“The Beast” is one of the most famous custom cars ever built in Britain, this is largely because it’s powered by a monstrous 27 liter V12 Merlin engine, the same as used in the Spitfire and Hurricane WWII fighter aircraft.
It’s believed that the car produces 750 bhp with 760 lb ft of torque, though it may very well be more as there are few dynos in the world capable of accommodating the car. It is capable of making double this power output – if the original supercharger is refitted.
Fast Facts – “The Beast” A Merlin V12 Powered Car From England
- The Beast is famous for its 27 liter aero engine, for its unusual looks, and for its eccentric owner John Dodd who became a bit of a celebrity in Britain thanks to a protracted lawsuit filed against him by Rolls-Royce who didn’t want their name associated with the car.
- The car started out as a rolling chassis built by Paul Jameson in 1966 with a Meteor V12 WWII tank engine – a V12 that was a direct sibling to the more famous Merlin V12 aero engine.
- John Dodd had been contracted to supply an automatic transmission for the car, however he ended up buying the rolling chassis and completing the car himself.
- The Beast has had two lives, the first Meteor-powered car burned to the ground on the way home from a trip to Sweden after meeting the king. Dodd then rebuilt the car with a new Merlin V12 and a new body. The car is now being offered for public sale from Dodd family ownership for the first time.
Building The Beast
If there’s one thing the Brits are good at, it’s building unusual machines out in their garages. Enzo Ferrari used to call the small British Formula 1 teams “Garagiste,” as they regularly worked out of small garages, but they also designed new kinds of F1 cars that beat Ferraris – something that doubtless irritated Ferrari to no end.
Above Video: This short film discusses the history of the Beast and it features a return of Top Gear host Steve Berry who talks about the car with John Dodd’s son who likely knows more about the car than anyone else on earth. Further down in the article you’ll find the original Top Gear episode featuring the Beast with Steve Berry in 1998.
One of these Garagiste-types was a man named Paul Jameson, who in the mid-1960s struck upon the idea of building himself a car with a 27 liter Meteor V12 tank engine under the hood. He built a custom chassis for the car, fitted the suspension which consisted of a Jaguar rear end and, as unlikely as it may seem, a Wolseley front end.
During the build process Jameson was having a custom gearbox made by an Epsom automatic transmission specialist named John Dodd. The transmission needed to be able to handle 750 bhp and 760 lb ft of torque, and so the engineering that went into it was no small matter.
When Jameson’s project stalled it was bought by Dodd who took over the build process and undertook a significant amount of work to finish the car and get a body designed and built for it. The road licensing authorities of 1960s Britain were far more amenable to wild and wonderful vehicles than they are today, and as a result Dodd was able to get the car fully road legal – it remains so today.
Due to the fact that the car had a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine under the hood Dodd called it a Rolls-Royce and fitted the appropriate grille up front. This would later result in a cease-and-desist court case from Rolls-Royce which Dodd battled in his own unique way, becoming a bit of a celebrity in the British news at the time for his antics.
A Visit With The King, And A Disaster
Due to the growing popularity of the Beast and its eccentric owner the car was seem by many across Europe, one curious fan was the King of Sweden, who invited Dodd to visit his country and bring The Beast along with him.
This would be a fateful trip for the car, it made it from the UK all the way to its meeting with Swedish royalty but on the return leg of the journey disaster would strike. A possible fuel line issue led to the Beast burning to the ground by the side of a highway, there was nothing Dodd could do to save the car, try as he might.
Though this was obviously a disaster it did result in a £17,000 insurance payout, and Dodd quickly realized this would be enough to rebuild the car – this time with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine rather than the earlier Meteor.
Rebuilding The Beast
When the project to rebuild the Beast began it began with an all new engine under the hood, that aforementioned Merlin V12 thought without its supercharger fitted. Essentially every part of the car needed to be built again from scratch.
Once the chassis was restored and the new engine fitted it was plumbed in with the rest of the drivetrain. The suspension was replaced along with the brakes. Once this was all done just one major part needed to be sourced – a new body.
The new body would be made from fiberglass, just like the original, but stylistically it would have little to nothing in common with the first. It was designed and fabricated by Fibre Glass Repairs in Bromley, Kent who gave the car a unique front end and based the rear of the car on popular shooting brake designs of the era – like the Reliant Scimitar.
The completed car was greeted by the motoring community with much enthusiasm and Dodd’s popularity as Britain’s favorite custom car builder continued to grow. In its new rebodied form the Beast appeared on the popular automotive television program Top Gear with presenter Steve Berry in 1998 (which you can see below).
Above Video: This is the 1998 Top Gear feature on the Beast, it goes into a little more detail and includes period footage of John Dodd outside court after battling Rolls-Royce over the name. As you can see, this is the later version of the car with the new body after the first one had burned to a crisp.
With its new body the Beast would live a long and celebrated life, Dodd later moved to Spain and took the car with him where he regular showed it at events – to much delight from the general public.
Buying The Beast
Now for the first time the Beast is being offered for sale publicly, directly from Dodd family ownership.
Sadly John Dodd passed away in December of 2022, just 3 months ago at the time of writing, and his family have decided to offer the car for sale in the hopes that a true enthusiast will buy the car and write the next chapter in its fascinating history.
The Beast was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most powerful car in 1977, and it’s believed to be MOT exempt in Britain for use on the road. Due to its age it may very well be eligible for road use in other countries however bidders would need to research this for themselves before bidding.
If you’d like to read more about the Beast or register to bid you can visit the listing here on Car & Classic. It’s being offered for sale out of Northamptonshire in the United Kingdom and pre-bids are now being taken.
Images courtesy of Car & Classic
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