Part 4. The 1970’s. 1750 hp Spitfire Engined Merlin car. First London Hot Rod Cruise. Royal College of Art Car Design Projects: Merlin & Mono.
This article is part of a series:
- Part 1. The 1970’s, car design stories and studying at Royal College of Art, London. Part. 1
- Part 2. The 1970’s, car design stories from Rover and British Leyland and more from the R.C.A.
- Part 3. The 1970’s. Design stories from British Leyland. Triumph Stag. My Mini Van.
- Part 4. The 1970’s. 1750 hp Spitfire Engined Merlin car. First London Hot Rod Cruise. Royal College of Art Car Design Projects: Merlin & Mono.
The final year at the school meant working towards the diploma show in the summer. Two projects had to be handled in depth and at least one had to be presented as a finished, painted scale model. What the project was depended on your own decision but had to be approved by your tutor.
I had already decided to work on a small single seater vehicle with a motorbike engine having seen that more individual transport, would counter the growing traffic problems, even in 1976. Fifteen years later I would start a similar project for BMW that turned into a fascinating show car called the Z13…. but more about that in a later article.
My second project happened by chance. While looking though Motor magazine I came across an story about the late Paul Jameson. He was known at the time for crossing Europe at highly illegal speeds in a 12 cylinder, tank engined car with a Rolls Royce grill. Even I remember seeing pictures in the Daily Mirror. All rubbish of course although the car existed and drove it never went 190mph. He decided to correct this by building a second car with the fabulous 12 cylinder, 1750 bhp, supercharged Spitfire engine.
1. Paul Jamesons Merlin, 1750 bhp, Supercharged Spitfire engined car
The car was finished, drove and there was a design competition to design a suitable body.
I spent some time doing preliminary sketches then worked on the final design. Once finished I delivered by hand the sketch to the Motor Magazine offices I had the luck to win the competition against quite a few known designers of the time. £10.00 was the prize but the intention to build the design was the reason we all entered.
As this was my final year project I needed detailed measurements so I set off to his home to meet him and look at the car. He lived in a lovely farm house in Surrey and the outbuildings had been turned into various workshops. In one stood a collection of these magnificent engines surround by several ejector seats. The beast itself stood outside and Paul proudly showed me around explaining the problems he had in getting this much power onto the road.
Compared to even the simplest methods of car construction his style was rudimentary. Maybe he did a sketch but basically he put the engine on some wooden trussing in the middle of the workshop floor and went from there. In those days there was no single gearbox that could can that much power so the double rear axle concept originated each one driven by a four speed RR automatic gearbox. Two gear boxes meant splitting the drive from the engine so Paul engineered and built a converter. The automatic gearboxes were located above each other..with a couple of other links the rear wheels were finally driven.
Front axle and suspension came from a Jag and a Corbeaux racing seat sat on each side of the engine. This really was a mid engined car!
Paul had produced some technical drawings of the car and we went though these measuring particular areas I needed then I took this information along with photos back to London where I drew a package on which I could start my designing.
I had the design on paper and set about putting this onto the mechanical package I had drawn.
Once I had the three views ( side, top and end views) it was time to design the carrying structure, basically a piece of wood which represented the bottom of the car. Then down to the Jay mews workshop to begin construction. In November you still have months of time so the project was put to the side and the window when I could use the modelling plate for my model was planned. Six designers and two plates.
I started on my second project ‘Mono’, a single seater motorbike engined car.
Throughout my entire design life I’ve worked with one premise. If you want to really create something new then it has to start with the technical layout. When this isn’t innovative we get stuck in monotony and pure styling.
Two design sketches for Mono. Intended to be a lightweight CFK tub with a Motorbike engine driving the rear wheels.
Daily student life carried on. A great deal of time being spent in the workshop. Days of sketching other seminars in areas of business and engineering…tension slowly mounting.
The interest in Paul’s Merlin ‘monster’ was ever present and we were often in touch. As he was to find the funds to build the car he followed my work closely and came up to London several times once the modelling started.
It was also time to start doing some serious testing and and a trip was planned to the Santa Pod drag strip. I willingly went along.
Some of the national press were waiting for us and stood around as the car started. Just the ‘wind-up’ of the engine made every one shiver…. a Spitfire was starting up. It started easily and Paul set off with a journalist for a couple of test runs. No seat belts!, just a helmet and a seat open to the elements.
This was fairly basic engineering and not much could go wrong.
After returning he said all was well and asked me if I wanted to join him for a ‘serious’ run.
It’s hard to describe sitting next to this magnificent engine especially in a small racing seat just holding onto the body work. Thrilling ….
With the race way in front of us we set off.. Of course it was fast but there was a lot of mass being moved forward…one simply held on. Paul later told me we were doing around 120 mph ( 200km/h )
when one of the automatic gearboxes decided not to change into 4th!. Although he reacted immediately with one locked up rear axle Paul nearly lost it and we almost spun!. Seconds later all was well, hearts were beating and we drove back to the paddock.
Paul discovered the source of the problem but could do nothing to fix it that day. So still alive we headed back to London.
With the diploma show only a couple of months away London and especially the kings Road was to be overwhelmed with an event that would run for the next 30 years..the first London cruise organised by custom car magazine. Of course we went. At first in Peters modified white VW Bus and later in a Pontiac cabriolet driven by Richard Lloyd ( Richard Lloyd racing ).
Camaro and VW Bus our ‘Cruising’ cars
It really was the most amazing event. The custom car scene had been growing in England for years and a lot of US cars had been imported and there where with many custom English cars.
Nobody expected such a large turn out especially the police but it went well. Those not driving tried to park somewhere and get a drink at a pub on the kings road. We did this too and like hundred of others watched the cars crawl by. In front of the us a truck tractor unit to who somehow performed a burn out.
And then a girl in a light white summer dress did the most amazing wheely on her motorbike her dress blowing up to her waist revelling…. very little!… This was May and warm in London.
What a wonderful night this was and around midnight we found ourselves at our favourite burger restaurant reminiscing.
Some pictures from the cruise. Just look at some of the cars in the background behind the Ford.
8 weeks to the Diploma Show.
I decided to produce 2 models for my diploma show which meant I had to set the pace up.
Merlin was well under way but my tutor felt it wasn’t futuristic enough. Despite explaining once again that it had to be realistic so that Paul and a team could build it my words fell on empty ears.
He implied that he expected changes to guarantee my diploma…
Upon his insistence the front wheel became clad which meant lots of extra width to cover the turning wheels. I met with Paul to explain that this was just for my model and later we would go back to the sensible solution…..not a good solution as the model was extremely accurate and would have been used as a basis for the full size mockup.
Parallel I worked on the small model of Mono. These last weeks meant around the clock work but that is something I was to experience for my complete design life. They last weeks of any project where non stop.
1976. Merlin. A full CFK model made by taking casts from the clay model I made in 1:5 scale. Mono is painted clay model.
The two years in London had been a fascinating time. In september it was off to Longbridge and time to start my working life.
1 additional image. Click to enlarge.