Article reproduced from Carsport February 1985.
Written by Brian Patterson, Photos by Harold Moffett.
The chrome spanner crossed over the miniature polished hammer on the wooden shield bearing the inscription about the best rally preparation team in the business — that plus the ear to ear grin said it all — Sydney Meeke from the Bush, outside Dungannon, had just been awarded an out of the blue recognition for his talents in the field of rally car preparation and on-event servicing.
It was at a gathering of “who’s who” of the motor sport world in the opulent surroundings of Shell-Mex House in London’s Strand that Sydney was called up on stage to collect his award. Present was the cream of the rally car preparation world — men like David Sutton who has run cars for world champions, Bill Blydenstein, John Taylor of Ford, David Whitehead of GMDS all stood and applauded Meeke. No one begrudged him his honour, recognising only too well the sort of talent it takes to present Bertie Fisher’s Opel Manta 400 throughout the British Rally Championship in the sort of meticulous manner which brings results like 2nd on the Manx and top ten on the Lombard RAC. Not to mention achievements like Billy Coleman’s seven International starts in 1984, seven finishes, four outright International wins.
For Sydney’s part, when he stopped grinning after lifting the award, he was quick to point out, “If you are writing anything about this, make absolutely sure you mention the boys, the mechanics, because you know this is all down to them — they do the work, they’re a real good team.”
Be that as it may, but it is Sydney Meeke’s business — his and Carol — the other Meeke half! — it’s Sydney’s brains and personality which have built up rally car preparation to such a high level of repute. That level is now bringing its rewards. The latest order to arrive in the Bush is to build two new Opel Kadett GSE’s, one for Dealer Opel Team Ireland. the other for General Motors Dealer Sport Team.
When DOT-Ireland in Dublin were quizzed as to why the car was being prepared by Sydney Meeke in Dungannon, their spokesman came back quick as a flash, “And why not’? Sydney is the best that money can buy – look at the job he did for us last year with Billy’s car – no one can argue with that. By the way we call the car the Opel Kadette GSI down here — bye and good luck!”
So now we know – it was time to find out all about the new cars from the man himself. Sydney told the story of the two Opels up to the time this was being written
“Well, the orders came through just after Christmas. The problem then was that nearly all the suppliers were closed, some of them until the 7th January. We are under tremendous pressure to have the cars ready. It really will be touch and go. The English car for Stuart Nicholls has to be ready for the Swedish, the DOTI car for Frank Fennell by the first week in February – yes it’s going to be very, very tight — we’re all working ‘till 10 and 11 every night.
England sent us a brand new car, plus a bodyshell. Dublin sent us just a car, and that has turned out to be a real problem. Two of the boys have spent days and days trying to remove all the underseal and gunge that is injected into and under a new car – that is before we start welding up the body shell.
You see, even to build a Group A car, we have to start from scratch – every nut bolt and screw is taken off. Then the bare bodyshell is prepared – all the seams are re-welded, extra strengthening is welded in where allowed.
The alloy roll cages are bolted to 18 brackets, which means putting in the cage, marking the position of the brackets, taking the roll cage out, welding in the brackets and then struggling the cage back in – it takes days. I had to drive over to Germany for the cages, alloy they are, and quite a work of art. The set-up is similar to the Group B Manta, with the cage going through the front bulkhead and linking up with the front suspension mountings.
Indeed nearly all the parts for the car have had to come from Germany. For example, the rear axle has to be strengthened, and then special Girling disc brakes fitted – we had to fabricate the mounting brackets for the set up ourselves, but then matching the Girling set up on the back – we have A.P. brakes on the front – we are assured it works!
The Group A engine is coming from Sweden – Carneborn – while we build the new gears and limited-slip differential into the box ourselves.
At the moment we have one bare shell finished, and it is away to be painted – both cars will be in Opel colours – then when the painted shell comes back, we start all the work of careful reassembly, with special brake lines and all the bits and pieces necessary for a rally car. Really, it’s all about care and attention to detail, with literally every screw and nut examined to make sure it is up to the pounding of a special stage – there won’t be too much of the original car put back in.”
Sydney went on to tell me all about the all-night and all-day drives through the snow down the Autobahns of Germany, trying to beat the clock, the hundreds of phone calls involved, trying to assemble all the necessary bits and pieces together in the right place at the right time. He went on as well to tell me how worried he is that the cars will have no proper testing before they are sent out on the demanding stages of both Galway and Sweden.
That’s Stuart Nicholls first event under the banner of the British Junior Team. “It’s just one of those things,” observed Sydney, “We’ll do our best, and then it’s cross the fingers time. I’m sure there will be a few problems. But really the car should be good – it will have about 180 brake horsepower, and should be competitive. I’ve studied the German one, and learnt a bit from their mistakes.
But really this could well be the way to go in ’85 — the Group A road looks a much better bet for most drivers when you look at the cost of Group B rallying.
I’ll not say how much these cars will cost, but I do expect the prices to fall, firstly as more second-hand cars come on the market, and also as more sources of supply for the specialist parts become available. The one thing I would say is that I don‘t think I would build one again from an existing car – it will almost certainly be cheaper, and a better job, to use a new or second-hand car and a brand new unpainted shell – I’m thinking of keeping one in stock – and then when the job is finished sell off the painted shell from the new car – the motor trade are always looking for those?
At that, Sydney was becoming impatient – it was cold and dark outside. most people sitting with their feet up watching Coronation Street, but for Sydney Meeke and his dedicated small band of mechanics there are still hours of work ahead in yet another day, another tick on the calendar, the odds diminishing one more notch in their race to have the Opel Kadette rolling out of the Bush workshops. and hopefully on their way to bringing more rally honours to the workshop on the farm, just a few hundred yards from the Bush crossroads.