Turbocharged Volvo Amazon or supercharged Jaguar S-Type, old or new(ish), road or race… whatever’s your poison, the results of the latest Tom vs Dale fixture have been a real shot in the arm for the UK modding scene.
From Fast Car. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Simon Miskelly
When you see them approaching in your rear-view mirror, these two cars make very different statements. The Jaguar is a discombobulating presence, at once fusing the sensible profile of the large luxury saloon with the overt race elements pilfered from competition machines of the early twentieth century. The Volvo appears slick and olde-worlde, perhaps rather lower than your brain might anticipate, but appearing for all the world like a cherished and pristine classic. The drivers serve up a similar contrast: in the Jag, Dale’s eyes glare out of his helmet with a chipped-granite stare that’s half-Fangio, half-Logano; Tom, conversely, is the archetypal Volvo owner – a voluminous beard and a cheery smile. But then, as a switch flicks in their brains and both drivers bury the throttle at once, we find that these wildly different cars aren’t so different after all. Howling past you on one side is Dale’s supercharger, hard-boosting his brawny V8 like a proper old-school circuit fiend; on the other, Tom’s screamer pipe yelps as flames spit through the bonnet of an Amazon that’s a million miles away from the one your geography teacher used to potter to the garden centre in. This is the peculiar world of Tom vs Dale. Nothing is as it seems, and everything is extremely noisy.
Regular Fast Car readers should be well-versed in the formula by now. Both working for Meguiar’s UK, Tom Clarke and Dale Masterman are pitted head-to-head by their bosses to see who’s the slickest and sickest (although not necessarily quickest) at building scene-busting custom cars that fuse show and go in unique style. Cast your mind back to 2019 and you’ll recall that Dale opted to create a low-slung W114 Mercedes, while Tom went full nineties with a Skeete-kitted Renault 5 GT Turbo. Both cars were intelligently conceived and flawlessly executed. So how could the fellas follow that up for the next battle? With the Meguiar’s overlords keen to square them up for round two, a budget was agreed and some decisions had to be made: what on earth could they do to top the last time?
The results, as you can see, are pretty bloody devastating. Once again, two entirely disparate cars, plucked from different eras, executed in wholly differing styles. And yet they have so much in common – the offbeat thinking, the quality custom parts, the show-winning finish, it all speaks strongly of Meguiar’s brand values as much as it does of how Tom and Dale really do have a keen eye for this stuff.
Let’s start with the Jag, shall we? This particular model has always been a bit of a hidden gem. While the Jaguar S-Type R is revered among a niche clutch of enthusiasts, for a lot of people the S-Type in general is a bit of an old man runabout. With its sixties-inspired styling and range of specs that err on the side of sensible, it’s become a slightly forgettable entity – but in R form, it came complete with a supercharged 4.2-litre V8, sodding great brakes, a perky chassis, and a surprisingly pissed-off attitude.
“The Merc ticked a lot of boxes for me last time, because low-and-slow with retro cool has always been my style,” says Dale. “But this time I wanted to push out of my comfort zone and focus much more on performance.” So the big Jag made a lot of sense as a base, being a modern car with a retro tilt. Having over 400bhp on tap in stock form doesn’t hurt either. And Dale knew just who to talk to about fusing road and race in style. “Swallows Racing in Bristol are one of the country’s top Jaguar specialists,” he says, “and they’re involved in numerous Jag race series competing with modern and historic machinery.” A perfect fit, for sure, and the chemistry was strong from the off. Big plans were afoot.
The chassis was the starting point. Dale’s usual modus operandi is to bag things to get them as low as possible, but let’s not forget that he’s deliberately out of his comfort zone here. So Bilstein were commissioned to develop some bespoke two-way race dampers, mated to Eibach springs for a perfect melange of road comfort and track aggression. The massive OE brakes were treated to Tarox discs and friction material, hiding behind a frankly awesome set of rims custom-built by Image: the Billet 46 is a three-piece alloy split that looks like a classic steel, and it works so well with the ethos of this brawny Jag. The period knock-off hub spinners evoke the D-Type racers of yore, while the sticky Nankang AR-1s bring us right back to the modern race-track. And that’s also the venue that informs the interior: heavily customised Cobra buckets and Schroth harnesses join a substantial rollcage, it’s all very racy… but with an excellent twist. You see, much as it’s been developed for the track, the Jag will spend most of its time on the road, so Dale’s seen fit to include a full suite of audio gear from Kenwood to keep things civilised. He’s retained the full dash, and even kept the wood trim. It’s about as classy a track car as one can imagine.
Things are just as serious on the outside. An exercise in subtlety, with more and more details revealing themselves the more you look. It’s all very slick, with the bumpers smoothed and the rear door handles deleted, and the most radical difference is the rear arches: the stock radii would never have accommodated wheels this massive, so they’ve been custom-flared by The Motor Works with the arches from a spare set of front wings. And that paint? Of course it’s British Racing Green, but there’s a whole load of extra pearl in there – because a Meguiar’s build needs to gleam, that’s the whole point.
The original quest for power has been properly addressed, you can be sure of that. Obviously there was already a lot to start with, and the fun thing about supercharged engines is that you can find a whole load of extra grunt by fitting a smaller ’charger pulley and mapping it in. The V8’s also now rocking race injectors, a custom hard-pipe induction setup with Pipercross cone, custom exhaust system and MaxxECU management. Following a thorough mapping by The Tuning Shed, Dale’s gazing down the thick end of 500bhp. And just to prove how serious he is, the ponderous slushbox went in the bin, with Swallows Racing carrying out a world-first manual gearbox transplant using the ZF cog-swapper from an S-Type diesel.
All in all, a pretty devastating piece of kit. But don’t go thinking Dale had cruised to an easy win here… because over in the other corner of the workshop, Tom was busy getting his Scandinavian groove on.
“I basically wanted to do old-and-fast, and my first thoughts went to a BMW with a big engine; say, an E30 or 2002 with the M5 V10,” Tom grins. “But they’re expensive options and our budgets for Tom vs Dale are modest and strict to keep the competition fair. My thoughts then turned to something we don’t really see much here in the UK, and I’ve seen a couple of really nicely-built Volvo Amazons so the search began.”
Finding one of these cars is easy enough, but finding the right one at the right price can be rather a lot harder. It’s possible to buy a solid example in the UK that won’t require a whole load of body resto, but then he would have been blowing most of his budget on a car he’d then be cutting up. On the other hand, the Renault 5 he bought last time needed so much bodywork that it consumed most of the time and budget. The answer, then, lay in Europe: “My searches showed that Volvos in Europe were reasonably priced,” Tom recalls. “My colleagues in Meguiar’s Sweden helped with the search and located a really clean, honest car. The only problem was getting it home, so we did the only thing you should do… road trip! My colleague Patrick and I flew over to Stockholm and drove it 1,681 miles back.”
Such an epic journey is a brilliant way to get to know a car, but the growing emotional connection didn’t put Tom off the idea of cutting the thing up – and job one was to tear apart the chassis and get braced for power. A huge amount of fabrication was involved, first at GM Bodycraft and then The Install Company; a narrowed Volvo 240 rear axle was joined by a four-link setup, Watt’s linkage, space-framed rear end, raised and strengthened chassis rails… everything at either end is bespoke and designed to get the car running as low as possible, with custom Bilstein dampers working with a full Air Lift Performance setup.
When the car was ready to go over to Deutsch Tech for the next stage, things stepped up a gear. Raptor Coatings came out to cover the entire underside in black tough-coat, and then it was time to get the engine build underway. Tom was keen to run a single-cam B-series; the default engine choice for a lot of Volvo modifiers is to throw a T5 in, but Tom was intent on an OEM++ theme, and wanted a larger version of the SOHC B to provide a tasteful element of continuity. As such, the engine you see here is a B230FK, the 2.3-litre four-pot pinched from the 940 Turbo. Rather than push for silly numbers, Tom simply wanted something that would pop and bang and give a bit of poke, so it’s still running stock internals but has been fully rebuilt by Deutsch Tech. However, with the Owen Developments turbo (related to the units they supply to the BTCC), a plethora of custom parts from Forge Motorsport, and that bonnet-exit exhaust and screamer pipe, it’s a long way from stock. Call it 300-320bhp, along with a whole lot of fireworks. And brilliantly, the ECUmaster management has a Bluetooth sender allowing Tom to use his phone for readouts, so he was able to keep the original dials in the dash.
That thread of originality was vital to the overall vibe. Look at the seats: they’re full-on custom jobs, based on the Cobra Nogaro but reshaped and with the headrests removed, and Tom wanted to trim them in the original fabric of the seats the Amazon came with. Having stripped down the old seats, he was able to save enough of the material to create the green stripes in the car today, and a similar amount of heartache and stress went into reshaping the rear bench so it could be refitted around the new tunnel and rollcage. “Everyone said I should leave the rear seats out, but I just needed to keep some of that heritage,” he explains. These old bits are joined by cutting-edge new ones too, with an OBP Motorsport pedal box as well as a hydro handbrake, line-lock, battery box and fuel cell. Yes, he’s kept the original bus-like steering wheel, but there’s also a full hidden Kenwood audio system. Old and new in harmony.
When it came to the exterior, the car made the decision for itself. Tom was sure he was buying a cream car, but when he saw his new acquisition was actually Volvo Light Green it was love at first sight! And once the build-up was complete at Deutsch Tech, it was all stripped down and the shell sent to Reflex Auto Design. All the little age-related dings and dents were perfected so the original panels could be saved, and every trim hole was welded up so the chrome trim could be reaffixed perfectly straight. Even though there’s a fuel cell, the filler cap has been retained for the OEM++ vibe, and the body received a full respray in its factory colour. And with that, once again, an offbeat masterpiece had been conceived and finessed.
So who won? Well, if we’re treating the Meguiar’s head-to-head solely as a race to the finish, then Dale’s Jag was completed first. But you’re not comparing apples with apples. Each of these cars is so thoughtful and intelligent, so nuanced, so flawlessly built, that they’re equally astounding in entirely different ways. Going by the voting public, Tom’s Amazon wins. The real answer, though, is that we all win. With Tom and Dale building show-and-go masterpieces like these, the whole modifying scene gets pushed forward. And in today’s strange world, that’s a victory everyone can feel good about.
Tech Spec: Turbocharged Volvo Amazon
B230FK 2.3-litre four-cylinder, Owen Developments turbo, Forge Motorsport intercooler, Forge Motorsport radiator, Forge Motorsport boost pipes, Forge Motorsport dump valve, Forge Motorsport boost compensation valve, Forge Motorsport turbo blanket, Forge Motorsport turbo trumpet, ECUmaster EMU Black ECU, Deutsch Tech custom exhaust manifold, Deutsch Tech 4-inch teardrop exhaust with integrated screamer pipe, custom intake plenum, ST180 coil pack, Brise alternator, Mocal fuel lines and connectors, adjustable cam gear, VX cam upgrade, OBP fuel cell, Bosch fuel pump, custom wiring – DR harness with military-spec plugs
BMW ZF 5-speed manual with custom bellhousing, Sachs 6-paddle clutch, lightened flywheel, custom propshaft, narrowed Volvo 240 rear axle
Custom fabricated front suspension and rear axle with 4-link and Watt’s linkage – by The Install Company, GM Bodycraft raised subframe (75mm), Air Lift Performance 3P management, Air Lift Performance compressors, Air Lift Performance tank, Air Lift Performance bags, custom Bilstein dampers
Rebuilt standard 3-pot front calipers, Volvo 240 rear disc setup, EBC discs and pads all round
8×16-inch (front) and 9×16-inch (rear) SSR Performance Reverse Mesh wheels with colour-coded centres, 195/40 Nankang tyres
Custom-built and reshaped Cobra Nogaro seats with deleted headrests, Schroth Racing harnesses, modified original rear bench, OBP Track-Pro V2 floor-mounted pedal box, OBP Pro-Drift V3 hydraulic handbrake, OBP battery cage (battery relocated inside car), custom tunnel to allow for prop, Kenwood / Morgan Cars factory-option hideaway Bluetooth audio system, Kenwood speakers
Reflex Auto Design full body paint in original colour – Volvo Light Green, all panels removed, aligned, and refitted, original metalwork straightened and perfected, early-style grille, rear reflector delete, US-spec taillights, redundant fuel filler cap permanently fixed, entire underside Raptor painted
Tech Spec: Supercharged Jaguar S-Type
4.2-litre, 8-cyl, 32v supercharged V8, custom hardpipe induction kit with Pipercross cone filter, uprated injectors, custom stainless steel exhaust system, Maxx racing ECU
500bhp+ 500lb ft+
6-speed ZF manual gearbox conversion from a diesel S-Type, custom billet clutch and flywheel
Two-way custom racing suspension developed by Bilstein UK with Eibach springs
Standard calipers with uprated Tarox F2000 discs and pads
Wheels & Tyres:
9x19in (front) and 10x19in (rear) custom Image wheels with 265/35/19 Nankang AR1 tyres (front) and 275/35/19 Nankang AR1 tyres (rear)
Full respray in British Racing Green with additional green pearl, gloss black mirrors, rear spoiler delete, badge delete, smooth bumpers, racing number in grill, custom rear arches using wider front wings, rear door handle delete, red tinted rear light clusters, custom racing graphics
Fully stripped, painted black with custom red bolt-in rollcage, Cobra Sebring bucket seat, Scroth harnesses, JVC KW-M565DBT double-din head unit and speaker system with slimline subwoofer, racing fire extinguisher, alloy footplates, retro Sparco crash helmet