Thriving in Teeside
The Northern half of Cartune the VW Specialists of Repute
Settled into the adequate comfort of a second class seat as provided by British Rail en route for Darlington from King’s Cross, I had plenty of time to reflect on the wisdom of forsaking motor car for rail. Certainly there was the compensation of a female dancing troupe’s chatter to replace the sound of my hardworked pushrod engine (Croft and Cadwell Park used to fall within my province as a rallycrosser, so the car can pretty well find its own way up the A1)–but there was the nagging worry of my car’s fate, abandoned to the non-existent parking facilities at King’s Cross. As it transpired, I need not have worried, for my car was to remain untarnised and I was to pack in some interesting miles in a 2-litre VW rally car, returning to London in the later model (quadruple headlamp) NSU Ro80.
The real object of my visit though was to see the people and premises that comprise Cartune (Teesside) and Cartune (Volkswagen) Ltd., which, together with the separately managed but commonly owned Cartune concern at Ashford, Middlesex, have become Britain’s best known purveyors of speed equipment for VWs. Not surprisingly we found a large proportion of former VW employees contributing to a business that, in the North at any rate, is an extremely successful retail dealer in the Wolfsburg wonders and is beginning to make headway with a Porsche dealership as well. In fact the North-eastern business defies all those mental pictures one has as a result of those political statements about depressed areas. for Cartune are about to move into a shiny £110,000 “dealership building” this year, and they don’t seem short of customers for the many performance and general accessory lines they sell.
The founder of Cartune, and the man who still retains his control over the business today, is a bespectacled and genial gentleman called Michael Griffin. His career encompasses an apprenticeship spent at Lagonda—he was there when they sold out to David Brown and left as a result—a couple of years learning about instruments in the RAF, some years in the engineering business, two years as an Austin Morris dealer, before finding a niche that really held his attention, working for VW’s technical service department. In 195/8 he was workshop manager at VW’s St. John’s Wood servicing facility, but by 1966 he had progressed to general service manager, effectively sorting out all VW’s UK problems of a technical nature.
Griffin then took a year off to sort out his own business, having acquired the Cartune name from RAC scrutineer Fred Matthews, who registered it in 1938. Griffin began Cartune on a part-time basis during 1960/61, working on the traditional kitchen table in company with Roy Vaughan, who has always looked after the Ashford end of the business closely with guidance from Griffin.
In 1967 the two businesses were launched simultaneously, Vaughan looking after Ashford whilst Griffin went to the North to help present day manager Ron Turnbull get the business under way. Following the double launch Griffin didn’t confine himself to Cartune activities, becoming general manager at AFN, the Porsche people, for part of 1968 and 1969. The following year Griffin became involved in the interesting, but ill-starred, project to market the Vignale bodywork Fiats in this country. An enormous stock of these machines—based on Fiat machinery as diverse as the 125 and the 500—was built up in West London and plenty of publicity generated, though the project was doomed, mainly because the cars were so expensive. Even the cheapest Gamine 500 didn’t seem to pull the trendy populace away from their Mokes, or even the beginnings of the Beach Buggy boom. Later Cartune were to design their own buggy. Called the Apal, it had cleaner lines than most but was really too late on the market.
Since those days of effort on Mr. Demetriou’s Vignale UK project, Griffin has divided up his time between Ashford and Teesside, though at present he is mainly in the North whilst they prepare to move into the new premises.
We asked Mr. Turnbull how they approached VW conversions to which he replied, “First, we make a big thing of safety, for example we start with the suspension modifications before increasing engine power. In the same way, we will not tune a knackered engine, all the Reece Fish carburetters and tweaked cylinder heads in the world won’t help such a unit. All the machining is done in the South, where they can draw up from scratch (another Griffin speciality) and make specialised items. Up here we find that practical accessories such as Koni shock absorbers and 5 1/2J steel wheels sell well.”
One of the most popular Cartune lines is the package of an adjustable carburetter main jet and stainless steel megaphone-styled exhaust pipes. Priced at £4.90, Cartune say the new parts can allow an extra 1 1/2-4 b.h.p. which must be among the cheapest £ per b.h.p. added modifications of all.
In the best traditions, a catalogue is offered to the public and the range of equipment offered to VW owners is positively startling. So far as the engine is concerned one can start with adjustable carburetter jets at £1.85 and carburetter ram pipes at £1.30, graduating to Reece Fish carburetters at just under £30 complete with air cleaner. The low crankshaft revolution rate favoured at Wolfsburg makes the extraction of power a matter for careful thought, most of the experts plumping for larger capacity and the retention of Beetle character. Cartune offer four such capacity increases beginning with the 1400, which converts all 1200 34/40 h.p. models to 1,390 c.c. with a compression ratio of 7.9:1. As with all these kits, the customer just buys four pistons fitted with rings and pins, plus four new cylinder barrels. The 1400 package is a straight bolt-on job, but the 1700 and 2-litre units do require machine work. The second stretch is for 1300s to grow into 1500s, while the third is the 1,694-c.c, kit coded 1700, which can be based on the 1300, 1500 and 1600, allowing compression ratios of 8.5:1 and 8.1 respectively.
The speciality is the SPG long-stroke, roller-bearing crankshaft giving nearly 2-litres when used in conjunction with big bore cylinders and pistons. The snag is that the German crankshaft costs £130 in this country, and requires a lot more expense on the installation side, for the cylinder heads and crankcase need machining, plus new parts such as pushrods, longer studs, spacer rings, cam followers and camshaft. Just one road use camshaft is listed at £9 on exchange, or £16.17 outright. Bigger, by 2 mm., inlet valves and heavy duty valve springs are also listed, together with myriad engineering services (recutting inlet valve seats £6) that are offered from the Ashford branch.
We were swiftly shown what they can do in Teesside in practical manner by the chance to drive the rally Beetle Ron Turnbull shares with Paul Swift for restricted rallies counting toward the Association of North East Clubs Championship. Peter Raybould, Cartune’s service manager and a member of their board of directors, prepared the big bore engine with its roller crank conversion some 5,000 miles ago, based on a 1600 unit. The engine, like the rest of the car; embodies most of what Cartune know about VWs as a practical demonstration to potential customers of what can be done.
Inside the startling orange Beetle we found a pair of Restall bucket seats, smaller sports steering wheel and one of those invaluable quick shift gear-change mechanisms, which retail for just £2. A large tachometer intruded on the meagre windscreen allowance already provided. We were asked to keep to 5,500 r.p.m., a figure which was recorded very rapidly by the responsive engine with its lightened flywheel, and which will be exceeded by 1,000 r.p.m. when some revised manifolding can be obtained for the tricky double Reece Fish installation; not that the carburetters themselves are temperamental, rather it is their linkages which provide the headaches.
The 200 mm. diameter clutch provided for the rugged rallying forays proved civil enough for the creeping progress we had to make whilst our intended route was blocked by a stranded articulated commercial, carrying what looked to he the world’s largest ship’s boiler. The combination of low down power and smooth delivery of that commodity were most impressive. The driver naturally starts off by using the gears fairly liberally, but only a few miles are needed before you realise that this is a device that thrives on third and fourth gears—a brave man’s competition carriage.
On paper the big bore VW’s acceleration would not look that impressive by current standards, but from the driver’s seat the potent note of the Brabham-Lukey exhaust blends well with the car’s rapid pick up from 1,500 r.p.m. onward in third and fourth of those quickly engaged gears. On wet roads, in a strange district, with the owner relaxing in the navigator’s reclining luxury, it did not seem to be the time to explore adhesion limits. It so happens that John Aley of rollover bar repute has a rally Beetle too, a little milder in the engine department (single Fish carburetter) but similarly equipped in respect of handling items such as Koni shock-absorbers, front anti-roll bar (14 mm. diameter and 40-50% stiffer than the production model’s), large wheels, and radial ply tyres. However the rally car differed in having chunky treads. Aley’s car was pressed hard whilst we trundled after the owner in his Renault 16 TS, finding the modified VW cornered extremely neatly. Even if the rear wheels are forced out of line by hard acceleration, the steering will catch any slide swiftly and lightly, whilst the extra roll stiffness allows the converted car to avoid the ungainly lurches affected by the standard vehicle.
The only snag we encountered was some spluttering from the carburetters after we had re-started the car. The engine cools off pretty quickly and carburetter icing precautions need to be taken, as they were on Mr. Aley’s single carburetter machine. For the Reece Fish carburetter a heater element and illuminated cockpit switch cost a little over £2.
Mr. Wall, like Peter Raybould an ex-VW employee within the Tilling Group, kindly wafted me from Cartune’s premises to a service station on the M1 in an RO80 that they had taken in part exchange. I was then allowed to try the 1971-manufactured NSU for myself, which made an interesting comparison over the original models I had tried when they were imported into this country with their headlamps elegantly cowled. The torque converter three-speed transmission, with its electrically operated gearlever knob clutch, was much improved over the earlier cars, for there was never a crunch when proceeding amongst the widely spaced ratios, I found out how good the all-disc braking was by trying to depress the brake pedal as a clutch on the first change! Thereafter we proceeded at high velocity with barely a whisper of wind or mechanical noise to disturb us, though it did appear that performance was reduced, particularly in respect of maximum speed, compared to the days when NSU won that Car of the Year award.
We gave the address of the Teesside Cartune earlier, but for those who operate VWs in the south the company’s other half is at 147 Stanwell Road, Ashford, Middlesex. Both branches are worth a visit—the northern end especially when they move, for the planned facilities look extremely promising, work having begun on its construction. — J. W.