Being in the right place at the right time

The year was 1978. British Leyland launched the TR7 V8 Rally Car onto an unsuspecting British public and during its first season Tony Pond put BL Motorsport back on top with a string of impressive results. A glamorous British Sports Car with a charismatic British Driver. The Nation loved the evocative images of this low, sleek Rally Car with its growling V8 thundering along the tight lanes of Isle of Man or power sliding sideward through the forests of Northumberland.

In 1978 the idea of building a works specification TR7/V8 Rally Car would have been a bit like contemplating building a Subaru World Rally Car today – something only a works team could undertake. At the time most Clubman Rally enthusiasts were running MK1 Escorts or Minis, which were little more than standard cars with a few extras bolted on. Building a TR7/V8 in your own garage would have seemed impossible, but Dave Bulman set out to show how it could be done. His efforts were serialised in Cars and Car Conversions magazine and the car became known as the Triple C TR7 V8.

The biggest challenge was the shell. Fortunately David was a Technical Advisor to BL Motorsport and had access to the latest factory information. The Works cars had extensively modified shells with the roll cage ‘let in’ to both the A-posts and roof rails. The bodies were seam welded for additional strength and modified to accept the special works suspension components. Dave Bulman started with a brand new shell and, mounting it on a 'spit', set about laboriously coping the works modifications.

The next problem was the engine. Today we think of Holly carburettors and Offenhauser manifolds as being commonplace tuning accessories but in '79 little was understood about rallying V8s. BMC 4 cylinder or Ford BDA – no problem, but tuning a V8 was uncharted territory for British rally cars. Luckily the Americans knew a thing or two about performance V8s. Armed with a pile of US tuning parts Dave set about testing various combinations of carbs. and manifolds. The second problem was that the works cars ran a ‘dry sump oil system’. In order to prevent the engine running short of oil due to severe cornering forces, the engine oil is pumped to a tank in the boot rather than being stored in a sump below the engine. This allows a greater volume of oil to be kept available for the engine and removes the danger of air being drawn through the oil pump and causing bearing failure.

The cost of the BL Motorsport dry sump kit was prohibitive so Dave devised his own conversion based around a Cosworth oil pump.

Handling was taken care of by using the works suspension components. At the front end Bilstein dampers fitted in works front uprights with adjustable spring platforms and a lowered TCA mounting. The sub-frame was solidly attached to the body with turned aluminium replacing the standard rubber bushes.

Early rear suspension failure lead initially to a stiffened and strengthened standard axle arrangement but this was later changed to a Salisbury 4HA works axle and 5 link suspension set up. Most of the rubber mountings were replaced with spherical joints and the spring platforms were modified to allow the cars ride height to be adjusted.

It's all very well having 260 BHP under your right foot but you have to be able to stop the car as well, never a easy task on a slippery forest stage with a hairpin bend coming up at 70mph! Braking was achieved by using disk brakes all round, AP Lockheed aluminium 4 pot callipers on the front and 2 pot on the rear.

Weight distribution is another important area, which impacts both performance and handling characteristics. The Navigator’s seat was moved backwards and as much weight as possible was moved to the boot including Battery, Dry Sump, Washer Bottle, Air Horn pump and plumbed in Fire Extinguisher. At the front the headlamp motors were removed and both bumpers were lightened to reduce inertia when turning.

The car was registered at the end of 1979 with David’s work being detailed in the 12 monthly issues of CCC during 1980. Readers were kept up to date with David's rallying successes and problems as he further developed the car and these later modifications were included in the series of articles.

In March ’81 David sold the car to Ian Dunham who continued campaigning the Triple C car for a further five years, successfully competing in many international rallies including the 1983 Lombard RAC. This was what gave me the idea for the theme of this year’s display at Billing during the TRDC National: a service halt on the ’83 RAC Rally. I’m grateful to Mike Robinson who kindly brought along his 1977 Triumph 2500 Works Service Vehicle to add a further sense of realism to the scene. Using old magazines we carefully recreated all the correct 1983 graphics for both cars and tried to show the tools and spares that would have been carried 21 years ago to keep a TR7 V8 Rally Car running throughout the event.

By 1999 I knew quite a lot about the triple C TR7 and had used David Bulman’s articles to build my Sprint and Hill Climb Competition TR7 V8 DHC, later going on to win the V8 Class in the TR Register 2002 Championship. At the time I could not establish what had happened to the triple C car after the end of the 1986 rally season. It was generally assumed that the car had been dismantled for spares.

Being interested in all kinds of old cars I had accompanied a friend to see a Stanley Steamer held in a small private collection in the Yorkshire Dales. During this visit I mentioned my interest in racing my TR7 and in Historic Rallying. Imagine my surprise when the owner showed me to another barn and where his son stored a TR7 Rally Car. He lifted an old tarpaulin covering the car and revealed the missing CCC car!

He explained that it had been driven in one rally in 1987, after which his son had lost interest and the car had not moved since. It looked as if the car had survived intact, with almost all the unique Bulman modifications still in place. When I returned home I once again studied the CCC articles and inspected the photographs. Yes, it was definitely the car that David built in 1979. A deal was soon struck and the next week I collected the car along with a considerable quantity of spare competition parts. I was now the proud owned of a rusty, group 4 rally car. My wife was not impressed by the faded red white and blue monster, which now occupied her car parking space in the garage!

Neil Sawyer