Me and my mo­tor

There’s more to Richard West’s 1970 Hill­man Hunter than meets the eye

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - CARSGUIDE -

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.’’

Mark Hinch­liffe

PROUD POS­SES­SION: Richard West with his Hill­man Hunter. Pic­ture: Mark Calleja

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