Howard's racing Roller V8 - Blackbourn 442

By: Rob Blackbourn

falcon xy gt falcon xy gt

The assurance that the power output of a Rolls-Royce is ‘adequate’ has meant different things to different people over the years

Many long-term observers of the Australian car industry are still feeling a bit numb from the successive shocks we’ve suffered as our domestic manufacturers called it quits one by one, before it finally turned off the lights.

The numerous developments in the automotive industry overseas during the same period have seemed like very small beer indeed to me compared with the total loss of our car manufacturing sector. Still the odd news item from around the globe catches my eye. An example was the report in last month’s issue of Unique Cars that the Bentley factory had ceased production of the Rolls-Royce/Bentley V8 engine, ending a super-impressive 61-year production run for the upmarket bent-eight.

Given that prestige lifestyle-markers like beluga caviar, gold bathroom taps and liveried chauffeurs have never interested me, bulletins that I see about the goings on at factories producing the likes of Rolls-Royce and Bentley normally go straight through to the keeper. The reason the Roller V8 news item got my attention was its link with a special bloke I enjoyed working with in the 1970s, the late Howard Marsden.


While sourcing and scheduling special parts for Ford’s Lot 6 operation was only a small part of my overall job, it gave me opportunities to work with Howard here and there. He was a fine man – a true gentleman, an impressive thinker and an astute strategist and manager. Significantly he was a bluster-free individual – an attribute quite rare in the high-stakes, high-octane environment of corporate motorsport action.

Because Howard wasn’t a self-promoter given to name dropping or trotting out lists of his achievements, I was left to discover later a bunch of impressive milestones from his career in his native England prior to his arrival at Ford Australia. His key roles with Alan Mann Racing, the Lola team and Frank Williams confirmed that he was a man of some standing in international motorsport well before his efforts as Ford Australia’s racing ringmaster won him much-deserved respect here.

His Rolls-Royce V8 connection emerged at a talk he gave to the Society of Automotive Engineers in Melbourne during the halcyon days of the Falcon GT-HOs. Before getting into the serious stuff about developing the race-winning Falcon, Howard shared with us a yarn from his student days in the UK.

Apparently he and a mate decided to make their mark in circuit-racing with a self-built open-wheeler. Not for them something powered by a motor from a wrecker, like a typical British four or even a BMC C-series six– the lads wanted V8 power, an ambition easier stated than realised in England around 1960. They seized on the British infatuation at the time with the potential of the hovercraft as the basis for a cunning plan. It centred on a ‘student project’ to build a substantial hovercraft powered by a V8 engine. Their detailed submission, including layout sketches and specifications, was presented to the only possible source of a V8 in the UK then – yes, Rolls-Royce. And they pulled it off. A brand new Rolls-Royce 6.2-litre V8 was delivered, FOC, on a loan basis.

Long-story short – the car’s initial track outing attracted inconvenient media attention, not for the fact that it DNF’d because of some mechanical gremlins, but because this young pair on a shoe-string budget had somehow managed to snaffle a Roller V8 for their home-built open-wheeler. The R-R deputation that arrived within days to retrieve its property spoke very sternly to the lads and threatened them with hell-fire and damnation if they ever did anything like that again.

I’ll leave you with a little tip for life that popped up while spell-checking ‘beluga’ on the web for this column: "Caviar can be eaten on its own, using mother-of-pearl spoons…" Don’t thank me…


From Unique Cars #442, July 2020


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