When Ford (England) go racing this season with competition versions of the new Escort and a Cosworth V8-powered Group 6 coupé, the cars will be run by Alan Mann from his Byfleet factory. Some people will wonder why Team Lotus are not running these aspects of Ford racing, but with the Grand Prix team, Formula two and Group 4 sportscar racing, the Norfolk firm have more than enough to do. The choice of Alan Mann is nothing new, for Mann has been very closely connected with Ford racing since 1963 when Ford (U.S.A.) made their first probes into European motor competition.
In the spring of 1957 I happened to be passing a local military test track when I heard the sound of a racing car and on going in I found Alan Mann motoring round in an H.W.M. single-seater, running-in a new engine. At that time he was a completely unknown enthusiast who wanted to have a go at motor racing, and had bought the old H.W.M. with the hope of getting a drive in some Formula One races. Although he competed in one or two events the project was a failure, principally because the car was already outdated, but also because he found it a difficult beast to drive and continually frightened himself. Unlike some people Mann was sensible enough to realise his limitations and appreciated that he was trying to run before he had learnt to walk, and packed up the Formula One project. He went into the garage business, like so many people, because he liked cars and racing, and concentrated on Club racing with various cars.
By 1962 he was confident enough to tackle something bigger than Club racing and had a go at the 6-hour saloon-car race at Brands Hatch, with a Ford Anglia, and the following year took to saloon-car racing in a serious way with a Ford Cortina, and was soon noticed by the Ford factory competitions department as his Cortina, tuned at his own garage, was as quick, if not quicker than the Dagenham-supported cars. An agreement was soon struck between Alan Mann and Ford (England), and he took charge of the Cortinas when they went to America for saloon-car events. The big Ford (U.S.A.) offensive was under way, and the more successful American tuning shops and Hot Rod boys were being contacted by Detroit and being roped in for various parts of the programme. While looking after the Ford (England) Cortinas in America Mann was approached by John Holman of Holman and Moody, to help modify the Ford Falcons for rally work, for H. and M. knew very little about chassis tuning, being principally engine men. When the Ford (U.S.A.) offensive swept into Europe in 1964 it was natural that Alan Mann should be carried along, and Alan Mann Racing was formed in a factory at Byfleet, near the old Brooklands Track, there to look after the rally and racing programme of the Mustangs and Falcons for 1964, while Ford (England) commissioned him to look after the Cortina saloon-car racing in Europe.
With Ford money behind him he was able to expand in men and materials and offer positions to sound and experienced mechanics and fitters, and the Byfleet-prepared cars gained a good reputation for being well turned out. In 1965 the firm looked after the Cobra racing in Europe, with good results, and continued with the English Ford Cortina racing in Europe. All this activity was for class or category results, rather than overall victories in the big events, so that the results of Alan Mann Racing’s efforts never hit the big headlines, but it was good, sound backing for the overall Ford offensive. In 1966 the Byfleet concern were part of the big Ford effort in long-distance racing, running GT40 coupés as part of the Ford (U.S.A.) team, along with Shelby and Holman and Moody, and they were loaned a 7-litre Mk. II Ford for some races. The Ford (England) contract was still in effect, the team running Cortinas in the European Championship and in American racing. Knowing that Ford (U.S.A.) would withdraw from Europe when they had achieved their objectives, Mann undertook various contract work for the Motor Industry, to keep the factory fully occupied. This paid off handsomely, for in 1967 Ford (U.S.A.) concentrated all their efforts on Detroit and ran the Le Mans effort as a 100% American Ford project.
With the Ford (England), Team Lotus and Cosworth Engineering tripartite under way there was no direct Ford support for Alan Mann Racing, but they had plenty of contract work in hand, among the projects being the design and construction of a number of large Edwardian-type touring cars for a film company, and a Group 7 two-seater for Can-Am racing for Holman and Moody. This meant that Alan Mann Racing could keep their factory going, and in order to keep the active racing department going Mann bought a Ford Falcon and entered it for British events with Frank Gardner as driver, and it was one of the highlights of British saloon-car racing. Although fully occupied with running the factory and looking after the financial and organising side of this one-car racing team, Alan Mann found time to have the occasional race in the Falcon himself. Modifying a production saloon for Group 5 racing in which almost anything can be done, appeals to Mann and his team for whereas single-seater racing calls for straightforward basic design knowledge, the modifying of saloons calls for a lot of ingenuity and conniving to get as close to regulations as possible and to alter a production car until it becomes a competitive racing vehicle.
With the English part of the Ford empire keeping the flag flying in European racing in 1968, Alan Mann has been given the task of running the saloon-car and Group 6 efforts for 1968, all the design and building being done at Byfleet. Ford saloon-car racing is directed at Group 5, which allows almost any changes to be made, except that cylinder heads must retain the same number of valves as original. This latest F.I.A. rule has put paid to the use of the 16-valve Cosworth FVA engine for the European Championship events. However, the R.A.C. have allowed its use in British events so there will be two teams of Escorts at Byfleet. Those to be raced in British events will be powered by the Formula Two Cosworth FVA engine and those for European events will have Vegantuned Lotus-Ford “twin-cam” units installed. The Ford Escort body-shells are very modified underneath, to take coil springs and radius arms at the rear, and as with all Group 5 saloon cars the Escorts will only look like Escorts, they will go like small projectiles and in reality be “Ford Specials by Alan Mann Racing.” With the factory cars to prepare and run the well-known red and gold Falcon has been pensioned off. The new long-distance Ford 3-litre coupé is due to be shown publicly in the near future and already the Brands Hatch circuit news-room has said that at least one will be entered for the B.O.A.C. 500 on April 7th.
Alan Mann has come a long way since I met him in 1957 and since the Ford onslaught in all types of competition he has built up a sound development firm and a racing team noted for its attention to detail and ability to sort out knotty problems. This little firm in Byfleet, Surrey, should be well in the news this coming season.—D. S. J.