TEAM MEISSNER’S CINDERELLA

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By Gerrie van Heerden

During the second half of the sixties, saloon car racing was on a high. Not only was a national championship up for grabs but also the category championship titles. There were four categories: Class W for cars up to 1000cc, Class X for cars up to 1300cc, Class Y for cars up to 2000cc and Class Z for cars over 2000cc. Perhaps the best remembered of these was the Y151 Ford Escort, but here’s the often forgotten tale of another trick Ford offering from local tuner Meissner and its pilot Clarry Taylor.

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Ford had already acquired the ex-John Fitzpatrick Broadspeed Anglia. The little Anglia was to be piloted by Gordon Briggs in Class W. For Class Y there was the Peter Gough Escort, and in Class Z the thundering Ford Fairlane – the car that replaced the monster Galaxie – driven by Bob Olthoff. To complete the line-up Team Ford needed a car to compete in Class X in all categories. The usual talks took place between Ford SA and Willie Meissner, whereafter a little green Escort arrived at the Meissner Workshop. This car would be driven by Clarry Taylor.

The Briggs Anglia was powered by a Cosworth MAE engine. These Cosworth engines, with their downdraft inlet ports, were known as screamers as they used to rev to 11000rpm. A 997cc MAE engine was good for 110bhp – MAE engines were so popular that Cosworth only supplied kits. Tuning wizards like Ralph Broad (Broadspeed), Allan Mann, Holbay and Brian Hart all used the MAE to build many trick motors. MAE-powered cars won a whack of races in Formula 3, Formula Junior, Sportscars and Saloon cars.

Willie Meissner had decided that the Cosworth MAE was the route to go for the Taylor Escort and got all the bits and pieces from Cosworth. The 5-main bearing crossflow engine was removed and in its place came a 3-main bearing Ford 109E block bored out to 1300cc. Laystal Engineering supplied the all steel crank and rods. Special steel bearing caps also made their way into the motor. The rocker shaft received the all-steel treatment and the standard Ford timing chain, tensioner and sprockets were all binned. Special steel sprockets were fitted to the crank and camshaft. The crank drove the camshaft by means of an intermediate gear mounted on an extended main bearing cap and a high pressure/volume oil pump was driven off the front of the camshaft and partnered with a dry sump system. An oil cooler was a must-have item as well.

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The head was a work of art. The horizontal side-inlet ports were neatly blanked off and new ports were drilled in from the top. Looking down these ports one could see the valve stems and valve heads. Mounted on top of these ports was a set of IDA Webber carburettors. The Lucas distributor was fitted with Mini Cooper S points as the standard points would bounce once the revs went up.

In keeping with the modifying theme the exhaust manifold was somewhat unusual. It was a 2-into-1, 2-into-1 and a final 2-into-1. The crank and water pump pulleys were replaced by steel items and a toothed belt, while an all-steel fly wheel was mated to a racing clutch which in turn was mated to a 4-speed ZF close ratio gearbox with a final drive handled via a 4.444 LS differential.

Suspension was set up just like Y151, keeping both back wheels on the ground but lifting the inner front wheel. The standard Escort front brakes were replaced by Cortina Mk2 discs and callipers but at the back Willie and his machinist Bill Steyn made their own disc brakes.

All this allowed the motor to spin to 9000rpm (and more if required) but for reliability and safety, gear shifts were done at 8200rpm. Clarry Taylor tells of a motor that never let go in all the years that the car was raced. Details of the cam profile are no longer available but it must have been well designed as Clarry was able to circulate in close company with Fred Cowell in the ex-Basil van Rooyen Mustang at the old Kyalami.

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As time went by, Willie would constantly tinker with X134 and the car got faster after every race. Finally, it was painted in the same blue colour with white panelling down the side as the rest of the Team Ford cars. The driver’s name was displayed on the rear wings with the blue oval logo next to it, and Firestone stickers completed the appearance. Both Y151 and X134 had ‘Meissner Escort’ painted on the white panelling. In fact, the two cars looked so similar that many average racing fans never realised that there were two Escorts in Team Meissner.

To make life easier for the time keepers and mechanics, the front panel of the Taylor car was painted white for easy identification. Taylor recalls that both Escorts, the turbocharged Y151 and ‘Cinderella’, went back to Ford in PE. The turbocharged Y151 went drag racing, blew up its motor and changed hands a few time in SA before moving back to the UK, where it still lives. At the same time that Cinderella graced the race tracks, another Escort in white battle dress was having ding dong battles with her. This Escort was driven by the late Koos Swanepoel. The engine was pretty much the same in terms of head and cam drive designs. Holbay Engineering supplied all the bits and pieces. It would be safe to assume that the valve sizes, porting, combustion chambers, timing and cam profile would be Holbay trade secrets. Koos did not fancy the two downdraft IDAs and made up his own inlet manifold which curved over the top of the tappet cover. He then bolted two side-draft Webbers onto the new manifold. Koos later moved up to Class Y when he fitted a 1640cc engine. 

What happened to Cinderella and the Swanepoel car? Maybe someone out there knows…

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