Around and about, June 1982

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A challenge to Formula One?

HERALDED as having the same spectator appeal as Formula One motor racing, Formula One circuit power boat racing is a sport which has catapulted from the purely amateur to the thoroughly professional in a relatively short time. Ten years ago, 1 1/2-litre engines were the order of the day, there was no organised international series of races and there was little trade sponsorship. Since then, engine sizes have more than doubled, there is an international championship and trade sponsorship is almost a pre-requisite.

For 1982, the John Player tobacco concern will be sponsoring both the ten round series of races and a team of three boats. After a strong second place in the first round at Leon in Spain, the John Player Special power boat team (whose livery is identical to the black and gold of the JPS sponsored Lotus Formula One cars) took the opportunity of demonstrating to hardened motor sporting reporters that Formula One power boating is a very exciting sport, very fast and every bit as demanding as Formula One motor racing.

The boats themselves, built by Velden, are of plywood construction in the form of a catamaran; they are powered by a 3.5-litre Johnson outboard motor and have a top speed of something like 150 m.p.h. The demonstration at the Holme Pierrepont water sporting facility near Nottingham was, perhaps, a rather staged affair with Nigel Mansell in a Formula One Lotus 87 running on a track parallel with the power boats along a furlong standing start course. Staged though it might have been, there was no question about the onlookers being impressed with the manner of going of the boats.

There were five runs, three against Bob Spalding and two against Tom Percival. The car had a standing start, but the boats were allowed a trickle start, the signal being given to start when the boat reached the line. That Mansell was trying was obvious from the marks on the tarmac and the scream from the engine between gear changes, but he only managed to beat the boats over the standing furlong three out of five times. At the end of the furlong on his fastest run, Mansell was travelling at 121 m.p.h., while the fastest terminal speed on water was just on 100 m.p.h. Fastest time for the furlong went to Bob Spalding with 5.00 sec. compared with Mansell’s best of 5.4 sec., indicating that the initial acceleration on water is rather faster than a Formula One car.

As far as we were concerned, the most impressive demonstration of the day came after lunch when we were given the chance to ride with Francois Salabert, third member of the team, in a Formula One boat specially adapted to carry a passenger and powered by a smaller capacity engine. The out and out straight line acceleration was exhilarating enough, but did not feel particularly impressive; the cornering forces, however, were something else, Formula One cars pull around 3G when cornering at the limit whereas one of these power boats will pull something in the region of a shattering 4 1/2G — very hard on the driver! Driving these projectiles is very much more than just steering and keeping the power on, for at the speeds at which they travel the trim of the boat is all important, adjustments being achieved by tilting the engine on the transom to adjust the angle of the hull in the water. As tyres and final drive ratios play an important part in Formula One motor racing, so do propellers in this sport. It may be every bit as exciting and hard for the participants, but somehow, with races split into heats and only twelve or so participants, power boating has not yet reached the level where it will challenge Grand Prix racing — or has it?

AMG’s elaborate Mercedes-Benz programme

IT’S quite surprising how the business of performance tuning production cars has gradually crept up-market over the past ten or fifteen years. We suppose it would be accurate to say that Ford was really the pioneer in this field, a succession of good and not-so-good modifications by outside companies to give their products a sporting flavour gradually directing the company’s mind towards engineering performance options “in house”. Lotus did a notably good job with the early Cortinas, the twin-cam powered machine eventually being incorporated within Ford’s own range and the activities of their Advanced Vehicle Operations gave added impetus to this line of development. Now with XR2 Fiestas, XR3 Escorts and 2.8-injected Capris the Ford customer has been educated to appreciate that sporting versions of run-of-the-mill machines are now freely available.

Later, BMW followed the same philosophy, respected firms such as Alpina gradually guiding the German company towards the production of specialist sporting models. But ten years ago if you’d suggested that this would happen with the Mercedes-Benz range you’d probably have been laughed out of business. The Mercedes image was surely something above this sort of performance engineering, something slightly aloof and standing on its own.

Not so! Over the past few years the German AMG company has established a formidable and envied reputation in the preparation of high-quality “bespoke” Mercedes-Benz models, encompassing the entire range from the relatively modest W123 saloons to the latest 500SEC flagship. Duncan Hamilton and Co. of Bagshot, Surrey, has now been appointed AMG distributors for Great Britain and is in a position to demonstrate an AMG 500SEC to any potential customers. The AMG philosophy is to match increased performance with tastefully styled, immaculately executed chassis and aerodynamic modifications. As far as engine modifications are concerned, these can be carried out on either a new or exchange basis and an increase of between 45 and 55 bhp is offered on the 500SEC at a cost of £2,563 (or £1,266 exchange). Alterations to the combustion chambers are included in this engine modification, in addition to the ports being milled, ground and polished. The engine is fitted with two AMG replacement camshafts and different valves. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that the prices do not include VAT, carriage or fitting charges. At the other and of the scale, it’s possible to have one’s 280 six-cylinder his engine modified to give a 10-15 b.h.p. increase in output for as little as £978 (exchange). Obviously, Hamilton will be prepared to discuss any variation to specification within the overall range.

However, putting a cutting edge on the already refined performance characteristics of a Mercedes-Benz engine is only part of the package offered by AMG. Chassis alterations can include stiffened suspension with Bilstein gas-filled shock absorbers, optical alignment of the wheels and suspension, low profile tyres on wide rims, the fitting of a five-speed manual gearbox and a whole host of other alterations. Visually, the cars can be enhanced by the addition of aerodynamic spoilers front and rear and special paintwork which includes the option of having all chrome parts sprayed either black or to match the main bodywork colour.

Williams Grand Prix team leader Keke Rosberg has recently acquired an AMG modified 500SEC and has been extolling its virtues in rapturous fashion ever since he first turned up in the Zolder paddock with it at the recent Belgian Grand Prix. Clearly, if it has sufficient performance to satisfy a World Championship contender, those well-heeled customers who are looking for something slightly out of the ordinary could do a lot worse than consider an AMG modified Mercedes-Benz. Duncan Hamilton and Co. (Byfleet) Ltd. are at The Square, Bagshot, Surrey, where the former Le Mans winner’s son Adrian Will be only too willing to show any potential customers just what is on offer.