The John Willment Racing Team

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And impressions of a Willment modified Ford Cortina G.T.

A name that has become more and more prominent as the racing season progressed is that of John Willment, for the Willment team of Ford Cortinas and the gigantic Ford Galaxie have become a force to be reckoned with in their first season of racing.

John Willment is a well-known name in motor racing, for he has been a competitor and purveyor of speed equipment to the racing driver for many years and in fact the Willment inlet-over-exhaust cylinder head conversion for the 100E side-valve Ford was one of the most potent power-producing pieces of equipment ever introduced for this engine. He raced a 100E Ford with Jeff Uren at that time and although they often discussed the formation of a saloon car racing team it did not come to anything at the time and they went their separate ways, Willment to develop his chain of Ford dealerships and Uren to run his plant hire business. Willment now runs John Willment Automobiles which is situated in a large modern building in Chertsey Road, Twickenham and also controls other Ford dealers like Lamberts of Kingston. Jeff Uren raced various Fords, eventually became Team Manager for the Ford factory rally team for a year, then went back to racing on his own.

In the winter of 1962 John Willment decided that the time was ripe to start his own racing team and naturally he called in Jeff Uren to run it for him. There were two objects in mind in running the team: firstly to obtain publicity for Willment’s Ford agencies and secondly to develop a range of speed equipment for both road and track use. Being a Ford dealer there was no other choice than to use Ford vehicles, but when they first heard of the 1500 c.c. Cortina GT they felt they had got the answer to victory in the 1 1/2-litre class. However, even influential Ford Distributors cannot get hold of cars too long before the release date and it was only about a fortnight before the public announcement date of April 5th that they received the first 1,500 GT Cortina. A “crash” programme of development was instituted and so successful was it that on April 6th, the day after its announcement, the car won its class at Oulton Park in its first race. After this development was speeded up and the cars improved from race to race, the power going up by leaps and bounds. The team has dynamometer facilities and they have reached a maximum of 119 b.h.p. at 7,400 r.p.m. with this engine in Group II trim using the standard manifolds and single Weber carburetter. The engines are seldom tuned to anything like this power as reliability is bound to suffer and for the Six-Hour saloon-car race at Brands Hatch they concentrated on giving high torque and restricted maximum power to 100 b.h.p., a wise decision in view of the wet conditions. This of course resulted in the third place overall and class win.

The Ford Motor Company of America was expanding its racing activities tremendously and they decided to ask Willments to race one of their Galaxies in Britain. Willments agreed to do so and acquired one from Holman and Moody, who prepare the majority of racing Fords for the factory in their California workshops. This arrived in time for the International Trophy Meeting of May 11th and Jeff Uren found that very little work was needed on the car for it had been beautifully prepared by Holman and Moody. It is a matter of history now that Jack Sears ran rings round the Jaguars and won with contemptuous ease. This success unfortunately brought trouble to Willments in the shape of the scrutineers, but more of this later. The car was modified slightly in the matter of handling to set it up for British road circuits rather than the banked tracks they normally race on in the States. The only real trouble has come from the clutch which wilted somewhat under the strain of transmitting 450 b.h.p. from the 427 cu. in. (7-litre) engine. This has now been effectively cured. Whenever the Galaxie raced it was almost uncatchable and it did much for American prestige in Britain, although the victories were not liked in some quarters.

The season for the Cortinas continued to be successful and so far they have won their class in every race bar two and in these two races they have only been beaten by other Cortinas. All the same Jeff Uren makes no attempt to hide his dislike of Group II racing, pointing out that the cost of preparing a car to this specification is almost as much as the retail cost of the car, whereas with Group III racing the driver can go the whole hog with power outputs and suspension modifications and very often does not spend so much money in the process. He feels that this type of car can be inherently safer as the handling is usually better and the reserve of power enables the car to get out of trouble by the use of the throttle whereas the present cars are being driven absolutely at their limits.

The Willment team ran into trouble with the scrutineers early in the season and have hardly been out of it since. During testing they found that the plastic rear window of the Cortinas tended to blow out so it was fixed with a series of nuts and bolts. This passed the scrutineers several times but at the Six-Hour race it was declared ineligible and had to be changed. The front passenger seat which had passed muster all season was also deemed not to comply with the regulations and also had to be changed.

The Galaxie passed scrutineering at the International Silverstone meeting and the scrutineers commented favourably on the roll cage inside the car. It raced shortly afterwards at Aintree and also passed the scrutineers and won again but at Crystal Palace the scrutineers decided that as the internal roll cage encroached on the passenger space at the rear it could not be passed. After much argument Willments cut out three of the tubes so that the car could now carry rear seat passengers, although passengers are, of course, not allowed in races, and the car won again. Later the R.A.C. made a ruling on the subject which meant that more tubes had to be cut from the roll cage thus reducing the roll cage’s effectiveness to virtually nil as in a roll-over accident the bars will just fold over. The Six-Hour race saw a new set of objections raised against the Galaxie and although the suspect parts were all subsequently proved to comply with the regulations Willments withdrew that car. All this seems rather unsavoury and one hopes that this scrutineering business will be satisfactorily cleared up before the 1964 season starts.

However this has not discouraged the Willment team from continuing and they will be seen in racing in 1964 in even greater force, for not only will they be competing in the saloon-car category but in Grand Touring, Prototype and possibly Formula racing. Details of most of these projects are secret but in the Grand Touring category Willments will be racing three A.C. Cobras. These actually belong to Carrol Shelby and will be used in as many European races as possible. The cars comprise the two Le Mans coupés and the open car raced by Peter Jopp earlier in the season. At the time of our visit the Cobras were being prepared for the T.T. and two of the Cortinas were being carefully prepared for flying to America for the Marlborough 12-hour race. The Cortinas will have to be fitted with internal roll cages and these will be built in America to the specifications of the technical inspectors. On their return the cars will be shown to the R.A.C. and any interested parties to show how much safer this type of roll cage makes a saloon car. A close inspection of the car crashed by David Haynes at Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday will show the necessity of a roll cage for the roof level was reduced almost to that of the steering wheel and Haynes was lucky to escape uninjured. Jeff Uren will also be obtaining some ciné films of crashes in American stock car races where drivers have stepped out of 150 m.p.h. crashes unhurt due to the use of roll cages.

During the winter the Willment team hopes to take in some racing abroad as well as taking time out to develop their modifications so that they can be applied to customers’ cars for road use as well as for racing. At present customers’ cars are only tuned for racing but the Racing Division will be taking new premises during the winter where more space will be available for tuning of customers’ cars.

Jeff Uren offered us the use of a Willment-modified car for a day or two and this car gave us some very interesting motoring. The particular car is owned by Mike Donegan and so far has competed in the Alpine Rally and the Nurburgring 12-hour saloon car race, where Mike Donegan and Mick Brunt drove it to an excellent class win. It had also completed several minor rallies and races and had just come into the Willment works for a checkover and further modification. Basically the car is a standard two-door Cortina GT modified to the middle of the three rather general Willment tuning stages. These are “road,” “rally” and “race” and the Donegan car is tuned to give around 90 b.h.p. as the race tuning leads to intractability on the road. The car has been gutted of all non-essential trim and in fact all bits and pieces that are not required for rallying or racing. The standard speedometer is retained but the comical water temperature gauge has been replaced by a proper temperature gauge which is combined with an oil pressure gauge. An ammeter is the only other extra instrument. The pedals have been modified to provide easy heel-and-toe gear-changes, the steering wheel is an excellent padded Lotus-type and the normal front seats have been replaced by a pair of bucket seats made by Fibrepair Ltd. of which company Mike Donegan is a Director. In the boot an extra long range tank is fitted and a change-over tap is fitted beside the rear seats.

On the road this Cortina GT is an exhilarating car to drive for it accelerates in a very un-Cortina like manner, accomplishing 0-80 m.p.h. in 19.2 sec. against the 27.6 sec. of the standard Cortina GT and devours the standing start 1/4-mile in 17.8 sec. The car will cruise quite happily at 6,500 r.p.m. in top gear which with its 4.4:1 back axle and Dunlop S.P. tyres equals a speed of 108 m.p.h. The engine will rev quite happily to 7,000 r.p.m. in the three lower speeds giving speeds of 33, 49 and 80 m.p.h. This particular car retains the standard gear ratios so that the gap between 2nd and 3rd gears is still noticeable. After we returned the car to Willments Jeff Uren had the car put on the chassis roller dynamometer and it was found to be somewhat down on power due to incorrect carburetter jets so that figures for a car in good tune should be pretty sensational.

The car has only a small silencer and a tail pipe that finishes below the passenger’s door and the noise is quite cacophonous on full song but it can be trickled past policemen without attracting more than a passing glance. A full silencing system is available for touring.

The handling of this car has been transformed out of all recognition and with adjustments to castor and camber angles and the fitting of two anti-roll bars at the front combined with careful attention to spring rates at the rear, the car bears no resemblance at all to the normal GT Cortina. The steering feels much lighter and more responsive and one is immediately given the impression that the steering ratio has been reduced but in fact it has not. The car can be flicked through bends with mere wrist movements at speeds which would have the normal GT model rolling very badly, but the Willment version corners extremely flatly. The ride is also extremely comfortable and not as hard as one would expect. The very good Fibrepair seats play their part on bends for the wrapround sides hold the driver in position, while the excellent shape of the cushions makes for fatigue-free driving. The front disc, rear drum brake layout is fully up to the job of stopping the car from really high speeds with no trace of fade. All in all we rate the Willment mods to the Cortina GT to be a real transformation, turning a rather dull car into a responsive and accelerative car which should give tremendous results in competition as Willments have proved this season already. Knowing something of Willment plans for the future we are sure the name will stay in the headlines for a long while to come.—M. L. T.

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