Some Austin Seven Specials
No car is more versatile than the Austin Seven in the matter of interchangeability of…
Colin Hawker is a mild-mannered young man of mechanical disposition, who earns a modest living as a mechanic in and around Ilford and Romford in Essex. Colin has a shock of grey hair, precocious for his years, and a two-tone blue VW, which has added a fair share to those greying locks. Now completing its second racing season, Hawker’s DFVW is the latest in a long line of mongrels that Colin has constructed and raced with equal enthusiasm in the Super and Special Saloon categories. This year’s tally of 12 wins and a couple of lap records has been Hawker’s best with this interesting mid-engined cocktail of F1 (engine and gearbox), sports-car racing (the monocoque and suspension were originally from Alain de Cadenet’s Le Mans special, but today’s car shares only the monocoque conception) and that original choice of body shape from VW’s obsolete 1600 fastback.
For this particular track test the sports-car ancestry of the aluminium monocoque provided us with the ideal opportunity of installing our normal fifth-wheel electronic speedometer and timing gear. That provided us with an opportunity to actually sample the phenomenal acceleration (from rest to 120 m.p.h. averaged just 12 seconds) first hand. Silverstone’s Hangar Straight provided the base for the acceleration runs, while the track session was conducted on the club circuit. Throughout the majority of the day the circuit was either wet enough to send our road-going Chrysler Alpine skittering, or drying out from the spluttering of the leaden sky. Bearing in mind the conditions and the up and down nature of our timing strip those average figures, by far the quickest we have ever recorded, are even more impressive.
The attempt to differentiate between the sophisticated hybrids of British national racing, and the ordinary “hot saloons” resulted in a Super Saloon Championship in 1975, one of the rounds taking place as a supporting event to the British GP, held at Silverstone last year. The Super Saloons didn’t perform very well for public tastes. Dealer Team Vauxhall, Gerry Marshall and their “Baby Bertha” Firenza distillation 5-litre Repco V8, and formula racing practice technology beneath that Firenza skin are too good for the privateer opposition.
This season there has been a Tricentrol (the Ford dealership offsprings of the American oil conglomerate) Championship, but the story has been much the same as at that fated GP appearance, so far as the organisers are concerned. Too few entries, too little competition and too many blow-ups.
That is all well and good from the professional’s viewpoint, but there are enthusiasts who differ from that view. Perhaps the key to Super Saloons as a separate category lies in understanding that these exotic creations are the product of people who build them privately. The cars are incredibly complex for the privateer to support, but the level at which they are existing is far removed from the world of Fl motor homes and Marlboro money. Inevitably organisers are soured when they lay on a Super Saloon Championship round (and there were less than ten rounds scheduled this year) and only 10 such cars could take the grid on their own: invariably the answer is to bring on the hot Minis and Escorts to support the exotica.
As last year Gerry Marshall and his 5-litre Dealer Team Vauxhall Firenza have dominated the proceedings, taking their second Championship win in the category. Opponents such as Hawker’s VW have shown up better this year, but there is still no getting away from the fact that nobody in the category seems capable of giving Marshall the kind of concerted opposition that the organisers believe they need to entertain a crowd today.
What does our chosen competitor say about it all? “Super Saloons do deserve the chance to race on their own. I think the competition has been better this year, and I believe we can beat Marshall fair and square next year, for next season our VW will be lighter, much, and have considerably more torque. . . which should stop this business of having to overtake half the field after a poorish start, before I can start motor racing!” What of the other regular competitors? This year they lined up in machinery as diverse as Vince Woodman’s ex-works Capri 1 with its four-valve-per-cylinder V6 of 3.4-litres; Tony Strawson’s Capri-Chevrolet 7-litre V8 (next year an 8.3-litre Can-Am alloy engine? Even now Hawker thinks it’s the fastest device in a straight line); Mick Hill has a Beetle-shaped machine with Chevrolet V8 power; Tony Hazelwood sports a Jaguar with Chevrolet V8 unit placed in the cabin with its intrepid pilot. Then there are a variety of Escorts, notably Nick Whiting’s screaming 2-litre Ford-Cosworth-engined example (rumoured to be the subject of replacement by one of the fourvalves-per-cylinder V6 units) and Doug Niven’s machinery, which has included both Capri and Escort with American V8 power units in the past.
The Tricentrol series has been the target for these cars, though they often appear in some of the 13 other registered British National Saloon Car Championships with the other, less radical, special saloons. By British club racing standards Tricentrol have been offering fair reward—£150 for a win, paying down to twelfth place and so on. Unfortunately the organisers appear so disillusioned that there will be no separate series for these cars next season, so they will be back to scrabbling around for the odd £25 with machinery worth anything from £3,000 to well over £10,000. One answer, suggested by our GP man, was that these exotic creations are really best shown off in the paddock, with the race as some kind of appendage to the main point. That is to convey how these machines are fantastic examples of engineering ingenuity, unlike anything else in motoring sport whether perpetuated on a shoestring or a backdoor works purse.
Hawker started work on the DFVW effectively four years ago when he purchased, for £3,000, a secondhand Cosworth V8 from Ken Tyrrell. That engine, which had served the Jackie Stewart/Francois C.evert partnership well through Fittipaldi’s 1972 Championship year with JPS, traced its history back considerably further than in 1972 but that did not matter in this context. What Cohn wanted was the kind of power those iron construction Chevrolets gave, but without a weight penalty, and that, even in its current tired (by GP standards) state is exactly what he gets. “It has all the F1 cams and valves for ’75 season put in, but we don’t have the super single-seater exhaust system and high r.p.m. inlet trumpets. I reckon that costs at least 45 b.h.p.: put it this way, with me rebuilding the engine (and the last time he did it was during the middle of last year!) I think we would be happy to know we had a real 425 b.h.p.
“No doubt about it, it’s a fantastic engine. My Cosworth is totally scrap by their standards, just the bore wear alone is five or six times what Cosworth recommend for F1, but it still doesn’t puff out oil. Since I have had it (the initial years were spent in a much too heavy Capri’) the Cosworth has required a set of liners, replacement pistons and three sets of bearings. The company recommend scrapping everything at 500 miles/5 hours for F1 use, but by using 10,500 r.p.m., instead of over 11,000, and taking part in these short races, I have had excellent service from the V8. It once chewed up a valve spring, passed it through the oil pumps and spewed it out in the sump-pan without misfiring during the race!”
Although the engine was transferred from that Capri, precious little else made the trip. Colin acquired the monocoque, which had then been damaged when John Nicholson spun the de Cadanet at 1974s Le Mans, early in 1975. By May Cohn, brother Ray, and the dedicated Brian Grove, had stripped the remains of the engine and transmissionless de Cadanet down: built a mock-up VW body (just as a major manufacturer would from clay, wood and wire) and used that mock-up to make their own glassfibre moulds for the VW 412 body. In fact, by May the car was ready to race, the steel windscreen surround and roof from a VW grafted onto the glassfibre rear and front sections, which were in turn super-imposed over de Cadanet’s sports special, which used a large number of Brabham parts around its unique monocoque. Today both front and rear suspension have been completely re-made: at the back a rose joint (working under stress from three points at the outer end of a wishbone!) broke after just three races, sending the car into the wall at Brands Hatch, shortly after exiting Clearways. A new parallel-link rear suspension and fabricated aluminium upright design was substituted, but there were problems with the uprights, which failed until it was found that they had not been properly heat-treated. At the front solid magnesium uprights are installed; front and rear suspension arms are fabricated by Hawker and friends.
Today the Len Terry design for the double wishbone front end and parallel-link/radius-arm rear has proved itself. Originally Hawker was struggling with 550 lb. front springs and thinking that there was no way his glassfibre/ alloy creation should be using spring rates normally used in a steel-bodied Group 2 Capri V6. A phone call to Len Terry set them on the path to success.
Another major change to the original specification was in May 1976, with the adoption of a single front radiator, which is actually the former pair of side radiators made up into one unit. Now the oil radiators for the engine sit behind those NACA ducts with no interference from water cooling requirements.
A layman might not think too much about the cost of a Hewland “F1 kit” five-speed gearbox, but Hawker has to. He acquired his example of the DG400 from March for a ridiculous sum, which reflected some other dealing, but you could reckon that this unit is worth at least £1,000, including a few gear ratio sets. Hawker pays £30-35 for his ratio sets, which are needed to gear the car for each circuit with a DFV installed, and approximately £18 for gear selector engagement dogs which wear out after 3-4 races: the latter point was to prove our undoing at the end of the day.
Complete with 425-b.h.p. power pack and gleaming monocoque finish (SoIvol Autosol strikes again) this special DFVW weighs in at over 16 cwt.; lightest car in the formulae is generally reckoned to be Hill’s Beetle Chevrolet in the 15-cwt. bracket, while Marshall’s Firenza can be expected to tip the scales at a ton or more.
Wheels, brakes and driveshafts have also been totally revised since the car made its debut in May of last year. For dry use Shadow F1 17 in. wide rears are combined with Brabham F1 fronts of 11 in. spread; for wet tarmac the same diameter fronts are utilised, but the backs are 1 in. narrower, and like the fronts, are ex-Brabham. In all cases Goodyear rubber from their F1 stock is used, but it is definitely not supplied at F1 prices! Hawker expects 30 races from the bulbous rear covers, but the fronts can go in three or four events.
At Silverstone that Friday morning the staff just looked at the author with that familiar “now we know you need locking up” expression. Puddles abounded and I kept recalling the more vivid details of the component failures this car suffered in the past. Hawker’s calm acceptance of the fact that we were going to carry on, the car’s scheduled trip to the Jochen Rindt show in Vienna followed by a complete strip-down leaving us little alternative, absorbed some of the apprehension: getting the car ready for battle coped with our remaining fears.
First the pictures were taken on the shiny slick-shod wheels. Then we changed rubberwear for business, putting on the blue-spoked devices that have cracked in hard dry use before (gulp!). Cursed with an efficient photographer for the day it wasn’t long before I was tremendously admiring the neat bracket the boys had fabricated for our fifth wheel.
Then we ran the electronic cable back through the engine compartment, via the bulkhead, for the engine is neatly partitioned off from the driver’s compartment by a sheet of “Chauffeur Glass”. The broad sills of the monocoque allow plenty of room for the speedometer head and data board to be accommodated, while I perch in the lefthand side of the cockpit.
Hawker settles into the luxury of a Corbeau seat, Willans belts and a sturdy steering wheel of unfashionably large diameter, “easier to handle”, he comments. I have time to gauge that the centre dashboard is a very well finished fabrication that would not look out of place in a production car, though the owner might not require the information it gives pertaining to oil pressure and temperature, water temperature, fuel pressure and engine r.p.m., the latter limited electronically to 10,600 r.p.m. The gearchange is on the R-2-4/ 1-3-5 right in the pattern , while my right thigh rests against the on/off switchgear and cable and the press-button starter.
It is a tight fit inside, especially when the surprisingly well fitted doors are pegged shut from within. Having gone through the rigmarole of starting the DFV up (it has already been fired up in the workshop that morning); stopping it, changing to a weak mixture on the metering unit and then trying to get the lightweight battery under my feet to hold a charge, I want to get on with it.
The lattice work of the integral roll cage (both this and the remains of the steel bodywork are liable to be made in aluminium next season) makes handy brace for the feet. As the digital watch is warmed up as well I give our chauffeur the thumbs up and everything happens at once.
As the plump Goodyears search amongst the crevices’ of Silverstone’s former runways for grip, the VW shoots swiftly right. Hawker barely moves the wheel to twitch the car straight, but even by the time he has done that we are well on the way to 50 m.p.h. In fact we can just reach 60 m.p.h. in first at 10,500 r.p.m.: if we change gear it takes just over five seconds to reach this speed, while our best all-first gear run takes just 4.36 sec.
The effect on one’s stomach as the car rushes from 30 to 60 m.p.h. is awesome, but exhilarating nonetheless. There’s a little bit of slip as second gear goes home, but the car tracks straight on to 85 m.p.h. The 108 m.p.h. third gear really brings a sense of speed, and it’s worth looking up to see the tarmac rushing madly by from our humble position. Since the sprint from 0-100 m.p.h. is taking under 10 seconds—about the same as an Alfetta or Beta Coupe takes to reach 60 m.p.h.—we don’t spend long in third. With fourth engaged things do slow a little, but we’re still leaping forward at a formidable rate so that the electronic speedometer needle just Hicks onto 137 m.p.h. and Hawker is looking for fifth before we slow down. Since it takes two sessions to get sensible two-way figures for the speeds shown in our panel, we do not have time to do much more than ingest the thought that the harsh buzz of the DFV does require car plugs and that the V8 could have made a superb enthusiast road engine in much the same way as the BDA, if the British economy had been along West German or American lines!
The gearbox had taken quite a thrashing during the acceleration runs and a race that previous weekend. Mallory Park’s hairpin requires first, whatever second gear ratio you put in, and that means an awkward dog-leg of a gearchange. This spoiled the test session a little, but the thrill of actually taking out a car with this performance and handling overcame that snag.
The triple-plate Borg and Beck clutch has to be eased home delicately to get a clean start, but its manners are really little worse than the Ferrari 308 GTB tested in this issue. The transparent section to the rear wing helps a bit with vision to the rear and threequarters rear, but it needs to he a big car that you’re looking out for!
The steering is surprisingly heavy for this type of car, but the response is all that you would expect: virtually as if attracted by magnets the car swoops from left to right, those massive rears only broken free under hard, second gear, duress at the hairpin.
The club straight becomes enjoyable. Taking advantage of 10,000 r.p.m. in the first four gears I found the hummock in the middle shot toward one like a motorised mountain, instantly followed by the appearance of the Grandstands and Woodcote.
The brakes, using a four-pot caliper system on ventilated Lockheed discs that are mounted inboard at the rear, are outstanding. Hawker says, “this is one of the car’s strengths, there doesn’t seem to be anything better under braking than this car amongst our opposition.” For our use they just provided the reassurance in what was really a very easy car to feel confident in.
Because of the poor gearchange, it kept falling out of second and third, when we had completed only a handful of laps, the flexibility of the engine was fully extended. I was astonished to find that Mr. Duckworth’s masterpiece was quite capable of pulling the car smoothly forward from 5,000 r.p.m. in third at the hairpin, which still equated to 9,000 r.p.m. in fifth well before Woodcote. My remarks about a suitable basis for a road engine being found in the DFV are based on the super sensation one gets from building the revs up to 6,500 or 7,000 r.p.m. in fifth and then treading on the power: whoosh! Instant 9,000 r.p.m and an eagerness to try 10,000 r.p.m. in top.
I was privileged to drive the Ferrari 308 GTB at our test track, and I think anybody would have been amazed at how close the Cosworth full-race engine comes to Mr. Ferrari’s standard of road car docility. Abundant torque (for 3-litres, not when racing against lighter cars with larger American V8s installed) and clean starting striking a discordant note amongst all the sensations of pure speed.
I am very glad we were able to try Hawker’s example of a special saloon because I think it does show what the dedicated mechanic can do, even at today’s horrendous prices. The car has been sponsored by the Toleman car delivery group since its inception, but the recent fatal racing accident of Bob Toleman must put a question mark over this arrangement continuing. Come what may, Hawker expects to return in 1977 with a lighter and torquier version of the amazing DFVW.—J.W.
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