Me and my motor
There’s more to Richard West’s 1970 Hillman Hunter than meets the eye
PEOPLE used to laugh when Richard West rolled his 1970 Hillman Hunter on to the starting grid alongside HG Monaros and XU-1s.
Not anymore. Now he has more than doubled the horsepower and is a serious contender running ninth outright in the Queensland Cup Group N, for historic sedans built before 1972.
He could have chosen a more likely car to go racing, but the 44-year-old company executive manager just couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
‘‘My wife, Trudie, was given the car by her great uncle and great aunt, Charlie and Mable Pearson,’’ he says.
‘‘They bought it new in 1970 for $1950 and had done 42,000 miles (67,500km) before giving it to Trudie in 1990.
‘‘Trudie got her first teaching post in Longreach and that’s when I met her. I was a jackaroo and a bit of a car nut at that stage and everyone said she picked me up to look after her car.’’
Not that the car needed much attention.
‘‘We did a number of trips back and forth to Brisbane, drove it on dirt roads to properties and did a holiday from Longreach to Rocky, Townsville, Cairns, Hughenden and Winton and the only problems we had were typical for an English car – it used four litres of oil and needed a new generator,’’ he says. ‘‘Other than that it went very well.’’
When Trudie finished her teaching post, the couple moved back to Brisbane and left the Hillman under her mother’s house in Toowoomba for about 18 months.
‘‘Then Trudie’s mum rang and asked me to get rid of it,’’ he says. ‘‘I liked it so much we kept it as a second car for about four years and then I got a management position and the Hillman got retired.
‘‘About 2000 I started in motorsport and that was the car I used. I just put in a roll cage and away I went.’’
West has a racing pedigree thanks to his father, Graham, who was a navigator for Dean Rainsford in a Porsche 911.
He finished 1976 runners-up in the Australian Rally Championship, beaten by a Nissan Japan factory team.
His father was also guest navigator for legendary rally driver Stig Blomqvist in 1978 in a Saab EMS, when he was here for the Rally of Canberra.
‘‘So I’ve got racing in my blood,’’ West says.
West began his motorsport career in sprints and hill climbs, racing the clock, with limited modifications in the Hillman.
Over time, West has become ‘‘quicker and better’’ and the car has gradually received more modifications as he moved into more ‘‘serious’’ racing.
The historic category allows limited modifications, so the racing Hillman Hunter now has Koni shock absorbers; coilover suspension at the front which is adjustable for castor, camber and height; a balanced and blueprinted engine; handmade extractors; handmade intake manifold; Cortina ventilated front discs; twin 45mm Webbers, and; the fourcylinder 1725cc engine has been marginally rebored to about 1730cc.
It originally put out 53kW at the flywheel and now yields about 93kW at the rear wheels.
‘‘I was a laughing stock when I first turned up in the Hillman,’’ West says.
‘‘No one had ever done it before. Plenty of people said they couldn’t see why not, but plenty of people said it couldn’t be done.
‘‘I’ve had to plot my own way all the way. You just can’t buy things off the shelf.
‘‘Over the years I’ve been getting places and winning. It’s now a competitive car. No one laughs anymore.
‘‘It’s a good chassis to work on. But the Lucas electrics are a challenge; they call Lucas the Prince of Darkness.
‘‘The UK motor and driveline are good at leaking oil and I’m not allowed under the rules to drop oil on the track, so I’ve learnt how to stop it.’’
The Hillman’s claim to racing fame was victory in the first London to Sydney in 1968 with British driver Andrew Cowan, who later moved to Mitsubishi Ralliart.
West says the main advantage of the Hillman is that it is wide and light.
‘‘It’s about 40mm wider than an Escort and has good cornering speed.
‘‘But I could do with more horsepower,’’ he says.
‘‘The big limitation is diff gearing. I need to go lower.
‘‘I’m in the process of grafting in an Escort limited diff. Then I can run better tyres and go even quicker.
‘‘It’s the first and only Hunter to be log booked as a Group N car in Australia, so I’ve set the specs for it. And maybe it’s the last.’’
PROUD POSSESSION: Richard West with his Hillman Hunter. Picture: Mark Calleja