One of the joys of watching Improved Production is the mix of cars that you see on the track.
Have you ever imagined a less likely Improved Production racing car than a big, square rigged Valiant? I can imagine a TV commentator giving running a description of the field:
“Commodores, RX7’s, Falcons, Mitsubishi Evos, Valiant VGs and …. wait, what?”
Yet when you see it mid-pack, leaving parallel black lines out of slower corners and simply sounding fantastic … well it all seems to make a strange sort of sense!
Yet forging this somewhat unique path was not the result of cool consideration of the rules and opposition. No, this project started because of a bet made at the 1996 Australian Grand Prix! Andrew Maros recalls the day vividly.
“I said, ‘Why can’t I put a V8 in a VG and follow the guys around in Club Car?’, as improved production was called then. Then we were out at Mallala (the race track in South Australia) with a street car and Clem Smith (the owner of Mallala) said, ‘I bet you can’t make a Valiant go around corners!’ So we had a bet with him!”
Even though the Maros family are died-in-the-wool Valiant enthusiasts, they still went out and found a new car to turn into a racing car. It helped a great deal that they were in the right state to look for a Valiant. Not only were Valiant’s originally made in South Australia, but quite a lot have survived, perhaps due to the dry climate?
“We paid $150 for it from a gentleman who used to park it outside the casino. He was worried about his Commodore getting dents in it, so he’d drive this Valiant to work. He said it ran beautifully, but all we were worried about was whether it had a rusted chassis rail or not.
“We built it up in the shed at home and painted it there too. Jason, who’s now in the main game – the V8 Supercar – was a big part of the build. (Jason works with Savvy Motorsport and John Bowe – previously with Jason bright and Larry Perkins). For the rest of us it’s just a hobby, but the VG is the talking point of the shed. We’re in it for fun, not to win”.
In this respect the Valiant is something that continues to bring the team together, years after the project was started.
With the original 245 cubic inch Hemi engine in the VG Valiant well known for making power in Chargers, you might think that Andrew followed the straight six path – not so. Instead there is a 340 cubic inch Chrysler V8 engine installed, but why the bigger V8 engine?
“Honestly? Because I said, ‘I bet I can make a V8 Valiant go better than your six cylinder’ kind of deal. It makes it hard for a racing class as we’d love to be able to race this car in Touring Car Masters, but they just won’t accept a V8 in a VG sedan. Obviously historically you can’t race a VG V8 anywhere, but I’m a V8 nut and my bother is a hemi nut, so we had to have a V8 in the thing.
“The car was originally built on the smell of a oily rag and we weren’t earning a lot of money. But we did everything ourselves, made everything ourselves and tinkered around. That’s the way it stayed, though lifestyles have progressed and we have a bit better stuff, so things have kept evolving.”
The engine choice was also a practical one, because it actually came from Andrew’s Altered drag car.
“They came out in the VH charger and we’re allowed to go up to the larger engine size in the original (club car) rules and that was the 340 cubic inch V8. This was the Chrysler V8 of choice for strength and weight. It has a four bolt bottom end and the steel crankshaft as standard. Chrysler Australia actually built a V8 VG and Clem Smith watched it race in 1970, in practice against Leo Geoghegan. That had the same gearbox and the same engine (as we run), but they had a Dana rear end. They decided that it was too heavy over the front end, but they did actually build one car.”
I did query the weight over the front end, as the 245 Hemi straight six was not noted as a light engine and it does sit up quite straight. A V8 is nearly always thought of as being heavier. So exactly how does the 340 V8 compare?
“It’s actually similar (in weight) to the 245 Hemi six cylinder, which as you know had an iron head and block. Because the 340 V8 is heavier, it means heavier torsion bars and sway bar at the front. The chassis was reinforced a little at the front too, particularly around the steering box, which overloaded the chassis at that point (a common problem in Valiant’s of this period). Jason made our own 16:1 steering box as they were hellishly dear to buy one. So he actually made one from a ‘tank’ Fairlane steering box! It made a difference as it used to be like driving a bus!”
Andrew’s 340 V8 engine was clearly a powerful beast, having already raced down the quarter mile more than a few times, but a good drag engine does not make a good circuit racing engine and changes were made.
“Initially the engine had a small freshen-up when it made the jump from a naturally aspirated Altered drag racing car. New pistons were put in to make the compression ratio lower at 11:1. and we started from there. As it stands now, the only thing we have left of the drag car engine is the block! There have been a couple of boxes of broken parts along the way as well. It’s just hard getting quality parts on a limited budget. Now we have a reasonable budget we still find it hard finding quality for a Chrysler small block that hasn’t been in production for a lot of years.
“The conrods that are in the engine are out of Clem Smith’s Charger race car. They are a 1976 Carrillo’s and they’re probably a bit heavier than current Carrillos, but you won’t break them. There’s custom-made flywheels, in fact custom-made everything! You can buy some reasonable stuff now, but you have to struggle for every bit of race quality to put into the engine. For example, we could only get Crane rocker gear for years, but now can get T&D rocker gears custom-made for it. We had so many issues with things not lining up and having to modify things, in fact there was nothing that came out of a packet that did not have to be modified.
“What has been good is the W5 factory race heads, that were used from 1991-1996. They are a beautiful cylinder head that makes power with a flat top piston. Prior to this weekend we’ve always run a mechanical camshaft, because it’s a lot of work to setup a roller camshaft in the engine. Now they make some pretty tricky lifters and we’re running a roller camshaft for the first time in this meeting. The advantages are lots less friction and a lot smoother. You don’t have to have such an aggressive ramp and the car is a lot more sedate to run. It still sounds good.”
The development that Andrew notes above in the engine was mirrored in work that occurred in other parts of the VG, and although the changes are not radical to the eye, they do work!
“When we first got it together, it was not a lot different from what you see now and it was an ill-handling pig to be honest with you! It was a rocket ship in a straight line, but when it came to cornering, well … as the class rules evolved and we got to modify things, it got better.
“If you look at the front suspension, it’s standard; torsion bars are what we’re allowed to have. At the rear we’ve modified the leaf springs, but it still has to be leaf springs. We’ve been able to add bits and pieces, but we can’t add an independent rear end.
“We’ve been pushing for a bigger rear tyre, but now the new Yokohama AO50s have come out we’ve actually got down in tyre (width) to a 215, when we’ve been pushing for a 245/255. But the lack of rubber is the biggest hindrance to the car, the tyres are tiny for what it is. We tried to put a rule change in for a larger rear tyre and rim, but it was knocked back. Our load ratings are wrong for the tyres we can run. The best RX7s can run is a 225 tyre and the best we’ve got is a 215 wide tyre. But a modern car like a Silvia can run a 255 wide tyre and they have aero (downforce). I get the feeling that the powers that be want less Early Model cars in the field and this will affect South Australia more.
“We were getting a little disheartened with the class and were looking at sports sedans, but the new tyres have helped. We dropped two seconds a lap with the new AO50. We’re getting to use top gear now at Mallala and not waiting on the throttle (coming out of corners). It used to be embarrassing to watch a normally aspirated Toyota Corollas out accelerate you down the straight while you waited to get grip. Now it’s a different story; we have a slight bit of understeer coming out of corners, which is what you want.
“You do drive this car with the accelerator and it doesn’t require the greatest finesse, though you can spin the rear tyres for the length of many straights if you want to. We’re lucky we’ve got a little bit better rear tyre, because we’ve been chasing grip for the last three years, trying everything to make grip happen. Now we actually have a tyre that works, it made me wonder, ‘What have I been doing for the last three and a half years?’
“Even with the power everything was done to get weight out of the car. We commissioned an alloy cased Passon Performance Dodge gearbox, which was used in the TA340s in the USA for circuit racing. The alloy case made for it saves around 30 kilos in weight and it’s running speedway composite rear springs now.
“We use a full spool rear end with a floating axle and aluminium centres and we have a camber kit coming in December, so we’ll be able to camber it (put negative camber on the rear tyres). With the lower profile new tyres we’ve really got to put some camber in the rear tyres to get the best from them.
“We have put AP Racing six spot calipers on the front and a Holden front slider on the back. We used to have an old Jaguar four spot caliper and Mercedes 305mm disc, but you upgrade as time goes on. With the old brakes we were forever cutting and grinding pads up and it took it’s toll having to do this for each race meet. That said, your brakes are only as good as the patch of tyre on the road, so we have to be a bit careful with braking.
“So everything’s been about weight and quite a lot of laughter to be honest! If it won’t work with me it won’t work with anyone; or if I can’t break it, no one can! It’s been a lot of fun over the last twelve years or so on the track.”
The overall weight and lack of suspension sophistication means that the dampers have a lot to do. So what was the go with this aspect of the car?
“We had our original dampers modified by guys who worked for Perkins engineering. We made them up and valved them a bit differently. Just recently we got some Penske rear dampers.
I’m sure most readers will have noticed the unusual rear spoiler setup, and in case you are wondering, it was not made this way because of a lack of materials!
“We call the winglets the Tyrrell winglets, because Tyrrell used to experiment with all sorts of stuff back in the day. We have another car, several of them in fact and we tested one of the cars with winglets on a highway near Adelaide, with bags of flour and streamers, to see what was happening to the air at the back of the car. We would drive along and let the flour out and we had another car driving along next to us to see where the flour went!
“What we have found at places like Phillip Island, is that the back of the car lifts off the ground going down the straight, just under the bridge. It’s as aerodynamic as a brick. So the winglets are there to try to guide a bit of air back around and over the boot and it seemed to work well enough on the highway… until the police pulled us over. “We also put a camera on the back of the car years ago and the actual boot lid leaves the webbing (reinforcing) on the inside and whole boot lid lifts up. This is because of the concave rear window and the first wing straight across the boot was making it worse. We cut the centre out of it and all of a sudden the boot lid stayed down and the back of the car stayed on the ground for a bit longer.”
“I wouldn’t have built the car if I was serious about winning the championship, but it is a lot of fun. We had a passion for them and it’s something different. We were at Barbagello two years ago to race at the nationals and the scrutineer asked, ‘Who would let you put a Valiant on a race track?!’
“Nobody likes to run into the Valiant, because I do cry a bit when things like an eyebrow moulding are a couple of hundred dollars a pop. Tail lights are hard to find too. “We have huge support from U-Pull-It wreckers in SA, as any VG Valiant that comes in just gets put up on the rack … there’s about seven of them at the moment. You need it too, a rub here and a smack there. If a late model car runs into you like an Evolution etcetera, then they bounce off you, but the Valiant doesn’t bounce, it crushes. We thought they were as strong as bullets, they’re actually quite fragile when compared with the modern car of today.
“The car has competed in the old Classic Adelaide Rally and we came second in our category and first in class. We were fifth fastest in the prologue that year and we shocked a few by going up the main street of Murray Bridge at around 130 miles per hour! That’s always been its strength, its power, even when we tuned it for PULP fuel for that event, but AVGAS is better … and we like the smell.”
“I hope that people do not forget that this is entry level motorsport. It’s fun and it’s supposed to be fun!” There’s no doubt that it’s fun to watch too!