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The Firenza nonetheless offering enjoyable 50 years on

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Supplier Workforce Vauxhall below the helm of Invoice Blydenstein is synonymous with Gerry Marshall and the Particular and Tremendous Saloon equipment he piloted within the Nineteen Seventies. From Viva GTs, by Vauxhall Firenza ‘{Old} Nail’ and Ventora ‘Massive Bertha’, to Firenza-based ‘Child Bertha’, all are a part of British racing folklore.

However, whereas these automobiles’ nicknames helped earn them virtually legendary standing, {Old} Nail specifically was not solely distinctive. A handful of comparable chassis have been created in Blydenstein’s Shepreth workshops. One, like Child Bertha below Joe Ward’s guardianship, continues racing frequently to at the present time, half a century later.

It turned referred to as the Transpeed Firenza, after the Davies household’s Hove motor equipment enterprise, and was a frontrunner in Particular Saloons and Thundersaloons. Lengthy-time pilot Tony Davies now campaigns it in Historic Thunder and Particular Saloons collection run by the Traditional Sports activities Automobile Membership and Historic Sports activities Automobile Membership.

“The shell was constructed as a T-car for Gerry Marshall’s {Old} Nail, in case he ever wanted it,” reveals Davies, who acquired the automotive collectively with brother Mike for the 1978 season.

In-built 1974, it was first raced by Phil Clarke after which Geoff Janes, the pair having fun with success at their native circuits of Snetterton and Fort Combe respectively. Full with iconic ‘droop snoot’ from the Excessive Efficiency street mannequin, it was powered by Vauxhall’s 2.3-litre single-overhead camshaft ‘Slant 4’ engine initially used within the Nineteen Sixties Vauxhall Victor FD. However, simply because it had been for Marshall in {Old} Nail, the unique four-speed gearbox proved troublesome for the Davies brothers, who changed it with the five-speed ZF unit that continues to be in service 46 years later.

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Mike gave the automotive its first outing in Davies fingers, recording a fourth-place end at Lydden Hill. Per week later, with solely a single dash within the household Mini to his title, 19-year-old Tony began his first motor race within the fearsome Firenza. Undaunted, he completed seventh total in an allcomers-type thrash at Silverstone’s annual Eight Golf equipment occasion. The brothers alternated for a couple of years, earlier than Tony’s shunt in a Goodwood dash led to Mike stepping again, reluctant to contribute to the rebuild prices.

Tony Davies first raced the automotive aged 19 at Silverstone in 1978

Photograph by: Davies household

“That was an enormous off,” admits Davies Jr. “It considerably shortened the rear finish. As my spouse has identified although, each time I’ve crashed it, it’s at all times gone sooner afterwards!”

That speculation was examined with two high-speed smashes at Thruxton.

“In 1983, I rolled the Firenza by Church,” Davies recounts. “It went finish over finish, and David Enderby received engine oil throughout his roof as he went beneath me! It was a little bit of overconfidence, as a result of I’d received the weekend earlier than and I assumed, ‘Proper, I’m going to exit and put it on pole, actually nail it’.

Davies and the Firenza benefited from starring within the position of champion driver Allan Hearshner within the BBC drama collection Driving Ambition, filmed in 1983

“However I didn’t actually give it sufficient time to rise up to temperature, and simply misplaced the again finish. It pushed the tyre off the wheelrim and the automotive then rolled over – and rolled and rolled down the center of the observe. I may see 4 streams of gasoline popping out of the inlet trumpets as a result of the bonnet had gone, and I assumed I higher change the gasoline pumps off.

“My second shunt at Thruxton was extra scary. I got here by the Advanced and, as I went proper, left, after which turned for the final proper, the steering column broke, and the automotive went straight on, and I hit the marshals’ put up. They reckoned I hit it at about 70mph and the automotive simply stopped {dead} and, oh, that winded me. The left-front wheel ended up within the passenger compartment. It was scary to see that marshals’ put up coming at you at that pace.”

An acquaintance metallurgist deduced that the failure originated from a seemingly innocuous incident 12 months earlier when a unfastened battery cable short-circuited on the steering column. Davies remembers the investigator explaining: “‘That began a crack and, from that time on, I can see each time you’ve turned the steering wheel. Finally it broke.’ That was a lesson discovered.”

Within the meantime, an unlikely supply of funding helped improve the Firenza’s engine, first by boring it out to 2.5 litres, after which putting in the twincam head Blydenstein had developed for the Chevette HS. Davies and the Firenza benefited from starring within the position of champion driver Allan Hearshner within the BBC drama collection Driving Ambition, filmed in 1983.

“I used to be truly the ‘baddie’,” remembers Davies. “The collection was a couple of girl who wished to begin motor racing. Her character was driving Peter Baldwin’s BDA Mini and I had the Firenza.”

After a few high-speed shunts at Thruxton, both the Firenza and Davies are going strong

After a couple of high-speed shunts at Thruxton, each the Firenza and Davies are going robust

Photograph by: Richard Types

Additional growth work was performed by Gerry Johnstone, who had led the unique construct at DTV. He rose-jointed the entrance wishbones, constructed a four-link rear suspension system and changed the Vauxhall 052 axle with a Gartrac model. Group C sportscar squad ADA Engineering then put in bigger entrance brakes and centre-locking wheels.

“I’d say from 1986 onwards, the automotive spec hasn’t modified in any respect,” Davies provides.

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Single-nut wheels have been helpful for pitstops within the new-for-1985 Thundersaloons collection, which outlawed spaceframe specials. Its two-driver races additionally meant Tony may share the automotive with elder sibling John, Mike’s twin brother. Regardless of operating within the smaller-engined class, they annexed pole place for the inaugural race at Manufacturers Hatch and scored 5 total podiums en path to topping the category standings. Later, Davies Jr additionally shared the automotive with Marshall once in a while.

Davies says: “Being that he was very skilled with Firenzas, I used to be intrigued to get his suggestions on my chassis. He favored it – he thought the automotive’s dealing with was glorious.”

However, as newer equipment outpaced the Firenza, Davies and new accomplice John Goldacre started creating a successor. Their Ford Escort Cosworth integrated progressive options equivalent to pushrod suspension designed to stiffen the automotive by transmitting forces to the rollcage, and steering with adjustable ratios that additionally allowed decrease engine mounting.

“The dealing with was phenomenal, it was a lot faster than the Firenza,” says Davies, however an absence of funds hampered early growth earlier than an engine blow-up and a roll for Goldacre ended its days.

The Firenza was pressed again into service however, with a rising household, Davies diminished his racing schedule, whereas nonetheless contesting pace occasions: “My dad was at all times a really eager sprinter and hillclimber. He stated {that a} little bit of sprinting does a world of excellent to your first lap in racing as a result of you understand how to drive on chilly tyres.”

The Firenza’s final aggressive outing for greater than a decade was in Traditional Modified Saloons at Snetterton in 2007. However in 2018, Davies commissioned a full rebuild.

Davies is keen to get back to using cross-ply tyres from Nova Motorsport once it commences manufacturing

Davies is eager to get again to utilizing cross-ply tyres from Nova Motorsport as soon as it commences manufacturing

Photograph by: Richard Types

“I suppose I used to be getting older and pondering, ‘There’s not many extra years left that I can truly get pleasure from this sport, so to hell with it, I’m going to do it’,” he admits.

Bathtub-based Anderson Racing Engines overhauled the long-serving four-pot, and the Firenza returned at Oulton Park in Might 2019. Davies certified third for the CSCC’s Particular Saloons race earlier than gearbox gremlins intervened. As soon as fastened, a Traditional Thunder podium – towards way more trendy equipment – adopted at Cadwell Park later that yr. Now ready by Sussex neighbour Westbourne Motorsport, the 50-year-old Firenza goes as robust as ever.

“I simply find it irresistible, it’s like an overgrown go-kart”
Tony Davies

“My quickest lap in 1985 was 0.1s faster than I managed in 2019 once I got here right here,” Davies famous at Cadwell Park final month, though a scarcity of 16-inch crossply slicks has been an issue since Avon ceased production. Radials on 17-inch rims are a stop-gap resolution.

“They’re horrible,” says Davies. “It doesn’t deal with proper. So I will probably be going again to 16s as quickly as Nova begins manufacturing once more.”

Regardless, it stays “such enjoyable to drive, it truly is; I simply find it irresistible, it’s like an overgrown go-kart”.

The opposite veteran Davies machine nonetheless racing

The Firenza isn’t the one long-serving racing saloon within the Davies household. Actually, it’s a relative teenager in contrast with the 1964 Mini Cooper S owned from new by the brothers’ father Jack.

Whereas it was initially used as a household automotive, Davies Sr started competing the next yr. Within the subsequent quarter of a century, he clocked up practically 500 aggressive outings earlier than bowing out on the 1990 Brighton Pace Trials. His three sons started taking turns on the wheel within the Nineteen Seventies earlier than Mike and Tony diminished demand on the Mini by buying the Firenza.

Having spent practically 20 years in storage, the automotive was restored by Westbourne Motorsport in 2018, whereas a brand new engine and ’field have been fitted by Mini specialist Kent Auto Developments a few years later. ‘CPJ’ is now raced frequently by twin brothers John and Mike, whereas household buddy Jonathan Palmer – who spent a while working for Transpeed as a young person – has additionally been tempted out in testing.

The 1964 Mini has been in the family from new, originally campaigned by the Davies brothers' father

The 1964 Mini has been within the household from new, initially campaigned by the Davies brothers’ father

Photograph by: Mick Walker

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