The cars : Project Pride
Take one 50-year old record, and a group of talented and driven Engineers – and the result is a Rover world endurance record…
Writing for Autocar magazine back in August 1990, Andrew Frankel gets close to the record-winning Metro GTi, and reports that it was an exciting steer.
The 130mph Metro GTi
IT COULD never have happened five years ago. Those were the words of Brian Cameron who, just three months after being given the go-ahead, masterminded the breaking of 21 UK speed records in the 1100-1500cc class, by a pair of specially-prepared Metro GTis. No matter that their average speed of 121mph is hardly going to have Richard Noble sprinting for the drawing board again, nor indeed that the vast majority of the records they broke were set before WWII. What is significant is that the record attempts ever took place at all.
When Rover’s personnel department saw how long the records had been standing, it came up with a proposal to break every one of them within a year. Cameron was consulted and reckoned he could do it in five months. When he put this to head office he was told he had just three months.
Undeterred, Cameron gathered 300 staff around him – a nucleus of 80 being directly involved – and work began on what Rover called ‘Project Pride’. Between them they gave up 6500 unpaid man hours to prepare the cars. They made the deadline, took every record attempt and set two new ones besides. By the time the last sandwich had been paid for, the total bill for the venture was under £20,000 – and half of that was the hire of the Millbrook Proving Ground.
A standard Rover Metro GTi has a top speed of 113mph from its 95bhp. To put the records beyond reach, the two special cars would have to average 120mph all day and all night. Clearly major modifications were needed.
First, the car had to be gutted. All that remains of the original interior is the dashboard. There is a 25-gallon fuel tank where you would expect to see a rear seat, Perspex in the side windows and a regulation roll cage and fire-eater system on board. Ahead of the racing seat, complete with four point harness, is a seemingly standard set of instruments, until you notice the revcounter goes round to 9000rpm with an 8200rpm red line and the speedometer is calibrated to 150mph.
Outside, if you can see your way past the garish paint job, you will notice plain wheel discs for minimal aerodynamic resistance, lowered front suspension and just one windscreen wiper. Otherwise, it seems largely standard.
Until someone flicks on the petrol pumps, turns off the ignition cut-out and fires it up, that is. It hardly seems credible that a Metro can make such a din. The main culprit is the straight-through drainpipe exhaust which emerges under the driver’s door. Other modifications include a no-compromise cam timing, a polished cylinder head, new manifolds and a revised chip in the ECU. This brings power up to 140bhp at 8200rpm and a small but unspecified rise in torque. Astonishingly, it still runs happily on normal 95-octane unleaded petrol.
It’s not easy to drive until you get the hang of it. The first surprise is it has only four gears. Cameron says the gearbox from the basic Metro gave less oil surge problems on the banking and, in a car designed solely for top speed, close ratios were not a high priority. Secondly, although it will idle frenetically at 2000rpm, it offers no real acceleration below 4000rpm and it is only happy above 5500rpm. From there it will bolt around to its red line like a startled hare so long as you keep the accelerator a few millimetres away from the floor. Push it all the way home and the engine splutters and stops revving.
Running the car flat out around Millbrook’s two-mile bowl involves constantly balancing the pressure on the accelerator against the wind as it whistles around you. With the wind behind, it is possible to use nearly all the travel in the pedal, allowing the car to race past a true 130mph. But as it comes round in front of you, you must back off and watch the speddometer needle fall.
I drove the number two car for more than half an hour on a sunny afternoon, a few days after the record attempt. After that, I was deafened and only beginning to learn how to extract the best from the unpredictable throttle response. During the record attempt, drivers were doing two-and-a-half hour stints, often during the night and in pouring rain. Take it from me, keeping up a 121mph average, inclusive of fuel and driver stops in such conditions, is some achievement.
It is a testament to the strength of the two K-Series engines, and the effort put into their preparation, that neither gave the slightest hint of trouble throughout the 24-hours and returned a consistent 18mpg throughout. After a compulsory strip-down by the RAC to make sure no illicit parts were bing used, nothing was found in need of replacement.
Rover says ‘Project Pride’ was a motivation exercise pure and simple. Its total success is as indicative of the new wave of dedication, guts and talent within Rover as any of its class-leading cars. And you can be sure that the sense of achievement and pride such a project instills in a workforce can only be good news for those who buy the cars it builds.
Marketing was discreet, but effective…
|The Metro’s 21 UK Speed records|
|Record||Time and speed|