THE V8 MK1 ESCORT

“Everything new is old.” Heard that one before? Well it’s true. When people moan about putting BBS wheels on a Golf, because they want to see something ‘different’, you know what? Chances are somebody did your ‘different’ thing a long time ago. I’m sure in the future there will be two distinctly recognisable eras of car modification: pre and post internet.

Karl Fiara’s Mk1 Escort is a trip back in time for me; sat here in the glorious sun of the recent Players Classic Show at Goodwood it transports me back around 20 years. To when you had to be at one of the big season-opening shows to see what everybody had been building during the winter, where you could catch up with friends without knowing how many laps of the Nurburgring they’d done the month before,when the excitement was tangible in the air and cars like this Escort two-door were more commonplace and that can only be a good thing.

There was something familiar about the Ford when I first saw it the previous weekend at the Classic Ford Show at Santa Pod in the UK. It was parked on the Wheel-Whores.com stand as the guys had decided to award it best wheels of the show. A quick conversation saw them invite Karl down to Goodwood for the following weekend, where the Escort did a great job of attracting the crowds.

The Players crowd rightly enjoyed the old Ford. Walking around it and then talking to owner Karl Fiara it still felt achingly familiar, but it was still no small surprise to find that the Escort was built over 20 years ago. Which places it slap bang in the middle of my ‘golden era’ for car modification in the UK. It’s an age thing y’see: I’d just started driving and anything seemed possible, regulations were slacker than they are now, the police didn’t run your plates from half a mile away through a computer and there was less traffic on the road.

Sure the Escort isn’t immaculate. It has proper patina though; it’s a survivor, unlike a lot of its contemporaries. The early ’90s were a time when half decent cars that weren’t overly complicated were cheap enough to chop up without really caring. You had sleek, simple, cool and sometimes boxy shapes from the ’60s and ’70s that could be built in a home workshop on a budget without looking like some vintage renegade that was about to fall apart. Pastel shades were popular, grunge music and rebellion were in the air and change was happening after the all-consuming hunger of the ’80s had exploded at the end of the decade.

Like I said, it was pre-internet and you’d make a scene by building something to go to a show, and using it until the annual inspection test ran out. Cutting the roof off and welding a four foot gearstick on it, roof chops that left a windscreen the size of a letter box, home built chassis with the abundant Rover V8 slotted in because there were plenty of them in the scrapyards and they sounded good. Splatter painting it at home, the louder the better; it was about having fun. That’s what this Escort reminds me of.

The V8 first went in around ’86/87, with the Escort being stripped down shortly after and the full build taking place. So what you’re looking at now is a 1969 Escort bodyshell mounted over a home-built, ladder style box section chassis. It was all built up by Warren Cole, who amazingly was here at Players Classic too. Karl bought the Escort complete as you see it in the late ’90s, tucking it up in his garage shortly after, only getting it back out very recently as Warren lives fairly locally and it seemed like a good opportunity for a reunion (also as he’d thought previously the Escort was long gone).

But it’s obviously very much alive. Nowadays any Mk1 Escort two door shell is worth big money to the right buyer. So to see one like this is unique. I know of a handful of V8-engined examples but all of them retain a very ‘enthusiast’ orientated look to them. This thing? It stands alone for me. What Warren wanted was a fairly simple, very low cruiser that he could use anywhere, any time.

He used everyday, affordable, mechanical parts that combined in the right way to make something that grabs your attention. It wasn’t long after the era of everybody naming show cars, so you used to add small phrases here or there, much like a well-placed sticker these days. Like the hand painted “Kin LOW” on the handbrake cable carrier. Did we mention it was low? Well maybe not as much as you might think.

That’s the beauty of channeling the body over a new chassis: everything is tucked up out of harm’s way. Airbags were still a decade away from becoming vaguely affordable or practical so this was the best way of keeping everything safe.

The reason why it was on the Wheel-Whores.com stand is because of these Revolution RFX wheels. We all know hot rods and drag cars run big and little combos, but one of the stand out, gutsy choices of this build has to be the 9x16s out back…

… and the skinny 5.5x13in same style on the front. Revolution are a traditional UK-based wheel company and the RFX is probably one of their most memorable wheels; it’s a real late ’80s/early ’90s choice. You can often date a build by wheel choice and these are spot on; remember again most factory cars were riding around on 14s or 15s maximum at this time. Many smaller cars still ran 13s, so the big 16s on the back were literally that. BIG.

No inner wings mean clearance isn’t a problem and the rear end has been tubbed to cover the 245/50x16in tyres. The pastel paint spills over to all the components and suspension parts; again this bright colour coding was really indicative of the time. Looking back I can only really think this was because body-coloured bumpers had been around for five to ten years on mainstream manufacturers cars, so the modified scene started to emulate this and add a little more.

Although of course the Escort has retained its factory standard chrome bumpers and oblong headlights, rarer than the usual round items and showing it’s now desirable 1300GT origins.

The body is largely stock, save for some stretched front arches, but there are a few extra holes around the place. The most obvious is for the standard SU carbs to poke through the bonnet, as clearance was needed and let’s face it, those two inches or 50mm would have meant more space under the sills… not an option.

The other one is for the top-mounted windscreen wiper, which although looking a little messy to some eyes is a clever solution to a problem that would otherwise thwart a builder with less imagination. There’s just no room above the back of the engine for a traditional set-up, although Karl and Warren were discussing the cable-driven wipers of a Mini that could be used now…

Inside you’ll find a period RS steering wheel and behind that a standard set of Rover P6 gauges that talk to the engine and gearbox easily.

There are no top-mounted pedals like standard, because of course Warren made the chassis, which means the hidden master cylinders are now activated by these.

Another blast from the past are the Huntmaster bucket seats. Sure they’re no Takatas but again these are twenty-five years old and you felt like a proper race driver when you bolted a set of these in.

Here you can see them reflected in the polished door panel; again, simple and stylish, it all helps to keep the Escort of the period yet timeless all the same.

This is probably the best view to see just how dramatic the difference in wheel size is, which just adds to the toy car effect I hear people mention when they see the Escort.

The chrome window trim on a Mk1 Escort has always been one of my favourite styling cues; it neatly encapsulates the glass in a bubble, making a very ordinary shape kind of special. You can also see the almost body colour, swage pinstripe line. Another ’90s favourite was extra locks and security devices, because you could ‘lift’ a Mk1 Escort as easy as a toilet seat.

So how does a car built on a budget in a home garage twenty five years ago keep turning heads today? To tell the truth I’m not sure, it could be a case of being ‘simply clever’.

There are no wild graphics, it’s just very well observed. Both Warren and now Karl wanted a very low Escort, itself a very popular car, that could be used any time. Add some instantly recognisable wheels in a slightly outrageous choice of sizes, a burbling V8, pastel bodywork and you tick a lot of boxes.

I’m just glad Wheel Whores spotted it and convinced Karl to come along to Players Classic, so now you guys get to see the Escort after all these years.

And yes, I know I’m perhaps being overly sentimental towards the time this was built, because of course, every generation has its favourites. That’s how the march of time works, but this simple Escort proves to me that good things never go out of fashion and now a whole new audience can appreciate it and be inspired.

 

Bryn Musselwhite
Instagram: brynem
bryn@speedhunters.com

 

Karl Fiala’s 1969 1300GT Ford Escort V8

Engine
Chassis mounted, Rover 3.5ltr V8 on standard SU carbs

Driveline
Rover four speed manual gearbox, narrowed Ford Capri 3.09 baby Atlas axle

Suspension/Brakes
Rack and pinion steering with modified arms, Cortina Mk4 independent front suspension, shortened springs, narrowed cross member, Cortina Mk4 front discs, Jaguar rear coilovers located on L brackets,  panhard rod, Competition Engineering ladder bars with solid rod ends, standard Capri drums

Chassis
Custom-made box section with narrow front end and kicked up rear, body channeled around 6in

Wheels/Tyres
Revolution RFX 5.5×13 with 135/80×13 tyres (front), 9×16 with 245/50×16 tyres (rear)

Exterior
All steel 1969 Ford Mk1 Escort, removable front end, stretched front arches, reformed bulkhead, raised tunnel and floor, tubbed rear, Citroen roof mounted wiper unit, enlarged radiator aperture in front panel, DZUS bonnet clipped at front, additional door locks

Interior
Two Huntmaster bucket seats, Rover P6 instrument panel, handmade pedals, underfloor clutch/brake cylinders, bespoke fuel tank in boot, battery fitted NSR, right hand side hand brake lever using Morris Minor cables

 

 

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RAT FINK’S ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE: THE VOLVO HEMIZON

Ok, I’m going to be completely straight with you. Before this shoot, I didn’t know a huge amount about gasser cars. So this was an incredibly cool experience. It also transpired pretty quickly that this wasn’t actually a gasser – simply a car that has elements of the style. Actually this car has lots of styles going on. So what is this Volvo thing, then? It’s a baptism of fire! That’s what it is!

Take a good look at this picture above. The car you see, is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the wildest vehicles I have ever got to spend some time with. Cars are sometimes considered to be pieces of art by some, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this jaw-dropping Volvo Amazon with Hemi motor deserves a place in the history of time. I genuinely think that this will strike a chord with each and every one of you.

One thing’s for sure: whether you’re a lover or a hater of this vehicle on face value, you can’t help but get drawn in by it. You immediately want to take a closer look. The first feelings for me were mainly that of confusion. I mean, what the hell is going on? That jacked-up front end, those mega-wide rear tyres and the monstrous intake up front… it’s a sight to behold. I mean, this thing looks hungry! It’s a scary looking contraption. I say contraption because it’s not technically a Volvo model any more. The Chrysler Hemi motor sees to that. So what is it then if it’s not a Volvo?

It’s a Hemizon! The huge Hoosier stock car slicks have been installed for one purpose and one purpose only: BURNOUTS! And that’s what this car is all about: going crazy! With that in mind, and like many Scandinavian builds, form is dictated firmly by function and the wheel fitment is proof of this. As I read that last sentence back it almost seems more sensible to use the term body fitment, rather than the usual wheel fitment descriptive. It looks to me like the bodyshell is almost an afterthought to the rolling chassis, but I can assure you that is not the case.

No, in fact, everything was an afterthought to the engine. I want to talk you though the car’s heart – its crazy soul – much more but I’ll come to that a little later on in this feature. First let’s explore the roots of this gorgeous-looking shell.

The owner and builder of this car is interested in things of the metal variety. Always has been. And it shows. Henrik Larsson is his name and he’s the owner of Larsson Customizing. Henrik’s a super cool guy with a great sense of humour. When I asked him why he liked gasser cars – he simply laughed and said that he’s not really into them! Or at least he wasn’t until this build. Henrik’s passion is Pro Street Cars and hot rods. But he has a very open mind.

A mind so open in fact, that he allowed Emanuel Sandél, who works for Larsson, to bring some gasser craziness into his thought process to create this hybrid of tuning styles. And crazy this build most certainly is. But it’s almost more stunning than it is crazy. It’s stunning in more than one way as well. Yes, it’s a visual assault, but it’s a visual assault that was almost never to be. Why? Because it was pulled from the junk yard. It was almost crushed. “There was no trunk, no fenders, seats, windows or any of the parts that made it a car. Just a shell,” Henrik explains.

So the shell itself has been brought back from the dead. The Hemizon is actually a zombie! If you’re familiar with gasser cars you will know that weight reduction is often employed to allow for fast quarter mile times, and items like fibreglass body panels and plexiglass windows all play a part of this build.

Often the new lightweight glass would be coloured for added stupidity. Henrik admits, laughingly, that the green hue can make you feel a little bit nauseous and disorientated after a long time of being in the interior. As you can see, the innards of the Hemizon are as radical as the exterior. The interior in Henrik’s creation almost looks poisonous though! But nothing is quite as intoxicating as the motor…

There are four pipes poking out of the wings and towards the sky, which suggest that this car has a serious bark.

Taking a step back and working your way around the vehicle brings the enormity of the motor into full view. It’s something to be impressed by.

And here is the imposing power plant. The size of it is actually considered to be small. Yes, you read that right – this is a 331 cubic inch Chrysler V8 Hemi motor from 1954. The engine was purchased from a customer who was removing it from his race car. At the time Henrik had no clue what he was going to fit the motor into, but he knew he had to have it. Why? Quite simply because of the noise it made. That, to me, seems like a perfectly good reason!

For quite some time, the 331 Hemi sat on a stand in the corner of Larsson Customizing. It wasn’t left unused though. Oh no. Every Friday, Henrik and his team would get some fuel and start it up on the stand to listen to the V8 roar into life and sing angrily until the fuel ran out.

“We love Fridays!” smiled Henrik. “What about the shop upstairs?” I asked. “They hate Fridays!” he laughed. So it was motor first and everything else later. It’s a plan that you’ve got to admire.

Facing the Hemizon square on is kind of scary. It looks hungry.

The super big intake could potentially eat you.

To hear this car start up is insane. To see the Hemizon move is a beautiful experience. It’s art in motion.

This ’54 lump is also kind of special because it’s the last year Chrysler made that motor. It’s also the only year that the extended bell housing wasn’t employed on the 331.

The pre-’54 motors had extended bell housings which could be more challenging to fit into other cars. The power output is beefed up by an old GMC 6-71 blower with on-the-top double Edelbrock 650 carburettors.

The power’s not huge: 400-500hp is expected once it’s fully developed. But it’s the brutal delivery that’s impressive. Just the bark of the motor displays how incredibly instant the throttle response is. This of course, makes this motor perfect for laying down rubber.

The front axle is an old hot rod set-up combined with some drag racing parts from 1960 which include some very skinny wheels of unknown origin.

The lightweight front axle is complemented by a small fuel tank which keeps weight down. Interestingly, Henrik is talking about fitting the radiator system at the rear to allow for a further transferring of weight.

As previously mentioned, Henrik’s passion is metalwork and the art of creating panels and parts. He showed us how it’s possible to make pretty much any body part for a car with just four tools. We’ll bring you an in-depth shop tour story detailing this impressive skill. But in the meantime I just want to show some appreciation for the lovely way this metal body has been crafted. It’s so raw and yet so well executed. Don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s something kind of sensual about metalwork like this. It’s honest and true.

Speaking of honesty and truth: Henrik opted to leave this classic piece of rot that almost all Amazon’s suffer from. The cars collect salt and the result of that is this corrosion just about the headlights. These particular headlights are convex items from the older Volvos. Henrik installed these because they look cooler.

The rear axle is an 8.75 Chrysler item from 1950-1960 and the back end is pretty sparse as you can see. There’s still a bit more development to go on out back. The language barrier was a bit of an issue, but from what I can gather from Henrik, his main objective is to do the very best burnouts possible!

The inside of this car is a beautiful array of metalwork fabrication. These door cards have been hand-rolled by Henrik to create what can only be described as a kind of faux-leather diamond quilt. Albeit made from sheet metal. They’re stunning and completely unique. I’ve never seen anything like it. The skill involved to create such perfectly crafted panels like this is very impressive. A dying art? Maybe so. But at least there’s people like Mr Larsson who are still extremely passionate about sheet metal. So much so, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a vehicle with so much creative fabrication. Nothing is rushed with Larsson; everything is very thoughtful.

And so to the driver’s seat. This is where Rat Fink’s Zombie Nightmare takes place. Rod and Henrik joked that this car would be a super-intense dream gone wrong for Rat Fink. During his sleep Rat Fink would experience a succession of images, concepts, emotions and sensations. He’s supposed to be in a hot rod, but in actual fact he’s in this Volvo’s driving seat. This car breaks the rules and it’s so wrong – this nightmare drive shouldn’t be happening to Rat Fink!

This car is so off-key it just shouldn’t work. On paper it doesn’t add up. But Henrik Larsson’s managed to pull this off perfectly. It seems to me that the Scandinavian people love to break with convention. Whether this is on purpose or not, I haven’t worked out yet. I don’t know if these guys are even aware of the rules to be honest, or maybe they just don’t like them.

To me, though, this car isn’t a nightmare at all. It’s a vehicle that rhymes with sensory overload. I absolutely love the way Henrik and the team at Larsson Customizing have brought the shell back from the dead. I admire the skill involved and the fabrication work. And I’m very excited to see this car used with no mercy whatsoever. It might be Rat Fink’s Zombie Nightmare, but for me, and anyone that’s into fantastic stupidity in its greatest form, this Hemizon is positively dreamy.

 

Words by Ben Chandler
Twitter: @Ben_SceneMedia
Instagram: @ben_scenemedia

Photos by Paddy McGrath
Twitter: @PaddyMcGrathSH
Instagram: speedhunters_paddy
paddy@speedhunters.com

 

Rat rod stories on Speedhunters

Other gasser stories on Speedhunters

 

Henrik Larsson’s Hemizon

ENGINE
Early Chrysler Hemi 331 from 1954-1955, GMC 6-71 supercharger, double Edelbrock 650 carburettors, exhaust through front fenders.

DRIVELINE
Three-speed automatic transmission (TH350) from GM/Chevy with adaptor to fit from hotheads early Hemi parts.

SUSPENSION/BRAKES
Custom rear shocks and fully custom front end set-up from hot rod/drag car.

WHEELS/TYRES
15×10-inch Slot Mag wheels (rear) with NASCAR slicks, custom wheels and drag car tyres (front).

EXTERIOR
Volvo Amazon body, complete new floor, custom firewall, trunk floor, all manufactured one-off by Larsson Customizing.

INTERIOR
Full custom interior by Larsson with a really old steering wheel of unknown origin.

 

 

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