Tony Hall - Historic Racing Drivers Club
I’m Tony Hall and I race an old Vauxhall saloon as a historic touring car in the series run by the Historic Racing Drivers Club. The VX 4/90 was Vauxhall’s attempt at making a Ford Cortina GT. It had a 1600cc engine that was pre-crossflow, twin carbs, disc brakes and a stripe down its side. After that it all went a bit wrong.
For a start it weighed in at 950kg against the sprightly 795kg of the Cortina. That’s the equivalent of having two passengers in the back of the VX all the time - no wonder the VX’s 70 bhp couldn’t match the performance put out by the 78bhp Ford. Hence I think the Vauxhall Engineers conceded defeat on the race track without even turning up. So why am I here I am trying to make the old VX catch the heavily developed Fords on a shoestring budget when GM clearly didn’t bother since they never attempted to race it in period? I don’t really know is the answer but people do like to see the old VX out and at most meetings someone tells me about their Dad having one. Other back seat stories I try not to listen to!
On summary the car’s too heavy, the engine’s under -powered and competition development is virtually non-existent. Bill Blydenstein did have a go at making the VX competitive in the mid-sixties but he didn’t get far.
3 seasons ago, knowing none of the above and, of course, having never been racing before, I saw the car and thought that it’d be fun. So that’s one novice driver in a totally uncompetitive overweight car without a clue on where to start.
Actually getting started is relatively easy. You just get a race licence, take out the seats and install a roll cage and pitch up to your first race. When the flag drops you’re at the back and then after 2 laps you’re at the front for 30 seconds or so as the entire field whistles past you. Repeat that several times and, if you’ve stayed on the black stuff you come in and begin to realise just how far that you’ve got to go just to keep up with the other guys.
Enter Owlesbury Crankshaft Services on white horses who’ve been there before and know everyone involved.
We started with the basic 1600cc motor which due to the previous owner - Cyrus Randeria who was a Westlake engineer - was putting out about 100bhp. Remember the car’s weight? The VX is 950kg to 100 bhp against Cortinas racing now with 795kkg and 140bhp - no chance!
The Owls started with balancing the cast-iron crankshaft which made it rev better and cleaning up the head which helped too. Because the back axle ratio was too high I then put in first at 7k and snapped the crankshaft. Frantic search for replacement mid-season resulted in new old stock crank. Unfortunately one made from some sort of inferior cast iron closely related to cheese. Real VX one are made form EN19 steel which isn’t the best but is better than cheese. So much care now taken not to over-rev the engine.
Then the Alloy cylinder head needed a bit of TLC. Lightened valve gear resulted in smaller tappets and special pushrods and a requirement for new cam followers. No one did new followers and so the old ones needed a bit of ultra modern coating, as of course did the cam. We’ve had three goes at the cam which now has a 120deg overlap and gives us about 145 bhp.
Along the way there’s also been forged alloy pistons from the States, lightweight conrods, lightweight flywheel, fancy inserts in the valve guides, custom made valves and seats, 3 versions of gas-flowed heads, tuned exhaust and inlets with side draught Webers, crankcase bracing and a specially designed, ghost 5 bearing, steel crankshaft running in fabricated main bearing caps and much fancy laser welding to hold the last remaining bits of Vauxhall together.
Now we’re onto the gearbox as the original one, which has straight cut, DLC coated, internals, keeps dissolving the synchro cones and needs to keep up with the re-worked rear end.
So this season we’re looking for another lift in bhp but with a bit more reliablility to allow the driver to get in a bit of driving practice. Currently the car goes a lot faster than the driver can.
Thank you John and Mike plus all the other Owls for all the expert help and advice that you’ve given me over the last 3 years. Its been fun.