Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Vintage Thing No.45 - Candidi Provocatore Allard J-type

This picture of a splendid old war horse basking in the sunshine at Wiscombe Park hillclimb back in 2008 defines the concept of Vintage Thing. The ghosts of many competition successes hang heavy on this Allard J1. Not many cars have been haunted by so many benign (petroleum) spirits.

It started life as Geoffrey Imhof's works team car and he campaigned it vigorously in trails, rallies, hillclimbs and races until the powers that be decided Allards were a bit too successful. Never knowingly over-restored but extremely sympathetically maintained, it bears its history proudly and although some people may turn their noses up at its allegedly scruffy appearance, to me it is a thing of great and brutal appeal. To learn more about this car's illustrious history visit the Candidi Provacatore site here.

For some years it's belonged to Roger Ugalde who still campaigns it in classic trials whenever he gets the chance. With a 3917cc (81mm x 98mm) Ford side-valve V8 the performance can hardly be described as peaky or temperamental. An Allard J1 weighed only sixteen and a half hundred weight (that’s about 840kg) and if the engine is putting out about 120bhp (roughly 90kW) that’s a power to weight ratio of 9.9kg/kW – that’s on a par with a BMW 318. As for torque, let’s just say it’s of the steam locomotive variety.

In short, this car is a 1946 version of a Caterham 7.

When new, it would have looked something like this and it wills rakish lines were enough to win a concourse d’elegance on the continent where Maurice Chevalier (no less) tried to buy it for two and a half times the price of a new J1. Bear in mind the fact that most sports cars of the era still had vertical grilles and you can imagine the impact that this would have made on M. Chevalier.

Gradually, the rigours of competition took its toll and after many scrapes and bangs, and constant reconstruction to keep ahead of the opposition, this wonderful trials car evolved into its present form.

They only ever made 12 Allard J1s but quite a few replicas reconstructed over the years from the longer wheelbase L types. Sydney Allard "... decided the new trials J model was to be sold only to 'proven' drivers who would use them in competitions. It was not to be publicly advertised as this would draw too much attention, to the possible detriment of sales of the standard range."

One of my friends, who you will have heard of before on this blog, is in the process of creating a J1 replica in addition to restoring an L type. Rob Robinson-Collins, as well as being my scrap buddy, is lurking in the background of this picture of a blue J1 replica owned by Nigel Brown and entered in the 1998 Land's End Trial, when Rob was competing on a Greeves 250 trials bike.

Anyone who owns an Allard of any description becomes Rob's new best friend and, needless to say, he knows Roger Ugalde very well, so well in fact that Rob has borrowed the Candidi Provacatore team car for the 2009 Land's End Trial.

Initially, his co-driver, navigator and bouncer (for when the going gets rough)for the 2009 LET was to have been Robert Hall, one of his relatives, but he's out of the country for Easter. Some say he's fled the country and emigrated to Canada or somewhere without an extradition treaty, allegedly out of sheer terror at the prospect of riding shotgun in such a device during a religious festival. Consequently, I have stepped heroically into the breach and will be masquerading as Robert Hall, although my true identity will be our little secret. This means that the Team Robert sidecar crew (aka Binky and Ginger) are re-united and will be riding again in a classic trial.

We have a less than illustrious history with this car already. We borrowed it off Roger once before, for the 2004 Exeter Trial but we broke it even before we got to the start. The engine started making terrible rattling and knocking noise and we couldn't bear to proceed any further.

It was a good thing we didn't.

One of the big ends had let go, sending its piston and conrod on a one way suicide mission to the top of the cylinder bore. The piston hit the head and swelled a bit with the impact, seizing in the bore. Well, the top part did. The lower section of the piston around the gudgeon pin got dragged back down the bore by the rattly crank and big end.

We had to return to Roger's house on the back of an AA lorry. When Rob phoned Green Flag, they’d never heard of an Allard and when they asked what year it was and he said that it was made in 1946 they said they were terribly sorry but they only cover cars under 12 years old. One of the advantages of AA membership is that, even as a passenger, you're still covered so we came home on my membership. And Rob has been a member of the AA ever since.

Roger was very kind about the breakdown. He said something along the lines that it had been making a funny noise for ages and it was just our bad luck that it went when it did. We felt terrible but he was just as disappointing for us. The car's been fixed now and Roger took the opportunity to make some upgrades such as an alternator that looks just like an original dynamo. He used it to successfully complete the 2009 Exeter Trial earlier this year and now it's our turn as Roger is Clerk of the Course for these year's Land's End Trial, the 87th LET no less and 101 years since the event was first held.

As you can imagine, I am extremely excited about the prospect of riding in this magnificent car again. We'll be running in Class 7 and starting from Popham airfield on the evening of Good Friday, running as number 156. Come along and say hello if you see us. We'll be the guys with the wall-to-wall grins. (Photo by Derek Hibbert)

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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Vintage Thing No.35 - the flathead Ford V8

There aren't many engines that burst out of the engine bay and assume a life of their own but the flathead Ford V8 is definitely one of them. Look - there's one that's escaped even now, wriggling across the pebbles of my scrap buddy's drive. As Rob puts it, this engine won World War 2. That's a bit of an exaggeration but it was really what the flathead Ford V8 got up to afterwards that makes if of interest to me and marks it out as a Vintage Thing in its own right.

You've probably heard of the phrase Anglo-American Bastard? It covers a wide variety of British cars that used big, low-stressed American engines in stripped down chassis and lightweight bodywork. This trend began before World War II with things like the Brough Superior and Railton and carried on right up into the sixties with the Gordon-Keeble, Bristol and Jensen.

Some of these cars weren't so much Anglo-American bastards but more love children.

Liberated from their heavy American chassis and bodywork, these engines enjoyed outstanding performance for their day and were really early hot-rods. The early ones were usually powered by Hudson flathead straight eights. Then Ford UK got in on the act and producer factory version in the shape of a Ford Pilot. By the time World War II broke out, there were many Ford V8s powering private motor cars. During World War II, this doughty engine was enlisted and powered everything from staff cars to artillery tractors. After World War II, the Ford V8 embarked on an illustrious competition career.

You'll've heard of Rob before. He is my scrap buddy and is mildly obsessed with Allard trials cars but in a good way. Sydney Allard was a larger-than-life character who spotted and started to exploit the performance potential of the Ford V8 in the late 1930s. He began by making mud-plugging trials specials, initially just for himself and a few friends, but then he began series production. He also entered the history books when he won the Monte Carlo Rally in a car that he had designed and built himself, a feat that nobody else is likely to ever match. During the war, his garage serviced all sorts of military vehicles powered by this engine. After the war, the Flathead Ford V8 was available cheaply as ex-army surplus.

But why's it called a flathead? It's because it has its valves on the side of the cylinders. In the case of the Ford V8 they nestle down in the vee of the engine. It's a very simple layout but is not very efficient. The combustion path is tortuous and lopsided. Overhead valves are much better in this respect but require a more complex head casting. Cylinder heads are on side valve motors are little more than slabs of iron or aluminium, hence the nickname flathead.

Let's just do the numbers on this engine. Cubic capacity is 3,622cc (221 cubic inches if you're over the other side of the pond) with a 77.72 x 95.25 mm bore and stroke. On a 6.2 to 1 compression ratio they put out 90 bhp. Mercury V8s had a bigger bore of 80.96mm to give 3917cc and 100bhp on a 6.75 to 1 CR. These were shared with Ford trucks and later with Fords cars. To perpetuate Mercury's premium brand image, and performance reputation, the V8 was stroked to a full four inches to give 255 CID (4184cc, 80.96 x 101.6) that ultimately gave 125 bhp on a 7.2:1 CR in production form.

We don't talk about the 2227cc V8. This was a small bore taxation special that found rice pudding skins intimidating. It was replaced in 1941 by a larger capacity straight six but was popular in midget racing in the US. Under the UK's pre-war RAC rating, which was calculated on bore size, the 66.04 x 81.28 engine was dubbed the V8-22. It's bigger 3.6 litre brother was the V8-30, which was much more expensive to tax annually. Still, phwaaoorr, though, eh?

"Enjoying the new crankshaft, gentlemen?"

The first flathead Ford V8 appeared back in 1932 and it was remarkable for being the first monoblock V8 engineered for mass production. V8s were by no means a new idea but combining the crankcase and blocks together in a single casting was. This was the key to making it cheap enough to produce and viable for Henry Ford to use in a family car. He picked a handful of his best engineers and housed them in an authentic replica of Thomas Edison's inventing shed. Suitably inspired by these surroundings, engineers Carl Schultz and Ray Laird worked closely with head of the pattern shop Herman Reinhold to build the prototype. Once the engine was up and running, however, it needed the determination of production manager Charlie Sorensen to work out a way to insure that 54 separate cores stayed put in the mould. All of them had been exactly the right place at the valve sections and cylinders in the engine block. It was only after many failures and sometimes days when the Ford factories produced only scrap that eventually the production problems were solved and Charles Sorensen became henceforth known as "Cast Iron Charlie."

There then followed an anxious time as production slowly built up to meet demand that this was the height of the depression. Between November 1931 and March 1932, the vast Ford factories produced no cars at all while Sorensen of the rest of Ford's team raced to solve the production problems. It was only Henry Ford's fast personal wealth that tided the company over until the new car had overcome initial buyer resistance.

The Ford flathead V8 was an early incarnation of the world engine concept. It powered American, Canadian, British, French and Australian vehicles and Rob has an ex-NATO example for one of his Allards that was built in Clermont-Ferrand in the 1960's.

Because of its thick walled cast iron engine block, over-boring of the cylinders is quite feasible and capacities of up to 286 CID or 4691cc are possible. I found Vanpelt Parts and ServiceAmerican website and they quote a four and one eighth inch stroke crank as well as the stock ones.

Ford flathead V8 capacities (in metric, I live in Yerp you know)
Stock Stock Special
95.25 101.6 104.78
Stock 77.8 3622 3864 3985
Stock 80.9 3917 4178 4309
Special 84.1 4233 4515 4656
Special 85.7 4395 4689 4835

The example on Rob's drive has the desirable - count them - 24 stud head. When tuned for high performance, standard heads, which are little more than thin slabs of metal, can warp. (That's another reason for calling them flat heads - it encourages them not to warp.) More studs aid the seal between head and block and prevent blown head gaskets. This engine also has the rare twin carb Allard induction manifold.

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