|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
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
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.
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
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…
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Finally I wandered round with some yellow paint, stripes round the battery
earth lead and I sprayed the towing eyes.
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
1 week to go.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.