Six hours round Silverstone in a 62,000-mile-old Datsun 240Z
It is said that International motor racing has become the preserve of millionaires. If that is so, the impecunious Spike Anderson would like to know what has gone wrong with his life. “I can’t afford to get out of bed in the morning, now.” said Spikc, after his Samuri Conversions Datsun 240Z had completed six hours and 157.53 laps of the Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in the World Championship of Makes Six-Hour Race on May 15th. Driven by Motor Sport’s Clive Richardson and Jeremy Walton, Anderson’s 240Z illustrated that there is still room for amateurs in long-distance International motor racing. While cars like the £35,000 Bell/Schenken Porsche 935 Turbo expired, the 1972 240Z trundled on, “Circulating like a train, albeit a commuter rather than a crack express,” as John Teague so aptly summed it up in his Motoring News report.
It is undoubtedly flippant to talk about a 935 Turbo in the same breath as our 240Z, for our performance was indeed very pedestrian, some 30 sec. a lap slower than the faster Porsches. But outside the professional ranks, even International motor racing needs enthusiastic amateurs, if only to fill the grids, and, in Silverstone’s case, help break up a Porsche monopoly.
Anderson has long had ambitions to involve himself directly in motor racing as an entrant, having no aspirations as a driver. The exBroadspeed cylinder head machinist, well known for his Super Samuri Datsun 240Z conversions, first road tested in Motor Sport in July 1973, thought he had reached his goal with a 240Z-engined Datsun Sunny Coupe Super Saloon, which he asked this writer to race last year. Regular readers of Motor Sport will know what happened to that project: the loss of a rear wheel at Silverstone’s Woodcote culminated in a multiple roll and a total wreck. Anderson went to ground for a while, to emerge with a proposition to run a Datsun 240Z in the Silverstone Six-Hour Race, a particular ambition of his since last year’s event. The drivers were to be this writer and Rob Grant, the first man to score European GT Championship points in a 240Z. Unfortunately for Grant, a kidney complaint put paid to his drive just four days before the race and our own J.W., veteran of two Spa 24-hour races, one of which included a class win, was sent scurrying to renew his International racing licence and medical certificate in time to take Grant’s place.
Anderson’s available funds dictated that the 240Z he would have to buy had to be the cheapest and nastiest available. It was; straight from an outdoor life outside a fish and chip shop in South-West London, where it had accumulated years’ of dints and rust in every panel and a speedometer reading of 62,000 miles. While the body went off to be straightened and painted in Anderson’s familiar Samuri colours of red, metallic bronze and white, Anderson prepared the 62,000-mile-old engine for its six-hour thrash.”Preparation” is a loose term, for astonishingly all that was done was to pop in new shells and rings and hone the bores. Anderson performed his usual Super Samuri road conversion miracles on the six-cylinder engine’s aluminium cylinder head and reassembled it with the original valves, valve springs, followers and overhead camshaft. Finally, a set of triple Weber 40 DCOE twin-choke horizontal carburettors was bolted on à la Super Samuri road conversions, which was exactly what this “race” engine was. After the race the car was found to give 140 b.h.p. at the wheels.
Chassis preparation was equally rudimentary. Standard shock-absorbers were uprated, standard springs and anti-roll bar were retained and the Samuri ventilated front disc brake conversion kit fitted, without which it is doubtful the 2407. would have gone round Stowe Corner more than twice. New pads for the discs and linings for the standard rear drums, the standard material fitted to Super Samuris for the road, completed the work, for there was no need to rebush the 62,000-mile-old suspension or renew the wheel-bearings. As for rubber-wear, a set of secondhand, very hard compound, Dunlop racing slicks was attached to a set of 8 in. x 15 in. Wolfrace wheels for dry conditions. If it rained we would have to use the car’s road tyres, 205 section Dunlop SP Super Sports on 8 in. x 14 in. Appliance wheels, for there was no question of affording proper wet racing tyres. A puncture would have finished us, for we had no spare for either set of tyres. In case of a real downpour, we borrowed -a set of Japanese Dunlop A2 rally tyres on Minilites. But no way did we want to change wheels during the race, for our pit equipment was restricted to a trolley jack and spider wheel braces and a complete wheel change would have taken 15 minutes. We prayed for consistent weather.
The only chassis modification was to install a limited-slip differential, using the original standard ratio crownwheel and pinion. The original gearbox was left alone and a new clutch plate fitted. Inside the cockpit we had an old competition bucket seat which had been wrecked by Pentti Airikkala on the 1,000 Lakes Rally and patched up tor its new application and a roll cage taken from a 240Z written off in a side impact. A diagonal bracing bar had to be welded into the cage to comply with FIA regulations. The carpets and passenger seat were stripped out, but things like the clock, which proved useful in the race, heater and heated rear screen were left in place. A big fire extinguisher was bolted to the roll cage and a Bowden cable system rigged up so that it could be operated from outside the car. Add on an external ignition cut-out switch, bonnet pins in place of the normal catch, slightly tapped out wheel arches and a front spoiler, and we have the extent of this 240Z’s preparation to comply with Group 4 regulations.
Lack of funds always seems to mean last-minute dramas and panic to finish a car before a race and Spike is an expert at this. Before unofficial practice on the Friday before the race he and his mates worked right through the night at his garage at Croughton, near Brackley to make the car a runner. J.W. and I completed two hours of running-in round the GP circuit in pouring rain into which few of the other entries present bothered to venture. Then came another all-night session to make the car scrutineer-proof before the first practice session the following morning.
In fact the car wasn’t ready for the morning session and only just made it to the final scrutineering session, which somehow it passed. Drama really started when eventually we were mobile with just 40 minutes of practice left: the first time round we had total fuel starvation down the Hangar Straight and there was nothing we could do to cure it, for the fault lay in the 25-gallon sealed bag tank. Fortunately, the organisers deemed C.R. to have qualified with a lap of 5 min. 55.31 sec. and very kindly agreed to let us compete if J.W. could cover the mandatory three qualifying laps before the race the following day. Anderson went home to refit the standard Small Datsun fuel tank, suitably glassfibred for safety.
Fortunately for our tyre situation race day dawned dry and sunny. J.W. completed his three laps without incident and then the writer climbed in for the warming-up lap and the rolling start. It was an ignominious start for us: our lack of proper practice time left the Datsun on its own right at the back of the grid, behind Ken Coffey’s red Escort RS2000 and the Neville/Goss/Gidden MG-B GT V8, which had been plagued by engine maladies in practice. The sight ahead was awesome on the lap to the rolling start—a huge phalanx of be-winged Turbo Porsches stretching behind the Rover 3500 course car. And an awesome feeling for the writer, thrown into his first international long-distance race amidst drivers of the calibre of Mass, Ickx and Bell, with a car which had never run on slicks before and was untested and unpracticed. The prospect was less worrying because neither driver expected this almost standard Datsun to last more than a few laps: “See you in the bar, soon,” we said…
Yet it was obvious in those early laps that this Datsun felt really strong, a crisp and smooth note through the silenced exhaust (for it had been driven to the circuit and was driven away afterwards), revealing a beautifully healthy 62,000-mile-old engine. It was Obvious too that the drivers would have to be strong, too, for a combination of standard front end geometry, an accidental three degrees extra caster on one wheel and the fat slicks made the steering bicep-strainingly heavy, a real effort to point round corners.
The first couple of laps were peaceful, in the wake of the MG-B and Gerry Marshall’s wheel-spinning BMW 3.0 Si. But all hell let loose on the fourth lap when the Martini and Loos Parsehe 935’s appeared as specks in the mirror, instantly enlarged as though somebody was turning up the magnification on a lens. The Datsun moved over and the white, red and blue car shot by with a peculiar whoosh and whistle from the turbocharged 650 h.h.p. engine, the Datsun shivering as the red Loos car followed through, belching out flames on the over-run. It was an experience which was to be repeated by the collection of Porsches several hundred times in the next few hours. During this first stint at the wheel the writer was totally “psyched” by being constantly lapped. losing time by pulling over and slowing down off line to let the faster cars through. The 935s were pulling over 180 m.p.h. down the Hangar Straight while the Datxun’s speedometer (really!) indicated 120.
After just over an hour the engine coughed and spluttered at Becketts to warn of an imminent shortage of fuel. Fifth gear got us safely round to the pits, fortunately. We had hoped to be able to run 1 1/2 hours on the small tank, but it was not to be, which was fortunate for the drivers, whose arms ached fit to drop off at the end of each one hour stint.
After a pit stop which Fred Kano would have envied, J.W. left for his first session, only to be black-flagged immediately for sloshing fuel all over the circuit from a defective breather. He lost a couple of laps in the pits before the scrutineers were satisfied that the fault was cured. J.W. was brought in at the end of another hour after circulating as regular as clockwork at 1 min. 57/58 sec. Realisation began to dawn that perhaps this Datsun would last the distance after all This time the refuelling went more smoothly, but the writer too was black-flagged for spilling fuel and the ensuing pit stop cost 22 minutes. The same happened again the next time and another four minutes were lost. All the while the Datsun was getting quicker as the reshelled and ringed engine loosened up and the hard tyres became stickier, but the brakes went through a bad phase before returning to normal. “Normal” wasn’t very reassuring and the front end was very twitchy under braking. On the other hand, traction was superb and though the 1 ton 47 lb. car was soft and wallowy it had tremendous adhesion, something that the hard-charging Group One Capris in the race would have appreciated.
We continued to circulate with drama-free consistency until the last half hour, when tell-tale spots splashed the screen, heralding an opening of the heavens which had most of the runners scurrying to the pits for wet tyres: The circuit grew wetter and slippier and the writer eased right back in deference to the hard slicks, an opaque screen and a wish to avoid the ill-luck which has plagued him at Silverstone in the past. A stop to change to road tyres would have cost at least 15 minutes, so was pointless, so we pottered round, concentrating on keeping out of the way, while at the same time conserving fuel and saving a fuel stop which would otherwise have been necessary before the finish. The last 10 minutes seemed interminable, but at last there was the chequered flag as the winning Mass/Ickx Porsche overtook the Datsun for the last time.
Those black-flag pit stops had cost us dearly, for though we were 20th out of 23 cars still running, we were just under four laps outside the 161 laps required to he classified. The unscheduled pits stops had cost us at least 14 laps, heart-breaking. But to Spike Anderson the fact that the car had finished at all was a dream fulfilled, proof that his road-tuned Super Samuri could double as a competition car. It was also rather staggering proof of the reliability of standard Datsun parts. To the drivers it had been an exciting and illuminating adventure, which a whole season of club racing could not have emulated. It felt good to have proved that top level international motor racing can still be tackled on a shoestring— so long as you don’t mind being at the tail of the field.—C.R.