A stripped out, ultra-focused Mk1 Fiesta with a screaming BDH between its inner wings? That’ll do Mark Shillaber nicely.
Words Jamie Arkle
Photo Michael Whitestone
So here I am, standing next to Mark Shillaber, the man responsible for building the frankly amazing Mk1 Fiesta you can see on these and the following pages. “I don’t know for certain,” says Mark, “but I’m fairly sure it’s the only Fiesta with a BDH engine in the country.”
We’re not sure either, but we’re confident it’s the best. Very little of the original car has survived the ruthless, 20-year development process Mark’s undertaken, and the end result is one of the most complete hillclimb Fords in the UK today. Plenty of engines have come and gone in that time, and all have been tuned to within an inch of their lives. Here’s how Mark transformed a humble ’70s hatchback into a hill-storming monster.
Mark bought the Fiesta back in 1993, saving it from a local scrapyard with the intention of building his first competition car. “It’d been through the wars and sported some scars; a smashed screen, missing trim and a burnt-out interior,” he tells us. “It was a solid enough shell though, and I got it for £150.”
The old 950cc engine was quickly consigned to the scrap heap and replaced with a Pre-Crossflow block with twin-cam pistons, a 1300 Fiesta crank, a semi-chambered Crossflow head and a modified Cortina sump to accept the Duplex timing gear. “With some twin 40 Webers hanging off the side it was good for 111 bhp at the wheels,” adds Mark, “with buckets of torque, too.”
Mark used the car to cut his teeth in the South West hillclimb championship, but the desire for more power was always there. Fast forward three years and there was another engine between the Fiesta’s wings, this time a 1760cc Crossflow with Weber Alpha ignition, 48 mm ITBs, Mk2 Cavalier SR pistons with Escort conrods bushed to accept the Cavalier gudgeon pins.
This set-up only lasted for a few years before being replaced with a more traditional, all-steel Crossflow. Mark remembers this engine very well indeed, and can still remember every last detail of its build. “It had 1.625 and 1.375-inch valves, a Kent 254 cam, GAF steel rods and crank, 82.5 mm Omega pistons, a dry sump and a lightweight steel flywheel,” he says. “A gem of an engine — it would rev all the way to 10,000, no bother.”
The rapid rate the car racked up silverware started to get Mark a reputation for excellent engine building. It also allowed him to take overall championship honours in the 1998 South West Championship and a strong second place the following year.
It’s business time
Come 2002 and Mark decided to concentrate his efforts upon growing his business (which went on to become SRD), and building a rear-wheel-drive rally car. This meant that the Fiesta was left standing for many months and was eventually and reluctantly sold on. “The car stayed locally and was still used for hillclimbing,” he says, “although the new owner did paint it a weird shade of blue!”
That could well have been the end of Mark’s association with the car, but a desire to promote SRD and compete again saw him re-acquire the Fiesta back in 2008. Aside from the slightly suspect colour choice and an ECU change, it was exactly as Mark had left it, and the little Fiesta was soon safely back at SRD, ready for yet another engine change.
This brings us neatly to the car’s current, formidable specification. There can’t be many grassroots competition cars with engines of this calibre and prestige — let’s face it, any BD-series engine is highly sought after nowadays. “I actually got the standard BD head a few years ago,” says Mark. “The valve seats had a few small cracks and the previous owners weren’t willing to use it in competition because of this.”
As you’ve probably gathered, Mark wasn’t going to be put off by a few tiny fractures, and a deal was soon struck. He opted to use the recently-repaired head on top of his already race-proven bottom end, with suitable upgrades and revisions of course. It wasn’t long before Mark had ordered some 83.5 mm CP pistons and bored the block out to suit. As you might expect, BDH tuning isn’t exactly the most budget-conscious of activities, but Mark managed to keep costs reasonable by doing the work in-house.
The Fiesta’s spec is now at the very edge of what’s permitted in the sub-1400cc class. The pistons have been joined by steel GAF rods, wide journal crank, a Titan dry sump, a finely honed SRD head with Piper cams (with SRD specified profiles), DR Engineering followers and 42 mm Jenvey SFs with DTA management. This meticulously designed and perfected setup means that this innocent enough looking Fiesta can rev to over 10,000 rpm, and the 1380cc now puts out 186 bhp.
Of course there have been difficulties, most of which have revolved around getting the engine and its ancillaries properly located within the titchy Fiesta bay. The original water pump was deemed too big, so the car now runs an electric one with an aluminium manifold — a clever set-up that feeds directly into a pair of core plug adaptors at the front of the block. “I also wanted to improve the car’s handling,” Mark goes on, “so sitting the engine as low and as far back as possible became a priority.”
It all adds up to an incredibly savage little car, one that’s become something of a cult icon in the hillclimb world. All that power is chucked through the front wheels via a Tran-X limited-slip diff, with a close ratio four-speed Quaife dog ’box proving perfect for high-speed speed Tarmac sprints.
The Fiesta now sports Leda coil-overs front and rear, with fully Rose-jointed TCAs and a three-link rear axle and Panhard rod set-up. Brakes are, perhaps surprisingly, largely standard, with an Tarox XR2 discs and drum arrangement proving up to the task when paired with a floor- mounted pedal box.
This has a lot to do with how light the car is — just 635 kg minus driver! This figure is achieved with a stripped interior, fibreglass bonnet and tailgate, polycarbonate windows and aluminium skinned doors. Much of the car’s bulk has been relocated as low as possible, which explains the custom battery box hanging beneath the floorpan and dry sump tank where the passenger seat was.
I ask Mark what his favourite moments with the car have been; after all, he’s owned it for over two decades. “Holding every record for every venue in the championship in my class back in ’99 was special, but then again, so was beating two Metro 6R4s up Porlock hill to FTD, and that was with the old engine!” he laughs.
By this point it should come as no surprise that Mark and Fiesta are performing well in this year’s championship, with two class records from the first two venues. The opposition had better get used to it as well, as Mark has no plans to sell the car. “I’ve had it for so long now I’ve got an emotional attachment, plus it’s a great advert for the business!”
Mk1 Fiesta bodyshell with plastic arches, aluminium skinned doors, fibreglass bonnet and tailgate, polycarbonate windows, round headlight grille, timing beam breaker, bonnet and boot pins, front strut brace
BDH bored to 1380cc with GAF 63 mm wide journal steel crankshaft, GAF steel long conrods, CP/SRD 83.5 mm forged pistons, SRD-spec BDH cylinder head, REC BDA valves and guides, Piper cams with SRD profiles, Baines vernier pulleys, DR Engineering cam followers, Kam Developments steel jackshaft and billet cam cover, Titan dry sump, Jenvey 42 mm SF ITBs and manifold, electric water pump, DTA E48 management. Power: 186 bhp @ 9500 rpm, 122 lb.ft
Quaife four-speed dog-box with 5.3:1 final drive, Tran-X LSD, B&M quickshift, SRD steel flywheel, AP 7.5-inch race clutch
Leda height adjustable coil-overs front and rear, uprated mounts, Rose-jointed TCAs, three-link rear axle and Panhard rod
Fiesta XR2 Tarox front discs and lightened rear drums, floor-mounted pedal box, Lockhead remote servo
Wheels And Tyres
7.5x13 inch Image split rims with Avon hillclimb slicks
Fully stripped interior with Motordrive Clubman bucket seat, battery mounted under the floorpan, centrally-mounted fuel tank, Titan dry sump tank, safety devices cage with additional triangulation
Colin Jefferies for the paintwork, Harvey Kendal for the bodywork, Ian Drowne for everything alloy, my wife Tracey for putting up with my time at work and my son Luke for finding the B&M quickshift