Under scrutiny -- Warrior Automotive Research
Following the reference last month of a development of Rover’s K series engine by a Warrior Automotive Research Ltd of Uckfield, we received a number of enquiries at the office requesting more information on the company itself and the work they carried out.
So with an appointment subsequently confirmed, it was with intrigue that we headed south to pay them a visit, for one never knows quite what to expect on such occasions, especially when visiting engineering companies. Were they hiding any sort of light under a bushel with their low key approach, which was in complete contrast to the highly publicised opening of Engine Developments’ new 15,000 square feet factory in Rugby on the same day, or was it going to be a wasted journey? If size was the criteria, then I had picked the short straw.
Although the company can boast two directors, Warrior is very much the baby of Russell Pain, an engineer who was able to perfect his craft in the cauldron of Weslake Engineering.
It was before things started to go wrong for that company that Russell made his move and created Warrior, a company which not only brought him headlong into contact with the wider automotive world through the consultancy side, but also enabled him to discover the wondrous things that could be done with the Ford Pinto engine. A fateful discovery as it turned out as it shaped, and still continues to shape, the way the company evolved.
Despite Pain’s background, the business was slow to grow, caught in the one-man-band syndrome in that it was handicapped both by lack of capital and the lack of time that could be devoted to different projects. It took more than a couple of years, for example, to get the Pinto project from drawing board to running the first engine and even then he was only producing the Warrior 16-valve, as it became known, on a one-off basis. And this was another aspect which stunted potential growth as it required a longer lead time to supply the customer and this in turn squeezed profit margins.
It was a difficult period altogether as Pain knew his problems but lacked the wherewithal to expand his business any more quickly. Its only chance of greater growth, he concluded, was less work on engines to sell, and more on the development of the consultancy side. This was the route which led to the next chapter in the company’s life.
Kearns Richards was a well established machine tool manufacturer based in Altrincham, Cheshire which had become involved in the automotive world with the refurbishment of Jaguars and the production of high-performance road versions. Pleased with the business this was bringing his company, the Managing Director wanted to go one step further and assert his company’s authority as a Jaguar specialist by introducing a product which he could offer uniquely. Naturally cylinder head conversions were considered and in this context Warrior’s name cropped up. The decision taken to go this route, it was not long before Pain was hired to develop a 4-valve cylinder head specifically for the Jaguar engine.
As worked commenced, the 4-valve head became the 5-valve head, a decision made partly to pre-empt TWR’s rumoured own 4-valve project and partly because of the engineering challenge it represented.
So successful was the relationship that it was not long before Kearns Richards offered to buy Warrior from Pain so that he could devote all his energies to their products. Pain, though, retained his independence by remaining in Uckfield with a drawing office and a couple of staff while the production side of the business moved North.
The prospects were good. Kearns Richards were generally able to improve the product by virtue of spending more money on pattern equipment as well as installing various systems into place which Pain had hitherto been unable to do. But it was not to last, for Kearns Richards’ main activities failed them in mid 1988 bringing a very abrupt end to the promising growth of Warrior. Pain was left with the decision of whether to acquire Warrior back from the receivers or turn his back on it and go and do something else altogether. It was at this stage that Richard Ives entered the frame.
Ives was one of Warrior’s first customers before the intervention of Kearns Richards and had used a Warrior 16-valve in his self-built 4-wheel drive Escort rally car. Fortunately for Pain, Ives had just sold his Nissan dealership and was looking around for another project in which to get involved. He knew the product, he knew the man and, most importantly, he had the finance. Jointly they proceeded to negotiate with the receivers to acquire Warrior back and bring it back to Uckfield.
The acquisition of Warrior from the receivers was a relatively protracted affair with the result that its products were off the market for more than six months, especially damaging as it was at the time when the Cosworth was being seen as a very viable engine for the clubmen. The success of their rival’s product, together with their own enforced absence, caused a knock-on effect which took the company several months to overcome.
Once the business was theirs, though, the first decision they made was to put everything on hold and market the Warrior 16-valve as hard as they could, both to raise the company profile and earn some money.
As the business finally began to get back onto the right track again, Pain began to have time to cast his eye around for a new product and came to the conclusion that the future lay in the development of a new engine. It was then that Rover’s new K series engine was selected.
“The K series,” Rover’s designation for its latest unit which ranges in capacity from 1100cc to 1400cc, “is certainly very good and absolutely state-of-the-art,” asserts Pain. “People are very quick to say ‘well I expect it’s just a copy of the Concerto engine’ because of Rover’s involvement with Honda, but nothing could be further from the truth. Both are alloy and both are twin-cams, but there the similarity ends.
“The K series is something that’s obviously been designed with a clean sheet of paper and it encompasses some bold ideas which has made it an engine with a great deal of potential. It’s always difficult with modern engines because manufacturing technology has improved to such a state where they can be so exact in executing a design as far as castings are concerned that it makes modification very limited, but it’s a unit with a great deal of future. It should also be taken into account that the Kent engine is on its last gasp, the BDA is historic and unserviceable and there is nothing of its ilk available. The K series fulfills the need for a new generation engine.”
The fact that it already had a 4-valve head meant that there was little scope for replacing it with one of their own design, so instead Pain has subjected it to a development exercise, a departure from Warrior’s usual activities which, as with the 1.6-litre Honda engine, involves a total stripdown and rebuild with several new components.
Where the Pinto-based engine was traditionally sold as a kit, Warrior have made the decision to steer away from this aspect because “the cylinder head kit arriving for someone else to build is in some cases like a time bomb waiting to go off. There is no trouble if it goes to a bona fide engine builder, but in some instances it goes to an enthusiast whose ambitions are greater than his ability. We very much like to steer those people towards a full engine build.”
The other aspect of the business, and one which is currently helping the turnover in these troubled days of recession, is the consultancy work. “I find it very fascinating,” states Ives, “that there are so many projects we get approached about to which people have dedicated their entire lives. There is one scheme, for example, that has been alive for nearly two years in which the originator is planning to utilise four twin-turbo 60-valve V12 engines to power a contender for the land speed record for wheel-driven vehicles. He spends all his waking hours endeavouring to raise finance, go wind tunnel testing with models and testing all the design and development work around it.”
Warrior is also undertaking work for another person who is working towards a record bid in the 1100cc wheel-driven vehicle class. This is in addition to the work they have been contracted to carry out on cylinder heads for what is likely to be a front running, works assisted Touring Car team in the British Touring Car Championship and the enquiry from a French based manufacturer who is planning to enter the supercar league using Warrior’s multi-valve Jaguar engine.
At what stage, though, do Warrior decide that they can give a project before drawing the line and possibly losing a lot of money? “Because we are small,” says Russell Pain, “we cannot speculate too much and we have to make our time effective. It would be too easy spending too much time on a feasibility study without getting a commitment from the potential client. You have to make some sort of value judgement on who the chap is, how serious he might be, how experienced he looks and the money he might have, before going too deep into any project.” Rather like a bank manager in fact, but without the security.
Although they receive a number of calls from individuals, it is the corporate work they receive which really pays the bills. One of their more exciting projects in hand at the time of writing is the work they are carrying out on a well respected, and rather ancient, British engine for a Japanese company. While this has not yet reached the production stage, and there is no guarantee that Warrior will be awarded it even when it does, it has been a great fillip to the company that the Japanese have turned to them to come up with solutions. The irony is that it is possible that unless the cars these engines are destined to go into come to Britain, Warrior’s work will never be recognised in their own country.
It remains to be seen whether Warrior will ever reach the stage where it is recognised by a manufacturer in the way Cosworth has been by Ford and Mercedes-Benz but, if a brief driving spell in a Warrior 16-valve engined Caterham is anything to go by, then a Warrior-badged Rover 216 GTi would be quite an eye opener. — WPK