Racing a 1958 Mk II Ford Zephyr
It all started in 1993 when a new boss arrived and mentioned he was into motor sport. In fact he was a member of the Historic Sports and Racing Car Assn (HSRCA). He told me about a new class of sedans becoming eligible for Historic racing, Group Na - pre-1957 sedans with run-ons allowed. This news was like a match near a can of petrol - I had been a petrol-head for many years until the kids came along. Now I was almost 50, kids left home, and what else could I spend my money on? (Turns out we bought a small yacht at the same time, more on that later).
My motor sport history goes back to when I bought my first car, a second-hand Mini which was thrashed in motorkhanas, rallies, hill climbs, economy runs, you name it I did it all. During the course of doing the NSW state motorkhana series, I made friends with Dave who thrashed his girlfriend's Honda S600. Dave talked me into going halves in a Renault Dauphine for the Sports/Racing Closed category. This class was almost anything goes. Stripped out, perspex windows, different engines... We were at a few meetings when Peter Brock was running the A30 with a Holden 179 engine. The Dauphine finished up with a Cortina GT 1600 inboard.
Needless to say, this all came to an end with the arrival of the first child. In fact the Mini (#3) had to go too as it was too small for the bassinette. It was replaced with a Colt Galant 1300 which only did a couple of lap dashes and economy runs. After that motor sport virtually vanished from my life until the awakening by the boss.
This was to be my "station car", to run down to Gordon station where I would get the train to the city. That was the way I got reluctant permission from Judy. The boss had an interesting book that listed virtually all British cars made, listing all the specs. After the Mk V Jag, the Zephyr stood out with a better power/weight ratio than the BMC B series cars. Besides, a friend of mine had a Mk II and I had liked it so I started scanning the Trading Post for a suitable vehicle. There weren't all that many listed, but we found this one that had been in a garage for about 15 years and all original. It was fairly dirty, and the brakes were shot. I had it put on a trailer to Better Brakes and spent a fortune on virtually a new system. From there to the Inspection station for rego pink slip. Even though he was a mate, he wouldn't pass it because of the smoke. Bugger! So off to the engine rebuilders for another small fortune to be spent.
When it was all roadworthy, I did indeed drive it to the station every day.
The first competitive event was the HSRCA meeting at Amaroo Park in January 1994. I entered the Regularity event, which only requires a Limited Competition licence and minimal safety gear. The idea is to nominate your laptime that you must consistently meet. You lose 1 point per 1/10th second too slow and 2 points for every 1/10th too fast. The event attracts many old and interesting cars and drivers who enjoy getting out and having a bash. Thus there is quite a lot of traffic to get around. IT IS NOT A RACE!! That's what they say but ... After my first practice I was going to nominate say, 1:30 as that was around the times I was getting. A friend from Mini Club days said to take at least 2 seconds off that!! He said you will definitely go faster, so I followed his advice, and he was right! I found that the best way to get a consistent lap time was to go flat out. That technique worked well for me so that I won the HSRCA Regularity point score trophy for two years.
During this period I had gradually improved the car. The early photos show the huge amount of body roll. This was gradually tamed by Heasman's, again for a small fortune. The McPherson struts had Koni inserts, and the struts were put in a pipe bender to give more than 5 degrees negative camber. The front sway bar was thicker, and an extra leaf but in the rear springs. I got a set of extractors from a HSRCA club member, and had a custom manifold for triple 1-3/4" SU carbies built by another. I also got a Mk III head with bigger valves, and modified cam so in the end it was pretty potent; 180 HP at the rear wheels.
Getting ready for racing in 1996 meant that I had to have a full roll cage, driving seat and full harness, laminated windscreen (sourced from Sth Africa by O'Briens) and a timing transducer. I also had to pass the CAMS medical, do a racing drivers course at Amaroo and Oran Park and a Flaggy session at Eastern Creek.
The Na field consisted mainly BMC 1500's such as Morris Oxford, Austin Lancer, MG, etc. There was one other Mk II, and for a while a Mk V Jag. We always ran with the faster Nb cars, and it was a lot of fun. The main problem I had was with the 3-speed gearbox. The BMC's with a 4 speed and lower 1st gear could get the jump at the start, but I could usually gather them up by the end of the straight. I also had the gearbox modified to a close ratio which meant the gap from 1st to 2nd wasn't so great. As well as this, I had a collection of diffs - 3.5, 3.9 and 4.2 for different circuits. Because of the limitation on modifications, I couldn't put a Mk III 4-speed gearbox in.
Tyres were free, as clearly cross-plies of the era weren't up to scratch. I started with Falken radials which were pretty good. In the last year I went to Hoosier slicks which were 2 seconds a lap quicker, but expensive at $200 each. When I started I used leaded fuel while it was available, later with the high compression of 10:1, I used avgas 100/130 which was also expensive at $1.35/l. (These are late 90's prices).
In 1994 I competed in the first meeting held at Wakefield Park officially opened by Premier John Fahey. I was also at the very last event held at Amaroo in August 1998. I raced at all circuits that were operating at the time in NSW, and held the class lap record at all of them. They all had their challenges which led to some "interesting" moments. One example: putting the car up on two wheels in the Fish-hooks at Wakefield to the gasps from the spectators. The big body roll angles in the early days made it look spectacular so one day I got the 'Driver of the Meeting' award at Amaroo.
Insurance was with Shannons of course. Even racing was covered. One day while the car was still road registered and driveable on the road we were coming back from Wakefield Park near Goulburn. There was a lot of traffic, and we edged our way along slowly. Suddenly the engine was hicupping and then stopped. I got out to see what the problem was, and saw smoke coming out from under the bonnet. Petrol had leaked from a carby bowl and caught fire. It was quite a mess. Luckily my boss had his car on a trailer, so we put the Zephyr on and I drove his car to the repairer's place. Shannons authorised the full repair which was extensive, with new wiring harness, carbies, respray, etc.
Back to the yacht. We bought a small yacht to learn to sail with the aim of buying a bigger boat and taking off cruising. This was planned for 1998 but we weren't able to find a suitable boat until 2000. So my racing ended in 2000 with my last meeting at Eastern Creek. I sold the car for a ridiculously small amount to another club member who blew the engine quite soon after he bought it. Last I heard, he had sold it to someone in WA, I don't know if it is still around.
Here are some photos.
As bought in 1993 (50th birthday)
Note the Windscreen shade. I had taken out the venetian blind on the rear window.
Club run by the Zephyr and Zodiac Owners Club to Coffs Harbour.
In the full racing gear, around 1996.
Slight amount of body roll with the standard setup. Regularity at Eastern Creek, 1994.
Similar body roll at Amaroo Park.
Triple 1 3/4" SU's and extractors.
Garage at Last Amaroo, August 1998.
Better handling with the Koni inserts, etc. Boss in his Morris Oxford behind. Eastern Creek. Still road registered, later went onto Club plates.
Too excited, leading an Nb Holden at Wakefield Park. Went into the corner too fast, let him past.
Oran Park July 1999.
Oran Park 1999 Note the left front wheel.