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Kev Slyfield – Man on a Mission
The great shape of the Willy sedan body evident in this shot. Front grille is original, but lights feature custom aluminium dress rings with clear resin moulded lenses
Moving up in drag racing to the more potent classes tends to occur in stages for most drivers. Cutting his teeth in Sportsman racing, and then moving up through the ranks, is how Verwood-based Kev Slyfield anticipated his involvement in drag racing might progress. After a couple of years in Sportman ET, he then switched to Pro ET for a three year spell, but has now taken the giant step up to Pro-Modified – one mighty leap from 625hp to 2000hp!
In 2003, Kev was gunning a yellow Plymouth Belvedere down the quarter mile in 10.4 seconds. At the 2007 FIA Main Event in May, he was covering the same piece of tarmac in just 7.7sec at 170mph!
“I had decided to move up a notch after racing the Belvedere in 2003, and found a Willys Sedan body for sale in Norway via the internet,” recounts Kev. “I’ve always loved the Willys shape, and thought this would make a great starting point for a long-term project.
“It was an ex-race car, which had been fitted with a new tube chassis and was a roller. I paid my money and the car arrived at the docks some weeks later. I hadn’t seen the car in the flesh before it arrived in the UK, and when I opened the container at the docks, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God! What have I done?’ It was a mess. There was the steel body and doors, a fibreglass front end and a tube chassis of sorts. We took the car up to Andy Robinson’s shop and they tested the chassis and discovered it was only good to run 10.5sec. This was in 2003, but the project didn’t really get off the ground until about a year later, in 2004, when I’d calmed down a bit and managed to get some funds together. We scrapped the chassis and back axle, and started again. Now the only bits that remain of what arrived here are the body, the steering rack and the front wheels.
Sadly, it was a bit dull for the photo shoot - so you can't see the lovely ghost flames
“It started out as a Super Pro ET car. I was going to fit the engine out of the Belvedere and hopefully run in the 8s, but as Andy Robinson said to me once the project started to develop, ‘You’ve moved the goal posts almost into the next field.’ One thing led to another, one of his team suggested it would look great with a blower sticking out of the hood – and that was it! He’d sown the seed and we were away. It just ended up going further and further, until it ended up as a Pro Modified.
Kev Slyfield - one very happy man
“My long-term vision was always to run in the Pro Modified category after a couple of years in Super Pro ET, and I made it quite clear that I wanted the car built close to Pro Mod standards so we could make the change without major re-engineering. In the end, however, we missed out Super Pro ET altogether and went for the killer punch. At the end of last year, Andy phoned and said, ‘There may be a British Pro Mod championship in 2007. Are you interested?’ Well, of course I was – that was another incentive – but I didn’t specifically want to jump in the deep end quite so soon. It wasn’t long, though, before I thought, ‘Sod it – why not!’”
30 litre fuel tank needed for just one run!
Motor is currently running a little rich. Kev says there's much more to come
The car now sports a professionally designed, FIA-legal, chrome-moly, twin-rail chassis with a wheelbase of 110 inches – 5 inches short of the maximum allowed. The front suspension comprises Strange struts with coil-overs and matching disc brakes, while at the back, there’s an Andy Robinson-fabricated axle with 4.56 gears, plus Strange double-adjustable coil-overs and Willwood disc brakes. Steering is looked after by the rack supplied with the car, married to Andy Robinson fabricated components. The Willys rolls on 16x16 inch ARE beadlocks at the rear, equipped with 34.5inch slick tyres, and 25x4.5x15inch front tyres, fitted to rare Cragar wheels polished up for the occasion.
There’s a 30-litre fuel tank tucked up in the nose, in front of the 526cu in Keith Black Hemi. The potent power unit runs 11.5:1 compression on methanol, and should be capable of around 2000hp. At the moment, though, it’s running rich, so the team has some work to do in the tuning department.
ICE, who received the nod to put the engine together, assembled the bottom end and fitted heads that Kev had sourced from an old Top Methanol engine with the original intention of using them as a mock-up for the build. On close examination, however, their condition was so good that they were pressed into service. On top of the block is a Helix 14/71 blower from Bert Englefield, a hat from Knut Soderquist and a Les Davenport fuel system.
The 'KEV'-equipped blower hat. You can just see the ghost flames on the fuel tank here
“We are unique in Pro Mod, as we run a Bruno-equipped transmission with a torque converter,” says Kev. “The Bruno unit replaces the clutch, but still utilises the three-speed Lenco ‘box. We went for this part because of its apparent ease of use. You see a lot of teams in Pro Mod reassembling their clutches after every run, but we felt we had enough to think about without stripping the transmission so frequently. Perhaps the logic was a bit flawed, though, as this is the only component we are having problems with right now.”
Interior is a complicated-looking mass of chassis tubes and braces - all beautifully put together though
With regards to the bodywork, Andy completed the work that had been started in Norway to change the four-door bodyshell into two, he chopped the roof 2.5 inches and raised the wheelarches up the sides of the body to give additional tyre clearance. It then went off to LS Design in Wareham who prepared the shell and laid on the fabulous kandy apple red paintwork with ghost flames over a silver base. The wing on the back was constructed specifically for the car by Andy Robinson’s team, while the front splitter was designed and fabricated in GRP by Kev.
You can see how far the back wheel arches have been raised in this shot to accommodate those massive rear slicks. And Robinson also handled the neat 2.5inch roof chop
“I love the Willys coupe shape, too,” says Kev. “It’s fantastic, but there’s no room inside. By comparison, you can get everything inside the sedan and still have plenty of room to drive – it lends itself well to being turned into a race car.”
The original Willys rear lights are retained, while the neatly fabricated headlights comprise aluminium dress rings fitted with special, clear resin-moulded lenses. Adding a further touch of authenticity, the grille is an original, rechromed item.
Having taken delivery of the completed car in April of this year, Kev was able to wheel it out for a “Run what ya Brung” shakedown at Santa Pod, prior to the Easter Thunderball meeting, where he carded an off-the-trailer, 9.1-second pass. The team made no real improvement on this time during the Easter meeting, and adding to the frustration, the transmission and torque converter sustained damage.
Kev prepares for his first 7 second run
Come the FIA Main Event, though, and their initial 7.7-second run on Saturday was a clearer indication of things to come. “I need to run a 7.5-second pass to get my Pro Mod licence,” says Kev, “and as I short-shifted in first on that run, it should be easily attainable. People ask me if the car is frightening to drive, but it’s more exhilarating than frightening. There’s so much going on in your head that you don’t have the time to think about being frightened. You concentrate hard on what you have to do, and then it’s over in a flash. My team is made up of family and friends, and it’s totally new to us every time we go out and run. We are learning so much with every quarter-mile pass.”
As if answering an unspoken question, Kev adds, “I know I could have picked a much easier class to move up to. Pro Mod is so competitive, and the teams are mostly professional, with lots of experience. The specification of my car, with its short wheelbase, high body and slightly excess weight, means it will never be a front runner in the class.
Time for reflection on the way back to the paddock
“I’d like to be competitive at some stage, and I think we will get into the sixes eventually – that’s the aim – but how soon that will happen is in the lap of the gods. All of that said, I’m really happy with the car. It’s lovely to look at, and lots of people are coming up to me, saying how much they like it. That’s a great thrill for me.
“I don’t have any sponsors, and the cost of building the car has come out of my own pocket. Truthfully, I can’t afford to spend this amount of money on a car, but as with so many challenges in life, it depends just how badly you want to do something.
“Thanks go to Andy Robinson Race Cars, for building such a great ride, and to my wife Elaine, for her continued and unstinting support.”
Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk