Mike’s Red Centre to Gold Coast Adventure – building the car
- 22nd May 2008, 3:23pm
Earlier this week we brought you the first part of Mike Conway's story on what's required to enter a marathon rally like the Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial.
In part 2, Mike tells us how he chose which vehicle to use and what it's taken to get the car ready.
The decision on what type of car to run in an event like this was an easy one for me. The choice would be which model, a MK1 or MK2, Escort? After winning Targa Tasmania in 2005 with Simon Gardiner in our PowerPlay MK2 Escort RS2000, I had started the build on a MK2 gravel-spec car. It was originally started as something to get out and have some fun in on the dirt, but now I had a reason to finish the car!
The car started life as a modest 1976 MK2 four-door 1.6 litre Ghia. I picked it up for a small sum from the wreckers just before its life was about to end. A four-door was chosen for several reasons. Firstly, the body shell is slightly stronger overall than the two-door. Secondly, spare wheels and other bits required for rallying can be carried behind the front seats for better weight distribution; and thirdly, nothing in the boot should provide less of a pendulum effect when changing directions. This will all be put to the test when the car is run in the shakedown event.
The first task was to fully strip the shell and assess rust repairs required. The shell was then sand blasted and the outer panels stripped by hand. The next step required many hours of cutting out rust, hand fabricating new parts and welding them in – a 32 year old car can accumulate plenty of rust if not looked after! The shell was then fully seam welded, and strengthening plates and gussets were welded in to help the car cope with the rigours of outback rallying. After more than one hundred hours, the shell was ready for paint.
The first step was to apply several coats of a two pack primer surfacer to seal the steel and prevent rust. All filler repairs were then done next and then several coats of two pack high fill putty were then applied and, once dry, the high fill putty was then block-rubbed back. At this stage, every seam on the shell, inside and out, was treated to a dose of brushable seam sealer. The lower part of the car was then masked off and a good coat of stone guard applied to the under body and lower parts of side panels and doors, etc.
Finally, the car was ready for the colour. I had made a decision to go with the traditional white with the blue side panels as per the 1977 Ford works-Safari rally cars. After plenty of masking and several steps, the car was now covered in its final coat of white. The side panels were then block rubbed back, masked off and painted in the traditional ‘Ford blue’. The above process took me approximately 125 hours, and I was glad to see the finished shell sitting there ready to bolt parts onto!
While the body shell work was being done, I had also been busy on the rest of the car. At this point, the complete driveline had been built, all brakes and suspension finished, all interior parts had been reconditioned and modified. My business partner at PowerPlay Automotive, Simon Gardiner, had been extremely valuable during the building of the engine and the driveline components and the suspension set up. His knowledge and attention to detail, is second to none.
I would estimate at this point, about five months out from the start of the event, that the car is 75% finished, with over 500 hours spent on the build so far. The engine is complete and awaiting a run on the engine dyno to sort the final spec and fuel it will run. The shell has most of the interior and suspension, etc bolted in place. We still need to run fuel and brake lines, a complete wiring loom has to be made, and plenty of other minor parts are required. We are also still working through the extra things that we will need to carry in the car to meet the requirements of a long distance outback adventure like the Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial.
A shakedown event for the car has been chosen and we hope to run it on July 12, so we have plenty of work to do to get the car ready in time!
We’ll bring you progress reports on Mike’s Escort-build in future - stay tuned!
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