Morris Minor V8s
'The Ex-Mike Bennion Morris Minor - Ford V8
The engine was set so far back in the frame that the end two spark plugs on either side had to be changed inside the car !
BUILT : 1966 by Mike Bennion and team using 1952 donor car
CLASSIFICATION : 1960s pre-Super Saloon
ENGINE : Ford Y-block V8 cylinder 292ci ( 4778cc )
RACED BY : Mike Bennion ( 1967/68 )
CURRENTLY : alive and well in the South-West
NOTES : In terms of a long lost modified race car re-emerging from oblivion after decades this must be the champion.
the late Mike Bennion ( b.Penzance 1942 ) is fondly remembered as a person and as one of the 1960s pioneers of early supersaloons. His creation in fitting a V8 engine into an everyday family car such as a Morris Minor to go racing was challenging and groundbreaking. Doc Merfield ( Cortina V8 ) and Brian Tarrant ( Austin A40 V8 ) are 2 more likely to be mentioned in the same sentence when recalling these early pioneers.
Built for £400 in 1966 using a then Grey 1955 mark 1 split-screen Moggy, reg NHO 943. Its now believed that the engine was wrongly reported in Autosport as being a Chevrolet. On inspection by the current owner the engine VIN numbers points to the unit fitted being a Ford Y-unit 9 ( EDB ) 292ci ( 4778cc ) likely out of a 1957 Thunderbird and used a carter 4 barrel carb. The exhaust headers exited through the bonnet sides ! So it must have sounded like thunder. The doors, boot and bonnet were fibreglass. Jaguar suspension and gearbox were used and it turns out Triumph TR3 brakes. The back end was off an Austin Champ. AJ Pearce wheels were fitted with the flared arches barely containing the wide tires.
Interestingly the engine had to be fitted further back to fit under the hood. For 1966 this practice would have been ahead of its time. Probably the only way the engine would have ever fitted in but moving the engine back for better weight balance became standard practice for saloons and front-engined GTs years later. It must have been a bit of a squeeze to race in as period photos indicate the steering column wasnt extended back. The famous b/w head-on photo that appeared on the cover of CCC magazine ( september 1967 ) does show Mike sat right up against the door. If the characteristics of this heavy car wasnt enough the ability to steer and use the pedals were likely an equal challenge. Reported as making its debut at Castle Combe in 1967 it seems to have raced mostly at Silverstone and a full results record would be interesting to research. Autosports year end class winners lists dont show Mike so we can conclude any wins ( outright or class ) numbered less than 4 in 1967 and less than 5 in 1968. It was blue in 1967 with orange grill surround and repainted all orange for 1968. It finished with reaching the junior competiton drag race final at Santa Pod in december 1968. It was described as 'this is one of the lowest and meanest looking machines ever to hit the strip' with the 292ci Ford referenced. For the record the 1/4 mile took 15.6 seconds @92mph. It had previously been recorded at Silverstone at 150mph on the Hanger straight.
She was sold in 1969 to, as of yet, unidentified man now living in Sydney who briefly raced it. On a social media forum he recalled 'it was a complete beast to drive...the main problem was the gearbox ...the shift action was more up and down...because the gearstick came forward from behind the driver. The engine was set so far back in the frame that the end two spark plugs on either side had to be changed inside the car ! It was a bit rough around the edges but was built like a tank'.
Mike became regional service manager for SAAB in Chesterfield and raced Ford Zephyrs in historic events in the 70s.
What happened to the car next ? It was stolen in 1970, used as an Autocross car and wasnt recovered until 1972 with some parts missing. Then it was MOTd in Winchester in 1973 as a road legal vehicle. Then the car disappeared off grid until about 2002/03. Artist Andrew Kitson posted he had shown Mike Bennion recent photos of the car and had it confirmed it was his old race car. The car was under restoration and had its frontal area tidied up and exhausts rerouted again, repainted dark blue and then sadly locked away again in a shipping container for about 10 years. It eventually found its way on Ebay for sale in August 2021 and was bought by the current owner, who im in contact with to swap notes on its history.
It would be great to get the car to a race meeting or show for enthusiasts to enjoy once again after far too long languishing out of sight. Whilst not a prolific race winner this is one of the most important race cars to have survived from the 1960s modified saloon genre and a forerunner to the supersaloon era.
'The Chris Isaac-built Morris Minor - Ford V8
BUILT : 2012 by Chris Isaacs and team using 1968 donor car
CLASSIFICATION : retro-built Super Saloon
ENGINE : Chevrolet V8 cylinder 383ci ( 6277cc )
WEIGHT : 980 Kgs
RACED BY : Chris Isaacs ( 2013-14 ), Craig Percy ( 2016 to date )
CURRENTLY : alive and well in the west midlands
NOTES : Chris Isaacs Race Cars based in Wickford, Essex have created some wonderful cars since 1995. Many of them for the spectacular world of Drag Racing of which Chris is a big part of both on and off the strip. Chris has been a specialist chassis builder since 1989 and used all his vast expertise to build this fabulous Morris Minor when he chose to dabble at circuit racing with the CSCC.
Chris built the car using a genuine 1968 Morris Minor 'SYT 747F' as the donor car, which had been a Police car a long time ago. The 5-year build thankfully has been fully documented with photographs on Chris` website ( see link ). The donor car slowly disappears under replacement fibreglass replacement panels and the front wings for example were nearly 7 inches wider to accommodate the fat 12.5 wide race tires. No spaceframing was used as Chris was intending it to race in a no-spaceframe series but instead his first race in it was the CSCC Special Saloon round at Brands in 2013. A Jeff Bull-tuned Chevrolet 383ci small-block 'stroker' crate engine was used giving some 430bhp. This is a specialist performance engine credited to Joe Sherman since the late '80s.
The car was featured in Practical Performance Car magazine ( Nov 2012 ).'The simple fact is im into V8s' Chris related 'the final decision being due to the fact the Minor has seperate wings, making it easy to widen without looking ridiculous'.
Ive seen this car race many times and the build quality as you`d expect is very high. Chris only raced her a few times before accepting that he wasnt able to find the time to race as much as he`d like and im sure reluctantly advertised the car for sale around 2013. Craig Percy bought the car and it returned to the CSCC series in 2016 at Silverstone. The car sounds fabulous on track and Craig has campaigned her consistently since. Proof of the quality build has been showed by the reliability over the passing seasons. Hardly a DNF. Whilst usually a mid-grid car its one of the stars of the CSCC field due to its instantly recognisable iconic shape yet clearly on steroids !
In 2021 Craig`s dedication to the series was rewarded with his and the cars first outright race win at Cadwell Park to add to his previous class wins.