Neil Fletcher Racing

HAVOC Article No 6.

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Dear Andy,

    It's now September and just over a year since my last letter, well I did say I would try and write more often. When I last wrote we were just starting to build the garage, we managed to get it finished and our first car in for some work at the end of May. We built a good sized one while we were at it, it's 9 metres by 6 metres so I can get three cars in and work on them if need be. The only trouble was that we put in quite a few extras that weren't in the original plans, i.e. a single door in the side, a 4 metre pit, H-irons for running hoists on, extra lights and power points and a few other items which added an extra 2,500 to the original price. Carmel, my wife said that there was no way this money was coming out of the house building budget as we still had pillars and walls to build, fencing to go up, flag stones to go down and some kerbs to put in, not to mention a 101 other things that needed to be done around the bungalow. Her theory was that as the garage was mainly for my hobby then it was fairly obvious who should pay this extra money, she also stated that no matter what was in the garage she wanted her car inside during the winter. The only place this money could come from was my rallying budget so this year we have cut back severely on the events in which we have competed, I have cut out all Stage Rallies and Hill climbs, in fact we have only competed in Navigation Rallies and Autotests this year, in other words the least expensive events, though saying that, nothing's cheap in Motorsport.

    When I last wrote we were halfway through our '94 season, which wasn't going very well for us and sure enough things got worse. At a sprint at Kirkistown Racing Circuit last July my engine "let go" in a big way, it was only when I got home and removed it that I realised how much damage was done, the bottom end of the engine was completely destroyed. The damage was so severe that it was impossible to tell what broke first, I'll never know if the crank broke and wrecked the block or if the block split and then the crank broke. Here's a list of what was broken just to give you an idea of the extent of the damage, the block was split from below the near side engine mounting forward and round to the front cover, the crank was broken into four bits, one bit along with a broken rod and piston exited the side of the sump and into the starter motor, destroying it, another large bit with two bent rods went out the bottom of the sump taking three main caps and a fair bit of the block with it, only No.1 rod and piston stayed in the block - but the rod was bent up into the camshaft. Amazingly there was no damage done to the top end of the engine at all but even so I have never seen an engine so badly damaged.

    This drama left me without an engine and our season of Navigation events about to restart in a couple of weeks time, the only thing I had that was in any way useable was a 1700 BDA but on a couple of previous occasions that I'd used it, it had proved very fast but unreliable in that you couldn't carry headgaskets to it. Being the only complete engine that I had it was dropped in and we kept our fingers crossed that it would hold together. Over the next couple of events the BDA ran fairly well if somewhat smokily but still we couldn't string good results together. In the meantime I had obtained a second hand 711M block that was bored +60 but needed a rebore, I got it bored to 83.5 and got a set of Powermax BDA pistons and proceeded to build the BDA into this block as its own was rather worn. We then did a couple of small club events and the BDA was really on song, the only trouble was that all this extra power had a sting in the tail - it blew our 5.1 CW&P. Lucky enough I had a spare 4.7 all built up and ready to go in so I fitted this for our next championship event. Trouble was still close at hand, during this event the BDA started using water again, with a couple of top ups we made it to the finish in a lowly 7th place and I was left to ponder what had caused to gasket to blow this time. A couple of days later I got the head off and discovered the problem to be much worse than first suspected, No.1 cylinder was cracked almost from top to bottom. Exit another block, not all 711M blocks can stand being bored to 83.5 mm.

    With the next championship round that Friday night and the final round in a fortnight we were no-hopers, our championship was ended there and then, we finished 10th overall which was my lowest finish since 1985. We still had the problem of what to do about an engine when I saw a Burtons advert for +60 thou oversize Twin Cam pistons, I calculated that these must be 84mm pistons so I ordered a set and reckoned that I could take my worn 83.5mm BDA block, bore it out to suit and rebuild it as a crossflow. These duly arrived about a week later and I sent them and the block off to my local machine shop, unfortunately they were very busy and I had to wait a week for my block by which time the championship had concluded but that Friday night there was a small club event run by my navigator John's local club and he was keen to compete in it as he was leading his club's championship; so on the Tuesday night I started to do a trial build of the engine. The Twin Cam pistons sat well down the bore so clearance for the valve's wasn't a problem but when I worked out the compression ratio it sure was, it was sky high and I needed about 30 thou machined off the pistons to get it down to 11.5 to 1. As I was working day shift I had to leave this problem in the capable hands of our "Service Manager", my mother, but even she was unable to persuade any firm to do this work any sooner than the following week. When I came home from work on Wednesday mother gave me the bad news and then proceeded to enquire why I wanted this done. When I explained, she said "I remember when you were young and your father used to do his own engine work on the tractors on the farm, he would have used two headgaskets to lower the compression ratio". Well I just laughed, whereupon my mother passed comment about us young ones not being as smart as we thought we were, so I said "OK, let's try it". Well to cut a long story short that night I built the engine in the car and Friday night we went out and did the rally. We finished 3rd which was good enough for John to secure his club's championship, my intention was to strip the engine the first chance I got and machine the pistons but almost a year later its still got two headgaskets and every time I mention it John tells me to leave well enough alone.

    As I said earlier we have only completed in Navigation events and a few Autotests this year and I'm glad to say that we have being doing a little bit better but we've still had a couple of disasters. We started our '95 campaign with a fourth overall, the next event was local to me and we had a fantastic run and were narrowly beaten into second place, as John and I were organising the next event it would be one of our dropped scores but after this things started to go very wrong. The next event in Omagh was a disaster from before the start until we finished three incident packed miles later - our shortest ever event. We took the car off the trailer and into scrutiny but when I went to drive out she stalled and wouldn't start, some pushing later we got her going. Off we set from the start to the first competition section, as the marshal counted us down the car stalled again and by the time we got her going the next car which started a minute later was past us, 50 yards gone and one minute lost. A mile later we missed a very tricky junction in a farm yard and by the time we realised our mistake the next car was also past, one mile gone and two minutes lost. A half mile later I entered a very fast left hander at about 75 mph, this was followed by what I thought was a similar right hander, only trouble was it tightened dramatically but at 75 mph I was going straight over the hedge, over a barbed wire fence and dropped 5 feet into the field, I managed to keep the car moving but the further we went up the field the more we sank into the mud until she would go no further. To make matters worse little did we know it but we were heading away from the gate. John set off to find a farmer and tractor while I sorted out tow ropes etc. The field was so mucky that it was all the 4WD tractor could do to pull us out. Now we had gone 1 miles and lost about 22 minutes but we were still in the rally so off we go again. Flat out over a brow I go and plunge into a flood about 1  feet deep, the car stalls and we can't even wind her out of it on the starter so out we get and push, it's then we realise how deep it is as it comes up almost to our knees. We manage to get the engine dried out and started but now we've gone 2  miles and are nearly 30 minutes late which means we are nearly out of the rally, as if that isn't bad enough the car stalls now at each small flood we come to and we can hardly get her push started as we are both knackered so we give this rally up as a bad job and head for home. No points. The next event in a fortnight was around Enniskillen and while the car went great we just made one small navigation error after another and ended up in 9th place with two points. The championship now went into it's summer break and from lying second overall after two events we had slumped to sixth after five events, we then went out and did a couple of club events over the next few weeks and finished first or second each time with no bother, we had hit good form, only too late to be any good.

    Our championship is about to restart in a couple of days and I'll let you know how we get on.

All the best.

Neil Fletcher.

XTW 377F - Twin Cam
FMX 800J - RS1600
JIJ 9975 Mexico
FIA 6386 Mexico
Membership No. 1472

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