London breeding for France's new prestige car
A collection of railway arches in Hammersmith may be thought the most unlikely location for the development of France's first craftsman-built prestige car since the demise of the Face! Vega. Yet here in these dark, Victorian caverns Monica, as she is named, perhaps less romantically than Monique, has undergone a seven year gestation period, hopefully culminating this month with delivery of production versions to her first two British customers.
Monica, it may be recalled from DSJ's report in last June's Motor Sport of his acquaintance with her on the Paul Ricard circuit, has been the protege of Chris Lawrence, who inspired her design, nurtured her through many birth pains and is seeing at last the fruits of his labours going into serious production in the factory . of Campagnie Francaise de Procluits Metallurgiques (CFPM may be used to avoid the mouthful) at Baligny, near Lyons. As it would appear that production is a fact and not another of Monica's false starts (many dates for the commencement of manufacture have been given over the years), perhaps this is an appropriate time to recollect the backgrounds of both Monica of Balbigny, 42 Loire, France and Christopher J. Lawrence and Co., of 98 The Arches, Ravenscourt Place, London W6, for this Anglo-French Connection is quite extraordinary.
This French status symbol as she stands today, owes her existence indirectly to Chris Lawrence's racing career and to Morgan, the marque with which Lawrence's name will continue to be synonymous when Monica is in her dotage. Lawrence's interest began with motorcycles and Morgan three-wheelers before progressing to four wheels in the guise of MG J4 and K3, a Bugatti Type 38 and the MG-based Rotacks Special. He finished third in his first race, at Thruxton in 1951, but it was 1959 before he made his mark properly on the racing scene: he concentrated on Morgan Plus Fours, developed their Triumph TR engines to give amazing performance and carried all before him in club racing that year, his performances at Goodwood gaining him the Freddie Dixon Trophy, while a class win in the GT race at the Silverstone International Trophy meeting was prestigious. Lawrence Tune to make a living out of their The same year he and four colleagues formed ability with Morgans and the TR engine. More ambitiously, in 1960 he designed and built his own Formula Junior car based on VW parts, and redesigned the chassis for 1961, but this, the first of the Deep Sandersons, was outclassed from the start and Lawrence returned to sports car racing with his Morgan. Other Deep Sandersons were to follow, in particular the Mini-based 301, an ex ample of which Lawrence ran at Le Mans in 1963 and 1964, followed by the 501, fitted with a Downton Cooper S engine in each end and the 303 coupe designed originally with a rear mounted 1600GT Ford engine, superseded later by a Martin V8. With Richard Shepherd-Barron he had many notable International successes with Morgans, including a class win and 13th overall in the 1962 Le Mans 24 hour race. In £962 also there was 6th place in the Spa GP, 8th overall and second in class in the Tourist Trophy, split ting the works Elites and 27th overall in the Nurburgring 1000 Kms. That year too, Morgan an nounced the Super Sports, a version of the Plus Four fitted as standard with a 116 b.h.p. Lawrence Tune version of the 2,138cc TR4 engine, while Lawrence rang the changes by driving one of the infamous Chevrolet Corvairs in the Brands Hatch 6 hour saloon car race; though Nader may have predicted otherwise, he survived.
In the sixties too Lawrence built the sleek SLR bodyshell for use on Triumph or Morgan chassis and ran one for one of his seven Le Mans appearances. Three were built, a dismantled one of which rests in a corner of the arches. Lawrence raced and helped develop John was involved with the development of, and was to drive, the Pearce-Martin V8 Formula 1 cars until Pearce's Ft Cooper-Ferrari in 1966-1967 and they and their transporter disappeared in smoke so memorably at Silverstone in 1967, the year in which the Monica project was first formulated.
Lawrence went to the 1967 Racing Car Show as a frustrated Formula 1 driver and a highly successful preparer of Morgans and tuner of TR engines and it was there that he was contacted by an associate of M. Jean Tastevin, the founder and owner of CFPM who knew of Lawrence through his frequent Le Mans appearances. Apparently M. Tastevin was contemplating producing a small, luxury, hand-built sports car, for which he required a high-performance engine of under 2.8 litres (where the expensive split in tho. French road tax system occurs). Lawrence's 155 b.h.p., hemispherical-headed conversion of the four-cylinder TR engine seemed ideal and he was called over to CFPM's Paris headquarters to negotiate with M. Tastevin. The Englishman persuaded M. Tastevin that the TR engine was not the unit he should be contemplating for his envisaged car. Now wouldn't a detuned version of the Martin V8 be a much more suitable proposition? M. Tastevin agreed and by the time Lawrence returned to England he had secured a contract to supply the Martin engines and to design and develop the prototype car into which the engine would be fitted. Lawrence's experience of small production runs with the Deep Sander son and SLR plus the dearth of suitable engineers in France had not been lost on M.Tastevin.
While Lawrence set about designing the car in the Hammersmith railway arches, M. Tastevin, after whose wife the car is named, began to re-organise his railway rolling stock factory in Baligny to incorporate his new diversification. This self-made man had founded his fortune out of constructing rolling stock for the French and German railways, decided that some of his capital could be invested in some other form of engineering, and being a car enthusiast, had decided that this was the way to go. He is also the complete Anglophile, so Lawrence fitted in well with his ideas.
Production rights to the V8 were acquired from Ted Martin. This 3-litre (originally 2.8-litre) all-aluminium, s.o.h.c. per bank engine produced 250 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m., weighed 230 lb. complete with all ancillaries and by virtue of its unusual design, incorporating forked connecting rods on one bank to reduce the length of the block, was remarkably compact. It was installed in what could be described as a triangulated spaceframe with a central back-bone, developed from a frame Lawrence had utilised on one of his Deep Sandersons. A sheet steel De Dion rear axle located by four links and a Panhard rod again followed the thinking which Lawrence had used in the Deep Sanderson coupe. At the front he used wide-based lower wishbones and rocker arm top links operating inboard coil-spring damper units, with the rack and pinion steering rack mounted high above the top links and on the first prototypes connected to the column by a chain and sprocket, though on later prototypes and in production the two meet directly. Then and now ventilated disc brakes with four-pot calipers, inboard mounted at the rear, inboard of the king posts at the front, have been fitted.
The first prototype ran in bare chassis form at Silverstone in 1968 and was clad later with a Williams and Pritchard-built body intended to make the car practical for development purposes rather than as a design exercise, the same apply ing to the second prototype. These lightweight aluminium prototypes were very sporting indeed, but while they met M. Tastevin's requirements of a full four-seater, four-door saloon they did not meet the required level of luxury. For the true sporting motorist, like Peter Dodds, one of the Lawrence Tune engineers, the original prototypes were ideal and he acquired the pensioned-off second prototype as his everyday road car. The standard of luxury, and consequently the weight, rose with the third prototype clad with a body designed by CoUnice and Rascanu and constructed by Vignale. Later, supposedly definitive aluminium prototypes (production cars are steel) were built by Airflow Streamlines of Northampton in late 1970 and mounted on the first chassis to be constructed in France. Coincidentally the Martin engine was enlarged to 3.5 litres, fitted with four Weber 40 DCLN down-draught carburettors. Drive continued to be through a ZF five-speed gearbox.
At this stage David Coward was brought in from James Young (via Motor)to finalise the styling and interior design and the production lines in Balbigny took shape, ready for a planned maximum output of to cars per week. However, Tastevin and Lawrence took another deep look at the project for they were beginning to have their doubts about the suitability of the Martin engine for the increasingly luxurious sports saloon which they had created. It was becoming increasingly obvious that such a luxury car would have to be offered with a choice of manual and automatic transmissions and there was no way that this 3.5-litre V8, capable of screaming to 7,000 r.p.m. and with comparatively low torque at the bottom end, would give adequate performance with an automatic box. Nor was the type of customer likely to purchase the car in its latest form likely to welcome the amount of stirring required of the five-speed ZF box. Reluctantly, even more so because a machine shop had been set up to produce it in Balbigny (early engines had been produced for Lawrence by Coventry Victor), the decision was taken to shelve the engine, at least for the time being. A big, beefy American V8 was the obvious answer and the Chrysler 340 (5.6-litre) engine was selected, Chrysler being particularly helpful when it comes to selling their engines for fitting in prestige cars. This small-block engine produces 290 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. and 330 lb. ft. torque at 3,800 r.p.m. and fits conveniently in the same size hole in the spaceframe and bulkhead vacated by the Martin. The large block engine, as used in 7.2-litre form in the Jensen Interceptor III, in which guise it produces only 280 b.h.p. in any case, is far too large and heavy for Monica's underbonnet space. It had been intended to fit the 360 (5.9-litre) Chrysler engine which was supposed to be superseding the 340 in production and as such the new car was to be called the Monica 590. Chrysler seem to have met some problems in producing the 360, so Monica will be produced with the 340 and called Monica 560.
Between the Paris Motor Show in Autumn 1972, when the model exhibited had a Martin engine, and the Geneva Show in Spring 1973,. Monica was redesigned around the Chrysler. engine in all except body shape. Earlier David Coward had found time to be overtaking Monica in Vignale guise, so the side window line had been lowered and the screen deepened to bring her more up to date, the body lowered by three inches (between floor pan and roof, not roof and ground) and four inches added to the width. The twin sill-mounted fuel tanks were removed for the Chrysler version in deference to side impact regulations and a single 22 gallon tank inserted above the Salisbury differential. The extra power of the Chrysler V8 enabled Ad-West power steering and air-conditioning to be fitted as standard. ZF's heavier-duty five-speed box is attached to the Chrysler engine normally, or optionally the excellent Chrysler Torque-flite automatic transmission can be specified. Surprisingly few modifications were required to the basic chassis to accommodate the new engine.
In all except the essentials of being a fourdoor, four-seater, Monica has changed conception completely since she was first envisaged. From being a moderately light sporting car with excellent accommodation she has become a heavy luxury car with excellent accommodation. Despite the weight penalty performance has risen however, even if general agility has fallen. She is said to cruise comfortably and with absolute stability at 150 m.p.h. with four occupants seated in the type. of opulence which even includes press-button electric door catches. The remarkable thing about Monica is the way in which four doors and four seats have been merged unobtrusively into a sporting shape the equal in profile of most two-door Italian exotica. Yet the rear doors and seats present adequate space for ingress and comfort for six-feet-tall people. The boot too is surprisingly cavernous.
Lawrence's arches contain a perfect history of Monica development: prototype number 1 is deteriorating Slowly on spare-ground at the rear of the arches (alongside a Riley 9 which Peter Dodds is restoring, number 2 is in perfect order and used every day by Peter Dodds, number 3, the Vignale car lies ignored in a corner of the workshop, the last aluminium-bodied, 3.5-litre Martin-engined car with which Lawrence clocked under ts sec. for the quarter-mile in last year's Pomeroy Trophy, is gathering dust and three Chrysler-engined prototypes are currently in use for development.
Christopher J. Lawrence and Co. are devoted lob per cent to Monica engineering development, for which they are paid a monthly retainer by Tawvin. the name Lawrence Tune, though frequently used by those who remember the firm from pre-Monica days, is no longer apt, for the tuning business gave way to the demands of Monica. Well, not quite, for Lawrence has been unable to forsake his Morgans: his famous old Plus Four, TOK 258, is being campaigned in the Spreckley Championship by a former Lawrence employee, Robin Gray who competes too in Modsports with Lawrence's Plus 8 and in motorcycle racing with a Yamaha 350. The fearsome 4-litre Plus 8 is having extra power extracted from its Rover engine in the well-equipped machine-shop. Carburation for this season will be four down-draught Webers on a new cast aluminium Lawrence Tune manifold. Lawrence had contemplated putting this conversion on the market with road-going MGB V8s in mind, hut the current economy scare has changed his mind.
Lawrence has been responsible for all parts buying for the French firm fro development and for the first 25 production ears, after which purchasing will be controlled by CFPM's Paris office. It is his responsibility also to put the car into the American market where a bright future is foreseen for Monica. Fortunately the low volume production absolves Monica from crash tests, but she will have to undergo the 55,000 mile durability pollution tests.
The firm's key men are Peter Dodds, the Chief Development Engineer, who with Nick Ouroussoff is responsible for all mechanical development work, John Peterson, the Chief Designer and Machinist, a particularly clever prototype engineer, and the other machinist Graham Morton, while David Coward, originator of Monica's final body shape, shares the upstairs drawing Offices with draughtsman Alan Coppard. Mrs. Rosalie (Rob) Turner is responsible for the financial, parts buying and secretarial work. The General Manager is John Atkinson, whose responsibilities have been extended to control sales, for Lawrence and Co. are sole concessionnaircs for Monica in Britain.
A two-speed axle is being designed for Monica by Lawrence and Peterson, a particularly desirable feature for high-speed autoroute work with the automatic gearbox option. Many other production cars Spring to mind which might benefit from such a piece of equipment, particularly the Jaguar XJ 12, presenting possibilities for enabling a four-speed manual gearbox to be used on that saloon for which nobody can supply Jaguar with an overdrive strong enough to stand the torque. If the two-speed axle gains acceptance, Lawrence may be sitting on a goldmine.
When the firm's engineering responsibilities for Monica finish, it is hoped M. Tastevin will ask them to go ahead with a two-seater mid-engine car built specifically to carry the Martin V8, a concept for which Ted Martin's design would seem ideal. The Anglo-French relationship between the railway arches and the railway rolling stock factory seems to have been rather more successful than Concorde. C.R.