The Difference is Dreadnought Racing

Posted on May 4, 2011 by


Over time, Scotland has given us many good things; Sean Connery, whisky, Billy Connolly, whisky, shortbread, the Fourth rail Bridge, John Logie Baird and did I mention whisky? But now there is one more good thing to add to the list, something that has been around since 1984, something that will put a coat hanger of a smile on your face without even trying and all it needs to induce this Cheshire cat type grin is a key and a flick of the wrist.

Roughly 40 miles north of Glasgow, just up and to the left of Stirling on the A84 in the shadow of the snow capped Ben Ledi (876m), is a wonderful sleepy town called Callander, home to a family with a passion for high octane fun and no limits when it comes to imagination and a desire to offer the best service that they can within the limitations of peoples bank accounts!

I am of course referring to the Luti family and Callander’s best kept secret “centre of excellence”; Dreadnought. Having secured a “pass out” from the good lady whilst on holiday at the “out-laws” in Ayr, I was able to drive up on a cold February morning  having been invited by Brian to “pop in for a coffee and have a play”. As I set out from Ayr, it was wet which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day as I knew that the cars I was going to drive had one or two more bhp than “Frosty” the ZT-T 135+ (my usual chariot) and wet roads can be a recipe for disaster when you’re not familiar with a vehicle.

As I wove my way north the scenery changed to the familiar hills that I’m used to and the mundane M77 and M8 gave way to some fast winding roads that every driver should experience at least once every trip north of the border. Why can’t the UK have more roads like the Scots have? I suppose some mountains are needed first then the roads will follow, but never the less, the A81, although short but full of bends, crests and the odd straight dropped me off right in the heart of Callander where my journey of discovery was about to begin.

Rolling up at Dreadnought surprised me even before I had got out of the car, it was nothing like I imagined. Sure, you can look at their site on the web, but the reality was more surprising to me than I thought. To be honest, thinking about it, I’m not sure what I expected, I’m just sure that it wasn’t what was in front of me.

Reception is a nice place to be; MG and TVR cabinets hold all sorts of goodies for the enthusiast and after the guy with the nice Tuscan outside had been seen to I asked to see Brian not really knowing that I had been talking to Claire (one of MG Rovers best examples of an MGR Apprentice). She disappeared into the workshop and retuned with Brian who warmly welcomed me and without pausing for breath got me into the workshop and introduced me to Paul (who had his head under an MGF) and Claire with “Rincewind is here!”

Formalities over, we got down to the nitty gritty of the day, or in other words, fun. I quickly took in all I could see such as the MG ZT 520 hiding under some plastic sheeting with an oddly placed TVR Cerbera above it in a state of “undress” so to speak, a silver MGF that Paul was working on and two other TVR’s. So much fun in one place, there ought to be a law against it! In fact thinking about it, there was nothing in the workshop with less than six cylinders in (ignoring the MGF), was I in heaven?

After a long chat about lots of subjects, Brian and I went to collect the car that I had really come up to drive. The ZT 260 with the Sean Hyland supercharger conversion. This is the car that I had read about and had wanted to drive as I had already been exposed to the “official” MGR Roush engine ZT 385 cars during their development.

Those that know me well, know that I have supported Roush and their work as they were key in helping us bring the ZT260 to market and also helping us in the development of the ZT 385 project.

Firing the car up reminded me just how much I had missed the characteristic burble of the V8 in the ZT, having the “X Power” rear silencers fitted heightened it further. Settling into the familiar driving seat and setting off allowed all of the memories to come flooding back of my time at MGR and working with the V8 development team. The car just feels right; the way it sits on the road burbles along and generally fills the cabin with the unmistakable sound of V8 “music”.

Pulling out on to the main road towards Stirling, allowed me to squeeze the throttle to get into the  swing  of things, I was “home”. The best way of describing it is like stepping into a comfortable pair of running shoes or diving into your favourite tub of ice cream! Adjusting to the environment quickly and thankful that the roads had dried out, we came to our first bit of open de-restricted road. Brian informed me that as we came round the right hand bend and you were quick enough, you could see a good half mile of straight road which was a bonus as we were stuck behind a petrol tanker and a Vectra that really didn’t seem to be that keen on getting on with it.

Preparing for this, second gear was selected and I chugged along behind the cars at a steady 40mph waiting for the opportunity if it was there. Brain had pre-warned me to get everything out of the engine I needed to push the loud pedal into the pile to engage the warp engines! I checked all available vision, indicated and stamped on the pedal – “oh my god” I think was the first printable words that fell out of my mouth, snatching third I trod on the pedal again and made sure that I stuffed the pedal right into the pile and all of the horses were unleashed. The tanker and Vectra were dots in my rear view mirror and the speedo was well into three figures. A bend was looming so I throttled back and set up for the corner – this is what the ZT really needed to be. The 260-engine configuration is great, it delivers everything you could want, but ideally we should have had a ZT300 as the starting model and driving Brian’s car just confirmed again that the car could cope with more power.

The engine had simply picked up the car and thrown it towards  the  horizon at an alarming turn  of  speed, but  all  controlled  and  un-stressed with the familiar supercharger scream that I have become addicted to. Turbo charged cars sound good, but a supercharged engine just sounds better, more purposeful, more aggressive and more able to suck small animals and children up into the air intakes. Proper goose bumps territory.

Rolling round the lanes the ability of the car shone through, effortless power and the ability to overtake swiftly and safely was all too apparent. There is nothing worse than committing yourself to an overtaking manoeuvre and realising that someone has just closed a gap on you or decided to speed up as they think that overtaking is now as socially unacceptable as binge drinking, smoking or god forbid, speed itself! By linking vision with speed and employing many of the techniques learnt on the John Lyons HPC and MGR courses I had taken at MGR, cutting through the Scottish countryside and traffic was effortless. Point the car where you wanted it to go, check everywhere, squeeze the pedal and before someone could gesticulate at you for being so antisocial tied in with “how dare you overtake me!” clear road ahead was the order of the day.

A short blast down the M9 just proved that the conversion was happy to deliver at any speed. Applying the throttle in fifth at any speed thrust the car forward with effortless grace, almost as though the car was accelerating from lower speeds. Dropping down a couple of cogs and passing the traffic was a blur of noise and Armco. Having done what we needed to do in Stirling, it was time to head back to “Fun Central” in Callendar.

Now, I don’t condone activities like the  one  I’m  about  to  describe, but the ability for the vehicle to get to and pass the standard production  limited  155mph  target  was  obvious. Applying full  throttle  at  85mph in fifth and keeping it there allowed the car to accelerate like it was doing a 50 to 70 sprint in fourth.

Bringing 1700kg down from xxx mph to 56mph was just as impressive. The final production ZT385 was going to have huge discs and 6 pot callipers up front so I was a bit concerned about the ability of the standard 260 brakes to reign in the car. The brakes are good, don’t get me wrong, but I know the limitations of the system having done the homologation work on the car in the first place. However, my concerns soon evaporated as the car slowed with impressive strength. There was no squirming, no adjustments to make it simply slowed. A new brake material from Mintex was being tried, the shape of the pad  wasn’t  quite  right yet, but the performance was impressive.

Coming off the motorway we headed back for Callendar using some more entertaining roads around the Doune estate (Lord Doune has his own hill climb set up, now that is impressive!). The one thing that was starting to stick out, apart from the power of the car, was the level of grip available. I had noticed on the way up to Dreadnought, that once off the motorways and the condition of the roads had dropped off slightly, my ZT-T was noticeably more twitchy and  I  didn’t  get  my  usual  secure  feeling that I get with the Continental tyres fitted. Normally don’t fit anything other than Contis to my cars, as I like the tyres and when the change from Michelin to Conti happened at MGR, I was very pleased. Our tyre development engineer swore by them and compared to the Michelin tyre, the car felt much better. I also fly the flag as I have a very good friend who works for Conti, so do I tend to be a little supportive which works both ways.

The “260” was shod with Toyo Proxes T1R of the same OE size and their ability to keep the car on the road was inspiring. The odd damp patch on a bend was dismissed with ease and no fear of breaking traction. Hitting the bends at reasonable speed did nothing to dampen enthusiasm or feeling of security, I simply drove through the bends and applied the power knowing that I would get pushed through the bends. This led me to a bit of an odd conclusion, were tyres this side of the border behaving differently to the roads back home in the Midlands? Well I think that the answer is a definite yes. My  normal  roads  offer  fantastic  driving  experiences and those that know the A444 or Fosse Way will back me  up.  My ZT-T sticks like the proverbial to a blanket and the Contis work well and give good feedback. Up on the roads leading to Callendar all that had changed.

The compound of the Toyo tyre is obviously very different and softer so that would point to more of the road surface being “grabbed” by the tyre and complimenting the rear wheel drive chassis well. I’m aware of ambient conditions changing the performance of vehicle but not to this degree. I think that if I were living in Dreadnought territory, I would be rolling  around  on  Toyo’s  and  I’m  an  established  Continental  man!  I  was  very  impressed  and  I would recommend the tyres from what I have experienced. I may try a set to see if there is much of a difference on “my” roads perhaps when my next set of rubber is due.

Pulling back into Dreadnought, I started thinking about the car and what I had  just experienced. How did it compare with the Roush engine I was “used” to? Ignoring the chassis and installation differences between the standard car and the ZT385 development cars and thinking about the power of the vehicles there are distinctive differences.

The Roush engine is has a more aggressive power delivery from 1000 – 3,500 rpm, possibly inherited from the USA driving approach, but as the engine gets over this band and heads screaming for the cut off, it does become a bit breathless. It’s not that noticeable until a comparison is made with the Dreadnought conversion. The SHM system has a more “European” feel to the power delivery, but that I mean the power is delivered in a more linear manner right across the rev range up to the cut off, this may also have something to do with the twin screw set up of the Kenne Bell system over the “Roots” system used by Roush.

The calibration of the SHM conversion is also very good as driveability can degrade with conversions but the beauty of this V8 engine is that you can let your granny drive it off boost because the car runs along as a 260. It’s not until the bypass valves are opened and the full effect of the supercharger arrives does the evolution from “mild mannered ZT” to “howling projectile ZT” take place. Personally, I would like the aggression of the Roush engine in the lower rpm range combined with the strong power delivery in the higher rev range of the Dreadnought package.

So the crunch question: is the £5995 conversion worth the money? Yes if you have the funds available to do the conversion. You’re not simply strapping a new throttle body to the inlet manifold! It’s not a quick installation, Dreadnought need the car for a week to install and “bench test” it to make sure that everything functions that way that it should so that’s where a fair chunk of your bank balance goes but the end result is well worth it. The ZT260 has always been seen as a Q-car,  and  adding  the  blower  to  it just makes it an even better Q-car. The conversion looks good and could be mistaken for a factory fit item. It’s neat, effective and professionally installed.

If you want a performance upgrade done to your ZT or ZT-T 260, then I would recommend a trip up to Scotland to visit the Dreadnought team. £6000 is a small price to pay for a power hike of over 50% and when you see the dedication Claire, Paul and Brian put into the business, you begin to understand why there is so much fun to be had in Callendar. The only additions I would need would be a Teflon coated driving license and permission to build a small petrol refinery in the back garden to keep up with the cars appetite for petrol.

I came away from Dreadnought having made some very special new friends whom I hope I can keep in touch with over time. I’ve already promised that I’ll wield a spanner in the 24-hour race at Silverstone this year if they enter it (I’d really like to drive in it but……….). I had a brilliant day drove some fantastic vehicles and I think anyone who visits them will come away with the same warm fuzzy feeling I had having been exposed to so much fun.

It just goes to prove that if you look after your customers and products there is no reason why you can’t have a successful business and good reputation. I wish that there were more outfits like Dreadnought in the country, as it would make a huge difference as to the way the industry views car dealers and service centres. Dreadnought is an excellent ambassador to the MG brand (and TVR for that matter) and there is obviously a huge commitment made by them all to the badge and for that I for one am eternally grateful for. I wish I had gone north sooner.

Posted in: Features