In the recent thread about 2.0-litre Itals/Marinas, the subject of V8-engined Marinas was raised. If I have rambled about this in any previous AROnline submission, I apologise, but here goes: stuffing V8s into small, unsuspecting family cars is a long-practiced amusement of the hot-rodding fraternity and the more unlikely the starting point, the better the joke.
Hence all those Ford Perpendicular Pops with engines under the bulkhead and Jaguar IRS rear ends. How much more fun, though, if the car doesn’t look too obviously modified, i.e., a ‘Q-car’. These have sadly gone out of fashion – (one of these days I’ll write about the scruffy Anglia 105E with a Cortina 1500GT engine that I once greatly enjoyed) – but just imagine how a Marina would have been with the effortless punch of a Rover V8 under the bonnet. Actually, I don’t have to imagine it, because we once had such a beast on the Austin Morris promotions fleet. It started life in around 1974 as a project car for Custom Car magazine, and was built by Special Tuning at Abingdon.
It was a Marina Pick-up and originally rejoiced in the name of ‘Star-Trucker’, with an appropriate psychedelic paint job. I can’t put my hands on the exact details, but I’m sure it had an MGC rear axle and a Rover P6B 3500S gearbox (this was before the SD1 gearbox became available), together with mildly modified suspension, standard saloon front disc brakes and wide wheels.
When Custom Car had finished all its articles about the conversion process, the machine reverted to us, and it was repainted as a promotions vehicle, complete with patriotic red, white and blue ‘Drive the Flag’ livery. Rails were fitted around the loadbed so it could be used as a ‘victory wagon’ at various sporting events.
In those days, we used to support the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Test Days, held annually at suitable race tracks or similar venues, where scribes could road or track test a wide variety of different cars from all participating manufacturers in a day. We would often try to provide something out of the ordinary for these events, so what could be better than a V8 Marina Pick-up?
Taking it to the track
The event concerned was at Donington, and the rules were that each driver should complete no more than two laps. We’d checked this out, and were happy that the standard Marina front disc brakes could cope, as they just about cooled sufficiently between two-lap bursts. Unfortunately, the hot Marina was such fun that some drivers wanted more than two laps.
One in particular, Tony Curtis of Motor, did something like four laps on the trot and, not surprisingly, when he came back into the Paddock, he was a bit short of brakes, nudging one of the oil drums used to mark out the area. After we’d calmed him down, we removed the auxiliary lamps from the front spoiler to allow more air through to the brakes, and one of the Press Car Engineers drove me out on the track to see if this helped.
I’ve sat in the hot seat of many exciting cars, driven by experts, over the years, but this was really something else. Out on the track at the same time was a Jaguar XJ12, driven by a very accomplished wheelman from Browns Lane, and he was trying quite hard. To no avail, however, the Marina caught and passed him with almost contemptuous ease. We could see why no-one wanted to come in after two laps!
You had a very light but stiff bodyshell, tied down suspension and lots of grunt, what’s not to like?
Borrowing the beast
After this, I lost no time in arranging to borrow the beast for a weekend. Hoo boy! Since it was a pick-up, there were things to be taken to the local tip, and they got there a lot faster than usual. The livery was a bit of nuisance, because it made the car rather conspicuous (the police patrol car on the M42 spotted me on the slip road before I’d even joined the motorway, so no heroics there) which brings me back to the Q-car theme.
The handling was good, though it evidently needed some geometry tweaks to suit the wide tyres, as it tended to white-line too easily. But I’d have been very happy to have owned the device and developed it. It was eventually sold to one of the promotions lads, but I’ve no idea what became of it then.
Regarding the idea of modifying Marinas generally, they were just as good a basis as any number of contemporary cars. Given the huge budgets that Ford spent on making the Escort a top rally car, the Marina could have done just as well, but of course, Special Tuning had to operate on a budget of two-pence halfpenny – all the more credit that they did so well!
Several V8 Marinas were built for motorsport, and one Formula One team of the era even put together a serious proposal to series- build V8 Marina road cars as a commercial venture. And just think – with a good roll cage fitted, a Marina could cope with having pianos dropped on it!