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If you’re a frequent reader of this magazine then you know of my love for the #Rolls-Royce-Merlin-engine . As a young man, I was fascinated by the people who could take this nation-saving beast and put it in a car. And over 30 years ago, I read about a man named Paul Jameson who had done just that.
I acquired his phone number through a friend and called him up. He said the engine was in very good shape and had come out of a 1944 De Havilland Mosquito that hadn’t seen much service. It was mounted in a 1932 Rolls-Royce Phantom II chassis, the two-stage supercharger was no longer on it and it was now running on a Holley four-barrel carburettor, the transmission was an early-’50s four-speed Moss gearbox from a #Jaguar XK120 / #1951-Jaguar-XK120-Hot Rod / #Jaguar / #1951
‘IT SOUNDED LIKE BROKEN GLASS DEING CRUSHED. I HAD BROKEN OFF ALL THE TEETH ON SECOND GEAR’
He tried to put me off the car. It only got about three miles to the gallon, the body was really just a wooden box, and the gearbox couldn’t take the power and usually blew apart whenever you got ‘on it’.
But, of course, I had to have it.
Once I got the hybrid Rolls-Royce to LA, I realised I had a project on my hands, one which took me 30 years to get right.
I remember the first time I gave it a bit of stick in second gear, at about 2400rpm. I heard what sounded like broken glass being crushed, and I realised I had broken off all the teeth on second gear. We took it back to the shop, pulled the gearbox and saw that’s exactly what happened.
I looked around for another Moss ’box, which were still pretty cheap back then, but of course the same thing happened again. And there were other problems. I could hear what I thought was detonation on one of the cylinders, which turned out to be a loose valve seat, and it was not the only one.
We had to go back to the beginning and do this project right. We had the wheels re-spoked with spokes twice as thick and strong, the entire engine was rebuilt by Jack Roush, who was quite famous for racing these engines in speedboats as well as aeroplanes.
The strongest gearbox we could find was a #Dodge truck #NV5600 six-speed. I didn’t want an automatic; I wanted something that could take the power and still have a proper stick and clutch. Although a 1932 Rolls- Royce rear axle is a robust unit, we didn’t think it could take the 1000bhp-plus of that engine. So we replaced it with a Dana 60 with a limited-slip differential.
We had a brand-new radiator built and put it in the Rolls-Royce shell, and augmented the mechanical water pump with electric ones. Because the V12 needs 24 volts, and the car electrics are 12 volts, we have a split electrical system. We also have two fuel cells, each holding over 30 gallons of gas with an electric switch to go from one tank to the other, then there’s the pre-oiler. You press and hold a button on the dash for about a minute, to flood the engine with 1001b of oil pressure.
Finally, the magnetos were completely rebuilt. To start this beast you also have a hand magneto, which sends a shower of sparks to all the cylinders.
One thing I’m especially proud of is that this is, I believe, the only 27-litre Merlin running on 48 IDA Weber carburettors. Using our 3D printer we designed and made our own intake manifold. We also designed a two-seater roadster body which looks period-correct. To most people it just looks like an oversized Piccadilly Roadster, a US-made Phantom body of the time. I love opening the bonnet and watching people gasp when they see those vast valve covers with Rolls-Royce cast into them.
The really fun part is the firing- up process. First you flip up the two battery disconnects, then the main dash power switch, then the pre-oiler, then fuel, left mag, right mag and starting mag. All are aircraft switches. Using the handle on the dashboard you spin the starting mag as fast as you can, you hit the start button, and as soon as the engine fires you kill the starting mag.
The torque of this motor is simply amazing. You can actually pull away in any gear if you so choose. On the open road you feel like a Spitfire pilot taxi-ing down the runway, the combination of power, history and the sheer bravery of the men and women who fought and died for all this come rushing right back.
Under the right-hand valve cover I placed a silver plaque with the name of my friend’s father who went to England and married a British girl. Two weeks after my friend was born, his father died on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion.
Long live the Merlin.
He is also a true petrolhead, with a huge collection of cars and bikes (www. jaylenosgarage.com). Jay was speaking with Jeremy Hart.
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