Special builder supreme

When I interviewed that celebrated builder of specials, Challenor Barson, while he was on a visit to his brother in this country, from S Africa, I had no idea that my article (Motor Sport, June 1991) would start him off building yet another on his return home. Especially as he was over 80! But I had under-rated even his enthusiasm. I now hear that he decided to build another one-off motor-car before his 82nd birthday and succeeded, if about nine months over that time-limit.

In fact, what Barson did was to re-vamp his special Honda coupe, which at the time had a Ford Kent 1600cc cross-flow engine, modified Ford 100E gearbox, and a Ford Corsair backaxle. Although it comprised two Honda 800 coupe bodies cut in half at the screen-pillars and welded together, retaining the sills and the floorpan, there was actually little that was Honda about this Barson Special No 12. And before any Honda fan suggests this was sacrilege, let me say that one of the cars had been rolled while being towed away from a race-meeting, and was just a shell with a couple of doors and the other was complete internally but had been involved in a front-end crash. The mating of these 1969 bodies and building of the car was done in 1972/73.

The latest Barson, No 12 Mk II, was inspired when Challenor found an 1800cc ohc Mazda Capella engine and gearbox. It was owned by Edi Malinaric, and he and Barson had built Fiat 500 Specials together. They both ran 626 Mazdas and knew their worth. After a great deal of persuasion Edi parted with his engine and became a great help with the latest Barson Special. The Mazda engine was a very tight fit in the Honda engine-bay but it and the gearbox were some 16 kg lighter than the Ford unit. Eventually it was installed, 5 in further back and 2½ in lower than the Ford had been, but even then the downdraught Nikki carburettor would have gone through the bonnet. So a new manifold was made up to take two twin-choke 40DCOE Webers. This was the work of Edi, who did a marvellous job, using the first inch of the existing manifold as the base and fabricating the rest to suit.

The tapered stubs were turned up out of 2½ in aluminium bar, wall thickness 5mm, Argon arc-welded to a 10mm thick aluminium plate cut to fit the gas-works. All turning was done on a small Myford lathe. Edi also constructed a polystyrene mould for the quadruple fibre-glass air-cleaners, finished off in carbon-fibre. There wasn’t space for the exhaust system of the cross-flow Capella engine, so a new 2 x 2-in-to-one pipe banana layout was devised by an expert oldtimer copper-smith. The silencer was later replaced by a stainless-steel one; as Barson’s last one lasted for 22 years this one, he says safely, should out-last him! To get better braking Ford Cortina 2 in calipers replaced the former 1½ in Capri ones, with 11 in Ford discs, Ford wheels having been used, as Honda wheels and spares were unobtainable. Ferodo pads of about twice the area of the old ones in conjunction with a Repco booster give “terrific braking”.

Special No 11 had made do with a small Girling servo. To get all to fit, the engine was out-and-in perhaps a dozen times. It all worked out in the end, after re-positioning of the oil-filter and alternator. A shorter, thinner prop-shaft was also required, and the handbrake had to be sorted out — other special-builders well know the problems. Spitting-back was cured with new venturis to the air-cleaners, the Webers were tuned by an Italian expert and now Barson No 12 is a fast, flexible car which has done 105mph with something in hand. But mods to such cars never end, and now the ploy is to soften the suspension, which at present is by coil springs from an Opel Kapitan.

Challenor says I was not aware of what I was starting when I wrote-up his love of Special building. Well, I am glad he has enjoyed making yet another one and hope that it may inspire the old as well as the young to have a go…