Pandora’s Story is out of the box!
Andy Prill, from Guild Member Prill Porsche Classics, introduces the story of Pandora, the Goodwood Classic Car.
In 2008 I found myself scouring the classifieds and the web for interesting car parts and memorabilia. This is something I do regularly as I believe all avid car enthusiasts do. As a good friend once told me “collecting is a disease” that afflicts us all and over the years I have added considerably to my collections. On this occasion the keyword was Goodwood and up pops a listing for an historic racing car with unique Goodwood history. Intrigued I dug further and visited a dedicated web site for the car and I was hooked. Contact with the owner was made and he explained that the car was only for sale due to him realising the scope of the project and his need for a new kitchen and a bathroom. After some negotiation the car was mine and a truck was duly dispatched to Scotland to collect it.
Arriving as a un-restored rolling chassis and many boxes of loose parts it was quickly apparent that I had almost bitten off almost more than I could chew. After some careful consideration I decided that my interest in the car and its history outweighed the time and effort required. The scope of the work was daunting and because I am always busy running my business I had to accept that I would be outsourcing some of the work. The car had been modified considerably from its 1964 Goodwood specification and the distinctive alloy body was long lost.
Fast-forward almost nine years and the car is almost finished. In that time I was very pleased to meet and get to know Roger Phillips one of the car’s builders who has been invaluable in helping with the original specification and history. I have also been in contact with the family of the late Ray Jackson who sadly passed away before I could meet him and show him the project.
Roger has kindly given me all of the original parts invoices, etc., and this has enabled me to compile a complete and very interesting history file for this unique and special car.
Better you hear the car’s story from the horses mouth so over to Roger…..
The Conception of Pandora
“Our racing car (yet to be named) was conceived in the White Horse Pub, Chichester. There were three of us in this marriage that conceived the car; Tony Cowell, a Master Blacksmith of the old Wrought Iron School, who wielded a torch as an artist wields his brush, he even used to weld up speedo cables! Alongside him was Michael Homer, the son of a noted Selsey Lobster Fisherman and both of them lived a few doors apart in Selsey.
I joined these lads as the third of the ‘Three Musketeers’ as we were known, after noticing Michael’s much modified 850 Mini, which had all the Downton bits and went like a rocket.
We retired to the White Horse after watching some race or other. I think it was the 1961 Boxing Day Brands Hatch meeting and we were all fired up about racing. I had experienced my first ever race earlier that year at Goodwood in my daily driver MGA 1600 MkII, which ran its big end and main bearings in practice. With Michael and Tony’s help we changed the bearings on the old brick ramp that used to be by the pits (where Fangio once did the same job on his car – sadly this ramp was removed during the re-creation for the Revival) ‘ran it in’ for 20 minutes and went racing. Sadly after 4 laps (of 10) the oil pressure disappeared but I was determined to finish and did. However, on the drive back to my place of work in Oldham, Lancashire that night the crankshaft broke in Lichfield so that was a costly and eventful race. I could write a good story about that first experience, it was hair-raising but oh so informative and wetted my appetite for more.
Not wishing to risk my daily driver again (which had morphed into a Mk1 Cortina GT 1500) I was listening to Michael when he suddenly came up with this wild idea of building our own car. He was full of the news that there was to be a new 1100cc Sports Racing Class and he reckoned he could design and he and Tony could build a super low and light weight car to these new regulations using a BMC engine, which he reckoned he could put together with his brother in law’s help. I remember Michael saying that the regulations called for doors of a certain area and he had come up with the idea of making the doors long but low, complying with the area requirement but enabling us to build a ‘proper’ race car. At the same time, Mr. Chapman and later others were having similar thoughts, all unknown to us.
A Long Gestation Period
After the conception the gestation was long. Michael’s sister Marion had married Ray Jackson the son of the Jackson family who owned H R Jackson & Co. in Godalming who were BMC Competition dealers and where Michael worked as a BMC mechanic. Michael approached Ray to see if we could build the car in their workshops after hours and on the weekends and that is where it started.
The arrangement between the three of us was that I would fund the cost, Michael would design the car and build the engine and Tony would do all the fabrication. We would own the car jointly and share the driving.
We all met on a Saturday morning at H R Jacksons to look at the pile of Reynolds tubing Michael had bought and now, looking back, that first gathering of the ‘Design team’ would make a great comedy sketch.
After some discussion and head scratching Michael, as our ‘Head of Design’ took charge and said “Right, we need to start with a frame, make the front 9” high and the back 12” high and it should be about 4 ft. wide”. Tony welded up these eight tubes and that was the first weekend. Needless to say, none of these original tubes remained in the finished car!
I deduced that racing car design was not as simple as Michael had thought, and I remembered my father’s teachings. Whenever I asked him “How do I do this?” he would say, “All you ever need to know has been written down in a book. Go look in the Library!” I bought a promising looking book ‘Racing and Sports Car chassis design’ (I still have it) and started learning. The first thing I learnt was that we had started backwards, one should begin chassis design with the tyre, then the wheel, then the hub, then the suspension geometry and the chassis comes last!
Michael at least had some good friends and contacts, two of whom were Paul Emery (of Emeryson Formula 1 cars) and Mike Spence, who had just purchased a Lotus 20 Formula Junior, which we were able to go and see.
With my new found knowledge of race car design, when no one was looking I whipped out my tape measure and measured up the suspension layout, wheelbase, track etc. and tucked it away. That was the beginning of my design.
Paul Emery was a really wonderful gent who helped tremendously and answered many of my questions, which were not in my book and he provided us with the rear magnesium uprights, four F1 wheels, also magnesium and I believe he donated a small radiator which he had and was too small for the cars he was building.
The car got to the rolling chassis stage, using an old BMC 850 block that Ray Jackson supplied and Michael was slowly building the race engine. We made lots of visits to the Downton works and they were all very helpful as well. On one visit to Downton, we saw them finishing up the now famous Peter Sellers Mini, which was a blast. Electric windows et al! My old invoices show that we only had to pay £17.00 for a fully ported ‘Downton’ cylinder head. I recently bought the same item for my Mini Cooper 1275S done by the same gentleman for £1,250.00!
The Jackson company was growing and getting busier all the time, plus the commute from Selsey was a bind so Michael managed to sweet talk a wonderful lady in Selsey who had a lock up garage that she never used and she kindly offered it to us as a workshop. The lady’s name was Pandora and when the question of a name for the car came up we thought that would be a nice name, so PANDORA it was with the add on of ‘Powered by Austin’, (Austin sounded so much better than BMC).
We actually got the car completed up to the stage of fitting the outline frames for the body in Pandora’s garage. The design and shape of the body was pretty much left up to me with Tony standing with a handful of welding rods and bending them to shape as frames, as in a boat, and then tacking them on, bending and re-shaping as we went. I had not read about clay models at that time.
Pandora Motor Engineering is Started to Speed Things Up
Work and progress was slow though and so to speed things up I suggested we get our own premises and start up our own garage business which we called, ‘Pandora Motor Engineering’. We were able to rent very suitable premises from the owner of a Selsey Caravan Park (now, I believe, Europe’s largest) who owed us a favour after we drove his support car in the 1964 RAC Rally. And that is another good story… The section we did was the northern section, Blackpool, up the west coast, over to the east coast then down to Newcastle upon Tyne, then back to Blackpool in winter and all non stop. Tony and Michael had got some ‘tablets’, which were going to keep them awake but I did not like taking tablets and still don’t, never taken anything but Aspirin. Michael drove for the first stage but after a couple of hours at the wheel he was falling asleep and so was Tony!
I ended up driving for 24 hours with my two pill popping associates just managing to wake up at each stage to service the Peugeot 404 we were supporting whilst I had a quick nap. When we got back to Blackpool there was a big party, which we all went to and then I got into my Cortina GT and left for Oldham. Adrenalin got me to the outskirts of Blackpool and then as the street lighting faded in the rear mirror, my eyelids just fell down. Nothing I could do and I just stopped and fell fast asleep, awakened by a Policeman some hours later. That Adrenalin is good stuff – much better than pills!
Tony and Michael would work in the business during the week and we would all congregate on the weekends to work on the car. I was working in Oldham, Lancashire and would make the 225 mile commute every Friday night, returning Sunday night each week. I got to know every corner, every bump in these 225 miles and felt I could have had an easy time learning the mere 13 miles or so and only 174 corners of the Nurburgring! The quickest I ever did the journey was 4 hours and 15 minutes in an 850 Mini no less. That is about 53 mph average in a car with a top speed of about 70, if you are lucky. Downhill on that wonderful hill by the King Edward VII Hospital in Midhurst, I could get up to about 85mph with valve bounce limiting further velocity. It has to be said that I did all these journeys late at night when in those days there was little or no traffic.
I was fortunate in having a father in the engineering business and his lads helped a lot in fabricating the special caliper brackets for my idea of inboard rear disc brakes, which I admired in the ‘E’ Type and also fabricating the short drive shafts and welding on the Hardy Spicers.
The German Connection Helps With Our Design Work
Whilst we were building the car, Ray Jackson had two clients, two brothers from Germany to whom he supplied a brace of Austin Healy 3000’s and when he learned they were keen to go racing he encouraged them to buy an Elva MkVII sports racing car. It had an Alfa Romeo engine, I think. We three would often be their pit crew at their races and this exposed us to a lot of race cars which helped my design work tremendously. Especially in dreaming up the rather complicated gear shift linkage, all those tiny universal joints, which I think was Colin Chapman’s original idea. What a dreamer that gent was, what a genius. He often used to test cars at Goodwood and Michael told us that when we were watching one of his tests, Chapman would send the car out, bring it back in, cut off some part of the tubing on the space frame chassis and send it out again. Chapman would do this repeatedly until something broke, and then he would say “OK, put that last tube back in!”.
Ray Jackson’s involvement with the Elva and the opportunity to drive it enabled him to obtain an International Competition licence way before any of us, which was to come in useful for Pandora’s first race, which just happened to be classified as ‘International’.
Fibreglass or Aluminium?
As we arrived at the body stage, much pondering went on as to whether we build it in fibreglass or aluminium. My thoughts were beginning to focus on the future and went beyond the original concept of building a ‘Special’ just for us to race and as Lotus had just come out with their Lotus 23, which was so like ours, i.e. a Formula Junior Lotus 20 with bodywork, I felt we were on the right track. To produce replicas for sale we would inevitably need fibreglass bodies so I dug a bit deeper into my pockets and decided to go the aluminum route so we could use that as a plug for future fibreglass bodies.
Michael and Ray found a craftsman in Godalming with the help of Mike Spence who said he could produce what we wanted so we towed the car back to Godalming and left it with him with weekly visits from us to see the progress. What a craftsman that chap was. Coming from a family of craftsmen I could really appreciate his talent and dedication. There were 32 separate pieces just in the forward part of the body, all gas welded together and anyone who has tried gas welding aluminium will know that is no easy task.
Engine, Gearbox, Brakes………….
Whilst this was going on Michael had obtained a 1098cc competition engine, which he set about building up. We also bought a new VW Transporter gearbox casing and sent it off to Mike Hewland to produce the gearbox we needed and set up the inboard disc brakes etc. I felt that we might have a problem with heat from these brakes boiling the diff oil so we came up with a breather pipe and a catchment tank, which we could pour back in after each race. It worked!
I was very keen on keeping the low weight and when it came to lights the regulations stated we had to have front and rear lights. At least there were no indicators required in those days. Imagine a Lotus 23 with flip up indicators. My father used to call them ‘flippers’. I recall him often saying “My flipper is sticking up”. The standard Lucas 7” headlight was a heavy item so we came up with the idea of tiny chrome lights as used as interior lights on some cars, as our headlights. And they passed scrutineering!
The seat was another problem. In those days one could not just go out and buy a Corby Carbon Fibre seat and everyone made their own, mostly out of GRP. Our answer was to take down the aluminium Shell Oils sign, which we had at Pandora Motor Engineering and Tony started tapping away with his panel beating hammer and the final shape was formed by him tapping away over my bum. Covered in vinyl fabric with little or no padding it was very, very light.
Colour and livery, as it is now called, were the final decision to be made and I much admired the Lotus Green Stripe so we went for white cellulose and the green stripe down the bonnet. Tony sprayed the car during the week and I couldn’t wait to see it so he met me late on Friday night after driving down from Oldham and by golly, it looked absolutely fabulous. I remember being quite overcome at what we had eventually achieved and went to bed feeling really chuffed.
We had already tested the car. The first test was down the Selsey High Street, which was a bit of a risk because it took us past the local Constable’s House, so I drove up and waited opposite his house until I saw him leave for his day’s work and then popped back to the garage and gave Michael the green flag. Michael roared down the High Street, turned around and came back and that was our first test!
We then booked a test session at Goodwood, just six miles away and it was a damp and drizzly day. Tony by this time and during the time the car was at the body man’s workshop, had built a space frame chassis trailer with the new rubber mounted suspension units, which had just come out and it looked quite a ‘racy’ trailer.
As the ‘money man’ I pulled rank and took the car out for its first ever laps. On my first circuit I went off at Madgwick then did a full 360 spin exiting the chicane and came into the pits and asked Tony if he had let the tyres down for the wet. Tony replied “Oh, sorry about that, I forgot, they’re still at 50 PSI ”. Once that was settled we got down to some decent laps with Michael doing a few also.
We curtailed the test, however, when we noticed the cylinder head weeping water. We had the standard cylinder head, the one before they came out with the extra stud once they had got to the Cooper ‘S’ cars and this was the basic problem. I couldn’t afford either the money or the time to change the head. £17 was a lot of money in those days and I had already got £1,500 in the car, in the days that an ‘E’ Type was £1,900 and a Lotus Elite, in kit form was about £900! So Michael came up with a solid head gasket made by Tony, which we planned to anneal for each race. We did another test at Goodwood and it seemed fine – so it was time to go racing!
Ready for Racing at Goodwood
We managed to get an entry for the upcoming Whitsun Trophy race but as it was for holders of International Drivers only we had to ask Ray Jackson to do the driving duties. I very much regretted not being able to take it out on its first race but was more keen to see the car finally going around Goodwood in anger so that was that.
Ray qualified with no problems but as he lined up after the warm up lap I could see water already coming out of the breather pipe. I ran out to the grid and told him what I was seeing and said “Just take it around gently and see what happens”. I don’t think he heard me because he was not gentle by any means and he managed to bring the car home in third place with Roy Salvadori winning. I later met Roy at lunch with Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks, Jack Brabham and John Surtees at one of the Revival meetings and we had a good chat about that race and he remembered “that very pretty car”.
Ray thought the fan belt had broken and he said the temperature went to 100 but it stayed there so he kept on pressing. He didn’t know it was pegged at 100!
Off to Oulton Park
We then tried annealing the head gasket again and Michael found some supposedly better gasket glue and the next meeting was at Oulton Park.
I went out in qualifying and the head gasket seemed to be holding but on about my fourth lap the engine suddenly went to max revs and I lost all drive so I pulled off to the grass on the left and hit the kill switch but the engine kept running. Crikey I thought, the bloody car was going to overheat and self destruct – I had to stop the engine somehow. Not having any tools on me to turn the Deutz fittings to get the engine cover off I dived underneath or at least got my arm underneath and felt around for the coil lead to pull it off. I hate electric shocks and I was getting plenty of them and then I heard the sound of a car coming and I got a perfect picture of an AC Cobra framed between the rear wishbones, approaching me in a lurid and twitchy four wheel drift and I thought that was going to be the end of my days. Thankfully, he got it all gathered up in time and missed me but I still have flash backs to that day. I managed to get the coil lead off and the engine stopped.
When we got recovered back to the pits, Michael diagnosed that the flywheel bolts had sheared. I then found out that we had the standard four bolt flywheel and should have had the uprated six bolt item.
By that time I was beginning to question Michael’s wisdom in going the BMC route as everyone else it seemed was running the Cosworth 105E engine and they seemed bullet proof. Of course, if we had used the 11 stud head and the six bolt crank, things night have been different.
We got the car home and whilst I was pondering the wisdom of a BMC vs Cosworth engine, we simply replaced the crankshaft bolts, made yet another head gasket and that would do until the end of the season, giving me the winter to think about a possible engine change.
All Change……The End of Pandora?
Unfortunately, (for racing), or fortunately, (for life beyond), each of us three gained friends of the opposite sex. My girlfriend (my wife for over 50 years now), was more than happy to bring us all sandwiches (and they were very good sandwiches!) down to Pandora Motor Engineering and help with working on the car on the weekends. The other two girlfriends were not that interested in oily and noisy machinery and so, being wise, Tony and Michael acquiesced to that pull on the weekends and were never available to be the crew for any further racing that year.
On my side, I was becoming disenchanted with the new Prime Minister’s idea of taxing me at 19/6d in the pound (95% ‘Super Tax’) and when the opportunity came to emigrate to the Bahamas with my young lady I decided to ‘go for it’. Susan and I left Blighty for the sunshine where ‘You make a dollar – and keep a dollar’ and the rest is history.
When I made this decision I said to my two good friends that they could have my shares in Pandora Motor Engineering and so far as Pandora went, they could find another financial backer, put another engine in it and keep racing. If they ever decided to sell it then I would agree and we would split the proceeds three ways.
A couple of years later I met up with Michael on a visit back to England and he told me that he had got another backer, put in a Cosworth engine, took it up to Castle Combe (or it might have been Cadwell Park) for a test. With the new backer at the helm, the Pandora broke the lap record by 3 seconds but then stuffed it into a tree and rolled it up into a ball and it was written off. So that was the end of the story, or so I thought.
Sadly Michael passed away a few years later at a very young age from cancer without us ever meeting again.
A few years after this news I met up with Tony Cowell and we chatted about the old times and the Pandora. It transpired that Michael had told him a completely different story – that he had rented Pandora to a chap who took it to France and he never saw or heard of him or the car again!
With that news I managed to track down Ray Jackson after quite a long search and he told me “No, Michael was building his house and he needed money for windows so he sold the car to someone in Guildford.”
The Search is on for Pandora
More investigation was undertaken and whilst I was racing in the 1993 and 1994 Renault UK Clip Cup I met up with the editors of Autosport and they arranged for a full page or it might have been a double spread with a picture of the Pandora and the message ‘Have you seen this car?’
I received a number of calls from the advert from people who had seen and knew the car. Eventually I traced the owners from Graham Cooke who bought the car from Michael through a couple of others and eventually to a young Mr Riley who sadly lost his life in an accident at Brands Hatch in a Merlyn F.F. I could get no further along the trail and so it went into the ‘pending file’.
Then out of the blue in 2005 I got an email from Alastair Brown in Edinburgh.
After all these years he had seen a copy of the 1994 Autosport advert and recognised the Pandora. “That’s my car” he said. After a few emails back and forth and the photos he sent me, I was able to confirm that yes indeed he had the PANDORA. On my next visit to England I drove up to Edinburgh and we spent a most enjoyable time together and I was able to sit in the original ‘Shell sign seat’ and have my photo taken.
Alastair had great plans to restore the car as it was originally. The body sadly had been binned some years ago, the engine was missing, as was the Hewland box so all Alastair had was the rolling chassis with the wrong wheels.
I was really tempted to buy the car back but really didn’t know what to do with it as I still lived on a tiny island in the Bahamas and only spent about three months a year in England so we couldn’t do a deal. I was gratified to hear though, that Alastair had found a buyer who was intent on carrying on his dream of restoring the car. That chap was one Andy Prill and we later got together. After all this time, Andy has resurrected the Pandora in almost perfect detail with some now quite sensible and necessary modern modifications for safety purposes. We were either fearless or ignorant in 1964…possibly a bit of both. The Pandora is exactly as it rolled out of Pandora Motor Engineering.
I am as excited, possibly more now, at the prospect of driving the Pandora again as I was over 50 years ago and cannot wait…”
Roger Phillips January 2017
I won’t bore you here with the details and scope of the work required to rebuild this car especially the time to model and remake an alloy body so perhaps this will be another article. For now a few pictures tell a thousand words.