A phenomenon of the motoring sixties has been the mushrooming of firms catering for the man who wants to make his car go that little bit faster. Even with the stagnating 70-m.p.h. limit and insurance company discrimination against modified machines there seems to be no halting this car conversion craze. A quick count of the number of firms involved in this business revealed that in Britain alone there are almost 300 such companies operating. Many work from little mews garages, the majority seem under capitalised, some are run by mechanics of tremendous skill, but inevitably people who lack the real knowledge have jumped on the band wagon. The number of firms in this business must change from day to day, with new people setting up and others go bust.
It is essential if you are going to improve your car’s performance, and many cars really do benefit from such treatment, to go to a firm who know what they are doing, have skilful and enthusiastic staffs and the right equipment. Car manufacturers are fully aware of this trend towards hotting up their bread and butter machinery, and will often recommend a competent firm. Both B.M.C. and Ford have their own high-performance centres, and now such firms as Rootes and Vauxhall are tieing their names in with tuning establishments.
Here we have surveyed the present scene around the tuning shops as best we can in the space available. If your local speed centre is not mentioned in this or next month’s article it does not mean that they are not competent, but most of the better known people are covered. Don’t forget either that tuning goes further than under the bonnet; for brakes, suspension, wheels and so on, all need beefing up to take the extra power. But any decent tuning centre will be able to advise on the all-round performance improvement of a car rather than just the engine.
One point to remember is that many tuning shops market cylinder heads, manifolds and the like under their trade name, but when you get down to hard facts they are in fact produced by another company. So it is always worth asking if you can see the heads being fettled, and if they are not done on the premises ask from where the equipment originated.
Certainly the most high-performance and sport-orientated motor company in Britain are Ford, for they support everything from Rallycross to Formula One. The Rally and Rallycross cars are prepared at the large modern premises at Boreham, near Chelmsford in Essex, on the edge of the airfield which saw some of the early post-war racing. Also based there is the FordSport Performance Centre, which stocks a vast range of equipment for all the more sporty Fords. For many needs, particularly for vamping Cortina GTs, Lotus Cortinas and Escorts, there seems little sense in looking any further than Boreham for the amount of equipment and know-how they offer far surpasses anything a private company could provide. Before starting to look anywhere else Ford owners should at least obtain a copy of the Ford Performance booklet. Of course, the Centre is so busy preparing the works cars that they cannot undertake the labour themselves, but one can always have your local Ford dealer carry out the work. The FordSport Performance Centre’s address is Boreham Airfield, Nr. Chelmsford, Essex (Tel.: Boreham 353).
B.M.C. Special Tuning Department
The British Leyland answer to all this is the B.M.C. Special Tuning Department at Abingdon, which as yet has not spread its wings to cover the various other marks which Leyland has brought into the fold. In charge up there is Basil Wales, assisted by well-known Sprite racer Mike Garton, and they are certainly the first people to contact if you wish to modify your Mini-Cooper, Sprite, Midget, M.G.-B, Healey 3000 and so on. They have a comprehensive range of catalogues for each model which not only list the equipment available but also tell the potential hotter-up how to get on with the job. Again, Special Tuning is intended for the Do-it-Yourself man.
Last year B.M.C. introduced a major break-through in the tuning business by announcing that for Minis, 1100s, 1300s and 1800s they were offering as optional equipment, stage one cylinder-head conversions. The really important fact was, however, that if this equipment was fitted it did not invalidate the car’s guarantee. As yet no other firm is offering such an undertaking. The work is actually carried out by Daniel Richmond’s Dowroon firm in Wiltshire, and experiences with these stage one conversions have been most encouraging. This certainly is a major break-through in the tuning business and, as several people commented at the time, it makes tuning respectable.
While on the B.M.C. theme a little bird tells us that for Cooper-Mini specialists, the Cooper Car Company will soon be setting up their own performance centre but that is in the future.
While the General Motors policy still remains anti-competition there is no doubt at all that Vauxhall Motors are becoming very much more sport orientated, with Vauxhalls and particularly the Viva coming in for much more attention from tuning specialists.
In fact Vauxhall have just issued a new pamphlet which is obtainable from any Vauxhall dealer called Special High-Performance Equipment for the Viva GT. This equipment has been designed and developed jointly by Bill Blydenstein and Coburn Improvements, and includes cylinder heads, camshafts and so on, plus high-duty parts for competition work.
The two firms, though separate enterprise’s, are working as one on Vauxhall equipment and have a large range of equipment not only for the Viva GT but also for the smaller-engined Vivas. New from the duo is a cast rocker cover which incorporates an inlet manifold for Vivas, and we will be trying a car fitted with this set-up in the near future. So if its special equipment for racing, sprints and hill-climbs, contact W. B. Blydenstein, Station Works, Shepreth, Royston, Herts, or if it’s rally and autocross try Coburn Automobile Improvements Ltd., Netherhall Gardens, London, N.W.3 (Tel.: Hampstead 6743). If it’s just a road conversion, either will do. Incidentally, Blydenstein also has considerable experience tuning another G.M. product, Opel, which are of course now sold in Britain, and both firms will not have forgotten their experience in the B.M.C. field before they turned their hands to Vauxhall.
S.A.H. Accessories Ltd.
S.A.H. Accessories have long been associated with Triumph tuning and many readers will remember Sid Hurrell racing his Triumph TR2. The firm have concentrated on Triumphs for many years and their present range is extensive, as a quick glance at their comprehensive catalogue will show. S.A.H. cater for virtually every Triumph marketed and some of their conversions get a little wild. Better to stick to the stage one and two conversions. Not so long ago a Hurrell-tuned Triumph 2000 was tried and this really was a memorable car and the improvement well worth having. S.A.H. Accessories Ltd., Linslade, Leighton Buzzard, Beds. (Tel.: Leighton Buzzard 3022).
In the introduction paragraph we mentioned firms working front little mews garages, but when we visited Janspeed’s a couple of weeks ago we were amazed to find that they operate from a smart new factory which looks from the outside more as if it housed machine tools. In a space of less than 10 years Hungarian born Janos Odor has built his firm up to one of the largest and most reputable in the business. Visitors to the factory can see manifolds being manufactured and heads being fettled, and Jan revealed that many are sold to other firms, who promptly stick their own label on them. We were able to try a Janspeed 1800, and what an improvement a cylinder-head conversion of this kind can make to such a mundane car. Janspeed have got a thing on 1800s at the moment for they were preparing three cars for the London-Sydney Marathon when we visited them. Slightly irrelevant to this article but a new line from Janspeed is an aluminium inlet manifold for a certain make of fire-engine which we better not mention. The machines were not coming up to the performance required by certain authorities, so Janspeed’s are supplying this bolt-on manifold and carburetter, which brings them up to scratch!
Janspeed specialise in B.M.C. and Ford work mainly but also encompass several other makes; they were even tweaking a Ferrari head. Their address is Janspeed Engineering Ltd., Southampton Road, Salisbury, Wilts. (Tel.: Salisbury 22002)
Taurus Engineering Tuning Ltd.
Taurus are a firm that have been around the tuning business a good few years more than most but their address never really registered. Little did we expect to find Childs Place, London, S.W.5, as a mews which is a break in between the Polynesian restaurants and His and Her boutiques of the Earls Court Road. But there they were, in somewhat cramped surroundings, turning out cylinder heads for a wide range of cars. While they cater for all the cars that are popular for tuning, they also offer modifications for such bread-and-butter motor cars as the Austin A.60 and Singer Vogue. They particularly specialise in conversions for crossflow Cortinas. Their ‘phone number is 373 1122 and they have a large network of agents.
There seem to be plenty of hot Imps rushing ablaut the place these days and several firms are turning their attention to modifying their little engines, which have so much in common with Coventry-Climax. Down in Bournemouth Team Hartwell have secured a good reputation, bolstered by the success of their racing Imps driven by Ray Payne. They offer a good range of tuning equipment, starting with twin carburetters, while further improvements can be made by using their 4-branch exhaust manifold and camshaft. They also offer a conversion from the regular 875 c.c. to 998 c.c. using oversize liners and pistons. Conversions for the Hillman Hunter and Singer Vogue are also available. Hartwell’s address is 43, Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth (Tel.: 26566).
World Champion Graham Hill is a director of the Speedwell Centre, One of the longest established tuning firms. At present Speedwell are placing the accent on tuning of suspension, particularly for cars like the Volkswagen and Triumph Herald, with swing axles, and their Speedwell Camber Compensator is a worthwhile investment. Of course they still have a vast range of speed equipment for not only the B.M.C. Mini, 1100 and Spridget range, but also for Volkswagen. Several readers have had trouble locating Speedwell lately and this is because the tuning centre has moved to 260-300, Berkhampstead Road, Chesham, Bucks.
Oselli Engineering Ltd.
There is no doubt that the standard 850-c.c. Mini is a little short of steam but one firm who are at present specialising in tuning this type of vehicle is Oselli Engineering Ltd. They are offering a stage one kit still utilising the original carburetter which is claimed to raise the top speed to 80 m.p.h., and for a reasonable price, too. Oselli’s address is Baynards Green, Nr. Bicester, Oxon (Tel.: Fritwell 312).
Superspeed Conversions Ltd.
John Young and the lads at Superspeed raced Anglias for many years with enormous success and when it comes to tuning 105Es must be the favourites. One of their best tricks is to drop a 1,650-c.c. engine into the Anglia, and with all the right suspension and braking modifications this produces a car that will give an Elan quite a fright. Now they are turning their hands to Escorts and installing the Cortina 1600 GT crossflow engine into the Escort GT, which produces a very fast machine indeed. Superspeed Conversions Ltd. at 482, Ley Street, Illitrd, Essex (Tel.: Valentine 8307).
Supersport Engines Ltd.
The most memorable thing about visiting Supersport Engines is meeting a wild Irishman called Jim Gavin, who sometimes seems to have a beard and other times not. However wild, he certainly steers his firm along the right path, and they are particularly well known for their rally conversions. In fact several of the mechanics are vary successful in the British rallying field, while Gavin himself is at present in the thick of preparing a 1600 GT-engined Escort for the Marathon. Supersport specialise mainly in Ford conversions and if you envisage the odd rally for your tuned car they are highly recommended. Supersport live at 64, Church Road, Acton, London, W.5 (Tel.: Acorn 0129).
The great majority of tuning concerns are cluttered around London but Scottish readers need not despair for the Inglision race circuit has encouraged competition and high performance tremendously in the area. One of the firms regularly fielding cars at Ingliston is Sports-Tune, run by Bill Borrowman, and they have a tie-up with Edinburgh B.M.C. distributors Moir & Baxter for their racing efforts. Naturally, racing Minis they specialise in B.M.C. products. Their address is 10, Brandon Terrace, Edinburgh, 3 (Tel.: 031-556 3507).
Alan W. Smith
Alan Smith is one of the best known racing-engine tuners in the business and inevitably when one walks into his railway arch there is a big Chevrolet or Ford V8 pounding away on the dynamometer. But Alan Smith and his men have spread their wings to cover more than pure racing engine preparation and offer, believe it or not, an engine conversion for the Skoda range. With more V8 engines coming into circulation in vehicles like Sunbeam Tigers, we have had several inquiries about where they can have them tuned properly. A firm Alan Smith, though perhaps a little expensive, could well fit the bill. The address is Station Approach, Friargate, Derby (Tel.: Derby 40606).
Most Jaguars have quite enough power for normal road-going needs but there are still people who like to have a little extra urge over standard. So to cater for these Warren Pearce, one of the most successful and experienced drivers of Jaguar E-types, offers a range of conversions. These start with a triple 1¾-in. carburetter set-up at just over £50, but gas-flowed and polished cylinder heads are also available. Warren Pearce is at 59a, Cadogan Lane, Sloane Street, London, S.W.1 (Tel.: BEL 2100).
The B.M.W. 2002 is just about the ultimate in saloon cars but one cannot loose sight of the fact that as it has only one carburetter so there is plenty of room for even greater improvement. A company well aware of this is Mangoletsi, whose range of Hi Torque conversions cover a variety of different models but one of the latest additions is for the 2002 and other B.M.W.s. To find Mangoletsi simply write to them at Knutsford, Cheshire (Tel.: Fryerning 552).
Downton Engineering Works Ltd.
We have already mentioned that Downton produce the stage one conversions which can be supplied as additional equipment on certain B.M.C. models, and this side of the business keeps Downton very busy. But this does not preclude them from offering a much more extensive range through their own marketing facilities. They specialise in the B.M.C. range from 850 Mini to M.G.-B, and their fine reputation is fully justified. Particularly good value are their touring conversions. The address is simply Downton, Salisbury, Wilts. (Tel.: Downton 351).
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In this article we have refrained from publishing the cost of the various modifications and conversions offered, for many of the firms have such a range of equipment that we could fill pages with pounds, shillings and pence, and the figures are often changing. The firms mentioned all produce catalogues (a few charge for them) and interested readers are best advised to write for them. This can also provide a very useful guide to the efficiency of the firm for the people who run their offices smoothly are very likely the ones who run the rest of their business well. A second selection of recommended tuning establishments and what they are up to will appear next month.—A. R. M.