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Whickham and District Motor Club Limited

Development of a rally car

The second rally car I ever owned was a Vauxhall nova 1600. I bought it in 2004 and when we took ownership it was pretty standard. The following is a look back at how we managed to develop it whilst keeping to a budget and the ups and downs with the car.

When the car arrived it had been a forest rally car up in Scotland most of it’s life. It was seam welded but aside from that there was not a lot in the way of fancy components or competition parts. The first thing we did was fit larger 265mm brakes from a Vectra / Calibra etc. These were a cost effective upgrade at the time but still fit under the 14” gravel wheels.

Below: My first gravel (or what turned out to be snow) event, Kall Kwik rally 2005. Chris Dodds was navigating and we went OTL after an off.


Below: First Class award (3rd in class 2), again with Doddsy, Pirellli rally 2005.


Next we tried to get the weight down. So we fitted Perspex instead of glass, replaced the steel bonnet and boot with fibreglass items and tried to lighten the shell as best we could. It was hard to go too far with the shell as ideally you would consider each component when building the car. An example of what we managed to do is having the steel tank guards remade with lighter alloy, battery relocated inside the car etc.

Below: With the above modifications in tarmac trim the car weighed just under 800kg.


I wanted to try and get the handling a little sharper so we modified the tie bars to pull the castor forward, and poli-bushed the car throughout. Next thicker rear bilstein shockers were added and we beefed up the front bottom arms to reduce flex. I bought a kit to convert the rear beam to discs also, using a VW golf alloy calliper.

Flying high: Mull 2008, I rolled the car a couple of hours after this was taken



More Power!

The last thing to try was to get a bit more power out of the 8 valve engine. 8 valves were always a little down on power compared to their 16v competition, but for reliability ours was second to none so we decided to stick with it. Over 2006/2007 we upgraded to the following; Omex management system, kent cam, ARP bolts, vernier pulley, 2.0 red top injectors & coil, bottom end lightened and balanced, ported & polished head, solid lifters. We never had it on a rolling road, but the engine was bomb proof and always went like stink! All this power needed slowing somehow so I bit the bullet and bought some alloy AP 4 pot callipers. They were always great brakes but had a habit of eating discs which were costly to replace.

Below: Rebuild & Repaint by PM Motorsport after the roll.


With increased BHP we started having problems with stripping gears in the standard gearbox. Eventually I bought a second hand Quiafe 5 speed dog box, with a homemade internal gear linkage. The box was always spot on, i had a choice of CWPs, 4.2 for faster stages and 4.8 for single venues. Sadly I can’t say the same for driveshafts. The new box used bigger F20 joints and hubs. Having never broken a small standard driveshaft I had multiple problems with joint/shaft/hub failure. Looking back I should have bought proper competition items but due to price I never did it. Instead the cheaply produced pattern & modified parts let me down time and time again. Luckily the LSD was tight so it would move out of the stage in one wheel drive. I never actually retired with the above issues but boy did it give us some headaches and some stage maximums!

Below: All finished after the rebuild – the best she ever looked.


The last thing I did with the car was fit a set of Jenvey throttle bodies. Once re-mapped the car went a little better again and sounded fantastic. They were sourced second hand but were a nice bit of kit. Another thing we changed was taking the cheap 4 branch manifold off the car. As well as needing frequent repairs which was a pain, surprisingly mapping revealed the standard cast manifold and down pipe allowed better gas flow.


A short time after I’d had the car repaired and resprayed after the Mull roll, myself and fellow club member Adam Bradford managed a sponsorship deal. In 2009 we entered 3 championships, finishing 1st in class in two and 2nd overall in the other. In 14 rallies that year the car broke down once (stupid modified hubs!). That year was by far my best year in rallying. In February 2010 with a tear in my eye I sold the car to raise funds for a 4wd car, but it’s definitely a case of gone but not forgotten!

Pete Gibson

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