Degrees of Tune
Michael Christie's Alexander Autumn Fashion Show
Each year Alexander Engineering of Haddenham, Bucks, introduce their latest range of conversions in the form of a mass road-test near a convenient stretch of road in Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire. This year at Michael Christie's autumn fashion show held at the ancient Weston Manor Hotel, near Bicester, there were no less than nine cars to try, perhaps the most interesting being the Mini-Minor and Triumph Herald.
On the Mini-Minor the cylinder head is reshaped and polished and given a compression-ratio of 8.9:1, twin 1 1/8 in. S.U. semi-down-draught carburetters with pancake air filters are fitted on a finned inlet manifold and the centre exhaust ports are de-siamesed, an adaptor being available to mate with the standard exhaust manifold. All this costs £40. On the road the improved performance was at once apparent especially as lack of performance was one of the few faults I had previously found with this model which is not aided by a slow gearbox. The gearbox was still sluggish, although owners tell me this apparently wears off after a few thousand miles, but the extra performance made the car much more pleasant, 45 m.p.h. coming up on second gear, 65 on third and nearly 85 on top, while Alexanders claim a 0-60 m.p.h. time of 18.7 sec. Altogether this seemed a much more pleasant car with its extra punch.
For the Triumph Herald the cylinder-head combustion chambers and ports are reshaped and polished and given a compression-ratio of 8.9:1, larger inlet and exhaust valves fitted together with stronger valve springs. A new cast aluminium manifold is fitted which takes two 1¼ in. S.U. carburetters. This conversion is supplied completely assembled so the owner has to send to Alexanders his complete cylinder head, with carburetters and inlet manifold. For a single carburetter model the conversion costs £65 and for a twin carburetter model £62. The acceleration of the saloon model available for test was even better than the Mini-Minor, although the top speed was not quite as high due no doubt to the larger frontal area. A 0-60 time of 16.2 sec. is claimed. The stiffer suspension also gives one more confidence than the Mini-Minor's, although the cornering power may be no greater. In our brief run the suspension did not squeak, the windows did not fall out and no rain entered the car!
The aluminium alloy crossflow cylinder head which has been under test for some time and which was raced this season in an A.40 and Sprite by J. H. Williamson has now been introduced for both the 803-c.c. and 948-c.c. B.M.C. "A" series engine. In this design the inlet ports have been moved to the off side of the head, wedge-shaped combustion chambers are used with larger valves and entirely redesigned valve gear. For normal touring this head is available as a bolt-on unit giving about 60 b.h.p. costing £85, but for racing more advanced versions are available giving up to 86 b.h.p. I tried both the A35 and the Sprite with this cylinder head, the well-used demonstration A35 going up to an indicated 90 m.p.h. on a long straight stretch but when heavy braking was called for the standard brakes proved inadequate. The optionally available Lockheed power brake conversion at £16 18s. 9d. would seem to be essential with this conversion.
The Sprite had practically every possible extra including a 10.4:1 compression-ratio, close ratio gears, front disc brakes, wire wheels with Pirelli Extraflex tyres, anti roll-bar and a ZF differential. The performance was spoilt by a fault in the ZF which made the car swing dangerously when changing gear.
The number of Simcas being imported has increased recently and to supplement their conversion for the "Flash" engine Alexanders have introduced a new conversion for the "Flash Special" engine to enable owners to keep in front of cars which have the converted "Flash" engine. The cylinder head is modified and polished, the compression-ratio raised to 8.2:1 and twin Solex downdraught carburettors fitted. A set of de Carbon shock-absorbers are also fitted. On the road the improvement was easily detected, an indicated 90 m.p.h. being reached on a fairly short stretch of main road, whilst very energetic cornering was needed to get the rear-end sliding. I would have welcomed the reclining seats of the Simca on the R.A.C. Rally.
For the "B" series B.M.C. engine, Alexanders have combined forces with H.R.G. to market their well-known head in a modified farm. Supplied complete and ready to fit this light alloy head costs £73. For testing purposes this was fitted to a well-worn M.G.-A and without stop watch to check performance it would be difficult to say whether there was any great improvement over the M.G.-A 1600. The rev.-counter reached 5,500 r.p.m. in top, showing 105 m.p.h. on the speedometer which is the same as I obtained on a standard M.G.-A 1600.
A new conversion is available for the Hillman Minx 111A consisting of a modified cylinder head with a compression-ratio of 8.9:1, twin 1¼ in. S.U. carburetters, Lockheed Servo brake unit, Laycock de Normanville overdrive and de Carbon shock-absorbers. There was, unfortunately, insufficient time for me to try this car, while a Morris Oxford V fitted with the "B" series alloy head was backed into by a lorry on the morning of the tests and put out of action. A twin S.U. conversion for the Volvo is also introduced, but a test car was not available.
Other innovations from Alexander include a new design of anti-roll bar, a knock-on hub conversion for disc-type wheels and flexible rubber mountings for inlet manifolds. The anti-roll bar now bolts to the centre of the wishbone arms instead of to the front as some breakages were caused in the wishbone mountings. The knock-off hub conversion is available for all B.M.C. "A" series engined cars. the Wolseley 1500 and Riley 1.5. The three-eared hub cap is connected to the wheel retaining nuts by a simple gearing system which tightens or loosens all the nuts at once therefore saving considerable time over the wheel brace system. A set of four, complete with a nylon-beaded mallet costs £19 19s. The Alexander nitrite rubber manifold mountings are designed to eliminate the frothing which sometimes occurs when carburetters are bolted rigidly to the manifold. These rubber mountings have to be designed to mate with the manifold therefore they are not available for earlier conversions, but can be obtained with the stage II B.M.C. "A" series conversion, the Farina-styled "B" series cars and the Triumph Herald.
Finally, Michael Christie announced that he has arranged to distribute the new Turner sports car throughout Britain. The chassis and suspension are similar to last year's model, but an entirely new glass fibre body has been designed for the car, giving it a total weight of 10½ cwt. A large range of Alexander speed equipment is available for the "A" series engine and a host of other extras from a heater to disc brakes and ZF differential are also listed. Deliveries of the new car will start early in the new year. As a kit of parts the Turner will cost £595, or completely assembled £895, including purchase tax.
A car, finished in red, was available for inspection and trial. The body finish was excellent, none of the well-known glass fibre ripples being apparent while a commendably large boot should accommodate the luggage of two people without much bother. The windscreen and hood are similar to those used on the Sprite and provide excellent protection from the elements. The dashboard panel is more comprehensive than last year's model, having a full set of Smith's instruments. The test car was fitted with a rather tired hack engine which did not help to show the car up in a good light while torrential rain did not encourage fast driving or cornering.
These short tests cannot of course be substituted for our normal rigorous test and in the course of the next few months we will be testing several of the Alexander conversions as well as the Alexander-Turner.—M. L. T.