Tuning test: big game V8

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Sending me on my way from Standard House bound for Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg, to cover the South African Grand Prix a couple of months back our resident Tuning Topics man with a hint of jealousy in his eye instructed me to “track down a Perana”. He wasn’t, in fact, expecting me to go on a Big Game Hunt but wanted me to find Perana Cars and drive one of their exciting V8 Ford-powered Capris.

Perana Cars is run by Basil Green Motors of Johannesburg, Mr. Green himself being very much a South African version of Ralph Broad. In fact, I had met him the previous year at Kyalami where Dunlop were demonstrating some new tyres to the South African press and using a Capri Perana V8 as a test vehicle. Jackie Stewart drove me round the circuit in the Capri and was tremendously impressed with the car. So was I, but I was further completely overawed by Stewart’s speed and precision in the car in one of those demonstrations that firmly puts into place any of those “I’m just as good as Stewart if I had the breaks” ideas.

However, I did have quite a talk with Green about his cars and his firm, which at the time was something like Jeff Uren’s Race-proved operation specialising in inserting V6 engines into Cortinas. However, I was told that his work was officially backed by South African Ford down in Port Elizabeth and the cars were marketed through their network. The Capri V8 was an early prototype, although the plan was to phase out the Cortina and swing over to Capris.

On planning this year’s South African trip I dropped a line to Perana Cars inquiring if I could borrow a Capri V8 for my stay. Unfortunately the letter ground to a halt in the postal strike and was never received and, anyway, as I found out, there just wasn’t a spare car. As soon as they are built they are snapped up by eager customers. But Basil Green did manage to find me a V8 to try for a morning and I had a good scout round his factory.

In fact, in the last year his progress has been considerable and he has moved into a smart and airy new building on an Industrial Estate near the airport. His operation is now much more akin to a sort of mini-Advanced Vehicle Operations and is presently turning out something like eight Peranas a week, plus other specialist jobs like fitting V6 engines into Transit vans, and so on.

Green also prepares a Perana V8 for racing and Bobby Olthoff has scored tremendous success with it. Several other top South African drivers like Basil van Rooyen and Peter Gough are also campaigning them. The basic ingredients of the Perana V8 are quite straightforward: a Ford Capri 3000E, a 5-litre Mustang engine, a Mustang close-ratio box and a special B.G.-developed back axle featuring a Borg Warner limited slip differential. The Capris come up from Port Elizabeth more or less complete. Working on a production line basis Green’s employees then set to work removing the V6 engine and box, fettling the engine bay to suit the larger engine, fitting the special steering rack, changing the instruments and altering the springing and umpteen other jobs. It all sounds quite easy but Basil Green spent a lot of time, effort and energy developing the modifications, something no British tuning firm have yet managed to achieve with any degree of sales success.

As if the power from a 5-litre Ford V8 isn’t enough the Perana engines supplied by Ford SA are mildly tuned with a four-barrel Holley with a B.G. specification aluminium manifold, plus a Stage 2 camshaft and stronger valve springs. This ups the b.h.p. to 239, which is not bad for a 2,400-lb. car.

Not surprisingly, the very professionally-finished device, which has very few outward signs of being anything but a Capri 3000E, has startling performance to say the least. During our short test we were not able to record any reliable figures but we did lay down some pretty impressive black lines from a standing start. However, a friendly South African magazine told us that in a road-test on a Perana they had recorded figures of 0-60 m.p.h. in 6.1 sec. and managed to record a phenomenal measured top speed of 142 m.p.h.

This may make the Perana V8 sound a very frightening car to drive but, in fact, it isn’t. It can be very docile, but if you do push that throttle down and keep it there things do start to happen rather suddenly. The particular car I drove actually belonged to a customer and had a suspected soft front spring on one side which made it rather a handful. The car inherently understeers, but with all that power it is easy to squirt the back round and balance it up.

Naturally it is just the job for ultra high-speed cruising and up to 110 m.p.h. or so is nice and quiet, too. Obviously in a short test it was difficult to tell but you could probably wear the brakes out quite quickly as they are standard Capri specification with harder pads for the front discs. Fuel consumption is not such a worry in South Africa where petrol is cheap but nevertheless figures of around 20 m.p.g. could be expected.

All in all, I was greatly impressed by my all-too-short run in the Perana and, if I was a South African resident, I would think very seriously about one of these tame beasts, if I could afford it.—A. R. M.

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