460 Chrysler horses past Big Ben to Brands Hatch
HEFTY CHRYSLER leads taxis over Westminster Bridge. The Hemi’Cuda exhibited almost docile traffic manners once it was south of the river. BELOW: The car slithers round Brands Hatch to complete the proof of its heartening adaptability.
AFTER just one year of racing for the British Saloon Car Championship titles under the RAC’s interpretation of Group 1 regulations, there are indications that the formula is getting out of control in the same way that led to the demise of the radically, and expensively, modified Group 2 saloon cars. On the other hand the public seemed to have accepted the badly-needed variety with the same thirst that journalists did when faced with the Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler drought of Group 2, where only Camaro, Escort and Imp were worth fielding.
Today the Chevrolet Camaros are still winning outright, but there is barely an Escort to be seen, and no Imps at all. The Camaro class—the top one of four, rated for over 4,000-c.c. saloons—is now filled with up to 11 such Chevrolets, but the Chrysler-manufactured Plymouth Barracuda tested in this article has proved capable of beating all but three of the Camaros after just two outings, which is a great tribute to the preparation skill of Christopher (the Monica) Lawrence, his company Lawrencetune at 90 The Arches, London, W6, and the skill of driver Tony Lanfranchi.
Born in the late sixties’ surge of American enthusiasm for the cars that every manufacturer needed to compete with the best-selling Ford Mustang, the Plymouth Barracuda was a model that was virtually a fastback version of the Valiant saloon. The Lanfranchi Barracuda is a twist to the theme that was discontinued in 1971 owing to emission controls, namely the installation of the 108.22 by 95.2 mm. (6,981 c.c.) Chrysler V8 with hemispherical combustion chambers. Always known as the “Hemi” engine, the complete car, which was really aimed at the drag-racing enthusiasts who could find similar 7-litre fastbacks from Ford, Chevrolet and AMC, naturally became the Hemi’Cuda. Even in production form the Hemi engine produced some pretty startling figures for dayto-day use. Maximum power was nominally 425 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., with a massive 490 lb. ft. of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.: an output of 61.1 b.h.p. per litre. At the time it was suspected that the Hemi V8 produced another 20 horsepower or so, but that this was not claimed because of the already frowning faces of insurance and Congressmen at the thought of these potent monsters loose in every traffic light Grand Prix. Acceleration of the factoryloaned press cars was phenomenal: a 4,300 lb. Dodge Charger equipped with the 1969 Hemi recorded 0-60 m.p.h. in 4.8 sec. and 0-100
m.p.h. in just 12/ sec. Lanfranchi’s is approximately 1,000 lb. lighter than a Charger and the Group 1 specification engine is reckoned to yield at least 460 b.h.p. That figure, largely confirmed by track performance, is more than we reported for the full, radically modified, Group 2 Camaro of 5-litres driven by Brian Muir for Wiggins Teape several seasons ago. Perhaps things are already out of hand ? Talking to Christopher Lawrence about costs we discovered that the car represented
about £6,000, of which over £1,000 is reserved 1 for the 90-degree, push-rod V8s in cast iron. “After our experiences with the Monica project, I think you could say our overheads, which cover machining, test-bed and designing abilities, are extremely high,” says Lawrence, continuing: “Thus the total outlay on the Barracuda could reach £20,000 for the entire series of RAC Championship rounds. We would naturally hope to sell the car for as much as possible at the end of the year, to reduce that grand total.”
Lawrence first hit on the idea of contesting the British series when watching last year’s Avon Tour of Britain. “I thought it was absurd that nobody had really tried to win outright with the Barracuda. I spoke to Gordon Spice about their troubles with their Barracuda and Gordon said that nobody wanted to held at the factory, or anywhere else with the car. Through the Monica (which has a Chrysler V8.—J.W.) I had found Chrysler people, especially engineers, very helpful and enthusiastic, so I decided it could be done. I have since found that Racer Brown (who runs a very successful speed equipment business of his own in America), and Chrysler’s Brian Schram, have been extraordinarily cooperative.” In 1973 and 1974 a gentleman by the name of Henri Chemin won the French National Saloon Car Championship with just the sort of Hemi’Cuda that Lawrence was looking for. The car arrived in Hammersmith on January 15th this year. On March 2nd it made its public debut at a Brands Hatch test session, having already covered 50 laps prior to a complete strip down and rebuild, which included the engine that contained the nastY surprise of 25-thou. oversize pistons ; meaning that each of those £16 pistons had to be replaced and the bores sleeved down. Barrai cuda’s production suspension consists of torsion and anti-roll bars at the front and , five-leaf rear axle semi-elliptic springs each side with a rear anti-roll bar. For my test
an experimental softening with four leaves. per side was featured, but the car has since. reverted to a five-leaf layout. Springs, torsion and anti-roll bars were all designed bY Lawrencetune to stiffen the car’s roll stiffness by over 80% compared to French racing trim: Gauls must be influenced by all those 2CVs1 When there is time I will write a book about Lanfranchi’s drive from the Hammersmith’ Arches that have been Lawrencetune’s home since 1966 (established in 1958 at Acton) td Brands Hatch. A ‘man like Tony, who has been racing in Britain since 1957 in everything
from Moskviches to a Formula One BRM V8 (5th, Oulton Park Gold Cup 1968), provided a tremendous string of often unprintable racing anecdotes while the eight, yes eight, chokes of the twin Carter carburetters gobble fresh air through the bonnet’s “ramcharger”. At Cromwell Road the pedestrians gained their revenge for the attempts of the carburetters to drag them in through the fresh-air system: the car stalled and would not re-start until we had pushed its bulk across a lane of grumbling traffic. The acceleration, accomplished in gigantic leaps with pauses for the slick four-speed Hurst linkage to change gears and sap the neck muscles, is vivid enough for any enthusiast. Now add the beautiful Monorep paintwork—there are no stickers on the vehicle, even the trade ads are painted—the Barracuda’s size, and the fierce roar whenever all eight chokes are tickled. You have a vehicle that our friends with their lamps in blue might well stop as suspicious. In fact we drove straight through the middle of London with the Barracuda settling into a slightly resentful law+
1,200 r.p.m. idle of the “rump, rump, pa, pa” variety, straight past even blue-lamped vehicles, the occupants of which merely registered extreme mirth, disbelief, or both . . . but absolutely no interference with our spectacular travel.
For such a large car there is little accommodation. The back seat is far inferior to the Capri’s, while the front passenger is cowed in this competition vehicle by the encroaching solid bars of the rollover cage. Tinted glass and power steering are the only luxury features, but both were appreciated as I wheeled the now wet tyre-attired ‘Cuda on to the greasy new surface of a damp Brands Hatch Club circuit.
The violent spate of acceleration produced as the Carters dumped a torrent of Shell 5-star into that hungry (5-8 m.p.g.) V8 produced axle tramp like a giant Hillman Hunter. The gear-change proved very fast, despite the truck-like internals that are necessary.
The Dunlop wet tyres and the power steering aid safe handling, although the best must come from the driver anticipating conditions accurately. Very occasionally the front wheel would tighten up toward a skid under braking, but the driver was warned fast enough to release the pedal a little. Acceleration up the hill from Paddock into Druids was magnificent, very much akin to the lift-off feeling in a Trident 3 jet. A hearty bellow accompanies the change into 2nd, which we held to let the car slide naturally out of Druids and into Bottom Bend. Here 3rd gear could be used, though too much accelerator would produce a tail skid even in this ratio. I trod very gently through and into Clearways, which muddy corner seemed best treated by softly pressing on the throttle in 3rd, gradually increasing the pressure until the Barracuda was quivering toward the beginning of the grid markings in front of the pits. Change as quickly as possible into fourth and we found that the car was indicating just
over 200 . . . k.p.h. that is, or 124 m.p.h. Because of the low profile tyres the speedometer is inaccurate; even so the car is easily capable of this speed.
Braking for Paddock occupied a fairly long period, but the steering assistance ensures that there is no effort required in easing the car’s nose-heavy layout into plummeting down that famous Kentish curve. Vented front discs and huge rear drums ensure fade-free braking that is free from drama, but seems to take a long time to actually tame the enormous inertia of this substantial machine.
After 25 laps I emerged, thoroughly delighted with the car’s performance under tricky conditions. The use of 6,000 of the available 6,500 r.p.m. had produced a water temperature of slightly over 80°C and, apart from stalling in the morning, the Barracuda V8 rumbled with never a slump in oil pressure, reflecting a fine original design and a painstaking rebuild by Lawrencetune employee Peter Dodds.
I was surprised to find that Lanfranchi agrees with the lobby who think these American V8s should be excluded from the British Championship, because it must be a lot of fun driving the car properly. However, it is as well to remember that these American muscle machines don’t really exist any more as performance cars. You would be lucky to get a genuine 200 b.h.p. in their over-weight, battering bumper shadow shells of the ‘sixties. If the current trend in reversing some safety and pollution regulations is continued, it is possible that we will see some really exciting machinery from America again. The new Monza from Chevrolet and the Mustang H V8 could be exceptional cars, without the old weight and size penalties.
Our thanks to the Lanfranchis and car sponsor National Organs for an exciting’ day. Long may such individuals continue to brighten our motoring world. Fancy driving a 460 horsepower racer through central London . . . well I never!—J.W.
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