Tuning topics

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124

This month we are looking at a broader range of specialist news than normal, mainly as a result of the usual loss in feature pages which affects any motor sporting magazine at this time of the year. Certainly I achieved one ambition that not many motoring journalists even want to think about, namely driving a tuned rallying Skoda around Silverstone! The occasion was the International Car Test Day, backed by Michelin, and making use of the Grand Prix circuit. Judging by the favourable reception accorded to this event by a positive army of journalists and many others (the car park on Hangar straight was packed just as fully as for the GKN International meeting in May!), Michelin will want to organise a similar event next year.

Apart from the Skoda, I drove a 3 1/2-litre Mercedes 280 V8, BMW 2002 and 2800, a Fiat 124T, DAF Marathon 55 and an Opel GS Commodore. Not a particularly inspiring selection in the light of the fact that the Citroën SM, Alfa Romeo Montreal and new Mercedes 350 V8 sports car were present, but certainly enough to keep boredom at bay.

The Opel GS and the BMWs are familiar enough to Motor Sport readers, though the latter cars are difficult for Standard House to borrow of late. The Opel was being driven very rapidly by John Rhodes when we were out in the Mercedes V8 and there was no way in which I could keep the three-pointed star ahead. However, I still thought it a superb machine as it revved smoothly to over 6,000 r.p.m., whilst the power steering and disc brakes coped superbly, despite the abuse it suffered whilst in the Opel’s heavily understeering company. Both BMWs could be made to hang their tails out in manageable style and displayed the best track manners of any car that I drove at Silverstone.

The Fiat 124T is a car that definitely deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in a competitively-priced family saloon with sparkling acceleration and excellent all-disc braking. The twin-cam 1,438-c.c, unit provided an indicated 80 m.p.h. in third and 105 m.p.h. in fourth, which suggests that the car might fill the old Cortina Lotus niche in the market—but with a considerably better ride. On the track the 124T understeered strongly to the point of picking up both inside wheels before switching gradually to a tail-out attitude. The Cinturatos certainly provide long life, but I would welcome the opportunity to try the car on low profile cross-ply tyres such as those sold by Avon.

The DAF was fitted with Michelin ZXs, and we climbed aboard with DAF public relations man John Springate to explore the possibilities of touring Silverstone without lifting off. After two or three long periods of oversteer, promoted by the rear wheels tucking in toward a positive camber angle, I gradually acclimatised to applying both brake and accelerator when entering a corner, our progress becoming a good deal more dignified in the process. The idea of pushing round even Silverstone’s forgiving GP circuit flat-out had struck me as madness until the week before Michelin’s day out, when a Vauxhall Firenza (on Avon Wide Safety GT tyres) had all but managed this feat. We have been promised a road-test of the DAF in its latest Marathon form, in which it gives another 13 b.h.p., at an early date. Judging by previous experience with a DAF 55 tuned to what is now Marathon level, I would say that it will make an exceptionally pleasant road car indeed—especially as the unique Variomatic transmission acts as a limited slip differential, so the Renault 1100 engine can pull one out of most slippery ground.

The personnel surrounding a Gp2 Skoda rally car were reluctant to let the car out on the track. At first they wanted someone to come along with the car, but since none of them really liked the idea I was eventually allowed to try all 73 b.h.p. (SAE at 6,000 r.p.m., a crankshaft revolution speed that I was not allowed to exceed) on my own. Predictably the Skoda was of the LHD layout and equally predictably its rear engine allowed the beautifully precise steering to act swiftly whilst the rear-end hung out to a near right-angle.

The 1,107-c.c. four-cylinder Skoda engine runs on a compression ration of 10.4:1 in modified form, having a pretty hot time pushing along 1,830 lb. around sunny Silverstone. The cylinder head incorporates a separate port for intake and exhaust of each cylinder, fed in this form by a single twin-choke Weber 40 DF-2 carburetter.

On the circuit I spent two or three laps below 3,000 r.p.m., thoroughly warming the engine before commencing battle with a DAF Marathon, expertly conducted by Peter Noad the Volkswagen specialist. The Skoda was presumably faster than the DAF along Hangar straight, for I was able to overtake the Dutch car on the third gear corner at the end. The Skoda was the only car which I drove that day which could, and did, let go at the rear end whilst flat out through Woodcote. Naturally, in a professional capacity, I should deplore this tendency—but in fact it made a change not to wind on more and more steering lock. Fortunately, for presumably it would mean disaster in more conventional machinery, this was the first occasion on which I have had time to look at the straight after Woodcote, all whilst travelling into that bend!

Although we were able to cope with a BMW 2000 whilst esconced in the Skoda’s comfortable bucket seat, none of the photographers would lift their lenses to record the Czechoslovakian car’s antics on the grounds that it was much too slow to be worth photographing! The official name under which this Skoda is sold is 110L, 1971 specification, Group 2. Judging by the prices Skoda charge for their cars, even this “homologation special” should not cost too much.

More circuit work
Since our article last year on Group 2 saloon car racing a number of Motor Sport readers have asked for details of the 1971 cars and drivers contesting this international category. The story so far as top drivers are concerned is short and sweet, Frank Gardner dropped out of the series with the works Boss Mustang, though he has now reappeared twice in Gp2 with a 5.7-litre Chevrolet Camaro sponsored by the SCA trucking people. When this was written Gardner had lost to Muir once at Silverstone and won once at the same track. There are those who say that Gardner’s saloon car racing “come-back” is backed by Ford, for his efforts could well reduce Brian Muir’s chances of taking the title in the Wiggins Teape Camaro, and there is a gaggle of Escorts waiting to win the RAC title: but would Ford back a Chevrolet, even under these circumstances?

Muir still leads the RAC Saloon Car Championship points table comfortably. Behind him in second place is David Matthews in a Broadspeed/Castrol-backed Escort 1300GT, now giving 150 b.h.p. from its downdraught fuel-injected engine. However, it has been the fantastic 1.8-litre BDA Escort of John Fitzpatrick, prepared by the same team, which has thrilled the crowds by taking on the big American cars, even beating them all on one occasion at Brands Hatch. Even accounting for the fact that the Escort has the ultimate in Dunlop Formula racing tyres, intricately modified suspension (a leaf spring and MacPherson strut can still be found—if you look hard enough through the maze of legal subsidiary locating rods) and all disc braking, one has to acknowledge that some fine driving and preparation has gone on to make an Escort capable of almost holding a 450-b.h.p.-plus Camaro around such rapid circuits as Snetterton and Silverstone Grand Prix.

Except where Group 2 events have been split into two separate races (over 1,300 c.c. and under 1,300 both sub-divided into two classes) the Broadspeed Escort and Chevrolet Camaros have dominated the proceedings on every occasion. However, there are some other interesting entries this year. Ford at Borham are running a Capri RS built up by their counterparts in Cologne, but now being rapidly modified to suit British circuits. The engine is a fuel-injected 2,940-c.c. V6 based on the 2,600 Capri RS unit, using Weslake-produced heads designed by Len Bailey. In action the Capri sounds more like a V8 racing engine, giving every sign of possessing the 290+ b.h.p. that is claimed for it: in production form (and it is a pretty potent engine then, propelling the Capri to over 120 m.p.h.) the German V6 is credited with 150 b.h.p.

Ford have chosen Gerry Birrell, the young Scotsman who conducts a Lotus in Formula Two races, as their driver, and he seems extremely happy with the amount of work that Ford have done to bring the Capri up to standard in the handling department. The homologated suspension looked to have all the right parts anyway, with freshly-fabricated arms at the front and a coil leaf-sprung rear axle adequately located by long radius rods.

In the smaller classes the Escort 1300GTs with Broadspeed preparation are by far the fastest in the 1,001-1,300-c.c, division, a notable privateer being Vince Woodman in the VMW Motor cars. The under-1,000-c.c. machinery continues to be dominated by 1970 RAC Saloon Car Champion Bill McGovern in a George Bevan-prepared Imp, despite the challenge offered by John Turner in another Imp, this one prepared by Dick Guy, a former Rootes Competitions Department employee with an excellent engine-building reputation.—J. W.