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Anecdotes from a spent youth

Saturday, March 25, 2017 11:22
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From Wiggia
Going back in time is not always easy as our interpretation of what remains in the old memory banks is not always as was, in the same way that images you remember can be seen in a different light colour and clarity by others and therefore the interpretation in the mind can be counter to one's own but not incorrect.

The reason I stated that was I was going to write a small piece on my motor racing days, but I was not minded to regale anyone with my fraught and very expensive time endeavoring to go fast. Sometimes I went fairly fast and most other times it was a case of retiring to the pits or worse, so we will gloss over that.

Delving back did give me cause to think about those varied forms of road transport I had after that period. Nothing before of note as all were various battered vans put to slogging round the country towing a trailer and causing small villages to be enveloped in smoke from an elderly engine driven too hard for too long.

My first car after the “debacle” was and still is my favourite. This was all at a time of empty roads and no speed limits, not that much could go above the limits to any degree when they came in.

Once I had sold all the car bits and devolved myself from the association I had with another race car and driver, a 50/50 partnership which was too late as I had almost run out of money, I decided to buy something nippy. Being still young at heart I fancied something a bit above a Cortina GT and after a bit of thought I went to Young’s Garage in Ilford.

Living in East London and having Essex connections, anything Ford was an obvious route as I knew the engines and could obtain various parts to go faster or improve Fords from a variety of sources, some it has to be said not legal. In fact at that time in motor racing the amount of illegal parts floating around from various manufacturers was quite astounding.

Young's was the home to the fastest of the Ford Anglias that were racing at that time. Mike Young drove a bored out 1500 Essex-engined, ( some selected engine blocks could be bored to around 1700cc), Anglia that was the most normal looking on the circuits but hid some serious work under the skin. I knew he sold already fitted big-engined Anglias for the road in various tunes and stages, but when I wanted one little was available other than a bog standard one with a new 1500GT engine. The price was right so I purchased that and started to further modify the car myself.

By that time I could take one of these relatively simple engines apart in my sleep, so the head came off and I polished ports and changed the profile of combustion chambers, copying a Cosworth template and valves and springs, put in another slightly more peaky cam and when reassembled, retuned the Weber carb and ran the car on a dyno to get it right settings wise.

I was tempted to go the twin sidedraught Weber route but whilst getting more power they drank petrol. The standard 1500 GT engine produced 78bhp but by the time this went on the dyno it was producing near to 90. A full race version had in the region in a Cosworth version 115, so a decent return for those days and 90bhp in a very small and light car was relatively potent for that era.

Next was the suspension – new lowered McPherson struts from Ford's rally program! With front discs to replace the drum brakes and wide wheels, 4 and a half inch fronts and 5 and a half rears, larger fronts required body modification and I did not want that obvious racer look, well wide for those days, and then the hunt for suitable tires. I originally got hold of some early Goodyear Blue Streaks a racing tire, but after spinning in the wet a few times and getting away with it on London streets, they were lethal within sight of any moisture, I reverted to Dunlops and all was well.

At the time a vinyl roof was de rigueur on certain cars and a friend who was an upholsterer suggested he did the Anglia roof as an advert for a sideline in these roofs he wanted to try, so I had the first and possibly the only vinyl roofed Anglia ever !

The interior was deliberately left as almost standard just a rev counter beneath the dash and an oil temperature gauge to go with the fitted oil cooler, and that was it for a time apart from some rejigging the beefed up rear suspension, and a new exhaust, not one that was obviously “race bred” but adapted from another Ford sports car that I have now forgotten the name of.

This car went to France and on the long auto routes going south its one prevailing limitation showed in spades. At home it didn’t matter that much but on those roads the car ran out of revs. It needed a different differential. Many a DS Citroen would come steaming up behind me to be left distant in the mirror on acceleration only to keep going and pass as I was at maximum revs at just over a hundred mph. The deed was done on return along with a Corsair gearbox and I had many happy months of driving in that car.

As a road car it was quicker than a Cooper S, a car that was the go-to at the time for a quick sporty road vehicle, but I always hated the bloody awful driving position, unless you were a dwarf, it had the room it was just the way you had to sit, and anyway they were two a penny at the time.

Problems – just two. In France I broke a front stud on undulating roads with the stiffened suspension and the car ate starter motors that continually vibrated loose, only fixed by wiring the nuts. Even Loctite didn’t work. The rest never missed a beat, that Ford 105E – 115E engine was probably the most successfully tuned engine in history, with later crossflow versions including twin cams as in the Lotus Cortina and my botched shared race car, dominated endless classes of motor racing for years and all from the humble Ford Anglia and the Cortina.

The car also took me to my wedding and then on honeymoon when my new wife decided something more Captain Sensible was required and so the worst car I ever owned was purchased, but that is another story and the beginning of a few years of an eclectic car ownership.

That Anglia was also the last time apart from a bit of restoration I ever got under a bonnet to do anything other than check the oil and I have never felt the urge to get my hands dirty again. Not because I didn’t enjoy the project at the time but it was simply another phase in my life that was done and dusted.

Was this retrospective assessment seen through eyes that still see the past with some sort of affection filtering out the downsides of the period perhaps? The good moments, whilst not the total of our memories of the past do tend to dominate, but that is not a bad thing. Leaving the dross sadness and disappointment in a dark recess is necessary for a positive way forward.

Now where are those old string-back driving gloves?


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