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  •   Tony Dron reacted to this post about 2 years ago
    Posterity can wait

    CAR #1932-Austin-Seven / #1932 / #Austin-Seven / #Austin

    Owner Tony Dron

    Being Keen, we arrived early at the pub on New Year’s Day – only a Rover owner beat us to the bar. In preference to the splendid local pub that attracts a vast gathering of vintage cars of high value, I had opted for a quieter, more modest venue for the Seven’s first outing of 2018. Last year, I was trapped at the back of the car park for the duration. This time, when we wanted to leave, we drove away from the 105Es, A30s and their kind without trouble.

    It meant getting the Austin out of its new Carcoon, which is easy. Having spent a small fortune on perfecting my Seven, I invested in one of these expensive items because I know they work, unlike your average car cover that costs a twentieth of the price, but which all too easily turns out to be a compost bag that rots your car.

    Please note: I have no connection with the Carcoon company and paid up because I know it will preserve my little Austin. That matters, obviously. We’re always being told that we are not the owners of our old cars, merely custodians for the future, but I have never really bought into that. I’m saving my car for me, while I’m still around, thank you very much. Posterity might appreciate it eventually but I have my doubts.

    Reading Honest John’s column in Saturday’s Telegraph over Christmas, I saw a letter from a reader who had acquired a 1934 Austin Seven saloon. When he asked his local garage about the advance/retard lever, he was told to ignore it because modern petrol had rendered it irrelevant! Honest John’s excellent advice included joining a local club, but he refrained from comment on the breathtaking ignorance of that idiot from the garage. When those in the trade today are that stupid, are we even beginning to get our message across to posterity?

    Top and above Tony’s Seven normally over-winters in a Carcoon, but it was exhumed for a New Year’s Day pub outing.
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  •   Stephen Prior reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    Driverless cars? Pints in hand, heads in sand and eyes off the road… / #1932 #Austin-Seven / #Austin /

    It’s interesting, what they talk about in our local pub. We are all very proud this week because our village community, the Abingtons, has just been named by The Sunday Times as one of the 50 best places to live in Britain. We could not agree more.

    The Three Tuns (above) was one of the attractions mentioned, as was the curiously named Partridge Group, which is ‘open to any man who can drink beer and talk religion at the same time’, with recent subjects including the ‘Power of the Genome’ and ‘Islam in 2016’. It’s not always that highbrow here but they certainly can talk in our village. In the good old days, politics never came up in pub conversations but the EU referendum has changed all that.


    Tempted as I am to get off the fence there, let’s stick to matters of motoring and look at something everybody should be talking about. A revolution is around the corner, namely the arrival of driverless cars, but strangely that subject is a conversation stopper. These devices are going to change our motoring lives fundamentally yet hardly anybody wants to think about them. My crystal ball is as foggy as everybody else’s here, which perhaps explains why we aren’t discussing it. It is just too big a thing.

    ‘YEARS FROM NOW PEOPLE WILL THINK IT ODD THAT THE PUBLIC WAS ALLOWED CONTROL OF VEHICLES’

    What about the Driving Test? What will happen to that when the vast majority of vehicles drive themselves? It seems inevitable that, gradually, an ability to drive any vehicle will become a very rare skill. Even your ride-on mower will soon drive itself, allowing you to sit back on your patio with a glass of something good while you watch it going round.

    As for the roads, it seems reasonable to guess that at first we shall need our driving licences to be in charge of a driverless car and we’ll need to be ready to take over. It seems hard to believe that any driverless machine could have the subtlety of judgement that we have developed, say, when approaching horse-riders, drunken pedestrians, flooded roads or any unexpected hazard. When that changes, as it surely will, what qualifications, if any, will be required before we can use the perfected autonomous pods of the distant future?

    As driverless vehicles come into use they will mingle with the existing traffic but, sooner or later, the good old human driver will be in the minority, mingling with them. And then, what?

    How will we, by then seen as oldies, fit in? Looking that far ahead, what effect will the driverless revolution have on the market for old-fashioned road vehicles that require a live driver? Who knows? I have no idea.


    How many of those born in the next few decades will grow up itching to get behind the wheel of a real car? That, too, leaves me wondering. One has to suspect that most people in the developed world a few decades from now will think it very odd that the general public was once permitted to have control of vehicles. As for modern motor sport, will driverless cars take over? If so, will F1 attract spectators?

    Without the distracting hype around the drivers, will F1’s huge worldwide audience of TV viewers desert it? Historic motor racing, I reckon, probably has a better chance of long-term survival than any other form of motor sport.

    As for club racing, once normal driving licences have been phased out, will enough people want to race new, low-budget competition cars in minor events? Maybe, maybe not. And what about the future of rallying? That’s another puzzle I can’t begin to solve.

    Fifty years from now, who will own such gems as Ferrari 250GTOs, Aston Martin DBR1s and Jaguar D-types and what will they do with them? The same goes for all the MGBs, TR6s, Austin-Healey 3000s, Jaguar Mk2s and indeed the VW Beetles, Morris Minors, Fiat 500s and all the rest.

    For how long will the Brighton Run for pre-1905 cars survive, celebrating the original emancipation of the motorist? Who will own my 1932 Austin Seven and will that person be able to use it? I’ve been thinking hard about such questions for many years and you know what? I haven’t the slightest idea.

    Don’t worry, you might say, most of us will be long gone by then. Fair comment, but big changes are already looming in our motoring lifetimes and it’s a curious fact that nobody talks about them either. Perhaps we just don’t want to know.
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  •   Antonio Ghini reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    Is fakery ever acceptable, or even desirable? In the good old days, when we thought life was simple, old cars were simply scrapped, left to rot or they were eventually restored. Things got a bit more complicated when people of a wise and sensitive disposition arrived on the scene. Certain aspects of a car’s originality, they rightly advised, should be preserved. The auctioneers then pored over their dictionaries and discovered the word ‘patina’.

    It’s a good word but what does it mean? The #Oxford-English-Dictionary defines it as: ‘A film or incrustation produced by oxidation on old bronze, usually of a green colour. Hence extended to a similar alteration of the surface of other substances, #1748 .’ In other words, the patina of age can act as a protective coating over a surface. It can also be pleasing to look at and I am sure we would all agree that, in the restoration of an old car, it would be foolish to replace everything that did not look brand new. When John Bolster’s famous hillclimb special Bloody Mary (pictured above) was restored a few years ago. great care was taken - as described in Octane 76 - to preserve ‘the patinated appearance of the Bloody Mary that Bolster knew'.

    ‘TIIE PATINA OF AGE CAN ACT AS A PROTECTIVE COATING OVER A SURFACE. IT CAN ALSO BE PLEASING TO LOOK AT’

    It's all a question of good taste. Over-restoration of any antique, cars included, is likely to reduce the value of the finished article. Rust and rot, however, should always be repaired because they have nothing to do with patina. We can safely ignore that strange fashion among a small minority for preserving derelict, rusty cars like dead flies in transparent plastic. The desire to do that appears to spring from a misunderstanding of patina and its possible desirability.

    Somewhat different is the growing trend for the creation of fake patina, known as ‘patination’. Imagine, for example, that you are restoring a very old race car that is completely missing its bodywork. You can get a new body made by a number of highly skilled experts who are able to reproduce an exact copy of the original.

    That is definitely the right thing to do. The next step is to paint it and most of us would have that done to look just as the car was when brand new, but there is another way. It’s expensive and it requires extraordinary technical ability to pull it off but there are people who can create a new paint job that appears to be decades old.

    I have seen such a car, dating from the #1930 s, with great patches of faded paint, micro-cracks, oil streaks and even scorch marks in the paint on the boat-tail around the open end of the exhaust pipe. It looked great, indistinguishable from a well- preserved 70-year-old car with an aesthetically pleasing patina. It took me some time to realise that the bodywork was all a 21st Century reproduction and that the brilliant paintjob was a masterpiece of fakery. The craftsmanship was beyond doubt but what is this? Art? Should we admire it or condemn it? I really don’t know.

    Such thoughts are a distraction from a rather more interesting question: is what a car looks like more important or less important than what it is like to drive? There are thousands of fake lookalike cars on the roads, with more appearing every year. Some are faithful copies of originals, some look exactly like the original but are completely different under the skin, and some are right horrors, grotesque distortions of classic designs.

    It comes down to good taste again but in a free world people should be allowed to enjoy reasonable pleasures as they wish. Voltaire's famous quotation comes to mind, even though experts claim he never made it, merely thought it. Voltaire’s tragedy, obviously, was that he died before the dawn of motoring. Were he around today, you can bet he’d be saying: ‘I detest what you have done to your car but I would defend your right to do it to the death.'

    Fakery in cars is probably as old as the motor industry itself. There’s no way of putting the clock back there and it’s only really wrong when it is done to mislead a buyer into paying way over the odds for a car that isn’t what it seems to be. That is a criminal act of fraud, deserving a prison sentence.

    Most fakes are recognised openly as repro jobs and are harmless enough. I can see the point of buying an exact copy of a great classic car. It will be cheaper than the real thing, perhaps by several million pounds, but if it has been conectly constructed it will reproduce the original driving experience. The ones I don't like are those that claim to do that but don't handle properly. Beware, they do exist.

    When it comes to fakes, there are some real horrors about but they are not all bad. As we puzzle over the rights or wrongs of patination, remember that authentic handling is much more important than the looks.
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  • Tony Dron unlocked the badge Reviewer
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  •   John Leighton reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    ROLLS-ROYCE TO THE ECLIPSE MOVING HEAVEN AND EARTH

    Luxury travel to watch the sun disappear. An unhindered view of the solar eclipse is Drive-My’s excuse to drive to the wilds of Scotland - in a #2015 #Rolls-Royce-Wraith-2013 . Words Glen Waddington // Photography Matthew Howell.

    The sign welcoming us to Scotland flashes by on the A74(M), four hours and 250 miles since we fired up the #Rolls-Royce-Wraith at the break of dawn. Our destination? Glencoe. Reason? A solar eclipse, the first since 11 August 1999 to come close to totality in the UK, with Northern Scotland offering the greatest proportion of visual obliteration on the British mainland. Draw a line from Fort William to Inverness (pretty much that of the Great Glen) and all points north are in for a view of 98% of the sun being covered by the moon. So long as the weather plays ball, anyway.

    Scotland's bigger than you might think, so that way-marker actually means we're only halfway there. The route so far has passed in total comfort and without problem, as the UK's northern three-quarters is generally less populated than most areas south of our journey's Northamptonshire origin. The A1 offers pretty scenery, interrupted little by the proximity of ugly conurbations, so we'd drifted along, on cruise, the legal limit raising no more than a whispered backing track. Even on the A66 towards Cumbria, the ampleness of the 623bhp (not to mention torque of 590 lb ft, from only 1500rpm) made itself evident only by the ease of passage along hilly sections or when overtaking was required.

    At last #Rolls-Royce believes such figures are worthy of disclosure, even if the 'power reserve' gauge would be better usurped by a revcounter. You can hear the 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12, ear-pleasingly so when you're driving assertively, and it would be fair enough that in this, the Rolls for the dynamic driver, you should get a set of clocks to match.

    After the border the topography becomes more interesting, more Scottish perhaps, all lumpy-bumpy hills and pines to please the eye. We're keen to get beyond Glasgow by early afternoon so choose to bypass 'The Second City of the Empire', catching only glimpses of bleak 1960s tower blocks and the rather more satisfying red-sandstone Victorian architecture it boasts, before the Erskine Bridge delivers us via Dumbarton into Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

    And so it's here, the last 100 miles or so, that our journey proper begins - also the final stretch of the 1907 Scottish Reliability Trial on which Rolls-Royce so famously proved the toughness of its early cars. The A82 winds itself along the western shore of Loch Lomond, hugged between stark rockfaces and the lapping water, so calm today that distant views are mirrored with haunting perfection in its surface, while pale sunlight falls droplet-like between bare last-gasp-of-winter branches far above. In fact, right now, the weather is defying the forecast (you guessed it, much Scotch mist and the dread description of dreich), so we can only hope the brightness holds through tomorrow morning.

    We leave the A82 for the only petrol station for miles and a quick lunch stop, sitting on a bench by the water in the shadow of a mountain known locally as The Cobbler. Yet this is merely a taster of what begins half-an- hour further along. Lomond is lushly beautiful, with Italianate waterscapes and caravan-friendly pull-ins and coffee-stops. We're in search of something wilder and it begins beyond Tyndrum, the last inhabited outpost before Glencoe, where a Scottish Tourist Office sign says both 'Visit Scotland' and 'Closed'. Thankfully it's not.

    The road climbs via a series of hairpin bends and the Rolls begins to divulge a few more secrets. By Lomond we'd discovered that, from behind the wheel, it feels nowhere near as big as it is; yes, you breathe in, metaphorically and literally, when a truck comes the other way but, on these broader curves, there's such poise, balance and an astonishing lack of roll that the Wraith's dynamic nature - evident not least in its organic steering - encourages you to drive it differently. Gone is the cruising mentality, in its considerable wake arrives the desire to gun that V12 and allow it to strive against a few of those eight long gears, all meted out precisely as you need them without recourse to manual override. There isn't a 'sport button' in sight. Instead, the Rolls makes all the decisions (sometimes you can feel it, however subtly, reining-in the throttle when it senses a little too much slip at the rear wheels) and allows you simply to enjoy the business of rapid yet always-refined forward progress.

    The ride, on air, is impressive, rarely pillow-soft but instead allowing the car's 2.4-tonne mass to quash surface imperfections while controlling greater irregularities with remarkable damping control. Only once in 1000 miles does it ever use up all the travel, bottoming-out with a polite and distant ker-dunk as the car hits a vicious trough that you only see as you land in it. This is a proper Rolls gait, calling to mind those pre-Silver Shadow cars built on separate chassis, which filtered away road noise instead of amplifying it through the structure while ensuring that suspension movements were carried out as if by your butler.

    We peel off again, onto a narrow lane signed for Glen Etive, where the sheer unlikeliness of a car so large (nearly 5.3m stem-to-stern and almost 2m across the beam) on such a thin ribbon of chippings is outweighed by the desire to track a route employed in the filming of Skyfall. And it's here, suddenly, that the Wraith's grand styling makes sense. There's been a wealth of opprobrium on social media, many Drive-My readers berating the Wraith's brutal proportions and uncompromising colour scheme.

    In honesty, the latter is not one I'd choose myself (especially the white leather/lizard-skin combo inside) but here, away from urban connotations and merely human scale, the Wraith looks at home amid the majestic landscape, not competing but at one with it.

    At which point the weather closes in, the light is fading and we're still shy of Glencoe village. We could do with locating a spot from which to view the morning's spectacle, and the presence of so many epic peaks is beginning to concern us: will the sun be high enough above them at half-past nine for us even to see it? And what if this weather doesn't clear? With an air of nervousness we push towards the evening's lodgings while the rocky mountainsides brood alongside and glower above us.

    At 6.30am on 20 March 2015 it's light, the birds are singing yet it feels more like winter than the new season in store. There's a chill in the air and a pervading dampness; no rain is falling but the clouds are so heavy and low you could almost touch them. This doesn't augur well, but that incredible stretch of road climbing out of Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor is the inspiration I need to stop me longing for the comfy bed that I've just left.

    Still, swing open that rear-hinged coach door, allow it to close itself (the press of a button activates a hydraulic ram) and settle into the massive electrically adjustable and heated (right up to the shoulders) seat while snuggling feet into shagpile rugs. What a combination: GT speed and responsiveness, limo-luxury that Rolls-Royce gets so right. There's tradition on display wherever you look, yet the ambience is unapologetically 21st Century. Just make mine navy blue with tan trim.

    There's a little lane leading from Glencoe out onto the A82, likely the remains of the old road. Once you're clear of the trees, the sight of Bidean nam Bian - the range of mountains on the south side of the Glencoe Pass and location of the highest peak in Argyll - elicits whispered superlatives followed by the silence of awe. It really is staggeringly beautiful here. Beyond beautiful, in fact. Your response is akin to that which comes in the wake of a natural disaster, only here nature is working purely for good. We drove all day and 500 miles to get to this place. The visuals are worth it, and be damned with the eclipse.

    Ah yes, the eclipse. The moment (well, the hour or so) of truth is almost upon us. We head east then south, never leaving the A82, one job and one job only in mind: to capture that moment when the lights go out. If we can work out what's going on in the gloom above.

    Rannoch Moor plateaus at 1141 ft above sea level. We know because there's a sign telling us. Yet this is the valley floor, and we're at the snow line: it only becomes whiter the further you get from the road and start to climb. And it's spring tomorrow.

    This is where we want to be. The valley is broad enough and the peaks distant enough to allow the sun to present itself (or, rather, announce its lack of presence) at the critical time. And - whisper it - we can see chinks in the cloud. This is it. We need to do it here. The question is: how do we get off the road?

    The other-worldly landscape is a mass of bogs that coalesce into larger patches of water, known collectively as Loch Ba. Here and there are pull-offs, populated already by motorhomes whose occupants have camped overnight in readiness for today's show/no-show. Our only hope is for a forestry access, a track that leads across the moss. And we find one.

    OK, getting onto it will be tight. There are a couple of boulders where it meets the road, about 6in further apart than the Wraith is wide, and I have to angle in from the road as there isn't room to come at it foursquare. Dodging speeding wagons on the A82 is fun too. But the Rolls helps all it can, raising itself on its air suspension and allowing me to creep in on idling torque.

    What a car: Goodwood's off-road limo/GT/coupe. And with it we wait. Photographer Matt prepares for the moment to click the button while the weather, as if sensing our need, provides a gap in the clouds exactly where the sun is - and only there. It surprises us by being higher than expected, and our compass estimations were slightly out too, but it gives Matt time to alter his perspective while I manoeuvre the car minutely at his command.

    The sun still looks bright though. What of the eclipse? It should be well under way by now, and the clouds have parted further so we can revel in the spectacle. The ambient light level has reduced significantly and we realise how much colder it now seems. Our increasing dismay is banished at 9.28am when, out of the comer of my eye, I perceive the crescent: try to look directly at it and all you see is glare. Matt gets the shot: job done, just before the clouds agglomerate, enough that we can now see the sliver of remaining sun with the naked eye, just for a minute or so. Then they thicken properly and the show's over. We couldn't have planned any of this; nature did it all for us.

    All that remains is the prospect of the 500-mile journey home. And what a pleasure that is in this car. We pack up, fill the boot, settle back into those heated armchairs and waft our way off the moor ready one last time to enjoy the A82 - one of the most epic roads in the UK, after all - and ultimately our cruise back south.

    Maybe we'll do it all again one day. I hear the west of Ireland will be a good spot to see the eclipse on 12 August 2026.

    ‘THE PROSPECT REMAINS OF THE 500-MILE JOURNEY HOME. AND WHAT A PLEASURE THAT IS. MAYBE WE’LL DO IT AGAIN ONE DAY’

    ‘WITH AN AIR OF NERVOUSNESS WE PUSH TOWARDS THE EVENING’S LODGINGS WHILE THE ROCKY MOUNTAINSIDES BROOD ALONGSIDE AND GLOWER ABOVE US’

    Right Glen Etive, breathtaking scene of much action in the Bond film Skyfall. We only hope that spindly-looking bridge is up to bearing the Wraith’s 2.4-tonne kerbweight.

    Top, above and left. Reflecting, literally and metaphorically, on the still waters of Loch Lomond; snapshots of the Wraith’s in-dash screen show the view from its outboard cameras and the co-ordinates of the final destination at Bridge of Orchy.

    ‘THE ROAD CLIMBS VIA A SERIES OF HAIRPIN BENDS AND THE ROLLS BEGINS TO DIVULGE A FEW MORE SECRETS’
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  •   Greg MacLeman reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    THE TRUTH IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN A ROSE-TINTED VIEW OF HISTORY

    Never speak ill of the dead. It’s wrong and I won’t. However, so much nonsense has been written about Ken Costello, who died in July aged 88, that somebody just has to put the record straight.

    Ken, a successful club racer in the 1960s, gained greater fame after that by converting MGBs to Rover V8 power. That embarrassed British Leyland, sparking a long-running ‘David and Goliath’ battle. Leyland-bashing has been a popular sport for decades, which perhaps explains why Ken’s long obituaries were so one-sided, casting him as the brilliant engineer who devised a faultless MGB V8, yet received nothing but hostility from British Leyland for his trouble. The full story was a bit different and I must be honest: in 1973, the Costello MGB GT V8 that I tested for Motor magazine was seriously under-engineered.

    Without doubt, British Leyland was then dithering over the very future of affordable sports cars. The British giant owned Austin-Healey, MG and Triumph TR but seemed unsure of what to do with them. American demand for affordable British sports cars, so strong for two decades, was tailing off. Leyland people never grasped that US buyers weren’t tired of sports cars – they wanted new designs. Here in Britain, enthusiasts were turning instead to the Ford Motor Company’s stylish, modern, highperformance Escort models.

    When Ken, the cheeky chap from South London, revealed his MGB V8, the news caught British Leyland with its trousers down. Yet again, an obvious opportunity had been missed. Rover had bought the lightweight 3.5-litre Buick V8 engine design, modified it and launched it in the P5B saloon in 1967. It then went into the Rover 2000 saloon as the P6B and Peter Morgan secured a supply of engines to create his soundly engineered, successful Plus 8 in 1968. Ken’s idea of revitalising the old MGB with that V8 was hardly a brainwave but it was exciting to me. Having run out of money in motor racing, I had joined Motor magazine’s road test team and we were really keen to test a Costello MGB V8. But Ken refused to lend us one.

    When a glowing road test of a Costello MGB GT V8 appeared on 25 May 1972 in Motor’s arch rival magazine, Autocar, we were frustrated but remained enthusiastic. Meanwhile, at a private dinner, I challenged a senior Leyland executive about Costello’s car. Hinting at Leyland’s forthcoming MGB GT V8, he implied that Ken’s car was underdeveloped. For a start, the standard MGB/MGC gearbox, as used by Ken, was not strong enough.

    Early in 1973, a helpful reader offered us his low-mileage car for a road test. As expected, the performance made the ordinary B look very silly and even made mincemeat of the poor old MGC. Ken’s car managed 0-60mph in 8.0 seconds and was about 20mph faster than a standard MGB GT. Our figures were almost identical to those achieved by Autocar but, unlike our rivals, I had noticed ‘nasty banging noises inside the transmission tunnel’, ‘a degree of rear-wheel steer’ and the fact that ‘clearly the ordinary B ’box is operating near its limit’.

    When challenged, Ken revealed his investment in a completely new, stronger, five-speed gearbox of his own. I never got to try that – by the time it finally appeared I was out of journalism and back in motor racing again.

    My road test (pictured, left) was published on 2 June 1973, and soon after that we heard that our unfortunate reader’s gearbox had broken, as predicted by my Leyland contact. By the way, I had no idea then that our reader, Simon Park, was about to become a famous composer. In September 1973 he took the number one slot in the British singles charts for four weeks (Simon Park Orchestra, Eye Level ) and never looked back.

    Meanwhile, Ken – ever belligerent – carried on battling away with Leyland. One of his later projects, the Costello TR7 V8, was listed as an exhibit at the 1977 London Motorfair. By that time Ken had strong backing and his TR7 V8 was probably excellent. Leyland Cars, however, was toying with its own V8-powered TR7 and the Motorfair organisers caved in to their single biggest exhibitor. Ken’s stand was cancelled at the last minute.

    We know now that anyone who really wants an #MGB-V8 roadster should go for an RV8, a superbly engineered retro model that was properly designed in the 1990s by British Motor Heritage under the one and only David Bishop, the ultimate hero of the MGB V8 story.

    Back in 2011 I happened to meet Simon Park at Race Retro. Years earlier he had forgiven me for ‘wrecking his gearbox’ and, over lunch, he recalled his old #MGB-GT-V8 / #MGB-GT / #MGB / #MG : ‘That car was complete sheet. It was under-engineered but I didn’t know any better then. You know, I got a great deal of trouble from Ken Costello for letting Motor test it.’ I’ll bet he did.
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  • Tony Dron is now following thecsi74
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  • WIND OF CHANGE TONY DRON’S FORD ZEPHYR

    Our columnist reunited with his old race car. Tony Dron is reunited with his old Zephyr, a veteran of 40 years of racing and rallying. Photography Matthew Howell.

    Lame the romans - they made Essex the centre of their imperial adventures in Britain. Though powerful, technically advanced and supremely competent, the Roman Empire was also distinctly flash and vulgar. Which, possibly, explains Essex today - and what's wrong there? With apologies to the celebrated lexicographer, when a man is tired of ogling shiny white shoes with five-inch heels, he is tired of life.

    Henry Ford chose Dagenham, Essex, as the base for the British arm of his empire in the 1930s. The deep-water port was important but, culturally, Essex was perfect, allowing Ford of Britain to build a centre of excellence beside the stuffy old British capital. Call Essex vulgar if you like but its confident, go-ahead attitude attracted large numbers of the brightest designers, engineers, planners and marketing experts to Ford of Britain. For decades, they turned out a string of keenly priced, stylish motor cars that came to dominate the British market.

    A decade before the all-conquering Cortinas, Escorts and Capris arrived, models such as this #Ford-Zephyr-MkII Lowline showed the way. Zodiacs, Zephyrs and Consuls attracted professionals as buyers in such ever-increasing numbers that Ford of Britain's snobbish enemies coined the phrase 'Dagenham dustbins'. The cars were too good to be put down like that. Ford of Britain continued on its successful way, regardless of those who thought owning a Ford was somewhat infra dig.

    Some of that nonsense persists today, even though the more globalised Ford Motor Company is very different, with Dagenham no longer the vibrant place it was in the past. If this Zephyr bore a prancing horse badge, its extraordinary 40 years of active competition history would make it worth millions. It is certainly worth a substantial sum today but I wouldn't guess how much. All I know is that it bears a different F-word in its badge, four letters instead of seven, and its value won't be anywhere near seven figures.

    Whatever it might (or should) be worth, this venerable 1959 Zephyr has a history that others might die for. For the first 15 years of its existence, it was an ordinary road car. The man who changed its destiny for all time was Bill Wykeham. He and his friend Bruce Stapleton bought it in Portsmouth for £80 and rapidly got it ready for the new craze in 1975, Classic Saloon Car Racing. Some enthusiasts were rather rude about the idea of racing old saloon cars, but it got off to a great start with the first event at Silverstone, on 22 March 1975, and Bill was there with his Zephyr. For both car and driver, it was their first race.

    For those who need reminding, the Zephyr MkII was successful in motor sport as a works entry in international events such as the RAC, the East African Safari and the Monte Carlo Rally. In motor racing, Jeff Uren won the 1959 British Saloon Car Championship with his Zephyr Mkll. The competition pedigree was sound and, 15 years on, Bill had chosen the right car for the job. This actual car has remained in historic competition ever since.

    The chance to try it myself at Bruntingthorpe test track was not to be missed. It was a powerfully nostalgic personal experience, too, as I bought 639 HYM myself in 1987 and completed 19 major events in it over ten years. When I got the invitation to Bruntingthorpe, my first move was to ring my old friend Bill and get him on board for another turn at the wheel. After a few laps, Bill Wykeham stepped out with a big grin on his face. 'Climbing back into the cockpit of 639 HYM after 40 years,' he said, 'I looked down at the pedals, expecting to see the toes of my cowboy boots protruding from long-forgotten bell-bottom jeans. Studying the dash once more, with its classic old speedo, I searched for the pack of Bensons, which, along with my Porsche sunglasses, were never far away.'

    Bill, Bruce and their Zephyr showed immediate potential, with Bill finishing third in class in that inaugural Classic Saloon Car race. They then set about preparing it more seriously, mainly by removing the massive bumpers and getting a two-tone blue 'go-faster' paint job. That season, they were soon near the front and sometimes winning - especially at Brands Hatch, where Bruce enjoyed a runaway outright victory in heavy rain in September.

    Bill recalled: 'On one occasion, when leading at Snetterton, it threw a rod as I crossed the line with only one lap to go. My father, who rarely spectated, witnessed my disappointment that time - and he thrust a folded cheque in my hand. Later I saw it was for £250, and thought, wow, we'll have enough for a new gearbox too! Happy days - and I haven't missed a race season since!'

    The Zephyr was then sold, through Gerry Marshall's company, to David Dees and subsequently to Chuck Nicholson (Tom Walkinshaw's backer and partner). It continued its winning ways until, around 1982, it was bought by a motorcycle racer in Bromsgrove. He had dabbled with the idea of switching to four-wheeled racing but, after several attempts, he found that leaning out on the corners was unnerving him. He advertised it for sale.

    I rang him, jumped in my car, and went straight to his house. We agreed the deal at £1250 and a few days later I got a lift to Bromsgrove and, memorably, drove the Zephyr home. It was road-legal but it did feel strange, mixing with the traffic in a big saloon car that was totally stripped out inside, with just one racing seat and a rollcage, not to mention a rather noisy exhaust.

    My plan was to convert it for historic rallies, then a growing branch of the sport and attractive to me as something new and exciting. Another good reason for choosing a Zephyr was that all the other worthwhile historic rally cars seemed to cost much more money.

    Helped by old friends from Ford's Competitions Department, I researched the precise specification of the works Zephyrs in the 1960 Monte Carlo rally and had the car rebuilt as an exact copy. Two comfortable Corbeau GT8 Highback competition seats were bought and fitted. The adjustable lever-arm rear dampers took some finding and cost a few hundred but I had to have them. They are still on the car.

    It already had the front disc brakes that were a Ford option in 1959 and they proved perfectly adequate with competition pads. The mildly tweaked engine, with a special camshaft, a suitably modified cylinder head and a Servais exhaust manifold, met the desired works 1960 rally specification. Mike the Pipe built a one-off mild steel exhaust system for me and, amazingly, it did not rot and was still in perfect working condition ten years later.

    I acquired several period carburation set-ups and had them restored so that they were always available, complete with original inlet manifolds from the late 1950s. Up in the mountains, with reduced atmospheric pressure, the smaller twin SUs gave the best performance and I used them most of the time. In this form, the engine produced around 130bhp (circa 40bhp more than standard) and the torque at low rpm was terrific. We took care to set up the throttle mechanism to open smoothly, a vital point at the limit on snow-covered mountain roads.

    A tougher job was converting it back from a four-speed, floor-change gearbox to an original column-change three-speed mated to a special Laycock overdrive unit that had been unique to the original works cars. Making that transmission reliable involved tears and much expense but it was achieved. Other tricky items to sort out were the Halda Twinmaster, Halda Speedpilot and the correct Lucas roof-mounted spotlight, but all were found and fitted. That roof-light was acquired merely to look the part but it proved useful at night on rallies when it could be pointed in the right direction on the move, accurately, by me or my navigator. The car was superbly painted in the correct Ermine White.

    West London rally specialist, Mike Brown, did most of the work and over ten years I entered 19 major events, winning the class in several but, most importantly, finishing them all. It went to Monte Carlo three times, did the Coppa delle Alpi winter rallies and International Historic RAC rallies - and we went on the first Land's End John O'Groats (Lejog), an old-style rally of the tests that seemed to go on forever.

    Brilliantly devised and planned by John Brown, Lejog was an extraordinary way to see the remotest parts of the British Isles. The skills of former professional navigator, Colin Francis, were essential on the more complex rallies like that - afterwards I described Lejog as 'a sublime fix for event junkies'.

    That Zephyr was always great to drive. It was quick, with a top speed of 101mph. The performance was identical to that of a standard Escort Mexico and I kept more than 30 wheels, shod with tyres for all occasions. On dry tarmac it understeered mildly but in snow it turned in relatively sharply and the handling was utterly neutral, with controllable oversteer if required. It was surprisingly effective.

    After ten years, during which a very reasonable £45,000 was spent on preparing and maintaining it, I put the Zephyr into an H&H auction. To my great surprise and delight, it was bought by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason. The bidding stopped at £5000 as I recall and Nick joked that, of all the cars he had ever owned, the Zephyr had the biggest file by far. He bought it for the Goodwood Revival saloon car race, for which it was ideal once he had had it converted back to a racing specification.

    The rather special history of this particular Zephyr was enhanced even more in 1999 by its next owner, none other than Jeff Uren, winner of the British Saloon Car Championship back in 1959 with a Zephyr MkII. Forty years on, the then-73-year-old Jeff was enjoying his personal magical step back in time with 639 HYM, especially at Goodwood. Three years later, in 2002, Jeff sold it to John Atkins, who was kind enough to invite me to share the driving with him at the Revival, which I really enjoyed.

    Current owner, Yorkshire-based surveyor Alistair Dyson, bought it in 2005 and has kept it in Goodwood racing specification. Working with Jaguar race-preparation specialist David Bye of West Riding Independent Ltd, he has steadily developed it in line with the Goodwood/HRDC pre-1960 Touring Greats regulations, which allow certain non-original modifications. The big thing here is that some major parts made up to 1966 by the same manufacturer can be fitted, so the Zephyr now has a much stronger #Ford 'Rocket' four-speed gearbox and a beefier final drive. This transmission is reliable with the highly developed 2553cc straight-six engine, which is now claimed to produce more than 200bhp.

    It certainly feels at least that powerful - by any standard, this is a seriously quick, high-performance machine. As the Zephyr cannot weigh much more than 1000kg, the acceleration is mightily impressive - and it keeps on going down Bruntingthorpe's long straight.

    The suspension has been uprated very well to suit the extra power and the slightly wider-than-standard wheels. It's firm and roll-free across the front axle, while the back axle is better located now, and relatively softly sprung for optimum traction. The steering is light, with good feel, the car being eager to flick into comers and adopt a usefully neutral attitude. It is one of the quicker cars in the HRDC Touring Greats series and Alistair, who also races a Jaguar E-type and a Lotus Cortina, has been a consistent front-runner with his fabulous Zephyr, which is now entering its 41st season in competition.

    What a history. Respect this Ford.

    THANKS TO owner Alistair Dyson and Bill Wykeham.

    'This is a seriously quick machine. It keeps on accelerating down Bruntingthorpe’s long straight’

    Above and below. With three twin-choke Webers helping to produce over 200bhp, the #Ford-Zephyr is now a seriously quick historic racer Tony Dron competing in the 1990 Monte Carlo Challenge - the car is a veteran of 19 major events in his hands.

    The #1959 #Ford-Zephyr-MkII-Lowline-Historic-Racing-Saloon
    ENGINE 2553cc straight-six, OHV, modified for racing
    POWER 200bhp + @ 6500rpm
    TORQUE Not known
    TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
    STEERING Ford steering box
    SUSPENSION
    Front: MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar.
    Rear: live axle with extra location, leaf springs, adjustable lever-arm dampers.
    BRAKES Discs front, drums rear.
    WEIGHT 1000kg-plus (est)
    PERFORMANCE Not measured

    Clockwise from facing page Tony Dron behind the wheel of his old Ford Zephyr, now back in race tune for Goodwood and the HRDC pre-1960 Touring Greats series; the ’50s Ford dream, alive chez Dron in the 1990s; whitewall BFGoodrich Silvertown crossplies were ideal for road use; Bill Wykeham tackles Druids Bend at Brands in 1975.

    'I researched the precise specification of the works Zephyrs in the 1960 Monte Carlo rally and had the car rebuilt as an exact copy’
    Fred Scatley
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