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Back Seat Driving
Two of the most technically interesting and downright spectacular rally cars on the scene get together at Cad well Park - the fact that they're both clubman-built may surprise you. Drivers Fred Henderson and John Taylor were impressed by two Fords with a bootful of BHP. Peter Newton reports
If, as many experienced observers surmise, a poor response to new Group A and B regulations forces additions to international classes, there may be an even brighter future in store for vehicles such as those belonging to Paul Windsor and Robin Clark.
It's self-evident that Group B, with its 200 vehicle production run stipulation, will be beyond the financial means of a large proportion of today's competitors, even those contesting rallies in Group Four; yet these same contestants will probably not wish to step down to Group A, which some regard in the manner of driving a milk float after experiencing a Cooper S.
So who will provide the backbone of future international rallies? Few Internationals have yet reached the point at which they are strong enough in themselves to organise, promote and execute their events for a field of - say -30 cars or so; however much their organisers may subscribe to this sort of situation, and at least as far as this country is concerned, it would seem only sensible for the RAC to rescue internationals under its jurisdiction while it has the chance.
In some respects, the writing already appears to be on the wall: there were fust 61 starters for this year's Scottish Rally.
Yet within a month, the Mille Pistes had taken place in the South of France; its entry list boasted no less than 159 starters. Thanks in small part to a provision for an 'experimental' class.
The event, which has become something of o loose surface classic, was won by Henri Toivonen in an unhomologated Opel Manta 400... does anyone remember who "really" won?
It's the fastest team and car combination which receives the limelight, and if those following are unable to furnish themselves with basically similar machinery, logic suggests that they'll do something completely different... we digress.
Current logic suggests that there are two ways to build successful Group B cars: either small, light and with as much weight as possible over the (rear) driven wheels; or, if really large power outputs are envisaged -say 350bhp or more - then the drive should be split four ways, not merely to reap obvious traction benefits, but to lessen stress on individual components and minimise tyre wear - the latter an increasingly vital factor on the international stage.
There is also the Ford way, which would appear to intimate (at this point in time) that a front engine, rear wheel drive configuration can be successful provided the power output is high enough. (And no one doubts that the latter can be a reality. With Zakspeed-style technology at its disposal. Ford could, relatively easily, have as much as 450bhp available for a rallying application by the time It reappear* with the RS1700T in the spring or summer of 1983.)
However, there are (acknowledged) enormous differences between transmitting large amounts of horsepower through one axle on the comparatively smooth asphalt of a motor racing circuit, and transmitting it on the sort of asphalt regularly used in international rallying. The comparison with gravel surfaces is even more marked.
At present there would appear to be a kind of barrier, similar to the one which afflicted powerful front wheel drive cars such as the SAAB Turbo, FWD BDA Fiesta and Lancia Beta coupe, beyond which the designer cannot go while trying to transmit horsepower through only one axle in this manner.
Tyre technology provides both one of the essential keys and one of the major stumbling blocks. One hundred and fifty horsepower per wheel is one thing, but 200, or 250? How easy will Ford's RS1700T be to drive with that sort of power? We shall see.
And so, hot on the heels of our Fun-with-Group A Rover V8 ideas (see elsewhere in this issue for details), as a number of clubmen gather together their G4 parts, prolonging the latter's active life by transplanting them into youthful rear wheel drive Escort Mk3 shells (but gaining little or nothing in terms of performance, and only marginally increased promotional benefits), we have brought together two very different mid-engined rally car projects which nevertheless share much in common. They are both essentially self-financed; neither employed the services of a recognised designer or chassis engineer, they both use a high proportion of existing parts, both are relatively cheap in terms of their components, and they both have enormous potential.
If one was to quantify the hours of labour lavished on these two projects and charge it out at professional rates, then these two cars would probably be among the most expensive in Britain. But labour is the one area where the dedicated enthusiast can really save money, and in round figures, taking into account the cost of new or nearly new parts required for these two projects, we arrive at a price tag (excluding components already possessed by the respective owners) of something like £4,000 for the Fiesta, and twice that amount for the Escort.
Roberts Petroleum Ford Fiesta - An amazing achievement
In terms of personal achievement, the efforts of driver Robin Clark and his co-driver Andrew Taylor in building their mid-engined Fiesta with limited combined mechanical understanding, without a lathe, and without even a Boramig electric welder for as much as half the nine month period that it took to construct the car, rank almost unprecedented in the generally conformist world of club rallying.
During their time building this car, Robin gave up his job in the family's egg marketing business to concentrate on his Fiesta full time, while trying to establish a new motor sport business. Meanwhile, Andrew, a butcher by trade, continued working in his father's shop despite "moonlighting" every weekend ana every night working on the car, a decision that involved a 22 mile round trip on each occasion!
Frequently Andrew would return home exhausted in the small hours of the morning, stumbling out to work at 7.00, bleary eyed and bad tempered... all of which represents single-minded dedication of an impressively high order. Some would call it other . things... .Andrew Taylor: "My wife scarcely really saw me for nine months. It almost got to o the stage where she would say to the kids, 'now this isn'tthe milkman, it's your fatherT'
The fact that during this same period of time Robin found enough spare moments to get himself married, and Andrew found the wherewithal to put together a Best Man's speech says much for both of them.
The intrepid pair naturally had some experience of rallying before they tackled the project; Robin having spent two years running a troublesome 1700BDA Escort in BTRDA and local club rallies, repairing and refettling it himself; while Andrew had also built a rally Escort in his time - a Mark One.
All the fabrication on this Fiesta, and there is a considerable amount of it, was carried out personally, and the designs for the basic chassis and the various fabricating necessary to make it a reality were sketched out on the backs of egg boxes... "yeah, there were plenty of those kicking aroundl"
The construction of the car proceeded without any set plan, yet the only major item which had to be re-routed was the exhaust manifold which fouled the rear suspension. In fact, the starter motor did too, but a pre-engaged 24-volt type solved that problem.
Crucial to the car's very appearance this year was Robin's decision to go it alone in business. Fabricating dry sump pans and servicing fleet vans was not really his idea of fun anymore than it is most people's, but it was a start, and at least he'd made up his mind that the motorsport world was where he wanted to be......
Top-Right - Fiesta engine installation gives an idea of how little space there is to play with.
Middle-Right - "The standard of preparation is very good. In both cases it's a marvellous achievement for these two cars to have been produced as they have been. In neither case have they been measured up on a drawing board and they've both gone remarkably well. It's terrific to see such innovation in both machines - after all they've used standard parts, out of context, and made them work." John Taylor