Febuary 1976............. The 1958 Ford Popular. (Apollo 1)
After doing the stock car racing at Grimley Raceway we (Clive Tony & myself) went to Hednesford Hills Raceway to watch the Hot Rod Racing with a veiw to possibley build a Hot Rod Mini with a 1500cc engine. In 1974 Clive bought a Custom Car Magazine down to the pub one night and showed us a photo of Clive Skilton's Top Fuel Dragster posing in front of Buckingham Palace. The caption said that this car did a standing 1/4 mile in 6.6 seconds at 220 mph ! We had never heard of Drag Racing and we certainly could not comprehend a car going that quick ? So on one August Bank Holliday in 1974 all three of us went to Santa Pod Raceway in Bedfordshire.
This type of racing totaly blew our minds ! And we found we could not get enough of it. All three of us carried on spectating at the Pod during 1976, thinking to ourselves that we would love to build a race car. But questions like what type of car ? How fast do we go ? And how much will it all cost came to mind ?
Well after much discussion it was decieded that a Compition Altered was to be built.
There were a lot of Compition Altereds about running Jaguar engine's and for some reason there were a lot of sit up and beg Ford Popular's racing at the time. As Clive and myself were bought up on BMC and Jaguar engines as mechanics, we knew the Jaguar engine inside out. As for the car, I was offered this 1958 Ford Popular for £10, so we bought it. I still remember the day we fetched this car, borrowing the Lex Van and trailer we all went up to Clow's Top at Bewdley. When we got there we had the job of chaseing the chickens out of the Ford before we could load it up. The inside of the car was wrecked because of them dam chickens, but it did not matter as we did not want anything inside anyhow.
We took the Ford to my dad's yard in Lye, nr Stourbridge, My dad said we could have use of the old wooden stable block. We spent around two weekends repairing the old wooden stable so that the car would go into and we could work on it in the dry.
The 1958 Ford Popular all gutted out now and a 3.8 Jaguar engine and gearbox just dropped in on blocks of wood.
We then proceeded to strip the Ford Popular down to a rolling shell. Then we bought three old M.O.T. Failure Jaguar cars to rob all the parts off. It was 2 - Mk 2 Jaguars and 1- Mk 10 Jaguar. The mk 2 had 3.4 engines fitted but the Mk 10 had a 3.8 engine, which was better for Drag Racing. So that was the engine chosen to go into the Ford.
We wanted to run a manual gearbox, so one of the gearboxes out of the mk 2 cars would do the job, we kept the other for spares. The rear axle came from the mk 2 cars as well. So after gutting the Ford out we removed the 3.4 engine and gearbox to drop into the frame rails of the Ford Pop. We had to cut the bulkhead out to get the engine back far enough. We also put Ford Cortina front hubs and wheels straight onto the original ford pop axle.
Steve (With Tony's help) welding the suspention in onto the chassis to hold the rear axle in.
The next job was to remove the original Ford Pop rear axle and to start fitting in the Independent Suspention rear axle. Steve had the job of welding the shock absorbers mountings onto the cross member. By the end of the day the Ford was rolling again.
Rear axle all fitted in, engine and gearbox still not lined up correctly.
After fitting the rear axle we craned in the engine and gearbox. They were both connected by a Land Rover prop-shaft. The engine and gearbox mountings were marked
up and made up to fit the chassis.
Fitted more steelwork to strengthen the chassis better.
The rest of the chassis was stregthend up using box section and angle iron, all welded into place.
Clive and Steve rebuilt the 3.8 Jaguar engine. Steve just sorting out some engine parts.
Whilst Steve was sorting out the chasis, Clive completly stripped the 3.8 engine down to check over and to replace all the nessasary parts that were needed. Everything on the engine was cleaned a polished inside including all the cylinder head ports and pistons.
New big end bearings and main bearings were fitted. The valves were all ground in and new gasket's fitted as well.
Tony and Steve start rubbing down the bodywork. Note the fiberglass body parts.
March 1977. Clive took this photo of us getting the Pop ready for spraying with primer undercoat.
The Ford Pop now in grey primer.
Fitting all the aluminum tinwork for the interier.
24th April 1977. We sprayed the Pop in Ford Diamond White.
22nd May 1977. Using a borrowed trailer and Tony's Land Rover we set off to the Ford Pop's first Practice meeting at Santa-Pod-Raceway.
Apollo was finshed. It took around 18 months to build this first race car for the Drag Strip at a cost of £600. J.C.A 86 was our registration race number which means....
Junior Compitition Altered 86.
Apollo parked up in the pit's at Santa Pod with a nackered Clutch. From left to right....Steve Bingham (Driver) and the crew..Nick Hartin, Ernie Beddall, Tony Little and Clive Dawe (taking the photo)
June 1977. John Ganner did the signwriting for us, Steve and Tony looking on.
When we got back to our workshop the first thing we did was to remove the engine and gearbox (It was just quicker to do it that way) Removed the Gearbox off the back of the engine to examin the slipping clutch. Yes it was well bunt out !
We were advised to go to A.P. Racing in Lemington-Spa for a new type of clutch plate.
This was a strange looking clutch that was designed for Drag Racing, with 4 phospher bronze pads in a cross formation.
Whilst this was happing John Ganner came over to us and did all the signwrighting on the car.
Apollo racing up the 1/4 mile ar Santa Pod Raceway, but haveing gearbox problems now ! (Photo Roger Gorringe)
Our first true time ticket, But having gearbox problems at the same time.
Apollo parked up in the pit's with gearbox problems !
The interier of the car was all made up with aluminum sheet. To hide all the rest of the bodywork inside we stuck fur to the inside of the panals. Our mascott was Mr. Pillsbury.
The rules state that we should have the main braking on the rear axle and there should be a secondary braking system. So the two levers are the brakes, one for the rear brakes and one to operate the front brakes which made a usfull line lock system. That meen's we can hold the front brakes on whilst spinning the rear wheels in the water burn out.
Tony sorting an electrical problem out behind the dash board.
Removed the Cylinder head.
Over the last two race meeting we had been using petrol fuel to run the Jaguar on. But things were getting to hot in the engine department, especialy with no way of keeping the engine cool. We turned to Methanol for a fuel which has a slower burning rate but works better under higher compresion. The standerd compresion ratio for at 3.8 Jaguar engine is 8.2 to 1 We had 60 thou skimmed off the cylinder head to increace the compreesion. Whilst that was being done I pulled the gearbox out to have a look at
this Gearbox problem we have been having, It turned out to be a selecter problem.
We also had to modify the triple carborators to accept the Methanol. We found we had to get as much fuel in the engine as possible, so the main jet's were drilled out 3/16th of a inch we also shortened the needle, so at full throttle the needle was completly out of the jet giving the engine as much fuel as possible. We also removed the piston dashpot springs and pollish up the piston and chambers so the engine would pick up and rev's instantly !
We had 60 Thou skimmed off the surface of the Cylinder head to increase the compression.
Testing the Ford on Lex car park. We have wheel spin instead of clutch spin.
A poor copy of our first publicity photo that went into the Express and Star on October 10th 1977.
I paid £20 for an old horse box trailer, then we spent some time modifiing the trailer to hold the Ford Pop on.
Up to now we had been borrowing Lex Mead's trailer to transport the Apollo Dragster on going to race meetings. I was offered this old horse box trailer from Parrish Car Body Repais for £20. We had the lengthen the trailer and made it wider to take the Ford, plus we made a drop floor inside for more storage.
September 1977. Back at Santa Pod. From left. Clive Dawe, Nick Hartin, Tony Little.
September 1977. Photo by Roger Gorringe. Apollo just launching off the start line to a time of 13.95 @ 97.37 mph
Winter of 1977/8 We bought this 1971 Austin/Morris JU 250 van.
We came across this 1971 JU 250 Austin/Morris van that was up for sale in the local paper. So after parting with £500 we set about sorting the van out for the coming season. Hopefully this would do better on petrol than the Land Rover which was only doing 10 mpg when towing the race car. The van was painted in bright red, So having to do some body repairs first, we sprayed the van diamond white to match the Ford Popular.
Tony doing a road towing test with the new white van man ! Note the wooden board covered with carpet, fixed to the front bumper for push starting the Apollo.
April 1978. Steve watching Tony reverse up into the workshop.
On our way to the POD !
Easter at Santa Pod Raceway. Best time.......13.75 @ 98 mph.
The crew...left to right...Ernie Beddall with his tonge out, Nick Hartin, Clive Dawe, Martin Griffiths, Shirley and Phill Jasper, Tony Little behind them. All having a lunch break.
July 1978. Clive waiting in the fire up road at Santa Pod, waiting our turn to make a qualifing run.
The Ford pop ran a best of 13.21 @ 103 mph in front of a very large crowd.
Paul Mallin changing the oil. That 13.21@103 mph came from some fuel modifications. (Not bad) Concidering a standered E.Type Jaguar would do a standing 1/4 mile run in 16 seconds @ 85 mph.
September 1978. Steve unstraping the race car in the pit's at Santa Pod. Tony driving this weekend. Best run 13.28 @ 102 mph.
Another posed crew photo. Left to right...Nick Hartin, Paul Mallin, Tony Little (driver) Clive Dawe, Steve Bingham.
Apollo at the Valencia Hotel It was at this time we decided to put the race car up FOR SALE.
We all felt that the full potentional had been taken out of Apollo, It seem's that anything we did to the engine or the rest of the car, it still would not go any faster ! The shape of the car did not help either ! What I mean is that we had learned a lot about this car over the last 18th months of racing, mainly about what NOT to do! The car tipped the scales at 2016 lbs and was way to heavy for the class we were racing in, I think we over did it when we beefed up the chassis as well.
We would sell the car less engine and gearbox with the view to us building another car over the Winter. A few months later we sold the Ford Popular rolling shell to a chap who lived in London. In 1979 he came out to race the Ford Popular with his own Jaguar engine and gearbox fitted. He also sprayed the car blue and called the race car "Catbaloo" I only saw the car once at Santa Pod Raceway, and never saw it again !