Andy Robinson Race Cars - the early years. An article from 440 Magazine.
I first met Andy Robinson in 1977 when he was just getting into drag racing and the street rod scene. I met him again a couple of years later when I was looking for volunteers to help with the first Hot Rod and Custom Internationals at Thruxton. He was now running his high riding, AMC powered, 2-door Zephyr. Along with some friends from Basingstoke he took on the task of organising the Friday night 100 yard drags which were a feature of the Internationals each year until the neighbours complained!
The Zephyr had been built to replace an earlier Zodiac which met its’ maker when a banded out front rim collapsed and it turned sharp left into a lamp post.
Andy raced the Zephyr in Street classes starting in late 1980 and won the Championship in 1981. The car featured a steel flip front end over a drilled Transit axle. At the back was Andy’s first Ford 9 inch located by ladder bars with slipper leaf spring mounts. Andy was always one to avoid the “normal” route just because everybody else did it and this led to the choice of a 343 cubic inch AMC power unit rather than the typical Chevy or Ford, an alternative explanation was that a neighbour offered it at the right price. Ultimately the difficulty of getting parts meant that a 351 cubic inch Cleveland replaced the AMC lump. First paint job was traditional primer but later the orange and white was laid on it. The car raced under the Street Elite Racing banner, a phrase chosen by Andy’s wife Kate. The Zephyr was originally intended for street and strip but gradually limitations of the basic design limited performance so the decision was made to build a full tube framed car.
A Chevy Monza was chosen as a lightweight American body which was reasonably available. The car was started in 1983 after finding a suitable donor, which had suffered a dash fire but was otherwise perfect, in Aylesbury. The chassis was based on main rails of 40 x 80 box section with 3 mm wall. The rest of the frame was made from seamless tube originally used to move superheated steam in power stations. Yet another narrowed 9 inch axle at the back and struts at the front. Andy was funding his racing at this time by narrowing and rebuilding axles, especially Fords, and his house, garage and garden always seemed to be full of them. The 351 was transferred from the Zephyr thus being a Ford in a Chevy, opposite to conventional wisdom of the time that the Chevy rat or mouse motor was the power plant of choice. Once complete the body and chassis were sprayed refrigerator white and it was off to the races. The intention had been to make the Monza street’n’strip but the cost of doing both was too high so the street equipment was sold. Also future top crew chief Luke had arrived and it was difficult to fit a child seat in the back of the Monza. The car was fully street legal with MoT but was never taxed and insured. In spite of Andy’s growing experience with axles the most notable thing about the Monza in the early days was its‘ habit of breaking welded half shafts, in fact it broke one before it ever got to the track when Andy tested it on a local airfield.
How well did these cars run? The Zephyr’s best time was a 12.84, not bad for a daily driver. It took Andy to his first Championship, the NDRC All-comers Street Championship for 1981. He featured in Jerry Cookson’s season review which was published in Motoring News (aka Motorsport News) and there was also a picture of the Zephyr in a burnout at Long Marston. The Monza had a more chequered career with a series of breakages in both the engine and axle but a notable result was second place in the NDRC Trans Atlantic Drag Bike Race in 1985. It did run fast for its’ time with a best et of 10.7 and managed a 12.8 with a stock engine while the race engine was being rebuilt.
Who were the competitors back then? Dave Mingay moved up through the ranks alongside Andy into the early days of Pro Mod in the UK. Another veteran still racing is Brian Huxley who often ran against Andy at Long Marston or Avon Park. And finally, while the Monza was taking shape on one side of Basingstoke the Clayton brothers were building a similar Vauxhall Firenza based car on the other side. Competition was intense but remained friendly, so much so that Jerry Clayton is now the most senior (i.e. old) member of Andy’s race crew.
Where are they now? The Zephyr belongs to Richie Smith although how much remains of Andy’s original car is uncertain. The Monza is somewhere in Holland and still races …. I guess it goes to prove that old race cars never die.
Little did we know back then as we laboured on the windswept wastes of Long Marston that Andy’s hobby would become his job and that Andy Robinson Race Cars would emerge as one of the UK’s foremost chassis builders. Equally well we never imagined that Andy would be racing a blown methanol powered 69 Camaro Pro Mod in a European drag racing series.
Thanks to Andy for providing the information and correcting me where my memory was faulty.