Thursday, May 28, 2009

gt40 versus gt40

Head to head in two Bailey-Edwards replicas.
by Pierre Martins

pierrem Getting out of a warm bed at sparrow’s fart on a cold winter’s morning and sitting in traffic at the Allendale off-ramp for twenty minutes is not something to get excited about, but this time I was on my way to an early morning test session at Kyalami to drive one of the Bailey Edwards GT40 replicas…

Of all the GT40s built by Bailey-Edwards to date, about sixty percent were built for street use. The other forty percent went to customers who wanted all-out race cars. The idea behind this test was to take an example of each around a track to see how a Bailey-Edwards street legal GT40 compares to one in full race trim.

The first car on the agenda turned out to be Craig Shorter’s lovely orange street-legal GT40. My first impressions of this car – it’s very pretty and very loud, a hot car, no doubt. “Tabasco” would be an appropriate nickname for this car. It’s hot!

The attention to detail and workmanship Peter Bailey put into building these cars is just outstanding. This particular car is a work of art. It’s one of those cars that gives you the feeling it’s too valuable to take it out on track. I was about to do just that, 460 horse power on street tyres, around Kyalami.

And then I saw the tyres - Those hard compound jobbies with wobbly sidewalls BF Goodrich makes for straight-line yankee muscle cars. That had me concerned for a moment, but I was strapped in and fired the thing up without worrying too much about the silly choice in rubber. That special moment when a powerful pushrod V8 splutters into life took care of all my worries.

I decided to do two warm ups, got some heat into the tyres, and then put a few decent laps together to feel out the car. This test was not about lap times, the car was someone else’s baby and I intended taking good care of it, but I also wanted to find out what the car was capable of.

460 horsepower before morning coffee, yes sir!

1 kyalami No need to rev the thing silly. You just stick it in a higher gear, plant your right foot and let the engine do its job. Bucket loads of torque shove you out of corners. Nice lazy power…

But this particular car was not an easy car to drive. It needed ten times more grip than the tyres were offering. Way too easy to light up the rears out of slow corners at the slightest provocation. This was a classic case of crappy tyres making a good setup feel bad. Over bumps the rear end bounced around because the sidewalls were too soft for the stiff suspension and the front tyres offered very little lateral stability on turn in. It was a handful.

Be that as it may, I still enjoyed the thing immensely. By lap three I saw two black lines I had left the lap before in Wesbank corner, exiting the bowl and coming out of the bus stop. I decided to play, trying to overlay new rubber at the same places each time I came around.

2 kyalami In a way the Tabasco car took me back in time. Back to 1964 when Bruce McLaren and Roy Salvadori tested the first 4,2-litre 350 horse power GT40 on dodgy tyres of that era. They should make a movie about that piece of motoring history. A car named GT40 because it was just over forty inches high, measured at the windscreen as per LeMans rules. A car that was conceived because old man Enzo backed out of selling Ferrari to Ford and Henry Ford decided to build a sports prototype to beat Ferrari where it would hurt the most - at LeMans

Success eluded Ford with the fist GT40s, the Mk1s. It’s only when they came with the more powerful and improved 485hp Mk2’s that things really started happening for Ford. And oh man, they did it in a big way! Blew Ferrari away in endurance races all over the world, Daytona 24hrs, LeMans 24hrs, Nurburgring, Silverstone, you name it. They even ran amok in our Springbok Series, the famous 9-hour at the old Kyalami and cleaned up at Roy Hesketh, East London and Killarney in ’65, if memory serves me right.

But I’m not here to give you history lessons. There are enough books and websites out there that chronicle GT40 successes throughout the late sixties and early seventies. For now I’d rather talk about the feeling you get from a true GT40 replica and what it feels like on a race track. And I mean a true replica of the real GT40…

In my opinion Bailey-Edwards cars are thoroughbred race replicas, not kit car look-alikes bolted together on a donor chassis. As Peter Bailey says, his cars are no garage queens, they’re meant to be driven and raced.

3 kyalami The Tabasco car is a prime example. A pretty car that you can use on the road, occasionally take the wife to dinner (Thanks to the T-top doors it’s probably one of the easiest sports cars for a lady to get in and out of), show it off at Cars-In-The-Park and other Piston Ring club events, and yet it’s up to the task should you wish to use it as a competitive weekend circuit racer. It will turn heads everywhere you go. Hell, what more do you want from a track toy?

Of course if you prefer something more hardcore you could always order a car in knockdown form and assemble your own all-out race car in your garage, with full factory backup from Bailey-Edwards.

Something a tad more radical.

That brings me to the second car I tested for this article - Keith Gillmore’s blue GT40 racer. This particular car was not built by Bailey-Edwards, it was supplied in knockdown form to Keith Gillmore, who built the car and raced it for a couple of seasons in Historics.

Zwartkops GT 40 011 This time we tested at Zwartkops at the usual Wednesday afternoon open track session. Keith Gillmore’s blue racer wasn’t as pretty and detailed as Craig Shorter’s Tabasco car. It looked more like a raw and purposeful race car, on fat slicks. This thing looked like something right up my alley, the kinda car that looks fast even when it’s standing still. I was excited to get behind the wheel of this puppy.

Sadly the blue car turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Peter had recently traded the car in and had no time to prep it prior to this test, so I had to drive it in the condition it was last raced in. For starters I didn’t like the setup on this car. The front end was way too soft and the brakes were terrible. The soft front made the rear end very nervous in fast sweepers. A tad too much steering or throttle input and the ass would step out, even on sticky GoodYear slicks.

Zwartkops GT 40 032 There are two places at Zwartkops where you hit the clamps hard – The entry to the hairpin and the entry to the table top. The car went stupid in those places, pitching violently sideways every time I hit the pedal. The big AP brakes were shuddering and offered very little stopping power, probably due to glazed pads and warped discs. A problem not indicative of the braking systems on other Bailey-Edwards cars I’ve driven.

There were other issues as well. The throttle was way too heavy and the gear ratios were too tall for Zwartkops, but I stayed out till the flag dropped. Not because I had to, because I was having a treat. This car was a blast to drive despite all the minor little irritations. It’s a car capable of 1’10”s around Zwartkops using only two gears – third and fourth.

Zwartkops GT 40 039 I can vouch that 460hp in a lightweight mid-engine sports prototype is good enough to spin the rear wheels coming out of the hairpin in third gear. Turn four became a 4th gear corner, no need to shift down. Just dab the brakes on entry, pitch it in and feed the power on. It pulls strong up the hill to the table top. You can do the entire table top in third, short shift in the esses to reduce wheel-spin on the rundown from the table and still surprise yourself with your entry speed into the final corner. This thing’s got power. It will pick up its skirt and gallop whenever you stomp the go-fast pedal.

And that was that.

Two similar cars by the same manufacturer, yet they felt very different on a race track.

There were things I liked, and things I disliked about both cars. The Tabasco car was tested on shit tyres. The blue car had post-race fatigue. It would be wrong to judge either car too harshly. Both cars are inherently good and well-constructed. I rate either one of these cars capable of 1’08”s around Zwartkops given proper tyres and a good suspension setup. Personally I would do something to make the throttle lighter and more responsive in both cars. I didn’t like the steering ratio either, you need to turn the wheel far too much to make the thing react in tight corners.

In the end I have to admit I had a blast testing the Bailey-Edwards GT40s. they really felt like the cheeky American sports prototype that came along at a time in motorsport history when the Europeans needed a wake up call. A decade later it took a monster like the 917 to wrestle endurance racing laurels away from the GT40s.

And then there are Peter Bailey’s Lola T70 and Ferrari P4 replicas. I wonder what they’re like to drive, don’t you?


No comments: