2 Cortinas + 2 Escorts = Y151, according to teacher Gerrie van Heerden.
Through the years South Africa has produced many talented racing drivers. Many could hold their own against the best in the world. Often these speed merchants would build their own cars and take on the best that the rest of the racing fraternity could produce. Others had engineers that built the cars that took them to fame. Be it F1, sportscars, saloons, rallying, 4×4, two or four wheels, our boys built and raced them – with excellent results.
Many petrolheads still remember the name of a race or rally driver and some may still recall the car that they drove. Very few can recall the racing number as it appeared on the car of their hero. Who can recall the race number of the Bobby Olthoff Capri Perana or the number on Chris Aberdeen’s Audi Turbo? Not many I guess. But every now and then motor racing is gifted with a driver that is a cut above the rest, an engineer that thinks outside the box and a manufacturer that produces a car that ticks all the right boxes.
One such driver was Peter Gough and the engineer was Willie Meissner. Ford produced the Escort while Colin Chapman from Lotus fame and Cosworth Engineering designed and built engines that had no equal. When Peter Gough took to the track in the blue Meissner Escort powered by a 1600cc FVA motor, the car had race number Y151 on it. Mention Peter Gough, Meissner Escort or Y151 and many race fanatics will recall the picture of a blue Escort with a white flash down the side with the words ‘Meissner Escort’ across it. The picture of this Escort three-wheeling around Quarry Curve at the old Roy Hesketh circuit must be one of the most published pictures of an Escort in South Africa. Gough, the Meissner Escort and Y151 were one. Yet race number Y151 did not only appear on the blue Escort. There is much more to race number Y151…
When Koos Swanepoel and Basil van Rooyen were given the Ford Mustangs to race in 1966, Peter took over the ex-Swanepoel Lotus Cortina. The powers that be created new classes for saloon car racing and the Cortina was placed in class Y. Peter was allocated race number Y151. The photo of the Lotus Cortina with Peter behind the wheel and with race number Y151 is a very rare one that comes courtesy of Robert Young. Towards the end of 1967 Peter flew to PE to collect a Mk2 Cortina 1300cc. He drove the car back to Meissner’s workshop in Cape Town where it was stripped of all unnecessary parts. With the build of the Mk2 Cortina, nothing from the Mk1 Lotus Cortina was used. The Mk1 was passed on to Adrian Pheiffer, who raced it for a while.
From the very start the Mk2 was built with the Cosworth FVA motor and when it hit the track for the first time it beat the pair of Alan Mann Racing Mk2 Cortinas by a few days, making it the very first saloon car to race with an FVA motor (a motoring scribe wrote that the Mk2 had an FVC motor, which I do not agree with).
Cosworth list the FVC (2000cc) as being built from mid-1969, by which time Bernie Podmore was racing the Mk2 but fitted with a Lotus Twin Cam. In his book The Sporting Fords, Graham Robson quotes figures which would make the Mk2 almost 100kg heavier than the Mk1. That amount of mass makes a big difference if you are competing against a monster Galaxie or a highly modified Alfa GTA. This second Cortina also raced with the Y151 number but being heavy and somewhat less competitive, did not race for very long.
Again Peter flew to PE, this time to collect an Escort 1300cc GT that was white with red upholstery. The FVA was taken from the Cortina Mk2 and fitted into the Escort. It raced for the first time in 1968 at the Kumalo Circuit in Bulawayo in the then Rhodesia. Still with its maiden white paint, the car was numbered Y152 when it raced for the first time. With survivors from that period getting fewer by the day, I asked Basil van Rooyen and Geoff Mortimer if they could recall why the car was numbered Y152, but unfortunately neither of them could give an answer.
At a later stage the cover picture on the Meissner catalogue shows the Escort still painted white but with the correct race number Y151. Sometime later the car was painted blue with the white flash along the waistline, the wording ‘Meissner Escort’ and sporting race number Y151. With its FVA motor the Escort won 27 races on the trot and set new lap records at all the circuits in South Africa and Rhodesia. The rule makers then decided to ban 16-valve technology, which put an end to the FVA motor. It was then that the real genius of Willie Meissner came to the fore. With the help of Bill Steyn, he designed and built a 2000cc twin-cam engine using sand castings supplied by Colin Chapman and machined his own version of the Lotus Twin Cam. Two engine blocks were cut and welded together to make the engine 2000cc. With this car Peter won the 1969 SA Saloon Car Champs. Towards the end of 1969 Willie got word that Basil Green had conspired with the Americans to build a Ford Capri fitted with the latest of V8 technology.
Meissner played with his slide rule and came to the conclusion that the Escort would be no match for the Capri. Knowing that the Escort had a well sorted chassis Meissner negotiated with Ford. A second Escort was made available, which Peter once again collected from the factory and drove back to Cape Town. With this second Escort Willie tried his hand at turbo charging. The 1300cc engine was enlarged to 1400cc and the turbo from a massive diesel truck bolted on. In the boot was a big plenum chamber which would build up pressure to overcome turbo lag. Towards the end of the Escort’s racing career the normal positioned radiator was replaced by an inter cooler – what appears in pictures as a massive air scoop to keep the nose down was in fact a horizontally-placed radiator.
This car also raced with the number Y151. I once asked Peter if the tiny pushrod engine could match the Capri on performance. His reply was yes, provided they could get the blow-through carbs to work. He stated that the Escort was very quick and handled extremely well. However Willie did not have the time to develop the Escort to a level where it would be competitive. At the end of 1970 the National Saloon Car Championships came to an end and it became provincial production car championships. Willie Meissner decided to call it a day and retired from motor racing.
When working for Willie Meissner, Peter raced two Cortinas and two Escorts – all with the same race number. What happened to the Mk1 Lotus Cortina and Mk2 Cortina is a story for another day. The first Escort was sold to the Fekken clan and then went through a series of different owners. It has since been restored and is now part of private collection in South Africa. The second Escort was converted to a drag racer before it was sold off to a collector in the UK. It is uncertain as to what engine the car had in it when it left our shores as the English believe they have the original Escort. I scanned and emailed Peter an article that appeared in Classic Ford magazine on this car. Peter’s comment was: “I enjoy reading fiction every now and then. It made me smile to read the article.”