From rags to riches

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For a firm founded by a penniless refugee, Janspeed has come a long way since first dipping its toes into motorsport in the early Sixties. Its successful Group N programme is just the visible side of a business soundly build upon exhaust manifold manufacture and aftermarket turbo conversions.

Janspeed seems to have earned itself a special place in enthusiasts’ hearts as a in the sport and, perhaps more romantically, because its founder, Jan Odor, escaped from Hungary after the 1956 uprising and started with nothing.

Motor racing has always played an important part in Odor’s marketing policy. The exploits of John Fenning in a modified Mini-Cooper in 1963, only a year after the company’s formation, did much to promote its reputation as one of the foremost companies for developing fast and reliable Mini-Coopers.

Twelve years later Janspeed was running the Dutch Datsun Dealer Team, developing both a turbocharged 280Z to take on the Porsches and BMWs and an F2 Coup, in the 1300cc class. Another dozen years on, the Ford Sierra Cosworth has become the focus of its competition activities, the Castrol Syntron X-backed car driven by Jan’s son Kieth.

This year a huge programme of 32 races is being tackled in the Uniroyal and Firestone Production Saloon Championships. But the Wiltshire-based firm’s own engineering resources, Castrol sponsorship and careful strategy have allowed Odor Jnr to remain a consistent race winner.

For a firm founded by a penniless refugee, Janspeed has come a long way since first dipping its toes into motorsport in the early Sixties. Its successful Group N programme is just the visible side of a business soundly built upon exhaust manifold manufacture and aftermarket turbo conversions.

Technical Director during the week, Frank Swanston’s role at the trackside becomes that of Team Manager. Four mechanics are taken to every race, but only two work on the car throughout the year. Janspeed also has an engine specialist who does not attend the races but looks after the car back at Janspeed’s Salisbury base. Preparation of the maroon Cosworth follows a very strict routine during the season, requiring about sixty hours work between races. The suspension is stripped and all the struts are removed from the car.

Although the engine is left in, there is a precautionary change of head gasket after every other outing, even though the car runs on standard boost pressures. The turbocharger is rebuilt every two races by Janspeed itself, which has a dynamic balancing machine to balance the rotors. This year’s change in regulations, lowering the boost pressure, has improved reliability. The gearbox and diff are changed and rebuilt every five races but brake calipers require much greater attention. Fine for normal road use, they are too small for circuit racing so they have to be re-sealed, dusted out and have their fluid changed after every other event.

Kieth’s role is not just that of “works” driver, for he is very much involved in the business as its current sales director, having worked in every department since leaving school.

The number of people employed by the company has doubled to around ninety in the last twelve years. Far from the glamour of the race track, the basis of its strength has always been the manufacture of fabricated exhaust manifold systems, which still accounts for two thirds of that payroll.

Road cars are the recipients of most of the output, but some systems still find their may to a number of manufacturers’ special departments. Ford of Britain and Germany, Saab, Austin-Rover and the Zakspeed Escorts have all been supplied by Janspeed, and although the market for exhaust manifolding systems for competition use is smaller than it used to be, it is still actively pursued.

The other side of the business is aftermarket turbocharger conversions, and prototype work for various authorities and manufacturers, which accounts for 25-30% of turnover. Turbocharging has gone out of fashion in the last ten years, halving Janspeed’s business, although the slump has been somewhat offset by the doubling of retail prices due 10 the increasing complexity of the units required.

It has been some time since the company disassociated itself from the basic bolt-on kits which could be bought for a Cortina for as little as £547 in 1976. The modern turbo consists of more than 200 components and is virtually impossible for even the most knowledgeable enthusiast to install without problems.

In developing its aftermarket modifications, Janspeed has not become committed to any one manufacturer and retains a been independence. In developing a turbocharger for the XJ40, for example, it had no help or assistance, let alone endorsement, from Jaguar — though many dealers, including JaguarSport, have since sent their cars to Janspeed for conversion.

The mass small-car market, where the undercutting of prices has become increasingly cut-throat, has been deliberately left to others, but there has been work on fourwheel-drive Suzukis and the Metro GTa. The latter is being converted to run on unleaded petrol, while development of the little Japanese car includes a reworking of the head to allow better breathing, the use of different carburettors and the installation of a special exhaust to increase power by around 30%, all for £750. Sitting in the Salisbury workshop at the time of my visit were also a couple of new twin-cam Ford Sierras in the process of being turbocharged for a dealer, and a private customer’s AC Cobra.

Special projects are becoming increasingly important to Janspeed, although this has always been an underplayed aspect of its business. In the past it has supplied special speed-equipment on Bedford and Rolls-Royce-engined fire tenders for use on airfields throughout the world, and it is now involved in a big way with area health authorities.

Renaults have become very much the popular choice as ambulances since they are one of the few models on the British market to fit the tough criteria demanded by the health authorities, but their engines lack the performance needed for these specialised tasks. At first turbocharging was tried, but the harsh treatment the engines were necessarily receiving resulted in reliability problems, sometimes with dire consequences. It was then that Janspeed became involved, but perversely, not through turbocharging. Successful work for a local authority led to contracts with several others and finally the conversion of over 400 ambulances. Though not competition work, this involves high-technology employing the latest in engine-management systems.

The original head is totally re-machined to improve efficiency, and the single carburettor is removed and replaced by a single-port four-throat fuel injection system. The combination of the modified head and improved breathing gives a 30% increase in performance on the standard engine and 2-3% on the turbocharged unit. There is also a considerable saving in terms of servicing requirements and fuel consumption.

Janspeed has invested heavily over the last few years in workshop facilities, dynamometers and engine management systems. This year alone has seen further extensions, with the building of a dynamometer house and an engine shop which will be used extensively for highperformance and competition purposes. Even the recent 3000 sq ft extension for extra storage is a far cry from the lock-up garage from which Janspeed used to operate, and from the time when it was selling MGB cylinder-heads for £25 or polished induction manifolds for £2.10/-. As Kieth Odor speeds around the race tracks of Britain, he is just the tip of an operation which now has its sights firmly set on the year 2000. WPK