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Grace Pace and Bankruptcy Part 1

The target - to be on the grid at Silverstone in a classic V12 racing car for less than £3000.


A full English breakfast sits before me as I stare out the window daydreaming about the great races of yesteryear. Last night on telly they showed a touring car race from the 60’s and the sight of Lotus Cortinas two abreast into Graham Hill bend at Brands Hatch was amazing. Even more stunning was Tom Walkinshaws qualifying lap at Bathurst in the 70’s, my god that man had no fear, cresting a blind left hander on two wheels at full power!
At that moment I had a revelation. I could actually go racing myself, ok, not F1 but certainly race a classic and evoke the atmosphere of those great days. By Jiminy, I’m going to do it. And do it in a V12 Jaguar, no less, armed with several spare weekends and an old cantilever tool box. What could possibly go wrong?

I was pleased to discover that some cunning chaps at the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club (JEC) had designed a race series for XJ-Ss. I have always fancied an XJ-S ever since I saw Joanna Lumley in one. The mission statement for the series is to allow enthusiasts to race their own cars for a sensible budget and above all ‘To have fun’. I like that.

I downloaded the race regulations before doing anything dangerous, I cant stress enough how important this was. There are classes for standard cars (both V12 and for 6 cylinder), that keep costs down, and classes for modified cars, which don’t. This is sound thinking, the car already has great handling, good brakes (when cool!) and, of course lots of power. Importantly it also has a very strong and stiff shell, which keeps the suspension working properly and means that you are (relatively) safe in most forms of popular motor sport accident. Class F for ‘Standard V12 5.3/6.0 Litre’ was the cheapest one for me. I am nothing if not cheap.

I took a deep breath and joined the club, registered for the championship and put an application in for the first race at Silverstone. The countdown begins..

12 weeks to go.

Modifications.
The absolute minimum spec for race preparation involves little more than painting the tow bracket yellow, fitting a race harness, fire extinguisher and putting a sticker on the door announcing 'ignition on steering column'! but you cannot just take a road car, fling it around a track and expect it not to break, because it will, probably by not braking…
It became clear that I could make a good solid basic (back of the grid!) race-car by doing the following modifications:

Uprated brake pads and fluid to combat fade at very high temperatures.
Large air intake, standard has restrictive venturi.
Remove centre exhaust silencer.
Race engine oil to hold it all together at 6500rpm.
Improved cooling, standard is marginal.
Adjustable front dampers to firm things up a bit.
Remove as much weight as I can within the rules.
Use the series control Toyo tyre.
Mandatory safety mods, such as a plumbed in Fire extinguisher and racing harness. Others (such as a roll cage) are not mandatory but obviously sensible, after all, big cats should be caged…

Budget

Having digested that lot its time to make a budget. As I am not rich, this will make or break the project. If not realistic then I stand a fair chance of getting half way there and running out of money, that’s when you see adverts on Ebay saying "unfinished project, 90% complete". I Don’t want to end up like that.

The basic budget is £1500 for a good car and the same for modifications.

There is some flexibility in the budget, for instance I could buy two spare race tyres and not do the track day. We also allow £500 for contingencies which I don’t intend to spend. I will be driving the car to each race so saving on the cost of a trailer, bit of a risk.

The Car

Before going out and buying the first XJ-S I could find I restrained myself and did some research, which proved vital, starting with magazines and the club web site/forum.

I found out that I needed to check a few critical areas
Rust at the rear and front end of the sills, where the trailing arms bolt on to the body and on inner wing at the damper mount area (will be worse than it looks, double skinned nightmare).
Oil leak from crank rear seal.
Water pump leaks and bearing looseness.
Rattles on cold start up (engine worn, expensive and time consuming to repair).
Smoke on start up or on overrun with hot engine.
Overheating, ask if there have been any cooling issues.
Rusty front cross member under the radiator and front suspension subframe.
Clonks or whines from gearbox, or burnt smelling gearbox oil.
Smell of fuel in boot (may indicate rusted tank).

If the car has any of these problems then I would walk away and look for another one.

Other common problems are less important because they will be dealt with during the conversion; these include cosmetic faults, trim, tyres, hoses, brake pads and electrical gremlins. Some cars are born with problems and will never be reliable; some are so sweet they are practically blueprinted and that’s the one I was searching for. I found a 1987 model on ebay with 93,000 miles and as a bonus it had the twin headlight kit which will come in useful later, it looked good on paper so off I went to check it out. The owners were just quite simply splendid people. We were plied with cups of tea and talked about the history of the car; they had owned it for fifteen of its nineteen years. The car was kept in the garage under blankets!

Opening the bonnet revealed a industrial scrap compactor, it was as though someone had mistaken the cavernous engine bay for a skip and thrown in a dumper load of old pipes, hoses, wires and random thingys, then smoothed it all down with a rusty trowel. Don’t get me wrong, it was all in good order, the fluids were topped up and clean, there were no leaks and the hoses were in good condition etc, but the photos in the manual simply do not do it justice, it really is full! All XJ-Ss are like that, for instance, to change the front spark plugs it is best to remove the air conditioning pump! I quietly shut the bonnet and turned away wondering what I was thinking of.
The rest of the car had a little surface rust here and there, a sagging head lining and old tyres but was basically in surprisingly good shape.
It sported a new radiator, oil cooler, brake disks, front subframe, front cross member, rear calliper, battery and a centre exhaust. Which was nice.
The engine was quiet from cold and pulled strongly and smoothly on the test drive, with no worrying noises. It gathered pace quite rapidly and handled corners competently with a polite bow. The driving experience can only be described as magnificent, for the first time on the project I had a definite feeling that this was right.

I decided to go for it so I put in my maximum bid and did not look at it again until after the auction, which was tough. Luckily I won it for my limit of £1500 and so the next week I had my first XJ-S.

10 weeks to go.

Having spent a week driving round in splendid V12 opulence, it was with a certain degree of regret and trepidation that I was to start tearing it asunder.

Stripping.

First stop is to remove the interior, remembering that the regulations for Class F state that the trim must go back in, unless its in the way of the roll cage. Loose carpets must be removed. Weight is all important but I didn’t get too carried away with stripping every last ounce, for example I took a day to remove the first 50Kg but the next 50kg took a week.
Out came the centre console, heater controls and a radio retaining box thingy which is riveted into the dash and had to be drilled out.
The regs let me replace the drivers seat only, saving about 7kg, so the passenger seat will go back in later. The regs allow removal of the rear seat but again it proves to be disappointingly (9kg) light!
At this point I successfully locate the rust! There was a bodged repair to the inner wheel arch which let water into the rear seat pan which had rusted along a seam leaving a huge hidden rust lake.
Under the carpets I discover a distinctly aquatic theme, part of the window seal is leaking and water is dripping down the electrics into the foot well! As a temporary fix I tape up the lower edge of the windscreen.
Sound proofing on these cars is quite remarkable, both for its effectiveness and for what a sod it is to remove! There are different types in layers. Under all this glue and matting is the main wiring! So I had to be rather careful with the chisel! About 30kg of sound deadening came out and now there is plenty of clearance in the foot well for my left boot.
Doors present a few challenges. The trim card has lots of hidden screws and a tag behind the arm rest so it has to be lifted up before it comes off. The central locking solenoid and speaker add up to only 1 kilo, manual window winders would have saved another 1kg.
The electric mirrors hardly weighed anything and the saving with the racing items was negligible. Later I would find that having electrically adjustable mirrors whilst I was harnessed in would be invaluable.

Turning to the engine bay.
Starting in the middle I unbolt the heavy (15kg) air con pump and its silencer, yes the air con has a silencer. Also ousted were the fuel cooler, a/c radiator (which had rotted out), visco fan and associated tensioner (8kg)
There is sound deadening foam on the bonnet, I drill out the rivets and attack it with a garden hoe causing odd looks from the neighbours.
Finally, the boot is stripped of trim, spare wheel, tool kit and jack.

Servicing.
The brakes and steering checked out ok, as did the exhaust system.
Electrics were ok if tired. The critical circuits are ignition, fuel injection, starter, cooling fan, wipers and tail lights (nothing else matters!). The bodged immobiliser was removed (it only required swapping two wires to defeat!).
Luckily on this car most of the rubber pipes (which perish after about ten years) had been replaced because of the new radiator and oil cooler and fuel system. Bonza!
The cooling system is a whole different bucket of mice, the Jaguar official service procedure involves adding an annual bottle of Barrs Leaks! This coats all the places you don’t want it, in such high doses. So the radiator, engine and heater core are checked for leaks and flushed. Some people go to the extreme of fitting coolant filters in the top hoses.
Throttle cables are often forgotten but obviously vital for survival, it turns out to be in good condition and gets oiled.


Right, the car is now in bits, but about 130kg lighter. Probably time to start putting it back together then. After a cup of tea, obviously.

8 weeks to go.
Race prep


Seat
Sitting in the car as standard, my head hits the roof. Add to this a crash helmet and a roll cage and I will have to remove four vertebrae!
My solution is to use a high back seat, usually used in off road racing (Ebay, £40). It has a near vertical back which means I can fit it with the rear on the floor and the front on the 4 inch high cross member giving my preferred recline.
I chisel out the rear outboard seat mounting from the floor, sit the seat down and sit in it with the crash helmet on to check the fit and clearance.
I push the seat as far to the left as possible. Now the rear left seat mount is hard up against the transmission tunnel, so I fabricate a bracket that bolts to the seat and then the whole assembly bolts to the car using the original mounting points. The right hand mount is much more simple and bolts through the floor.


Dash
The gauges should be easy to read even when I am not looking at them. In the good old days gauges had needles and they were arranged so that all the needles were vertical when all was ok. We are very good at detecting horizontal and vertical lines, which may go some way to explaining tartan.
In this car, however, there is a small rev counter which is not easy to see and the temperature gauge (remember these cars are renown for overheating) is a particularly useless linear affair which reads just above cold when the radiator is at 90 C! So a reading of Normal would only be reached when the engine has seized and caught fire!
For now I will simply stick red tape next to the gauges so that my eye naturally falls on the relevant part, with a small line at danger temperature and min/max rpm.


Harness
There is a huge range of harnesses available but very few of the mandatory FIA approved 3 inch items below £100, cheapest I found was £95 four point item, but in the end I went for a TRS five point. The crotch strap pulls the lap straps down, so they stay over the pelvis and don’t ride up over soft tissues, preventing rupturing of various squidgy bits, possibly including the spleen. I have never really know what a spleen actually is or what it does, other than kill you if ruptured, which I guess is the key point here.
The lap straps are secured to the floor via eye bolts which I screwed into the original seat belt mountings. The shoulder straps will be rapped round the cross bar of the rear cage that is provided for just this purpose.

6 weeks to go.


Air intake

To start with I do a very chap mod, I cut the ram pipes very close to the air box and spend a good half hour flaring the edges out to smooth the air flow into the box. Thus the intake area is tripled.
As an extra treat I fit new standard paper air filters. Years ago some colleagues tested standard paper elements against sponge and cotton performance filter elements. At the start of the test all the filters were flowing about the same so a standard one will be fine for a few races, particularly as a standard one is £6 and a performance one is £45, and I need two of them.
The throttle needs to have an extra return spring fitted, theory being that if the return spring brakes then you have a big accident, this will be checked by the scrutineers before every race.

Exhaust
The exhaust centre labyrinth type silencer is very slightly restrictive, so I removed it and fitted a significantly more free flowing bent piece of pipe. This leaves the rear straight through absorption type silencer only, but the result is still disappointingly quiet and civilised on the road.

Oil
The engine oil is replaced with Castrol RS 10/60 racing oil, and of course a new filter. Even expensive oils like Magnatec will break down under racing conditions, so I am told. Its bloomin expensive though, the V12 uses 10.7 litres so this is a significant investment. I eventually got it from Demon Tweeks, race championship registrants get a 10% discount card.

Cooling
I add water wetter to the new 20/80 mix of glycol/water. People in the club claim this alone has dropped coolant temperatures by 10 degrees, I think it works by breaking the surface tension and allowing better heat transfer with the metal. Also, I fit second hand electric fans where the old air con condenser was, to stop the engine cooking just after a race. Finally I improve air flow out of the engine bay by jacking the bonnet open half an inch on some rather fetching home made (M12 bolts) bonnet pins.

Transmission
Gearbox remains a GM TH400 auto box! Yes, I am racing an automatic (oh do stop laughing). Once you get the hang of them they do have some advantages such as being able to change up at full throttle. The problem is that there are less gears than in a manual so its harder to stay at peak power rpm. The torque converter is effectively hydraulically locked at high rpm giving minimal power losses and full engine braking. I will be manually shifting with the stick provided, but it does not let you shift into first above about 15mph unless you have the throttle floored, which is an issue if braking into a corner.
Now the seat is on the floor, the gear stick is a little high. Also, it wobbles due to its compliant rubber mounts. Bolting the selector directly to the trans tunnel improves things no end.

4 weeks to go.

Brakes
As standard the Jag brakes are good. The problem comes with continued maximum use, races can be up to 20 mins and standard fluid will boil, the pads will catch fire and the disks will warp! Apart from that they are OK!
The standard (almost new) discs will be fine for now. I have chosen EBC Red Stuff pads which wont fade but will wear quickly, other racers use the harder Yellow Stuff pads but these are not suitable for road use.
Next up for change is the fluid (a complicated subject). The upshot from many discussions is that I have chosen synthetic (NOT silicone) racing fluid with a dry boiling point well above 300 C. The preferred one is Castrol SRF, but I went for the cheaper Motul RBF600.
To top this lot off I fitted Goodridge 600 series braided brake hoses which improved pedal feel and are better suited to the harshness of racing.
This went quite well until one of the rear calliper bleed nipples sheared off! This meant removing the calliper and drilling it out which took the best part of a day to fix, and this happened with only two days until the Mallory track day!

Suspension and steering
A sports steering wheel allows slightly quicker turns and improves feel. It also looks good. Steering rack bushes give a kind of disconnected feel to the steering, I replaced these with polyurethane bushes.
The suspension is basically very good, if rather soft. I am not going to change the springs yet, Collin Chapman was a strong advocate of soft springs and firm dampers to let the suspension move and do its work, who am I to disagree (oh dear, now I can hear Anny Lennox in my head…). I just fit adjustable front dampers which bolt in very easily.

Electrics
For safety I have fitted an electrical cut off switch which stops the engine and isolates the car from the battery. The battery is in the boot and has a positive lead running down the left hand side of the trans tunnel and then up to two distribution studs, the switch cuts into this and sits nicely behind the gear selector.
There are two wires near the battery, which feed the engine management and fuel pump circuits, so I cut them and put in new wires from the cut off switch. Next I ran a new wire from the lower part of the switch to the ignition circuit and connected the alternator protection resistor (provides a load when the switch opens, without one the regulator gets confused and explodes).

2 weeks to go.

Safety
The rear bulkhead needs to be sealed to prevent any fumes getting in from the petrol tank, I riveted small ally plates over the various apertures.
The extinguisher and electrical cut off switch must be able to be operated by a marshal from outside the car, in case I am incapacitated or too stupid. T handled pull cables go on the scuttle at the MSA recommended position - base of the windscreen on the drivers side.
I cut a big hole and mount the two cables to an ally plate that I can screw on and I cut holes in the inner panel to finally get through to the interior.
Finally I wandered round with some yellow paint, stripes round the battery earth lead and I sprayed the towing eyes.

Tyres.
Possibly the most important component on the car. For this series we have to use the control tyre which is a Toyo Proxes T1-R.
When racing the tyre works very hard, deep tread blocks will move about a lot and thus get very hot, they will go off after a few laps and you skid. So I will have them shaved to 4mm depth, this should give me good stability and still last a few races.
I have bought a set of spare wheels for £50 which are half an inch wider than standard. I am staying with 15” rims because the 50 profile tyres drops the gearing about 11% thus helping acceleration. And its cheaper.


A day at the races.

Now its time to tune the driver so its off to the club track day at Mallory, for a bit of practice and to get to know how the car handles on the limit and indeed where the limits actually are.
In an ideal world I would check and adjust the suspension set up. Realistically, unless it really handles badly, I will just try to get some practice in
When changing the set up it is vital to approach this scientifically, everything effects everything else so we change one thing at a time. All the changes and lap times are then written down in what becomes the race car book of all knowledge.
I even borrowed a pyrometer (in infrared temperature gauge) so I can check the tyre temps.

We arrived, a little late, and had to wait in a queue to get to the pits area which is in the centre of the circuit. It’s a lovely circuit, quite short and has a lake in the middle which James Hunt nearly drowned in.
We locate fellow JEC members and say hello, everyone is very friendly and soon advice starts pouring in. We then head off to the stewards office to sign on, you have to sign an indemnity form which basically states that you are aware it is dangerous and any accident is your own silly fault. That done, I have to attend a novice briefing which covers etiquette and safety stuff.
As it is my first time here, I am assigned an instructor who was very helpful indeed, he described which lines work, braking points etc.
Once the tyres had gone through their first heat cycle, it was time to push harder. The car seemed to grip and then grip some more, pushing me firmly into the side of my seat round the large corner, with the lake as run off. This is the first time I have heard the throaty exhaust at full tilt, spine tingling.
Tyre pressures seemed best at 30psi cold /34 hot which gave an even temperature, but the outer edge of the fronts was a little colder indicating that I need to stop fannying around and drive faster.
They have a weigh bridge there, with half a tank of fuel the car was 1606kg, which is a good start.
Also, they provided a scrutineer so that I had the privilege of finding out what was wrong before I got to the race! Generally it went well until he put his hand down the inner wing and there was a distinctive rusty crunching noise

1 week to go.

Welding

A quick call to Franc (aka Tree Beard) and I was on my way over to his house of wonder to use his welding kit, 15 hours later I left with a solid car! As is usual with these things the rust was a lot worse than it first seemed, the service history shows that the inner wings had been repaired before, at some expense, however we found no evidence of this, just rust! Makes you wonder.
For extra strength I put in replacement panels from 2mm steel between the chassis rails to the front damper mounts.
Turning to the rear, I made new panels for the sill end plates and the lower part of the wheel arch, this area has lots of panels joining together and the seams collect water, unfortunately this is a critical area as all the radius arm loads are put through here (ie, all the acceleration force). The result is not pretty but its definitely solid.


Exterior

The next major job was fitting the stickers!
You know, they are not as easy as you might think. They are big, giving ample opportunity to trap air bubbles and get them all crumpled up, secondly the car is made from curves so the stickers wont sit flat and you end up with creases and folds.
The rules say we have to have a set size white square for the race numbers, one on each side and one on the bonnet. We must also have stickers for; JEC Racing, JEC club and the Toyo sponsors. In addition, I wanted my name on it and also we thought it would be a good idea to have some green stripes so that it could be easily picked out on camera, its distinctive and gives it the 70s look that I was after.

Roll Cage
Fitting a roll cage is usually best done before the car is assembled at the factory, what with it being nearly the same size as the interior of the car.
I am using an MSA approved national B cage made by Safety Devices.
So, with no seats, centre console, roof lining or anything else to get in the way in the interior, I fitted the cage in order to mark out where the mounting plates must go. It took quite a lot of jostling to get everything to line up. It fitted about as well as ‘one size fits all’ trousers don’t. Then I marked the points where the cage feet met the car.
Now I take it all out again. I weld the nuts to the mounting plates, cut holes in the sill just big enough for the nuts to go in and then weld the four plates on the sills.
Then I put the cage back in again, I get everything loose assembled first then take up the slack in all the bolts, then progressively do up the bolts.
The bolts in the wheel arch go in from underneath, that way the bolt head gets covered in road salt and weather but the thread stays clean. Same goes for any bolts that go through the car outer shell such as those holding the seat mountings to the floor.
Standing back, it now looks like a proper race car, very nice.

Fire extinguisher
MSA regulations, new for this year, require me to have a 2.5kg plumbed in fire suppression system with a minimum of one discharge nozzle in the engine bay and one in the cabin.
I fit the fire extinguisher bottle on top of the trans tunnel so that it is tucked into the back end of the centre console, where the rear ashtray used to be. The centre console has substantial reinforcement steel inside, so I cut most of that out, it’s a bit more wobbly now but its still central and still a console.

Transponder
The transponder is bolted to the front of the car and sends a vehicle specific code used by the lap timing computers at the race circuit. It has to have a clear view of the ground and be less than two foot up. It also needs a 12v feed. I decide to fit it somewhere in the front left wheel arch area, but that’s about as far as I get before its time for a race!

0 weeks to go.

With a million things still to finish off, will he get to Silverstone? Find out in the next installment.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

©Ralph Hosier