Da Da Daaaa – RALLY STAG!

Thanks to the guys at EJ Ward for telling their story……..

With the recent hubbub over a certain Blue Stag and its forthcoming appearance on the Stag Owners Club Stand at the NEC Classic Car Show – 13th to 15th November, we thought you might like to hear about how E J Ward Motor Engineers turned a run of the mill Stag (although some would say that a Stag is never run of the mill!) into a – Da Da Daaaa – RALLY STAG!

Rally car finish

We’ve known Phil Garratt and his Stag for many years.  We’ve also known for some time about Phil and his friend Kieron’s penchant for the adventurous sport of international classic rallying. We also knew they were pretty damn good at it, having won the Peking to Paris in their classic Chevy.  However, what we didn’t know, until they asked us to prepare the Stag for the 8000 mile, Nova Scotia to San Francisco, ERA TransAmerica Rally, was quite how far they were prepared to go to fulfill their Stag’s rallying ambitions.

I guess most logically, preparation started with the engine.  We completely rebuilt it to E J Ward spec with balanced components and a lightened flywheel, stainless valves, bronze guides with the addition of Phoenix Manifolds, coated by Zircotec in a silver thermal barrier coat to reduce the under bonnet temperatures.

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It was then onto the carburetors which were rebuilt with richer needles to complement the improved breathing produced by the K & N free flow air filters and exhaust manifolds.  We then fitted an overhauled Distributor with electronic ignition system.

We completely overhauled the suspension using new Superflex bushes throughout, with 25% upgrade on front springs and 50% upgrade on rears.  The length of the springs was increased by 25mm to give improved ground clearance over gravel roads. The GAZ adjustable shox were fitted with limiting straps on the rear to prevent over extension over deep pot holes, or in the event it becomes air born.  How thrilling! (I’m thinking in the style of the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazard!) The front drag struts were reinforced on anti-roll bar brackets and track control arm mounting points.  And even with the inclusion of 6 ply van tyres to reduce the risk of a blowout the road handling was still very impressive, even at speed.

The bodyshell was strengthened at the load points and stitch seam welded throughout the sills, chassis legs, inner wings, bulkhead, rear arches and shocker mounts.  The seat belt anchorages were made for 3 point harnesses and the boot floor and rear wings gusseted to protect the fuel tank in the event of a side swipe to the rear. We also fitted a boot floor towing eye and tie down point.  The sills were fitted with tubular jacking points braced across inner to outer sills to facilitate the use of a light weight, quick lift jack. The exhaust, engine and gearbox were protected with an alloy sump guard skid plate, mounted from the front chassis rails and cross members.  On the body we then finally tidied up the paint work and gave it a bit of spit and polish.

The manual gearbox overdrive and (although we didn’t know it as the time, what was eventually to be their nemesis) diff were entirely standard.  We rebuilt the gearbox with new bearings and the overdrive was bench tested.  The diff nose housing was also strengthened as this is a weak spot.

There was much discussion as to which driveshafts to use.  In the end we fitted the Proptech, Rilsan coated driveshafts with heavy duty UJ’s.  This eliminates the well know ‘Stag Twitch’.  A pair of Classic Driver Development splined hubs were also fitted as they are lighter weight, stronger hubs, with the advantage of better bearings.

On the cooling system we fitted a Kenlowe electric fan to the existing aluminium radiator, and also fitted one of our aluminium header tanks with a silicone T hose kit from Classic Silicone Hoses.

So that’s basically all you need to do to create a ‘Rally Stag’.  But actually all that gubbins is nothing if you haven’t got tenacity, the desire to win and a spirit of adventure.  Which luckily Phil and Kieron have in spades. We feel privileged to have been chosen to go on this journey with the guys and have enjoyed every bit of it.

You probably all know by now that Phil and Kieron lead the race for 16 days.  We all thought they were on for the win, but that was until the ‘standard’ diff expired.

Rally Car Idaho

Although they gallantly made it to the finish line they’d lost too much time during the diff replacement to make a good finishing position.  Damn and blast that diff!   However, by the time you read this we’ll have carried out our forensic examination of the offending item (and probably kicked and sworn at it a few times too) and discussed the new diff to be fitted.  Because not to be put off by a little thing like a failing diff, it’s looking very likely that this is just the first of many adventures for – Da, Da, Daaaa – ‘Rally Stag’!

Come along and meet John and Mick from EJ Ward at the NEC Classic Car Show on Sunday 15th November.

The Stag Owners Club Stand in Hall 3 Stand 492 will have the Rally Stag on their stand for the 3 days of the show. This is what we have in store for you at the show –

Meet Phil and Kieron, have your photo taken with the car and we will print and frame it for you as a memento of your visit.

Name the Car – Rally Stag needs a name, so come along and enter our name the Stag competition.

And finally saving the best to last – on all 3 days the guys will be giving talks about their fantastic achievement, so come along to the stand to hear about the preparation of the car and the rally. There will be 3 talks each day – check our Facebook page or the stand for times.

See you there!!!!

 

Fastback Stag Restoration

Hi, Firstly may I introduce myself. My name is Alan Wickes and back in the very early 1980s I ran a small body repair shop, accident repairs, resprays etc, and through one of my customers I was introduced to Alan Hart. His real enthusiasm at that time was for Triumph motor cars but had just purchased a Porsche 911rs lightweight which I went on to restore for him and our friendship grew from that.

Probably around twelve months later he told me of an opportunity he had of purchasing a Stag fastback that may require a little work! Well he couldn’t resist and duly brought it round for me to assess. Alan was such a nice guy I did not want to let him down. I worked as a one man band and had other work on the go so we agreed it would be on an ‘as and when’ basis. I explained to Alan that to make a proper assessment the paint must be removed to expose what was lurking beneath. He agreed and the paint was removed…… and what a can of worms!…..was I out of my depth here.?…poor me …what had I let myself in for. Little did I know that three years of anguish lay ahead. From then on piece by piece, panel by panel was cut away until a stripped out shell sat forlornly on axle stands in the corner of my workshop. I have to admit that without Alan’s undying enthusiasm and support I do not think I could have seen it through to the end.

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Accident repair work was my passion at that time, I always gained great satisfaction from looking at the end result knowing that you could not tell if it had ever been damaged, and all in a relatively short time. Now I was out of my comfort zone. Cutting away rust to find more rust just did not do it for me. I had made a deal with Alan and was determined to stick with it. Progress was painfully slow and I still had other obligations. Back on the Stag again and time to start on the doors. Having previously stripped all the paint off it was plain to see that both door lower corners had rotted clean through. Normal circumstances would dictate new door skins, but here again we wanted to keep to the original as much as possible. I cut triangular sections from both corners, fabricated matching pieces and with the help of my newly acquired state of the art flange tool  welded them in. Success, I was gaining in confidence by this time.

Unfortunately, just as I was getting back into it again other work called me away and it would be several weeks before I would be back on it again. Anyone who has ever been involved in body and paint will know how labour intensive it all can be. I wanted to be sure that any patches I welded in would last a good few years so lead loading would be called for. Fortunately I had done a little before!

I was taught how to lead load from a skilled hand who worked at Jaguar cars lead loading E types all day! I never got to match his skill level but what I learned got me by. Putting it on was OK but filing it down and sanding to a reasonable finish seemed to take forever. In the meantime Alan was busy behind the scenes sourcing various parts. A major problem was that the windscreen had a large crack in it and that none of the large glass manufacturers had any drawings or records of it ever being made. Never one to shy away from a problem he managed to persuade one of them to haul it through their stock to see if they could find one that matched the profile of the fastback screen, Well they did! A VW Variant 412 if my memory serves me well. All that was needed was a bit of trimming from the corners and it was perfect. After another few weeks away I was back on and determined to get the bodyshell ready for paint but I decided for some reason to deviate from that and started chiseling away at the old paint under the front footwells…….disaster, parts of the footwell on both sides just crumbled away. Another week fashioning and welding in repair panels. Now it was ready for its first coat of paint. One coat of etch primer followed by four coats of high build primer and finishing with a guide coat. Boy did it look good after so long.! I treated myself to a cup of tea and something stronger later……..a milestone had been reached. This was a time before low bake ovens, two pack enamels and lacquer, so at least a few days were needed for it to settle and harden before any wet-flatting could be done. It took a whole day to wet-flat the body and apply two coats of light primer surfacer. I left it to stand for another day before a final nib and spirit wipe. Now after all this time it was ready for its final colour coats.

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The paint I used back then was cellulose, ICI no less, the paint of the day. It took most of the day to apply three coats plus one final heavy coat giving a fairly nice gloss finish, nowhere near the finish you can get with basecoat and lacquers of today. You needed time between coats making it a lengthy process. All the mechanical parts Alan took away to be refurbished were, as if by magic, reappearing. Now was the time to get it back on its wheels. Everything was ready. All the parts had been shot blasted reconditioned and painted, it all looked new. The brand new stainless exhaust system looked stunning. After a few days it was  assembled and back standing on its wheels for the first time for over two years. A week or so later the engine that had been rebuilt by Geoff Poyner from Cheltenham was back and refitted over one weekend. I came back in on a Monday morning to find a note with some instructions asking me to finish off a few items and then fire it up!! Well with great trepidation I did. It sprang into life first time, it sounded wonderful. After it had warmed up there was just a small leak from a hose,this I duly tightened and that was it.  Alan was round in a flash and I am sure I saw a tear in his eye. Who could blame him!

Now I could see light at the end of the tunnel. Alan was now bringing parts back that I had not seen for over 18 months. He must have been storing them up and holding them back so as not to appear pushy. I am sure he sensed I had become a little stressed with it all. I remember the front and rear bumpers were in a sorry state, rusted through in places. He found someone to weld in plates and re-chrome them, they were just like new. Before I could rebuild with all the new and refurbished parts I had to de-nib the paint and polish using cutting paste and electric polisher with lambswool mop head. Cellulose paint requires a lot of work to attain a good gloss finish. A final wipe over with a damp cloth then a buff with a new lambswool mop to remove any swirl marks. This process took a whole day! One last determined effort was needed now to finish the job. No more interruptions, just press on. Fortunately during this period a lot of my other work dried up somewhat and so little by little it all started coming together. That windscreen by the way, fitted perfectly. I thought to myself, do not crack this one putting it in, but what a relief!

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The following four weeks were devoted entirely to  reassembly. Waxoil was sprayed in all the cavities before all the interior trims were fitted back. One more day of cleaning and a wax polish and for me it was over. I think we were both a little emotional the day he came to collect it . A friend of Alan came with him to take some pictures of the handover and I was presented with a bottle of bubbly. That was it, three years on and off to completion. The Stag Fastback was displayed at a classic car show at the N.E.C. and that was the last time I saw it in the flesh.

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It must be thirty years now. Alan came to me from time to time with various much smaller projects but not long after I ceased trading and took up employment with Aston Martin. I am now retired and reflect more on my past work I never grasped the significance of what I had done with the Stag at the time ,but having related my story to a friend, he persuaded me to come out of the shadows and relate it to you. So I actually feel quite proud to have played a part in saving a British icon,

I take my hat off to all you Stag owners out there doing the same, I sort of know what you are going through! Well I hope my story will be of some interest to you. This is the first time I have ever done anything like this so you will have to let me know what you think.

If you have anything you wish to ask about any other aspect of the restoration please do not hesitate to ask – just post a question on this blog.

Thanks, Alan Wickes

Clackett Run and Brands Hatch Day

One of our main events of the year is the Clackett Run and Brands Hatch day, this is always popular, but it did bring a few fraught moments beforehand in organising the tickets etc. We had 43 Stags booked in for the run from Clackett Lane Services to Brands Hatch and the cars set off in a fairly organised convoy for once.

It is always interesting to see the faces of other motorists and you can virtually lip read what they are saying on seeing so many Stags in one place. The day itself was a blistering hot day, which was a result for us as we changed the day from our usual Sunday to the Saturday as the National Day in Kent was double booked with us and the Sunday was dull, overcast and raining all day. We had all the cars attending out on the parade laps, to which this year we had two laps of the long Grand Prix circuit.

They limit these laps to 50mph for safety reasons and normally only let 10 cars out at a time (also we were not paying) The reason is that it does not cause delay to the racing programme and helmets have to be worn over 50mph, but some say that they touched 70mph at times.

See Dave and Ruth’s view of the circuit (link will take you to our YouTube page)

Anyway everybody was pleased with the experience of driving on the circuit. There was some good racing there too, but my favourite is always the Historic Touring Car Championship, but many of us were also interested in seeing Paul Hollywood of the Great British Bake-off smoking his XJ120 Jag around in the Jaguar Heritage Challenge, he was also polite when Russ “Kryten” was talking to him about his bread dough recipes. Many happy faces at the end of the day and a lot of appreciation from those attending made it all worthwhile.

Thanks to Bob Heritage for the article, with some pictures from Dave Bower.