Brett Pillinger’s rod: Britain’s fastest unblown flathead

Down to a T… Man and Machine. Brett Pillinger’s rod: Britain’s fastest unblown flathead. Words and photography Paul Hardiman.

This T-Bucket doesn’t just go in a straight line, like some salt flats-inspired flatheads – it goes, it steers and it even stops. To prove the point, you might have spotted Brett Pillinger in Octane two issues ago, exiting Pardon hairpin at Prescott’s American Autumn Classic.

The story might not have had such a happy ending without a bunch of talented friends: ‘I imported a part-finished car which looked something like this, but it would never have worked. I was out of my depth so I gave it to fabricator Pete Ayres. “It’s a pile of crap,” he said. “We’ll have to start again.”

‘Pete got the car built to a rolling chassis, including the beautiful exhausts. My plan was to copy Jack Calori’s 1929 Roadster, which ran twin parallel exhausts and was very successful at Bonneville during the late ’40s, but Pete wasn’t happy with them and I’m really pleased we ended with singles. They get the noise past my ears, too.’

Unusually for a T-based rod, it retains the entire turtleback steel body complete with the paint as found on the scuttle identifying it as a ’22. It’s not repainted, so Brett uses his home-brewed preservation gunge: ‘It’s boiled linseed oil, raw linseed oil, white spirit and Ankor Wax – and something else, I think.’ The motor is a ’48 flathead. As well as the Edelbrock heads and Isky cam, it’s bored and stroked with Ross pistons, SCAT rods and a Mercury 4in crank to give a shade over 286ci, or 4692cc. Unlike some triple Stromberg set-ups these all work, the outer two coming in after the middle one cracks open.

A repro Hildebrandt fuel filter casing contains a full-flow oil filter, while the left-right switch on the dash isn’t for the ejector seat, as the label says, but so Brett can check the temperature of the heads individually, each with its own temperature sender.

Flatheads have a water pump for each bank, and they don’t always put in equal effort. Rear lights are made from cocktail shakers and ’59 Cadillac lenses, and the underfloor fuel tank is sculpted to clear the whirly bits. ‘Inside, I wanted an aircraft feel and Bob Boswell did the ally sheeting,’ says Pillinger. ‘We kept clipping the windscreen frame and ordering new glass until we got it right.’

He has experimented with twin wheels for the sand and equal-sized Blockleys for Prescott, though normally it runs on Kelsey- Hayes wires with Firestones. It’s geared for 2500rpm at 60mph but it’s uncomfortable on long runs – though that retreats into insignificance in his new ‘Miles for Smiles’ initiative, which brightens up the lives of the terminally ill with rides in amazing motors. ‘The first time we ran it, at Pendine in 2013, I was second fastest.’ Since then Brett has held the title for fastest naturally aspirated flathead, beating his own record every year – a task ever harder to achieve: ‘The aim is to go faster each year. I’ve got a complete vintage Hilborn injection set-up plus Joe Hunt magneto for next time…’

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