BARNFIND BITSA 76
That’s how Autofarm’s Josh Sadler describes his historic racer
Josh Sadler has prettymuch always had a 911 race car at this disposal. As founder and primemover atautofarm itʼs part and parcel of what they do – not somuch a showcase but a way of life. So, when someonemade Josh an offer he couldnʼt refuse for the S/T that he raced at the last Rennsport Reunion at Daytona, he naturally felt the need to replace it.
As with many of these things, serendipity played a hand. An acquaintance pointed Josh at a down-at-heel racing 911 that happened to be lurking – where else? – in a barn. ʻIt turned out to be a 1975 car with a lot of SC in it,ʼ reports Josh. ʻBob Watson had built it in 1990, initially for hill climbing, and then it had gone on to a couple more owners who carried on modifying it but without any serious usage.
ʻIt had a very early engine management system and full-house sprint cams, which was a combination that never worked as far as I can see. The management system was relatively simple compared to after-market systems nowadays.ʼ
Something as basic as that wouldnʼt faze Josh, nor his Autofarm confederates. Iʼve been with him on a car buying recce mission before, and heʼs very much of the magnifying glass persuasion: nothing escapes him, and heʼs been at the coal face for long enough to know what build-year codes signify and where to find them on every component. That being so, he quickly sussed that this barn find was sporting 3.3 Turbo suspension and brakes: ʻItʼs a conglomeration,ʼ he says, ʻa bitsa for a bit of fun, which suits me very well. You get to a point where building something too exotic is too demanding. This is more a case of, “oh, Iʼve got one of those so Iʼll use that,” and the only thing I had to buy for serious money for this car was the twin-plug distributor.ʼ
So, nearly 30 years ago, Bob Watson created a 3.5-litre flat-six on an SC crankcase, incorporating a 100mm crank-rod set, which drops into an SC 3.0-litre crankcase and is legal for HTP (Historic Technical Passport) papers for a ʼ74–ʼ75 car, which, surprise, surprise, is whatʼs at the back of Joshʼs mind. ʻItʼs cosmetically a 3.0 RS with a 1975 ID, so I need to work towards it having a ʼ74–ʼ75 RSR specification, with HTP papers.ʼ
Fortunately, a very good friend, Nigel Garland, had two of the 8-pin CD boxes that they used on the 3.0 Turbos and the RSRS of the period – absolutely perfect for an RSR – so, armed with those, Josh needed to find a distributor that worked with them. ʻThereʼs a couple of outfits that make replicas of the original Bosch twin-plug – most people use the Morelli, which was the earlier one, going all the way back to the 906.
ʻBut the Bosch has been re-manufactured in
America, and I remembered that Iʼd bought one from Richard Chamberlain when we did a deal with him on all his left-over bits, which included a new-old-stock Bosch twin-plug distributor cap and rotor arm. So, I already had a brand-new distributor cap and rotor arm, the two CD boxes, and the distributor body was a replica cast body, which cost a couple of grand.ʼ
This 911ʼs specific history is hazy. Having done some light track work, it appears to have been unused for most of the 2000s, passing through two auctions and ending up in the proverbial barn. ʻI hate to think what he used it for, because the underside was caked in mud and gravel. Chap seems not to have done anything competitive with it, just posed around and then traded it in. It was in a bit of a state, generally, without being particularly worn out, but when we got stuck into it, it was obvious that no single person had focused on sorting it; one person had obviously done one bit and then someone else had done something else at one garage or another, and there were numerous invoices from various Porsche specialists over the decades. And yet it had never realised anything like its potential.ʼ
Before taking the plunge, Josh was sceptical. ʻI looked at this thing and I thought, “shall I, shanʼt I?” Its main problem is that it has had a massively comprehensive roll cage welded into it, which is all very well, but if you want to get HTP papers it involves a major engineering job to get it back to the bare ʼshell and chop a lot of roll cage out of it. In the end I thought, “sod it, letʼs go for it,” and this was over a year ago. We had a summer of planning so we could get stuck in over the winter.ʼ
Absolutely everything needed attention, because it had been converted piecemeal rather than as a single project. Itʼs always been black, and itʼs retained the glassfibre bodywork extensions that Bob Watson fitted, except it had lost its rear spoiler, so Josh managed to generate a pukka Group 4 rear spoiler complete with factory rubber lip, which came from an orange 2.7 RS he bought in Rouen, along with an accompanying parts collection. ʻThe orange RS had come with 7in and 9in x16 Fuchs on it, which, in order to get HTPS, needed a set of 15s. So, a set of 7 and 9 x16s was ideal for the Barnfind Bitsa, because Iʼm running in the CSCC (Classic Sports Car Club) events, and the size fits the regs for the tyres.
ʻI think the brakes were the only thing we didnʼt have to rebuild; in fact, we didnʼt even change the pads, although they wore out quite quickly in the first race we did.ʼ As for the rest of it, all the suspension had to come apart, along with seized bushes and bits that were missing. He sourced a pair of RSRspec anti-roll bars, again with a view to HTP papers, ʻbecause it had a Mickey-mouse front and a standard rear anti-roll bar.ʼ Josh switched its rear ducktail lid for the RSR spoiler, and fitted another front bumper purely because Autofarm had one in better condition. The paintwork was tidied up by Robin Dalwood, whoʼs based at Westcott near Aylesbury and who goes back to Autofarmʼs days beside Amersham station.
Josh wears his technical talents lightly: ʻIʼd got a pair of
46Idaweber carburettors that had been lying on the shelf for decades and, with a bit of sweat and toil and much help from Carburettor Exchange in Leighton Buzzard, we built the carburettors up. And I had a pair of the Garretson G60 camshafts which are halfway between an RS and an RSR cam, and I thought letʼs fit what weʼve got and weʼll hot the engine up a bit more later on. I had to install new pistons and we cleaned up the heads, stuck it all together and fired it up.ʼ
The carʼs first outing was a Bentley Drivers Club event at Silverstone, consisting of a couple of 15-minute races, one a handicap and one a scratch fun race on the Club circuit, and as he approached the end of the straight, Josh was aware of a slight vibration, which he judged to be to do with the crankcase casting: ʻthey went over to the magnesium crankcase in ʼ68, which ran through to the end of the 2.7s, and they used it for the 2.8 RSR, and although they beefed the crankcase casting up, the magnesium wasnʼt quite up to the job, and it gave problems with harmonic vibration. Over the decades weʼve had a number of problems with 2.7 and 2.8 engines breaking cranks and cracking the crankcase through harmonic vibration. One of the harmonic balances is called a rattler, and itʼs got weights that are in free space, and once the harmonic starts they shuffle around and counteract the harmonic vibration.
ʻItʼs a technology thatʼs been around for years and is quite widely used on the big V8s in the States. So, Helix Motorsport who do a huge range of flywheel and clutches for historic motorsport built one into the clutch.ʼ And you can really discern the difference? ʻWell, this is the problem: you canʼt, really, because youʼre talking about a harmonic in the 7– to 8000rpm range, and itʼs hard to keep the revs constant and think, “is this slightly different?” and to actually sense the harmonic vibration in the car, so Iʼve never been able to specifically pick it up because thereʼs a lot of other stuff going on.ʼ
Otherwise, that Silverstone debut was a perfect play on the Silverstone club circuit. Josh shared the driving with Autofarmʼs Mark Henderson who carried out most of the mechanical work
on the car. ʻItʼs a perfect event to cut the carʼs teeth on,ʼ beams Josh; ʻit was stonking down the straights, and it was working extremely well in the corners. Then we went to Castle Combe where it won the ʼ70s class in Future Classics.ʼ
Next round was at Donington Park, where Josh handed the reins to Autofarmʼs Steve Wood, whoʼs got an in-depth racing CV, been a Silverstone instructor and raced in the Porsche Cup, and he co-drove it with Mark, running with the ʼ70s and ʼ80s Future Classics, which they won.
After that there was a bit of work to do on the chassis, and Josh had to make a fresh front oil cooler: ʻitʼs going to generate some heat, and a 911 lives on its oil, so you do need a decent cooler. I got one from Lloyd Allard, whoʼs the grandson of Sidney Allard and whoʼs got a little aluminium fabrication operation in Gloucester – carrying on from his father Alanʼs turbocharging and supercharging business – and he does radiators and intercoolers, and I then got Radicool in Brackley to finish off the ends. Itʼs working OK, but I had to modify it, the same as the factory used to modify them, and just cut out the front panel so the air flows through the cooler. And we put a little oil cooler on the gearbox as well.ʼ Thanks to Josh, itʼs now had the detailed attention lavished on it that it should have had all along. ….
ʻWe have gone from front to back, top to bottom, taken everything apart, rebuilt the gearbox, changed the ratios, absolutely everything. I got a Stack rev counter adapted into a
10,000rpm rev counter by Reap Automotive, and you pull little bits and pieces together from various dusty corners as you go along. The powers that be in club racing in the UK donʼt really enforce dating the seats, though youʼve got to have the seat belts in date, plus your helmet, gloves, boots and Nomex knickers. One advantage having a ʼ75 car is that you donʼt have to wear a HANS device: can you imagine at my age wearing one of those when youʼve got to do a lightning driver change? I canʼt even cope with a full-face helmet; if youʼre doing a quick driver change you canʼt look down and get the buckle done up: youʼve got to sit there, get your hands out of the way and let somebody else fiddle around with your crotch! So, I always wear an open face helmet.ʼ
All the side windows are in Perspex, and itʼs a fixed window on the passenger side with a sliding section for ventilation, supplemented by a couple of fans inside the scuttle vents, so in the event of a wet race the screen would be less inclined to mist up. So, is it the new Autofarm showcase racecar? Josh is sceptical. ʻIt isnʼt fair to impose it on Steve and Mikey (Wastie) because itʼs an old club racer and itʼs a bit scruffy. As it stands, the paint finish isnʼt up to it, and itʼs up to them if they want to adopt it. I was grateful for Steveʼs feedback, but weʼve only done a couple of meetings so far and we need a test day.ʼ
So, does Josh see his new black bomber as a reversion to how it was in the mid-ʼ80s? ʻIn terms of the car, yes, itʼs all stuff we had kicking around in the ʼ80s, though in those days the distributor would have been a secondhand one that we fished
“IT’S NOW HAD THE DETAILED ATTENTION LAVISHED ON IT…”
out of Germany, but nowadays youʼve got to get the late repro ones. But, yes, itʼs very much a car that we might have built in the ʼ80s, which is all ʼ70s stuff. Once youʼve got papers to say, “yes, itʼs an RSR rep,” then it does take you into a different realm; you can run in the Masters series, which EB Motorsportʼs Mark Bates does, running a couple of Rsr-spec cars very effectively at places like Zandvoort Historic GP and the Spa 6Hours meeting. So, weʼll probably do a little bit more tidying over the winter, and if Steve and Mikey feel comfortable to run with it, then it will be the Autofarm club racer next season.ʼ
Time for an outing. Thereʼs a knack to the starting procedure, which involves cranking it over and if Iʼm very lucky on the throttle I can catch it without flooding it. The Sparco race seat is an extremely tight fit, and the pedals are canted to the left as youʼd expect. A glance over my shoulder reveals the hefty built-in roll cage whose triangulations are serious indeed. The ultra-light doors are copies of Porscheʼs original glassfibre ones, and thereʼs an electric fire extinguisher system. Once itʼs warmed up I press the hand-throttle lever between the seats and the revs fall back to a healthy 1000rpm. Three extra gauges show gearbox temperature, ammeter and fuel pressure. Josh comments that, ʻitʼs not a very high oil pressure engine, so when itʼs hot and ticking over thereʼs no oil pressure registered on the gauge but donʼt worry about that.ʼ
The cabin interior is racing car Spartan, bordering on crude, but for club racing itʼs all you want. Out of the Autofarm industrial complex, onto the Oxfordshire backroads and over to Woodstock and Enstone, it sounds totally awesome between 3000- and 7000rpm, and the gearshift is nice to use once Iʼm accustomed to it; it feels some way stronger than a regular gate.
The suspension follows every nuance of the road surface, so it feels very lively. It has a tendency to understeer, and when corrected it quite sharply oversteers. But it is incredibly fast, and the revs are zinging right round the clock, so I conclude that on a track this must truly be a marvellous piece of kit. Amazing what can emerge from a barn, provided youʼve got the time and parts to throw at it – once youʼve blown the cobwebs away.
“AMAZING WHAT CAN EMERGE FROM A BARN…”
Above: Front-mounted oil cooler was made by Lloyd Allard, grandson of the legendary Sidney Allard, with further work by Radicool. The 911 was first built back in 1990 by Bob Watson for use in hillclimbing
Below left: Interior is race car Spartan, as youʼd expect. Doors are lightweight glassfibre mouldings
Below right: Stack rev counter was given the retro treatment by Julian Reap at Reap Automotive
Above: Substantial welded-in roll cage, which would need to be removed if the car was to be issued with HTP papers. Group 4 spoiler came from a 2.7 RS which Josh had bought in France
Below left: Itʼs far from being a concours car, having had a hard life over the past years, but now itʼs in the hands of the Autofarm crew, the future looks rosey
Below right: Bob Watson built the engine originally, with 3.5-litre capacity
Above: Josh Sadler regards the car as very much a ʻbitsaʼ and enjoys it all the more as a consequence
Below left: 16-inch wheels and the accompanying tyres fall within the remit of the CSCC regulations
Below right: 46IDA Webers were rebuilt with help from Carburettor Exchange