Tuning Topics

A look outside the modified Ford world

In recent months we seem to have published a great deal of road tests and general information on Ford products, so on this occasion I intend to look at a selection of cars modified by specialists who deal with BLMC, Fiat and BMW saloons. Why no sports cars? Because, in general, the traditional craft of making two-seaters move that little bit faster has died out in favour of the current crop of basically amenable “tin-tops”. At present we have the embarrassing situation where a good four-seater saloon, such as the Lotus-Cortina or BMW 2002, is capable of not only outcornering similarly priced two-seaters but can also stay with them in a straight line. I know this is not true in every single case, but the basic precedent has been established.

Downton Engineering, Janspeed, SAH Accessories and a few other companies including V. W. Derrington and Neal Davis Racing, all make the effort to cater for two-seater drivers, though as with BLMC Special Tuning Department they also carry on even more profitable business with saloon-car drivers wanting something extra. Trying to get hold of a modified Sprite or Spitfire from anyone except enthusiastic readers is usually a pretty fraught business and the author has never driven a road-going modified 1275 Sprite, though an improved Spitfire used to be kept at Special Tuning. Of the firms I mentioned SAH Accessories concentrate on Triumph saloon and sports car modifications, while the rest deal with what used to be BMC equipment, mainly for MG-Bs, although the “C” and the Sprite can usually be catered for.

Turning back to the saloons, we have most recently tried a Special Tuning 1-litre Clubman Mini and a 1275 Mini-Cooper S converted by Talon Engineering so we will look at these first.

The Clubman made a pleasant change from the normal 850s that are so freely offered on loan and with something like 90 b.h.p. being extracted from the racing specification 995-c.c. power unit it was nippy enough to puzzle the owners of standard 1275 S types and quicker than the Ford 1600 GT Capri or Cortina. This 995-cc. unit was designed to operate within the regulations for the Mini Seven Club’s Mille Miglia formula and it propelled the fully equipped Clubman with a Smiths Radiomobile to a maximum of 97 m.p.h. at 7,500 r.p.m. in fourth! Using the same r.p.m. we scrabbled from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. in 11 1/2 sec. with a quarter-mile time a 18.2 sec. The standard car performs 0-60 runs in just over 24 sec. and has a maximum of just over 73 m.p.h. As always when really trying to extract the maximum power output with driver utilising the bonus, fuel consumption suffers, and we doubt if Lord Stokes would approve of the overall 22 m.p.g. which we recorded whilst enjoying ourselves. The 995-cc. capacity involves using Formula Junior pistons and this helped boost its conversion cost to £300 for parts. A 998-c.c unit, to a similar standard, should be cheaper.

The engine modifications were pretty expensive and quite comprehensive, including a large-valve MG 1300 cylinder head, twin 1 1/2-in. SU carburetters, tubular three-branch exhaust manifolding, lightened flywheel and extensive changes to tile valve gear train in order to cope with sustained use at over 7,000 r.p.m. The Special Tuning Competition C-AEA 648 camshaft with full race profile emphasises this high-revving side of the car’s character and one has to be very careful not to bury the throttle in the carpet below 3,600 r.p.m. in fourth.

The acceleration times were also helped by a 4-to-1 final drive and a limited-slip differential.

The snag to this stage of tune is that one has to be in the mood of changing gear at high r.p.m. and hearing the poor little three-bearing crankshaft attempting to cope with the strain. However, considering the engine capacity, there was a remarkable amount of torque and the Clubman can be whistled round at a satisfying rate on the 4 1/2-in. rim Minilite wheels with Dunlop Aquajet pattern tyres.

Even though the all-drum braking system was modified, we did not feel at home with the car’s high-speed stopping abilities because of the rear-end weave encountered on system, which still needed sorting out at the time of our test.

The Talon Mini was a much older example which had been smartly resprayed in almost a dark plum shade of red. From the outside there was every functional indication that the car had been modified as it lurked on wide-section Mamba wheels covered by neat spats and wearing Dunlop Green Spot racing covers. Once installed in the driver’s gripping bucket perch the impression that something had been going on was reinforced by an almighty bellow from the rear when the blue touch-paper was lit.

Within the transverse 1275 S unit Darrieulat had applied some of the knowledge gained in a successful 1969 club racing season to make the Minibrick go a lot faster than before, whilst retaining a modicum of road manners. A Janspeed full-race cylinder head (a £90+ item!), BLMC’s 731 camshaft and a pair of 34-mm. choke Dellorto carburetters were all fitted, while the amount of valve gear work apparently rendered it safe to a shattering 8,000 r.p.m.

A straight-cut BLMC gearbox operating on a 3.6-to-1 final drive added a great deal to the pleasure of driving because the gear-change and ratios are about the best a keen driver can buy for a Mini. No performance figures were taken when we had the car as the clutch was a long way past its best, but it certainly was rapid transport and ideal for test track work. Again, we found that one had to be very gentle with the throttle in town, and the engine was noisy, lacking the smoothness that tuned Rootes and Ford units can offer.

Tuned Fiats normally come to the motoring press via Radbourne in West London, but we were able to try a very nicely converted 124 Estate by courtesy of Bill Nicholson, another active club racing competitor, who is best known for his remarkably effective MG-B conversions. The latter have been tested by many journals and one of our staff members, who has run a Stage 2 Nicholson B for some time, confirms that engine performance is improved with a fuel consumption bonus when running at the same r.p.m. as the standard product.

The Estate also had Dellorto carburetters, this time with 1 1/2-in. chokes at a cost of £40, including an alloy inlet manifold. The only other engine change was to fit a modified cylinder head with a 9.8-to-1 compression ratio, plus some reshaping of the ports and valve throat area to encourage better gas flow.

Four star fuel satisfies the noisy, but absolutely smooth, four-cylinder 1,197-c.c. power unit; average m.p.g. figures should be around the 30 mark. An all-round disc braking system and clinging coil-spring suspension make the 124 an ideal target fur the tuners, though unfortunately for these gentlemen Fiat have seen the gap too, launching the popular S version which employs a 1 1/2-litre motor but not the d.o.h.c. system used by the 125 models.

The modest engine changes have made quite a difference to the engine’s top-end breathing. without sacrificing low-speed torque. From rest the Estate fairly rips away to just over 40 m.p.h. where the rather low second gear runs out of breath, leaving third until 66 m.p.h. is reached. Top speed is an honest 100 m.p.h. plus under favourable conditions while 0-60 and 0-70 m.p.h. times were an average 13.5 and 20.8 sec. respectively: an excellent performance from a bulky 1.1-litre load carrier.

Installed, the Nicholson kit costs £85 and this includes jetting up the carburetters and so on. Overall this was one of the best converted cars to come our way in recent months, and we hope Nicholson is able to continue the good work at his new premises in Towcester. He has taken his cylinder “headman”, Les Ryder, along so they will be able to offer improved performance for a wide range of popular cars.

The BMW 2002 is a car the author has long admired in standard form, for it combines admirable load-carrying abilities with supremely exploitable handling, startling and torquey acceleration and a generally high standard of finish. A ride round Brands Hatch short circuit with Hubert Hahne in a works turbocharged 2002 TIK was truly memorable, especially with regard to the comfort enjoyed by a passenger in this Group C touring car being thrown around by an extremely enterprising pilot, who likes to see the front wheel well over any available kerb.

When we did obtain a modified 2002 for test it proved almost equally memorable, even though that particular car had just finished a rally, suffering severe clutch slip during the later part of our performance trials.

Apart from the inevitable lights and some slight body strengthening, we found that the power output had been lifted from the maker’s figure of 100 b.h.p. to 148 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. The main items in bringing ahout this increase were a pair of twin-choke Weber carburetters, a modified camshaft, 2002 TT pistons and valves, and a 10.8-to.1 compression cylinder head which features some design work by Chris Lawrence of Lawrencetune. Absolute r.p.m. limit is set at 7,500, but we did not exceed 7,000 r.p.m.

However we settled for just 6,250 r.p.m., the standard limit, while recording speeds of 34, 52, 70, 90 and 118 m.p.h. using the optionally available Getrag five-speed gearbox. We had only a short time in which to acquire the measure of said Getrag and found that the change was an exceptionally good one, save that from first (which is opposite reverse) to second, when an unwary hand could produce a crunch.

Despite the dicky clutch we managed to remove over a second from the production car’s 0-60 m.p.h. time and over 4 sec. from 0-90 m.p.h. Anthony Hennin and Donald Abrams of AutoExtra were the gentlemen responsible for this car (they have also prepared other 2002s for rallying use by leading drivers), and they were extremely co-operative in letting us have the BMW at short notice, without even changing the plugs after an arduous round of the Motoring News Championship. The owner, known as “Toby” Sheppard, is a very large man and our short tester had considerable difficulty at first in seeing his way past the small wood-rim steering wheel. Inserting friends’ rally jackets behind his back solved this particular problem and we found the cloth-covered bucket seat comfortable even during moments of stress.

With some suspension stiffening, but no alteration in ride height, we found the all-independently-sprung BMW ideal for both tarmac and loose surface work, remaining extremely controllable up to the point where the excellent brakes were applied. This could catch the 2002 slightly off balance, which was easily retrieved by applying power at slow speeds… we did not try to lock the front wheels while exceeding this country’s highest speed limit! Part of the suspension work includes removing the rear anti-roll bar because there is no need for it with adjustable Koni shock-absorbers and stiffer springing. It should be emphasised that the brakes are exceptionally good in modified form and that they get better the harder they are used.

In this form the 2002 is still eminently suited to public road use with a slow and unheated tickover, despite the addition of nearly 50 b.h.p. Fuel consumption should range from 20-23 m.p.h. depending on how enthusiastic the driver becomes.—J. W.


BLMC Special Tuning, Abingdon-on-Thames, Berkshire.

Downton Engineering, Downton, Wiltshire.

V. W. Derrington Ltd., 166 Kingston Road. Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey,

Janspeed Engineering, Southampton Road, Salisbury, Wiltshire.

SAH Accessories, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

Neal Davis Racing, 106 Main Road, Sidcup, Kent (workshops: 2 Raglan Road, Plumstead, SE18.)

Talon Engineering, Porchester Mews, Porchester Road, London W2.

Bill Nicholson Ltd, 170 Watling Street East, Towcester„ Northants.

AutoExtra, 18a Ashwood Mews, Courtfield Road, London SW7.