Willment- Past and Present

"Race Proved by Willment" is a phrase which needs no introduction to readers of this magazine. Since its inception little over three years ago the racing division of the John Willment Organisation has emphasised by its successes that its choice of name is really no idle boast. But the origins of the well-known team date from much earlier than 1963. John Willment—whose first car was a 1925 8-h.p. Gwynne acquired at the age of 12—and his brother Roger were brought up in the construction industry, John looking after the mechanical plant side of his father's business. It was in this sphere that he first met a Cornishman called Jeff Uren who ran his own plant hire business and who shared his enthusiasm for motor cars. In 1949, Willment took part in his first competitive event in a 100E Ford, and in the years that followed teamed up with Uren to race this car, and others, in club events up and down the country.

By this time, Willment had established a garage at Twickenham, now the thriving Main Ford Dealership of John Willment Automobiles, and it was natural that he and Uren should concentrate on Dagenham-built cars for their sporting pleasures. Uren was no newcomer to 4-wheeled sport, his competitive baptism having taken place in 1955 when he was inveigled into preparing a car for his brother who had entered the Monte Carlo Rally of that year merely for a bet. But things did not end with preparation, and Jeff Uren found himself co-driving in the event, an experience which was to lead him to the Tulip, Alpine and Safari Rallies, not to mention success in the British Saloon Car Championship in his Zephyr, becoming class lap record holder at Snetterton, Aintree, Goodwood and Brands Hatch in the process.

In late 1962 Willment decided to integrate his rapidly expanding Ford dealership with his racing activities and, by establishing an organised racing team, to use the latter to publicise the former. His old friend Jeff Uren needed no encouragement to join him as manager of the team and, in February 1963, three Ford Cortina GTs. were delivered to the Willment Racing Division behind the garage almost in the shadows of the Twickenham Rugby ground. After only two weeks of preparation, off they went to Oulton Park on March 26th, where Jack Sears made no bones about defeating the 1 1/2-litre Rileys and Sunbeam Rapiers which had previously dominated this class of saloon car racing. The success was quickly followed up at Goodwood on Easter Monday where Sears again won his class decisively, beating the previous record held by Hutcheson's Riley 1.5 by 1.8 seconds. The white cars with the red stripes running from stem to stern over the roof had really come to stay, and by the end of the year Sears, and the Willment Cortinas had clinched the British Saloon Car Championship.

But this was not all that 1963 brought to the team. In April a Ford Galaxie was ordered from the American race preparation firm of Holman and Moody. It arrived, having been frantically found a berth on a cargo aircraft, two days before the Dady Express Meeting at Silverstone in May. There were many wry grins when such a seemingly spongily-sprung monster appeared on the grid, but expressions changed when it completely outpaced the field in the hands of Jack Sears, trouncing the 3.8-litre Jaguar opposition and setting up a new class lap record of 1 min. 51.6 sec. This was the start of a successful partnership between Sears and the red-striped White Galaxie, a 6.9-litre single carburetter V8-engined version, which did so much in that year to establish the name of Willment.

In 1964, the Lotus Cortina had arrived on the scene, and two of them immediately found their way to the workshops of Willment Racing. They were driven mainly by South African Bob Olthoff whose association with the team was later to lead to the appearance of the familiar Willment colours on South African circuits. But the Lotus Cortinas were not the only horses in the stable. The Formula Two stakes were being contested by a Brabham, driven by Frank Gardner, and a Lola, driven by Paul Hawkins. Gardner also drove a newly-acquired Elva Mk. Seven sports car and Hawkins a Lotus 23. Olthoff and Sears were also being entered in two A.C. Cobras, one open and one a closed coupe, and the Galaxie was making frequent appearances in Sears' hands, although it was to leave early in 1965 for South Africa where it is still making regular appearances. Another driver to race under the Willment colours in 1964 was Boley Pittard, the significance of his appearance in a twin-cam 1,650 c.c. Anglia being in the fact that the car was really his own. Willment had realised that many club drivers had the ability to do well on the circuits but lacked the necessary funds and he set about exploring the possibilities of giving his support to such people, Many of whom have cause to thank him for his sporting generosity. There were no championship wins in 1964, but several races were won and the number of Ford Main Dealerships increased to five.

In 1965, the team ran a Lotus Cortina for Frank Gardner, who had considerable success. A Lotus 30 also for Gardner, the two Cobras which were raced by Sears, Gardner and occasionally by Innes Ireland, three Lotus 35 Formula Three cars shared between Boley Pittard and Ray Parsons, a Lotus 35 Formula Two car for John Miles (not John "Elan" Miles) and, as a venture into the front seat of motor racing, a B.R.M.-engined Brabham F.1 car which was driven by Bob Bondurant and Mike Beckwith. Full works support was also given to the other John Miles (now of Elan fame) who was racing a Diva so successfully and who became so tied up with the Willment organisation that he was soon to join their sales staff on the performance equipment side. Also in 1965 Bob Olthoff was managing, under Jeff Uren's direction, a team of three Willment cars in South Africa. They were the familiar Galaxie, a Cobra and a 1,600 c.c. twin-cam Brabham for South African formula events, the drivers being Olthoff himself and Tony Maggs. With these mounts they won the Saloon Car Championship and were runners-up in the Sports Car Championships but in mid-season Maggs had a bad accident in the Brabham, wrote the car off and has not raced himself since.

By the time 1966 came along, Willment was a household word, and the racing division was such that expansion and reorganisation was necessary. A new building was acquired but as space at Twickenham was at a premium the department was shared among all the Willment establishments pending it's completion. It was in such a divided camp that we found ourselves when we went along to visit the organisation last month. There was a fully equipped engine shop, complete with comprehensive test-beds, nestling midst the bric-a-brac of the construction company yard at Twickenham. Tucked away alongside a filling station at Gillette Corner on the Great West Road was the new Willment sports car with 1,930 cc. B.R.M. V8 engine. This first appeared at Goodwood on Easter Monday in the hands of Mike Beckwith but broke its Colotti gearbox during the race. It is being rebuilt with a DS20 ZF 'box and is soon to be driven for the team by Innes Ireland. In another corner of the shop is as a road car being built for the Patron himself—a Galaxie chassis and engine around which a Ghia-inspired body, not unlike that of the Fiat 2300S, is being shaped—and in another the bodyshell of John Miles' Elan, a works-supported car which has already earned remarkable success this season.

At Boston Manor Road, Hanwell, was the Lotus 30 with DS25 ZF gearbox to be raced by Brian Muir. This car was entered for the Oulton Park T.T. but dropped a valve before practice started. A new engine rushed up from London was not installed in time for the car to qualify. Alongside it was . .. yes, a Galaxie; not the single-carb. car raced by Jack Sears, but the shell of Sir Gawaine Baillie's former car to be fitted with a 7-litre engine which was then undergoing bench testing with four side-draught Webers. It is expected that Brian Muir, latest import under the Australian "Driver to Europe" scheme, will drive this car. A third car at Hanwell was a Lotus Cortina with which experiments are currently being made with inclined engine mountings to make room for a Shorrock supercharger. When completed, we gather that it may be driven by Sir John Whitmore. In addition to John Miles' Elan, other supported cars will be a Brabham BT8 Climax and a Lotus 41 F.3 for Tony Dean, an 1,800 c.c. t.c. Lotus 23 for Jack Paterson and, as a completely new venture, a Cortina GT to be rallied by Welshman Malcolm Gibbs. Quite obviously, Jeff Uren has not forgotten his rallying associations and has shown himself to be an astute selector in choosing Gibbs for support. Gibbs, navigated by Randal Morgan, now leads the Motoring News British Rally Championship.

In a comparatively short space of time the Willment Racing Division, with its colours now reversed to white stripes on red, has gone rapidly from strength to strength. We wish it continued success, not only with its own cars, but also with those of the club drivers that it supports so admirably.

No visit to the Willment Racing Organisation would be complete without a test-drive in one of their cars, but none of the cars was in road-going tune, race schedules were far too tight to permit a precious day to be consumed by a track-test and the Willment Sprint GT, a tuned version of the Ford Cortina GT for road use, has already been described in the November, 1964, issue of Motor Sport. However, we learned that Gibbs' rally Car was to return to the workshops for a refit before the International Scottish Rally and he agreed to allow us to use it for a week before this took place. Road test cars, as a general rule, are carefully checked before being subjected to the close scrutiny of the Press. Not so in this case, and it is a tribute to the confidence that WilIntent have in their preparation that I was allowed to take delivery of the car immediately after it had completed an arduous rally in South Wales. It seems that the car had lost some time during the night when a petrol pipe had burst, but the temporary repair was such that the journey from Lampeter to London was completed without any trouble. Most competition cars are considerably lighter than their standard counterparts, but as this particular car has to withstand the terrible pounding that special stages can inflict it was fitted with protective equipment which rendered it. much heavier. On a public weighbridge, it tipped the scales at 19 1/4 cwt., whereas a standard 4-door version recorded 17 3/4 cwt. even allowing for the 38 lb. difference between 2 and 4-door versions this is still a considerable weight increase and one which should be borne in mind when taking the acceleration figures into account. Fords quoted 16 1/4 cwt. for the standard car but we prefer to use our own figures since both were obtained in the same manner. Dare we suggest that perhaps the official Ford figure has something to do with homologation ? Accounting for the weight increase was a pretty substantial dural sumpshield running to the back of the gearbox, and another guard protecting the fuel tank. In addition, there was a second, 8-gallon tank fitted in the boot from which high-octane petrol was fed to the original tank by a Bendix rapid action electric pump controlled from a switch on the dashboard. Stronger springs were fitted front and rear, heavy-duty shock-absorbers and strengthened front struts. The 5 1/2J wheels were shod with Goodyear G800s which were considerably worn after many forest tracks had passed beneath them—another point which should be taken into account when considering the car's acceleration times.

The engine has been bored to 1,599 c.c. (though this will be changed to a homologated unit before the Scottish) and everything balanced and hand matched. The head has been modified and heavy duty con. rods, crankshaft and rocker gear fitted. The flywheel has been double-dowelled and a high pressure oil pump fitted. Fuel feed is through a pair of side-draught Weber carburetters, and the net result is a unit which produces 112 b.h.p. at 6,700 r.p.m.

The interior is relatively stark compared with some of the aircraft simulations we have seen, proving that it is not really necessary to install masses of complicated equipment in order that a car might go quickly in the correct direction. The seats were unchanged, Irvin belts were fitted, and the rear seats sported spring-loaded straps on the cushion and squab in order to keep tools, spares and maps in place. The only navigation aids were a Butler Flexilight, a Halda Twinmaster, with two scales each accurate to a hundredth of a mile, and a power socket for an illuminated magnifier. Spot, fog and reversing light switches were mounted on the central console just behind the gear lever.

Although a rally-prepared car must, of necessity, travel on public roads, the Willment Cortina GT became distinctly fluffy when taken from its natural habitat in the forests and deposited in the traffic-snarled streets of London, but throttle blipping served to keep the plugs oil-free. The marketed version of the car is, of course, not as fussy. The ride is understandably firm and handling is meticulously precise. All in all, a well-prepared competition car without any gimmicks. Even the jazzy white stripes are there for a purpose—to help service crews at night just as they help race mechanics by day.—G.P.