Friday, October 7, 2011

American Heart - British Soul

If there is one thing that the world most closely identifies with American cars is the rumble of the V8 engines that powered many of them. At one time, nearly every American car had a V8 power option with some models offering multiple 8 cylinder choices. Even today, European endurance racing commentators remark on the low-revving thunder of competition Corvettes. Auto enthusiasts in England were not immune to the charms of V8 engines, either but they did have the venerable Ford flathead V8 in regular production.    

Allard J2X - Courtesy Allard Owners Club
Postwar England was a fertile breeding ground for cottage industry automakers and more than a few chose to power their creations with American V8 engines. Here is a brief sample of some of the more famous ones.
Allard Palm Beach-Courtesy Allard Owners Club
Allard's J2X model was originally powered by a Ford flathead V8 but soon the new overhead valve Cadillac V8 worked its charms on Sydney Allard and the more powerful Caddy engine supplanted the Ford unit. It didn't take long for Allard to figure out that shipping engines from the US to install in cars destined for the US made little sense. The firm later shipped J2's as "rollers"  - cars without engines so the selling dealer in America would install the power plant and essentially finish the car for delivery.

Jensen CV8- Courtesy Jensen Owners Club
Another American V8 powered Allard was the Palm Beach which was Chrysler powered and sold through Dodge dealers in an attempt to compete with the Chevy Corvette and Ford Thunderbird. This two seat car did not sell all that well and today remains quite rare.

Jensen Interceptor-Courtesy Jensen Owners Club
Jensen, in the news lately as a possible revival candidate, brought to market a Chrysler V8 powered grand touring car called the CV8 in the early 1960s. This fiberglass bodied four seater was quite attractive in profile, but it could be considered less than beautiful at the front. The CV8 was superseded by the stunning Interceptor. This Italian designed GT car was defined by an expansive rear screen and powerful 440 cubic inch Chrysler V8. 

AC (Shelby) Cobras-Courtesy AC Owners Club
Take a six cylinder-powered open two seater sports car, add a Ford V8 and create a legend. That's exactly what happened when Carroll Shelby surgically implanted a Ford 260 cubic inch V8 in an AC Ace. Produced during the Ford Motor Company's "Total Performance" glory days, it was sold at Ford dealers as the Shelby Cobra  to compete with the Corvette both on and off the track. Over its life the Cobra was powered by successively larger displacement Ford V8s including the 289 and 427 cubic inch lumps. 

Tiger Owners Manual Cover
While we're talking about one C. Shelby, I would be remiss in not mentioning another Shelby-massaged conversion: the Sunbeam Tiger. More than just an Alpine with an engine transplant, the Tiger was the brainchild of the American west coast sales manager that wanted to go upscale in performance. With an Alpine as a reference, several American V8s were measured up and it was found that the Ford 260 V8 would fit with some minor bodyshell modifications. Rootes Group (Sunbeam's parent firm) contracted Shelby to finalize the design. Once approved for production, Tigers were contracted out to Jensen for manufacture. 

TVR Tuscan- Courtesy TVR Car Club
TVR, that on-again, off-again builder of awesome cars built the Tuscan, a Ford 289-powered fiberglass bodied closed sports car in the late 1960s. Jack Griffith, a US TVR dealer, installed a 260 cubic inch V8 in a TVR Grantura and sold them in the US as Griffith 200 and 400. In the UK and later in the US, the British built car was sold as the TVR Griffith and later, TVR Tuscan.

Finally, MG jumped into American V8 power a little later than the rest of the group noted above. Prior to MG-Rover's implosion in 2005, the firm created a Ford Mustang-powered, rear wheel drive saloon and estate car (that would be a sedan and station wagon, cowboy) from a front wheel drive platform. The MG ZT 260 and ZT-T 260 were well received by the buying public even with fuel prices nearly 2-1/2 times that we pay on this side of the Atlantic. One MG ZT-T even topped 225 MPH at Bonneville. And if you're brave enough there is a ZT-T 260 for sale in Florida, but good luck getting it registered.   

You'll notice that I did not include cars powered by the aluminum block Buick V8 as the manufacturing rights were purchased by Rover and as such became a UK-built Rover engine. I know this is not a complete list of American V8 powered British cars, but it covers some of the more well known ones. You can make your voice heard in the comments section where you can add your own to the list.   

1 comment:

  1. Good article Rodney, It's my understanding that when the Rootes Group was purchased by Chrysler, the Tiger died because there wasn't a Chrysler V8 that would fit in the car and they definitely couldn't tolerate a Ford powered sports car in their lineup.


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