HA Saloon racer
From the pile of Viva related items comes another weird one for you to enjoy. A magazine article from the early 1970’s describing a one off special saloon formed around whist left of a HA SL saloon.
Over the past few years, special saloon racing and in particular the small classes up to 1300cc, has been dominated by the Mini and Imp. But now it seems that people are tiring of them a little and recently we have been able to feature special saloons as varied as an NSU and a Viva HB.
In those articles I said I was pleased to see competitors using different types of car, and wondered if anyone would respond and tell me of his car, and If so what sort and make It would be? Would it be a lOOOcc Rolls Royce or a DFV powered Citroen Ami? Well, I didn’t really expect either, but then neither did I expect a Viva HA SL 90. I thought most of those were long gone sat the bottom of scrapyards, supporting the columns of Escorts and Cortina’s.
This particular one was not rescued from being crushed into a little metal brick, but has been In the hands of Brian Wright’s family since new In 1966 and ever since, has had a curious life.
To begin with, Brian’s father was a driving Instructor In Essex, so for the first three years the car was mistreated by various young hopefuls attempting to learn how to drive. It’s very tough on a car and in 1968 the HA was retired and handed over to Brian’s brother to see what he could make of it. The first thing he did was turn it Into a fast road car, but this didn’t satisfy him, so the only thing to do was go racing.
This was 1969 and with the addition of certain W. B. Blydenstein tuning bits the car became reasonably successful, winning its class on a few occasions.
These were the days before space frames, so a car like this was still competitive.
Then In 1974 he gave up and Brian took over. He decided that the car could be improved with different suspension and a Ford engine, but unfortunately he didn’t have enough money. Enter his long-time friend. Derek White, who had also been keen on racing for some time. They decided that between them the necessary modifications could be carried out.
In went a Ford 1300 crossflow engine, Ford Bullet gearbox, Triumph Herald front suspension, and parallel Watts linkage at the rear.
The year was not a happy one and proved to be a financial disaster, because after a number of niggling breakages the engine finally blew itself to bits during a practice session at Snetterton.
With no money and just a pile of pieces, they locked the car In a garage and left It, while they pursued their various careers. Derek began building up his Double D Discount motor spares and accessory shop in Elm Park, and Brian, who had already trained to be a mechanic, turned his mind to fabricating and welding. Racing was almost forgotten.
Some two years later, at the end of 1977, Brian and Derek went to Brands Hatch to watch the Boxing Day races. So good was the racing that it reawakened their desire to be out on the tracks themselves. Within a couple of weeks Brian had cut away most of the car, leaving just the door sills, roof line and windscreen frame, then he started building In the frame from CDS tubing, fitting alloy roof, rear wings and boot lid. The floor and valances are also all alloy, but the front is a one- piece glass-fibre, part molded off a friend’s car (you mean there are two HA’s about?). The job was done rather craftily, as they borrowed the car without explaining exactly what they wanted to do: fortunately the glass-fibre didn’t pull any of the paintwork off the car.
Naturally, for ease of production the shape at the front was ignored, and slab type wings were added. The effect could have been disastrous, but Brian had been able to produce an Imposing looking car from one which could easily be regarded as a joke.
As they commenced work on the “new” car, they became aware that they still didn’t have enough money, so began looking for someone with more money than. , . er, um . . . experience. It just so happened that another friend of theirs, Peter Duggan, was Interested In doing a bit of racing, and although not well off. Could afford to pay his one- third share.
Now there were three and with them putting £20 a month each into a kitty, work could continue in earnest. The frame at the front, designed by Brian with the aid of several fag packets, was welded up, then the fully rose-jointed unequal length wishbones were added, along with Armstrong adjustable shock absorbers, nine Inch 180lb/ft coil springs and, finally, a 6/8ln adjustable anti-roll bar.
The whole lot was Brian’s own’ design based on Ideas from the fabrication work he has done, which shows there Is nothing like experience for getting something right, because It all works perfectly with none of the dreaded bump steer which home- designed suspensions so often suffer from.
The back of the car, which Is basically only an open space covered with a bit of alloy for the boot and wings, contains the rear axle, suspension and petrol tank. The rear suspension comprises parallel bottom links, diagonal top links, eight-inch 120lb/ft springs, Armstrong adjustable shock absorbers and a half-inch adjustable anti-roll bar.
For brakes there are nine-inch discs up front with PI4 calipers and at the rear are nine-inch drums. They are, naturally, dual circuit, but also have a balance bar.
The tyres are G54 slicks and for the wet they have to make do with hand-cut Firestone slicks. They definitely look as though they have seen better days, but the boys have to dip into their pockets for some extra money for large purchases like tyres.
On July 29 Derek was racing and the weather was absolutely filthy, raining most of the afternoon and sometimes breaking into a monsoon-like downpour. The team had so little faith in their wets that at one time they were actually considering sending Derek out on the slicks.
The engine, which I have said very little about so far, is a 1300cc crossflow, described to me as a “sort of Holbay”. When I saw the rev limit set at 8500,
I realised It couldn’t have been thoroughbred Holbay, and a quick consultation proved this to be so. However, they do use the Holbay slipper pistons, steel rods and K3B camshaft, head (from an old hot rod) and cam covers, but they tend to the engine themselves and have fitted Duplex timing gear and twin 40 IDF Weber carbs. The output Is a very creditable 145 bhp at the flywheel, and the engine comes on the cam at 6000rpm, with power until 8500 rpm.
The Ford Bullet gearbox can cope with the power, but because the gearshift Is so far forward, a very long gearstlck Is required, a rather disconcerting sight In a racing car. However one gets used to It very quickly, and my fears that It would waggle around like the old Mini gearlever were unfounded. The Ford gearchange was, as ever, precise and confidence giving.
At the rear there is an Escort C-type axle with an early Salisbury diff, and at the front they have retained the Herald uprights.
To date the whole project has cost the three of them just £1500, with their £60 a month going towards entry fees, travelling, oil and petrol. This really has to be one of the cheapest ways to go racing, and what was gratifying to see was that, although they have been on the project for over a year, they are still good friends and are able to laugh at each other’s misfortunes.
These have amounted to one new crank and an engine rebuild, and numerous spins. The best and most spectacular spin was by Brian, who was flicking the car through the chicane at Snetterton when he lost It. ending up safely on the track In front of the pits.
There’s little doubt that if enthusiasm was worth hard currency, then these lads would be winning special saloon races, and probably competing In FI. The best substitute for zeal is money, and that’s what they have very little of, but It hasn’t deterred them from producing an inexpensive racer from a most unlikely source.
So, the question is, how did it perform? The lads took the opportunity to get some practice laps in for themselves, as the day we were at Brands Hatch it was extremely hot and ideal for testing. Unfortunately half the world thought so too, and there was every sort of single-seater there, plus a number of other special saloons testing for the following week-end’s saloon car festival.
Brian, being the most experienced of the three, went out first and lapped consistently around 60 seconds getting a couple of laps In at 59 seconds. Derek then went out, and he also managed a best time of 59 seconds. Peter, the least experienced of the trio, who has also been unfortunate enough to be driving each time the car has had a problem, lightheartedly announced that he would probably spin It somewhere, Sure enough, on his second lap that’s exactly what happened. He went in too deep at Druids and ended up stalling the engine. He was unable to start it again, and being out of sight, the others feared the worst. However, all that was needed was a push start and Peter was off again.
Accompanying the trio was Tony Crudgington, against whom I used to race In the days when my Mini was about, and as he’s building an Imp to replace his Mini, he too had a go. Remembering that last time I was testing I got Ii a total of 14 laps because Formula Fordsters were checking out the catch fencing, I was beginning to wonder whether I would have time for a drive. It seems that everyone was taking extra care, and only one car, a red Marcos, went off at Paddock, holding the proceedings up for just five minutes.
I thought the gear lever was going to be a problem, but when I sat in the car I was surprised to find how far I had to stretch to reach the steering wheel. The rest of me was comfortable so I let that go.
Once I had been told how to cut everything off should I get into trouble, I was off. On the first lap I took things very steadily, and found that at Paddock the rear tended to let go, but I put that down to cold tyres. Took Druids nice and steady In third, then to bottom bend changing up to fourth halfway along bottom straight, back Into third for Kidney, stayed In third for Clearways, getting the clipping point just right, then out onto the straight and back Into fourth. I braked quite early for Paddock and was surprised at how good the brakes were, so I was able to accelerate a bit more, and then into third for Paddock. The car didn’t like it and the back flipped out. A quick lift and the rear swung back, but with corrective steering on, it swung a little too far. However, things were back under control, and I snaked off down the hill and up to Druids. Treating the car with a bit more respect I did a couple more tours, taking the time down to the 60 second mark and warming up the tyres.
Whatever handling problems I was having, there was certainly nothing wrong with the engine, and there was plenty of power available whenever I wanted it.
I managed one lap at 68 seconds and one at just under, but the timer was not quite sure by how much. Anyway, it wasn’t much. The lap record for 1300s is around 51 seconds, and the race is 62.3, so we were a long way off and, although I feel there was perhaps another second or two to be taken off by just practicing, more could be achieved by setting the car up slightly differently.
We didn’t have any time to alter spring rates, which I feel should have been softer at the rear considering there was hardly any weight at the back. They did stiffen up the roll bar at the front, but roll bars should only be for fine-tuning, and the springs and shockers should be used for major problems. In retrospect, I would have moved the seat forward to get a better grip of the wheel as the LSD tended to be a little vicious and wanted to steer the car to the outside of a bend.
I also noticed that coming out of Bottom Bend, the left-hander after Druids, the car lifted an inside rear wheel, this too, could be corrected by softer rear springs, or even fitting a stronger anti-roll bar at the front. Someone once said, cars are inanimate objects, so must succumb to reason. That’s very true, but it can be rather frustrating getting them to succumb.
The great thing about this particular car is that it’s different, and to make it really competitive doesn’t look like being a great problem as the suspension is basically right.
Is this the most original special saloon in the country, or does that l000cc Rolls exist? Or do you know of something even more interesting? I have my doubts.
Scans of the article below: