The Assistant Editor tries a Racing Lotus-Cortina, a Willment tuned Ford Cortina GT and a Taurus tuned Austin 1100
Hot cars are usually fun to drive and three hot cars of very different types have come my way in the last month or so. The first was so hot that it was virtually undrivable on the road and it was necessary to go to the wastes of industrial Liverpool to try the car on the deserted Aintree circuit, which seems fated to be lost to motor racing before long. The car in question was a racing Lotus-Cortina in Group 2 trim, owned by Longbacon Engineering, which had the distinction of finishing ninth overall in the Spa 24-Hour race out of 58 starters, was third in its class of is entrants, was the first Ford to finish, and, in fact, was the first British car to finish. Due to heavy business commitments the team was unable to do any more racing after the Spa race on July 25/26th, and when I tried the car last month it had not been touched since the race except to give it a wash.
The car was bought “over the counter” from Lotus and came in standard Group 2 trim, costing around £1,700. Various modifications were made by Longbacon mechanic Paul Kelly, including boring out by 1 mm. to 1,594 c.c., raising compression ratio to 11 to 1, regrinding the camshafts and modifying the valve gear. The engine was also completely balanced, the oil pressure increased from the rather low standard pressure of around 30 p.s.i. to about 50 psi., the carburetters were re-jetted, the fuel pumps were changed for Bendix pumps, and larger-bore fuel lines were fitted. The exhaust system was modified to protrude front the side of the car, an oil cooler was fitted, and a large amber oil-pressure warning light was fitted on the facia. The plugs were changed to Champion NR and a spare Lucas sports coil and a spare condenser were also fitted.
Chassis modifications were also numerous-and several suspension changes were made to improve the handling. These included modified springs all round, with adjustable dampers at the rear, a thicker front anti-roll bar, and a higher-geared steering box. The mountings of the rear “A”-bracket were also strengthened. The shields were removed from the brakes and Ferodo front pads and rear linings were fitted and the master cylinder was changed. One of the Hewland limited-slip differentials specially made for the Cortina was also fitted.
All this work brought the cost of the car over the £2,600 mark, but for the 24-hour race a good deal more work was necessary. A 22-gallon long-range fuel tank was fitted in the hoot and supplied with a reserve switch so that one gallon remained in reserve should the car run out of fuel on the course. A special racing bucket seat was fitted, together with Irvin full safety harness, and a leather-covered steering wheel replaced the wooden one. A high-capacity 2-speed wiper motor was fitted and Trico supplied a set of their special racing wiper blades, while a 1-gallon screenwasher tank was fitted inside the car behind the front seats. A pair of Lund long-range lamps were supplied by Ted Lund, who was to be one of the drivers, and a pair of identification lamps were fitted at the front so that the car could be easily identified as it passed the pits at night.
With the 3.9 axle and 5.50 x 13 in. Dunlop R6 tyres (£10 10s. each!) the car would reach 128.1 m.p.h. at 7,000 r.p.m., which would have been very useful on the straights at Spa, but the drivers, Paul Kelly, Bill Allen (of Team Elite fame) and Ted Lund (the Le Mans M.G. exponent) decided on a 6,200-r.p.m. rev.-limit. In the race they were soon left behind by many cars but, despite temptations, they kept to their limit except for the occasional indiscretion. This wise decision paid off eventually, for other cars began to drop out at regular intervals and number 305 moved up the lap chart. The Achilles’ heel of the Lotus Cortina is the differential, which often lets its oil out under the strain put on it from the “A”-bracket, but the oil level and bolt tightness was checked at every pit stop and the axle gave no trouble at all. Two dynamos gave up under the strain and the first one drained the battery, so a new battery had to he fitted, but apart from this the car needed no attention at all, although as a precautionary measure the near-side rear wheel was changed and the gearbox oil level was checked. They need not have changed the wheel as it turned out, and at the end of the race the other three tyres had tread depths of 1.5 mm. and 2 mm. at the front and 2 mm. on the off-side rear, having started out with 5 mm. of tread. The car ran with 50 psi. in the front tyres and 55 in the rears. The car ran on Esso Golden fuel and got through 145.83 gallons for a total consumption of approximately 14.5 m.p.g., and the engine used two gallons of Esso, 40/50 oil. The car covered 242 laps of the Spa circuit, a distance of 2,119.92 miles, at an average speed of 88.11 m.p.h.
The team was encouraged by its first venture into International saloon-car racing as a change from GT racing, and plan to do a full season next year, but they felt that the reaction from the Press and from potential Trade sponsors was lukewarm in the extreme, both groups seeming to prefer the hares who didn’t finish to the tortoises who did. And in long-distance racing it is usually the tortoises who get in the money.
The glorious summer failed us at Aintree and the circuit was drenched in torrential rain squalls every few minutes, but I got in a few laps during the odd dry spells. The bucket seat fits you like a glove and with the safety harness done up I felt almost as if I was screwed to the floor, which is most reassuring in a competition car; being a six-footer I would have preferred more rearwards movement on the seat runners to give me more leg room, but I was still able to heel-and-toe adequately.
The engine is the acme of intractability, which the extraordinarily high 1st gear does nothing to alleviate; the car will stall if there is less than 3,000 r.p.m. on the tachometer, and it really prefers something like 5,000 r.p.m. plus a good deal of clutch slipping to get away cleanly. Full-blooded racing starts with 6,000 r.p.m. on the clock resulted in a drop to 2,000 r.p.m. and a sort of kangaroo hopping before the engine picked up revs. When we took some performance figures, I found it best to use 5,000 r.p.m. and slip the clutch gently. There is precious little power below 4,000 r.p.m. and not much until 5,000 r.p.m. is reached, and one begins to wonder how Lotus-Cortinas go so quickly round circuits, until suddenly there is a noticeable kick in the back and the tachometer needle streaks round to 7.000 r.p.m., And the next gear has to be snatched very quickly indeed to avoid over-revving. As long as the revs are kept well up the car fairly streaks along, the close ratios helping the driver nicely in this respect, while the gearbox is delightful to use, having the same action as that of the normal Cortina. Using 6,500 r.p.m. as a change point the Group 2 car has speeds in the lower gears of 50, 72 and 95 m.p.h., while top would give a theoretical 120 m.p.h. at six-five. However, only the Club circuit was in use at Aintree, which left us not much more than two-thirds of the Railway straight, meaning that we could only reach 96 m.p.h. from a standstill, or a little over 100 m.p.h. while lapping. With a hastily corrected speedometer we got performance figures from a stand.still of 0-50 m.p.h. in 5.0 sec.; 0-60, 8.1 sec.; 0-70, 10.3 sec.; 0-80, 15.0 sec.; and 0-90, 19.5 sec.; still restricting ourselves to 6,500 r.p.m. and on a soaking-wet track!
My first introduction to the handling of a Lotus-Cortina was as shattering as it has been to most racing drivers, for (to use the kindest adjective I can think or, it feels atrocious. The car skitters about on the bumps, lacks directional stability, wanders in a side wind, and when cornering hard the inside front wheel lifts (as the picture shows), leaving the car poised on a few square inches of rubber on the off-side front wheel, at which point the steering feels decidedly odd to say the least. Despite all this the car can be cornered faster than any other saloon car you can name and even when skating through deep puddles with 50 p.s.i. in the tyres it sticks like a leech. It will break away of course, but juggling with throttle and steering soon saves the situation. In fact the car la worse on the straights, when it would suddenly aquaplane through a puddle and the steering could be moved from lock to lock without causing the car to deviate appreciably from a straight line. Drivers tell me you soon learn to live with these odd characteristics, and since the Lotus-Cortina has virtually turned saloon-car racing into a one-model domination it can’t be that bad. I’m no Jim Clark but a lap time of around 1 min. 23 sec. against the normal time of 1 min. 12.0 sec. or so in the dry shows that the handling must be pretty good in the wet. The brakes are first class and the steering would he a revelation to the driver a normal Cortina for it is incredibly light.
I enjoyed my drive immensely and look forward to seeing this car in action next season, when, if it is driven as sensibly as it was at Spa, it should do well in the European Championship.
Willment Cortina GT Sprint
The next hot car I tried was a Willment Sprint GT, a considerably modified version of the Ford Cortina GT. The name of Willment needs no introduction to racing enthusiasts and they have been converting and racing Ford cars for 15 years or more, long before their current racing team hit the headlines. They have been tuning Cortinas for some time but these have invariably been on a one-off basis, according to the requirements of the customer, and already this year over too cars have been tuned. However, they have decided to market a standardised car called the Sprint CT which will sell as a new car for £910, although used cars can also be converted to this specification. The modifications are pretty extensive and cover most of the more criticised aspects of the Cortina GT. The list in the data panel gives the details and prices of the various modifications. The engine is only lightly modified, with re-worked cylinder head, inlet manifold and carburetter, and a new camshaft which raise the power output to over 90 b.h.p. The major part of the work concerns the suspension, which is lowered by the use of different springs, and shock-absorbers, and also uses a heavy-duty anti-roll bar and a set of 5½J wide-based wheels. The brakes have hard pads and linings and a Girling servo is fitted. A wooden steering wheel and a gear-lever knob are supplied, and extras above the cost of the Sprint kit are new seats, Britax reel-type safety belts, racing wing mirrors and a brake fluid level indicator.
The three most criticised features of the Cortina as far as the enthusiast is concerned are the road-holding (especially in the wet), the seating position (especially for the six-footer) and the gear ratios. Willment have sorted out the handling and the seating, but there is little they can do about the gear ratios at a reasonable price; the Lotus-Cortina gearbox is expensive and has a high 1st gear and other proprietary gear sets are meant for racing and rather noisy. What they may do in the future is to offer 3 4.1-to-1 axle ratio instead of the present 3.9 to 1, which will make the car more tractable in 3rd and top gears, but still allow a too m.p.h. plus top speed.
On the road the ride is a revelation, for gone is the sloppy axle hop and general untidiness that the Cortina is prone to over rough surfaces. The ride becomes firm and there is some bounciness at low speeds but once in the upper 805, where the needle seems to spend most of its time, the Cortina covers rough roads most impressively. The test car was shod with Dunlop SPs (although Pirelli Cinturatos are offered as standard equipment on the Sprint GT) and it stuck to the road like a postage stamp, with none of the tail-happy tendencies which the normal Cortina develops. Roll is reduced and the car can really be flung around; the seats contribute to this for the tall driver can get away from the wheel and has plenty of room to play tunes on the pedals and to stretch his arms. These seats resemble the Lotus-Cortina scats but are made for Willments specially and arc most comfortable to use, with a soft cushion and a back-rest which gives some lateral support. At £23 a pair on exchange they are excellent value.
The engine modifications only give themselves away at idling revs when the engine tends to be lumpy, but once the rev’s rise the engine becomes clean and from then on it will whistle straight off the clock, which is red-lined at 6,000 r.p.m. to 7,000 r.p.m. The noise level is no higher than standard as the exhaust system is unmodified. When taking performance figures we restrained ourselves to 6,000 r.p.m., but even so the figures in the data panel are more than satisfying and much better than those we obtained for the standard GT Cortina. From Standstill to 60 m.p.h. in 10 sec. is excellent, while 80 m.p.h, can be achieved in 17.5 sec. Acceleration tails off a little after that but too m.p.h. will come up far more quickly than one has any right to expect from a 1½-litre family saloon, and at 6,000 r.p.m. in top the speed is 117 m.p.h. Willment’s competitions manager Jeff Uren has seen 6.600 r.p.m. on the rev.-counter during development testing, which is around 117 m.p.h. At the lower end of the speed scale it is necessary to drop down through the gears to cope with traffic conditions otherwise there is considerable judder from the transmission; this is of course encountered on the standard GT Cortina. There is also some “hunting” when trickling through traffic at speeds under 15 m.p.h., even in 1st gear, and the clutch has to be dabbed to avoid jerky progress,
All in all, I thoroughly approve of Willment’s mods to the Cortina and quite frankly if I were in the market for a car of this type and price I would by-pass the Lotus-Cortina with its fussy handling, vague steering, and its trick of spilling its rear axle oil, and go for the Willment car. I’m talking about road use, of course-racing is a different proposition.
Taurus Austin 1100
Taurus are one of the newest and smallest of the mushrooming band of tuning specialists but already they have garnered a lucrative corner of this booming market. Like so many others; they specialise in tuning B.M.C. products, and the car I recently tried was one of their versions of the Austin 1100. Perhaps the main criticism laid at the door of the .Morris and Austin 1100 is lack of performance, although the M.G. 1100 is available for the more affluent, who have an extra £120 to spend.
The Taurus conversion is simple, but incorporates the fairly expensive Weber 42DCOE carburetter, thus accounting for much of the £74 9s. cost of the conversion on our test car. The cylinder head is modified to stage 1 tune for an exchange price of £24, the single twin-choke Weber is mounted on a suitable manifold and supplied with the necessary linkages, and an exhaust manifold is supplied by the R. J. V. company, who specialise in this commodity. A Servais silencer and large-bore pipe completes the ensemble.
As the performance figures in the data panel indicate, the Taurus 1100 makes the normal 1100 look extremely slow, knocking some to sec. off the 0-60 m.p.h. time of 25.6 sec., and is still comfortably 4 sec. quicker than the M.G. 1100 to the same speed. As far as top speed is concerned the car will just about hold 90 m.p.h. on a level road but it is best regarded as a happy 80-85-m.p.h. cruiser as the engine is turning over rather rapidly at 90 mph. At the lower end of the scale the choke area of the Weber is obviously a little too much for the Austin engine and iris getting more petrol than it needs; this results in some gobbling noises from the engine, accompanied by occasional “hunting” if high gears are held onto at low speeds. It also helps the fuel consumption to depreciate to something like 25 m.p.g. if all the performance is used most of the time, but 28 m.p.g. can be had in exchange for a lighter throttle foot.
Having saved £120 by buying an Austin 1100 instead of an M.G. I too we have spent £75 of that on the Taurus conversion, still leaving us £45 in hand. I would spend some of that on assisting the brakes to stop the car a little better and a little more on a decent driver’s seat. This would still leave some in hand to buy a wooden steering wheel, electric rev.-counter and all those other goodies so beloved by the performance enthusiasts.
Looked at in this light the Taurus conversion is astonishingly good value for money, which makes one wonder just how the factory can charge so much for the M.G. version of these extraordinarily fine cars.-M.L.T.