In my previous race at Rockingham last autumn, the Vauxhall’s engine dropped a valve, damaging a piston and a con rod. Over winter, the top of the engine had to be rebuilt and we made a few more modifications to the head at the same time. Dyno readings showed that power was up to 140bhp. The original production car had about 80 and it raced in 1963 with about 100.
At the same time, the gearbox synchros were breaking up and changing gear was becoming more difficult. The box was stripped and the report that came back confirmed that it was a racing Jack Knight unit from the 1960s with very strong straight cut gears, but the synchros looked like standard Vauxhall items and were not up to the job.
We also modified the suspension, putting some harder springs at the front and another leaf at the rear in an attempt to reduce body roll. The plan in the early spring was to do some testing but, as always, I ran out of time.
My first race was with the HRDC at Silverstone’s International Circuit on 4 April. The track was cold, damp and it was drizzling. Not great, and I wondered about softening the whole car, but concluded that the track was not wet enough and I would race on dry settings.
Practice was exciting, to say the least! I find that very wet or very dry is fine, but a mixture of the two is challenging. A dry line into Stowe, for example, merged into a damp apex, resulting in understeer then oversteer, but the car behaved in a predictable manner. I qualified 15th out of 26 starters and was thrilled to bits.
After practice, though, we noticeed that the front nearside wheel had cracked around the wheel nut flange. If the wheel had broken it could have caused a big accident, so I was grateful to Sean, my mechanic for the day, who spotted it.
The race was at midday, and with the weather conditions staying much the same, the track did not dry out completely. I made a good start and overtook two cars early on, but immediately got on to a damp patch at Chapel and lost the two places - then another.
The format was a 45-minute event with a pitstop. Solo drivers like me had to come into the pits between 15 and 30 minutes, get out of the car, shut the door, open it, get back in, do up the seatbelts, and go out again.
Just as the pitlanewindow opened at 15 minutes, however, a Ford Zephyr rolled at Club. It was a real mess but fortunately the driver was fine. Out came the safety car – I decided to take a chance and pit exactly at 15 minutes.
The stop went well and I caught the train of cars behind the safety car, which peeled off after about three laps and we were racing again. A lot of cars went straight into the pits, so by that time I was up to fifth place and thoroughly enjoying myself - except for the fact that the car was misfiring between 3000 and 4000rpm and the tachometer was doing strange things, suggesting there was an electrical gremlin somewhere.
I managed to drive around it, but it did impede me, particularly when dicing with a pair of Austin A35s and a Riley 1.5. I was quicker than all three of them down the straights but, coming out of any bends, they either overtook me or were on top of me as the engine bogged down. All good fun, though.
As the race drew to a close, I couldn’t catch the car in front and was well in front of the one behind, so I backed off. I finished eighth, which is the highest place I have ever achieved - I was delighted.
I’m looking forward to my next outing – at Silverstone again, on the Grand Prix circuit – but I must get that misfire sorted.
C&SC and Vauxhall are supporting Paul as he campaigns his ex-Bill Blydenstein VX4/90 in historic racing through 2015
Photography by Mick Walker and Tony Baker