A Wee Piece of History

  Ian Waugh dips into his personal treasure trove of mid 90's BTCC Vauxhall memorabilia and comes up trumps.

 

  Back in the 1990's, I was a member of the Vauxhall Performance Car Club (it closed towards the end of the 90's due to problems with the media company who were running it for Vauxhall, and has since been replaced by the Vauxhall Sports Car Club). Being an "official" club, it often ran special events, and in early 1995, the bi-monthly club magazine offered a visit to Ray Mallock Ltd (RML). who were running the British Touring Car Championship Cavaliers. Being an optimist, I sent my name in, hoping I would be one of the names "out of the hat" for the dozen places on offer. Nothing to lose, as there were no costs to apply (except the stamp!), and only travel costs if I was successful.

Shortly afterwards, a large envelope arrived, containing all the paperwork for my visit, at 6.30pm on Tuesday 11th July, 1995. Success! And so it was that, at around 5.30pm that day, I guided my Vauxhall Nova SR up a 1.5 mile, single track private road at Castlethorpe near Milton Keynes, that led to what were, in effect, farm outbuildings! Yes, John Cleland's 1995 championship win was founded in farm buildings!

Over the next 3 hours or so, the lucky dozen got a glimpse behind the scenes of one of the most professional, and as it was to turn out, successful teams in the BTCC. Photographs were allowed, and though it was with film cameras (Digital cameras were still in the future) I hope you find these scans interesting. I will try to fill in some background to them. Although I wasn't taking notes, (it was a fun visit, after all) we did receive written specs for the cars, which I've included lower down the page, and much of what was said has stayed fresh in my mind.

Clicking any of the thumbnails below will launch the full size images.

Here is John Cleland's car, with James' in the background. As you can see, space was not overly generous, making the teams success even more remarkable. Both cars are missing much of the decals and small items like mirrors, which were probably regular replacement items. However, what you might not have figured on being replaced every race was the front wings!

By 1995, the Cavalier was the longest serving car in the BTCC, and in fact was due to be discontinued shortly. The factory would have ceased making them about 2 weeks after our visit, and the 2 weeks holiday the workers would take at Vauxhall would see the factory retooled to make the Vectra, due for public sale in October that year. From early August until launch, the factory would be building up stock to ensure availability at launch, so, if it had never occurred to you before, the Cavalier actually won the BTCC AFTER it had ceased production! John won his title in an obsolete model.

 

Now, as the oldest car in the race series, it was also the narrowest. Thus RML were keen to exploit the rules regarding the car's width and track to its' full. So, the front wheels were mounted as far out from the centre of the car as possible. This meant 2 things as far as the front wings were concerned:

 

 

1/ the wings were "panel beaten" out as much as could be achieved. I don't have a photo of my own showing this, but this close up from a publicity photo reveals it clearly. If you're not sure what has changed, go and look at a Cavalier in the street!

 

2/ The other problem this created was that even with all the flaring, the wings sometimes came into contact with the tyres during racing, so there was a possibility of the car failing post race scrutineering, if wings were used for several races. So, after every race, 2 new wings!

 

 

 

Here's John Cleland's Cavalier engine bay, and for anyone familiar with the underbonnet area of the Cavalier road car, not much has been left of the original! The bodyshells were delivered to RML from Vauxhall factories as pure production shells, but much refabricating was executed on them, the inner wings, bonnet shut panel and strut bracing are all new, (Note the lack of the normal bonnet lock holes!) and the engine is mounted much lower than in the road car, to improve weight distribution in cornering. The remote reservoirs for the Dynamics front dampers are clearly visible on the sides of the inner wings/arches.

 

 

James Thomson's car gives an alternative view of the engine bay, and clearer view of the damper reservoirs. Note the size of the front discs! 14 inches! The largest wheels ever fitted to production Cavaliers was 15 inches, and with the caliper in the way, these discs would never have been possible in a road car. Of course, these are pure race spec items. Note the 3 colours of paint around the vent holes on the discs. This paint was temperature sensitive, and changes of colour gave an indication of disc temperature achieved during race conditions. This ensured the team could guarantee that they weren't using inadequate brakes!

 

 

Another view of James' car, showing that, ahead of the windscreen, pretty much the only parts that were "standard" were visible panels, like bonnet, wings and bumper, and even then, as I've stated, the wings were modified. This Cavalier was, of course, subsequently destroyed in James' accident at Knockhill later that same July.

 

 

 

 Here are the official specifications as handed out during the visit:

  VAUXHALLSPORT - Insight

  To enhance your visit today, the following notes have been
  compiled to give you an added insight into the Vauxhallsport
  Race Team.

  THE TEAM       The Vauxhallsport BTCC Team is based at the
                            Ray Mallock Ltd motorsports engineering facility in
                            Milton Keynes.
                            Working from a 12,000 sq ft factory the race team is
                            backed by RML's extensive design and manufacturing
                            departments employing in excess of 60 highly skilled
                            personnel.
                            The race team concentrate on the preparation and
                            attendance of all 25 rounds of the British Touring Car
                            Championship between April and September.  In addition
                            to this a large number of special track tests are
                            completed to keep the team at the forefront of the world's
                            most competitive touring car championship.

  RACE CARS    RML Vauxhall Cavalier 16V - Type VTC 11,
                           Chassis numbers 022 and 023

  CHASSIS         The minimum weight of a FWD is 975 kilos
                           Based on the standard factory bodyshell, the RML
                           Cavalier is fitted with a computer designed RML
                           T45 fully welded roll cage
                           The roll cage protects the driver and supplies a
                           rigid platform for the suspension mountings

  SUSPENSION  Front - RML fabricated McPherson Struts, anti roll
                            bar, Dynamics remote reservoir dampers, coil
                            springs, RML lower wishbones
                            Rear - RML semi-trailing arms, anti roll bar,
                            Dynamics dampers

  ENGINE           Vauxhall 16V engine developed by Swindon Racing
                            Engines
                            Reverse head 4 cylinder 1998 cc unit develops
                            290 BHP
                            The RML Cavalier accelerates from 0-60 mph in
                            under 4 seconds
                            The engine has a statutory rev limiter set at
                            8,500 rpm
                            The fuel is housed in a kevlar/rubber bag tank with
                            a capacity of 50 litres

  ELECTRONICS     Weber Alpha Engine Management System
                                  PI Research instrumentation/ data acquisition
                                  system

  BRAKES             Front - AP Racing calipers, carbon metallic pads
                              AP 14" racing discs, AP Racing master cylinder
                              Rear - Brembo racing calipers, Brembo pads,
                              Brembo 10.5" cross-drilled discs

  GEARBOX         The Vauxhallsport Cavaliers use an Xtrac 6-speed
                              sequential gearbox operated by a column-mounted
                              shift lever unique to the team
                              "Push" to change up, "Pull" to change down
                              The drivers use an amber up-change light
                              mounted in line of sight to assist with the timing of
                              up shifts
                              Apart from moving from a stationary position, the
                              drivers do not use the clutch

 TYRES                 Vauxhallsport is a works Michelin BTCC team
                              Each car is only allowed to use 6 tyres for the
                              duration of each race including qualifying.
                              In dry conditions Michelin Slick tyres are used.
                              These do not have any tread to maximise the
                              amount of rubber in contact with the track surface
                              In the event of rain, Michelin supply the team with
                              intermediate or full wet tyres
                              Each tyre is mounted on Dymag die-cast
                              magnesium centre lock wheels that weigh less
                              than 8 kilos a piece

SAFETY             John and James wear Sparco 3-layer nomex
EQUIPMENT     fireproof overalls over two piece nomex
                           underwear, fireproof socks and balaclavas
                           Both drivers wear Simpson full face crash helmets
                           equipped with Intercom systems
                           Each Vauxhallsport Cavalier is equipped with
                           Sparco Carbon/Kevlar race seats, a six point Sabelt
                           race harness, an SPA 5kg electrically operated fire
                           extinguisher system, and a Momo steering wheel

                  ENJOY YOUR VISIT

Note the comment near the top: "Working from a 12,000 sq ft factory" which clearly this wasn't! The handout was worded to apply after the move of RML from the Castlethorpe site to the present site at Whittle Close, Wellingborough. This move took place during the August "lull" in the BTCC.

 A couple of other photos from the visit:

The team transporter, you can just about make out the registration number of the lorry, it is "CAV 16 V". After the Cavalier was retired from racing, this number was offered for auction within the Vauxhall Performance Car Club. However, if you look carefully at one scene in the video "BTCC Cavaliers", the lorry they off-load the press launch Vectra Super Tourer from is this one, still carrying this plate..

 

 

 

Club members peruse a Cavalier exhibition car, used for static display at race meetings or other Vauxhall events. Almost certainly a retired race car or spare from a year or two earlier, it still has the GSI bodykit that was fitted to the BTCC Cavaliers in the years before 1995.

 

 

 

Here's a similar exhibition car at the Vauxhall Ellesmere Port factory Open Day in May 1993:

 

 

 

Some other info that was gleaned over the visit, but not related to the photos, included the fact that they had, early on, had problems with drive shafts breaking. The shafts had been drilled out so they were in fact tubes, not solid rods, in order to keep rotational inertia, unsprung weight and overall weight down, so it was expected that this was the reason, but, being reluctant to revert to solid shafts, they decided to investigate further. At some point during the investigation, someone decided to paint a line along the shafts. After a couple of standing starts, the line had become a spiral! The fix? Replace the shafts after each race!

Another surprising fact about the Cavaliers in 1995 was that they used the Weber Alpha engine management system that was intended for use on modified road cars. It was a kit designed to replace carburetors, and had a programmable processor that, on a rolling road or engine dynamometer, could be mapped to match the fueling and timing requirements of almost any engine. Thus, racing engines could be accommodated too, although the system was never intended for this. Remarkably, the cost of the system was only 1500 (It was intended as a mod for road cars, after all!). Compare this to the, as we were informed on the visit, Zytec system used on the Renault Laguna it was competing with, which, at a cost of around 75-80000, came to around half the total cost of the RML Cavalier!

So, a great evening, with a feeling of being truly privileged to get so close to the team, and I can honestly lay claim to having touched the steering wheel of the championship winning car!

As luck would have it, Oulton Park is my local track, and I was there the day John finally "got it all together" and took the title he so richly deserved. And it was no hollow victory! He won in the year when arguably the competition was at it's fiercest, With Rickard Rydell's Volvo and Alain Menu's Renault both so close, and many others hot on their tails too. Back then the championship was packed with great racers and characters, Will Hoy, Paul Radisich, Andy Rouse and so many others were household names in an era when touring cars were at their most prolific. As it was, John didn't win either race that day, but 2 calmly driven, safe podium finishes saw him secure the title with one meeting still to go. It started to drizzle as the second race finished, but it didn't dampen the mood of the crowd, at least 60% of whom I would guess were ecstatic at seeing "The Man" take the title at last! Only the hardest hearted Menu or Rydell fans could have grudged him that title!

However, referring back to the Ray Mallock visit: A couple of months after our visit, the club magazine revealed that it had been deemed a success by RML and the club, and so was being offered again, this time to the new premises in Wellingborough. Having been lucky enough to take part in the July visit, I was not expecting to be lucky again, but for the cost of a stamp, I figured I had nothing to lose. So off went my application. Imagine my surprise....................

It was on the morning of Saturday, 20th January, 1996, I was to be found, once again, at the RML premises, this time the new one. Things were slightly different regarding the visit this time! The Vectra had been on sale to the public since October 1995, but the Vectra Super Touring racer had yet to turn a wheel in public, or even in front of the press. Thus it was that the team were reluctant to allow pictures of the cars leak out, and with good reason, for what was about to greet us was not 2 complete racing cars, possibly slightly disassembled, but a fleet of cars in various stages of progress. As a result, the only photo I took that day was the exterior of the premises:
 
Incidentally, prior to RML aquiring them, the premises were the location of Cosworth's cylinder head casting operation. Heads for Sierra Cosworths, Mecedes Benz 2.3 16V and Vauxhall/Opel 2 litre 16V engines were all cast here. That's right! It's common knowledge that the Mercedes engine had a Cosworth cylinder head, but the Vauxhall/Opel 16V head was also a Cosworth unit. Ford had rights to use the Cosworth name, for contractural and historical reasons, but they made heads for others too, and apparently GM were not particularly desperate for the Cosworth link to be public knowledge anyway. However, it does mean that this location has 2 connections with the Cavalier and Vectra Super Tourers, for the engine fitted to them used this head!
.
Back to the Vectras contained within this factory: The reason for there being a fleet was that RML had won the contract to build the Vectra Super Touring race cars for all the championships that GM were to contest in 1996! I seem to recall that contract being officially for 18 cars, but in fact there were more than 22, as spare cars were needed. In addition RML would run and maintain the car in the British championship.

The cars were in various states of build completion when we got there, James Thomson's car was nearly finished, but John's was still being fabricated around the engine bay. Why? I'm guessing John's was left near the end to allow any late mods to be easily included, but at any rate, the car was bare where the new metal had been added, the original metalwork of the Vectra factory built shells that were shipped to RML from the GM factory (The German one, as I seem to recall it being said that the UK factory did not build saloons, only hatchbacks. Saloons were used owing to their superior stiffness) was in primer. James' car had been sprayed in the special booth that could turn the car through 360 degrees around a longitudinal axis, so that the sprayer could reach all parts of the car easily. The cars were actually being worked on at the start of our visit. The staff were on overtime until 12 noon, and one of them was busy welding Johns car when we arrived. After noon we had the place to ourselves (apart from the guide!)

Although I have no photo's of my own, here is a scan of one from a Vauxhall Sport newsletter of the era, it gives a pretty good idea of what we saw.

 One contentious point about the Vectra SuperTourer was that it was left hand drive! 2 good reasons given: firstly, as they were building cars for several championships, they wanted all to be the same for ease of parts supply and standardisation, and secondly, the steering shaft would need to pass through the gearbox! That said, the 1998 Vectra's, built by 888, were right hand drive, so I guess they had a different engine/gearbox location!

Incidentally, I mentioned the wheelarch mods to the front wings earlier, the reason given being the Cavalier's narrow width. However, nothing was said about this with regards to the Vectra, but take a look at photo's of them, and you'll see the wheelarches were modded in just the same way! One minor area where the Onyx 1/43rd scale models of the cars are wrong, for they show standard Vectra arches.

A couple of things we didn't expect to see at the site were parked in a standing area inside the unit. One was John Cleland's 1995 Cavalier, which apparently was awaiting removal of the livery, and then to be sold for around 80000! I remember thinking: a/ How could they sell it? It should be in the Vauxhall museum, and b/ I wish I could win the lottery! It'd look good in my garage. Leave the livery on!

The other, slightly more surprising item parked there was Mike Briggs 1994 Opel Astra saloon, in silver and yellow. Looking a bit tired (it was sagging to one side) it was nevertheless an interesting item to see. It was the saloon version, by the way, not the hatch, again for it's superior stiffness.

Having hopefully entertained you thus far, let me finish with a couple of John Cleland anecdotes.

In 1992, the Vauxhall Sport International Rally, round 1 of the 1992 Mobil1/Top Gear British Rally Championship, featured a Rally show on Friday 20th March, at the Chester International Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza) in Princess street, Chester. Hosted by Chris Lord, a motoring journalist, and editor of the newly founded (and soon to be defunct) "Rally Car Magazine" The evening was to be a series of interviews with top rally drivers and drivers from the British Touring Car Championship. It came as no surprise then, that John Cleland was present. Among much that was discussed that evening, John revealed that in the 1989 championship final round, there was a "price on his head"! A member of a rival team, who had another driver with a chance of taking the title (in the old Class System era, don't forget) had been offered a 4 figure sum to take John off the track! Of course, those of you who remember the final race will know John didn't get off the start line for a few seconds due to "transmission problems". Or was he just putting himself so far behind the "assassin" that said assassin could not fall far enough back in the race to do his dirty work without arousing suspicion? John wasn't saying, I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions! Of course, we didn't know then that history was going to repeat it's intended self later that same year! Remember the 1992 final race? It's on Youtube!

Also sharing the stage, was Dave Metcalfe, a man whose name "David" was appropriate, as he was regularly a giant killer in Rallying, his most impressive result being later that year,when he brought his 1600cc, normally aspirated 2 wheel drive Nova home in 4th place on the Manx rally in September 1992. Only 3 Subaru Legacy's with 2 litre turbocharged 4 wheel drive beat him. Born on 5th May, 1957, David was tragically killed on 17th December, 1992, just 3 months later. He was driving a Calibra rally car on the road, testing it apparently, when he was involved in a head-on collision with another car. I had just come home from a family funeral (an uncle I never really got on with) when his death was announced on the local evening TV news. To say it was a shock is an understatement. John and Dave were my 2 heroes at the time. Was Dave the best rally driver the UK ever produced? Sadly, we will never know, but my suspicions are that he was!
 
My final encounter, as it were, with John Cleland, was on his final visit as part of the BTCC at Oulton Park in 1999. As I waited about 2 or 3 cars from turning left into the Knickerbrook entrance to the track, with my then 7 year old daughter, we were witness to the attendant trying to get a a metallic gold Vauxhall Omega to turn right into the entrance. It's driver seemed reluctant, and as the attendant continued to urge the driver into Knickerbrook, the window rolled down, and, even from where I was sitting, I could now see it was John Cleland, no doubt now explaining to the attendant that he wished to continue round to the "tradesman's" entrance. By the time he moved off, I'd wound my window down, and shouted "Good luck today, John!" (It wasn't a particularly lucky one as it turned out, with unspectacular results for John, but I think by then, his mind was on other tthings than the BTCC). He thanked me, and as he drove on, I could see his passenger, one of his sons (not sure which one, but doubtless one who is now, himself, a racer) looking back at the rear of my car. I expect he mentioned to his father that the good wishes came from a confirmed fan, as the rear of my car should have been enough evidence:


 

 

 

     Ian Waugh,

     August 2007

All text and images copyright Ian Waugh 2007. Not to be used without prior permission

 

Copyright : Dave Willetts 2000 - 2007