There have always been people who inserted engines bigger than the makers intended into basically inoffensive machinery. Doubtless Motor Sport’s Editor and D.S.J. could accurately recall countless examples of this practice in the past, both in racing and normal road use, but my aim in this short article is to briefly look at recent efforts in transplanting what has become the ultimate in large engine development at reasonable prices—the American manufactured, or inspired, V8s. My practical experience of such swaps includes only an Escort with a tuned Rover-Buick engine, a Capri powered by Ford’s TransAm Championship-winning 302 C.I. “Boss” V8 (although I must admit it was in cooking form and had nothing like the 450 plus b.h.p. claimed for the racing versions) and a Europa with an old 4.7-litre Mustang V8 shoehorned into the rear!
Not so long ago British Club racing boasted a couple of V8-powered Cortinas and a Chevrolet V8-Vauxhall Viva; the best known of which was Doc Merfield’s “Fraud” Cortina. If memory serves me right Terry Sanger also used to operate a 4.7-litre Ford-powered Cortina and Brian Bolton actually won the Osram-GEC saloon-car series with the ex-Merfield “Fraud”. The biggest problems with these Cortinas were cooling them, stopping them and cornering same. The first problem was solved in one case by sticking a huge radiator in the boot, which also served to help the handling and roadholding by evening out the weight distribution. However, the normal way of persuading the V8 mongrels to stay on the track was to make up the widest steel wheels one could get past the scrutineer and equip them with similarly proportioned F1 rubberwear. The total effect was of a Cortina apparently possessing best Bedford truck running gear! In the last couple of seasons Britain’s Club racing fraternity appear to have ignored the V8 transplant idea, preferring either to stick with the Mustang or Falcon shell with which the V8 came, or at the top level use an Escort with either an oversized twin-cam or BDA engine—or even the Ford 3-litre V6.
However, on the roadgoing side of things there are encouraging signs that while the manufacturers continue to insert ever larger engines in their standard products, the enthusiasts take things a step farther and pop in a V8. “Pop in a V8” says this smug motoring journalist secure behind his London desk! In fact things are never that simple, after all it’s often difficult enough to replace a standard engine in a standard car. In nearly all the cases I will be discussing, a considerable degree of chassis work was needed before the car could even reliably carry around the extra weight and power that comes with a V8. Quite often the front bulkhead and transmission tunnel need to be thoughtfully savaged before levering in an engine and gearbox, which should sit well back in the chassis if one is ever to have a hope of negotiating a roundabout without developing Charles Atlas’ biceps beforehand. Apart from the physical squeezing needed in some cases, one then has to consider installing a more efficient, and therefore often larger and heavier, radiator.
A thought should also be spared for the rest of the running gear. For example, will the suspension first of all carry any extra weight without the car diving into the first dip it encounters, nose first? Having stiffened up the front to cope, can the rear cart or coil springs stand even the remotest chance of transmitting extra power without the axle torqueing itself into a giant replica of a chopstick surrounded by spaghetti? As soon as that problem is solved, the next is to find a rear axle that can cope with having probably double the amount of torque (at least) that the original had to deal with. Personally, I feel this is the trickiest part, except with the Europa where a suitable Hewland or ZF can be fairly easily, if rather expensively, obtained. Other miscellaneous snags that occur are making up a special propshaft in the case of front-engined machinery, re-calibrating and modifying the instrumentation, and strengthening any component that will have to suffer a great increase in loadings. Under which category fall the brakes, hubs, engine mountings and cross-member(s). Now, having illustrated some of the problems let us see what has been done so far.
First there are the non-Ford-powered machines. In this category one could place a Martin V8-propelled Escort, but although this has been successfully inserted for the track, in the form of Phillip Danby’s lntertech-backed Escort, I am not aware of a road-going version at present. Next comes a gentleman by the name of Ken Costello who is rumoured to be making large numbers of Rover 3500-engined MG-Bs in Kent. Apart from having seen such a machine in the paddock (but not competing) at Brands Hatch recently, I know very little more, though the car I saw was quite beautifully finished. The same Rover engine has also been found lurking beneath a Capri’s bonnet (a beautiful one-off job apparently), but I can be of a little more help here because I was privileged to try Richard Martin-Hurst’s Rover-Escort.
Martin-Hurst is one of Ford’s AVO Division bright young men, who in recent months has spent a lot of time sorting out the production RS versions of the German Capri. The Escort underwent extensive body surgery before the V8 was installed: the front bulkhead was cut away to allow the engine to sit well back (the 3.5-litre V8 weighs only half a hundredweight more than a Lotus 1.6-litre twin-cam) and the body seams were additionally reinforced, even to the extent of built-up side rails to combat body flex under arduous conditions. A suitable amount of bracing was applied to the engine cross-member and 1/4-in. plate engine mountings were utilised, together with a freshly fabricated gearbox cross-member and a wider transmission tunnel to take the S5-17 ZF gearbox obtained from an Alvis. This sturdy five-speed unit operated in conjunction with a 9-1/2-in. diameter Borg and Beck clutch and a special Hardy Spicer 2-1/2-in. diameter propshaft. The rear axle problem was solved by fitting a Sunbeam Tiger 3.7:1 final drive axle, incorporating a Salisbury limited-slip differential.
Further activity on the shoehorning side included re-routing the steering column to clear the V8, squashing in an exhaust system and cutting the front panelwork around to take a larger radiator. Surprisingly to some, the braking is by production Escort twin-cam disc/drum layout, supplemented by a switch in friction materials to look after fade problems: adjustable-balance dual circuits are an assuring feature of the retardation system. The suspension and steering modifications were mainly common sense, the front springs being considerably shortened to give a lower ride height in conjunction with the lowering blocks used for the leaf-sprung rear end. The Escort started life as a potent weapon for Club rallying, but by the time the author tried it the owner had prepared it for some mild Club racing. A high ratio steering rack made parking a little difficult but proved very useful at anything over 50 m.p.h. cornering, when it was nice to be able to apply lock so rapidly.
The Rover engine was comprehensively modified when the car first went on the road and was then subsequently rebuilt (following a melted piston after Hurst had been forced to use alternative carburation to the faithful twin pair of Rochesters normally used) by Weslake and bench-tested. Their power readings showed a peak of 214 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m., but more to the point was the enormous amount of torque, and to a lesser degree brake horsepower, that they found between 3,000 and 5,000 r.p.m. Peak of the torque readings was at 4,000 r.p.m. and 233 lb. ft.
On the road the car lived up to its specification, scorching from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. in just over six seconds and arriving at 110 m.p.h. some 14 seconds afterwards. The five-speed gearbox is not needed because of the engine’s flexibility, but the change is excellent and it was fun to just listen to the varying engine note and feel the change in acceleration forces upon selection of a fresh ratio. The handling and braking were up to our brisk demands on the road and track, bearing in mind that it is entirely possible to shift the car almost completely sideways by an injudicious application of power, even in third gear!
The Europa was, like the other two V8 transplants that I have tried, a one-off. It was built by F5000 single-seater constructor, Tony Kitchener, who operates from a cramped railway arch in Hammersmith W6, trying valiantly to establish himself in the hard world of single-seater manufacturers. The Europa used a number of parts from a past Kitchener, such as the Ford V8, front and rear wishbone suspension, disc brakes, radiator and ZF gearbox. This was not much of a shoehorning job as the Europa engine bay is big enough to take 289 C.I. of V8 comfortably. Additional transmission items which also came from the racing car were driveshafts and the Schiefer clutch. The biggest task by far was to build up a new backbone section, braced onto the orginal, but also strengthened, main chassis member that is a feature of the Europa and Elan.
The car did not look particularly attractive on steel 6-in, rimmed wheels, but apart from the difficulties of operating the gearbox without a clearly defined gate, the car was very pleasant to drive. This was even more surprising in view of the fact that I was acting really as a development driver, because the car had not covered more than a couple of miles consecutively, prior to my outing. The engine was not quite as smooth as the Rover-Escort’s, but had the same r.p.m. limit at 6,500. Performance was naturally terrific, the car being set up at something like 25 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in fifth gear so that high-speed cruising was very relaxed.
Top speed on this gearing would theoretically be 150 m.p.h., but during the time in which I was driving, I cannot honestly recall exceeding an indicated 130, but oh the way that hybrid flew up there! The car felt basically well balanced, any bias being entirely towards the rear end breaking away, so it would probably be quite a handful on wet roads. Talking of damp conditions reminds me that in the Rover-Escort one needs to feed the power in carefully under these conditions, as even the generous area of Goodyear Rally Special tyres mounted on Minilite wheels cannot cope with having little weight over the driven wheels. However, the answer is simple in the Escort’s case as one need only fill the 15-gallon Transit fuel tank lying in the boot to cope with any traction problems.
The best finish and handling of the V8 hybrids in my experience was a quite beautifully finished “Boss” (Ford’s official name for the engine) Capri loaned to me by John Young of Super Speed at Ilford. Like the Europa, I was not able to keep the car overnight, but it was still a worthwhile exercise because Young really had got down to the problems of handling. Even on just 5-1/2-in. Cortina 1600E wheels it was easier to drive than a standard 3-litre. To get these results costs a kit of money: the 296 b.h.p. engine and associated gearbox/clutch unit alone being retailed in England for £1,203 14s! The complete ensemble, based on a 3-litre Capri, could not be sold for less than £2,950, and even that is not a properly costed figure for they spent a long time working on the front suspension and steering to get such agile responses.
The biggest changes to the car were to placate the engine in its new home: the transmission tunnel and floor pans all had to be reshaped, a new cross-member and engine mountings made up, and a home found for a crossflow radiator cooled by twin electric fans. The instrumentation looks standard, but Super Speed had quite a job re-calibrating the speedometer to read accurately.
The company have taken their own fifth wheel figures to assess performance for the 21-3/4-cwt. Capri V8 (the Rover-Buick weighs 19-1/2 cwt.) and they quote a 0-60 m.p.h. time of less than six seconds, coupled to a top speed of 140 m.p.h. We were not able to check these for ourselves, but a brief burst soon had the car bounding along at an honest 120 plus m.p.h. The real genius of the car lies in its split personality though, because it will trickle through traffic without fuss and give even the hardest driver an enjoyable time on the open road. The only snag we could see was that the temperature needle climbed pretty quickly when the car was idling on a hot day. Once again the brakes are based on standard Ford disc/drums, but in this case all we can say is that they worked well during the short test run. The rear axle is the reputably very tough production 3-litre Capri model.
Of course the largest snag to running a V8 is the operating costs and none of the ones I have tried seemed to have the remotest chance of exceeding 15 m.p.g. in everday urban use. The Rover-Escort averaged 14.7 m.p.g. and Young cheerfully commented that he didn’t expect the large four-choke Holley carburetter on the Capri to give any change from 12 m.p.g. in London.—J. W.