I have selected the top ten from the era – mid 1963 to end 1973. The choice based on my heartfelt memories of the times…and some may be a surprise… read on

#3 – In our list of early Performance cars…. The Renault R8 Gordini.

1. 1296 Gordini Kyalami Collage


A colleague of mine was most surprised that the BMC Mini Cooper S did not make it into the top three and international readers could also take issue with the choice of a Renault selected at number 3. That is all understandable, because the Mini was something of a larger than life icon and the following brief extract from a UK article on the R8 Gordini perhaps identifies the views of some who had little contact with this French machine.

“…all of which means (very) little in Blighty because, well, the R8 Gordini has always been treated with a certain degree of smug disdain.”  and goes on to say “While rarely a force on the world stage, there were more than a few competition successes closer to home with the Gordini” …

This fellow has obviously missed out on quite a lot…and my Mini colleague was probably blinded by the light…

Mention the word Gordini to any South African 60’s motor enthusiast though and there will be instant recognition. The reaction will vary between misty-eyed responses from the embedded R8 Gordini enthusiasts, through to grudging respect from the most ardent arch-rivals. That is in SA… but, as noted, not quite so in the rest of the world…except in the home country France. In reality, the exploits of this little car can be broadly summarised as being a ground -breaking road car, next as an effective rally car in Europe and finally, a spectacularly accomplished racing car in South Africa…and as a legacy, where this machine touched hearts you will find the most powerful support of a motoring icon possible.

For me, along with the above comment, it gets this spot simply because it is an engineering masterpiece.

I am in no way critical of those UK comments because the local outcome is a major compliment to those involved in SA… but it does nevertheless pose the question as to why this car performed so incredibly well at the tip of Africa…

Also, we will deal with the Mini next, so…Read on, because in simple fact, South Africa was the only country in the world to provide a group of people smart enough, determined enough and selfless enough to exorcise the full potential of this design as a race car… Besides, the machine provided a rather unique training ground for our one and only F1 world Champion.

So… for the purpose of this story, we will focus more on the SA connection… but first a brief look at the production version of the car.

2. Stock Gordini

Apart from the two white challenge stripes this looked every
bit a regular four door saloon.


As a starter, to any of us aware of the infamous handling reputation of the R8 predecessor the Dauphine, the arrival of another rear engined Renault with swing axle rear suspension simply raised visions of more twitchy suspension tuck-under. But worse… the Gordini version was a performance car with a mighty 95Bhp sting in the tail, huge power in those days… One’s knee jerk response to this lot was … ‘what are they thinking’…

Well…as it turns out the R8 was vastly improved from the Dauphine and despite that swing axle rear end, the R8 Gordini was so far ahead of its time and such a vivid blip on the Renault radar screen that it could not be emulated by that company again. If ever the point was brought home effectively, it happened at the promo of the new R12 Gordini in 1970. Literally thousands of R8 Gordini fans/owners turned up at a brand-new Paul Ricard circuit to see the new R12 equivalent perform in what was clearly a staged match-up.…but failed to impress. Clearly front wheel drive tech was not what it is today…

3. Paul Ricard 1970


We look back at the adventure that was the R8 Gordini and remain in awe of what was achieved…but it was not an easy task. Locally it took the single-minded commitment of one individual to consistently unravel the secrets held by the package and, as history will reveal, pass on his knowledge to an equally committed group of race engineers…and one very determined young race driver. Together this group of people accomplished one of the most remarkable feats in saloon car race development seen anywhere in those 60’s years of tin top racing.

First though, a peek at some of the tech stuff…

Having covered the Lotus Cortina previously and if we can use that machine as a high-water mark for performance cars in 1964, the R8 Gordinis (1108 and later the 1255) outperformed the Cortina on specific engine output and did that with pushrod-based engines as opposed to the Ford’s Twin Cam layout. Significanty though, both ran cross-flow Hemi-chambered cylinder heads, the Gordinis with trademark recessed ‘masked’ spark plugs* and the Cortina the more conventional exposed ‘plug arrangement.

For comparison the relative power outputs:

Lotus Cortina 1558                  105 Bhp – 67 Bhp/Litre

R8 Gordini 1108                        95 Bhp – 85 Bhp/litre

R8 Gordini 1255                      105 Bhp – 84 Bhp/Litre

4. Ford TC


5. Gordini Head


*The masked spark plug arrangement seen in the above pic is a Gordini ‘trademark’ and compared to the Lotus Twin Cam one can see that this recessed design allows both central spark location and large valve area. The Lotus engine having to offset the spark plug in order to achieve good valve sizing. The benefit of the R8 design also allowed for moderate timing advance…always a good thing in achieving good combustion. Something else about the Gordini is the smaller than normal difference in size between the inlet and exhaust valves.

The engine outputs for the ‘Frenchies’ were mind boggling for production cars at the time. Those power figures were not far off some full race engines of similar capacity in the period and held a position as the best specific (Bhp/Litre) power outputs for normally aspirated production engines for decades. Read road tests and the surprising joint comment is that the engines were also driveable, not hairy chested monsters… truly remarkable. That brings us to another anomaly in these machines…they were not lightweights… the later 1255 version weighed in at the same mass as the original Mk 1 Lotus Cortina at 850 Kg.  Homologated for racing at 790 Kg, it made the Gordini some 30Kg heavier than the homologated race weights of both the Alfa GTA/Lotus Cortina and 45 Kg heavier than the Twin Cam Escort as racers…assuming everyone played by the rules of course.**

**There is some speculation as to what the real racing weights of many of the contestants were during these times simply because there was far less policing than there is today.  For reasons that escape me, the Gordinis were allowed to run at around the same racing weight as the stock R8 of 700Kg, though to get to that figure needed quite a bit of work.  There is of course the story of the Scheckter Gordini supposedly having doors open spontaneously as he hit the brakes entering Hoals Hoek for the first time after some body surgery …!  

In terms of straight performance, both the 1108 and 1255 cc variants went to the top of the class, with the smaller engined car matching the new 1800 MGB GT and the larger version practically identical to the Lotus Cortina in both acceleration and flat out pace.  I keep saying this in these stories…not easy to get your mind around this sort of performance in the mid 60’s…until the arrival of these machines, small 100Mph saloon cars did not exist…

Before we get to the remarkable ability of the R8 Gordini to morph into a competition car let’s take a look at the environment and a little bit of the background. Again taking 1964 as a marker, the other small ‘quickie’, the 1071 Mini Cooper S, had been on the market for some time and had established new rules in the game of fast small saloons. Minis were the hot number as far as both racing and quick small cars were concerned and, in most countries, had things pretty well sewn up. One can scour the results of saloon car racing worldwide during that period however and you will seldom see a Renault R8 anywhere near the winner’s circle…except in SA… where, incredibly, a modified 956cc R8 finished 4th overall in the Kyalami 9 Hour in 1963. The next year this was repeated, coming 4th again with a 1108 R8… neither car a Gordini… and both were first saloon cars home.

This is where the story really begins…

We will get to the role of Gordini version in all this shortly but we cannot ignore just how good the R8 (and for that matter the earlier Dauphine despite the reputation) was on track without the Gordini badge…and also important to note the name that kept popping up associated with the car…Scamp Porter. The racing success of the Gordini had its roots in the evolutionary development process in which the stock R8 played a massive role in the learning curve. The first signs that something spectacular was on the horizon happened in those successive Renault performances at the annual nine-hour international at Kyalami. Lead by Scamp, the talented group of drivers/tuners involved, some starting with Fiats, honed the performance of the R8’s & R10’s to outstanding levels of performance and reliability***. Even when the 1108 Gordinis arrived on track for the first time (1965) it took a while for these new machines to assert regular dominance over their sibling R8 Alconis. Take a peek at the finishing stats for the 9 hour in the 60’s.

This info from the “Racing Sports Cars” site which is worth a look by anyone interested in more detailed results on the 9 hour races 1961 through to 1970.


1961 9th Overall  Dauphine      Colin Burford / Phil Porter
5th Overall  Fiat 1100      John Conchie / Scamp Porter

1962 10th Overall Fiat 2300     John Conchie / Scamp Porter

1963  4th Overall  R8 956cc     Colin Burford / Phil Porter  (248 laps)  (1st Saloon)
7th Overall  Dauphine     Arnold Chatz / Scamp Porter (240 laps)

1964  4th Overall  R8 1108cc   Arnold Chatz / Scamp Porter (252 laps) (1st Saloon)
11th Overall  R8 1108cc   Colin Burford / Phil Porter (238 laps)

1965  9th Overall  R8 1108cc                       Geoff Mortimer / Mike Hooper (256 laps)
12th Overall  R8 1108cc   GORDINI     Colin Burford / Phil Porter (250 laps)
13th Overall  R8 1108cc   ALCONI       Scamp Porter / Spencer Schultz (248 laps)
16th Overall  845cc           DAUPHINE GORDINI    Pera/Meyers (244 Laps)
17th Overall  R8 1108cc   GORDINI     Eric Adler / John Conchie (242 laps)

1966  5th Overall R8   1296cc GORDINI      Scamp Porter / Eric Adler (252 laps 1st Saloon)
6th Overall R10 1275cc ALCONI        Colin Burford / Phil Porter (250 laps) for the times

1967  9th Overall R8   1296cc GORDINI      Colin Burford / Phil Porter (273 Laps1st Saloon)

1968  9th Overall R8   1296cc GORDINI      Scamp Porter / Chris Swanepoel (267laps 1st Saloon)

1969  4th Overall R8   1296cc GORDINI      Scamp Porter / Geoff Mortimer (277laps 1st Saloon)

This was an endurance race for top Sports/racing cars and one of the few races worldwide where saloons were also in the mix. Race fields were large… up to 40 cars starting the event having engine capacities from small four cylinder machines (under 1000cc) up to large V8’s…including the purebred racing Ferraris, Lolas, Cobras etc.

Just by way of example and to give an idea of the task, the following entry list for the 1969 nine hour gives an idea of the type of cars entered in the race…to finish 4th overall amongst that lot makes a statement indeed…

graph Gordini

There are a number of significant issues associated with this period. Firstly, Renault finished inside the Top ten every year except 1962, punching way above their weight in this international Sports/racing car classic. Secondly, just observe the consistent improvement in average race speeds over the period from around 110Kmh in 1963 to 126 km/h in 1969. That kind of improvement takes some doing and the finishing record of these cars is amongst the best ever seen. By my calculations the consistency with which this happened arrives at a classified finishing rate, 1962 thru 1969, of over 73% excluding the 1967 results (this stat shows 5 entered and 1 finish, the remaining 4 not known, so prefer to leave it out)

The following table shows the finishing record for Renault R8/Dauphine along with two other top contenders for best reliability shown below.

Renault saloons started               Classified as finishers

1962                                                                 3                                                2
1963                                                                 4                                                3
1964                                                                 7                                                4
1965                                                                 7                                                5
1966                                                                 4                                                4 (100%)
1967                                                                 5                                                1
1968                                                                 2                                                2 (100%)
1969                                                                 2                                                1* Accident

TOTALS    29                                              21                 73%


The average classified finishing record for the event “62 – ’69   All Comers:                       54%

Volvo 122S          Classified Finishing record ’62 – ’68                                                            67%

Opel Kadett ‘A’  Classified Finishing Record ’63 – ’65                                                          86%

Racing through to 1965 took place under the sponsorship and support of the Lawsons Group who, in addition to their association with Renault, were running an equally formidable race programme with 122S Volvos. This was a powerful racing set-up filled with some of the brightest people in the racing/tuning business at the time and we will get back to that later in this piece. The 9 hour in 1963 tells just how well established this group was…taking 5 spots in the top ten, locking out all places from 4th to 8th with a combination of Renaults and Volvos.

Ironically the only car type to beat this finishing record was that of the 993cc ‘A’ body Opel Kadett between 1963 and 1965. That figure represents 7 starts with 6 finishes, this over only a three-year period before the General pulled the plug on any excitement, so not directly comparable…nevertheless…these ‘newbies’  finishing 9th and 10th overall in ’63 and ’64, showing terrific potential as a competition car before the GM ‘No Racing’ policy made it very difficult for Dealers to compete.

It is also worth mentioning that the established “world order” in saloon car racing, in which South Africa represented an otherwise normal profile, had placed the newly launched big brother to the 1071, the 1275 Mini Cooper S, as the dominant force in the 1300cc class. Whilst Minis were professionally tuned by folk like George Armstrong and Garth McGillewie also extremely competitive in SA, the top Renaults were quicker. Running under group 5 regs the R8/R10 in the hands of these men could knock-off a works spec 1293 Mini. When running the more restrictive group two regs, the Adler/Conchie developed Alconi R8/R10 took care of the little square boxes as well. This happened nowhere else in the world where the two could go head to head on equal terms.

6. Group 5 Alconi


7. Group 2 R8


So, from this well-established platform, the arrival of the R8 Gordini provided a step to another level and simply tore up the rule book everyone else was playing by. What do I mean by that?…well maybe we need some context…because Renault were ultimately to shake the tree quite spectacularly. Ford literally owned top tier saloon car racing in SA from 1964 through to 1967 and had won the SA driver championship in each of those years. In 1968 the game changed and having taken care of the Minis, the Renaults were eventually to square off against Ford for the trophy. Renault took two of the next three (and very nearly three on the trot) despite a huge effort from Ford.

8. Scamp 1968


1968 went to Scamp Porter, a faultless performance in the 1296cc Gordini. 1969 went to Peter Gough in the Twin Cam Escort…but by the skin of his teeth and only because Scamp’s 1300 Gordini (unusually) failed championship leader Geoff Mortimer on the last lap of the last race. 1970 went to Renault again, with the exceptional 1000cc Gordini piloted by Geoff’.

That was the Macro scene but what had really happened was that Ford had imported two class winning Broadspeed based cars from the UK for the 1969/70 seasons to take on these pesky Renaults…. The classic Broadspeed Anglia driven by Gordon Briggs and the 1300 Escort equivalent driven by Clarry Taylor arrived on the scene in huge anticipation as potential class leaders…both were upstaged by the Gordinis***

9. Broadspeeds


As if that was not enough, things got tougher for Ford as they found their dominance of the 2 litre class (quickest local saloon to that point) under threat from one Jody Scheckter in a supercharged 1400cc Gordini. Peter Gough (RIP) told the wonderful story of a practise day at Kyalami in late 1969 running the Twin Cam Escort and at the bottom of the main straight approaching Crowthorne, noticed a white car some distance behind him, seemingly having exited the pits. He never gave that much thought until arriving at Crowthorne the next lap…to see the white car having closed the gap significantly…welcome the Supercharged Gordini… one Scheckter at the helm.

Let’s not forget that this scene played out only in South Africa, the Twin Cam Escort we talk of not only having been the first works racing escort to touch tarmac in the world (in FVA Cosworth engine guise initially) but also being without question the fastest of its type… and would have rung the neck of the next fastest UK Alan Mann TC equivalent in a heartbeat…So…it  may sound odd to say this but in 1970 it is highly likely that the Scheckter Gordini was amongst the quickest Group 5 Racing saloons anywhere on the planet. Quite an achievement for a group of local racing folk with no tech support on this project from Renault in France.

10. Y151

Y151 2 LITRE TWIN CAM WITTEKLIP  ¼ mile 1970

11. Jody 1969


The supercharged Gordini was a very significant milestone in production car race engine development because aside from the prodigious power generated, it highlighted what was clearly a need to update the racing saloon rule book… I will cover that in the text in later paragraphs. Nevertheless, this development forced Ford’s hand and had Meissner develop the 1400 turbocharged Escort in response. Racing in 1970 then turned into a massive R&D exercise for the top runners with reliability and development niggles dominating…and allowing the consistent performance of Geoff’s 1000cc Gordini to win the day. Things were getting expensive and saloon car fields were dwindling…in 1971 the group two regulations arrived and the national championship changed to regional racing…now with asthmatic carburettor rules…super/turbocharged race cars were out.

 *** I have mentioned in previous posts that the R8’s were probably the least ‘trick’ cars in the system and by way of comparison, we can look at that Ford attempt to run a competitive car in the 1300cc class with the Broadspeed 1300 Escort. The 1300 race version of the car was based on an enlarged version of the Anglia pushrod Cosworth/Holbay MAE downport head arrangement but in standard form as a 1300GT, it certainly was a very average road car. In Works racing form though, with the full Ford group five homologation sheet chucked at it, here was a car that was reported to be producing upward of 145bhp at 8500rpm and able to nail the opposition in the UK.  In SA however, quick as it was, not quicker than the Gordinis.

So how did this all happen…

I am not going to repeat the good that has already been written about Scamp and the Gordini because for those that want to know the full story, I would highly recommend you read the excellent Bio penned by Eric Adler on Scamp and the ‘glory days’ of Renault under his tutelage. This is one of the very best of its kind and combines the story of the man, the machine, the direct support from other talented colleagues and the technical detail. This can be viewed on http://alconi.blogspot.com and has, in addition to the story, subtitled inputs covering all manner of pictures and history by many other contributors.  I have taken the liberty to use excerpts of this script and some pics to maintain the flow of this story.

In expounding the virtues of the R8, it makes the case for the car to have been easy to modify and for any reasonably competent racer to be front runners ‘out of the box’ as it were. This is not the case. The reason I gave the background over the period starting in 1961 was to explain just how much development took place in the earlier years leading up to the arrival of the Gordinis in ’64/65.

Starting from scratch in tuning any car type for racing, there will be difficulties which, if not overcome, will restrict the ability of the machine to be really competitive. One can ‘fix’ these in three ways…1) Most obvious… cheating…not a good idea because firstly it’s wrong and you will eventually be found out, secondly, one cannot share the detail (A key aspect of the Gordini R8 success), 2) by changing the homologation papers and specifying lots of trick stuff to make it fast enough…Ford were masters at that… but in this case Renault France were too distant to get involved  or 3) by applying smart ideas repeatedly within the rules.

Scamp was an exponent of #3, his brilliant attention to detail, ability to conduct and execute endless trial and error testing being hallmarks of his work ethic in unlocking the hidden potential of the R8.

The R8 had two main issues needing attention;

  • High engine compartment temperatures which increased during racing resulting in excessive air induction temps and consequent power loss.
  • Less than ideal handling and traction.


Power loss related to air temperature is a very significant factor. For those not experienced in this field it can be explained this way. For every 10°C change in air inlet temp there will be a nearly 2% change in power output due to the reduction in air density. Colder air equals increased density and more power…hotter air equals decreased density and less power. For the R8 there were many factors influencing engine area heat. Firstly, being rear engined, there was difficulty in getting enough cold air into the engine compartment and, due to the relatively low pressure differentials, purging the hot air did not happen as readily as it would in a front engined car. The two main sources of heat were the radiator (located at the rear of engine compartment) and the exhaust manifold. One can imagine in a full throttle racing environment that these two heat sources would be extreme & if not purged from the engine area would cause temperatures to climb.  A typical example would be temperatures rising from around 25C at the start of a race to for example 50-60C during the race, which would result in an immediate Power loss of around 6% -7% for that alone.

12. R8 Engine Bay


That is not the only downside with heat. The above pic of a group five R8 engine bay gives an idea of the Carburettors and exhaust manifold in close proximity on the left side of the engine (as viewed from the rear of the car) and (below) the cooling fan pulling hot air through the rear mounted rad into the engine compartment. The contributing issue in this scenario is the increase in fuel temperature which in itself causes further power losses due to changes in fuel density. That, combined with the reid vapour pressure of the fuel (the temp point at which petrol gives off vapour), can result in localised float bowl boiling at a temp lower than one would expect… If one adds the engine coolant operating temp to this lot, it further complicates the issue… the biggest unknown in all of this is how the engine sees this combination of temperature and density changes. Those carefully adjusted tuning settings made in perfect conditions, mean very little when temperatures escalate because both ignition timing and fuel mixtures move away from ideal. I have seen power reductions of over 15% easily reached when all these variables are stacked together. The situation can get to a very abrupt engine cut when the temperature rise results in fuel vapourising in the delivery system.

13. Fan


To counter the problem, Scamp firstly added ducting to improve air flow and covered the exhaust manifolds with asbestos tape in all areas of the exhaust within the engine compartment. Heat shields were added to reduce radiated heat. All this improved the situation substantially and power loss was minimised. (please read the Adler Text to see the degree of difficulty in achieving this effectively)

The R8 Gordini was also not immune to this condition and all the mods learned were transferred to the new car but saw two further improvements which solved the issue entirely. Some smart thinking with the rule book allowed moving the radiator to the front spare wheel well (removing the rad from the engine compartment) and the X-flow cylinder head moved the Carburettors away from the Exhaust manifold, with cold air available from the rear air vents on the engine cover. Race Gordinis in SA could breath fresh air …

14. Front Rad


15. Rerouted Cooling



Given the final brilliant handling and cornering capability of the race cars in later years, things did not start out that way. Stock R8 Gordinis on their 15” wheels and tyres had handling characteristics that could be described as ‘quirky’ and needed plenty of work. In mentioning the swing axle issue earlier, I did not do this lightly…the phenomenon of wheel ‘tuck under’ so beautifully illustrated in the below pick was a reality and remained a characteristic needing to be controlled in a race environment. The improvements made over time were significant and would keep any young engineer very busy in writing a paper on the magic that finally transpired. The one rule applied by all who raced R8’s though was a simple one… “Don’t lift off in a corner” and if you could do that, you were well on the way to benefitting from the other positives available to you.

Scamp came up with the first step to control these rather rapid handling transitions by making a quick ratio steering rack (mod went back as far the Dauphine days). This gave him the chance to respond to whatever was happening. That sounds like a simple solution to a problem but for Scamp it also became the tool by which his analytical approach allowed him to measure further improvements.

16. This


17. To This


The switch to optional 13” wheels (from the std 15”) helped by lowering the car, affording better tyre selection and shortening gearing for track use.

Next was the lowering of the suspension which created the 4.5   degrees negative rear camber so characteristic of the race cars, giving the car altogether better on-the-limit control…but still not ideal. Then came the handling and traction improvement that Scamp implemented against all recommendation from experienced racers. He experimented with a locked differential, something that on a conventional front engine/rear wheel drive car would result in massive turn-in understeer. Contrary to the dire warnings of the nay-sayers, the mod worked brilliantly. Progressive improvements in optimising spring loads helped but the next big breakthrough happened with increased front anti roll bar rates by increasing these progressively to a spec eight times stiffer than the standard car.

Those two paragraphs make it sound like it was a walk in the park and at this point we should reflect on just how little real knowledge was available on tuning suspensions back in the day. When one takes the modern situation with race engineers able to tune every conceivable aspect of suspension geometry and spring/damper settings… fully understanding what is required to change the handling/grip characteristics on entry/mid and exit to a corner…in the 60’s this was very much a black art. It took hours and hours of painstaking trial and error (much of this carried out on public roads), sometimes requiring multiple changes to effect an improvement… and here is the key to it all…One had to have the ability to feel/measure all this and there were very few who could do that effectively…Scamp could and more significantly applied the findings and shared the knowledge.

So good was the balance of the cars by this time that on a wet or damp track, switching to good road rubber made the cars quicker than the best RWD machines on wet weather race tyres. The pace these cars could generate in these conditions was incredible, lapping faster than works Ferraris, Lolas and the rest during thunderstorms in the classic 9 hour.

In the end we are talking of improvements to the chassis of the Dauphine/R8/Gordini effected over around eight years. As race tyres evolved from the ‘marie biscuit’ Dunlop rubber of the early 60’s to ever wider treaded tyres and in the final brief period for the Gordinis, on slicks, the cars responded and in the words of the men who drove them, simply made the already excellent handlers easier to drive.


We have touched on the high output of the Gordini engines in standard form (85Bhp/Litre) but maximising the potential of the engine in race form proved to be something of an initial challenge. As mentioned earlier the Alconi team (Conchie and Adler) had been hard at work on the standard R8 engine going back to the early 60’s and by the time the 1108 Gordini arrived in 1964, the stock engine in race trim was not far off the early Gordini competition engines.( The 1275cc Group 5 version of the Alconi package producing more power than the 1108 Gordini) The team soon found the secret to the new mill and when the 1255cc version arrived, output was raised substantially with Scamp and team moving this up to around 112Bhp/litre by the end of development. The testing was done at altitude and the figure quoted in Adler’s bio of 130 Bhp at 7800 – 8000Rpm translates to a figure of over 148 Bhp at sea level. I have absolutely no doubt that that figure is the highest output achieved on a Gordini 1300 anywhere.

Again, the details of engine mods done on are available on the Adler doc

One of the sharpest engine men in the business at the time and someone who did not perhaps get the recognition that the likes of Meissner and van Rooyen achieved was John Conchie. Also, with such a close-knit group of people involved in the Renault activities and by that I mention Porter, Conchie, Adler, and Mortimer, this put together the most powerful concentration of brainpower and race tech capability in the 60’s SA race environment. That takes some saying, for here in SA we were already blessed with fantastic individual talent throughout the racing game.

As enthusiasts we know that extracting optimum horsepower from a production-based race engine takes long hours of modification and testing. The highs and lows of the development process hinging on the tiniest details making the difference between good and exceptional horsepower. From the info provided in the Adler doc, there are three things worth mentioning.

18. Engine


  1. Increased valve sizes. This is not an easy exercise in a Hemi Head config, and to increase valve sizes by 4mm on inlet and 2.6mm on exhaust needed extreme attention to detail. The careful porting below the valve seat and positioning of the valve mentioned in the text must have taken months of work to establish the final spec.

One further interesting issue with Gordini Cylinder head is that the engines ran an “odd” inlet to exhaust valve size difference. Most two-valve applications both then and now would run a valve sizes where the exhaust valve would be 70 to 75% of the inlet valve area. On the Stock Gordini this figure was 86% with a very small difference in size between the two. The race engines brought this to around 80%…still way off the norm.


  1. Camshaft selection. Considering that race camshafts were available from Gordini/Renault, it did not take long for Conchie to decide these needed some improvement and found a suitable Iskenderian profile which was used as the basis for a locally developed cam. This was especially relevant in the unique 1000cc engine for Geoff’s car.
  1. The issue of the timing gear tensioner regularly stripping the ratchet device during a race was notable in that the team could pinpoint the event, which knocked-off a little top-end power, by measuring a loss of 0.3 sec in lap times… Just how much attention to detail is required to be able to know that??… simply highlighting the level of expertise applied in getting these cars to run as fast as they did.


When 1969 arrived the buzz in Port Elizabeth was all about the Broadspeed Anglia. The car had caused a minor sensation amongst enthusiasts in the Bay. Amongst those, a 37 year old Lionel Rowe (the eventual owner of the car in the 70’s) once told me the story of a visit to the docks to see the car being offloaded. Having arrived in its burgandy and silver Broadspeed colours, the car destined for Ford to be repainted in the blue and white Meissner/Ford livery and into the capable hands of Gordon Briggs (RIP). Port Elizabeth being motor town had some unique advantages for us young enthusiasts. Ford were based in the city along with General Motors and VW down the road in Uitenhage… so a place jam-packed with petrolheads at the local Rover car club. The ‘Broadspeed’ as it became colloquially known was an instant icon and having won the 1966 British Saloon car title… with ace driver Briggs now taking on the local national championship…1000cc class wins in SA seemed a foregone conclusion…Or so we thought.

…meanwhile in Johannesburg an altogether different development was taking place which was to ultimately upset that applecart. The Renault team had worked out that it was possible to homologate a 1000cc version of the 1108 cc R8 Gordini. How this was done I have no idea and in my way of reading the regs…not legal… but stranger things have happened and anyway the 1000cc Broadspeed was about as far away from a stock 997 Anglia as anything in the world could be. Only the engine block and bodyshell bore any resemblance to a showroom 997. Despite my misgivings, the Renault was far closer to a road-going Gordini than the Anglia… it is therefore fair to say that two ‘wrongs’ in this case made a right.

And what a competition it turned out to be…

Between Geoff Mortimer, Scamp and John Conchie the 1000cc Gordini engine took shape, the final version of which ran Geoff’s specially made short-stroke crank and stock Gordini bore. That little sewing machine produced 122Bhp…a figure almost identical to the 120Bhp of the Holbay/Cosworth MAE engined Anglia. Both engines capable of huge rpm, although the Ford a good bit more “peaky” and able to buzz to 10 000Rpm… needing that specially homologated 5 speed ultra close-ratio ‘box

With the two cars at the same power and race weight, the unlikely match-up resulted in the closest racing of any class in 1969…I say this again, nowhere else on the planet could it be imagined that a one litre Renault R8 would take on that particular Anglia but this was the Geoff and Gordon show, with much door handle and wheel banging throughout the season. Amazingly this ‘once-off’ development proved reliable with Geoff taking more class wins. By the last race at Kyalami, some attrition in other classes found him leading the driver’s championship from Peter Gough in the Twin Cam Escort …where a fateful decision to use Scamp’s 1300 Gordini (this the best option for a class finish/win) the car inexplicably conked on the last lap of the championship and he lost the title to the Meissner car.

19 Broadspeed


I have seldom criticised Ford in these writings because along with huge overall involvement in racing, they were the architects of the new era of saloon car racing in the 60’s and were magnificent in what they did…but…when the chips were down in the early 70’s and real competition arrived they seemed to have lost their ‘spark’. Instead of bolstering support for the Anglia in the 1970 year, Gordon found himself virtually on his own. The Anglia, surprisingly, needed development to keep with the Gordini, Gordons team finding it difficult to get the machine running on the fuel injection set-up.  That failed to happen, so Geoff had an easier ride to the title.

The 1000cc Gordini is just another of the successful and unique race car developments which happened in SA during the 60’s… The Meissner Escort Twin Cam, the 1000 Gordini and the supercharged Gordini, amongst many terrific developments, are the top three tech achievements from the era.

THE SUPERCHARGED GORDINI   —   The Rules Had To Change

My thoughts at the time were that the 1.4 x rule, which allowed the theoretical engine capacity increase for turbo/supercharging as a levelling ‘class-up’ exercise, was just another line of nonsense in the rule book put there to deter anyone attempting to build a car with such a spec. In fact, the general feeling was that it was too much trouble and not worth it…even doubtful that the correction factor would suffice. Little did we know at the time that that 1.4 X rule was to be a Mickey Mouse stat in years to come. Figures 4 to 5 times the normally aspirated values would be closer to the ultimate available horsepower from a pressurised intake system. We were soon to find it necessary for the rules to change altogether and the turbocharged Gordini helped to do just that.

The learning curve in setting up effective regulations in the game of modified saloon car racing took years to get to workable formulae. The road to get where we are today has been a continuous stand-off between the rule makers and smart racers. The ultimate balance between race engineer cunning and remorseless opportunities provided by the ongoing technology explosion are never likely to be fully resolved…and that’s ok. But…by understanding the variables, experienced race engineers have now become the gatekeepers and as an example, the Australians have come close to the ideal with their Supercars. The reason they have a competitive series is because they have evolved with the tech and have confronted the big issues, putting together regulations which keep the racing tight. That is despite folk still moaning and criticising… but… there is not any saloon racing on the planet that relies more heavily on the combination of driver talent, setup, preparation and attention to detail rather than scoring some hidden magic tech advantage to get to the podium.

In the late 60’s the rule book was like a rubber glove…clever engineers had plenty of opportunity to use and stretch the rules.

Eric Adler was the brains behind the supercharged Gordini and because there were no ready-made suppliers of appropriate superchargers, had to find one… and adapted a Vickers Viscount cabin air pressure compressor to do the job. The Adler texts cover the development of this engine beautifully so I will again not go into the detail, save to say that he had a 1400cc version of the Gordini engine producing well over 200Bhp.  This was a time of trial and error and the reality of pressurised intakes was unknown…not only on production-based engine reliability but on every aspect of vehicle function from temperatures, fuel requirements through to transmission durability.

20. Supercharger


Here is the remarkable thing, this tiny development team put together a R&D exercise that would have been daunting even for a manufacturer …and with limited resources managed to get the machine to the track by 1970 (and a few appearances in 1969),. In reality and by what we know today… it should not have worked as well as it did. The Renault transmission design engineer would, for a start, have had a heart attack when confronted with a 40% increase in torque…yet the team managed to get the gearbox to survive that…but not the huge gearbox oil temperature issues which did cause havoc.

As we know well, the mechanicals were transferred to Jody Scheckter’s Gordini and he was able to show the potential of the package lapping Kyalami for the first time in under 1min 40’s. Like any radical development however, reliability became an issue and this exercise really required fundamental design changes from the mothership updating the Homologation docs… but not forthcoming from Renault.  In Adler’s own words he describes the engine Power loss issue that had returned…again simply not being able to purge the heat generated by the supercharged engine. As a consequence, racing during 1970 was patchy for both the S/charged Gordini and the Turbo’d Escort with both teams confronted with development challenges which would take time to resolve.  (We will do some research on this and see if we can bring some accurate history to the table)

We tend to forget that the ‘blown’ Gordini, along with the turbocharged Escort represented leading tech in this field and that during the late 60’s local saloon race car engineering was on par with the best anywhere in the world. (from memory only BMW Germany were involved in turbocharging the 2002 in the late 60’s) When 1971 arrived, with the group 2 regulations terminating the high tech group five stuff, we unfortunately did not get to see the final outcome of these two developments.

Who won the battle between these two machines that year?… Pretty even I would say and difficult to do a direct comparison because of odd appearances at different tracks and reliability niggles. The two cars seldom ran against each other conclusively… but lap times suggest very similar performance. The Escort just edging the Gordini at Kyalami, holding the 2 litre lap record in around 1min 38sec, half a second quicker by the end of the year.


The story of the Gordinis would not be complete without commenting on the culture within the Renault Team established by Scamp in his involvement with the car. The first, which comes over very powerfully in the Adler story is the selfless nature of the man. I have been involved peripherally in the tech side of motor sport over the years and the one thing that is a given, is how most development folk keep their secrets well locked away. That is normal in this very competitive environment and absolutely nothing wrong with that, particularly when those race secrets are part of a business.

The breath of fresh air that was Scamp, however, turned this upside down and his sharing of information amongst the Renault racers set in motion a wave of competitive Gordinis across the country. We were all stunned by the rapid rise to fame of Jody and his Gordini. The car came out of nowhere and whilst most credit goes to Scamp for freely sharing the tech detail with Jody, we soon learned that Scheckter was his own man, the car very much a product of his hard work, quite surprising drive and competitive spirit. It did not take long for Scamp, the master, to be caught by this young man and let’s face it, the rocket start given Jody by this early involvement put him on course for greater things a lot sooner than he would otherwise have done. Since that time there have been many cars run in the Transvaal, Natal and Western Cape and we will put together a second edition to this story once we get through the top ten.

But there was another indelible impression left on me by the Renault team during the 60’s and this was the high standards applied to their preparation of cars destined for the media. Not many companies took it seriously and one could see this from the comments by test crews and the inconsistency in the performance of many products. Renault made sure their performance oriented R8’s & R10’s were properly set-up, presented at road tests by their tech staff and their tuning expertise absolutely first class. Comparative results were often tabulated giving readers easy reference to information and importantly… made sense.

21. Table


When we view the myriads of wonderful tech achievements across the spectrum in the 60’s, (and for a moment put aside the race to the moon) one of the most powerful is the story of the concept, design, development and production of the Boeing 747. For those that do not know the background please hook up to the YouTube tale of Joe Sutter and “The Incredibles”. This was a pen and paper exercise devoid of much computer input, started on a wooded piece of land without a runway…the end of the project resulting in the most successful aeroplane ever built taking off from that environment in just 29 Months from concept to flight. The planes are still being built today. Compare this to the laboured (dare I say electronically assisted) gestation of the A 380 40 years later…and you will see just how incredible the Boeing tech team was… as an aeronautical achievement, unlikely to be surpassed.

Thanks to our own ‘incredibles’ we have had the pleasure of seeing the secrets of R8 Gordini unlocked.  We therefore tip our collective hats to …Scamp, Eric, Geoff, John and Jody…a team that set in motion a raft of racing Gordinis in SA….this was a force on the world stage and also an achievement not surpassed by any other group similarly involved in the tuning of these cars..

22. Scamp


23. Geoff


24. Adler


25. Conchie


26. Jody


NEXT Number 4 in this series….
The Mini Cooper S