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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The History Of The All Aluminum GM/Rover V8

By Miguel Caparros

In 1961 General Motors Introduced a 215 cubic inch all aluminum V8 for the new compacts from Buick,Oldsmobile and Pontiac. The Skylark, F85 and Tempest models were available with an economic low compression 2 barrel version of the new engine that had a rated output of 155 horse power (hp). The 4 barrel high compression optional engine was listed at 200 hp. Oldsmobile offered a third version of the alloy V8 labeled the JetFire that added an optional turbo and boosted power to 215.
This engine had a very long development with GM, going back to 1951. GM decided they were going to have compete with the sophistication that the Europeans were beginning to show as they rebuilt from the devastation of World War II. From the beginning this engine was special. First making an appearance powering the GM 1951 show stopper the LaSabre XP-300.
During the development period the engine was supercharged to an output 375 hp from its 215 cubic inches, a power output unheard of at the time for such a small engine. Through the 50's GM developed the engine and eventually was it introduced in the Buick Pontiac and Oldsmobile import fighters.
Just at that point philosophy at GM changed and cars got bigger and heavier, the “horse power war” was under way. Buick took and adapted the architecture of the 215 V8 engine for its big block series of engines that were cast iron and ranged in displacement from 330 cubic inches to 455.

In 1967 England's, Rover Cars had a wonderful luxury 4 door sedan with incredible handling a legendary reputation for safety and terribly under powered. The Rover 2000 TC (Twin Carbs) was the predecessor for today’s sport sedans from the likes of BMW and Mercedes. To maintain its edge tiny Rover needed an engine and found that GM was willing to sell the rights and all the equipment to build the small all aluminum V8 for very little money. Rover instantly had a performance engine that took 200 pounds off the front and doubled the horse power potential of the Rover 2000. The engine survived the various mergers and take overs that the British auto industry went through. The engine was fitted into Land Rovers, Leyland Trucks, MG V8, Triumph TR8, TVR's and various other smaller manufacturer that bought the engines for their limited production sports cars.

Back to the story of the Buick/Rover V8, in 1966, a new 3-litre formula was created for Formula One to replace the unpopular 1.5 litre formula that preceded it. The new engines under development by other suppliers all had at least 12
cylinders and proved difficult to develop, being heavy and initially unreliable. F1 driver turned car builder Jack Brabham took a different approach to the problem of obtaining a suitable engine. He persuaded Australian engineering company Repco to develop a new 3-litre eight cylinder engine for him. Repco had no experience in designing complete engines. Brabham had identified a supply of suitable engine blocksobtained from Oldsmobile's aluminium alloy 215 engine and persuaded the company that an engine could be designed around the block, largely using existing components. Brabham and Repco were aware that the engine would not compete in terms of outright power, but felt that a lightweight, reliable engine could achieve good championship results while other teams were still making their new designs reliable.

The combination of the Repco engine and the Brabham BT19 chassis worked. At the French Grand PrixJack Brabham became the first man to win a Formula One world championship race in a car of his own construction.

So this was a case of the little engine that could! During the gas crisis of the mid 70's, GM was caught with inefficient and heavy series of 4,6 and 8 cylinder engines and tried to buy the engine back from British Leyland Motors that had absorbed Rover along with MG, Austin, Jaguar, Triumph, and a few others. By this point BLM was installing the engine in almost every single one of its lines of cars and trucks. Development on the engine continued until the acquisition of Rover by BMW in 1994.

In 1968 Morgan was the first to raise their hand and say “we'll take some”. The Rover V8 more than likely saved Morgan as the new  found power and the fantastic sound of the V8 is well worth the admission for driving a wooden car designed in the 30's. The fate of the engine is up in the air after BMW sold Rover to Ford sold it and Jaguar in 2008 to Indian car giant Tata. I am sure we will be seeing the “small block Chevy” of the rest of the world coming to us from something made in India.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Confessions Of A Motor Head, To Dartmouth In A Mini

by Miguel Caparros 
Miguel Capaross Photo

My friend Leslie, Who I lost touch with for a long time, reminded me recently of the Austin Mini I had in high school. It was a Countryman woody wagon, Red in color. I bought it for $35.00, the price of the Sears battery just installed by the previous owner. The details of how I came to buy it or who it was I bought it from are gone from my memory. It did not run when I bought it, a good tune up and that I was able to get the fuel flowing, got the car running well enough to get me to school. I was already well established for the unusual cars I had during high school the mini was just another chapter. 

The first adventure with the Mini was A road trip to Dartmouth form Plymouth to meet some girls at the “BIG GAME”. Bob. Rick and I managed to survive the game and not get caught doing the things that high school boys and girls do. All of the post game traffic was clear and we headed home. It was about 5 miles out of Dartmouth that at a stop sign I experienced some difficulty finding a forward gear. After much stirring of the gear shift lever I managed to get it into 2nd and get rolling. I kept my fears to myself as the shift into third failed and I was able to muscle the lever into 4th. About 10 miles later another stop sign. I was in a sweat, as I came to the stop and tried down shifting with no results as we came to a stop. All the stirring, banging and cussing was not helping to find a gear. Forward motion stopped right then and there, not even half way home. 

Now you are saying, breakdowns happen, it should not be a big deal to hitch a ride home or call some one to pick us up. The circumstances dictated otherwise. Bob was nicely pickled but functional, Rick was slurring a lot, and I was not supposed to have taken the car out of town. As I was about to tell the boys to get out and push, I found reverse! I was able to get the car turned into the direction of home and I drove from there on in reverse, the engine screaming as flat out all it would go was 25mph. All was almost right in the universe for a brief time until we got pulled over, still short of our goal but close enough where my short life should not be snuffed out by the wrath of my dad. We were just 5 miles outside of the town line, Bob and Rick now appeared sober and I told the Officer that I could call home and get a ride. Ha! From the house where we came to a stop in front of, the lady of the house was kind enough to let me use the phone. I called home knowing no one was there as dad was in New York. I faked the conversation for the officer telling him that dad would be on his way. Once he was out of sight I started the Mini once more and drove another 8 miles or so when the engine died. We were out of gas, out of time and out of sunlight. But… we were inside of the Town limit. We got out and hitched a ride home. Survived to get into trouble another day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Confessions of a Motor Head. The Cop And The Brownies

My friend Leslie who moved back to where we grew up in Plymouth New Hampshire sent me a recent picture of my old Texaco Station. We were there but a fleeting moment in our lives, yet I have great memories from that brief moment in time.
I remember one night a VW Micro Bus pulled in, all painted up with rainbows and peace signs. A young hippie couple with three young children got out of the Bus. The engine sounded real sick, oil and smoke were pouring out out the back. I took a look at it and saw a hole in the side of engine. The Bus would go no further. The couple had just taken over the Jack o Lantern Motel north of town and would not have any money for e few months until the crop came in. Neal and I agreed to fix up an old 36 hp engine I would supply the know how and the Mike, the Hippie would provite the labor. He could pay us for parts after the crop came in. We finished the work in about a week of. Mike would come in after his chores were done at the motel and the farm to work on the engine. It was late on a Friday night that we saw him off with the newly refurbished engine. Early October on a nice sunny New England fall Saturday, at about noon, the Bus pulls into the station. The whole family is out for a drive and they came to pay their bill and brought into the gas station 3 huge trays of Home made Brownies. We had recently started selling fuel to the Plymouth Police Department since we were the only station in town that was open late, they started to give us some of their fuel business. 
It did not take us long to figure out that pumpkins were not the only crop brought in and everyone that had a brownie had the giggles, Neal was in low orbit. At about 3pm a Rookie Officer was there to fill up the cruiser before starting his shift, he came into the office to sign the charge and saw the Brownies. He put down the pen and grabbed 3 of them and headed out the door stopped in mid bite turned back in and grabbed two more. About an hour later I had to run an errand and took the then new Plymouth bypass. I saw the officer by the side of the road with his lights on and it appeared he had pulled over some one on a bicycle. 45 minutes later I was coming back and the car, with the officer sleeping with the cruisers lights still blazing, were still in the same spot. I stopped behind the cruiser, got out and walked up to the cop cars window. There was the officer sitting perfectly still passed out, two of 5 brownies remaining in the seat next to him. I reached across the seat and grabbed the remaining Brownies and noticed his ticket book, I took a quick glance and and saw that he had given the bicyclist a speeding ticket for 85 MPH. If I recall you had one of those Brownies too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Confessions of a Motor Head. Racing on the streets of Boston.

by Miguel Caparros
1969 was the beginning of my senior year of high school in Plymouth New Hampshire. By November it seemed it would be the mildest and least snowfall in a long time. I knew this as in December I was still driving my Alfa Romeo Gulietta, a car who's incredible sexy looks and great handling were completely unbearable if the temperature dropped much below 30 degrees.

1970 was going to be a banner year for Chevrolet and Pontiac, the long awaited replacement for the three year old Camaro and Firebird had the industry buzzing about a radical redesign of the GM twins. In an unusual move, GM chose not to release these 1970 sporty cars at the traditional September new car introduction, but give a dramatic introduction in January for the long awaited duo.

In mid December we received our debut 1970 Camaro Z28, it came in wrapped and it was spirited away and hidden not to be seen until the new year.

At this point I was dating Darcy Hosmer from Lawrence Massachusetts, She was a student at the Frontenac Ski camp where I worked during the winters. A total coincidence was that her father John Hosmer owned the largest Pontiac Dealership in the Boston area. On one Friday night I drove down for a date with Darcy, it was the week before Christmas I arrived a little early. While waiting for Darcy to get ready, Mr Hosmer and I talked about cars. He asked what I drove down in this time, we went outside so he could get a look at the bright read Alfa. I mentioned to him we had received a Z28, I asked what he got. We walked a few paces to one of the Carriage House doors, went inside a moment passed before he flipped on the lights. There sat a blue formula 400, but unlike the crouching stance of the Z28, this car squatted towards the rear. The scoops sticking out of the hood ready to devour any one that came close. A very subtle emblem at the rear hinted at what this was, it read Royal Oaks Pontiac!

Royal Oaks Pontiac was the back door factory drag race team for Pontiac Since the the late 50's the Royal Oaks Michigan machines were the cars to beat in Super Stock right into the 70's. In those days you could order from select dealers, a race car for the street and it would get the final assembly at Royal Oaks. The Hosmer car got the whole treatment, The car left the factory as a Formula 400 with a few deleted items; deleted heater, deleted power steering, deleted rear seat, deleted insulation, deleted sound deadening, deleted spare tire and jack, deleted power brakes, deleted radio.

Once it got to Royal Oaks Pontiac the 400 engine would be pulled out and replaced by a 455 12.5 compression motor with special heads, cam, intake, carburetor, headers. A set of special chambered (no mufflers) exhaust pipes are hooked up to the headers equipped with cut outs. The Battery would be removed from the
front of the car and a larger heavy duty truck battery would be installed in the right rear of the trunk. The rear springs would be replaced with heavy duty leaves, 9 on the left 7 on the right. The shocks were replaced by specially valved 90 10 units, these refer to shocks that would allow the front to rise and stay there transferring weight to the rear tires and slowly allowing the front end to come down. A 4:56 Detroit Locker put the power to the ground from the Rock Crusher 4 speed transmission.

This car was engineered with one purpose, to get from a stop to the end of a quarter mile as fast as possible. This car was very good at that. Darcy Joined us in the drive way and gave her dad a peck on the cheek, as we walked towards
the Alfa Mr Hosmer called out to us, we turned around to see a set of keys flying through the air towards us. I caught them as he yelled. “ I don't want to hear that this car lost a street race tomorrow.”.

The noise from this car was incredible, more so inside than on the outside and it was plenty loud out there. The thrill of being in a full blown race car of a model the is not yet available and to this point kept a secret; was pure adrenalin.
With Darcy my inspiration and navigator we hit every drive in and did at least 30 races with no one even coming close to the Firebird. After a whole night of being mobbed as celebrities where ever we went we finally made it back to the Hosmer compound at 3 am where the cook made us hot chocolates, def as posts we snuggled on the couch
drinking our chocolates and we fell asleep, our ears ringing with the noise of the exhaust the tires screeching and the rush of incredible acceleration our bodies tingling from 6 hours in a factory built race car. How fast was this car? From what I was told later, this car could do the ¼ mile in the low 11 sec time, on street tires. I have never forgotten you Darcy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Confessions of a Motor Head. How fast will she go?

by Miguel Caparros
Living in New Hampshire through my formative years was a teenage motor heads dream, driving at 14 with a parent, full license at 16. I took my drivers test in Mom's new 66 VW, like everything else that comes near me, I was already modifying it before the ink had dried on the title. Dad had agreed to pay for the rear camber compensator, front sway bar, and 4 Koni shocks, I also sneaked in an Abarth exhaust. I re-clocked the torsion bars lowering the car about 2 inches. Mom was the envy of the college parking lot for her cool VW.

But this story is about another VW, a 57 oval window car that belonged to a Librarian at the College. Janice had gotten the car from her dad who bought it new, it had very few miles the original 36 hp engine and one very nice option if you live in a place where the average temperature during the winter is 18, a gas powered heater. It was a tiny furnace that could heat the VW from 30 below to, "turn that thing off" in 5 minutes. On cold snowy days it was my number one choice to make the 20 mile drive from the Ski area where we lived to school. Equipped with studded snow tires it was unstoppable. I had other projects during the winter to keep the mod gene in check but as spring started to loom on the horizon I started to think of at least painting the faded out baby puke green of the 57 bug. As April began to melt the snow the 57 got a new 66 Ford Mustang dark metallic green paint.

Being in the mountains the snow melts last. The lower elevations in Laconia show their bare ground first. I had an unfinished assignment from my mechanics Master Claude Meder, that he gave me the previous summer in Florida. It was to rebuild completely a modern twin cam motor that had belt driven camshafts as opposed to chains or gears. There was a junk yard near Louden, not very far from the race track, it had a good collection of imports and some totaled race cars. This was a true junk yard not the clean organized recyclers we have today, there was junk there going back a century and it was where it fell. Sloshing through the wet ground from the melting snows I found a Fiat 124 Coupe that had been hit very hard from behind. Being a regular customer of the yard the junk man let me use the ancient 30's tow truck to pick up the Fiat and take it apart in slightly dryer and level ground. When I was done with it he pointed me to take it to a part at the back of the yard where the real old junk was. As I was lowering the Fiat my eye was drawn by something that did not seem to belong. Once I had lowered and unhooked the Fiat I walked over to the pile that had caught my eye. I thought I saw a VW headlight under a pile of hoods, as I started to remove the heavy American hoods from the late 40s and early 50s I began to see that it was not a VW at all but a Porsche. It was a silver 550 Spyder, and it was a mangled mess. Immediately my mind raced to how many of these parts I could use in other projects. Amazingly enough most of the car was there including the twin cam Carrera engine and transmission. I went to the junk man and asked him what he wanted for the Fiat engine and transmission he said $50.00, I then asked him what he wanted for the Spyder in the back of the yard. He did not remember it or how it got there he saw the mangled mess and told me $25.00 and told me to use the wrecker and load it myself onto the flat bed I was driving.

Once home I became consumed with the 550. I started removing all the sheet metal as there was not a panel that was of any use. In short time I was left with Spyder chassis that had some bent tubes and bent axles. I began measuring to plan an attack on fixing the frame. I replaced the front axle with a VW one and installed the Porsche brakes, not to get lost in the details I was able to replace the bent tubes and with a 40 hp VW engine had the chassis driving in a couple of weeks. The original engine turned over but did not run. It took three weeks and a pile of money to get an overhaul kit and a workshop manual for the twin cam engine. Ignorance and youth are bliss, the complication of that engine rivals a modern day Formula one engine. Instead of a chain to drive the 4 camshafts the German engineers used gears and shafts to connect the crank shaft to the cams. The complication of this drive train has brought many mechanics to their knees in frustration. I got lucky on the first shot and it all worked.
The engine went into the chassis and I scarred myself stupid the first time I floored it. At 700 lbs, with the 140 HP the engine was supposed to make, the acceleration would have been dragster level. Not knowing any better I diverted some of the air from the colling fan to supercharge the engine, I would estimate it made close to 200 HP.

So now I had a very fast 200 hp chassis and a very nice Beetle with 36 hp. You know where this is going. I flipped the Carrera engine and transmission so that the engine was at the back instead of the Spyders placement in the middle. I then cut the chassis side tubes off so that I could incorporate the whole thing into the VW floor pan. Put a well fitted roll over bar in the interior and welded the body, chassis and roll bar into one unit. This engine had been installed in the rear position of the 356 Spyder and coupes so I ordered an Abarth muffler for that combo. It all fit with minor modifications.

A note of humor. The first time I started the car put it in reverse to back it out of the garage, I almost went through the front wall. I forgot to flip the differential gears when I turned the engine from the mid engine position to the rear. I had 1 forward gear and 5 in reverse.

Once the gears were all turning in the proper direction it became instantly obvious that this car was scary fast and the baddest sleeper anywhere. The additional weight of the Beetle body helped keep the front wheels on the ground under acceleration, just barely, still had to be careful to not wheely under full power in first gear. It never lost a drag race on the street and only once at the drag strip when I had to let up racing a gasser and the front end got too light approaching the traps at over 130 mph, it still had one gear to go.

Everyone in the mid sixties was struggling with a way to make race cars stable at high speeds. I spend hours reading aircraft aerodynamics studies and looking carefully at what Ferrari (where I was a apprentice) and Jim Hall was doing with the Chaparral. The Beetle presented an unusual problem due to its shape. If you look at it from profile it looks like a profile of a wing, a surface to create lift. The solution was a combination of the aircraft knowledge and the work on the Chaparral. From the aircraft I learned that a simple fence or spoiler at the transition point (the crown of the roof line) would break up the lifting action, from Jim Hall I learned if I keep the air from getting under the car it lowers drag and lift. So I created a rubber dam system that was unseen from the outside and a very subtle lip on the roof.

So now to test it.
I knew that the car accelerated fast and handled real well. I also knew that it was very unstable as you approached 140 mph. In 1966 there was not much traffic on Interstate 93 after midnight. I figured there would be even less between one and two AM. So an a clear cool night I started south bound on 93. The car was stable at 140 I wondered just how fast it would go? My calculations of the gearing and the RPM's that the engine could turn in 5th gear came to a speed I was not convinced the car could really go. I got to a ten mile stretch that was hilly but did not have any major curves that might cause problems at high speeds. I worked my speed up taking the Carrera engine to 8,000 rpm in every gear acceleration was steady until a few seconds in 5th gear the progress was slower now. A curve that was feeling a little to tight forced me to lift at 7500 rpm. I gathered up the car slowed for the next safe stretch that was 5 miles away, I started accelerating hoping to at least hit red line before the downhill. I crested the long down hill run and in the distance the sky was lit up with flashing lights the interruption kept me from noticing the tachometer reading. I let up and coasted down to 70, the speed limit. As I approached the full road block I realized that this had to be a big deal. There are just not that many officers on duty at 2 AM. 4 police cars were blocking the road with guns drawn. I putted to a stop. And raised my hands registration and license in hand. I was told to get out of the car. They swarmed the car with flashlights blazing into the interior of the 57 bug, besides the tachometer there was no abnormality. Apparently they were expecting a monster V8 in the back seat all they saw was a 10 year old VW seat. “Okay kid open the trunk and engine compartment” at this point the guns were dropped and my id. returned to me as it became more apparent that I was not their suspect. After inspecting both ends of the bug and being satisfied that I was not their man one car was withdrawn to open the lane. I turned to the officer closest to me and asked, “what are you guys looking for?” “An officer 10 miles up the road said he clocked a car on radar at 168 mph, he must have been sleeping” I answered “there is no way you could get a 57 Bug going that fast” I slowly putted away, very slowly.