, I figured that if I could just keep up with him then I would learn something. Unfortunately all I learned I s how important it is to prep your car, as his coolant system exploded and covered my windscreen in glycol. The fact that I couldn’t see through it was resolved when I tried to brake and simply went very sideways, sliding on his glycol slick, thus allowing me to see where I was going through the side window.
Setting the suspension up to be progressive paid off as the car waggled through the esses with the casual flair of a drunken tango dancer, but crucially managed to stay on the track. Which was nice. Unfortunately other, faster, racers were not so lucky, have a look at Dave Robbie’s web site for more info.
I made up a couple of places and was sitting 3rd in class again when I rounded the final corner, at the end of the long straight I could see the chequered flag out, but also I could see the 2nd in class chap easing up. It was an opportunity too good to miss so I stayed in second gear and buried the accelerator, I saw the rev counter go into the red, so obviously I stopped looking at it and kept accelerating. I think that if I had to drive the racer home then I wouldn’t have done that, just goes to show that having a trailer is worth seconds on the track. I got six inches in front of him at the finish line and won the first trophy of my life for 2nd in class, the phrase ‘well chuffed’ springs to mind.
There are still mods to be done, however. The diff is cooking due to the inboard brakes. After a cool down lap and a 10 min delay in parc ferme, I measured the rear diff casing temperature at 160 C. That counts as ‘bad’.
Also, when giving it some beans the cooling system couldn’t cope and the temperature started to rocket. On the track I started to use top gear more which helped keep the temp under control but did nothing for my lap times.
I now have a 6 litre XJ40 in pieces in the workshop so the next mod is to get the outboard brakes fitted and see if I can use bits of its cooling system (which is a lot neater than the XJ-S).
I hope to have this all done for Mallory, fingers crossed.
Well that went with a bang! The Mallory race started of with pouring rain, which posed a new challenge as I have never raced in the wet before. But we like challenges don’t we? (am I repeating myself again…)
Cunningly I had plastered the windows with rain repellent and the inside with anti-fog, which worked a treat. Whilst other cars were struggling for visibility and grip, I was merely struggling for grip. I started off very conservatively in practice, feeling my way round and slowly building pace but it very soon became clear by the way the car veered sideways at every opportunity, that there was not much more pace to build. Then it started raining harder.
After lunch, the first races included MR2’s and single seaters, both having substantial ‘offs’ and a number of Toyotas limping back to the pits heavily damaged. This was like an old fashioned warning, a bit like when they used to put severed heads on spikes on the city walls to warn incomers, but without the hygiene issues.
Just before our race was called, the sun came out. In practice I had dropped my tyre pressures to try to get some warmth in, without much success, but now I swiftly set about pumping the tyres up with my nice shiny new high power 12v compressor, the sort that burns your cigarette lighter wiring out, I like over powered motors.
By the way, I now have a race ‘team’ which is a novel experience. Well, I say ‘team’ its only three other people and a ‘sponsor’ but it’s a team to me. I am still used to doing everything myself and haven’t got the hang of delegation yet so they spent most of the time hanging around asking to help, but give it time. We have Nick being race mechanic, Kev being in charge of tents and food, Chris in charge of logistics. My new sponsor is Rik and Lotty who happen to have a vinyl cutter and made me some excellent stickers, they also run a driving school in Birmingham and are very nice people (www.auto-success.co.uk). Right, that’s my part of the bargain done.
Back to the race, it started well enough but the track was still very slippery just off the racing line and as the first overtaking started, so did the graceful ballet of sideways Jags. Going into the esses I was right on the tail of number 47 Paul Reynolds, who is usually the second in class bloke and significantly better than me. A car span in front of us, in a split second Paul had gone to the left and I chose the right but as we passed the stricken car I had a straight run up the hill to the hair pin but Paul was still on the grass. I just got ahead but he was not going to give up easily and went up the inside into the hairpin, I dropped it into first and slid round just in front again then got away cleanly down the hill. My heart was pounding, this was proper racing and as a novice it was quite an experience.
I even started making a little headway, almost getting the hang of it, when a number of cars arrived on the inside just as I went into the big corner at Gerards. There was some tyre squeal, a degree of rotation, a thump and then I was hurtling towards gravel. Now, gravel stops cars and I didn’t want to stop, so I kept my foot in, aimed for the shortest rout across the trap and onto the grass beyond. Now my off road racing paid off as the V12 Jag snaked across the wet grass in a merry salsa back towards the track. But not before Paul had cruised past.
Well, that’s racing. I have to fix the front wing, door, bumper, front and rear suspension on the right and something’s bent in the transmission. Time to take it apart again.
Obviously with the engine and gearbox working well it was time to take them out.
For some stupid reason I got it into my head that fitting the 6 litre V12 from an XJ40 (XJ81) would be a good move because it comes with the 4 speed electric auto box. Needless to say trying to integrate the control systems and wiring with that of an ageing XJ-S proved challenging. Also the gearbox is bigger, needing extensive transmission tunnel modifications and a custom prop shaft. The front of the engine uses a single serpentine drive belt so I had to connect the PAS pump to the existing rack but gut the hydraulic pump that sits behind it to make things work. I also gutted the air con pump to use it as an idler. I saved a few kilos by using the ally XJ40 radiator, which doesn’t fit and required a custom made ally cross member….
Anyway, somehow we got it all running the night before the Silverstone national, but during practice the gearbox ecu slightly caught fire, leaving me with only 3rd gear. Surmising this might make the race a bit tricky I cobbled together a switch arrangement to allow me to choose between 2nd and 3rd. The race started and I leisurely pulled away in 2nd, up to 3rd for the right hander and fairly swiftly the engine hits the rev limiter. Oh dear. So I grab the loose wire that engages 4th and short it against the gear stick, this gives me enough gears to keep up and start making head way again. Unfortunately the broken gearbox ecu seems to have caused the engine ecu to run retarded, the exhaust is so hot that my seat starts to get very warm indeed and I see some degree of smoke in the mirror. OK, ease of a tad then, avoid catching fire, that has to be the best strategy at this point. But the car is still capable of annoying tail enders and we even manage a spot of overtaking.
The reward of all this lunacy is 2nd in class, another fantastic day at the back of the field!
At this point in my racing ‘career’ I took a break, moved house and started writing full time. Just in time for the recession to destroy the magazine industry! So sadly the ‘Pearl had to go.
Luckily it was bought by a singularly excellent enthusiast, Marko Fleming of ‘Rust to Rome’ fame, who has put a manual gearbox in and made it road legal again. It now regularly participates in continental road rallies, sprints and hill climbs.
The roar of engines and the flash of speed stirs the soul in a way that few other sports can. There is something almost animal about racing machines, they breathe, they roar, they dance and fight. Maybe that’s why we do it, cars, bikes, trucks, everything with an engine has been raced by someone somewhere. It’s in our nature, in our blood.
Race tracks and rally courses are special places, with an almost magical feeling. They are places where the human need to prove ourselves, to compete is matched by our ingenuity and creativity in engineering. We create machines and we train ourselves, then we test both in these gladiatorial arenas.
But taking racing out of the arena and into our own town creates a contrast that can be even more special, like seeing superman in the local pub, seeing a single seater race car or a superbike absolutely on the limit of human and machine ability on a road that you use to go to the shops is astonishing.
Street racing is a well proven formula, there is Formula 1 in Monaco and super bikes in the Isle of Man TT, and that’s the sort of spectacle that many of us want to help bring to our fine cities of Britain. But it’s not that simple, the law is a cumbersome and unhelpful tool, not deliberately so it’s just the way it’s ended up, the sprawling limbs of the Road Traffic Act accidentally interfere with any attempt to bring such wonderful sport to the people. There is insurance, road closure orders, traffic management plans with complex diversions, logistics, infrastructure and other posh words to sort out. You need at least a year to get everything in place, even longer if you need sponsors. That’s quite a challenge.
But as a species we rather like a challenge don’t we?
So, in the spirit of human endeavour Coventry Moto Fest is attempting to do this, turning Coventry city into a sort of Edinburgh festival for cars, bikes and even classic buses. There is a live stage with music and impassioned debate about classic cars, there are classic car and bike displays all through the city centre, there are motoring related films on at two cinemas, there are concept cars and future technology on display, there is even a Moto Fest beer on sale; Moto Fest Multigrade! But the real difference to any other car show is the live action, there is a short oval race track springing up in the city’s larges car par with F1 Stock Cars, stunt bike and precision driving displays. But the biggest part of the show is that the ring road is being turned into a race track for the day, with rally cars, drag racers, drifters an circuit racers demonstrating their ability.
So imagine how thrilled I was to be asked to be in charge of the live action element, obviously quite a responsibility but an enormous opportunity too. Now, things aren’t quite the way I’d want, not enough time to get races booked into the motorsport calendar and the such like. Plus we need to prove ourselves to the council and the people of the city before they let us take over completely. So this is what we are doing; this year I will put on a safe and steady display of fantastic racing machinery. There will be no racing, speeds will be limited by use of a pace car, no chicanes or rumble strips. But if we get enough people telling the council that this event was good then there is a chance we can host real racing next year. That’s my goal, the big prize, bringing real racing to the streets.
So if you want to see real motorsport in the city streets then please help by joining the call to our friends at the council to let us make it even better next year. Oh, and please enjoy this year’s event too, it’s going to be great.
Porsche is a very powerful word. As brand names go it’s a bit like Marmite. But love it or hate it one thing is certain, their cars are fast, designed for performance and driver enjoyment. Of course, to get the best out of such a specialised machine the driver needs to have the right skills and experience too, but crucially these driver skills are of huge benefit to any driver no matter what car we drive.
In fact you don’t even need to be a Porsche fan to benefit hugely from a bit of driver training, such as the rather brilliant packages on offer at the Porsche Experience Centre. Situated in its own dedicated complex of test tracks just a few yards from one of the fastest corners at Silverstone race circuit, it has a bit of everything to allow drivers of all levels to safely learn and develop their skills.
The main circuit is not really a race track, its flowing twisting curves are actually designed to replicate the most demanding country roads. Here you can learn how to approach corners safely whilst enjoying the full potential of one of the centre’s immaculate Porsche cars. Their skilled instructors, most of whom are professional race drivers, first asses your ability at modest speed, then identify areas where you can improve and then gradually build your skill and confidence at a pace that suits you.
You don’t have to drive fast either, they go at your pace making sure you are comfortable with the speeds. They can teach you road craft, how to balance the car and how to control it in emergencies, so when something springs out in front of you on the road home you should be better able to react and maintain control.
One crucial part of coping with emergencies is skid control, and although modern Porsches have stunning dynamic stability control systems built in it is still essential that the driver knows what to do should the unexpected occur.
To this end the Centre has two dedicated skid control areas where you can practice not going sideways, these smooth plastic roads are irrigated with soapy water so it can simulate the worst black ice. One area is on a hill which is set up as a series of corners, demonstrating superbly how quickly things can get out of hand if you don’t react at the first sign of a skid. The first time I tried it I drifted reasonably elegantly through the first corner, but the turn into the second put the car into a massive skid and the final corner was taken very inelegantly backwards! But with the skilled guidance of my coach the next pass was taken largely in the intended direction, if a little ragged. By the third pass all was well, under control and I was able to keep the car on the correct side of the road. I’m sure you’ll agree these skills are vital in any car, not just a high powered sports car.
But of course it’s one thing to enter a skid pan fully aware of what lies ahead, in the read world you may get no warning. The Porsche Experience Centre have this covered too, they have another skid pan with the same super slippery surface, but this time it’s flat and very wide with a very sneaky surprise at the start. You are asked to drive at about 15mph in a dead straight line, a simple instruction to get from one end of the surface to the other, it should be simple. But as soon as you enter the plastic road section a computer controlled kick plate throws the back of the car sideways with a violent jolt, the system can be set up to be mild or seveqre, usually it is set to be random so that you have no idea how sideways the car will go, or indeed in which direction! This is a fantastic facility, no other track I know of has the ability to continually surprise on every lap. After just a few passes I found my reactions improving, becoming more instinctive and flowing.
This area also allows the staff to demonstrate exactly what all those stability control systems actually do, taking runs over the slippery stuff first in normal fully assisted mode, here you have to steer into the skid but the car then brings everything into line very swiftly for you. Then there is a run with stability control off but traction control still on, here you have to put in much more steering input to keep things going in the right direction and then counter steer to avoid the car flicking back the other way. Finally they let you do a run with it all turned off, with only your wits to help you as the inevitable series of dramatic spins awaits. This remarkable demonstration really does show just how brilliant modern car technology is and is well worth doing.
I was fortunate enough to spend a day there courtesy of Porsche GB PR, but a variety of courses are available for anyone who fancies learning something new, you don’t need to be a Porsche driver or even have a fast car, they have a selection of cars for you to use including their luxurious executive saloon and the Cayenne off roader. And it’s not all about speed, there are road based courses, off road courses and you can even book a session in their classic ’70s 911. There is something to cover every aspect of driving, and before you ask yes I am going to book one myself!
It has been another eventful year, as some of you may know this year I took the difficult decision to close my workshop, so this is a slightly self indulgent look at the last three years projects that have been through the ‘big shed’.
The first occupant when I moved from my old workshop in Coventry was my beloved Jaguar XJ-S V12 race car. You might think racing a V12 is a bit opulent, but it was one of those things that I really wanted to have done, even if it turned out to be just one race. The car itself took a fair amount of work but having bought a sound ebay car for £1500 it only cost a further £1500 to get all the bits to make it into a race car, so that’s a V12 on the starting grid at Silverstone for 3 grand, which I think is a bargain. As it turned out I did three years racing and even slipped in a bigger 6 litre V12, I sold it last year and it is now back as a road/track day car in Scotland.
Next in the shop was my long suffering Comp Safari racer, if you don’t know what that is then I strongly recommend you Youtube ‘Comp Safari’ and be prepared to be amazed. I built this car using my old Range Rover as a base, then bought lots of nice bent tubes and fibreglass bodywork from Tomcat Motorsport, Comp Safari racing is intense and punishes the car massively, it is both a technical and a physical challenge, this car is now running somewhere down south with its new owner as a road and play day car.
My toys were swiftly followed by the first customer project, this Volvo C303 6×6 army ambulance from the ’60s had the Volvo straight 6 petrol carb engine and a four speed box, oddly enough the fuel consumption was horrific. The customer wanted it as an expedition vehicle he could live in, so I raised the roof by just over a foot. Then I fitted the 2.5 Tdi
diesel engine and 5 speed gearbox from a Land Rover Discovery, which really doesn’t fit! After modifying the turbo, the manifolds, removing the water pump and fitting a remote electric pump, moving the alternator, shortening the bell housing, making new drive shafts, designing a new gear selector system, converting cable clutch to hydraulic, moving the brake servos, raising the cab, making new bodywork over the engine…… oh loads of stuff, did I mention it really didn’t fit? Anyway, it now works, has an MOT and is somewhere between Coventry and Africa.
The donor for the Volvo was a 300Tdi Discovery, bought for 500 quid with two months MOT left, it was a classic rot box and would never get through another test, ideal really.
Whilst I was modifying the body of the Volvo I tried a few ideas out on the Disco including a quick pick-up conversion (about an hour with an 8 inch angle grinder), I quite liked it and it was used on the farm for a few weeks before its engine was required. Fancy doing one?
Another interesting project was the PalmerSport Jaguar XK-Rs, all converted to LPG only, no petrol system left at all. My job was to re-tune the engine management, which obviously involved a lot of thrashing the cars round the race track, it’s
a hard life.
The next little project was a two pronged ebay ‘bargain’. I wanted to make a track day car for Di who loves E30 BMWs. I couldn’t find what I wanted so decided to make one using the tried and tested method of buying a car with the ideal shell but wrong engine plus a rot box with the desired engine. As luck would have it I found a mint 316 two door non-sunroof with MOT, plus a utterly rotten 325i with a really good engine and gearbox. Blending the two had a few problems but resulted in a track car at a fraction of
the cost of a mint 325. All the bits left over went back to ebay and paid for extras like the roll cage, which was nice.
Another purchase with only a few weeks of MOT was a rather pleasant Range Rover classic. It was just a few hundred quid because it wouldn’t start, the owners ‘mechanic’ friend told him it needed a new fuel pump, ECU and some other expensive bits, but when I got it back to the workshop I found it was just a corroded wire on the ignition, a few
minuets and a new spade terminal and it fired up. I had only bought it for spares but with a few weeks ticket left it seemed rude not to drive it, surprisingly it drove very well, even Di who is a sports car fan liked driving it.
The Range Rover’s engine and auto gearbox was due to be fitted to a rather tidy two door Range Rover Classic belonging to the editor of PPC magazine, I also fitted the stainless exhaust that the donor car had plus the fuel injection. The resultant car was a rather pleasing blend of ’70s style and ’80s performance, it was also more economical.
Sometimes I end up with a car that I have fixed for someone, such was the case with a Frontera that belonged to Di’s uncle. The car was at that age when one thing after another breaks, and after several trips to the workshop the owner got fed up and bought a Freelander instead, which needed less frequent mending. He offered the Frontera to me for a bargain price, I set about overhauling a few of the remaining items and sold it on, but not before driving it round for a few weeks and being surprised how much fun it was.
Some of the project cars are more interesting than others, one of my favourites was the Escort which came in for a suspension conversion. The engine was a big turbo Saab unit capable of over 400bhp, to cope with this I fitted a narrowed Volvo 740 axle with a classic four link set up. The front received Group A rally suspension. This was a thing of beauty.
Occasionally I get called by magazines to help with their project cars, if you follow Practical Classic you might know of their very long term restoration of a MK2 Jaguar to which I fitted the wiring and a few other bits. A more curious call was from Evo magazine who were running a ‘Grand Challenge’ where they bought a shed of a car for under £1000 then raced them. One car, the BMW 325 cabriolet had virtually no brakes so it trundled into the workshop for a rebuild, I was not allowed to spend any money on it as this was against the ‘rules’ so I stripped and rebuilt them to stop the callipers sticking and resurfaced the discs and pads. This worked well, but when the young Evo staff member drove it back on a cold and frosty night he managed to loose it on a corner and crash it. Undaunted, for the next trial at Bedford Autodrome race track we recovered the ‘scrap’ from the insurance company compound, at the pits with the 325
firmly strapped down to the trailer and the trailer brakes applied I asked someone to stand on the brakes of the Range Rover tow car, meanwhile I attached a tow rope to the crumpled bodywork that was crushing the front left wheel and had smashed the front of the engine, the other end of the rope was attached to my trusty Discovery which I drove in the other direction with some enthusiasm, repeatedly wrenching the bodywork out until the wheel was free. I dropped in the radiator and intake from our E30 and fired it up. The only thing preventing the wreck from an outright win on the test track was the fact that it was snowing! Ever done a track day in the snow? You should!
My trusty Disco has a hard life and needed a major overhaul, so to keep myself mobile I put the word out on social media that I needed a short term banger. This Volvo 940 turbo was offered to me for £50, only snag was it had to be recovered from a secure compound on a military base! A few tweaks later it was roadworthy and its remaining month of MOT was well used as I travelled the country for various photo shoots, it even managed to survive driving round a quarry when I test drove a Bowler Nemesis for Evo. After a few weeks I had patched up my Disco again and the Volvo was surplus to requirements, now this left me with an expendable car with a turbo engine, you can guess what happened next, up went the boost in stages, testing the performance then upping the boost a bit more. Obviously eventually it went pop, but a lot of fun ad occurred.
A frequent visitor to my workshop was Di’s BMW 635CSi, one of my all time favourite drives but by crikey does it need a lot of maintenance, and the bits aren’t cheap either, a genuine set of spark plug leads is over 80 quid! The car arrived with the original metric wheels with odd sized and very old tyres that made the car lean to the left. I bought a set of BBS wheels with decent tyres and unsurprisingly the handling improved dramatically. These are lovely cars to drive, but if you get a cheap one be prepared for a lot of work.
The Saab 9000 was an accidental purchase, or possibly more accurately incidental. It had been converted for track day use and was offered to me with a view to me breaking it up. All I wanted was the seats! Anyway, it had the big turbo engine and a few tweaks, it went like stink and handled OK, after a short period playing with it I swapped the seats back to standard and put it on ebay, two young lads bought it. I explained that it was a bit swift and that they should take it easy but I never heard from them after they took it away, don’t know whether they got home….
As my workshop was on a farm I occasionally got called upon to fix farm vehicles, tractors, a combined harvester, Teleporters and even crop driers. They also had two very rusty Toyota Hi Lux pick ups, these were rarely used on road, they are registered ‘agricultural vehicle’ and don’t need an MOT. Which is just as well because this one would never pass one. Being caked in mud and farm waste permanently had rotted nearly everything, it was held together with wood and good will, it had structural bailer twine, it was a shed. On this particular day the brakes had failed and the car had been stopped by driving it into a steaming mound of farm waste and poultry entrails. The car arrived on the end of a fork lift truck and was dumped in my compound. Taking the wheels of resulted in a splash of what I at first thought was mud, but as soon as it started running off I realised was in fact cockroaches, woodlice and maggots. The brakes had failed because the pistons had fallen out of the callipers due to the discs having worn down to 0.9mm thick!
Another odd thing from the farm was the Kubota lawn tractor, which had a problem with the hydrostatic drive. The engine just drives a hydraulic pump and the wheels are driven by a hydraulic motor, in between are two swash plates so the gear ratio can be infinitely varied between two limits. You can drive along and steadily drop the engine revs whilst increasing the gearing to maintain a constant speed, if you wanted to.
With the arrival of our baby, our transport needs changed. Di heroically continued to use the 635 with a baby seat in the back but the contortion needed to get a baby into the seat eventually wore her resolve down, so she decided to get a Disco like mine, only cheaper.
It had a worn cam and a host of problems caused by years of neglect. I fixed most of them but when it became clear a new engine would be the best rout she decided to sell it, there comes a point when it is better to get rid and start again, the art is to recognise when this is and not get trapped into spending a fortune.
Another example of this was a Fiesta I bought with a view to doing up and selling on. It had been parked on grass, which is the worst thing you can ever do to a car other than burning it or rolling it! Grass creates a very humid atmosphere that eats very quickly into every nook and cranny of the bodywork, it eats the brakes, the fuel lines and every fixing that is in anyway exposed. Up top the car had been regularly washed and appeared to be looked after, but once back at the workshop and up in the air it became clear that every mechanical part under the car needed refurbishing or replacing. Both sills had rotted from the inside leaving a thin layer of paint to make the outside look ok! I decided to cut my losses, strip a few spares off for ebay and weigh the rest in for scrap.
A better choice was a lovely green XJ-S 3.6, bought with an engine fault that was reasonable easy to fix. These 6 cylinder Jags are lovely to drive, quite nippy yet very smooth and capable of returning over 30mpg on a run. Once it was all running well it was bought by a chap wanted it as a first car for his son, how fantastic is that!
I have also done a few experiments in the workshop when people have asked me to investigate theories or product claims. One of which was the idea that you can improve mpg by using hydrogen obtained form on-board
electrolysis of water. I tried several variations and ran systems on my car for many months. Guess what, it doesn’t work!
Customer projects continued through the workshop including a rather cute MGB, it had a Lancia twin cam 2 litre engine and a Fiat five speed box. To get the power down I was asked to fit a modified Rover SD1 rear axle, parabolic leaf springs and convert it to use a Watts linkage. I was surprised how much difference it made, particularly entering fast corners where it settled in instantly rather than the traditional MGB rear end wobble. Must do an article on it one day.
To replace Di’s Disco she returned to her trusted BMW, this time with a 535, similar to the 635 but with 4 doors making fitting a baby much easier. These cars are often kept in very good condition but have amazingly low values, this one was under £300 and only needed tyres and front dampers for the MOT. Eventually she sold it to a collector in Dubi!
At this time I started doing higher mileages as my technical consultancy work really took off, I needed something a bit more economical so I bought a Rover 420 diesel. Fantastic car and cheaper than the smaller 220 for some reason. In a year of motoring it only
needed routine servicing and one new wheel bearing. I absolutely thrashed it, including a few laps on race tracks and running down the beach at Pendine. Only down side was I found the seat very uncomfortable.
I got a call one day from a bloke who wanted me to get his MGB working, this sounded ok until I saw it parked in a hedge, one side rotten the other side missing! I declined to fix it but did use some of its parts on his other MGB. Amazingly this chap bought two identical
new MGBs back in 1980, he used one (the one in the hedge) but kept the other one under wraps in a dry garage. It had last ran 20 years ago and had a few thousand miles n the clock, even the running in instruction sticker was still on the windscreen. I changed the expired fluids, cleaned the plugs, stripped and rebuilt the carbs to free them up, fitted a new battery and threw some fresh petrol in. Amazingly it fired up first time! I freed off the brakes and took it for a drive round the farm access road (private land), it was an utter time warp car and an amazing experience.
As time passed Di’s BMW started to show its age, and in the winter snow it was a bit to lively so she decided to try a Disco again, this time a ‘spares or repair’ Discovery 2 V8 with a faulty LPG system. The car was basically sound but had suffered from a lack of maintainance and a botched LPG conversion that had damaged the engine electrical system. It was a mash up of random LPG parts that would never work together but the tanks were ok, so I first reworked the wiring to get it back to standard and running
properly on petrol, then fitted new brakes and gave it a full service, it passed the MOT with ease. I then bought a second hand LPG front end kit to get it all running properly.
If you follow Twitter you may know @onecarefullowner, he has a dream of fitting a Rover L series Diesel engine into one of his beloved Allegros. I like this idea, double the power and also double the economy, double win. The target for his Frankenstein concept was a slightly battered white estate which in tru tradition ‘looks worse than it is’. The engine donor is a Rover 220d, it is always best to have a complete car to take the engine from so that you
get all the ancillary bits needed for the conversion. One small problem is that the L series doesn’t fit in an Allegro engine bay, you have to cut off the chassis rails! The solution would be to weld in a space frame front end, but this was beyond the scope of the original project and Richard took the difficult decision to quite before we ran out of time.
Other vehicles that have gone through the shop include a variety of bangers, the Audi 80, Pug 206, Freelander and my Rover 75 plus @petrolthreads E30 race car and a few prototype cars for OEMs, but that’s another story.
With my time totally consumed with consultancy work and writing I closed the workshop for the last time in October, it is sadly missed.
On the weekend of 22/23 May 2010 team Runningblade took the World Land Speed Record for lawnmowers. The magnificent machine was driven by Don Wales, grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, on the legendary Pendine sands reaching a speed of 87.833 mph and taking the record for the British team.
The original idea was the brain child of team chief Steven Vokins, who’s day job is playing with cars at Beaugleigh Motor Museum, and I was thrilled when he asked me to come on board as technical advisor.
Making a genuine lawnmower do that speed is no mean feat, the machine was built by seasoned mower racers at Countax in their spare time, a quite magnificent effort which not only goes damn fast but is also very stable at speed, looks good and even cuts grass!
In fact part of the regulations required us to cut some grass before the speed attempt, so the lawn outside the Pendine Museum of Speed benefited from a quick trim in front of the world’s media. Currently the museum houses Bluebird, Malcolm Campbell’s land speed record car from the ’20s, so it’s fair to say there is a lot of family history there.
Runningblade also raises funds for two heart charities, so please look at the web site and spread the word. The record breaking run was witnessed by the previous record holder Bob Cleveland who has vowed to take the record back to the USA next year, but he also raised over 1000 dollars back home for our charities, now that is a damn good sport.
Designing a land speed record machine is a skill hard leaned by the pioneers of speed, luckily for us we can draw on their incredible tales to reduce the amount of pain we have to endure. The same rules apply no matter what sort of machine is being designed; stability at speed is essential for safety and to allow the pilot to apply full power, secondly you need to balance power and drag so you can reach the target speed in the distance available.
Most speed machines gain stability by using a very long wheel base, in fact it’s the ratio of the track width to the wheel base length that influences the twitchiness of the car, or yaw stability if you prefer the technical term. But making a car to narrow makes it easier to roll, so we start by setting the track width then altering the wheelbase to suit.
The width is a big problem though, for speed we need to make the frontal area as small as possible so it pushes a small hole in the air. Air is heavy stuff, each cubic meter (about the amount of air under a coffee table) weighs about 1.1 kg, driving at 100 mph means that the average car (2 square meters of frontal area) is pushing 110kg of air out of the way every single second!
The ease or difficulty with which it manages to move the air is down to the shape of the car, sleek slippery shapes carve through the air but brick shapes shovel the air in front of them in a massive pile of pressure slowing the car horribly.
And here is the first problem; lawnmowers are traditionally shaped like tractors with a brick shaped bonnet. Luckily Countax make a fairly well streamlined bonnet which became the starting point for the whole vehicle. We also leaned the driver back as far as possible, unlike race cars the view forwards is surprisingly unimportant, usually they are looking a long way in front and so they can be sunk deep into the vehicle with their eyes at bonnet height.
In fact getting everything as low as possible is vital, a low centre of gravity helps stability and crucially reduces the effect of side winds. One of the great problems with a land speed machine is that the aerodynamics are set for minimal drag which means minimal down force, so at very high speed even a slight side wind can blow the car badly off course.
This means that land speed record cars run with a fairly high weight to hold them down at speed, the complete opposite of nearly every other form of motorsport. It’s not that we add weight, more that we don’t try to minimise it, making the structure very strong and the such like. Where the weight sits is very important though, we try to put the majority of the weight over the front axle so the steering wheels have grip, the worst case is the front going light at speed because then the car can spin and roll or on faster machines could flip over backwards. Loosing grip at the back makes the car twitchy and with rear wheel drive obviously acceleration is lost but generally the car stays on course. Going back to the problem of side winds, as the wind blows on the side of the vehicle the most force is applied in the biggest side area, on a mower this would normally be somewhere at the back of the engine area, the point where the car is pushed is the centre of pressure. setting the centre of gravity in front of the centre of pressure means the car is more stable, that’s one of the reasons why proper land speed record cars have a big tail fin.
With all these factors in mind one of the first things we did was to lay all the main components on the floor and get Don to sit on the seat so we could get everything in the right place. Apart from being a useful exercise it is also very funny, and yes we did force him to hold the steering wheel and make brum brum noises.
So now we had the height, width and length sorted out it was time to resolve the details, the most important one being the tyres. Again we have a dilemma, bigger diameter makes a smoother and more stable ride, a wider tyre reduces ground pressure on the soft sand which reduces rolling drag. But the greater the tyre frontal area the greater the aero drag. The decision was constrained by the fact there are no standard lawn mower tyres rated for 100mph, so we had to use ordinary car tyres. Tread pattern is critical on sand, to minimise power lost in breaking up the beach surface we needed the least aggressive tread pattern possible, we even considered slicks at one point, which may seem surprising. But remember we are not doing any cornering, just a straight line, and too much lateral grip could be a problem if it makes the steering too twitchy, if the vehicle does spin it is desirable for it to slide rather than dig in when going sideways to avoid rolling.
Indeed, to stop the steering being too twitchy the rack ratio is reduced making it a lot slower to turn and increasing the turning circle many times.
With all these factors set, we needed to sort out the shape, the aerodynamics and crucially the drag dictates the power required from the engine. At this point well funded teams would model the vehicle on a computer and hone the bodywork in a virtual wind tunnel. We weren’t well funded so we had to do it the old fashioned way, we built a prototype and drove it down and airfield to see how fast it went. Using a data logger lent to us by Racelogic we could see how fast the vehicle accelerated and get accurate top speed readings. As we knew the weight of the vehicle and the engine power curve it was fairly straight forward to work out the drag coefficient.
My good friends at Dunsfold Park, home of the Top Gear test track, very kindly let us use the runway for a day. It’s amazing how much work is required before a vehicle can actually drive onto the track, after arriving and unloading the van the initial checks are made and fuel added, I mounted the datalogger and set up the GPS speed reading. Don suited up and the engine was warmed up, that fairly large single cylinder mower engine sounded quite meaty with a race exhaust. A couple of low speed runs warm up the transmission and then it comes back in to check nothing is leaking before the propper test run.
The prototype peaked at just over 60mph with a 27bhp engine, which may not sound impressive but it gave us the drag info needed to design the real deal. The prototype had another job to do too; every world land speed record team struggles to find the cash to go on and a vital part of the teams work is generating publicity and generating support, in fact if you saw Runningblade at the launch party at Beaugleigh you saw the prototype, the final version was still being built at that time.
One key ingredient is power, in fact more than any other form of motorsport power is critical, and wee needed more. To cover the measured mile at the target speed the vehicle needs more power than you might think, first of all it needs enough power to maintain top speed as it overcomes drag and mechanical losses, but it also needs extra power to accelerate the vehicle comfortably in the run up zone. Not only this but the engine will be running flat out for a long time, so it needs to be able to generate this power reliably but also maintain it as everything runs at maximum speed and temperature, so a degree of safety margin is required and it is common to use an engine with at least 10% more power available than you need.
The problem on this project was the need to use a real lawnmower engine, these usually have the cylinder flat and the crank vertical to drive the front belt pulley. There are not many high power versions about. The 27bhp engine in the prototype was one of the biggest available, but this only gave us half our hoped for top speed, the trouble is the force due to air drag on the front goes up with the square of speed, and worse the power needed goes up with the cube of speed. So to double the top speed we need eight times as much power!
To meet the challenge we needed to drastically reduce the drag as well as increase the engine power. Kawasaki had just launched a new big mower engine and being fabulously helpful lent us one of the first in the country. This mighty 1000cc V twin engine produced well over 40bhp as standard and with a few tweaks we eventually got about double the power of the prototype.
To get the drag down the final version of Runningblade was slightly lower and narrower, the seat canted back a touch and the wheelbase extended to cope.
By now all funds and time had been exhausted, we had booked Pendine sands and the worlds media were pouring in, it was now time to prove we could do it even though we had no time for any final testing.
Pendine is a fantastically evocative place, there has been so much triumph and tragedy here and Don’s family ties are so great that the land speed museum there houses many of his ancestor’s artefacts. Tides dictate the days timing, as the water goes out it takes time for the moisture in the sand to ebb away, if you drive on it too soon it is too wet and the car will bog down, leave it too late in it is dust and the car digs in, there is a fairly brief window of opportunity of about an hour where the sand is firm and speeds are highest. As soon as the tide has gone the first job is to clear away all the debris by hand to prevent ‘foreign object damage’ or FOD, clearing the drift wood, shells and rubbish is known as fodding and a sterling band of volunteers form the local scouts assisted in this back breaking work. At the same time the course is laid out with the start and finish ‘gates’ being marked out and the electronic timing gear set up and tested. A FIA sanctioned timing official was hired for the day so we could give Guinness World Records verifiable data. Much of the setting up and moving kit about on the beach was done by the local Discovery Owners Club who’s help was vital, they also posted cars at set points on the course to act as emergency aid just in case.
Whilst all this was going on the mower was equipped with it’s cutting deck and a witnessed mow of the museum lawn took place in front of the officials and media, plus a fairly large gathering crowd. No pressure then.
Then the call came through that the course was ready and the tide time was spot on for the first run, so the cutting deck was removed for safety and we headed for the golden beach.
Initially we ran with a roll cage and harness as we had no idea how stable the mower would be at higher speeds, Don set off for the first timed run, the V twin sounded awesome with no silencing, a bit like a Harley. It soon got up to 80mph and was humming along brilliantly, but then disaster struck and the speed dropped dramatically. We all dived into support trucks and rushed to the scene, the Countax guys flipped the machine onto its tail stand and immediately we could see the drive belt has fragmented. The prolonged run at full power had made it so hot it just disintegrated. Adjustment were made to pulleys to minimise slip and flex and a new belt fitted.
The return run went without a hitch, Don got out and reported it felt incredibly stable at speed and the beach was at its best, so we decided to remove the roll cage to reduce drag.
The second run was faster, but still not near the target so more tweaks were tried, gradually run by run the speed crept up a tiny amount at a time. There was a gentle breeze up the beach and with a tail wind the machine broke 90mph, but the return run into the wind dropped the average to 86.7mph.
And that was enough to snatch the World Land Speed Record for lawnmowers, the mower had given everything it had to give and it was time to celebrate.
Speed records are strangely addictive, once you have had one you need another, it doesn’t matter how fast you go you want to go faster. Speed is a drug, and the competition at every level is fierce, there is a category for almost everything, even road legal furniture, you name it some one has driven it faster than you would think possible.
Just being part of a team is a real privilege and a thrill, if you love speed machines then why not get involved, I joined the Bloodhound SSC club who have loads of thing for members to join in with and it’s a real buzz. Go on, get involved!
The Jaguar V12 engine is one of the greatest iconic powerplants ever made, powering the E Type, XJ12 and XJ-S models plus numerous successful race cars from Touring Cars to LeMans GTs. But for some the apparent complexity makes it a very scary option. Having raced these magnificent units I feel it’s time to set the record straight.
The first time I opened the bonnet on my XJ-S V12 I just stared at it in disbelief for a few minuets, then gently shut the bonnet again and walked away. To say it was full would be an understatement, it looked like someone had emptied a very large bucket of automotive spaghetti into the engine bay until it was full, then smoothed it off with a very big oily trowel.
Which is a very great shame, because the engine itself is a fairly straight forward design, just with 12 of everything. Owning and driving one is a fantastic pleasure, round town the engine is silent from within the cabin and it is arguably more refined than a Rolls. On the open road it has a briskness that defies its size, and given enough space has a relentless thrust that just keeps on going.
So if you have a desire to own one then don’t let the tales of woe put you off. It is only that the parts bolted on to the engine, such as the fuel system, air control system and electrics that seem shockingly complex, and that is only until you get the hang of what does what.
The good news is that the engine itself is very reliable and can cope with a huge amount of abuse, the bad news is that because of this many older cars have many missed services, giving the new owner quite a lot to do. The base engine has gone through three main changes over the years; the original E Type and XJ engine had flat cylinder heads and is the one preferred by the racing fraternity, but it had an alarming thirst for fuel. The fuel crisis of the 70’s led to the High Efficiency HE engine, introduced in the early 80’s, with a very high compression ratio and very special combustion chambers with a heavily recessed intake valve for very high swirl rates, this limits tuning potential slightly but gives amazingly reasonable fuel consumption, I used to achieve about 25mpg on a run from my XJ-S HE. The HE stayed in production into the 90’s when it was replaced by the 6 litre bock which was largely the same but with a longer stroke.
All these engines are very robust, as they are derived from the XJ13 race engine the 5.3 revs to 6500rpm and the 6 litre goes to 6000rpm. Because they are designed to be quite happy running at these speeds, in an every day road car they are totally unstressed. Of course this pedigree means it is still great for classic racing today, many racers take engines straight out of scrap cars and merely change the oil before heading for the track.
Speaking of oil, it does take quite a lot of the slippery stuff, over 10 litres is usual making an oil change a substantial investment. The oil tends to last quite well however, an oil cooler is standard and the engine’s quick warm up system minimises oil contamination. When changing the oil it is best done with warm oil, as with most engines, but leave the exhaust for a while to cool down because the oil filter is right next to the down pipes and contact is inevitable.
The simplest incarnation was in the carburettor fed E Type and XJ12 models, but the engine was designed for fuel injection from the start, and as soon as a suitable system was available it was fitted to the XJ12, the XJ-S was injected from the start. The systems was very sophisticated with little extra features to enhance performance and emissions, all stacked on top of the engine, making it look so complicated. Breaking it down a bit, there are six main systems in that spaghetti; fuel, vacuum, engine management, ignition, cooling system and air con.
I will take a typical S3 XJ12 as an example, then go over differences on other models later. Opening the bonnet reveals a network of small bore tubing, some of this is the fuel system with the U shaped fuel rail feeding all 12 injectors, but most of the small tubing is the complex vacuum operated control system for the distributor. The front of the engine is dominated by the air con pump with its cylindrical silencer, yes that’s right the air con pump has a silencer, very refined.
You will also notice it has two cooling system pressure caps, one at the front of the engine and one on the expansion bottle on the wing. Nearer the rear of the engine is the throttle pedastle, this is where the throttle cable operates a circular device that in turn operates the two throttle links, more of that later.
Lets start with a potted history of the ignition system, it has gone through several major changes over the years, most models of the 70’s and 80’s use the 12 cylinder Lucas Opus distributor, similar to many other BL cars of the time. The HE engine’s high compression ratio required much more spark energy at high speed than the older engines, and feeding a spark to 12 cylinders at engine speeds up to 6500rpm require the coil to store a lot of energy, it was too big a job for just one coil back in those days so the cunning chaps at Jaguar doubled up the coils, one coil has the king lead to the dizzy and the other sharing only the low tension 12v side of things. This secondary coil looks a bit odd, as the king lead post is blocked off, the main coil is located next to the dizzy but the secondary coil is mounted right at the front of the car, in front of the radiator, if its faulty or missing then the engine will misfire at high rpm but may well run perfectly round town.
Later models managed to use just one, more modern, coil. But when computerized mapped ignition was installed the need to have the coil towers further apart required a novel system from Mirelli which effectively incorporated two 6 cylinder distributors in one, stacked one on top of the other in the same housing. This system has two coils next to the distributor and two king leads feeding a split level rotor arm.
The final iteration of the V12 ignition saga happened after the change to 6 litres when the distributor was deleted in the and replaced with individual coils for each cylinder.
Of these systems the most common is the Opus, and it is also the one with the most complicated vacuum advance system ever made. Its also very clever. To get the best from an engine the ignition advance must adapt to all engine operating conditions, a simple vacuum advance system is a big compromise but back in the 70’s full computer controlled mapped ignition was not an option for mass production. So the vacuum capsule is connected to several air solenoids, a vacuum regulator, a vacuum dump valve. The biggest problem with this comes from old rubber hoses perishing, the second biggest problem comes from people re-assembling the system incorrectly. One of the clever things the system does is warm the engine up quickly, and its huge amount of coolant. The ignition is retarded when cold and extra air is let in via an air solenoid, this is controlled by its own little electronic box of tricks which has been known to go wrong resulting in lost power and idle problems, but when it works it works very well. To compensate for lost power when running so retarded extra air is let into the manifolds by yet another solenoid. It is possible to remove this system completely, the only down side being longer warm up times.
One of the popular horror stories about this engine is that the spark plugs are impossible to change without a major engine strip down. Well, in fact most of them are no problem at all, but the front two are very close to the air con pump, a special tool is recommended but another option is to undo the pump belt and mountings and ease it over, without damaging the hoses, to get enough access.
Because of this difficulty it is quite common for the plugs to be left in far too long and start to corrode in place, so its worth blowing all the dirt out of the plug recess and allowing some penetrating oil to soak in before attempting removal. In fact it is quite important to blow any detritus out of the way first, the plugs are ate the top of the engine and it is easy for debris to accidentally fall down the hole during the change. Make sure you get the right plugs too, there was a change of design to taper seats when the HE engine came in.
The electrical system design also laughs in the face of convention. The fuel injection control really was cutting edge and in some ways daring. The early, pre-HE, ECU was relatively simple but very good at its job, the HE ECU is more sophisticated and has a manifold pressure sensor built in to the box. Unusually the ECU is mounted in the boot and the wiring for the injectors and sensors passes through the rear bulkhead and takes a tortuous route through the interior and finally emerges through the front bulkhead from whence it sprawls over the engine and wing edges to meet the control relays mounted on top of the radiator. The HE system also has a vacuum hose from the intake manifold going all the way back to the ECU. Obviously there is the potential for older cars wiring or vacuum hose to have expired in some way. Electrical connections are prone to corrosion which can usually be removed reasonably easily, but sometimes it works out easier to fit new connectors. The vacuum hose is worth replacing if its older than a decade.
The throttles, one on each intake manifold for injected engines and four on carb versions, are operated via a centrally mounted disc which is pulled round against a spring by the throttle cable, this disc also operates the load cable for the auto box and the cruse control, it also has a switch on some models for the auto box kick down and the throttle potentiometer for the ECU. So all in all its a complicated part, but all you usually need to do to it is check that the throttles all start to open at the same point, if they are a little out of balance the engine might only be using half its cylinders as you cruse round town, luckily its a simple operation involving undoing the lock nuts and winding the links in or out as described in the service manual.
The fuel system is quite remarkable too; on the XJ-S there is a fuel pump in the boot sitting in its own little tank, fed by gravity from the main tank. On XJ12 there are two main fuel tanks which both feed the fuel pump in the boot but with fuel solenoids to select which tank is used. The excess fuel returns from the engine to the tank, but because the fuel picks up so much heat in the massive engine bay it goes through a small cylindrical fuel cooler that is plumbed into the air con return pipe.
Early systems suffered from hot re-start problems due to having very small bore fuel rails which are prone to fuel vaporisation in the heat, the later larger bore system is a useful upgrade. When the returning fuel gets to the tank it goes into a pipe in the main tank which in turn goes back into the pump tank, that way returning fuel is mainly pumped straight back to the engine and the main fuel tank temperature doesn’t rise too much. This is all done to stop fuel evaporating, which became part of the emissions regulations in the 70’s, instead of the tank just venting to the atmosphere it vents into a can, tucked up into the right hand buttress on XJ-Ss and one on each rear pillar on XJ12s, which allows the vapour to condense and return back to the tank via yet another small bore pipe, determined gases are allowed to escape via a restricted pipe on the top of the canister which goes to the engine intake.
Needless to say its a very complicated system and is prone to problems, one of which is a strong smell of fuel in the cabin. Some owners rip the whole vent system out and replace it with conventional vent pipes.
Later models supplement this vent system with a carbon canister in the engine bay which absorbs fuel vapour and is emptied into the engine intake during part throttle running, ensuring the vapour is burnt and never vented to atmosphere. This is controlled by the engine ECU via a solenoid in the pipe from the canister to the intake.
Although all this pipework looks intimidating initially, all you really need to do is keep the hoses in good order, and if you are so inclined the system can be simplified and most of the plumbing removed.
The cooling system is another stunning work of art. Each cylinder head has an externally mounted coolant manifold with a thermostat and top hose at the end, in the E Type both top hoses go forward to the radiator, which was the traditional sort with a tank at the top and the bottom and the cores running vertically so the two top hoses went straight into the top tank, relatively simple compared to what happened next.
On XJ models it got a lot more complicated, a more modern radiator with horizontal flow and a separate expansion tank is used for greater efficiency and lower bonnet lines, and with a tank ate each side it made connecting the two top hoses a bit more tricky. The solution was to put a baffle plate one third of the way down the left hand tank, effectively splitting the radiator in two. The left top hose goes to the top of the left tank and the coolant then flows across the top third of the radiator into the right hand tank where it is joined by the right hand top hose. Then the mixed coolant from both heads goes back to the lower left hand tank via the lower two thirds of the radiator. Still keeping up? The bottom hose is attached slightly above the bottom of the lower left hand tank, and then feeds back into the water pump.
To make this set up work a small bore hose connects the top of the radiator to the expansion tank, mounted at the side of the engine bay. This tank feeds back to the radiator via a bigger hose at the bottom. It also supports one of the hoses for the interior heater, the other coming from the back of the right hand cylinder head coolant manifold. At the top of the tank is a pressure cap, but because this is not the lowest point in the system it should not be used to check the coolant level.
Amazingly it gets more complicated, between the two thermostat housings is a balancing tube which supports a second pressure cap, it is here that you should check the coolant level.
If you make the mistake of opening both pressure caps then coolant will drain from the top of the engine into the expansion tank and spill out. The highest point in the system is the interior heater matrix, so when refilling the coolant after a change it is best to have the front of the car raised a bit. You wont be able to get all the coolant in in one go, the trick is to run the engine with the heating on full and give it a few revs briefly then switch off and magically you can get the rest in.
Bizarrely the standard service schedule specifies dropping two pots of Barrs leaks with every coolant change, probably due the the huge number of joints in the system. This can lead to clogging in some of the coolant galleries and the interior heater matrix, so a good flushing can be helpful, and as ever old rubber hoses should be renewed every ten years or so.
Although this set up is genuinely complicated, all that is needed is normal maintenance such as coolant changes and checking for leaks, so don’t let it scare you off.
The front of the engine sports four belts on most models, and again although it looks complicated it really isn’t. at the back is the alternator belt, tensioned by moving the alternator, then there air con drive belt which is tensioned by a high mounted idler pulley, next we find the belt that drives the water pump and power steering pump tensioned by moving the PAS pump, lastly there is a fan belt with its own little tensioner pulley.
So there you have it, a glorious engine hidden under a complicated dressing. Although there are many neglected examples around, with some careful attention going through each system a stage at a time will ensure many happy years of sheer motoring joy.