Buying Guides – Silodrome Gasoline Culture Fri, 19 Oct 2018 11:43:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 18077751 Bolwell Nagari – The Essential Buying Guide For The Australian Classic Mon, 16 Apr 2018 04:00:52 +0000 Bolwell Nagari – The Essential Buying Guide For The Australian Classic

The Bolwell Nagari is a car that few people outside Australia have heard of, much less seen or driven. Bolwell were, and still are, Australia’s sports GT car, designed and made by a group of brothers who built their first car whilst ditching school as teenagers. This is a GT car that reflects the Australian...

The post Bolwell Nagari – The Essential Buying Guide For The Australian Classic appeared first on Silodrome.

Bolwell Nagari – The Essential Buying Guide For The Australian Classic

The Bolwell Nagari is a car that few people outside Australia have heard of, much less seen or driven. Bolwell were, and still are, Australia’s sports GT car, designed and made by a group of brothers who built their first car whilst ditching school as teenagers.

This is a GT car that reflects the Australian “Jack’s as good as his master” culture in which it is expected that everybody will be given a fair go. For the Bolwell brothers that fair go meant that Australia’s GT car should be made using Australian made parts that were affordable and accessible: and that the car should be kept inexpensive so that an average bloke could afford one.

Early cars were made available as kits for an owner to build themselves: the last of the original Bolwells, the Mark VIII Nagari, started out as a kit, but soon the kit car option was taken away and customers could only buy a complete car.

Bolwell Nagari kit

To put the cost of the kit car version into late 1960’s perspective, a new Ford Cortina or Datsun 1600 (i.e. Datsun 510) cost around AUD$2,000.00. The Bolwell Nagari kit cost AUD$2,795.00: so if you could afford a new four cylinder Ford or Datsun you could probably afford a Bolwell kit. This was a GT car for the ordinary guy, and it offered the performance and handling of some of the more exciting Italian exotics, being similar in many ways to the Bizzarrini GT Strada (aka. Bizzarrini GT America and Iso Grifo Competizione), except with Australian characteristics.

To put the driving experience of the Bolwell Nagari into perspective consider that the car used the same engine and transmission as that of the Ford Falcon GT, but installed all that lovely power into a fiberglass bodied GT car that weighed quite a bit less than the four door sedan.

I first came to appreciate the power of the Falcon GT in 1970 when I did a competition driver’s course at the local race track, and one of the course participants had a somewhat tweaked Falcon GT Phase I sedan. That car would smoke its tires in first and second gear, and you could hear the tires howling as they tried to get grip in third. So if you can then imagine that sort of power in a lightweight fiberglass sports car you have an idea of what driving the Nagari was like.

Bolwell only recommended British Avon tires for the Nagari to keep the power under control. Behind the wheel for a “brisk” drive the first impression was of being glad it had headrests as the acceleration was everything one could have hoped for. Despite its having a live rear axle the car was stable, controllable, and enormous fun, and you could build that fun for yourself for AUD$2,795.00.

The History of the Bolwell Nagari and Bolwell Sports Cars

The history of Bolwell sports cars has humble, almost Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn beginnings. A sixteen year old Campbell Bolwell along with his brother Graeme, skipped school to get into building a sports car. This the sort of scenario that a few of the major sports car makers have come from: Bruce MacLaren started out with a tweaked Austin 7, which you can see to this day on display at the MacLaren Technology Centre.

In the case of the Bolwell brothers it was not an Austin 7 but a 1937 Ford V8 chassis. The body panels were hand fabricated and the boys discovered that the car could actually outperform the Austin-Healeys, which were one of the premier affordable sports cars in Australia at the time. That first car survived for a couple of years and then Campbell and Graeme got stuck into their second creation based on a MG chassis. The MG chassis was low, light, and because it had been designed as a sports car it had good weight distribution. To their surprise the boys discovered that his new creation was a tad quicker than the first car despite the fact that it only had a four cylinder engine.

Campbell worked in the Public Service and then at Coles as a trainee and by 1962 a twenty year old Campbell Bolwell had amassed the sum of two hundred pounds. This might not sound like much nowadays but back then a good wage was about twenty pounds per week and most people got rather less than that. With that two hundred pounds behind him Campbell Bolwell quit his job with Coles and started his own car building business. It is a story not unlike that of Bill Harley and the Davidson brothers.

The first kit car built by Campbell and Graeme was called the Bolwell Mark IV. It was built on a space frame chassis with a fiberglass body and was powered by either a Ford Cortina four cylinder engine of 1,600cc capacity, a Peugeot four cylinder, or Australia’s own Holden 6 cylinder “grey” engine.

The body was supplied to be built as either a coupé with gull-wing doors or as a convertible. The Mark IV was succeeded by the Mark V and Mark VI. In 1966 Campbell and Graeme Bolwell went for a short working holiday in the UK and spent some time at Lotus Cars. The time there convinced them of the need to graduate from just producing kit cars to building fully built cars. On their return to Australia the brothers designed what they hoped to be their last kit car, the Bolwell Mark VII. This car was built on a backbone chassis whilst the engine was the relatively new Holden “red” engine, which was an in-line six cylinder with a seven main bearing crankshaft. That engine was made in a number of versions with capacities of 149 cu. in., 179 cu. in., 161 cu. in., and the 186cu. in.

Bolwell Mark VII

It was the Mark VII that really established Bolwell as Australia’s sports car maker, an Australian equivalent of Britain’s TVR and Lotus. Bolwell had by this time become expert in fiberglass fabrication and the quality of their fiberglass work was excellent. The Mark VII was made to use off the shelf Holden components except for the gearbox which was initially a Ford unit as Holden were not yet making a suitable four speed, and the Holden three speed with no synchromesh on first gear was not a worthwhile choice for a sports car. Because it used such common generic parts the Mark VII became a popular choice for motor racing as well as for road use. About 600 Bolwell Mark VII kits were sold between 1966 and 1972.

Campbell Bolwell had a vision to create something that might just prove to be a world beater however, and that meant creating a car that would be the equal of the famed AC Shelby Cobra. This was to become the Mark VIII, better known as the Nagari. The Bolwell Nagari was based on a backbone chassis made of 14 gauge steel, similar to the Mark VII, but made to accommodate a Ford 302 cu. in. Windsor V8 engine. This was the engine fitted to the Ford Falcon GT Phase I that had been making quite a name for itself as the “Broadmeadows Bogan”: Broadmeadows being the location of Ford’s Australian factory and “Bogan” being an Australian colloquial word similar in meaning to the English word “hooligan”. So if a fast British car might be described as being suitable for a “gentleman thug” then the Falcon GT was being given a similar epithet. This was the car that Campbell Bolwell would take the engine and transmission from and insert them into his lightweight sports car to create Australia’s answer to the AC Cobra.

Bolwell Nagari Specifications

The Bolwell Nagari did not use the Falcon GT suspension however, but Bolwell created their own with a view to making the car handle at least as well as a Shelby Cobra, even if it wouldn’t be able to compete with a Bizzarrini 5300 GT (which had an American V8 engine and gearbox, but used an independent rear suspension). To this end the front suspension was by unequal length wishbones with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers, whilst at the rear the Ford Falcon’s leaf springs and live axle were replaced by trailing arms, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers to much better locate the Ford live axle. Over the top of that technically promising foundation Bolwell fitted a svelte fiberglass body that made the car look like a world class GT.

Bolwell Nagari coupe roadster

The Bolwell Nagari (Mark VIII) entered small scale production in 1969: initially available as either a kit or a fully built car with a hard-top coupé body style. A soft-top convertible style was also offered but these are much more scarce than the hard-tops. The kit car option was phased out as quickly as Bolwell could manage it however. There isn’t an exact known number of the Nagaris produced, but probably around 130 give or take a few. This was the era when the US government was introducing emissions controls regulations for automobiles, and safety standards. The Australian Government decided to follow suit and brought in emissions controls and the “Australian Design Rules” (ADR) which mandated crash performance for automobiles. No provision was made for small scale specialist makers such as Bolwell to be exempted from crash testing etc. and so it became simply uneconomic for Bolwell to continue to build cars. Production of the Nagari ceased in 1974, and Bolwell moved on to creating fiberglass moldings for a variety of industries.

Bolwell Models and Specifications

Bolwell Nagari 301 cubic inch V8

The Bolwell Nagari was made as one basic model with the main difference between the early and later cars being that the early production cars were fitted with the Ford “Windsor” 301 cu. in. V8, but when that ceased production Bolwell began fitting the Ford 351 cu. in. V8. In the interest of getting the best possible front to rear weight distribution the heavy V8 engine was placed as far back in the backbone chassis as possible, so far back in fact that the flywheel was located behind the windscreen line. Getting the weight distribution even was going to be important to the Nagari because it was going to be pushing a lot of power through the back wheels and there needed to be weight there to ensure the car kept traction. The location of the engine was quite like that of the Bizzarini GT 5300 and both cars suffered from the same problem, heat in the passenger compartment. Insulation can only achieve so much and to really make a Nagari comfortable air-conditioning is a good idea.

The Ford 301 cu. in. (5 liter) V8 was fitted with a Holley 2 barrel 500 cfm carburettor and produced 220bhp @ 4,600rpm with torque of 300lb/ft @ 2,600rpm. This engine gave the Bolwell Nagari a standing to 60mph time of 7 seconds and a top speed in the vicinity of 130mph. The later 351 cu. in. Ford V8 engine produced more power but shoehorning it into the Nagari’s chassis required some modifications. With a 351 cu. in. V8 under the hood one road tester claimed the top speed was 147mph. We suspect that finding that out was a bit of a “white knuckle” experience.

The engine and carburettor fitted determines the bonnet/hood profile. The 301 cu. in. cars have a modest air-scoop on the bonnet and one very early one appears in photographs with that small air-scoop reversed. The earliest display Nagari for the 1969 Melbourne Show had a flat bonnet/hood which was only made possible because the carburettor was removed from the engine. There are a few variations on the hood bulge depending on the carburettor(s) and engine fitted.

Bolwell Nagari 351 cubic inch V8

The front suspension was fully independent by unequal length wishbones and coil springs, this being mounted on the front of the “Y” fork of the backbone chassis (see diagram above). The rear suspension was mounted on a “T” section at the rear of the backbone chassis incorporating trailing arms to provide positive location of the beam rear axle with limited slip differential. Again coil springs were used. The propeller shaft passed through the chassis backbone to the rear axle. The steering was originally a rack and pinion unit from the Austin 1800 sedan which Bolwell listed as having 3.3 turns lock to lock: this was subsequently replaced with an Austin Kimberley steering box with 4.2 turns lock to lock. Turning circle was 34′.

Brakes of the early Nagaris fitted with the 301 cu. in. V8 were 11¼” vented discs at the front and 10″ drums at the rear, the brakes being servo assisted with dual hydraulic circuits as was mandated by the ADI at the time. Brakes of the later 351 cu. in. V8 cars were discs all around. The Nagari was also fitted with alloy wheels which Bolwell described as “heat dissipating wheels”. Original wheel size was 14″x6″ and the tires were 185×14 radials. With the light weight of the car and the tires available on the market back then, Bolwell advised Avon tires for the car. Having the wrong tires on a Nagari did not help its handling, nor its handling of power at the rear wheels. The Nagari with the Ford Windsor V8 weighed 18cwt/2016lb, so it was about the same weight as a Ford Cortina of the late sixties or a Datsun 1600 (Datsun 510). It was a car that would benefit from twenty-first century wheels and tire technology.

The Nagari was only 44″ high, comparable to the Bizzarrini GT 5300 which was 43″ high: consequently neither car is particularly easy to get in and out of. For those of us who are not 6′ tall it is perhaps a bit easier, but those of Jeremy Clarkson proportions may find it more of a challenge. Once in the car one becomes aware of the limited room in the foot well: the backbone chassis construction pretty much ensures there is just not quite enough space there. All the Bolwell Nagaris bar one were made in right hand drive. The one exception was made for an American client who didn’t take delivery of the ordered car, so it was purchased by someone in Australia who used it for racing where the fact that it was left hand drive was not a big issue.

Buying a Bolwell Nagari

Bolwell Nagari Body and Interior

When looking for a Bolwell Nagari your best first port of call will be one of the Bolwell car clubs. With so few Nagaris in existence and almost all of those located in Australia they will tend to know of most cars still in existence. The backbone chassis was made of 14 gauge steel and steel can rust so it is your first concern, although you also need to look for cracks and the integrity of welds. A new chassis can be constructed but there is a significant cost in doing that. Pay particular attention to the rear box section as that is a rust trouble-spot on both Nagaris and Mark VII cars. You must get the car up on a hoist and check for corrosion and accident damage. Check all suspension mounting points, suspension bushings etc. Most Australians live in coastal cities and regularly visit the beach so expect that the car you are looking at has been exposed to salt air.

Bolwell Nagari advertisement

On a test drive you are looking for signs of shock absorber failure (knocks, vibration), steering wandering or excess steering free play, movement or rattles in doors or body panels. Check door operation and fit. Jacking up the car and checking the opening and closing of the doors can provide tell tale signs of chassis flexing.

Check tire wear patterns. Chassis or suspension/steering problems will often show up in unusual tire wear patterns.

The fiberglass bodywork on Bolwell cars was very good, better than many, so you are mainly looking for damage from accidents or collisions with wildlife such as kangaroos or wombats. A collision with a kangaroo will tend to result in its going over the hood/bonnet and if the windscreen is not laminated it can finish up in the car on the driver’s lap. The end result of such a scenario is damage to both car and driver, the kangaroo often survives and hops off once out of the vehicle. Wombats will cause low front damage and they normally finish up going under the car, as do road-kill kangaroo carcases. So look for damage consistent with collision with animals as well as traffic accident damage.

The quality of the paint will depend on how recently the car has been painted. The old gel-coat finish was not as good as modern finishes and getting a good re-finishing on a tatty looking car will do some wonders. For replacement body panels contact your Bolwell club. The Victorian club has original molds for the fiberglass panels of some Bolwell car models.

Bolwell Nagari cockpit interior

The interior of the Nagari poses no great difficulty for an automotive trimmer. Instrumentation was generic and should prove to be repairable or replaceable. If the car does not yet have inertia reel seat belts they will be a worthwhile fitting for the additional comfort they provide. The Nagari was made to be a kit car or production car and so everything is made to be owner fixable.

Check the that the door seals actually seal, on the original cars they sometimes didn’t. Your first trip through a car wash is often the time you find out whether there are leaks or not.

Bolwell Nagari Engine and Transmission

Whichever of the original engines the Nagari has these units are solid and pretty agricultural. Normal checks will be for leaking oil seals front and back, rocker cover seals etc. Check for rattles or sounds that should not be there. Check for exhaust blue smoke indicating piston ring problems or valve guide problems. Do a cylinder leakage test. Check the radiator coolant for milky deposits indicating oil in the coolant. Check for signs of water in the oil, again, if oil and water come together there will be milky deposits.

Check the transmission for operation, the four speed Ford gearbox is a joy to use. The most common place for gearbox problems to show up is on second gear because it gets so much use. Make sure second gear engages smoothly on the over-run, such as slowing down for a right angle left hand corner, and that it has no tendency to pop out of gear. check for excess play in the propeller shaft joints. When driving the car listen for knocks from the transmission.

Bolwell Nagari Electrical System

If the electrical system is original then it is decades old and due for replacement. If the car has been re-wired then things should be all working perfectly. Whichever scenario check that everything does in fact work as it should, an auto electrician can do the necessary testing better than most of the rest of us can.


Look for service records and documentation of work done. The Bolwell club will often be a good source for the history of the car you are looking at.


The Bolwell Nagari had the potential to be a great success not only in Australia, but also in world markets such as Europe and the United States. The design and engineering is perhaps not at the sophisticated level of an Italian thoroughbred but it is about the equal of a Shelby Cobra, and the Nagari is a great driver’s car, it’s enormous fun to drive. If you are looking for a car that provides AC Cobra excitement and owner tweak-ability then a Bolwell Nagari is a car you’ll without doubt enjoy.

The Bolwell Car Company still exists and they have a new model, the Bolwell Nagari 300. At time of publication the list price was AUD$197,000, so it is not so much a car for the average bloke as the original Nagari was. But if you are looking for something exotic and unique then you will find the Bolwell Nagari 300 on the Bolwell Car Company website.

Bolwell Nagari roadster

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email (the address is in the footer). We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

The post Bolwell Nagari – The Essential Buying Guide For The Australian Classic appeared first on Silodrome.

MGB V8 GT and Roadster – The Essential Buying Guide Mon, 19 Mar 2018 07:00:47 +0000 MGB V8 GT and Roadster – The Essential Buying Guide

The MGB V8 has earned a reputation for being almost a blue-collar version of the Shelby Cobra, both cars share features including a stylish British body, an American-derived V8 engine mounted up front, rear wheel drive, and a power-to-weight ratio that was world-beating by 1960s standards. Of course, the MGB V8 wasn’t developed by Carroll...

The post MGB V8 GT and Roadster – The Essential Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

MGB V8 GT and Roadster – The Essential Buying Guide

The MGB V8 has earned a reputation for being almost a blue-collar version of the Shelby Cobra, both cars share features including a stylish British body, an American-derived V8 engine mounted up front, rear wheel drive, and a power-to-weight ratio that was world-beating by 1960s standards.

Of course, the MGB V8 wasn’t developed by Carroll Shelby but by British engineer Ken Costello, and the production versions of the MGB with the V8 upfront were only offered as tin top coupes – the MGB GT V8. In the decades that have passed since enthusiasts have learned that it’s not particularly difficult to install a Rover V8 into an MGB Roadster, and there are now countless thousands of them in the USA, Europe, and further afield in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

What the MGB offered, and still offers today, is a pure driving experience, in a car that the owner can pull apart, fix, modify, and generally tinker with to his/her heart’s content. In looking at an MGB V8 we need first to look at the history of the original MGB and how it got a V8 shoehorned into it in the first place, so we have an understanding of what to look for.

A Brief MGB History


The MGB was first conceived back in 1956, in those post World War II days when the British car industry was trying both to recover from the rigors of the war years and to re-define itself for the “modern” era. Britain needed her car industry to export or perish and the best market for her to aim at was the United States, which had not been ravaged by the war, and where there was a significant population of people with enough income to support a motor car: something that was not true of the British home market. It’s important to remember that these were austerity years in Britain and so car makers were not in a position to invest large sums of money into new technology, they needed to use tried and proven existing designs and technology to create marketable new products. The MGB was a product of that scenario: made using conventional, existing, proven parts. This has been of great benefit to the MGB over the decades: it was built to last, it was built to be owner repairable, and it was built to be a fun car. These things added up to ensure that the MGB is probably the most common British enthusiast’s car on earth.

The name MG comes from the name of the original Morris Garages, which was the Morris retail sales and service center in Longwall Street, Oxford. Being a part of Morris Motors, MG was absorbed into the British Motor Corporation along with Morris, Austin, Wolseley, and Riley in 1952. The initial plan for the updated MG sports car was to base it on the existing MGA, however, the chassis and body design of the MGA was found to be too old fashioned for a new car and so the decision was made to build the new model using a monocoque/unibody construction, which would make the car lighter, with more luggage room, and which would fit with the move to monocoque construction for BMC’s other motor cars. As this was a new manufacturing method for BMC the MGB unibody was somewhat over-engineered, something which has helped these cars survive in significant numbers.

MGB GT Details 2

The MGB was designed to be relatively luxurious by comparison with traditional British sports cars. By 1962 when the MGB made its debut, the management at BMC were aware that sports car buyers were not all looking for simple light and fast cars for racing or motor-sport, but wanted cars with creature comforts such as wind-up windows and a heater/demister. The MGB’s stable-mate, the Austin-Healey 3000 sports convertible Mark II, was also introduced in 1962 and it too sported wind-up side windows. Even at that stage BMC had high hopes for the MGB and it would be proposed as the successor of the Austin-Healey 3000 when that model was phased out in 1967.

The MGB was not created as an entirely new car however. It inherited the same BMC B Series in-line four cylinder OHV engine and transmission of the MGA, but with the engine’s capacity increased to 1,798cc. The front suspension was straight from the MGA, a double wishbone with coil springs design. For the rear suspension BMC’s engineers initially aimed to significantly improve on the MGA’s “banjo” live axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs design by switching to a new design using coil springs with trailing arms and a Panhard rod. This design promised to provide much improved location for the rear axle, something that would have been of great benefit when a V8 engine was later fitted to the car. However BMC engineers were unable to make the system work: in testing the prototype it was found that the trailing arms and Panhard rod system caused a torque steering effect, and that was counter productive to what the design team was trying to accomplish. Engineers scrapped the new system and reverted to the semi-elliptic leaf springs and live axle design of the MGA. So, other than the move to a monocoque body, the MGB was largely a revised MGA.

MGB GT Details

The MGB was made in four distinct series, with BMC recognizing two. The first series of cars were made from 1962-1968 and had the three main bearing engine from the MGA but with a capacity of 1,798cc. These cars have the MGA four speed gearbox with synchromesh on the top three gears only and the old “banjo” rear axle. The Laycock De Normanville Type D overdrive was offered as an option up to 1967 when it was replaced with the Type LH overdrive. Brakes comprised 10.7” front discs and at the rear 10” drums. Servo assistance was optional, sports car enthusiasts of the 1950’s and 1960’s tended to prefer non-power assisted brakes for the better feel they gave: so if you purchase an MGB with non-power brakes be prepared for significant effort to be required on the brake pedal.  Suspension was independent with unequal wishbones and coil springs at the front, with an anti-roll bar and lever type shock absorbers forming part of the upper wishbone. At the rear was a live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and lever type shock absorbers. Steering was by rack and pinion with 2.9 turns lock to lock. The electrical system of this first series included a Lucas dynamo with two 6 volt batteries wired in series to provide a 12 volt system, positive earth. It was in 1965, during the production of these first series of cars, that the MGB GT body style was introduced.

MGB Cars

The second series of cars were made from 1967-1969 alongside the six cylinder MGC, whose 2,912 cc engine produced 145 bhp at 5,250 rpm. For the four cylinder MGB the main improvement was the move to a five main bearing crankshaft in the engine. The electrical system was upgraded to an alternator with a single 12 volt battery, negative earth, and reversing lamps were fitted to the rear valence panel. 1968 saw the cars being fitted with smog pumps to meet new US emissions standards. 1968 was also the year the old MGA gearbox was replaced with a new unit which had synchromesh on all four gears. This is especially important to those wanting a V8 engine as this gearbox was made for the 6 cylinder MGC and it is suitable for mating to a V8 engine. Not only was the gearbox upgraded but the rear axle was also, to the tube type Salisbury axle, which had a great reputation for strength and dependability, also a necessary item for a V8 engine car. Last but not least the braking system was upgraded to a dual circuit system.


In 1969 the MGB was improved further with the fitting of head restraints to prevent whiplash injury in the case of the car being rear-ended. Three windscreen wipers replaced the original two, improving the swept area of the screen nicely, and the bumpers were fitted with prominent rubber over-riders, which were nicknamed “Sabrinas” after the British actress of the same name. In 1974 the MGB was finally fitted with radial tires as standard equipment. This version of the MGB was made until 1974. As BMC was subsumed into British Leyland Corporation in 1968 these cars wear British Leyland badges.

Ken Costello and the Birth of the MGB V8

Ken Costello MG V8

It was not British Leyland who pioneered the idea of shoehorning the alloy V8 engine into the MGB, it was a mechanic and racing driver named Ken Costello who ran a workshop called Costello Motor Engineering Company Ltd. located in Sidcup, Kent. Ken Costello was working as a racing driver for the movie “Grand Prix” at the Monza circuit and whilst there he visited the museum and was intrigued by a Maserati small-block V8 engine on display. His mind began working and he decided that the Buick/British Leyland alloy V8 engine was lighter than the original iron B Series four cylinder engines that were fitted in the MGB. That engine weighed 318lb, which was a full 40lb lighter. He then wondered if it could be installed into an MGB without too much extensive modification. Given that the gearbox and rear axle had been upgraded in the second series of four cylinder MGB’s to the same specification as the three liter MGC, the transmission was going to be able to withstand the forces imposed on it by an only slightly larger V8. On a visit to Piper’s Garage located in Hayes, Kent,  Ken Costello came across a Rover V8 on the workshop floor and it got him thinking.

Over at British Leyland, management had thought of installing the V8 into an MGB, and engineering had been tasked with assessing the idea, but they had advised that it couldn’t be done without widening the MGB by 3.5 inches. There’s an old saying that if you say to yourself “It can’t be done” then your mind gives up and you won’t find a solution: but if you say to yourself “How can I?” then your mind gets to work on figuring out a solution. Ken Costello was not a “Can’t be done” sort of guy, he was a “How can I?” sort of guy and he figured out that the V8 engine could be installed into the existing MGB with little modification. He managed to borrow a nice red MGB from a trusting friend, and he acquired an Oldsmobile 215 aluminum V8 (which was based on the same Buick alloy V8 that British Leyland had acquired the rights to manufacture and were fitting in their Rover cars) and proceeded to engage in some creative engineering. It took six months of creative engineering to get the whole project complete but it became quickly obvious that this was a great idea.

Ken Costello V8 MGB Roadster Engine

Out on the road that first MGB V8 was capable of standing to 60mph in rather less than 8 seconds and had a top speed of 130mph. Given that the gearing of the production Jaguar E-Type (XKE) gave it around the same top speed that made the Costello MGB V8 an amazingly affordable little motorway bullet. It also completely transformed the driving experience. Ken Costello’s second conversion was done for Lady Peggy Cripps, owner of a local British Leyland dealership, and it was an MGB GT so it was the first MGB GT V8. With the conversion being such a success Ken Costello established a new company, the V8 Conversion Company, in the town of Farnborough. These Costello V8 MGB’s were given a range of improvements including Jensen alloy wheels, and can be recognized by their unique “egg box” radiator grille and “Costello V8” badge. The bonnet/hood has a bubble to accommodate the carburettors.

Ken Costello V8 MGB Roadster

Reviews of the Costello V8 soon appeared in the motoring press and by 1972 had come to the attention of management at British Leyland. They asked Ken Costello if he would loan them one of his cars so they could study it and after a while he obliged. Once British Leyland’s engineers had time to examine his car they asked him what he would do if they put the car into production to which he replied that it would take them a couple of years to accomplish that and he’d just keep making V8 conversions during that time. British Leyland did indeed put their version of the MGB GT V8 into production in 1973, and they attempted to cut off Ken Costello’s supply of engines. That of course had a detrimental effect on Ken Costello’s business (although he managed to source engines from elsewhere outside Britain). Ken Costello ultimately sold his once lucrative V8 Conversion Company and went on to create a quite brilliant design for a 5 speed gearbox.

There were about 220 Costello V8’s made making this a quite rare and historic car. Ken Costello’s cars have more powerful engines than their British Leyland siblings, producing about 180bhp by comparison with the Leyland factory version which was detuned and produced power of 137bhp @ 5,000rpm and torque of 193 lb/ft @ 2,900rpm.

British Leyland did not make a success of their version of the MGB GT V8 however and ceased production after making only 2,591 cars from start of production in 1973 until cessation in 1976. British Leyland made no effort to create a left-hand drive emissions control version for the US market. So, what could have been a real export earner was quietly scrapped. Instead British Leyland stuck with the four cylinder engine which was progressively encumbered by more emissions controls until the California version was down to producing 70bhp, half that of the V8. The reason for this seemingly illogical decision was because the Abingdon factory was barely able to turn out enough V8 engines to satisfy British domestic demand, let alone the huge US market. Added to that it was simply uneconomic to attempt to go through the onerous process of creating a special emissions controlled version for the US.

MGB GT Cutaway

The fourth series of MGB’s were made from 1974 until production of the MGB was ended in 1980. These cars were fitted with rubber bumpers made of polyurethane over a steel core, a collapsible steering column with steering geared down from 2.9 turns lock to lock, to 3.5 turns, and had their ride height increased by 1″ to meet US regulations. British Leyland even decided to omit the front anti-roll bar in 1975 as a cost cutting measure, which caused sufficient howls of discontent that they reverted to installing it in 1976. These rubber bumper cars deservedly acquired a reputation for being ugly and having compromised handling. However, these cars have body shells and transmissions that were made to be manufactured with either the four cylinder engine or the V8 as for a period the four cylinder and V8 were manufactured side by side. So the four cylinder cars lend themselves to the V8 installation and are ideal candidates for after-market conversion, removal of the rubber bumpers, and tweaking of the suspension to create one of the best of the post-war British sports cars.

Models and Specifications


MGB GT Lady On Roof

The MGB V8 was made in two styles, the original chrome bumper version, and the later rubber bumper version. British Leyland made both the MGB GT V8, which was for the home market, and the MGB with the four cylinder engine which was exported to the US market, using largely the same body and suspension. So although there was no need to raise the suspension height for the cars intended for the British and Australian markets, they were made to the same 1″ increased height as the cars for the US. Similarly when the American regulations required the use of the new rubber bumpers to comply with their 5mph impact regulations then all MGB’s be they for export or not were fitted with the same rubber bumpers. No doubt the rubber bumpers proved handy down in Australia where night drives on country roads can involve close encounters of the kangaroo and wombat kind.


The version of the alloy V8 engine used in the MGB V8 GT was de-tuned by comparison with the versions used in Rover’s other passenger cars. This may have been done in deference to the transmission components, especially the Laycock electric overdrive. The engine fitted to the MGB GT V8 produced 137bhp @ 5,000rpm. this was still enough to ensure standing to 60mph times under 8 seconds and a top speed of 125mph. This de-tuned version of the engine was manufactured to be suitable for unleaded fuel.

Despite the fact that the engine was de-tuned the MGB’s rear leaf springs had to be beefed up to cope with the power being delivered to them to prevent axle tramp. The original five-leaf setup was transformed into a stronger six-leaf suspension. This gave the V8 a firmer ride than its four cylinder sibling and tended to produce some skittishness in hard power-on cornering, especially if the suspension had to cope with bumps in the road surface. The ride quality of the MGB GT V8 was regarded as needlessly harsh by some reviewers, and the wind noise at high speeds was reported to be loud.

MGB GT Car 2

The MGB GT V8 engine was fitted with traditionally British twin SU HIF 6 carburettors with air cleaners designed so that no hood/bonnet bulge would be needed. The radiator was moved well forward but was a bit too small for the V8 engine so it was fitted with two electric fans to provide the necessary air flow to keep the motor cool in stop-start traffic.

The After-Market Conversions Including the MGB V8 Roadsters

The V8 engine fitted to genuine British Leyland MGB GT V8’s and those to be found in converted cars such as those by Ken Costello cars will not necessarily be the same. When British Leyland purchased the rights to manufacture the Buick/Oldsmobile 215 alloy V8 they found they needed to make some changes to it to suit their manufacturing methods and workforce expertise. One of the modifications done was to re-design the block with reinforcing webbing. British Leyland intended to sand-cast the engine blocks as opposed to the die-cast methods used by the Americans. This made the British version of the engine significantly heavier, increasing its weight from 318lb/144kg to 374lb/170kg. Some converted cars will have genuine British Leyland engines: and some cars will have other versions such as the original Oldsmobile 215. These original American engines are typically lighter and more powerful, with outputs up to around 200bhp. British Leyland consulted with Ken Costello and had him create a sample car for them with his V8 conversion. Once they had basically copied his engineering and put their own MGB GT V8 into production British Leyland then set about preventing Ken Costello from purchasing engines from them, presumably to drive him out of business. He sourced original American engines from overseas for his conversions, so V8 Costello cars will often be fitted with those lighter and more powerful engines.

MGB GT Costello V8

Whilst the V8 Costello conversions were of high quality those done by others may or may not exhibit the same level of expertise and quality control. Ken Costello typically revised suspension and brakes in the V8 conversions he did, and he was a performance tuning specialist with significant race experience.

Buying an MGB V8

MGB V8 – Body and Interior

Whether an MGB has a V8 engine or the four the most critical thing to assess when purchasing one is the condition of the monocoque/unibody. You should expect to find rust in a car with an original body, and the most critical area to assess are the sills and their inner central membrane. This area of the body is difficult to examine and it is preferably a job for an expert in this field. With over half a million MGB’s made a great many of them are still in active use the supply of parts for these cars is better than for pretty much any other classic car. Parts for rusted out sills are available, but fitting them is a job for a competent expert, not a willing amateur. Complete new body parts are being made and with much better rust-proofing than the originals. But a body-off restoration is a huge job requiring significant expertise and a lot of time.

MGB GT Interior

You need to check under the carpets for rust, in the battery bays, the front wings where they join the scuttle, inside the rear and front wings, and around and under the doors. Check the door drain holes are free and able to drain. Check the door gaps and opening and closing of the doors.

One way to assess the structural stiffness of the car is to alternately jack up the front and then the rear of the car and check the opening and closing of the doors. If doors become stiff or pop open that is an indicator of the body bending, and indicates weakness.

Check around the headlights for rust and accident damage.

Check the boot/trunk floor for rust, also check for a fuel smell that might indicated leakage.

MGB Roadster Car

The early MGB’s had bonnet/hood and boot lid/trunk made of aluminum alloy. Because aluminum is more soft than steel these were more susceptible to damage. Additionally the aluminum alloy panels such as this require annealing if panel-beating is required. This alloy was used extensively in the British car industry and is the same one used for Land Rovers and Aston Martins: it is called Birmabright. If the car you are looking at has aluminum panels and a V8 engine then it is a conversion: all the factory MGB GT V8 cars have steel panels.

One small item often overlooked is that the original factory made MGB GT V8’s only had the V8 badge on the nearside front wing panel, it was not repeated on the offside. So if the car you are looking at has the badges on both sides you will know there has been alteration, repair and/or re-spray work done, and the repairer did not realize that the badge only appears on the nearside.

Suspension, Brakes and Steering

The MGB has a conventional suspension system that is owner repairable, and owner upgradeable. Looking at a car you are considering purchasing do the routine checks of the king pins and bushings. Check the shock absorbers: these may be the original lever type or they may have been replaced with telescopic ones. Check whether or not the car is fitted with a front anti-roll bar, remembering that this item was omitted in 1975 cars much to the chagrin of everyone except perhaps the accountants at British Leyland (and then only the ones who did not own 1975 MGB’s). The car may have had some suspension tweaks done including the fitting of a rear anti-roll bar.

There are suspension upgrade kits which can be well worthwhile but do your research before choosing. There are also excellent modern suspension bushings available and, if the car you purchase has not yet been treated to these, you should make it one of the things you do.

The steering should have not more than 1″ of play in the universal joint, and on the road there should be no sign of the car wandering. If there is then a steering overhaul is going to be necessary. Check the rubber gaiters on the steering are in good shape. If on a test drive you notice that there appears to be some rear-end torque steer when you apply significant power it may only mean that the U-bolts are worn, which is easily fixable. Check that the car does indeed have the correct six spring setup and not the five. The correct V8 six spring setup is rated for 550lb: the four cylinder cars had five spring sets rated at 400lb for early cars and 450lb for later ones.

The brakes are conventional 10″ Girling discs at the front, and 10.5″ drums at the rear. Normal checks will be to look for any hydraulic fluid leaks, signs of scoring of the discs or drums, condition of pads/shoes. During the test drive the brakes should pull up straight and well, with no squeals or grinding sounds, and no spongy feeling in the brake pedal. The car may or may not have a brake servo, and it may or may not be original. Likewise the car may or may not be fitted with dual-circuit brakes. If it isn’t it is recommended that a dual-circuit system be fitted for a car that is going to be regularly driven or used in any sort of competition.


The transmission of a V8 car needs special consideration, especially if the car has an after-market V8 conversion. The second car that Ken Costello converted to a V8 was owned by Lady Peggy Cripps, who was a British Leyland Dealer. That car was an early MGB GT with the old MGA type gearbox and “banjo” differential. Ken Costello made a point of replacing the old style differential with a much stronger Salisbury type as fitted to the later cars and the MGC. If a car you are looking at is an early model that has been fitted with a V8, or is one you are planning to convert to V8 power, then replacement of the gearbox and the old “banjo” differential are necessary. Perhaps the weakest link in the transmission is the Laycock electric overdrive which needs to be treated with some care even on cars with the later MGC gearbox and Salisbury rear axle, and even if the overdrive unit is in good working condition. The unit is quite sturdy, but should be treated with care when pushing V8 levels of torque through it. The earlier V8 models are normally fitted with an overdrive unit that operates on 3rd and 4th gears, the later unit as fitted to the rubber bumper cars operates on 4th gear only. The overdrive unit assists with the MGB GT V8’s fuel economy providing 29mph per 1,000rpm and fuel economy around 30mpg in highway use. For the V8 models the overdrive control should be a stalk on the steering column although there was an earlier overdrive control on the gear-lever, which you may come across on after-market conversion cars.

Many people convert the four speed gearbox to a Rover 5-speed from the SD1 and this tends to be much more satisfactory unit. The Rover clutch and 5-speed gearbox were designed for the V8 engine and that gearbox is made with an oil pump as part of its design to cope with the torque of the V8 engine.

Normal checks on the transmission include taking the car for a test drive and working through the gears. On most cars any weakness in the gearbox will manifest itself in changing down into second gear. Any crunching or difficulty in engaging second on the over-run will indicate gearbox wear and need for overhaul. If the gear pops out on the over-run the condition is pretty bad. Gearbox overhauls are able to be done most and parts are obtainable, although the laygear has apparently become hard to get.

Check the clutch engages smoothly and does not slip. When driving the car listen for knocks from the transmission, universal joints etc. Check the prop-shaft and universal joints for play when inspecting under the car.


Rover V8 Engine

The V8 engine runs at much lower oil pressure than the four cylinder. Oil pressure for the four cylinder should be at 50psi @ 50mph(80km/hr). Normal oil pressure for the V8 is 30-40psi. On idle at about 550rpm expect to see the oil pressure drop down to as low as 20psi. The V8 uses a low pressure system so this is within normal parameters. Other than that the normal checks on an engine involve looking for oil leaks from old and tired seals, blue smoke indicating worn rings etc. and knocks or unusual noises. The V8 engine uses the hydraulic tappets common in American engines: these may make a brief noise on start-up but should become very quiet quickly as oil pressure gets to operating levels. A cylinder leakage test/compression test are worthwhile.

With any engine with alloy components it is essential that the cooling system has been filled with the correct corrosion inhibitor/anti-freeze coolant. If plain water has been used expect corrosion damage. Check the coolant for milky deposits which indicate oil leaking into the coolant. Similarly check the engine oil for signs of coolant leaking into the oil.

Check operation of the heater/demister. A common fault is jamming of the heater control tap caused by corrosion.

Last but not least, if you need to get the exhaust system replaced make sure you get it done by someone who is a specialist with this car and engine. The new system must line up perfectly with the manifolds. If the fitter uses some force to pull the exhaust pipes in to make them line up the pressure placed on the system will run the risk of cracking the cast iron manifold flanges.

Electrical System

The electrical system of the car is likely to be very old if it hasn’t been re-done in recent years. Make sure all electric accessories and peripherals are working properly. British Leyland were known for cutting corners so beware of potentially inadequate alternators in early cars. For a car you want to fully enjoy a full re-wiring may be necessary.


Ensure you get as complete a service record as you can. Make sure the car is licensed. If it has an after-market conversion you are advised to get a professional engineer’s report on that conversion work to ensure it meets the licensing standards of the jurisdiction you plant to register it in. This is especially important in Australia where state to state regulations vary and transferring a car from one state to another can cause unforeseen problems.

The is an excellent source of information, and the perhaps the best book to read for those contemplating doing a V8 conversion is “How to Give Your MGB V8 Power” by Roger Williams.


The MGB V8 was sometimes referred to as “The poor man’s E-Type” because it offered a lot of performance for not a lot of money. In performance terms it is probably more like the Jaguar XK120, 140 and 150 than it is like the E-Type (XKE) as the MGB V8 rear suspension is a live axle/leaf spring arrangement whereas the E-Type is fully independent with in-board disc brakes for low unsprung weight. But that being said the MGB V8 offers a driving experience that is just enormously enjoyable. The V8 engine transforms the hard sounding four cylinder which requires the driver to use the gearbox wisely into a smooth elegant sufficiency of power on demand driving experience. At speed expect plenty of wind noise, but this car is not offering a “magic carpet ride” of a Bentley, it is more like MG’s answer to the AC Cobra: a car that lets you know about every bump in the road, more like the sports car you bought because you love riding motorcycles.


Photo Credits: British Leyland.

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your hard-earned experience and advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts.

Editor’s Note 2: Some of the images in this article feature MGBs with engines other than the Rover V8, due to the difficulty in sourcing period imagery of MGB V8s.


Ken Costello V8 MGB Ad

The post MGB V8 GT and Roadster – The Essential Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

DeLorean DMC-12 – The Essential DMC Buying Guide Sat, 03 Mar 2018 07:00:38 +0000 DeLorean DMC-12 – The Essential DMC Buying Guide

The History of the DeLorean DMC-12 Had it not been for the movie “Back to the Future” the DeLorean DMC-12 would almost certainly have become a car that was largely forgotten except by a small group of hard-core enthusiasts. It was a sports car that initially had great potential, all wrapped up in a beautiful Giorgetto...

The post DeLorean DMC-12 – The Essential DMC Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

DeLorean DMC-12 – The Essential DMC Buying Guide

The History of the DeLorean DMC-12

Had it not been for the movie “Back to the Future” the DeLorean DMC-12 would almost certainly have become a car that was largely forgotten except by a small group of hard-core enthusiasts. It was a sports car that initially had great potential, all wrapped up in a beautiful Giorgetto Giugaro body in eye-catching brushed stainless steel. But this was a car that seemed to meet a series of hurdles that were to compromise the design, and then destroy the DeLorean company. But the DeLorean became the Flux Capacitor equipped time machine that transported Marty McFly back to November 5th, 1955: and as it transported Marty across movie screens all over the world it transported itself into the imaginations of moviegoers – becoming their dream car.

The DeLorean DMC-12 did not begin as a movie time machine however, it began as the vision of John DeLorean, and that vision was for a stylish and sporty American GT car that would provide spirited performance in unique Italian style, a car that would be like an American Maserati. In fact Giorgetto Giugaro had designed the Maserati Boomerang show car in 1971 and it was quite likely the inspiration for the DeLorean (and for the Lotus Esprit).

Having been the youngest division head in General Motors history, John DeLorean left the company in 1973 to form his own company. Leaving behind a position that had given him oversight into the creation of some of the most iconic cars of the sixties, such as the Pontiac GTO, John DeLorean had set his sights on doing something completely different, and on doing it independently. Forming the DeLorean Motor Company he created a prototype called the DeLorean Safety Vehicle (DSV) in 1975. This original prototype featured body design by Guigaro and was to be powered by a mid-mounted Citroën/NSU Comotor Wankel engine. John DeLorean’s vision did not stop at creating an artistic sports coupé however. He was determined to use the most innovative construction method possible and so purchased the patent rights to the Elastic Reservoir Molding (ERV) process, which promised to make it possible to build this new car both lighter, and with greater structural stiffness, than the methods being used by automotive makers up to that time.

It was these two design decisions that arguably would lead to the demise of the DeLorean. The Elastic Reservoir Molding process, that was supposed to enable mass production of a molded plastic frame, proved to be unsuited to that purpose, necessitating a complete structural re-design. This re-design work was entrusted to Colin Chapman, founder and head of British sports car maker Lotus. Colin Chapman created a design that enabled the car to externally look much the same as the prototype, but that was based on a typical Lotus style backbone chassis: that chassis design being very similar to the one used for the Lotus Esprit.

DeLorean DMC-12 John DeLorean

The use of the Lotus style backbone chassis made it more sensible to  relocate the engine from the original mid-engine to a rear-engine configuration. Had DeLorean been able to use the Citroën/NSU Comotor Wankel engine this would likely have still allowed for a reasonably even front to rear weight distribution. The next blow to DeLorean however was in the engine department when the Citroën/NSU Comotor Wankel engine was taken out of production, forcing John DeLorean to choose a conventional reciprocating engine. He chose the 2,849cc Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) ZMJ-159 V6 with its lightweight alloy block and cylinder head that produced about 130hp.

Given that a Maserati or Ferrari GT would be fitted with an engine of around triple that power output we can see that the DeLorean was not going to be a high performance sports car. It would seem that John DeLorean had already decided that his new car was only going to be a stylish sporty coupé, perhaps that had been his original “DeLorean Safety Vehicle” (DSV) intention all along. It was a design decision that meant that the DMC-12 was going to be fast approaching its maximum speed when Marty McFly accelerated up to 88mph to make his historic connection with the lightning strike on the clock tower.

DeLorean DMC-12 Interior

With a viable and surprisingly conventional chassis design under the stainless steel Giugaro bodywork, John DeLorean went looking for financial backers and managed to recruit entertainers Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr. But it was when the Northern Ireland Development Agency stepped in and offered to invest around £100 million into the project that John DeLorean decided to locate his new company factory in the town of Dunmurry, near Belfast. This was to be a fateful decision both for DeLorean and for the community of Dunmurry. Dunmurry was a place of high unemployment, but in 1978 when construction of the DeLorean factory began it was a place where unemployed people had a strong work ethic and a desire to get a job and make a better life for themselves. This of itself was of great benefit to DeLorean because although they recruited a relatively inexperienced workforce, they also got people who were highly motivated to roll up their sleeves.

The DeLorean Motor Company began with a bold vision and to impress this on the automobile buying public in the days before “Back to the Future” the company decided to manufacture 100 gold plated DMC-12’s to promote the car as a symbol of affluence and style. Of the planned cars only two were initially made in 1980, with a third car being constructed from the gold plated spare parts in 1983. Additional to that one other DeLorean was gold plated by its owner.

DeLorean DMC-12 Chassis Frame

With the inevitable delays and cost overruns the factory finally began producing the DeLorean DMC-12 in 1981. Initial teething troubles and quality control issues with the production line were solved by 1982. However, in October 1982 John DeLorean was charged with drug dealing, having been subject to an entrapment operation by law enforcement. He would later be found not guilty by a court of law but the damage was done to DeLorean Motor Company and it was bankrupted that same year.

The DeLorean DMC-12 and Back to the Future

Around the time that DeLorean Motor Company was moving towards bankruptcy Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had worked on a script for a movie initially inspired by Zemeckis wondering if he would have been friends with his father if they had met as students at high school. The idea of traveling back in time and meeting his own dad was jointly worked on by Zemeckis and Gale to create a movie script. The script was taken up by Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment with distribution to be done by Universal Pictures. Fatefully for the future memory of the DeLorean DMC-12, it was chosen as the vehicle that Doctor Emmett Brown would equip with his Flux Capacitor, and several of the cars were procured for the making of the movie.

DeLorean DMC-12 Back to the Future

Back to the Future was a movie that combined enormous vividness with characters and situations that the audience could immediately identify with. For a great many it became a favorite movie and with that came the desire to own a DeLorean, regardless of whether it could really do 88mph or not, nor whether it could transport you back to November 5th, 1955 or not. However, by the time the movie was released in 1985 the DeLorean Motor Company was long bankrupted and the cars were only available on the used car market. Had DeLorean Motor Company been able to stay solvent and avoid bankruptcy up beyond the release of the movie then we can surmise that Marty McFly and Doc Brown would have saved the DeLorean company and the employment of the people of Dunmurry. Sadly that was not to be.

DeLorean DMC-12 – Models and Specifications

There was only one basic model DeLorean, the DMC-12, which was made with a small number of variations, in both left and right hand drive. The initial plan for construction was for an Elastic Reservoir Molding (ERV) reinforced plastic unibody onto which the stainless steel body panels would be fixed. This proved not to be viable and so the compromise was to have Colin Chapman of Lotus Cars design a backbone chassis onto which a reinforced plastic (i.e. fiberglass) body would be mounted: the stainless steel outer body skin panels being fixed to the fiberglass body. So the car was structurally very much like a Lotus except with stainless steel body panels attached to the fiberglass bodywork. John DeLorean chose to use gull-wing doors for the DMC-12 which were supported by a Grumman Aerospace developed system of cryogenically preset torsion bars assisted by gas-charged struts. These were used to great dramatic effect in “Back to the Future”.

DeLorean DMC-12 Engine

The DMC-12 featured a rear mounted all alloy 2.8 liter V6: the same engine that in supercharged form would later power the Renault Alpine GT. In its naturally aspirated format the engine produced 130bhp (US market specifications), sufficient to achieve a standing to 60mph time of 8.8 seconds and a top speed of about 110mph for the 5 speed manual transmission version. The 3 speed automatic’s standing to 60mph time was 10.5 seconds. The manual transmission was a standard Renault box. These performance figures roughly equate with the four cylinder MGB and the Datsun 510 (Datsun 1600) of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Cars built for the European and British markets had a power output of 155bhp. Interestingly, although the speedometer for the US market cars only went up to 85mph, there were cars made for the European market that were factory fitted with speedometers that went up to 140mph.

The suspension of the DMC-12 featured double wishbones with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers at the front and a multi-link system at the rear, also with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers. Steering was by rack and pinion, and the car was fitted with servo assisted disc brakes all around, 10 inch at the front and 10.5 inch at the rear. In short the DeLorean exhibited a strong Lotus design heritage and that augured well for the car’s handling. The DMC-12 with its original Lotus designed suspension handled quite well despite having a front to rear weight distribution of 35%:65%. (By comparison the early Porsche 911 models had front to rear weight distribution of 41.5%:58.5%, which was improved in the 1969 B-Series to 43%:57%.) However it was decided that production cars would have their ride-height increased and that raising of the car’s center of gravity did not help the handling at all. DMC-12’s with the ride-height set at the higher level can be discerned by the odd looking gap above the tires under the wheel arches. The rationale behind this late design decision is hard to figure out as the car already met US regulations for bumper and light heights with the lower original suspension height. DeLorean did not at that time know that the car would be required to race across a farm paddock with a terrified Marty McFly at the wheel: but the added ride height was no-doubt useful for the movie cars.

Many DMC-12 owners restore the ride height of their cars to the original Lotus specification and doing so dramatically improves the car’s handling.

DeLorean DMC-12 Open

The Legend of the Twin Turbo DeLorean DMC-12

The lack of power of the DMC-12 had become a cause for concern for DeLorean Motor Company when in 1981 Road and Track magazine tested the car and found it wanting in the power department. About the only viable option to get significantly more power from the existing alloy V6 was to look at turbo-charging the engine. Development work for the twin turbo engine was entrusted to Legend Industries of New York. Legend decided to use IHI (Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries) RHB52 turbochargers with twin intercoolers, and they developed modular boosting to optimize the efficiency of the system. The final development turbo-charged engine had a profound effect on the DMC-12’s performance, bringing the standing to 60mph time down to a crisp 5.8 seconds and raised the car’s top speed by a full 40mph to 150mph. This made the DMC-12 quicker than the Ferrari 308 and the Porsche 928. Although the twin-turbocharged engine never made it into the production DMC-12 it provides a potential plan for a DeLorean owner who would like to turn his/her car into a Porsche killer. Modern efforts to replicate the twin-turbo Legend engine combined with a modern fuel injection system can produce approximately 300hp.

Right Hand Drive

John DeLorean’s main market was the US, and to a lesser extent Europe. With both markets requiring left-hand drive cars the DeLorean factory only geared up to produce them, and not right-hand drive cars. For the minority markets requiring right-hand drive cars such as the UK, Australia and Japan, DeLorean approached Wooler-Hodec Ltd. to do post-production conversion of factory left-hand drive cars to right-hand drive. It is believed that twenty conversions were ordered from Wooler-Hodec Ltd. of which thirteen were completed before DeLorean went bankrupt. These cars have VIN numbers 510, 12171–12181, and 12199. All these cars were made with black interiors and all were equipped with the 5 speed manual transmission except for VIN 12175, which is the only automatic.

Subsequent to the first batch of Wooler-Hodec conversions a second batch of just three cars were also converted. These three cars have VIN numbers 5565, 5592 and 5638. When registered they had license plates AXI 1697, AXI 1698, AXI 1699, so they are commonly referred to as the “AXI cars”. These cars were made for the UK and as a result were not fitted with catalytic converters or other emissions controls required for US market cars. These three cars also differ from their factory siblings being fitted with roof-mounted radio antennas, indicator repeater lights, white forward-facing door lights, and a fog-light switch. The cars have rubstrips textured with the stainless body and were not fitted with American style side marker lights.

The right-hand drive cars purchased at auction when DeLorean’s stock was sold off were found not to be able to be registered in the UK as they did not conform to UK vehicle standards regulations. A former DeLorean Motor Company executive arranged to have these cars modified so they obtain UK registration. The original tail-light clusters were replaced with Rubbolite units which feature a built-in fog-light function as required by UK regulations, and a switch was installed to activate the fog-lights. The the front turn signal lenses were replaced with units with a more rounded style and the rear side marker lenses were changed to amber. A new tail-light surround and number license plate bezel was custom-made and fitted, and the seat-belt assemblies were replaced with UK compliant types. Of the sixteen right-hand drive cars more than half received these modifications in addition to the conversion work already done by Wooler-Hodec.

DeLorean DMC-12 Overhead

A number of left-hand drive DeLoreans have been converted to right-hand drive in addition to those done at the behest of the factory by Wooler-Hodec. Notable are the conversions being done by PJ Grady ( The fact that cars have been converted to right hand drive in addition to the sixteen rare cars means that a potential buyer must be aware that the right hand drive car he/she is thinking of buying is not necessarily one of the rare original cars.

Buying a DeLorean DMC-12

Body and Interior

The DeLorean DMC-12 uses an unusual method of construction and so needs to be approached a little differently to most classic cars. The backbone chassis is of a welded box section and plate steel construction. The chassis was made by the GKN engineering company. The completed chassis was dipped in epoxy resin and coated completely for rust-proofing and protection. This has its advantages and disadvantages: the epoxy provides good protection for a period of years but it will deteriorate over time, cracking and potentially allowing rust to begin where water may seep in. It also makes it more difficult to examine the steel under the epoxy to assess for rust. Rust commonly starts from the inside out and a DeLorean chassis is a challenge to accurately assess. One of the key things to look for in a DeLorean chassis is damage caused by grounding. Grounding damage can happen whether the car has been lowered back to its original Lotus ride-height or not, but the lower the car the more likely it is to have sustained grounding damage. Grounding damage can crack the epoxy coating and allow corrosion of the steel chassis to get going.

The other main area to examine for corrosion is the frame which is made of mild steel that is epoxy coated. The same problems of the epoxy cracking and allowing corrosion to get going is true of the frame as it is for the chassis. You need to check the frame, roof box, and suspension components for this problem.

Fixed onto that epoxy dipped backbone chassis is a fiberglass body system. Fiberglass does not rust but, like all plastics, it does deteriorate over time. Fiberglass can exhibit osmosis, when moisture becomes trapped between the layers of resin and the glass fibers. This may occur during manufacture or as a result of cracking or damage later on. You need to get a look at as much of the fiberglass underneath the stainless steel bodywork as you can to look for damage and/or deterioration.

Take a particular look at the way the gull-wing doors fit. This can be a good place to start looking at whether or not the body is straight and damage free. The structural stiffness of the car can be partly assessed by jacking up each end of the car in turn and opening and closing the doors.

On top of the fiberglass body the DeLorean affixes panels made of brushed stainless steel. The fact that there is no paint covering those panels means you can visually assess for corrosion or damage more easily. If the car has been painted however there may be some underlaying reason why that was done: for example the stainless steel body panels may have become too pitted to be repairable. Paint can be used to cover a multitude of sins and paint and body-filler can conceal accident damage or similar nasty things. If the car has been painted then you’ll need to assess if it actually still has stainless steel panels under the paint, and what condition those panels (and the underlaying fiberglass) are in. Paint does not readily adhere to stainless steel and special surface preparation (such as a metal-etch primer) must be done before priming and painting.

DeLorean DMC-12 Factory

Repairing and maintaining the stainless body panels is quite different to working with a painted surface. The DeLorean body panels were made of 304 stainless steel and the use of this lower grade stainless means the panels can corrode to the point where they begin pitting, and eventually the pitting can eat all the way through the panel. Had DeLorean used a higher grade of stainless steel such as 316 it is much less likely that this would have become a problem. If the panels are in good shape and just need some touching up then they can be sanded. The sanding process must be done consistently to create an even brushed appearance and is best done with a power wheel to buff the panel evenly. Damage to a panel is another matter entirely: the DeLorean was made so the stainless panels could be easily replaced if damaged and that remains the best solution, provided that you can obtain a replacement panel.

On the subject of replacement panels the DMC-12 was fitted with no less than three different styles of hood/bonnet during its short production run. The early 1981 hood featured a fuel flap to enable the car to be refuelled without the need to open the hood completely. This hood also has grooves on either side parallel with the join to the front fenders/wings. The second hood type no longer has the fuel flap but does still have the parallel grooves. The third and final type is plain with no grooves. So if you come across a 1981 car with the later hood style you will know that the panel has been replaced for some reason, probably damage.

DeLorean DMC-12 Factory

The interior of a a car is often a good indicator of the attitude of previous owner(s) to looking after it. If the interior shows that it has been well looked after with normal deterioration with age, a nicely patinated look, then that augers well. Grime and damage caused by carelessness do not.

Sun damage: cracks in the dashboard etc. can often be repaired but check up on that before purchase so you are clear on cost and viability.

Engine and Transmission

A very low mileage car: such as one that has less than 5,000 miles on the clock, may seem like a safe bet but in reality it is to be approached with caution. Re-commissioning a car that has been sitting for a long time needs to be done properly to avoid damage to the engine. The fuel tank needs to be emptied and the fuel system flushed clean before filling up with fresh fuel. The fuel tank has components in it that can be most easily accessed via the inspection cover located in the trunk/boot: there is normally no need to remove the fuel tank from the car. The fuel pump needs to be checked as it can be subject to corrosion and rotting. If in doubt throw it out and replace it with a new one during re-commissioning and before starting the car.

Oil seals that were new in 1981 have had more than three decades to deteriorate and you must expect to replace them before taking your “Back to the Future” car for its first drive. A car that has been sitting for decades that was not re-commissioned properly will have had corrosion and gunk from old fuel drawn into its engine, and that will not have done it the slightest good. A car that has been periodically used, one that has 20,000-40,000 miles on it can be a safer bet.

The engine of the DMC-12 is known to be a reliable unit and if properly looked after is said to be good for 300,000 miles. Have the engine looked at by a competent mechanic to properly assess its condition. Sports cars can tend to be driven hard, and hard driving rapidly accelerates engine deterioration.

If you are planning to turbo-charge your newly acquired DMC-12 be aware that the original factory fitted PRV engine is not suitable for that treatment. You would need to acquire a turbocharged engine such as the PRV Z7U from a Renault Alpine GTA or similar and replace the original engine with that.

DeLorean DMC-12 Factory

The manual 5 speed transmission used in the DMC-12 is a unit with a good reputation. It needs to be checked for wear or damage and, as always with a used car second gear is the one to watch. In the case of the DMC-12 the roll pin in the selector fork wears and needs replacement, and this will cause baulking as you try to engage second. The part is inexpensive but replacing it is a gearbox out of the car job so be prepared for that.

Electrical System

A lot of the switches and instrumentation in the DMC-12 are unique to the car, so you need to be sure that everything is working properly or that replacements/repairs are possible, and what the value of those things are. A car with very low mileage is not necessarily a safe bet. If rodents have been in a car that has been sitting for years in a garage then those sharp little teeth can wreak havoc on the wiring.

The DeLorean was made with electric windows and air-conditioning as standard so be sure everything is working, and working properly. Check the fuse box for blown fuses, signs of things burning out etc. Also be aware that the original alternator of the 1981 cars was not up to the task of providing sufficient electrical power for the car, so if it hasn’t been upgraded replace it.


As with any prestige car it is important to look through the documentation that comes with it, especially the service record, and any major repairs that have been done. This provides a means to assess the quality of the car’s background. It may be a good idea to join a local/regional DeLorean club as they will have knowledge of the cars in their region and may well be able to offer insights into the car you are considering. It is worth getting someone who is a marque expert on these cars to assess the one you are considering as they will know what to look for and may even be familiar with the car you are examining. One particular item to be aware of is that the DMC-12 was subject to a recall regarding the front suspension. Ensure that the car you are looking at has documentation to verify this recall work was done.

If you are planning on a DeLorean then “The Illustrated Buyer’s Guide to DeLorean Automobiles” by James Espey is the must-have book that contains the must-know information about the car in great detail.

The New DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean DMC-12 Car

DMC Texas, located in Humble, Texas, acquired the existing New Old Stock (NOS) parts inventory for the DeLorean DMC-12 and in a legal case in 2015 the right to use the DeLorean name. They now both supply DeLorean parts and build “new” cars using the NOS parts with some new components, such as a stainless steel frame instead of the epoxied mild steel one of the original cars. These cars have a number of improvements over the originals, and you will find the DMC Texas website at They are located at 15023 Eddie Drive, Humble, Texas 77396, USA.


Like the Aston Martin DB5 of James Bond fame, the DeLorean DMC-12 is a car made famous by a movie. It is a car that possesses the romantic aura of its association with Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown and the adventures they have centered around the DeLorean. It is a car that you will likely want because it’s a movie star. Properly sorted out the DMC-12 can be turned into a sprightly performing sports car, and with a turbocharged engine it can have performance and handling in the Porsche class – it is built on a Colin Chapman designed chassis and he was a maven of chassis and suspension design. It is a car that you can do a lot of the work on yourself if you gain enjoyment from that. It is also a car that will at a minimum get admiring glances wherever you go, a car that is likely to draw a crowd.

DeLorean DMC-12

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

DeLorean DMC-12 Door Message

The post DeLorean DMC-12 – The Essential DMC Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

De Tomaso Pantera – The Essential Buying Guide Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:00:01 +0000 De Tomaso Pantera – The Essential Buying Guide

Coming hard on the heels of the head-turning De Tomaso Mangusta, the De Tomaso Pantera was a successful combination of Italian aesthetics and breeding with a nice big and easy to maintain Ford V8 engine, and a proven German ZF transaxle. The Pantera broke the convention that said if you have an exotic mid-engine Italian GT you’re...

The post De Tomaso Pantera – The Essential Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

De Tomaso Pantera – The Essential Buying Guide

Coming hard on the heels of the head-turning De Tomaso Mangusta, the De Tomaso Pantera was a successful combination of Italian aesthetics and breeding with a nice big and easy to maintain Ford V8 engine, and a proven German ZF transaxle.

The Pantera broke the convention that said if you have an exotic mid-engine Italian GT you’re going to have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for engine re-builds and pretty much any other maintenance you’re going to need.

It was sold in the US at Lincoln Mercury dealerships with the backing of the Ford Motor Corporation. This was an Italian GT that the average enthusiast/owner could take a spanner to themselves and fix most things with little difficulty whilst having a whole lot of fun: something you could not realistically do on a Lamborghini or Ferrari.

A Brief History of the De Tomaso Pantera

The founder of De Tomaso, Alejandro de Tomaso, was an Argentinian motor enthusiast who left his native land for Italy at the age of 27. Some say he was escaping from the oppressive political atmosphere prevalent in Argentina at the time, and that may well have been part of his motivation – but his passion for sports cars and motor racing were driving forces behind his move to one of the epicenters of motorsport, Italy.

De Tomaso wanted to race with Maserati, but the Maserati brothers had sold the company that bore their name to a gentleman named Adolfo Orsi and his family interests in 1937. The brothers continued to work at the company on a ten year contract and, after the Second World War when their contracts expired in 1947, they left, and three brothers; Ernesto, Ettore and Bindo, formed their own new company called O.S.C.A. (Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili—Fratelli Maserati S.p.A.) with the intention of specializing in racing and competition automobiles. It was to O.S.C.A. that Alejandro de Tomaso went. He drove for O.S.C.A. for three seasons from 1956-1959, including a Formula 1 attempt in 1959, prior to establishing his own company the same year.

De Tomaso Fiat 1500 F1 Car

Alejandro de Tomaso located his new company in Alberato, Modena, a short walk from the Ferrari factory. He first tried his hand at building Formula 1, 2, and 3 cars but without success, so he stopped building them in 1970. His first production road car was the Vallelunga which appeared in 1963. The Vallelunga featured a backbone chassis and was powered by a tweaked British Ford Cortina engine. It was somewhat like a four cylinder mid-engine Lotus in size, design and performance. The Vallelunga was not a supercar however: it was similar in performance to the O.S.C.A. 1600 GT Coupé of the early 1960’s.


Above – De Tomaso Vallelunga

The second De Tomaso car was a different kettle of fish altogether. Named Mangusta, after the mongoose, an animal known to fearlessly tackle and kill a Cobra, this car was indeed a Shelby Cobra killer. The Mangusta was powered by a 289 cu. in. Ford V8 engine for world markets, or a 302 cu. in. for the US, and it entered production in 1966. The car’s steel backbone chassis was clothed in a svelte Ghia, Giorgetto Giugiaro designed body. It not only looked like a supercar, it performed like one, and it remained in production until 1971 with approximately 400 being made.

De Tomaso Mangusta

Above – De Tomaso Mangusta

By this stage De Tomaso had attained the status of a small scale exotic car builder, but what was to happen next was to significantly increase their production capacity by working in cooperation with Ford. The Mangusta set the tone for what De Tomaso was capable of and management at Ford became so interested that they invested in an 80% share of the company, with Ford executive Ray Geddes becoming a De Tomaso Vice-President. Ford also bought interests in the Ghia design house, and in Vignale.

The intention was to have De Tomaso create a GT car that could be semi-mass-produced and sold through Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury dealership network. What they wanted was a car that would completely upstage the Corvette and anything else GM could make. The result of this thinking was the creation of a car that used a steel unibody body rather than the more exotic backbone chassis of the previous cars, and that was powered by a suitable Ford V8 engine mated to a production ZF transaxle. This was to be the Pantera (Italian for Panther). The design was by American Tom Tjaarda working for Ghia, as had been Guigaro who designed the Mangusta.

De Tomaso Pantera

The De Tomaso Pantera made her debut at Modena in March 1970 and then at the 1970 New York Motor Show. The model shown was a hand-built show car and not completely as the later production cars were to be. Alejandro de Tomaso was still a racing driver at heart and so the show car featured unusual slatted seats that may have proven excellent for a road race but that were not well received by the car’s potential buyers, who thought they looked uncomfortable. For the production cars the seats were changed to more conventional units.

DeTomaso Pantera Concept Car

Above – The interior of the De Tomaso Pantera Concept Car

Production began about a year after the car’s first showing with three cars per week being turned out. These early cars were not constructed at the quality level one might expect from Aston Martin or Porsche. Specialist Italian cars of the sixties and seventies were not known for high standards of quality control in the bodywork, and rust-proofing tended not to be done well, if it was done at all. Buyers of such cars who intended to keep them commonly had improvements done, especially rust proofing and upgrades to the interior.

The Italians excelled at the mechanicals, but not the things they may have considered “cosmetic”. As the early Panteras arrived on the showroom floors of Lincoln-Mercury dealerships the quality control problems were quickly noticed, not least of which was the presence of significant amounts of body-solder used to fill defects in body-panels. Customers coming into Lincoln-Mercury showrooms expected fit and finish to be top quality, and the Pantera’s shortcomings were obvious to observant customers accustomed to Lincoln-Mercury standards.

DeTomaso Pantera

Ford realized they needed to step in to rectify the problems and so they became involved in Pantera production, especially with regard to ensuring top quality precision pressed body panels. The car presented other issues, not least of which was the interior design which required a significant offset of the pedals, made necessary because of the space needed for the fully independent front suspension. The Pantera’s interior provided limited space, so the maximum practical height for a driver was 6 feet. People taller than that would need to modify their cars with custom seats and other tweaks. Notwithstanding all these things, within the first year of production the teething problems of the car were largely resolved.

The interior had some well thought-out features such as the center console instruments being angled towards the driver to ensure a clear view, and the superb gated transmission for completely positive shifting. But the interior had some irritating foibles as well: the speedometer and tachometer sat in pods ahead of the driver but partially obscured by the driver’s hands on the wheel. Similarly the cigar lighter on the center console would tend to be activated by the driver’s elbow if he rested it on the console. In its favor however the car had a number of luxury features such as electric windows, which were very much a novelty back then, air conditioning, and an audible open door buzzer. The price of the car was around was about half that of a comparable Ferrari or Lamborghini.

Perhaps the early model Pantera’s most high profile owner was Elvis Presley, who purchased a second hand primrose yellow one for his then girlfriend Linda Thompson. That car is on display at the Gracelands Museum complete with a bullet hole in the steering wheel. The story, according to George Klein, is that the Pantera had broken down whilst Elvis had been driving in Memphis and it had to be towed back to his house. With the car in the driveway as Elvis was relating the breakdown story to George he pulled out a gun and shot the car for not running right – strangely enough after the car was shot it started up and ran just fine.

De Tomaso Pantera – Models and Specifications

De Tomaso Pantera (1971-1991)

De Tomaso Pantera Interior

Above – De Tomaso Pantera Interior

The standard Pantera for world markets other than the US were fitted with a 351 cu. in./5.8 liter Ford V8 engine producing 330 hp. The transmission was the same 5 speed ZF transaxle as had been used on the Mangusta. Suspension was fully independent with wishbones, coil springs, and telescopic dampers/shock absorbers front and rear. Wheels were 15 inch shod with 285/40 tires front, and 345/35 rear.

Brakes were discs all around with servo assistance. Steering was by rack and pinion, the sort of thing one expects on a quality sports car. The car could accelerate from standing to 60mph in 5.5 seconds, so headrests were appreciated. Reports on the early production cars state that the noise from the ZF transaxle was intrusive, and this is one of the defects that was attended to as the early model was subjected to trouble-shooting and improvement.

A pleasant surprise for many, especially the mechanics who would be working on these cars, was that the engine and major components proved to be quite accessible, especially by comparison with some other exotic Italian cars or the contemporary British Jaguars for example (the XKE or E-Type was good but the sedan/saloon cars engine bays were very cramped).

In 1973 a GTS version was introduced with a high compression version of the 351 cu. in. Ford 335 Cleveland V8 engine with solid lifters for non-US markets. Standard engine power was 330bhp which propelled the GTS to a full 160 mph/256 km/h. This car was fitted with wider wheels and riveted on wheel arch extensions which gave it a more businesslike competition car look. After 1975 when Ford US ceased the distribution of Pantera’s in the United States and also ceased production of the 351 cu. in. Cleveland V8, De Tomaso began sourcing their engines from Ford Australia who continued to make the engine up until 1982. The Australian made engines were sent to Switzerland for tuning and were available in a range of power outputs up to 355hp. The GTS remained in production until 1985.

De Tomaso Pantera GTS

Above – De Tomaso Pantera GTS

De Tomaso Pantera (US Model, 1971-1975)

The first 75 US Panteras were largely the same as their world market counterparts. The principle differences were the larger rear lights on the US version and provision of corner marker lamps. The power plant was the same 351 cu. in./5.8 liter Ford V8, used in Europe with 11:1 compression ratio, breathing through a four barrel carburettor, and producing 330hp @ 6,000rpm.  The transaxle was the standard 5 speed ZF unit which had been used in the Mangusta and was also used in the Maserati Bora. These first cars were the ones with hand-made bodywork by Vignale, these are the poorer quality body panels with defects filled with body solder (a common aspect of hand formed body panels). The doors feature the European press-button release. To be fair to the De Tomaso Pantera many other car makers were guilty of skimping on rust protection, the Jaguar XKE/E-Type being an example.

De Tomaso Pantera Cutaway

In 1972 US models were required to meet new emissions standards. This necessitated a change of engine and reduction in the compression ratio from 11:1 to 8.6:1. The new engine was the Ford 335 Cleveland, with the same 351 cu. in. capacity but with a number of improvements including the use of 4-bolt main-bearing caps. To compensate for the loss in power the US market this engine was fitted with a “Cobra Jet” camshaft.

This provided the same valve lift and duration as Ford’s 428 Cobra Jet performance camshaft, and was intended to maintain engine power whilst enabling the use of lower octane standard grade gasoline, as well as satisfying emissions regulations. Efforts to maintain the power and torque of the engine did not stop there and the new engine was also fitted with a dual points distributor and an exhaust header to tune the exhaust. The end result of this work was 296bhp @ 6,000rpm, which means the engine lost about 10% of its power by comparison with the version for world markets. The Ford Cleveland engine factory had been the maker of the early Lincoln V8 engine and was a natural fit for a performance car being distributed and serviced through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

De Tomaso Pantera

In August 1972 the luxury Pantera L (L for “Lusso” meaning Luxury) was introduced, instantly discernible by the black rubber bumpers fitted front and rear. The intention of the new bumpers were both to satisfy low speed collision damage requirements and to provide a spoiler effect at the front to reduce lift at speed. Later models would see a much more effective front air-dam fitted.

The interior was also improved, seats became more luxurious, and overall the car became the Porsche killer it had been designed to be. In 1973 the main instruments in front of the driver were brought together and angled towards the driver, to ensure they were more easily readable: this improved the visibility of the tachometer and speedometer significantly.

De Tomaso Pantera

The Pantera L fully resolved the quality control issues that had beset the early production cars, it was now so good that it became Road Test Magazine’s Car of the Year in 1973: which means it beat Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche amongst others. The Pantera had matured into a very desirable GT that could hold its own with the best in the world.

De Tomaso Pantera

Ford ceased importing the Pantera in 1975 and stopped distributing them through the Lincoln-Mercury dealership network, having sold approximately 5,500 cars. Ford had already ceased US production of the 335 Cleveland V8 engine, however Ford Australia continued to manufacture it so De Tomaso were able to continue to source the engines from there. From 1970-1976 that 351 cu. in. Ford V8 had been the engine of the Australian Ford Falcon GT, a star of the Mount Panorama racing circuit near the town of Bathurst in NSW.

De Tomaso continued making the Pantera for world markets and some cars were imported into the US as “gray imports” in the years following 1975, principally through the Panteramerica and AmeriSport companies.

De Tomaso Pantera GT5

De Tomaso Pantera

In 1980 De Tomaso revised the design of the Pantera chassis, with cars built on the new revised design beginning from chassis number 9,000. That year De Tomaso introduced a new model of the Pantera that incorporated both the chassis improvements and a significantly revised body design. This was the Pantera GT5 and it was fitted with fiberglass wide wheel arches that were bonded and riveted, to accommodate its wider 15×10 inch front and 15×13 inch rear wheels with 285/40 VR15 front and 345/35 VR15 rear tires.

At the front was a new air-dam to significantly improve the car’s stability at top speeds, whilst lurking in those big wheels were improved ventilated disc brakes. Engine power was slightly increased to 350bhp @ 6,000rpm despite the compression ratio being 9.5:1. Torque for this engine was 333 lb/ft @ 4000rpm. Overall performance remained the same with standing to 60mph time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 160mph. The GT5 remained in production until 1985 when it was superseded by the GT5-S.

De Tomaso Pantera GT5 S

Above – De Tomaso Pantera GT5

The GT5-S was fitted with steel one-piece wide wheel arches and front air-dam (the “S” standing for steel). These cars were also equipped with luxurious interiors to make them a significantly more up-market automobile than their more humbly equipped predecessors. Although exact information is not known it is believed that less than 252 GT5 Panteras were built and less than 183 GT5-S. Production of the GT5-S ceased in the late 1980’s, possibly as late as 1989. With the supply of the 351 cu. in. Cleveland V8 ending De Tomaso had to change to a different engine, so they began installing the Ford 351 Windsor instead.

De Tomaso Pantera

Pantera 90 Si (1990-1993)

For 1990 The Pantera was given a face-lift by Marcello Gandini (the designer of the Lamborghini Muira), chassis revision, and new engine: the 302 cu. in. 5 liter (4,942 cc). In its catalytic converter equipped format this engine produces 244hp and 300lb/ft torque. In non-catalytic converter format power is 300hp with 333lb/ft torque. The catalytic converter equipped car’s top speed is listed as 150mph whilst the non-catalytic converter car manages 155mph.

The intention of the car was to be a stylish GT with excellent creature comforts. In a sense the car was reflective of a maturing of design: gone were the riveted on wheel arch extensions and competition car feel, to be replaced with refinement and style.

De Tomaso Pantera

The lines of the Pantera 90 Si were flowing, with the front air-dam and rear spoiler integrated with the lines of the car. But a great deal of re-design work went into the new model to the extent that it is almost, but not quite a new car. The front suspension re-design improved the driving position and allowed for more room for taller drivers. The suspension re-design included the use of oval tubing rather than flat pressings for the wishbones, and brakes featured four pot Brembo calipers grabbing onto ventilated and drilled discs to bring the gorgeous four wheeled projectile to a tidy stop. There was also a new tubular rear sub-frame with three spreader bars where the older cars had one.

There were 41 Pantera 90 Si produced (Chassis numbers 9601-9641) but only 38 were sold to customers. Two cars were subjected to crash testing whilst one was kept in the De Tomaso Museum in Modena. Four of the Pantera 90 Si were sent directly from the factory to coach-builder Carozzaria Pavesi of Milan to be converted to Targa roof. The targa roof is stored neatly in the rear boot lid and is easy to attach when needed. The Targa models needed to not only have the roof neatly cut but also to have the body/chassis strategically stiffened to compensate for the removal of the roof.

Most of the Pantera 90 Si were fitted with the same 5 speed ZF transaxle as had been used for the Pantera throughout its production, however two cars were fitted with 6 speed Getrag boxes on special order. Wheels for this model are Fondmetal 17 inch with 235/45 ZR 17 tires for the front and 335/35 ZR 17 for the rear.

The Pantera 90 Si were made from 1990 until they were officially phased out in 1993. One car was apparently not completed until 1996.

Buying a De Tomaso Pantera

Body and Interior

The absolute essential in buying a De Tomaso Pantera is getting one with a straight and rust-free body. The car has a monocoque body and so the bodywork is structural: rust in the bodywork means a compromised structure.

The Pantera is a performance car and structural weakness in a car such as this is about as acceptable as structural weakness in an aircraft. So, unless you are budgeting for a full restoration then patiently seeking out a rust free car is something you should not compromise on. The budget for a restoration is something you need a good quotation for if you are contemplating it. Expect that it will cost much more than you estimate yourself. To inspect the car you need a magnet and an ice pick and you need to thoroughly go over the car from the bottom up. This is a job recommended for someone who is a marque expert. So if you don’t have that expertise then don’t risk it but pay a marque expert to examine the car for you.

A car may have great paint and the little magnet may stay on in the places you look: it may also have new and sound looking under-body coating. But remember that under-body coating can cover up a lot of internal corrosion, unibody cars tend to rust from the invisible inside outwards. One good place to start looking is at the base of the A pillar where it joins the body. Look for any sign of paint bubbling which means rust underneath. Look for signs of a re-spray – paint with an “orange peel” look is a dead giveaway. Look for signs of body filler under the paint. It may be so obvious that you can pick the outline of the area filled, and it may even be so rough that you can see the sanding marks where it was shaped. It may also be well hidden from your eye, although a magnet should find it. Any sign of the use of body filler is good reason to walk away from a prospective car. Whilst considering these things check on how long the current owner has had the car. If they have had it for only two or three years then a rust “cover-up” job will likely not have become apparent yet, and they may be blissfully unaware of what lies beneath the pretty coat of paint.

De Tomaso Pantera Underside

In the same vein is the need to check for accident damage and chassis alignment. The chassis alignment needs to be measured to ensure it’s in specification. If the car has hit a kerb at speed or had some rough treatment, it may have been used in competition, then chassis mis-alignment can be expected. The suspension needs to be checked for straightness and damage.

Take the car for a drive and get a feel for how it tracks and corners. Listen for creaks or unusual noises that would indicate structural issues, suspension or mechanical issues etc.

The condition of the car’s interior is an indicator of what kind of life it has had. You are looking for signs of gentle wear or careless use. A car interior with a patina of gentle use ages well. The state of the interior gives a good indication as to the previous owner(s) attitude to looking after it. The same is true of the exterior paintwork, if it is original.


Almost all De Tomaso Panteras were fitted with the same 5 speed ZF transaxle, and that transaxle was also fitted to a number of other exotic sports cars. Although the unit is fairly common in expensive GT cars you should not assume that it will be inexpensive to maintain in the way that the American V8 will be inexpensive to maintain. Re-building the ZF transaxle is guaranteed to be costly (though not as costly as many supercar gearboxes) and so it must be in good shape in a car you are considering. It should change smoothly, be quiet, and stay in all gears on the overrun. The very early production Panteras were known for the sound of the transaxle being a bit intrusive. If you are looking at one of those don’t trust yourself but get someone with familiarity with the ZF transaxle to assess it. Amongst the things such a mechanic/expert will do is look at the oil in the box and assess its age and condition.

Difficulty in changing gears may be caused by a faulty clutch thrust bearing or clutch hydraulics: in either event however such faults mean there is likely to have been some harm done to the transaxle as a result of the clutch fault.


The engine is a common Ford unit will a great reputation. The usual checks on the engine need to be done such as a cylinder leakage test to assess compression and potential piston ring wear. Check for signs of burning oil such as blue smoke in the exhaust. Check for oil leaks, look for signs of oil in the coolant or coolant in the oil. The engine of the Pantera is the most generic and owner fixable component of the car. So if there are engine issues you can budget to resolve them.

Electrical System

A Pantera is going to be a significant investment. Have the car’s electrical system assessed by a competent auto-electrician, preferably a marque specialist. Auto electrics that are decades old will need replacement. If the car has had its electrical systems overhauled you will need to assess how good or bad the work has been and how long ago it was done. Check that all gauges, switches and lights work – both interior and exterior.


Make a thorough check of the receipts that come with the car to find out who has repaired what and how much was spent. If the transaxle has been overhauled you need to know who did it and whether they are a recognized expert or not. Work done by a known repairer can be trusted, but work from an unknown quantity cannot. Make sure you have as complete a picture of the car’s ownership and maintenance history as you can before making any decision to purchase.


The De Tomaso Pantera is one of the more desirable GT automobiles you could consider. They were well designed and are fitted with a generic “owner fixable” V8 engine. For most models you need to be no taller than 6 feet to be comfortable in one. These are a car that owners like to customize and they lend themselves to tinkering. So they are enormously enjoyable both on the road and in the workshop. If you do buy one be very conscientious about keeping rust out of the unibody, be careful to maintain your Pantera well. The De Tomaso Pantera is a car you probably won’t want to sell once you have one: at least not until you get too old to enjoy it anymore and you have to pass it on to the next generation.

De Tomaso Cars

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

The post De Tomaso Pantera – The Essential Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

Essential Buying Guide: International Harvester Scout 80 + 800 Mon, 05 Jun 2017 07:00:35 +0000 Essential Buying Guide: International Harvester Scout 80 + 800

International Harvester Scout – An Introduction The design brief that led to the creation of the International Harvester Scout sounded simple enough; “Create something to replace the horse”. That was the instruction given by International Harvester’s Manager of Engineering, Mr. Reese, to Chief Designer Ted Ornas back in the post-war ’50s. International Harvester were looking...

The post Essential Buying Guide: International Harvester Scout 80 + 800 appeared first on Silodrome.

Essential Buying Guide: International Harvester Scout 80 + 800

International Harvester Scout – An Introduction

The design brief that led to the creation of the International Harvester Scout sounded simple enough; “Create something to replace the horse”. That was the instruction given by International Harvester’s Manager of Engineering, Mr. Reese, to Chief Designer Ted Ornas back in the post-war ’50s. International Harvester were looking to design a competitor to the Jeep that so many former GI’s had come to appreciate during their war service. The Jeep however was a bare bones military vehicle that would only have appeal to farmers, hunters, and fishermen. Ted Ornas was being asked to create something that would both compete with the Jeep but also create a new concept of vehicle, and nobody was able to give him any real guidance on what to create. So it was that Ted Ornas started out with a blank sheet of paper and sharp pencil, and began trying to think up this new concept in vehicles.

Scout History

The post-war 1950s were a time when vehicle makers knew they had a market for post-war “austerity” and re-construction vehicles and the Jeep had inspired many so over in Britain the people at Rover had created their Land Rover based on the concept of the Jeep, and to their surprise it sold in droves. They also discovered that customers were asking for a vehicle with the off road and on road capabilities of the bare bones Land Rover but with a bit more luxury, which led Land Rover to create the Tickford station wagon. But designers were not really sure what exactly to create. Ted Ornas was in a similar position and his initial designs were very much like the bare bones Jeep and the equally bare bones Land Rover. The initial designs did not inspire management because there just wasn’t a coherent vision yet and the project almost died. But Ted Ornas decided to look at the use of plastics to create the body of the four wheel drive and his early sketches of what might be possible got management’s attention. The sketches that proposed use of plastics featured curves rather than the slab sided look reminiscent of the Jeep and Land Rover; and the use of curves instantly gave the vehicle a different and more refined style.

The first clay model for the new vehicle was created in June of 1959 and received approval in November of that year. Because of the rising cost of building the vehicle in plastics from Goodyear the decision was made to build the new car with a steel body and after a total development time of just two years the decision was made to go ahead and put it into production.

One of the impediments International Harvester faced was the lack of a suitable four cylinder engine. They considered purchasing in engines from another manufacturer until someone came up with the simple but brilliant idea of cutting one of their own V8 engines in half to make it into a four cylinder. The V8 chosen for this exercise was the International Harvester 304 cu. in. which became the 152 cu. in. Comanche four cylinder engine. Not only did this new four cylinder engine produce a healthy 93hp and 137 lb/ft torque but it also had high parts interchangeability with the existing 304 cu. in. V8 making servicing and provision of spare parts inventory to dealers much easier. The transmission used off the shelf components such as the Warner T-90A three-speed manual gearbox which was mated to a Dana 18 transfer case and Spicer 27 front and rear axles for the four wheel drive model.

The Scout 80 made its debut in 1960 effectively becoming the first American SUV ever created.

International Harvester Scout – Models and Specifications

International Harvester Scout 80 (1960–1965)

The Scout 80 was the first model of the International Harvester Scout and it was available as either a conventional 2WD or 4WD. Its engine was the Comanche 152 cu. in. (2.6 litre) in-line four cylinder producing power of 93hp and torque of 137lb/ft and mated to a manual three speed Warn T90 manual gearbox for both 2WD and 4WD models. The 4WD Scout 80 was fitted with a Dana 18 transfer case and with Spicer 27 axles. Suspension was by leaf springs front and rear whilst brakes were hydraulically actuated drums.

The Scout 80 used a conventional ladder chassis and steel bodywork but with a removable roof. The side windows were sliding like the Land Rover and removable. The original Scout 80’s had a fixed steel separator between the front seats and the load carrying compartment at the rear but during production this was changed to a removable one. The windshield was foldable and the top mounted windshield wipers vacuum operated. Vacuum operated wipers were a simple and reliable system that were common at the time but which suffered from the problem that when the car is being accelerated the vacuum reduces and so the wipers slow down or stop.

International Harvester realised that they had stumbled onto a winner when sales for the Scout 80 doubled and then tripled exceeding the company’s expectations.

Encouraged by their success International Harvester created a special luxury version of the Scout 80 called the “Red Carpet” version to celebrate that they had sold no less than 100,000 Scout 80’s. The Red Carpet version was a Limited Edition and only 3,000 were made with one being sent to each International Harvester dealer across the country for showroom display and publicity events. These Red Carpet Edition Scouts were painted in white with a red fully upholstered interior. The cars were fitted with full carpeting and a roof head-liner. A badge on the side of the car read “100,000 Red Carpet Series Scout By International”. In advertising International Harvester sought to make the Scout 80 attractive to women customers as was common for US car manufacturers to do at the time. Following on from the Red Carpet model International Harvester also built their Champagne Edition with similar features but instead of it being a limited edition it was offered as a regular option pack.

The other market testing version of the Scout 80 was the Scout 80 Campermobile version which was offered early in the production of the Scout 80 whilst International Harvester were testing the market potential. To create the Campermobile International Harvester extended the bodywork to the  rear and raised the roof height to enable an average height person to stand upright in the rear. Tented bunk beds were provided in the rear compartment. The tailgate was replaced with an ambulance style swing out door. Options for the Campermobile included a dinette set complete with stand up galley, and a retractable screened chemical toilet. Given that hunting, shooting and fishing were extremely popular in the fifties and sixties it is likely that International Harvester were trying to create a vehicle for that market and it was a good design for fishing, hunting and shooting trips and for camping out at the shooting range for major events. Despite its practicality the Campermobile did not sell well and they are a rare find nowadays. They were quite expensive which is no doubt the reason for their rarity, just as is the case for the Land Rover Tickford station wagons.

International Harvester Scout 800 (1966–1971)

In 1965 the Scout 800 began replacing the Scout 80 in dealer showrooms. The Scout 800 was an upgraded version of the original Scout 80 so it looked essentially the same in terms of body style but had various improvements including front bucket seats, good heating, revised instrumentation with an updated dashboard, and optional rear seats. The windshield wipers continued to be vacuum operated but were moved to the bottom of the windshield. The windshield of the new model was no longer folding. The luxury Champagne option pack introduced on the Scout 80 continued to be available on the Scout 800.

A new option pack for the Scout 800 was the Scout 800 Sportop which featured a new design fibreglass roof with a slanted rear roof. This model was also available as a four seater soft top convertible. The Scout 800 Sportop was fitted with a continental spare tire kit which carried the spare tyre vertically at the rear of the vehicle on the tailgate. This model also had divided rear bumpers.

New on the Scout 800 were engine options for a 196 cu. in. (3.2 litre) in-line four cylinder engine and a 232 cu. in. (3.8 litre) in-line six cylinder. Whilst the base engine remained the same 152 cu. in. in-line four this was also offered in a turbocharged version, the 152T, producing 111hp. Although it may seem to have been an unusual decision to offer a turbocharged version of the 152 cu. in. engine we should be aware that International Harvester customers were used to turbochargers on trucks so this was familiar technology to them. As it turned out the new 196 cu. in. conventionally aspirated four cylinder produced the same power but with better fuel consumption so the 152T turbocharged engine was dropped from production in early 1968.

In 1968 the Scout 800 was upgraded to the Scout 800A. This model had some cosmetic changes but most significant were the improvements to the drive train. The transfer box was upgraded to a Dana 20 whilst the front axle became a Dana 30 hybrid and the rear axle a Dana 44. Final drive ratio was 3.73:1, with 4.27:1 and  4.88:1 available as options. These drive train upgrades were necessary as new engine options were provided; 196 cu. in. four-cylinder, 232 cu. in. six-cylinder, 266 cu. in. V8, and 304 cu. in. V8. The 232 cu. in. in-line six was only offered for a short period in 1969 and was dropped from production. Later the manual gearbox was upgraded to a four speed unit.

The body styles for the Scout 800A were the Aristocrat, which was much like the original Scout 80 body style but with luxury features, the later SR2, and the Sportop.

Briefly, from August 1970 until March 1971 just prior to the end of production of the Scout 800A  a transitional model 800B was produced. This model had cosmetic changes such as the change from black headlight surrounds to chrome ones. Despite being in production for such a short time the Scout 800B was available with the luxury Comanche option pack and also as the SnoStar made specifically for snow plough use which was only made with the six cylinder engine.

The Scout 800B was the last version of the original International Harvester Scout 80/800 series of vehicles and it was superseded by the Scout II in April 1971.

Buying an International Harvester Scout

The design brief that led to the creation of the International Harvester Scout sounded simple enough; “Create something to replace the horse”. That was the instruction given by International Harvester’s Manager of Engineering, Mr. Reese, to Chief Designer Ted Ornas back in the post-war ’50s.

The International Harvester Scout 80 and 800 are conventional and technologically agricultural vehicles with a chassis and steel body. The engines in them are also very conventional and so these vehicles are not complex to work on. Power steering and power brakes were optional and if you are buying a Scout one with both these options is a better bet. Non power assisted steering is usable but will require a bit of muscle power and the same is true of the non servo assisted brakes.

The big ticket item to look for in an International Harvester Scout Scout 80/800 is body and chassis rust. There is no substitute for getting under the vehicle and thoroughly looking for corrosion especially around spring mountings. Remember that rust normally starts from the inside and works its way out so look for paint bubbling which will indicate rustiness underneath it. The same applies to all the body panels, look in the crevices where moisture, wet leaves etc. can gather, pick out the dirt and crud and have a good look at the metal underneath. Watch areas inside the fenders and around welds. International Harvester were not greatly conscientious about rust proofing so expect to find problems. Many Scouts were used on snow treated with salt and so the steel work can finish up looking like a colander. The same goes for cars which have been used on the beach such as for fishing or have lived by the coast. That being said the body panels are available in steel or fibreglass so rusty bodywork can be restored. Just remember that if you try to restore badly rusted original panels you are going to be up for many hours of work.

With any off road vehicle you need to be aware that it may have been roughly used off road and such activities can leave dents in the chassis which weaken it and can deform it. So you need to check that chassis for damage and check chassis alignment.

Mechanically the engines and transmissions can be overhauled and rebuilt, the suspension likewise. So your Scout 80/800 is a bit like a Meccano set that can be fully taken apart and sorted out.

Thanks in large part to the high sales figures of the Scout 80 and 800, engine and transmission parts are widely available – many times you can buy brand new replacements. Although new parts are typically more expensive than reconditioned parts, they typically last longer and can offer improved reliability.

It’s possible to make a series of mechanical upgrades to early Scouts, as with all vintage vehicles it can help a great deal to install a digital ignition system in place of the original points. Carburetors can be replaced with more modern units too, and if you really want to roll your sleeves up you can buy new wiring looms to totally replace the now aged originals.

Engine swaps have been very popular, particularly in early Scouts, and it can be a great way to significantly increase power without killing fuel economy. Of course, any increase in power needs to be paired with improved brakes, and a stronger transmission. Suspension upgrades are also a good idea, and kits for all of these items are easy to buy online.


The International Harvester Scout 80 and 800 vehicles have a well deserved reputation for being excellent both on road and off road and all the shades in between. They are tough, well designed, not difficult to work on, and there are lots of after market parts available for them. If you are looking for a restoration project these are a great car to consider. Likewise if you are someone who will want to use their classic Scout for hunting, shooting, fishing or camping then the Scout 80 and 800 were always a great vehicle for that and still are today.

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned International Harvester Scout experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.


The post Essential Buying Guide: International Harvester Scout 80 + 800 appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Buying Guide – Sunbeam Alpine Mon, 29 May 2017 07:00:25 +0000 The Essential Buying Guide – Sunbeam Alpine

The Sunbeam Alpine Introduction The Sunbeam Alpine name was first used on a car that pre-dates the car most of us think of when the name Sunbeam Alpine is mentioned. The first Sunbeam Alpine Marks I and III (1953-1955) were two seater roadsters based on the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloon and which were created specifically for...

The post The Essential Buying Guide – Sunbeam Alpine appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Buying Guide – Sunbeam Alpine

The Sunbeam Alpine


The Sunbeam Alpine name was first used on a car that pre-dates the car most of us think of when the name Sunbeam Alpine is mentioned. The first Sunbeam Alpine Marks I and III (1953-1955) were two seater roadsters based on the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloon and which were created specifically for competition with the likes of Sir Stirling Moss at the helm. That old model Sunbeam Alpine was also driven by American Actress Grace Kelly in the 1955 movie “To Catch a Thief”. But the Sunbeam Alpine that we are interested in is the model that came after it, the model that starred as one of the first ever James Bond cars in the movie “Dr. No” in 1962 with Sean Connery behind the wheel.

The new for 1959 Sunbeam Alpine brought to the world of British sports cars something that the purists over at Austin-Healey, Morgan and MG had not thought so much about; it brought comfort. Here was a British sports car that had wind up windows and a soft top that was actually waterproof. Not content with that it even had a heater that worked! The Sunbeam Alpine was also a departure from what the British would consider to be traditional styling, in fact it was styled by Americans. With its pronounced fins at the rear giving the car an almost wedge shaped appearance the Sunbeam Alpine was an avant garde design to come out of Britain. Built to be ruggedly reliable, sporty, fun, and sufficiently stylish that 007 looked entirely at home in one, this was a car that deserved to be a world beater.

Sunbeam Alpine

Buy the above poster here at Sports Car Art


William and Reginald Rootes who had started the Rootes Group automotive manufacturer found their company left behind when first Jaguar, then Austin and Triumph, came up with viable and popular sports cars that paved the way for those companies to bring in much needed export revenue to British car industry coffers. The success of the Jaguar XK120 and the Austin-Healey 100 spoke for itself but William and Reginald Rootes proceeded cautiously. Perhaps they hoped that their refined and classic Sunbeam Alpine Marks I and III based on the old Sunbeam-Talbot 90 would be sufficient to win a share of the US export market, but it turned out not to be so. The Rootes brothers then decided that the best plan to create a car for the US market would be to get Americans to design it.

The styling work for the Sunbeam Alpine was entrusted to the internationally renowned American industrial design house of Raymond Loewy with the bulk of the design work being done by Ken Howes who had previously worked for Studebaker. Raymond Loewy and Ken Howes had done previous design work for Rootes having been responsible for the very pretty Sunbeam Rapier. The resulting design was a superb blending of the American avant garde with British classic style. The design called for prominent American style fins at the rear of the car which, when contrasted with the car’s low front end gave it an almost wedge shaped style that made it look fast even when standing still on the showroom floor.

The Rootes brothers were practical businessmen and they wanted to develop the new sports car based around a parts inventory they already had. The foundation of the new Sunbeam Alpine was to be the floor-pan of the company’s small three door estate car the Hillman Husky. This floor pan was given an integral under-floor X reinforcement creating a very stiff base for the monocoque body. The running gear was sourced from the Sunbeam Rapier coupé but with the Rapier’s front drum brakes upgraded to 9½” Girling Discs with 9” drum brakes at the rear. The front suspension was fully independent with coil springs and tubular shock absorbers and an anti-roll bar, whilst at the rear was a conventional live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and lever shock absorbers.

The engine for the new Sunbeam Alpine was a Rootes 1494cc in-line four cylinder OHV with an alloy cylinder head. This engine was mated to a four speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on the top three gears in typical post war British style.

When the Sunbeam Alpine made its public debut at Cannes on July 2, 1959 its comparatively small 1.5 litre engine got a bit of a mixed reception but it was able to match the performance of the MGA, its nearest rival, and was almost up with the Triumph TR3A. With its lively handling, stylish looks, and comfortable well appointed interior the Sunbeam Alpine was an attractive sports car with sufficient performance.

Sunbeam Alpine


Series I (1959-1960)

The Series I Sunbeam Alpine was fitted with the Rootes alloy head, three main bearing OHV 1494cc in-line four cylinder engine breathing through two Zenith 36 WIP2 downdraught carburettors. With its 9.2:1 compression ratio this engine produced 83.5hp at 5,300rpm and 89lbs/ft of torque at 3,400rpm. This engine was mated to a four speed close ratio manual gearbox with synchromesh on the top three gears and had the option of a Laycock de Normanville electric overdrive. Wheels were steel with the option of wire wheels. Top speed on test was recorded at 99.5mph.

There was one notable variant of the Series I Sunbeam Alpine. In 1960 a luxury three door “shooting brake” version was offered which had a leather interior and wood dashboard. The price of this luxury version was approximately double that of the standard roadster and so these cars are scarce.

Series I Sunbeam Alpines have a serial number that begins with “B90”. The Series I cars have some details unique to themselves as follows:

>>> At the leading edge of each door is a three inch high chrome post that serves as a wind up window guide.

>>> The centre console is side opening.

>>> The original steering wheel is of comparatively larger diameter than that of later cars, although the original wheel may have been replaced at some point in the car’s history.

>>> The original pedals are quite small.

>>> The dashboard was originally painted silver grey and there was no map light fitted above the cubby box.

Series II (1960)

The Series II cars were fitted with a larger 1,592cc (97.1cu. in.) in-line four cylinder engine but only fitted with a single Solex carburettor. This engine produced 80bhp and the small drop in power resulted in a slightly lower top speed of 98.6mph.

The Series II cars look almost identical to the Series I but the following details can be used to identify one:

>>> Serial number begins with “B91”

>>> The side window posts were steel and extend to the top of the windscreen.

>>> Smaller original steering wheel.

>>> Wider rear springs

>>> Cant rails as stiffeners for the edge of the convertible soft top around the side windows.

>>> Rain gutter on the inside of the door tops.

In 1961 coach-building company Thomas Harrington Ltd. produced customised fastback versions of the Sunbeam Alpine by cutting away the rear fenders and creating a fibreglass roof and boot or rear hatchback. These were the Harrington Alpine, Harrington Le Mans, and ”C” Series. These cars were more luxuriously appointed with Microcell seats, walnut dashboards, wire wheels, and had engines Stage II factory tuned to produce 103bhp. The Harrington Le Mans coupé cars had the Laycock de Normanville overdrive as standard equipment.

Sunbeam Alpine

Series III (1963-1964)

The Series III cars retained the 1,592cc (97.1cu. in.) in-line four cylinder engine used in the Series II cars but with Zenith W1A3 carburettors with a single air cleaner and a cast-iron exhaust manifold. Power was 80.3hp and 91lbs/ft of torque. The Series III were made available in both roadster and hard top versions.

Only 5,863 of the Series III cars were made making these cars more scarce and therefore more valuable to collectors.

The Series III cars have the following identifying features:

>>> Serial numbers begin “B92”

>>> Fuel tank split into two interconnected 6.75 gallon tanks mounted in the rear wings. This was done to greatly improve the boot space. The spare tyre is stored vertically and boot space was now 9.25 cubic feet.

>>> Quarter vents added to front of doors. The Series III are the only Sunbeam Alpines to have the original large rear fins with quarter vents on the leading edge of the doors.

>>> Produced in two models; the Gran Tourismo (GT) with fixed hard top, and the Sports Tourer (ST).

>>> New style hard top option.

>>> GT style interior with wood dashboard and wood rimmed steering wheel. Steering column adjustable.

>>> Two speed windscreen wipers.

>>> Adjustable Microcell seats.

>>> Bonnet badge is a chrome boss with plastic insert.

Sunbeam Alpine

Series IV (1964-1965)

The Series IV cars saw a significant change in styling with the rear fins greatly reduced and the rear of the car given a more squared off look. Engine power was increased slightly to 82bhp. During production a full synchromesh gearbox replaced the older one with no synchromesh on first gear and an automatic transmission was made available as an option with the view to this potentially being popular with US buyers. The automatic turned out not to be popular on either side of the Atlantic. With Chrysler Corporation buying a significant share of the Rootes Group the Sunbeam Alpine became available in US Chrysler dealerships and was thus able to benefit from the Chrysler dealer network support.

The Series IV cars have the following identifying features:

>>> Serial numbers begin “B94”.

>>> Borg Warner Type 35 automatic transmission offered as an option although it was not popular and very few cars were fitted with it. Cars that were originally fitted with the automatic gearbox have the suffix “B.W.” at the end of the serial number.

>>> Rear fins reduced in size and rear of car given a more conservative squared off look.

>>> Front side lights changed to a two bulb type with clear white parking light and amber flashing turn indicator.

>>> New bumper over-riders with rubber tips.

>>> Hinged fuel cap.

>>> Single bar grille with Rootes medallion.

>>> Series IV badge under the “Alpine” on the right side of the boot.

Series IV A variant appears about mid way through the Series IV production. An extra digit is added to the serial number and Series IV A cars begin with serial number B94100000. These cars have a fully synchromesh four speed manual gearbox and were also available with the Borg Warner Type 35 automatic transmission as an option.

From 1964-1967 the Sunbeam Tiger version of the Alpine was made. This car was essentially a Sunbeam Alpine with the four cylinder British engine replaced with a Ford V8 in the same way that the AC Cobra was a British AC Ace with the smaller British engine replaced with a Ford V8. The Sunbeam Tigers were built by Jensen in the UK. Most Sunbeam Tigers were fitted with a 4.3 litre/260 Ford V8 although some later cars had the 4.7 litre/289 cu. in. V8. The gearbox was a Ford four speed manual with the drive train suitably built to withstand the much higher power of the V8 engine. The Sunbeam Tiger was the car of secret agent Maxwell Smart in the TV series “Get Smart”.

Sunbeam Alpine

Series V (1965-1968)

The Series V are the last of the Sunbeam Alpines. These cars were fitted with a different 1,725cc/105.3cu. in. five main bearing engine breathing through twin Zenith-Stromberg 150CD semi-downdraught carburettors, and also fitted with a tubular exhaust manifold. This engine produced 93bhp although the power for some markets was up to 99bhp. The unpopular automatic transmission option was dropped. The Series V Sunbeam Alpine with overdrive became a 100mph capable sports car.

The Series V cars have the following identifying features:

>>> The serial number is of nine digits and begins “B395”.

>>> 1,724cc engine breathing through twin Zenith-Stromberg carburettors.

>>> 35amp alternator replaces the generator and the car’s electrical system is now negative earth.

>>> No “Sunbeam” lettering or badge on the bonnet.

>>> Chrysler “Pentistar” logo on the lower front fender with a fender badge “1725”.

>>> Rubber floor mats.

>>> The hard metal cover for the soft top on previous roadster models replaced with a soft vinyl cover that clips in place.

>>> Late Series V cars have non peaked headlight rims and rear license plate lights mounted on the bumper.

>>> Only the ST version exported to the United States market. GT and ST available in other markets.

Sunbeam Alpine

Buying a Sunbeam Alpine

Body and Frame

When buying any old British sports car the bodywork and frame are the mission critical areas for examination and evaluation.

>>> Check for rust in rocker panels and floors. Especially just behind the front wheels where moisture tends to get thrown up and trapped between the front fender and the inner wheel arch.

>>> Check the lower front and rear fenders, door edges, inner rear wheel arches.

>>> Check the rear leaf spring attachment points.

>>> Check the boot floor and the structural rails that end in the boot.

>>> Check door gaps and door function. Jack up the car and check for door function. If problems emerge with door operation with the rear of the car jacked up then this points to serious structural weakness in the frame.

When buying a Sunbeam Alpine it is critical to find one with good sound bodywork. There were far fewer Sunbeam Alpines made than MGB’s for example and so finding replacement body parts is far more difficult than for popular cars as the MGB of which about half a million were made and thus for which almost anything can be found.

Sunbeam Alpine

Trim and Interior

Door and window seals can be replaced with newly manufactured ones. Soft tops are currently made. Upholstery and door trims are being made. New complete dashboard panels are available. Steering wheels can be repaired (or replaced). The original instrumentation can be given to a specialist for restoration. Trim and badges can also mostly be obtained although this is easier from Series III cars onwards because they share many common components with the Sunbeam Tiger.

Sunbeam Alpine


The four cylinder engines used in the Sunbeam Alpines are all sturdy and very conventional units. The 1,494cc and 1,592cc engines have three main bearing crankshafts whilst the 1,725cc has a five main bearing crankshaft. Evaluating any of these engines is much the same as for any British car of this era:-

>>> Run the engine and listen for noises that indicate issues. Check for blue oil smoke in the exhaust.

>>> Do a cylinder leakage test.

>>> Check the radiator coolant for milky deposits that would indicate oil leaking into the radiator coolant. Also check that the correct anti-freeze/corrosion inhibitor is being used. These engines have an alloy cylinder head and if plain water has been used in them the alloy tends to rapidly corrode. Re-built cylinder heads and gasket sets are available.

>>> Carburettors can be serviced or replaced with Weber carburettors which is often a preferable solution. To fit Webers a stock Series IV manifold will need to be fitted.


Both the early and later gearboxes are sturdy units and re-build kits are available. Depending on whether or not you are buying the car for concours restoration or for driving and enjoyment you may want to upgrade the gearbox of early cars to the later all synchromesh unit fitted to the Series IV and V cars. This will require fitting the later car’s flywheel, clutch, clutch lever and thrust bearing also. About half of Sunbeam Alpine owners also fit the optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive unit if the car lacks it. If your potential purchase car is fitted with the overdrive unit but you find its not working the problem is often electrical and not expensive to fix.

Differentials can usually be re-built despite the fact that new replacement differentials are not available.

Sunbeam Alpine

Brakes, Steering and Suspension

The suspension of the Sunbeam Alpine is conventional and repairable. Series I, II, and III cars have kingpins in the front suspension that require periodic greasing. The Series IV and V cars have “Metalastik” bushings which don’t.

The lever shock absorbers used in the rear suspension of the earlier cars are not available as replacements but can be re-built.

Brakes can be serviced although the front disc brake rotors can be difficult to find. The parts to overhaul the steering box are obtainable.


The Sunbeam Alpine used off the shelf electrical components that are common to British cars of that era. These are readily obtainable. Be sure to check that all electrical systems and lights work on the car – seemingly small problems can rapidly expand in scope.


The Sunbeam Alpine was never as popular as such cars as the MGB and because of its lower popularity there are advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that these cars tend to be less sought after and thus tend to be more affordable. The disadvantage being that because there are a lot less of them which have survived to be lovingly restored there has been less demand for after-market manufacturers to make parts for them, making parts harder to find. That being said the Sunbeam Alpine is a great British sports car bringing with it all the enjoyment that these cars offer.

The styling of the earlier Series I, II ,and III cars is pure Raymond Loewy with its  Ken Howes Studebaker influence so many consider these to be the most visually pleasing cars, whilst the later Series IV and V have mechanical refinements that make them easier to maintain. Partly for these reasons the Series III cars are perhaps the cream of the crop and if you are wanting to get the best of the pure styling but take advantage of the later car’s mechanical refinements then getting a good Series III and fitting it with the later all synchromesh gearbox and a set of Weber carburettors will put together a very nice sports car. The Sunbeam Alpine was one of the most comfortable and well thought out of the British sports cars of this era and they are a wonderful way to enjoy touring in a grand style whether its in a roadster or a hard top.

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

Sunbeam Alpine

Photo Credits: ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s – Red Alpine Series III
Photo Credits: Jason Dodd ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s – Sunbeam Harrington Alpine NART Coupé
Photo Credits: Simon Clay + Bonhams ©2015 – Sunbeam Alpine Series II

The post The Essential Buying Guide – Sunbeam Alpine appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Buying Guide: MGB Roadster Mon, 22 May 2017 07:00:59 +0000 The Essential Buying Guide: MGB Roadster

Introduction The MGB Roadster is the quintessential British sports car that never attempted to be the quickest thing on four wheels, rather it focussed on being enjoyable to drive, to tinker with, and to own. The humble MG is a good example of what made the British car industry a dominant force in the world of sports...

The post The Essential Buying Guide: MGB Roadster appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Buying Guide: MGB Roadster


The MGB Roadster is the quintessential British sports car that never attempted to be the quickest thing on four wheels, rather it focussed on being enjoyable to drive, to tinker with, and to own.

The humble MG is a good example of what made the British car industry a dominant force in the world of sports car manufacturing in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The body is a monocoque structure engineered to ensure it’s stiff and dependable. The engine is an old fashioned iron push-rod overhead valve unit with equally old fashioned tappets which are not silent in operation but are easy enough to adjust with feeler gauge and spanners. The transmission is simple and solid, and the steering is traditional rack and pinion. The MGB was made to be owner repairable and the result of that intentional design is that lots of them have survived and they are the most common car for most MG club’s members.

MGB Roadster

A Short History of the MGB

Work on creating what would become the MGB Roadster had already begun by 1956 with initial designs based on the existing MGA chassis. Early development work in the late fifties determined that in order to get significant improvements to the luggage and passenger space that the old MGA chassis would need to be abandoned and work was begun on creating the new car with a monocoque body. As this was to be the first MG with such a construction the framework of the car tended towards over engineering which was to stand the MGB in good stead as the cars aged to become much loved classics. The monocoque body was based around combined inner and outer sill sections with a deep centre tunnel.

The front suspension was essentially taken from the MGA with unequal wishbones but with the front suspension assembly with brakes mounted on a cross member that could be removed. The original design was for a new rear suspension design using coil springs with trailing arms and a Panhard rod. However once the early prototype car got to road testing stage it was found that there was a steering effect from the transverse Panhard rod which was unacceptable, so the design was changed to conventional semi-elliptic leaf springs suspension for the live axle.

The engine chosen for the MGB was the same BMC B Series in-line four cylinder OHV as used on the MGA but bored out to increase its capacity to 1,798cc. In its new form this three bearing engine produced 95bhp @ 5,400rpm. The gearbox was a standard four speed with synchromesh on the top three gears in typical sixties British style.

The car made its debut in 1962 and by the time production ended in 1980 it had outsold its predecessor five fold with over a half million MGB’s being produced.

MGB Roadster


MGB Models and Specifications

Note: In distinguishing cars into a four “series” we are not following factory recognised divisions. We are simply breaking up the changes to the MGB into their commonly accepted developmental stages. The only factory recognised stage is the Mark II of 1967-1969.

MK I, First Series (1962-1968)

The first series MGB Roadster featured the three bearing crankshaft BMC B series engine of the MGA but with increased capacity from 1,622cc to  1,798cc. These first series cars have the “banjo” rear axle and the four speed gearbox lacks synchromesh on first gear. The early gearbox can tend towards synchromesh wear on second gear as is the case with most BMC cars of the same era. In 1964 the engine was upgraded to a five bearing crankshaft. These cars were quite luxurious by British sports car standards and came with wind up windows and a lockable glove box.

Not only was the MGB lighter, more luxurious, and faster, but it was also the first MG to be designed with controlled crumple zones to protect the driver and passenger in impacts up to 30mph against an immovable 200 ton object.

Engine: Iron block and head, OHV push-rod in-line four cylinder of 1,798cc capacity producing 95bhp @ 5,400rpm and torque of 105lb/ft @ 2,400rpm. This engine breathed through twin 1.5”/38mm SU carburettors. Engine upgraded with positive crankcase ventilation in February 1964 and further upgraded from three main bearings to five in October 1964.

Gearbox: Four speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on top three gears and a straight cut non-synchromesh first gear. Laycock Type D overdrive available as an option up until 1967 when it was replaced with an optional Laycock Type LH overdrive from 1968-1974 and some 1975 cars. The overdrive operated in third and fourth gears.

Rear Axle: “Banjo” type rear axle as originall used on the MGA.

Brakes: Front; 10.7”disc brakes. Rear; 10” drum brakes. Servo assisted brakes optional.

Suspension and Steering: Front; independent with unequal wishbones and coil springs, anti-roll bar. Lever type shock absorber forms part of the upper wishbone. Rear; live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and lever type shock absorbers. Steering by rack and pinion, 2.9 turns lock to lock.

Body: Monocoque steel body with outer and inner sills with substantial centre tunnel. Earliest cars have aluminium bonnet/hood and boot lid.

MGB Roadster

Mark II, Second Series (1967-1969)

The Mark II cars appeared in 1967 fitted with the original four speed gearbox and rear axle. The electrical system was changed from traditional British positive earth to more conventional negative earth and the generator was upgraded to an alternator. The twin 6 volt batteries of the earlier cars that were wired in series to deliver 12 volts were replaced with a single 12 volt battery. These cars also featured reversing lights on the rear valence panel.

In 1968 export cars for the US market had to begin meeting emissions standards requiring the use of “smog pumps”.

For 1968 the MGB Roadster was fitted with a full synchromesh gearbox based on the gearbox used in the 3 litre MGC and also on the later V8. This gearbox is very rugged and over engineered for the four cylinder engine. Also in 1968 the “banjo” rear axle inherited from the MGA was upgraded to the tube type Salisbury axle used on the six cylinder MGC. Thus the entire transmission of these cars is significantly stronger than that of the early cars. For 1968 an automatic transmission was offered as an option although not for the US market.

In 1968 the brake hydraulic system was upgraded to dual circuit.

MGB Roadster

Third Series (1969-1974)

The third series MGB Roadster has British Leyland badges as BMC were subsumed into a new larger company called British Leyland. These third series cars have rubber faced bumper over-riders which were nicknamed “Sabrinas” after a buxom British actress, and had a recessed grille which was later “facelifted” to a black plastic mesh grill.

Radial tyres became standard in 1972.

Other new safety features for 1969 were high back seats fitted with head restraints to protect against whiplash spinal injury in the event of a rear end collision. The windscreen wipers were increased from two to three to maximise swept area.

MGB Roadster

Fourth Series (1974-1980) – The “Rubber Bumper” Series

Because of new US standards that required automobiles to be able to withstand a 5 mph impact without damage the MGB Roadster had to be fitted with “rubber bumpers” which were in fact made of polyurethane over a steel core. Also in 1974 the ride height of the MGB was raised by 1” to meet US headlight height requirements. 1974 was also the year servo assisted brakes were fitted as standard. The front anti-roll bar was omitted as a cost cutting measure in 1975 and predictably that did nothing for the MGB’s handling. The front anti-roll bar was restored in 1976. The following year a rear anti-roll bar was added as standard equipment and at the same time the whole suspension geometry was revised. Also in 1975 a collapsible steering column was fitted and the steering ratio altered from 2.9 turns to 3.5 turns.

The engine of US cars were fitted with a single Stromberg carburettor in place of the twin SU’s to meet emissions regulations in 1975. The power of the engine was thus reduced to 85bhp with 100lb/ft torque. California specification cars were even less powerful with only 70bhp by the late seventies. From 1977 onwards the optional overdrive would only operate in fourth gear. This unit can be distinguished by its switch which is located at the top of the gearshift knob (previous overdrive switches were dashboard mounted).

In 1979 a limited series was created for the US market. Painted black the original limited edition was supposedly to be for 500 cars only but buyer demand saw that escalate to 6,682 units so the production was not quite as limited as intended. In Britain the model was painted bronze and 421 limited edition MGB Roadster were made.

MGB Roadster

Buying an MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster Body

The body of a potential purchase car is always the mission critical item to examine. The MGB was a sports car and sports cars encourage drivers to drive them in a sporting fashion. So, at risk of stating the obvious, the potential for accident damage is very real as is the expectation that the car may have corrosion in critical structural areas.

– One of the two main structural areas of the MGB Roadster monocoque body are the sills. The sills sit between the rear of the front wheel arch and the front of the rear wheel arch. The sills have a central membrane, with an inner box section inside that. Expert examination is recommended as rust in structural areas can easily be hidden simply because it is inside the structure or it may have been repaired in the past and the quality of that repair may or may not be satisfactory. If complete replacement of the sills is needed the parts are available but it is a job for someone who is expert in this. It is not a job for a someone with no prior experience.

– In the interior of the car lift up the carpets or mats and check for corrosion. Also look around the cockpit including at the rear. Lift up the battery covers and check for corrosion in the battery bays – batteries tend to cause corrosion which needs regular maintenance.

– Check the panels for rust and damage

– Front wings where they join the scuttle

– Rear wings; check inside for filler repairs and/or corrosion.

– Around and under the doors. Feel under the doors for corrosion and to ensure drain holes are open and free from rust.

– Check the opening and closing of the doors and check door gaps.

– Around the headlights check for rust and accident repair.

– Bonnet/hood and boot/trunk on early cars were made of aluminium alloy so were more susceptible to damage. Aluminium alloy panels such as this require annealing if panelbeating is required.

– Boot/trunk floor: check for rust and also check for fuel smell or sign of leaking from the fuel tank.

– The interior trim is not too critical and can be re-upholstered. Ensure the wiring looks OK and that all instrumentation is working OK.

MGB Roadster Suspension, Brakes and Steering

The suspension is conventional and well engineered.

– Check for wear of king pins and bushings etc.

– Check for leaking lever type shock absorbers.

– Check for wear in the bushes and springs.

– Check brakes for operation and wear. Look for brake fluid leaks etc.

The suspension can be upgraded easily by the home DIY mechanic. Replacement of the suspension bushings with high quality new ones is recommended. There are also suspension upgrade kits which include kits to convert from lever to telescopic shock absorbers.

Steering should have less than one inch play in the universal joint. Check the rubber gaiters are in good condition.

MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster Engine and Transmission

The MGB Roadster’s engine and transmission are very conventional and as a consequence it is not rocket science to repair them. The normal checks will include the following:


– Check for oil leaks including in the engine coolant (milky deposits floating around in the radiator).

– Check oil pressure is over 50psi at 50mph – 80km/hr.

– Check for blue smoke in the exhaust etc. Do a cylinder leakage test.

– Expect some tappet noise at the top of the engine. The tappets are easy to adjust but are not silent in operation.

– The MGB engine does not normally overheat.


– The older model four speed gearbox with no synchromesh on first gear may show signs of wear on second gear. Make sure it stays in second gear on the overrun. The gearbox can be affordably overhauled.

– Check clutch operation is smooth and that it engages fully.

– Check prop shaft joints for slack and when driving the car listen for clonks from the transmission which indicate wear and the need for an overhaul.

MGB Roadster


An MGB Roadster is a car that you buy not because you are looking for the fastest car on the road, nor because you are looking for the most impressive or most comfortable. If you are looking to buy an MGB you are looking for a car that will become an enjoyable hobby and also something that will likely get you joining an MG club with all the social and practical benefits that comes with it.

These cars were made for owners who would work on them themselves so they were intentionally designed to be tweaked and tinkered with. They are also huge fun on the road, even the ones with no synchromesh on first gear. You can learn to double de-clutch and you will soon master a nifty and silent change into first on the move; on tight mountain hairpins its a skill you will need. Just remember that back in the twenties gearboxes were mostly non-synchromesh “crash” gearboxes as they were on trucks right up into the sixties. An MGB is one of the most fun classic driving experiences you can have – they feel great on the road and they sound wonderful.

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster

MGB Roadster

Photo Credit for blue MGB: Darin Schnabel ©2017 Courtesy of RM Sothebys

Photo Credit for red MGB: Corey Silvia ©2015 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The post The Essential Buying Guide: MGB Roadster appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Buying Guide – Austin-Healey 3000 Sat, 22 Apr 2017 07:01:24 +0000 The Essential Buying Guide – Austin-Healey 3000

Introduction Of all the British sports cars ever made the Austin-Healey 3000 series are amongst the most iconic and most desirable, despite the fact that they were by no means the most expensive nor even the most sophisticated. Originally created to provide an affordable sports car so that enthusiasts of modest means could participate in...

The post The Essential Buying Guide – Austin-Healey 3000 appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Buying Guide – Austin-Healey 3000


Of all the British sports cars ever made the Austin-Healey 3000 series are amongst the most iconic and most desirable, despite the fact that they were by no means the most expensive nor even the most sophisticated.

Originally created to provide an affordable sports car so that enthusiasts of modest means could participate in motor sport and club competition the “big Healey” became a common sight on race tracks, in rally competition, and in club hill climbs and gymkhanas. The engineering of the big Healeys was kept conventional, the 3000 series having a big under-stressed 3 litre OHV six cylinder engine mated to an equally conventional four speed manual gearbox optionally with an electric Laycock de Normanville overdrive. But the attractiveness of the Austin-Healey 3000 lays in a masterful combining of a stunningly beautiful body design, with no nonsense mechanics that allowed an owner of modest skill to fix, tweak and modify to their heart’s content. All of that with the added bonus of the driving experience.

If you love to drive then a big Healey provides an amazingly addictive driving experience; the sound, the feel, the sheer exhilaration melds together and just makes you want to drive the car more and more. This is a car for the enthusiast, for the romantic, for the adventurous. It was in a big Austin-Healey that French artist Sacha Distel chauffeured Brigitte Bardot around, perhaps even on her visits to Pablo Picasso.

Above Image: Austin-Healey 100/4


The Austin-Healey 3000 began life back in 1951-1952 as a design by Donald Healey working with Barry Bilbie who created the utilitarian chassis and Gerry Coker who created the imagination catching body style. The ancestor of the Austin-Healey 3000 was called the Healey 100 – the “100” meant that this was a car capable of 100mph. But the Healey 100 was by no means the beginning of the story for Donald Healey. Donald Healey had founded his Donald Healey Motor Company immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1945. He set up his base in an old aircraft components manufacturing factory called “The Cape” in Warwick, Britain.

Donald Healey’s dream was to make expensive high performance cars and he set out to accomplish that in a Britain where the population were still on wartime ration books and raw materials were similarly rationed. To get raw materials for your expensive sports cars you needed to be planning to export those cars to bring back to Britain foreign exchange to help Britain repay her war debts. In the mid-late forties Donald Healey’s factory was turning out a number of cars including the Sportsmobile, the Silverstone roadsters, and the Elliot saloon. But in order to be able to export in quantity Donald Healey needed to build cars that were attractive on the US market. To this end he created the Nash Healey and these were built with American Nash engines and gearboxes. This was partially successful but the process taught Donald Healey that what he really needed to make his business flourish was an affordable sports car that could be mass produced. He decided to build a sports car based on the mechanics of the car that British car maker Austin were trying to export to the United States, the Austin A90 Atlantic.

This new car was called the Healey 100 and Donald Healey Motors exhibited it at the 1952 London Motor Show at Earls Court. Donald Healey hoped that his new sports car would be successful but he did not anticipate the extraordinary interest shown in the car. Orders came in thick and fast to the extent that Donald Healey realised that his modest factory would not be able to build cars fast enough to fill them. Even as he was faced with this dilemma Donald Healey’s motor show stand welcomed an unexpected visitor in the person of Leonard Lord, the managing director of Austin Motor Company. The two went out to dinner together to discuss a business proposition of mutual interest. For Leonard Lord’s Austin Motor Company their great white hope for the US export market, the Austin A90 Atlantic, had turned out to be a great white elephant, sales were dismal. On the other hand the Healey 100, based on the Austin A90 Atlantic was getting orders hand over fist. Over dinner an agreement was reached and Donald Healey went on to sign a twenty year contract with Austin Motor Company to build his Healey 100 as the Austin-Healey 100. The big Austin-Healey was born and it would continue in production in various forms until the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III in 1967.

Above Image: Austin Healey 100/6

Models and Specifications

Austin-Healey 100-6 – the Development Phase

The last version of the Austin-Healey 100 series was the Austin-Healey 100-6; this car had its original Austin A90 Atlantic 2,660cc in-line OHV four cylinder engine replaced with a slightly smaller 2,639cc Austin C-Series in-line six cylinder OHV engine. The decision to use the Austin C-Series engine did not provide a significant increase in engine power. The original A90 sourced in-line four produced 90bhp in early models and the later accessory 100M Le Mans Engine Modification Kit boosted that to 100bhp. The later Austin-Healey 100S version of that engine put out an even more respectable 132bhp @ 4700rpm. By comparison the Austin C-Series OHV six cylinder developed 102bhp when first introduced, which was not much more than either the standard four or the tuned up ones. The power increase occurred later when a re-designed cylinder head and manifold pushed power up to 117bhp for the six cylinder engine. The advantage of the change to the six cylinder engine was that it provided the potential to provide a significant power increase by increasing its capacity, and it was a smoother engine better suited to a refined sports touring car than the four, which was more of a raw sports roadster. The change from the four cylinder to the six cylinder marked the beginning of the change of the character of the Austin-Healey from sports car to sports touring car. This was done to create the Austin-Healey 3000.

The Austin-Healey 100-6 was a re-styling of the original Austin-Healey 100. The bonnet (hood) was given a raised air intake to enable it to clear the longer six cylinder engine, and the front grille was a completely new design. The car was initially offered as a 2+2 (the BN4 model made 1956-1959) and then later optionally as a two seater (the BN6 model made in 1958-9). A subtle change was the elimination of the fold down windscreen of the original Austin-Healey 100. With its restyled body and the new six cylinder engine the 100-6 was almost an Austin-Healey 3000. All that was needed to create the 3000 was to increase the engine capacity, and that was done in 1959.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkI

Austin-Healey 3000 MkI

As introduced in 1959 the Austin-Healey 3000 was a 100-6 with its engine capacity increased to 2,912cc (177.7 cu. in.) and with the front drum brakes replaced with Girling discs for much improved performance. The power of the increased capacity Austin C-Series engine was significantly higher at 124bhp with 67lb/ft of torque. This car was produced in two models; the BN7 with 2+2 seating and the BT7 with two seats only. The car was still a mostly unchanged Austin-Healey; steering was by cam-and-peg, front suspension was independent with coil springs at the front and a live rear axle with Panhard rod and seven leaf springs at the rear. Two differential ratios were used; 3.545:1 for four-speed cars, and 3.909:1 for cars fitted with the optional Laycock de Normanville electric overdrive. As with the previous Austin-Healey 100-4 and 100-6 models the gearbox had a side change necessitating an angled gear-lever for right hand drive cars.

This first version of the Austin-Healey 3000 was made from March 1959 until May 1961 in two versions, a standard two seater designated BN7 and a 2+2 designated BT7. The 2+2 version’s rear seats were a tight squeeze, so tight that Motor magazine at the time said that they “will accommodate two small children or one adult (sitting slightly sideways) without too much complaint on short trips during a rail strike.” Suffice to say that the 2+2 was not a car in which to transport four adults on a trans-continental journey.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkI

Austin-Healey 3000 Mk II

In April 1961 the first model of the Austin-Healey 3000 was updated and designated the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk. II designated the BN7. This change was precipitated by declining sales of the 3000 on the all important US market. It was thought that increasing the engine power was what was needed and so that was the strategy employed. The engine power was increased to 132bhp and to accomplish that the engine was fitted with triple SU HS4 carburettors in place of the twin carburettors that had been used on previous models. The fitting of the triple carburettors made tuning much more difficult both to manage and maintain and owners who tuned their own cars needed to come up with the skills and strategies to balance the triple carburettor set up. One method was to mount triple vacuum gauges in the engine bay, one for each carburettor, which was quite effective. Alternatively there were owners who mounted their triple vacuum gauges on or under the dashboard and who used a mirror when tuning under the bonnet so they could see them. This design feature of the Mk. II is interesting in that it may have been an effort by the manufacturer to appeal to customers who preferred the old four cylinder Healeys to the new ones. The four cylinder cars were said to handle better with less propensity to under-steer than the six cylinder cars with the longer engine putting more weight forward. The triple carburettors also looked impressive bolted onto the engine, a little reminiscent of the then new Jaguar XKE “E-type”.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkII

The mechanics at the Austin dealerships did not like the triple carburettor set up and owners similarly mostly were not keen – except perhaps the dedicated few who had discovered the triple vacuum gauge trick. As a result sales of the BN7 amounted to just 355 cars which makes them some of the rarest (and therefore most valuable) of all the Austin-Healeys. The decision was taken to replace the triple SU HS4 carburettors with slightly larger twin SU HS6 carburettors in June 1962; this model is referred to as the Mk. IIa and was given the model designation BJ7. The engine power was almost unaffected being down to 131bhp instead of 132bhp. Interestingly when the performance of the car was tested it was discovered that the new model was six seconds quicker to 100mph and one second faster for standing to 60mph.

The dealerships and owners were happy again and management learned that the majority of Austin-Healey buyers were not the car club performance enthusiasts of the past but people who were looking for an affordable yet stylish performance car. This would pave the way for the creation of the most luxurious of the Big Healeys, the 3000 Mk. III and that creation began with the Mk. IIa BJ7 which was a substantially re-designed car. The front grille was changed to having simple vertical bars and the car was given wind-up windows, a first on a Big Healey. To go with the wind-up windows the car’s windscreen was a completely new design and included quarter vents whilst the doors had chrome extensions on the top to accommodate the new side windows. Not content with those improvements the original 48 spoke wire wheels were upgraded to 60 spoke wheels. British Motor Corporation were serious about regaining their lost share of the US market. The BJ7 was only made as a two seater.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkII Badge

Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III

The Austin-Healey 3000 Mk. III was the final and most luxurious iteration of the Big Healey. The primitive interior of the original Healeys was replaced with one with a full wood dashboard that had a tunnel console that extended down to the gear-lever. The instrumentation was new with Smith’s black instruments with white numbers and chrome bezels. The car had full door trims and wind-up windows with a neat chrome extension on the top of the doors to contain and seal them as pioneered on the BJ7. The seats were now upholstered in “Ambla” vinyl but leather was available as an extra cost option. Wire wheels were made standard on all US market cars as was servo assistance on the brakes which had previously been optional. This car, designated the BJ8 was a 2+2 and had the rear seats hinged so they could be folded down to provide additional luggage space. The 3000 Mk. III was no longer a stripped down roadster, it was a sports touring car more in the style of the Jaguar XK120, 140, 150. This was a car that was created as a luxury sports car rather than as an affordable sports car that could be raced at the track and then driven home afterwards, it was no longer the sort of car that Donald Healey had originally conceived. But, that being said, the Mk. III is the most sought after of all the Big Healeys and with good reason.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkIII

In production from November 1963 until December 1967 the Mk. III’s engine power was increased to a healthy 148bhp @ 5,250rpm with 173lb/ft of torque at 3,000rpm. To achieve the increase in power the engine was fitted with twin SU HD8 carburettors along with other engine tweaks. Top speed was 121mph and the standing to 60mph was one second quicker than the Mk. II at 10 seconds despite the bodywork and trim of the car having added weight.

The Mk III was improved in May 1964 to address owner complaints about the very low slung exhaust. The chassis rear frame rails were modified to enable an increase in ground clearance whilst softer six leaf springs were used in place of the original seven leaf system. The original Panhard rod of the earlier cars was replaced with radius arms. These are the Phase II Mk. III cars and they have noticeably higher rear ground clearance.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkIII Interior

Buying an Austin-Healey 3000

If considering buying an Austin-Healey 3000 there are a couple of basics to keep etched in your mind. The first is that the value of these cars has been escalating exponentially and that this means there are some people out there who have an old Healey that they want to make some big money on. Where there’s nice money to be made people may be tempted to be a tad less honest than might be otherwise. Related to this is that you need to remember you are planning to buy a car that is five or six decades old, and it’s a car that the factory did not see fit to rustproof when they were making them. The early cars were made in post World War II Britain when materials were scarce, and by the sixties the British Motor Corporation was financially struggling and consequently cutting costs on things such as rust-proofing.

Because the value of these cars has gone up enormously a buyer really needs to do their homework before kicking tyres and opening their wallet. It is strongly recommended that you get hold of Reid Trummel’s book “The Essential Buyer’s Guide: Austin-Healey Big Healeys”. And study it before you go and look at anything. It is also recommended that you become a part of an Austin-Healey club so you have access to people who love these cars and who know them inside and out. You are pretty certain to find expert help both in making your purchase and in keeping it in fine shape for the future.

The Austin-Healey was designed with a chassis and bodywork but the floorpan and bulkhead are welded onto the chassis creating a structure that is semi-monocoque as these welded on body sections are stressed members.

The following are the main points to pay high priority attention to:

– Check the A and B posts for rust especially where they join the chassis. Use a magnet and small ice pick to check for use of body filler.

– Look for signs of chassis repair or damage, check chassis alignment (workshop manuals have chassis alignment information). Ensure you check the chassis outriggers also as these are prime candidates for rust damage as they trap moisture and dirt.

– Floorpans, sills, wings and wheel arches are all high risk rust areas. The inner sills are especially difficult to repair. Repairs that require removal of welded on body parts are going to require that those parts be cut off, repaired or replaced, and welded back on again. Work such as that is going to be expensive unless you are the one doing it and you have the skill set and equipment for it.

– Unscrew the sill covers and peel back the carpets to make a good examination of that area.

– Once you’ve done a thorough examination of the chassis both inside the car and under it move on to examining the body. One area that is an indicator of past damage and/or faulty past repair is the swage line that runs from the front wheel arch to the rear of the car. Any imperfections visible indicate problems underneath most likely involving filler under the paintwork.

– Check the swage line as it meets the doors, it should be spot on.

– Check the opening and closing of the doors, and check the door gaps are even top to bottom.

– Jack the car up at the rear and open and close the doors. If the chassis is weak it will show up in the door operation.

– Check the inside of the bonnet and boot lids to see if there is any signs of past dents that have been filled in on the outside.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkIII Engine

The bodywork is by far the most important area to examine. New replacement chassis are available for the six cylinder cars so a from the ground up restoration can be done but there is considerable expertise needed to get the panels and doors installed properly not to mention re-assembly of the suspension etc.

Mechanically the Austin-Healey 3000 is a conventional and readily fixable automobile. The usual mechanical checks on the engine will include the following:

– Check for oil leaks

– Check the radiator coolant for milky discolouration caused by oil leaking into the coolant.

– Check cylinder compression/leakage

– Check for noises of the unwanted kind.

Drive the car and listen for all the usual noises such as wheel bearing growl, transmission knocks and whines, suspicious sounds from the engine. In any British car and especially a British sports car check how second gear engages as it is the most common one to fail. Shift into second as you prepare to take a corner and see if you hear sounds that indicate the synchromesh is worn or worn out and make sure it doesn’t show a tendency to jump out of gear. Check the brakes. Check for steering play.

The mechanics of the Austin-Healey 3000 are fixable and so if you find a car with proven sound chassis and bodywork but there seem to be engine or transmission problems you have a car that you can expect to fix at reasonable and predictable cost, and you can expect to have quite a bit of fun doing it.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkIII Front


The Austin-Healey 3000 and its close sibling the 100-6 are some of the nicest sports cars to emerge from Britain in the mid part of the 20th century. They may not have been described as the most beautiful car ever made like the E-type was, yet a lot of us think that they are. They are not the fastest sports car you could buy, but if you like Austin-Healeys, who cares? They’re stunningly beautiful, mechanically easy to work on, and utterly delightful to drive despite the fact that they don’t have synchromesh on first gear (You do know how to double de-clutch don’t you?) I don’t think that there is any other car I would be happier to have sitting in my garage.

If you are blessed with enough cash to buy yourself one of these classic beauties be careful that the beauty you intend to open your wallet for is not one whose beauty is skin deep. Make sure she is rust free and straight, enjoy getting her mechanicals and suspension into the best possible shape, and enjoy the privilege of owning and driving one of the best British sports cars ever created.

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkIII Side

Above Image: Austin Healey 3000 MkIII Badge


Article written by Jon Branch for Silodrome

Image Credits: 

Austin Healey MkI – Motorcar Studios ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Austin Healey MkII – Travis Massey ©2015 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Austin Healey MkIII – ©2016 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

The post The Essential Buying Guide – Austin-Healey 3000 appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Triumph TR6 Buying Guide Fri, 31 Mar 2017 07:01:45 +0000 The Essential Triumph TR6 Buying Guide

Introduction James May describes the Triumph TR6 as “The blokiest bloke’s car ever built”. Translated into non-British English that means it’s a car that appeals to the sort of men (and women for that matter) who like to roll up their sleeves, open up their toolbox, and work on their own engines. Preferably with a...

The post The Essential Triumph TR6 Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

The Essential Triumph TR6 Buying Guide


James May describes the Triumph TR6 as “The blokiest bloke’s car ever built”. Translated into non-British English that means it’s a car that appeals to the sort of men (and women for that matter) who like to roll up their sleeves, open up their toolbox, and work on their own engines.

Preferably with a strong cup of tea nearby.

A Brief History of the Triumph TR6

The Triumph TR series of sports cars really began life when the chairman of Standard-Triumph, Sir John Black, decided the company needed a sports car to compete with the iconic Morgan. However, Sir John also wanted to build the car using parts already being produced by the company, especially expensive to create parts such as the chassis, suspension and engine. In effect Sir John wanted a sports car, but at minimal cost and minimal effort. The resulting Triumph TR1, better known as the 20TS was not a success, but out of its failure the ideas were germinated to create a new sports car built on a new frame with revised suspension and brakes, and an uprated engine. This car was the TR2 of 1953 and it formed the foundation for all the TR series cars up to and including the TR6.

The TR6 was the last development of the series of cars that began in 1961 with the new body style designed by Giovanni Michelotti for the TR4. The TR4 and later cars were still built on the same basic framework as the original TR2 but the TR4 saw a major change in 1965 when the live axle rear suspension was replaced with a new independent rear suspension with trailing arms, creating the TR4A. The car was developed further in 1967 with the installation of a 2.5 liter in-line six cylinder engine based on the engine used in the Triumph 2000 sedan, and with the fitting of servo assistance to the front disc and rear drum braking system. This new car was sold in Britain and Europe as the Triumph TR5 and in the United States as the TR250.

Just one year later in 1968 Triumph unveiled the TR6, the principle difference in this car being the modernization of its body style. The re-vamped body was remodeled by German design house Karmann and gave the TR6 the clean aesthetic lines that would set it apart and make it into the classic British sports car it deserved to be. The TR6 would remain in production until 1976 and would become one of the more sought after British sports cars of the twentieth century.

Click here to visit Sports Car Art and buy the above TR6 poster.

Triumph TR6 Specifications

Engine: 2,498cc in-line six cylinder OHV.

Power: Lucas fuel injected early model 150bhp. Later the fuel injected engine was de-tuned to produce 125bhp “to make it easier to drive”. US market carburettor model 104hp.

Transmission: Four speed all synchromesh manual gearbox with Laycock de Normaville electric overdrive option. The Laycock de Normanville overdrive was originally fitted to the 150bhp cars with overdrive available on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears but service failures led to later models having the overdrive available on 3rd and 4th gears only. (Note: This may have been one of the contributing factors to the decision to reduce the engine power of the Lucas fuel injected models.)

Suspension: Front independent with unequal length wishbones and coil springs; rear independent with trailing arms.

Brakes: Front discs, rear drums. Servo assisted.

Chassis and body: Separate chassis made of 16swg steel box section with inner strengthening baffles, spot welded. Body shell bolted to the chassis.

Buying a TR6

The first thing to remember if planning on buying a TR6 is that you are going to purchase a car that is at least four decades old. In the sixties and seventies people used to say that British cars came “rust free, i.e. they gave you the rust for nothing”, although to be fair the same is often said for Italian and American cars of the same era.

The mechanicals of a TR6; the engine, gearbox and transmission are all things that can normally be repaired without too much difficulty thanks in large part to their relative simplicity. Rust in the chassis and in the body can involve the need for a complete strip down and re-build which will be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Body panels and complete new chassis are available to buy off the shelf, but you should avoid a car that is going to need such major surgery unless you intend to take on that challenge.

Things to watch for:

– Rust normally begins under the paint and manifests itself as bubbles.Check around the headlights. Dirt and mud can become trapped in this area trapping water and seeding corrosion.

– Seams on the scuttle top where the wings bolt on.

– Top of the rear deck and the seams around it. (Note: Rust bubbling around this area typically mean a much worse problem in hard to examine areas underneath.)

– The upright on the floor panel area behind the sills. If this does not feel firm it likely means much more serious problems underneath.

– The rear wings where they bolt onto the “B” pillar and at the rear of the wings especially.

– Bottom of the rear valence as it is an area that tends to trap moisture.

– Rear lip of the boot lid. Good to also have a small magnet to check for the presence of body filler under the paint from previous rust repairs.

– In the engine bay check for rust such as that caused by the battery leaking or the brake/clutch master cylinders leaking and stripping of the protective paint.

– Check the door gaps; If the gap at the top is more than the bottom it can indicate a “tired chassis” which can be ameliorated by removing the rear body mountings and packing them up more. If the gap at the bottom is more than the top you may be looking at at chassis restoration job. Check the doors open and close cleanly.

Chassis and Underbody:

A small hammer or ice pick is good to have when you get underneath the car. A bright sound indicates sound metal and a dull sound indicates nastiness. Be especially vigilant checking areas where two layers of steel are mated on top of each other. This is critical under the “T shirt” area. If there are signs of rust forcing the layers apart then the problems are going to be very difficult to deal with, and you should avoid that purchase.

– Check the chassis is even on both sides.

– Check for accident damage, including “kerbing”.

– Check all chassis mounting points.

– Check the mounting of the differential and its effect on the front of the chassis. The differential is bolted onto “pins” that are welded onto brackets on the rear chassis cross members. The effect of the engine power torque applied to the differential causes it to put twisting strain on the mountings on the rear chassis cross member and this strain is transmitted to the front chassis cross member and can cause it to split. This tends to be near impossible to spot and requires a body off chassis restoration job.

– Check suspension and suspension bushings.

– Check all the electrics work correctly including all lights (and brake lights). Reach up under the dash and assess just how old and brittle the wiring is. Re-wiring can be done but is a fiddly and mind bending job.

– General check of the engine, does it run evenly? How does it feel on the road?

– Test drive and listen and feel for behavior of the gearbox and differential. How does the car feel and sound generally? Knocks from the transmission? Steering? Brakes?


The Triumph TR6 was described by British motoring magazine Autocar of 17th April 1969 like so: “It is very much a masculine machine, calling for beefy muscles, bold decisions, and even ruthlessness on occasion. It could be dubbed the last real sports car…“.

No doubt it is for all these reasons that you are considering buying one. The TR6 really is one of the great British sports cars. It’s a car for someone who loves to drive and who really appreciates the feeling you get as you accelerate through a corner and feel the car squat down and power through. It is a car that will reward a conscientious owner who will commit to looking after it’s bodywork and mechanics.

On top of all that this is a car that looks wonderful. If you can, bolt a set of Minilite alloy wheels onto your TR6, they look good and reduce unsprung weight. But if you can’t manage the Minilites the original steel wheels still look great. Or if you’re lucky you may score a car with original wire wheels.

If you are planning on buying a TR6 be careful, be observant, and most of all, be fussy. Those things will pay off in your purchase. Once you have made your choice invest some time and effort into it, it will pay dividends. And enjoy your British classic, likely the last real sports car made in Britain.

Editor’s Note: If you have tips, suggestions, or hard earned experience that you’d like to add to this buying guide please shoot us an email. We’re always looking to add to our guides, and your advice could be very helpful to other enthusiasts, allowing them to make a better decision.

Image Credits: Darin Schnabel ©2017 Courtesy of RM Sothebys

Guide written by Jon Branch for Silodrome ©2017

The post The Essential Triumph TR6 Buying Guide appeared first on Silodrome.

Buying Guide – Norton Commando Mon, 21 Oct 2013 07:25:24 +0000 Buying Guide – Norton Commando

The Norton Commando is a motorcycle that even today, 46 years after it was first introduced, lives on as one of the most iconic British motorcycles of the 20th century. The story of the conception of the Commando has all the hallmarks of a feel-good Hollywood film – a small team of engineers with a...

The post Buying Guide – Norton Commando appeared first on Silodrome.

Buying Guide – Norton Commando

The Norton Commando is a motorcycle that even today, 46 years after it was first introduced, lives on as one of the most iconic British motorcycles of the 20th century. The story of the conception of the Commando has all the hallmarks of a feel-good Hollywood film – a small team of engineers with a minimal budget, limited resources and an outdated engine set about creating a motorcycle that would go on to become, for many in the ‘60s, ‘70s and today, the most desirable motorcycle in the world. All this despite the pre-unit construction (for those unfamiliar with pre-unit, it just means that the transmission and engine are two separate parts, rather than unit construction where they’re both part of the same case), the relatively antiquated Atlas engine and a budget significantly below that of its arch rivals.

In 1966 the Villiers company bought Norton from AMC and renamed itself Norton-Villiers, they hired the engineers Dr Stefan Bauer (formerly of Rolls Royce), John Favill, Bernard Hooper and Bob Trigg, then gave them the deadline of the 1967 Earls Court Motor Show to have an all-new bike ready to show to the world. This sub-12 month deadline was extremely tight however the team pulled it together and created the Commando – a bike that would go on to win Motor Cycle News “Machine of the Year” award for 5 successive years from 1968 to 1972.

Norton Commando

The Norton Commando Model Years


This was the first year of construction for the Norton Commando and so as you might imagine, there were some teething issues. The most significant of which was that the frame was prone to bend under certain conditions. All bikes from 1969 onwards had slightly modified frames to alleviate this risk, however if you have a ’68 model you should know that an additional top tube was added in ’69 as the area around the headstock actually broke on some bikes. It is possible to get bracing added to a ’68 model but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that survived to the modern day without it’s frame already being strengthened.


Personally, this is my favorite year for the Commando, it still retained the spirit of the original 1968 model but the teething issues had been (mostly) worked out. The scrambler styled ‘S Type’ Commando with high exhaust pipes on the left hand side was designed largely for the US market and remains one of the most collectible models, this was accompanied by the Fastback, both of which proved to be hugely popular in Britain the the United States. Even though Norton wasn’t officially supporting a race team some dealers began entering races, the 1969 Isle of Man TT had a Norton Commando finish in 2nd (Paul Smart) and 4th (Mick Andrews).


1970 saw the introduction of the Roadster model to the Fastback and S Type, expanding the Commando line up to 3 bikes. In some respects, 1970 was the last year of the ‘original’ Commando – from ’71 onwards there’d be far more model variations, largely to appeal to the American market – many of which were very successful.


The Norton Commando model range grew to 6 bikes, a Hi-Rider was added to try to appeal to the burgeoning ‘Easy Rider’ chopper market, the MKIII Fastback, MKII Roadster, Street Scrambler, Fastback LR (long range) and the production racer were also offered – with varying degrees of popularity.


1972 wasn’t a good year for the Commando, what should have been an improved bike with the upgraded, optional Combat engine and new, faster performance figures quickly descended into a nightmare as engines began internally disintegrating due to overloaded main bearings and pistons that were prone to fail in a catastrophic fashion – immediately turning the engine into a large, oily paperweight. This issue was resolved by detuning the engine and adding new bearings by 1973 but significant damage to Norton’s reputation has already been done.


1973 saw Norton trying to unwind some of the damage that had been done with the Combat engine in 1972, the Combat engine was dropped from the options list but many of the engineering improvements that had been created to resolve the Combat issues were implemented into the standard engine – making them the best Commando engines to date and now available as either a 750 or an 850.  The Fastback and Fastback LR were dropped for ’73 and all models were fitted with a front disc brake as standard. Rake angle was also changed, and made 1 degree steeper, and engines from this year on had improved big-end bearings.


1974 saw the introduction of the race-spec John Player Norton as a regular production motorcycle, the fully faired racer picked up a huge amount of positive press which was much needed by Norton during an era when the purchase of Triumph and BSA were straining the company’s resources and quality was beginning to suffer.


An electric starter was fitted as standard equipment for the first time on the ’75 Commando, the gear shifter was switched from the right side to the left side as well – making the 1975 (and after) models the most appealing to people who want a Commando that works in much the same way as a standard motorcycle in the modern day. Sadly, this would be the last full year of production for the Commando, depending on who you talk to there were either 2 or 3 more years of partial production, largely parts-bin specials.


The 1976 Commandos were made from stockpiles of parts, the production line had been shut down in ’75 and so only 1,200 of the 850 Commandos were made in 1976 and 1977. These bikes are rare and they often suffered from quality control issues, that said, if you restore one you’ll have a Commando that draws a crowd.


1977 Commandos are basically 1975 model year bikes that were built from parts, many of these later Commandos had previously mentioned quality issues due to the fact that they were essentially built from leftover bits and spare parts.


Very few bikes were built in 1978, all from parts designed for the 1975 Commando (or earlier). It’s very unlikely you’ll find a bike listed as a ’78 but if you do it might be worth looking at – they’re rare as hen’s teeth and a well cared for example will hold some significant value.

Norton Commando Fastback

The Norton Commando Isolastic System

One of the most famous features of the Commando was the use of an Isolastic system to reduce engine vibrations being transferred to the frame and subsequently to the rider. In layman’s terms, the Isolastic system was an engine mounting system using rubber bushings that had to be carefully calibrated, once perfected they significantly reduced vibrations caused by the 750 and later the 850 Commando. This reduction in vibration improved the bike’s handling and reduced rider fatigue, specifically in the hands and wrists.

Main Bearing Issues

On any old Norton Commando, you’re probably going to want to replace the main bearings as soon as you can – this is utterly vital if the bike you buy is a 1972 model and it’s compulsory if the Commando has the higher-performance Combat engine. Failing main bearings after as little as 5,000 miles were common in the early 70s, making sure you’re running new, more modern bearings is one of the most vital things you’ll do when you take delivery of your bike.

Discs vs Drums

The original Commandos all had front and rear drum brakes, some people (like me) prefer the look and authentic, period correct feel that these give the bike – but if you like to stop in less distance than a standard international runway you might want to buy a Commando with a disc brake up front. The performance is notably better, more reliable and the disc brake fitted Commandos are far more common than the earlier drum models.

Electrical Systems

The dreaded electrical systems used on British motorcycles throughout the 1970s have become famous and sadly, Norton didn’t escape unscathed. Make sure all the lights on the bike work and check the electric starter (if it has one of course). A non-functioning electrical system isn’t necessarily a red light when it comes to old Nortons, you can actually buy an all new, modern wiring harness for them which will save you headaches down the road – in fact many Norton experts will recommend you remove and replace the old wiring harness even if it is working.

The Oil Fields

Oil leakage is a major concern with many older British bikes, the Commando can be almost drip free though if you take the time fit proper gaskets, then maintain them. You Norton will probably never be entirely devoid of a slight drip, but most British bike enthusiasts will just tell you that this is how the bikes mark their territory.

Fuel Tank Issues

Early fuel tanks until 1971 had fiberglass fuel tanks, these can be susceptible to damage from modern fuels that contain ethanol. If you buy a bike with a fiberglass fuel tank it’s not a major issue so long as you avoid fuels containing ethanol, or you can buy one of the many aftermarket tanks made of steel or aluminum.

The Electric Starter

From 1975 onwards the electric starter was offered with the Commando for the first time, it was a welcome addition to the model but they didn’t always work as advertised. Often they would drain the battery before the engine would start and you’d be left to either bump start it or use the trusty old kick starter. Kick starting a 750/850 parallel twin can be a difficult, tricky business – it requires a certain amount of strength and a certain amount of practice but if you get it right, it’ll make you look like Steve McQueen.


Norton Commando 750 vs 850 vs Combat

The major engine options you’ll be faced with are the original 750, the later 850 or the higher-performance and slightly temperamental Combat. Now, opinions vary quite significantly on this issue so I’ll try to outline the benefits of each as fairly as possible.

The 750 is the original engine, and once it’s set up properly it’ll run like a dream and propel you to speeds in excess of 110mph. Spares will be easy to find as the majority of Commando engines are 750s.

The 850 has almost exactly the same power output as the 750 due to the fact that it has a reduced compression ratio, this later engine benefitted from a series of evolutionary advances and they’re probably the most reliable of the Commando engines (if all other factors are equal).

The Combat is the engine you should choose if you want higher performance and you know how to pull and engine to bits and put it back together again. It is possible to build a Combat engine into a reliable daily runner but as a general rule, you might be better off with one of the above engines if reliability is more important to you than a performance boost.


Right Shifter vs Left Shifter

Pre-1975 Commandos had right hand side gear shifters, this was switched over to the left side in 1975 to comply with the American market – long the biggest market for British performance motorcycles. The right side shifter is fine once you get used to it, but until you adapt you’ll be tapping what you think is the rear brake and changing up a gear.

Norton Commando

Which Model?

When looking for your Commando, you’ll have to decide whether you want the Roadster, Hi-Rider, Super Scrambler, Interstate, John Player Special, Fastback or Fastback LR model. It’s probably worth having second and third options as many of them are rare or just don’t come up for sale very often. I’ve always been a fan of the Interstate 850 and the Super Scramber, but these are very popular choices. You’ll want to do some reading and find the model that you’ll be most happy spending time with because you’re going to get to know every part of her over time.



The fact that you’re even considering buying an old Commando means that you’re probably not afraid of a little oil, a little work and a little bit of character in your motorcycle. Some Commando owners swear that their bike has moods and can instantly tell the difference when their bike is having a good day versus a bad day, you’ll also probably never meet a Commando owner who hasn’t done most, if not all, of the maintenance that the bike requires.

At the end of the day, when you arrive anywhere on a Norton Commando you’ll find that everyone wants to talk to you, ask you questions and share stories about the old British bike they owned once too.

No matter where you go in the world the community of men and women that surround the Commando are genuinely fantastic people, parts are often sold at very low “friends” prices and there are a series of websites like the Access Norton forums full of kind hearted souls who’ll offer tips, tricks and advice.

Interestingly, there’s a company called Norvil that still make parts for original Commandos, meaning you can buy literally any part of the bike you need, fresh out of the factory without having to take a risk on a questionable used or refurbished part – this has made Commando ownership an order of magnitude easier to manage for many.

Norton Commando

Further Reading About The Norton Commando

Before you lay out any hard earned cash on a Commando I’d recommend getting a copy of the Peter Henshaw book “Norton Commando (The Essential Buyer’s Guide)” and also picking up a copy of “Norton Commando (Haynes Great Bikes)” by Mick Duckworth. The more reading you do now, the less tears, shouting and blood there’ll be later on.

You’d also be well advised to introduce yourself to the men and women over on the Access Norton forums, they’re good people who’ll offer you brilliant and insightful advice – not to mention the fact that it’s a great place to make friends with like-minded Nortonophiles.


Add To This Guide

If you have any tips you’d like to see added to this guide you can shoot me an email to – I’m always happy to hear advice, opinions and hard-earned experience.

Norton Commando

The post Buying Guide – Norton Commando appeared first on Silodrome.

]]> 2 22495