Welcome to this week’s FC Throwback, where we take a look back at some of our favourite previous feature cars. This week it’s John’s Aston Martin V8 powered Vauxhall Magnum from back in 2012…
Much as I’ve got a fascination for all things car culture related, I’ve also got a huge, geeky soft spot for ’70s and ’80s race and rally cars, and this Magnum you see here has the biggest spot of all.
Not only does it pack the kind of outlandish, hilariously ineffective aero package that only a racer from the ’70s can, it’s also powered by an incredibly left field engine. The car is called the John Pope Special and was built and campaigned in the Tricentrol Super Saloon Championship by – you guessed it – John Pope from 1974-1977.
Back in 1973, John was looking for a way of competing in the Tricentrol Championship on an even footing with the bigger teams, and a crash damaged Aston Martin DBS V8 provided the perfect powerplant.
To be fair, any bodyshell could’ve found its way onto the Aston floor plan, but John’s connections with Vauxhall (thanks to a season spent racing a Viva) meant a Griffin was eventually chosen. The story goes that John was giving the Vauxhall top-brass passenger laps round Mallory Park in the aforementioned Viva and happened to mention his desire to build an Aston-powered racer. Barely a month later a brand new Magnum shell – fresh off the Elsmere Port production line, was delivered to John’s Hertfordshire farm. The ball was well and truly rolling.
As you can see, the Aston Martin’s track is considerably wider than that of the little Viva’s, which necessitated the humongous flared arches just to stay legal. Back in the early ’70s aerodynamic grip was still a largely unknown quantity, meaning that mechanical grip was all-important.
That goes a long way to explain those gargantuan tyres on equally massive wheels – a whopping 14.5x15in at the rear. Although the majority of work was carried out by John himself on the farm, a select group of off duty Aston Martin technicians were on hand to help squeeze the huge 5.3-litre V8 into the Vauxhall, namely David Morgan, Arthur Wilson and Barry Rowledge.
Underneath the Magnum body with fibreglass and alloy wings, the John Pope Special is almost completely Aston Martin DBS V8. The engine is mated to a ZF 5-speed gearbox and a massive Salisbury Powerlock diff with a triple plate clutch.
The Aston’s plush interior was ditched early on in favour of a basic safety cell, comprising a roll cage, safety bulkheads, manually activated fire extinguishers and a collapsible steering column. The only concession to those long trips to UK race circuits? ‘70s-tastic eight track complete with Elvis and Chuck Berry cartridges!
By early 1974 the car was up and running and ready for competition, so John drove it to the first race meeting at Brands Hatch. That’s right, this thing is fully road legal. The Aston V8 proved reliable, but the trouble was, by the end of the season it had become apparent that anything less than 400bhp wasn’t really enough to compete with the top boys.
Re-enter the three aforementioned Aston Martin boffins, who suggested John go down the forced induction route with the Magnum. Remember this was back in 1974, almost a decade before Renault made turbocharging work (sometimes) in its F1 cars. And here were a mechanically skilled farmer and a trio of off duty engineers jerry-rigging a 900bhp, turbo-fed racecar into existence. Remember all this was carried out in an
Come the start of the 1975 season, the John Pope Special was up and running again. On full boost the car could generate up to 900bhp, though it was normally pegged back to ‘just’ 600 for the races. Amazingly the car’s reliability remained intact, with John managing to finish every race that season, often on the podium.
Over the course of the following three seasons the car continued to evolve. John took the Magnum to the 1975 Brighton Speed Trials and set a class record of 23.1 seconds over the kilometre distance, with a 150mph terminal speed. Even more impressive was a top speed run where an insane 180mph was clocked! Crazy stuff!
By 1978 the Super Saloon Series was winding down and by the end of the decade, the mighty Magnum had effectively been retried. But that wasn’t the end – this wide arch monster now lives with a new owner and still gets used for the occasional circuit blast. Good times!
TECH SPEC VAUXHALL MAGNUM
Vauxhall Magnum bodyshell with fiberglass and alloy wings, arches and spoilers; retractable headlights aiding turbo cooling; heated windscreen, Perspex windows.
Aston Martin DBS 5340cc aluminium alloy V8 326ci; 6.5:1 compression ratio; 100x85mm bore x stroke; ported and polished heads; uprated gaskets; modified exhaust manifolds with twin AiResearch turbos and a shared wastegate producing 12-18psi; uprated Bosch fuel injection system; ZF 5-speed gearbox; AP Racing triple-plate clutch; Sailsbury Powerlock differential with 3.33 and 3.77:1 ratios; uprated splined driveshafts.
Vented Aston Martin Girling discs all round; Lockheed 4-pot calipers; water-cooling system for the front discs; front independent wishbone arrangement and co-axial coil springs; height adjustable Spax springs and dampers; anti-roll bar; Rear De Dion rear axle located by a Watts Linkage with parallel bracing; rose joints; height adjustable Spax springs and dampers; anti-roll bar; shortened Aston Martin DBS V8 chassis; steel spaceframe with mounting points for the engine and front suspension; Revolution one-piece alloys; 12x15in at the front and 14.5x15in rear; Goodyear tyres all round.
Corbeau bucket seats with race harnesses; safety bulkheads; Aston Martin DBS V8 gauges; collapsible steering column; ‘Fire Eater’ manual fire extinguisher.
Everyone who helped to create such a mental car!
Words Jamie Arkle Photograpy Michael Whitestone