A simple guide to Track Day preparation of a Sprint or 1850.
We bought our Sprint for a couple of reasons, the main one being that we wanted a track day car to have fun with. Like a good number of club members, I had run a number of Sprint’s in my youth and remember the controllable handling and rapid acceleration. Nostalgia got the better of us (well me actually, the wife would much prefer an old 911), we have bought a car which in truth is no better, and more likely worse, than a 205Gti, MkII Escort, 200SX or any number of track day weapons. Why would anyone want to take a Sprint around the track?
Funnily enough, with very little effort you can make your Sprint into a great track day car, which although it will not overtake Scoobies and Evo’s, it will bring a grin to your face. How do you go about this transformation? Actually it’s not much of a transformation at all.
Start with a solid base. The last thing you, the marshals or fellow track day participants want is a rotten old Dolly falling to bits as it circulates, or heaven forbid, gets involved in a skirmish and self destructs leaving a pile of Coventry’s finest far eastern imported rust. Rust does not protect you very much. I bought what I thought was a very honest and solid old banger (and I still do), I’m pretty sure the vendor would not have liked it had I removed the front wings and front panel whilst looking at the car, so I bought the car, trashed it around the track for a year and then removed the panels, to my surprise I have a few more holes than expected. Look in the usual places:
The ends of the sills and jacking points – if you think they are strong enough, use these for axle stands (you normally need to make some blocks of wood to fit in the jacking point square and mate to the axle stands) and leave the car resting on them – this gives great access to all the suspension bits you will need to do. If the jacking points are not strong enough – repair them. One of my sills had a foot long crease in front of the n/s/r jacking point, I wanted to see what condition the inside reinforcer was in, so I removed the sill – I’m glad to say it was solid and with the exception of the very outer skin of both front jacking points (which you cannot get too without removing or cutting the bottom the wing off) all jacking points are very solid and strong. My ‘R’ registration Sprint was left raised on its jacking points whilst I did the necessary suspension modifications.
Unless you have recently changed all the bushes and joints – I suggest you remove the lot – why? – because you can take off all components and check behind them and their mounting points. And you can be sure you have no seized bolts, and that the bush that looks ok when sitting in its housing – actually is ok – if it is, you do not need to replace it, but do use new nyloc nuts when putting the lot back.
Suspension mounting points – check where all four rear arms join the body and axle. The lower rear arms themselves can be in a terrible state. Check that these are rust free and are straight. The front subframe – check that it’s solid and rust free. And the four mounting points onto the chassis are solid, the rubbers, washers and bolts are intact and the bolts are actually tight. Along with loose bolts and rotten washers, I’ve seen bushes that have disintegrated, and holes in the chassis where the bolts should be, especially under the battery.
Steering – check that the rack is solidly mounted to the subframe – oil leaking from the engine can destroy the rack mounting rubbers. Check there is no play in the rack, ball joints (track rod ends) and column bushes and joints.
Suspension – for a road car the standard suspension is excellent – and for the odd track day it will be fine – make sure your shocks are not leaking and the shocker bushes are fine. My Sprint is a pain in the neck on the road – it’s too hard – and I have put uprated springs and shocks onto the 1850 I’m doing up – they are soon going to come off – I’ve been smoking around in a standard 1850 for road use and I reckon that the standard suspension is the best compromise for daily transport. For a committed track day weapon you need stiff (up to 450lb) on the front, not too stiff on the rear (170-200lb), with suitable shocks to cope with the uprated springs. 1” lowered springs is all I would recommend if you are driving to and from the circuits – Bedford Autodrome has horrible sleeping policemen on its entrance – my 1” lowered car hits the front pipe. I use adjustable seat shocks – and this allows you to tailor the ride height for your taste.
Rear Suspension – check the condition of all rear bushes – make sure you cannot move the lower arms (lever against the axle – this is where using the jacking points to keep the car raised helps – rather than jacking and putting axle stands on the axle). And the bottom shocker bush has no play. Check the security of all fixings.
Front Suspension – check all ball joints, excessive wheel bearing play (I nip the front bearings up so there is no play, but make sure the wheel still spins freely) and bushes. Check the front tie bar bush in the subframe, and that it has its R clip in place. Check the top suspension mounts are solid and secure to the inner wing.
Brakes, funny things brakes, when the brakes are broke and you’re hopping along at a ton, you soon wish that the brakes weren’t broke. You don’t have much time to consider the – ‘hmmm I wonder why the brakes are no longer working’ like you can when you have a rattle in the exhaust or the like – you know the ‘hmmm when did the baffles start rattling in the centre box’ or the ‘hmmm when I put my foot down in third I get a knock under the drivers seat, I wonder what’s going on’. No, with brakes, that have broke it normally goes like this ‘oh shxt, this is going to hur…’ At which point you either get a long rest to consider your next purchase, or your nearest and dearest get to consider their next purchase with the proceeds of the life policy. And whilst we’re talking about life policies – why don’t they call them ‘death policies’ – that would be much more apt. I suppose it goes with the flowery names people like to give things and titles – you know – the grease monkey at one of the large fast fit chains – if he had a badge that said ‘Fred Smith – Grease Monkey’ rather than ‘Fred Smith – Exhaust and Pneumatic component technician’ that would make life easier. Where were we – Brakes – the old Dolly has tiny brakes in comparison to modern cars, so they really do need to be in tip top condition. Change the rubber hoses to braided hoses – check the thickness of the disks and linings – all linings should really be new or less than half worn – an open pit lane track day will give you a good couple of hours track time – the linings will take a hammering. Change the brake fluid – unless you are running silicon fluid you should change the fluid every two years on a road car – I would say every year for a track day car. Make sure the rear shoes are cleaned out and properly adjusted – and check the rear shoes before every track day – even minor track work will get oil coming onto the rear shoes from the rear bearings – there are a few modifications you can do if you really get into the track days, but for occasional tracks days, just keep an eye on them and change the shoes as necessary. If you find they always leak you can change the axle seals to a gearbox seal (no 141756 or use seal code 200 125 37 in place of 200 131 37 – depending where you get your seals from, these numbers are from MadMart and Ken Clarke on the Club discussion board).
There are a number of brake conversions you get from the Sprint specialists – some of the club guys have done a Sierra brake conversion, I’m using a BKT ST vented disk kit (which is excellent), and SprintParts (great guys in oz) have an off the shelf kit. A chap from Club Triumph does (did) a Ford Sierra brake conversion which has worked very well for lots of Dolly owners (have a look a MadMarts web site www.dolomitesprint.com for more details). Finally don’t be put off if you have standard brakes in excellent condition (newish disks and pads) – if you put someone who is not used to the Sprint in the car he may complain – if you’re used to the Sprint you just brake sooner and be sensible.
Limited Slip Diffs – these are not really necessary for the odd track day – there are a few circuits where you will get a definite advantage to having a slipper, but bear in mind the handling characteristics can change quite a bit when you fit your slipper, and what type it is, and how much lock you actually have. If possible try a car that has a slipper fitted before investing in one (they have become silly money – give the specialists a call before getting stung on eBay). I know of a 200bhp hill climb Sprint that ran for many years without a slipper, soft rear suspension and good tyres are cheaper.
Diff ratios – Again don’t worry too much, personally I think 4.11 is a bit too low, but I’ve heard of some people getting along with them nicely. Try a 4.11 if you have short, slower circuits – Goodwood, Silverstone etc. are fine with a standard 3.45.
Tyres – Don’t go on a track day with worn tyres, you could be driving home illegally, or worse.
This is where you can gain the most improvement with a single change. A set of good tyres can make a vast difference to your track times (not that you are allowed to time your laps at most track days). Some people swear by Yoko’s – and use low profile 185/60x13’s (check your ground clearance especially if you are using shorter springs). I have been using Goodyear NCT’s in the standard 175/70x13 profile, and run these at 28lb front 30lb rear – or 30lb all around. The 185/60’s are about the widest tyre you can get on the rear without fouling the arches, and they are about the widest you can put on a 5.5” rim. If you intend using 6” rims, you should not have too many problems at the front, but the rear arches may need to be rolled, and maybe pushing out. The easiest way to do this is with a couple of blocks of wood and a jack to push the outer arch out. It only needs to move by ½ - 1” and can be done without looking horrible (thanks to Rob McGreogor for that tip, and showing me his hill climb car that had been modified). Failing that you can use a set of wide arches like the old Group 2 cars and happily fit 6,7 or even 8 inch wide rims. 205/60x13’s will happily fit to 7 inch rims. These are getting hard to find now, you don’t have much choice with makes (2.8 Capri owners may have some recommendations, it would be worth checking for Yokos, Michelin historic motorsport range which are road legal and Avon’s ). Perhaps a better choice would be to fit 205/50x15’s and forsake the 70’s look. You will get a much larger choice of boots and going to the 15” wheel will allow a much larger front brake disk if you so wish.
Regular engine service – change the oil and replace the filter. The choice of oil depends on how long it has been since the last re-build and what your cars normal oil pressure is. For a car with low miles since the last rebuild you could use a modern 10/40 for normal road use, but I would not recommend this for track work. Mobil 1 15-50 (not the 5-50) or Castrol 10/60 are my choice. But any high quality 20/50 will be fine (please note the API rating – some stockist still sell API SB/C – which is about as good as using cooking oil, you are after the highest API rating, SF upwards…). Replace the air filter. Check all coolant hoses are not starting to split, or for peace of mind, replace the lot. Replacing blown hoses in the paddock is the pits. Check ignition components, make sure all contacts are clean and the leads, rotor arm, dizzy cap and coil are in good condition. If you are using points and condenser, check and replace as necessary.
Gearbox and Axle – check and top up the fluids as necessary.
Throttle cable, check that the cable is secure (the bulkhead has not split) and the end of the cable is not on its last legs.
Mirrors – Some cars don’t have a drivers and passengers door mirror, fit both, you will need them.
Note how I’ve left engine modifications to last, a good standard Sprint makes a great track day car, and is a pleasure to drive on the road. You don’t need to make the car hard, noisy and lumpy for half a dozen weekends a year.
Uprated radiator – I was using a standard Sprint rad, and on a very hot track day it barely coped. The very next track day I fitted an uprated 4 core rad, the Sprint specialists should be able to help you with this, my rad came from Warwick Rads – your local radiator shop may be able to help, and I’ve not had a problem since fitting this rad. You can get alloy rads from the Sprint specialists, and a few guys have tried using Volvo 740 rads, I do have an alloy rad, but have not needed to fit it since going to the uprated type.
Water pump – I’ve been using a deep 6 vane pump, there is no need to replace this with a 12 vane pump. I’ve never liked the 12 vane pumps, how many other manufactures use that type of water pump vane arrangement, the deep 6 vane appears to be a better type. You could always replace the mechanical pump with a Davis Craig Electric water pump. The club has all the bits you will need for this conversion (with the exception of the pump and controller itself). The odd Ferrari and now more mainstream manufactures such as BMW use electric water pumps, so they cannot be too bad.
Cooling fan – An electric cooling fan with thermostatic controller is a good protection. There will be considerable heat soak once you have turned off the motor, an electric water pump and electric cooling fan can both reduce this heat soak by continuing to run after the engine has stopped.
Uprated starter motor – a hot engine and old starter motor can make starting a pain in the queue to get back on the track, replace the old starter with a hi-torque unit.
Oil pressure and temperature gauge – monitor the pressure and temp when you can, this will give you peace of mind (or a couple of extra things to worry about).
Free flow air filters and/or cold air kits – I’ve used a K&N filter with a SprintParts cold air kit, and for the road this is probably the best set-up, but for the track, where you will have a constant flow of air I recon the deep K&N filters work best. If you think the engine is running a bit rich you can always remove the filters for a few laps (many race engines did not use filters, yes you will increase wear, but you’re not taking the Sprint on the track to worry about things wearing out – things will, and its an easy way to lean the mixture if you need too).
Free flow exhaust, the standard Sprint exhaust is very restrictive, replace with one of the many straight through systems and have hours of fun sorting out the rattles. You will need to set up the mixture again, and maybe change the carb needles.
What do you need to take with you?
A few service items.
Set of points and condenser.
A few assorted size tie wraps.
Insulting tape, and tank tape.
Oil and water, or a container for water.
Spare tyre, jack and foot pump.
Tools, and container to put this lot into, you will want to offload it in the paddock or pits.
What don’t you need to take?
Clear the car out, you don’t want unsecured items thrown around in the boot or in the passenger compartment.
There you go, you have no excuse not to thrash the old banger around one of our excellent circuits.
This site was last updated 23-01-07