Ford Mean (Rally) Business

The World-wide Ford organisation is known to have embarked on a well-nigh all-embracing programme of participation in competition, with the (temporary?) exception of Formula One racing. Motor Sport outlined their progress to date and forthcoming plans in a special article a year ago.

To look more closely at how Ford of Dagenham are preparing their rally teams we paid a visit, appropriately in a Ford Consul Cortina GT, to their Competition Department at Boreham, in Essex.

Enthusiasts of at least twelve years’ standing will recall Boreham circuit where the West Essex C.C. staged some interesting racing. Today, Boreham is a useful test track for Ford’s Engineering Division, where private car and commercial vehicle research can be carried on in privacy and safety. It was logical for Ford of Dagenham, with their stepped-up rally programme, to move the Competition Department from the premises of Lincoln Cars on the congested Great West Road at Brentford to the peace and spaciousness of Boreham. They did this last September, building an entirely separate establishment, flanked by a sizeable, white-lined car park, on a 6,900 sq. ft. site.

This single-storey building, with an office block flanking the entrance road and the workshop area behind, was laid out to enable half-a-dozen rally cars to be prepared simultaneously, although in times of stress, Alan Platt, Ford’s Competition Manager, and Bill Barnett, the Team Manager, have managed to expand its capacity considerably. What it amounts to, however, is that immediately outside the office block is floor space for six rally cars side by side.

Whereas at Lincoln Cars no test benches were available, except just after the war when routine tuning of Ford V8 engines for Ministry of Supply vehicles during hostilities had left a legacy of such equipment, at Boreham there is a fine test bay housing a brand-new Heenan and Froude DPX-3 water-dynamometer suitable for engines of up to 200 b.h.p. There is also a Heenan and Froude roller brake, so that Jack Welch and his faithful mechanics can discover where the horses recorded on the engine brake have gone to on their intended journey to a car’s back wheels. Crypton Electronic apparatus is used in conjunction with the roller brake (see Motor Sport, August 1962) for checking engine tune, and speedometers can be calibrated, b.h.p. curves drawn for power delivered at the back wheels, and all manner of other valuable information can be obtained. Prolonged running on this brake is looked after by a Crypton fan blowing air over the radiator of the static but frenzied car.

Reverting for a moment to the engine test room, for really drastic tests at over 7,000 r.p.m. there is provision for taking the control panel outside, to ensure the safety of the operatives, but old-hand Jack Welch likes, he told us, to be able to listen to the note of a fast-revving engine, as well as read the dials, so mostly you will find him inside the test room.

For the 1964 rally season Ford of Dagenham are relying almost exclusively on Cortina GT 2-door saloons, in various stages of tune as regulations and policy dictate. The bodies are delivered to the Competitions Department ready assembled, and the rally cars built up round them, as this saves labour costs which would otherwise be involved in stripping production cars and rebuilding them by hand to rally standards. General development is undertaken by Ford’s engineering staff but otherwise “Competitions” has a free hand, and sometimes suggests worthwhile lines of procedure to the Engineering Development Division.

This season’s rally Fords will be red, as people tend to get more readily out of the way of cars of this colour, except for the E. African Safari Fords, where white was logical, to deflect the heat. During our visit the Alpine Rally cars were being built and Henry Taylor came in from some day and night non-stop testing on the road of his Tulip Rally Cortina.

It was interesting to find Cibie lamps, type 22 headlamps and various stone-guarded Cibie spot-lamps, in universal use, the drivers demanding these and the mechanics at Boreham fitting them, thus being usefully conversant with the wiring-run or fuses should they have to be investigated hastily under rally conditions. The new 3-dial instrument panel before the driver is retained, with an additional central panel, and there is naturally an extra fuel tank in the boot, with change-over cock on the side of the body behind the o/s. door, convenient to the driver’s right hand. An unobtrusive interior roll-bar protects the occupants in the event of a roll-over. Otherwise, these red Cortina GTs do not look in any way wildly non-standard, apart from minor details such as rubber toggles to hold the boot-lid shut.

Reverting to the equipment in this Competition Department, there is a fine Churchill surface grinder, with magnetic chuck, on which cylinder heads can be very easily planed, to a depth of anything from  ¼ in. to ¼-of-a-thou. This grinder will take a Zephyr block if the magnetic chuck is removed, and it encourages plenty of experiments with non-catalogue compression-ratios. Normally, cylinder heads are planed for this purpose, keeping the head gasket standard; sometimes something is taken off the surface of the block.

Three big Ardrox vats have been installed for washing off engine components, engines are built up or dismantled on portable Churchill stands, and gas and electric welding sets, Raglan lathes, a Fobco 7/eight vertical drilling machine, and a Churchill 50-ton hand press for forming dural-sheet sump shields, figure in the shop’s equipment. By raising a car on a hoist each sump shield (they are made for private entrants as well as for the “works” cars) is offered up, to check for correct alignment.

A major problem is cleaning up rally and “recce” cars when they return to base in a filthy state. This is looked after by a Washmobile car wash plant in a separate bay.

This Ford Competition Department is a happy team, under the captaincy of Alan Platt, who watched the car racing at Boreham circuit in 1951/52 and has been with Ford for many years, and Bill Barnett. It is staffed by eleven mechanics, an electrician, a store-keeper, two janitors and a materials-handler from Dagenham, with four office staff to cope with the inevitable paper work and ‘phone calls. Jack Welch not only knows all Ford cars intimately, and how to make them go, but talks nonchalantly of towing a crashed rally car home virtually non-stop from Monte Carlo to Brentford! Pete Ashcroft specialises in engine assembly and other old hands amongst the long-suffering but irrepressibly keen mechanics are “Jolly Jack” Welsh and Norman Masters. Incidentally, these mechanics hold Union cards, unlike their counterparts in the racing world.

Alan Platt usually goes out to the start of a rally in one of the team cars, then flies back to Boreham to be in a position to keep control from the home base and—which is very encouraging—answer the enthusiastic inquiries of the Dagenham Ford Directors as to how his team is faring. Thus, in the thick of battle, responsibility comes first to Bill Barnett and Jack Welch.

The space outside the Competitions Department is strewn with those less fortunate rally cars whose drivers have pressed on a bit too ambitiously, contacting the scenery or dropping them over the side. After salvage, the body shells are scrapped. Even intact out-dated rally cars are either dismantled or passed into factory service—they are no longer handed on to persistent private rally entrants. We did go to lunch in Platt’s Monte Carlo Zephyr, but it had been re-bodied and re-equipped, like that axe with new head and divers new handles. . . .

Dagenham’s team cars are the only Fords prepared at Boreham; the Falcon team cars and the American Ford engines for Colin Chapman’s Indianapolis and sports Lotus and the Lola GT cars do not go through this department, although some paper liaison and, if it arises, practical help in the field, may sometimes occur.

The 1964 Ford Cortina GTs will run on Total petrol (they have a 1,000-gallon storage tank for it at Boreham), Castrol oil, Ferodo friction material, and a variety of Dunlop tyres. Team support cars consist of three Zephyr 6 and a couple of Cortina estate-cars, all of them quite standard apart from equipment-concessions to creature comfort.

The boys at Boreham confessed to a natural feeling of disappointment over the Monte Carlo Rally. For the future—and there are plenty of very tough rallies in the, months ahead—they are confident, and well equipped.—W. B