Life Cycle Chris Modsports Triumph GT6. Williams’ scratch-built Modsports Triumph GT6 racer was missing presumed wrecked for decades, only to resurface in Lincoln. Now it’s set to return to the track. Raced, crashed, abandoned in a haystack, restored in a hospital, missing presumed destroyed for decades and now bound for glory – this crazy GT6 has done it all. Words Sam Dawson. Photography Neil Fraser.
1971 Don Loughlin and Chris Williams build a GT6 silhouette racer ‘I can still picture it now, sitting in the workshop,’ says Don Loughlin, motor sport engineer and ‘don’ of race preparation business Aldon Automotive. ‘We had just moved from Halesowen to Brierley Hill, and the GT6 was one of the first jobs we did.’
Former Triumph engineer Chris Williams wanted to build a racing GT6 to compete in the Modsports Championship and in 1971 mounted a glassfibre semi-monocoque coupé shell on to an unused 1966 Spitfire chassis fitted with a GT6 engine. When he found it uncompetitive, Loughlin turned it into a silhouette racer the following winter. ‘I remember shifting the engine back for better weight distribution,’ Loughlin recalls, ‘but it never really worked that well. Our new premises had a rolling road so the GT6 was one of the first cars we put on it. I checked the readout and thought “well, that’s not very good.”
‘The problem was that there weren’t many tuning parts available for the 2.0-litre Triumph straight-six – the industry tended to focus on the 2.5 – so we resorted to general upgrades such as triple Weber 42DCOE carburettors, a gas-flowed cylinder head, 360-lift camshaft and an unsilenced straight-through exhaust. ‘The rear suspension needed major work too – I junked the leaf spring and made new coil spring and damper units for it. Chris did the bodywork himself as he had his own glassfibre business.’
The modifications clearly worked. Williams showed increasing improvement throughout the 1972 season, ultimately finishing third overall and winning the over-1300cc Class B at Brands Hatch on November 26.
1974 Williams upgrades to a Jaguar, and the Triumph crashes out Says Loughlin, ‘He finished sixth in class in the 1972 BARC Modsports Championship, but I think he preferred the new Jaguar E-type V12 he bought in 1973, which we prepared for Prodsports racing.’
Ahead of a succesful assault on the 1973 BARC Modsports championship, Cars & Car Conversions magazine track-tested the GT6. This Modsports GT6 was built on a Spitfire chassis.
According to fellowWindmill Plastics Triumph racer Ron Harper, the regulations made campaigning Triumphs difficult. He says, ‘The rules specifically excluded Le Mans-specification Spitfires, as they were much faster than anything else in their class. If you won a race and your car was similar to that spec, you risked disqualification.’
Williams eventually sold the GT6 to fellow racer Duncan Allison, but it only lasted two rounds of the 1974 Modsports Championship – Croft and Mallory Park – before it careered off the track and hit a barrier, destroying the front suspension. The car disappeared soon after, and most people assumed it had been broken for parts.
1981 George Woolfenden rescues the GT6 for £400 ‘I saw it advertised in Autosport for £400,’ says George Woolfenden of the car he would go on to own for 28 years. ‘I usually haggle but I knew what it was straight away. It helped that there was no photo with the advert, otherwise more people might have twigged. ‘It had been sitting in the middle of a haystack in a barn in Crawley for nine years. Allison had only partly rebuilt it because he didn’t have anything like Williams’ budget.
‘He was selling it because he worked in Saudi Arabia, was relocating to America and needed money to fund the move. He wasn’t planning to return to the UK, so I negotiated the sale with his mother, who lived in Leeds. I had to send the money to Leeds, and she posted it to a PO box at Heathrow Airport, where Duncan was stopping off en route. He told me where the car was as soon as he had the money.
‘Amazingly, the haystack had kept the car dry over the years, so there was only minor surface corrosion on the alloy parts. The advert claimed that the engine had been rebuilt, but so far as I could tell only the crankshaft had been reground. The sole piece of paperwork present with the car was a set of hand-written notes detailing the original specification, plus detailed directions to get to Roger Dowson’s house.’ Dowson was Gerry Marshall’s race engineer during the Modsports years and had set up the GT6’s suspension, but Allison clearly hadn’t used his services, asWoolfenden was about to discover.
‘The front-end smash had totalled the front suspension so I had to get new parts from Aldon. It had been fitted with an Alfa Romeo gearbox at some point, but the original close-ratio racing gearbox was still with the car so I swapped it back and refitted the TR6 limited-slip differential. ‘I was lucky with the rose-jointed suspension, because Rose Bearings was based just down the road from me in Saxilby. As it happened, I used to play tabletennis against its factory team, so I got one or two of the bits I needed via the back door, so to speak.
‘I’m a nurse by profession, and made use of a huge garage next to the morgue at St John’s Hospital in Lincoln where I worked at the time. When the wards were quiet, I’d dash across the hospital to work on the car, and if I needed electricity I’d unplug one of the morgue freezers and run an extension lead across to the power socket – it was never for very long, though!
‘I vividly remember the day I resprayed it. I was on duty and had just set the spray gun up when I realised I had to do my medicine rounds. I did them in double-quick time to make sure I could get back to the car before the primer got dirty or anyone noticed the extension lead. It really did need repainting too – it had been hand-painted blue and the wheels were painted canary yellow.
‘It was a difficult stage in the restoration because I didn’t want to lose the car’s battle scars – they’re part of its history – but did want to return it to its original red. Sealing the broken bodywork edges was a lot more difficult than smoothing everything over. ‘I also had to preserve the wheels, because they’re very rare – they’re made from magnesium and are virtually unobtainable secondhand. I ended up getting the tyres from a friend of Lotus Formula 3 driver Dave Walker and recovering the seats using vinyl from old stretchers.
‘Once I’d got the car running again, I used to test it at night on the hospital’s perimeter road. I had to wait for the security guards to swap shifts so I could grab a few minutes in between, but the car made a huge racket because it was still running its racing exhaust – my colleagues ended up nicknaming it The Bitch!’
1984 The GT6 switches from illegal racer ‘The restoration took two years,’ says Woolfenden. ‘I wanted to race the finished car in the Triumph Sports Six Club series, but changing regulations meant it was illegal – the straight-through exhaust, for example, is unsilenced. ‘It was a real shame, but I only live 20 miles from Cadwell Park so I’d go down there with some mates and a barbecue, pay the old Major who used to run the place £25, and spank it round the track for a few hours.
‘Back then there was an actual barn at Barn Corner on the escape road and if you left its doors open you could leave the track, drive straight through it and rejoin on the start/finish straight. I suppose they were track days before such things existed, but it was mad, with no marshalling, ambulances, insurance, safety briefings – nothing. As for first aid, that was me, basically! All that stopped when Jonathan Palmer took over the track, of course.
‘I tried to sell it in 1986, as I couldn’t do much with it other than track days, so I gave it to motoring journalist Laurie Caddell to test in Sports Car Monthly – if you look at the photos you can see I’d massively dropped the tyre pressures to stop him pushing its limits. The problem was, I didn’t really want to sell it. Everyone wanted either to mothball it or take it out of the country, so I ended up keeping it for another 24 years. I only sold it to Mark Field because he’s an enthusiast. I knew he’d keep it in the UK and drive it as it’s supposed to be driven.’
2010 Mark Field finally brings the GT6 out of long-term hiding ‘It was a weekday and my wife said, “there’s a guy on the phone with a GT6 for sale,” recalls Triumph performance specialist and Jigsaw Racing Services co-owner Mark Field.
‘I thought he was going to offer me an old road car in need of restoration, so when he said he had ChrisWilliams’ Modsports GT6, I said “You can’t have – it doesn’t exist any more!” Bear in mind it hadn’t properly been seen in public for decades. ‘George sent through some photographs of the car straight away and I dropped everything, told the guys at the workshop to cover for me and drove up to Lincoln with a trailer. Getting to the car wasn’t exactly straightforward – it was stored four doors down the street from George’s house in an old Co-op funeral parlour that’d been converted into a house. The only way of getting to it was via an alleyway designed for Victorian horse-drawn carriages, not a modern car trailer.Worse still, the car had sat unused for five years and there was a bend in the steering rack that completely jammed it on a quarter-turn. Threading the trailer up there was a nightmare.
‘When I started to work on it I began by replacing the suspension bushes, oil and filters then moved on to the steering. There are only 1½ turns lock-to-lock and the turning circle is enormous. Our steering rack man wanted to replace it with something more modern and practical, but I told him I wanted the car exactly as it was when it was new. He really struggled to replicate the original steering specification, but we got there in the end.
‘As for the engine, we just rebuilt the Weber carburettors, put some fresh fuel into the tank and it fired up first time.’ 2015 An offer of £40k refused By now mechanically restored but still wearing the historic racing scars it picked up during the Seventies and Eighties, the Modsports GT6 finally made its classic show debut at Race Retro at Stoneleigh in 2015. Mark says, ‘I remember a German guy came up to me on the stand and wrote me a cheque for £30,000. When I told him it wasn’t for sale, he offered £35,000, then £40,000, but I refused every time.
‘I really want to see the GT6 race in the CSCC Modsports series, so what I do with it next depends largely on the regulations. ‘We’ve got ten original cars in the series now, and Modsports is picking up a lot of interest again. Big Red will be there – it was born to race.’
Restoration blends patina, refurbishment, early livery and later body modifications.
The GT6 spent the late Eighties being sneaked into Cadwell Park for track days.
George Woolfenden is reunited with the car he nurtured in secret for 30 years.
Despite wild looks and exotic suspension, the engine was relatively standard.
Front suspension was set up by Gerry Marshall’s race engineer.
Spec sheet reveals glorious combination of parts.
The GT6’s sole public appearance postrace career – a 1986 road test in the now-defunct Sports Cars Monthly.
By 1973 Williams had evolved the bodywork further, sprouting a rear spoiler.