The countryside around a motor manufacturing plant often sprouts as many conversions specialists as it does mangelwurzels, or will “outraged of Ockley” write to tell me they do not grow such traditional produce any more? Normally such specialists tend to concentrate on the marque made locally, though some of the more successful London firms, notably those with a strong interest in competition have altered that pattern by moving out to new industrial estates at Huntingdon and Mildenhall. Recently we came across a classified advertisement on behalf of a company that seemed to fit in with the theory of local tuners admirably, for they concentrate on Jaguars and hide away at Balsall Common, Warwickshire, which is only 10 minutes or so away from the A45 Coventry by-pass.
The company’s name is Forward Engineering Co. Ltd., and it operates under the guidance and design of former Jaguar engine development engineer Ronald Beaty. We were initially attracted by that classified advertisement’s outline of some extremely creditable lap times obtained when their Jaguar enthusiast driver, John Harper, had taken Forward Engineering’s E-type and conducted it round the British club circuits. For example we read that their E-type had managed 1 min. 3.2 sec. around Silverstone Club layout .. . and the lap record for a V8 Cobra is only 1 min. 2.2 sec.
Since Jaguar converters are pretty thin on the ground these days–off-hand we can only think of Warren Pierce in Kingston and AWB Motors at Clapham as alternatives—we decided to go up and see how one conducts a specialist business based on cars which, for many, already represent a highly desirable form of transport. In fact the nice part of the visit was to encounter quite genuine enthusiasm for the work they were doing, their labours covering Jaguars primarily, but also including other one-off challenges such as the insertion of Ford V8s into Sunbeam Rapiers.
Beaty founded the business in a very unofficial way in the latter half of his 13 years with Jaguar, preparing various sprint and hillclimb cars. He particularly remembers the 4.5-litre Daimler-Cooper he built up with David Johnson because, although it was intended for hill-climbing, its primary achievement was FTD by a non-dragster at Woodvale in 1965; the Daimler-Cooper hybrid single-seater managed a time of 11.95 sec. No surprises for Beaty there, for with 11 1/2 cwt. and an unstressed 265 b.h.p. at 5,100 r.p.m., he had expected a standing quarter-mile time of 12 sec. or less. The next project was a Buick V8 Cooper that John Macklin wrote off in spectacular hill-climbing style, which led Beaty to a period of restoration activities as a reward for an inquisitive engineering interest in what makes elderly machinery tick, and keep on ticking. The same curiosity has led him into buying an American Pontiac GTO of 1964 manufacture to temporarily fill in before he starts using a Jaguar on the road again, besides which he likes unruffled power “and the 6 3/4-litre Pontiac has got some punch, even if it has definite periods when it’s not as smooth as a Jaguar man would appreciate.”
The business was formally begun in 1967 when he left Jaguars, tidied up the present premises, and said goodbye both to Johnson and a subsequent brief business partner. Once in charge of his own fate the main five/six-car workshop and adjoining office started to deal with Jaguar owners who wanted everything from routine servicing to competition preparation. As a side-line the XK sports car breed are often brought in for complete renovation, one such nearly finished job on an XK120 wringing genuine appreciation from a man who normally only appreciates the swifter saloon cars.
John Harper looks after their racing activities through a separate team known as Forward Enterprises. Their association really begun to show rewards with an XK120 converted for racing “without ruining the original concepts; I can’t stand these fibre-glassed abortions that distort the designer’s lines” says Harper. To remain competitive within the current Modsports category Harper and Beaty switched to an E-type, which has since scored nine wins, 14 second-places and just three retirements. For 1972 Harper is joining forces with Anthony Hutton to compete in a pair of Lister Jaguars for the JCB Championship—”a thoroughly enjoyable branch of the sport which I think the public are going to like even more in the future”, says Mr. Harper. A second E-type is also under construction in a second workshop reserved for the racing cars, but this time the strengthened bodyshell is of the V12 type, though whether such an engine is used depends on time. It’s more likely that the “E” will first appear with a 3.9-litre modified E-type unit to initially sort the car out, but there’s no doubt in Mr. Beaty’s mind that the V12 has enormous potential both for road and racing use. He should know, for he was amongst those who worked on the alloy rnonocoque mid-engined Jaguar V12 intended for classic sports car racing, and that racing engine was capable of producing 502 b.h.p. at 7,600 r.p.m. in 5-litre form.
According to Beaty there is terrific potential in the V12 for road use as well, mainly because the air emission equipment strangles the unit so effectively. Previous experience with the 4.2 six-cylinder unit, has shown that removing the emission equipment is worth 50 b.h.p. The idea is to not only remove the emission parts in the UK, but also add six SUs on a special manifold that they were finalising for the V12 when we called in.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of comparatively mild changes I was taken out in what they loosely refer to as “our Group 1 XJ6”. The manual transmission car in question belongs to a local gentleman who wanted the best out of the production engine and improved handling. The biggest job was to strip and rebuild the engine to exact factory tolerances, but whereas in Group 1 saloon car racing—which is where the term originates, of course—one cannot machine or modify the engine in any way, this car was modified, chiefly in respect of inlet and exhaust manifolding blending into mildly reshaped porting. In fact we were shown one of the customer cylinder head conversions and could see for ourselves the subtle smoothing of line, whereas a look at one of their racing or road heads with larger valves installed demonstrated a more radical approach—in fact the process would logically end with all the valve guide support ground away. Without the larger valves the modified cylinder heads cost £60, whilst the strip and rebuild charge for a 4.2 engine would be in the region of £250. We were not made aware of any changes in the XJ6’s braking, but the production shock absorber settings were abandoned in favour of a stiffer response.
A brief run in the car (with Harper driving) showed up virtually nothing save that the car’s character remained in the smooth, silent mould with 120 m.p.h. indicated exceptionally rapidly. The XJ still is no mean handful when provoked (safe but untidy) by which I mean that it has proverbially leech-like adhesion followed by somewhat ragged breakaway if you explore the handling to a limit well beyond that fitting on a public road. The faster corners seemed to suit the modified version right down to the tarmac, whilst the brakes seemed to cope with velocities that a BMW 3-litre would be hard pushed to match. Perhaps it was some of the German car’s sporty characteristics that made this customer opt for such a conversion, for although it is not cheap to modify a Jaguar it is surely a lot cheaper than buying a BMW 3-litre ?
Altogether I was most impressed with the sensible changes that had been wrought on this particular Coventry car, and I would assume that there must be room for a similar concept for 4.2 E-type owners who want a little more accent on sportiness and a little less on Gran Turismo.
Next item for our inspection was one of two Sunbeam Rapiers that have received V8s in the hands of this company, a job that they tackle by virtually redesigning the car around reasonably easy-to-get spares. The two owners of these devices had wildly differing views on what they wanted in performance and discretion; one man opting for a perfectly standard V8 to waffle his anonymous Rapier along, whilst the other opted for a modified engine and all the exterior signs of change, including the nameplate Allegro 289. The 289 Ford is that old faithful we know best from the Mustang, having a capacity of 4.7-litres. To shoehorn it into a Rapier Mr. Beaty literally had to go back to the drawing board. An exercise which revealed, after the practical details had been drawn in, that the front anti-roll bar of the production car would pass through the V8’s sump! The Chrysler steering caused problems as well, but it was just squeezed in behind the sump and operated perfectly when cloistered away from the new exhaust system that was also a necessity. Obviously a new roll-bar arrangement had to be made to avoid the sump problem, but that was an easier task than the steering squeeze.
The bodyshell was prepared for the rude shock by a second skin of 16-gauge steel around the standard wings and bulkhead, the latter being cut out to allow the Borg Warner T10 gearbox access. Extra gusseting was needed inside the engine bay vertical seams as well, whilst a simple tube is also run from wing to wing to brace the front end. The propshaft had to be a one-off job but the rear axle is based on a Sunbeam Tiger and incorporates a Powerlok limited slip differential from a Mk. 2 Jaguar saloon. However, the braking, front and rear, is based on the Sunbeam Tiger disc/drum layout. In fact two kinds of rear axle location have been utilised, one car boasting a Watts linkage that’s awkward if a full-length exhaust system is to he fitted, whilst the other used a Panhard rod. Obviously the complete suspension system, front and rear, has to be revised when adding such a large lump of cast iron at the front, though carefully setting the engine well back in the bay helped even-out the weight distribution.
The Allegro with the modified V8 cost something over £3,000 (minimum charge on a new Alpine would be £2,500 complete), an unsurprising fact when one surveys the engine and hears items like a pair of Weslake-Gurney cylinder heads itemised along with dual Carter compound carburetters and solid lifter (i.e. non-hydraulic) push-rod operation. Both car and engine seem to have stood the test of time well, though the owner’s prediction for electrical gadgets (Beaty scratched his head at this point and said: “well, I think it’s got umpteen radio speakers alone!”) has contributed to the odd wiring trouble. There was little doubt that, after 40,000 miles, the front suspension would have to be renewed for it was sagging.
It was a pleasant change to see a company that did not seem to need to follow mass-appeal taste in order to survive, so come forward all you Wartburg tuners, or maybe there’s a Moskvich modifier lurking in the weeds out there ready to tell his tale. In fact there must be, for I see that the redoubtable Mr. Tony Llanfranchi is scheduled to conduct one at a Brands Hatch Group One event! —J. W.