A few weeks ago the Alexander Engineering Company, of Haddenham, Bucks, held their traditional “Open Day” for motoring journalists. The purpose of this visit was to test a few examples of the ever-increasing range of new cars which benefit by “modifications” carried out by this firm.
In 1949 the Alexander Engineering Co., Ltd., was formed for the production of car spares and accessories; their specialist equipment then used for tuning the racing cars of manager Michael Christie was soon put to good use on development work for enthusiasts throughout the country. Eventually modifications were carried out on a range of popular production cars and this side of the business flourished rapidly, with the result that a new workshop and showroom have been built in the village of Haddenham, near Aylesbury, increasing the work capacity three-fold and bringing the total number of conversions to over 3,000.
Until October of last year the accent was on added performance and modifications or kits of parts were available for some of the more popular small cars, but economy conversions were a natural development, and their recent introduction has coincided well with the present petrol shortage. Both the “economy” and “added performance” kits are in production in quantity and are being exported, especially to Switzerland, to the firm’s agents in Basle, and to agents in New Zealand and America.
Another new aid is the fitting, at Haddenham, of Laycock overdrives to all Rootes and B.M.C. vehicles which are not equipped with overdrives in production. Alexander Engineering recently reached an agreement whereby they may fit these units to M.G. Magnette, Hillman Minx and Singer Gazelle cars, the approximate prices for fitting being £87 10s. for the Magnette and £75 for the Minx and Gazelle.
Conversions are available for over 20 different models and may now be fitted by agents situated throughout Britain, but the overdrive units are at present only being fitted at Haddenham. Fitting can he undertaken within 48 hours of ordering and kits can be supplied for home fitting by enthusiasts. New cars can also be collected fromt the works for the fitting of the required parts before delivery to the customer.
On arrival at Haddenham after a journey from London by motor coach with other journalists, we found two Hillman Minx, two Sunbeam Rapiers, an M.G. Magnette, two Morris Minors, a Zephyr II and a Standard Eight placed at our disposal for testing.
The first car which we took over was the Hillman Minx fitted with the tuned engine, floor-change gear-lever and Laycock overdrive. We drove this car twice round the circiut to get it warmed up and found that it would do 60 m.p.h. happily in normal top without effort and an easy 70 m.p.h. in overdrive. Acceleration was quite brisk in the lower gears but the engine was noisy at speeds above 50 m.p.h. unless in overdrive. The contrast was very considerable when changing over to the standard Minx, which was much smoother and quieter, and although sluggish in the lower gears was very silent at an indicated 65 m.p.h.
The standard Sunbeam Rapier was a pleasant car to handle, giving an easy 75 m.p.h. in overdrive top and a steady 65 m.p.h. in normal top on a tricky damp road with side winds, further complicated by horses and country folk in Land Rovers congregating for a hunt. The tuned Rapier lived up to its name as a fast car. Unfortunately the speedometer had given up working and we were unable to record speeds but it with very much quicker than its fellow standard model, and a quick petrol check on the M.G.A. petrol-flow meter with which all cars were fitted gave an estimate of 26 m.p.g., which was reasonable in view of some bursts of about 80 m.p.h.
Next to follow was the M.G. Magnette, which was tuned and fitted with overdrive. The pleasant central gear-change immediately became apparent on stepping into this car and we were away very briskly to an easy 70 m.p.h. in top, with 80 m.p.h. on the “clock” later. This car is a little overbodied and one is rather conscious that the engine is having to work hard all the time, but it handles well and the driving position is excellent.
Then came the Standard Eight, which proved to be a real eye-opener in the way of speed. Apparently this test car had been in the firm’s possession for two years and had been repeatedly driven flat out, with the result that the steering and suspension were in a poor state, but for the engine performance there could be nothing but praise. It was silent and smooth and would accelerate very briskly to nearly 80 m.p.h. on the speedometer, at which speed it was somewhat unsteady in view of the soft suspension and gusty winds, but for a small car it really was fast. The conversion comprises a 4.55 : 1 rear axle ratio in place of the 4.875 : 1, and 8 : 1 compression-ratio, reshaped cylinder head, twin S.U. carburetters, special inlet manifold and exhaust pipes.
Finally came the two Morris Minors, the o.h.v. 803-c.c. and the 1,000. Both were fitted with “economy” conversions. A trial run first in the 803-c.c. model confirmed our opinions of the good roadholding and general handling characteristics of this car, 55 m.p:h. being the highest speed recorded on the five-mile road circuit. This model was fitted with normal central floor gear-change but with a compression-ratio of 8:25 :1 and a 4.5 : 1 axle, giving over 60 m.p.g. at a steady 40 m.p.h. And so to the Minor 1,000. Fitted with an. “economy” conversion, this model astounded us by having a very adequate performance combined with it most moderate thirst, a case of “having your cake and eating it.” A petrol consumption of 55 m.p.g. under average conditions coupled with speeds in excess of an indicated 75 m.p.h. are not easily attained together in small family saloons. The conversion in this case consists of modified cylinder head with 8.6 : 1 compression-ratio, special valves and springs, modified carburetter, rear axle ratio changed from the original 4.5 : 1 to 4.2 : 1, and re-calibrated speedometer. Another pleasing feature of this model is the central floor gear-change, as is also now fitted to the Austin A35.
The series II Ford Zephyr unfortunately eluded us all day and we were unable to try it, but “improved performance” on this car results in a three-figure maximum speed which should be quite adequate to cover all the needs of those who buy these cars.
The steady demand for these conversions has caused the makers to look towards other makes of cars on the Continent for which added performance kits are not available or cannot be bought in this country. Cars which are being considered for modification are the Renault Dauphine, Simca Aronde and Fiat 600 and 1,100 These will be “performance” kits only, although it would be interesting to see what figures could be obtained in the way of economy on the Fiat 600 and perhaps the Renault 760! — I. G.
The Performance Equipment Company, of 327-329, Tower Building, Water Road, Liverpool 3, have recently introduced an Exhaust Booster Unit for improved performance and economy. In contrast with many similar units put on the market during the present petrol shortage, this double-barrelled exhaust extension was developed and tested many months ago and was first put on the market soon after the Motor Show last year.
Motor Sport received one of these units for test late last year and it was fitted to the Jowett Jupiter without difficulty. The results in economy have been difficult to assess in view of the very short cold-start runs on which the car at present employed, but a slight increase in performance is noticed, together with a sharper exhaust note. The design of the unit is such that it would benefit a fast-moving high-performance car rather than a slow car, but it is sure to enhance the appearance of any car, being made of heavy-gauge metal with an aluminised finish and chrome tail-pipes. The retail price is 52s. 6d., from the above-named company. — I. G.