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Like most journeys into the unknown, this one began with an idea.
“I was rallying a Sunbeam-Lotus,” Kim Mather says, as we survey one of the most improbable weapons ever to scorch a special stage.
“I had some decent results in 1983-’84, and on a good day I could hold off the BDA-engined Escorts. Then the big-money cars started to appear.”
“You could see the way the wind was blowing,” continues Kim, “and before long you had Sierra Cosworths coming into club rallying. Then it was Metro 6R4s.
“I got to thinking about how I could still be competitive without spending a fortune.
“It came to me while I was at a Warrington Motor Club dinner-dance: why not do a car with two engines?
“My friend Mike Storrar and I then started working it out on a beermat.”
Few people have gone further on less in motorsport than this likeable all-rounder, a point borne out by the miscellaneous parts heaped against the walls inside the workshop adjacent to his house in St Helens, Merseyside.
It has been the centre of operations for the Mather family for more than half a century (and at one point was also the home of Colin Bennett’s racing team).
It once reverberated to the sound of hardcore single-seater machinery, but more recently a twin-engined Volkswagen Scirocco; one that, following a meticulous restoration, garnered a new generation of fans at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed last June.
So just how did Kim make the leap from one-time track hotshoe to club rallying’s great lateral thinker?
“My dad did the Rallye Monte-Carlo, and also the RAC Rally when they first moved into the forests. He drove Austin A35s, DKWs and so on,” says Kim.
“I remember seeing him on telly doing an autotest in New Brighton with a fag in his mouth.
“It was in my blood so I always wanted to have a go.”
“As soon I could drive, I got a Morris 1300,” Kim continues. “I then got into rallying a twin-cam Escort, but my brother Michael wanted to be the next Jackie Stewart.
“Dad was always wheeling and dealing in all sorts, and we ended up with a couple of ‘wedge’ Lotus 61s. That’s what started me out on the circuits.”
In the 1970s, Kim raced all manner of cars, becoming a legend in Formule Libre circles aboard his own machines – many of which were rebuilt from crash-damaged wrecks, including an ex-Gilles Villeneuve Chevron B34D.
He also campaigned those belonging to family friends, such as an ex-Jackie Oliver BRM P153, before graduating to the Aurora AFX series towards the end of the decade.
Having made it as far as the European Formula Two Championship, competing in obsolete equipment in selected British rounds, in the early 1980s he arrived at a career crossroads.
Money, or rather the lack of it, prompted a rethink.
“I knew I could beat the guys I was up against in Aurora,” says Kim. “Most of those running in the F2 class were weekend racers rather than professionals.
“I found myself a backer, the Newton Aycliffe Development Corporation, which helped for a few years even if the budgets were still small.
“I was going to switch to Touring Cars for 1982, and was negotiating with Gordon Spice to race a Ford Capri, but then there were changes at Newton Aycliffe.”
“The new boss on the promotions side thought motorsport was a waste of money, so it was back to square one,” he continues.
“Then a friend of mine, Martin Johnson, whose Ferrari ‘Breadvan’ I had fixed and raced when it came to the UK in the early 1970s, phoned to say that he had pranged his Porsche.”
The upshot was that Kim acquired and straightened the 911, put a rollcage into it and entered a single-stage rally: “That was in 1982. I lost count of how many times I spun.”
“After that, I got the Sunbeam-Lotus and then replaced it with this,” Kim explains. “I’ll be honest, part of the reason for doing a Scirocco was that my crash-repair business specialised in Volkswagens.
“I was also aware of what VW was doing with twin-engined cars, initially with the Jetta. I must admit that the concept was also partially inspired by Peter Hayworth, who ran an engineering business from his home in Bury.
“He was a bit of an eccentric, to the point that he had a lathe in his living room. Anyway, he built a twin-engined Alfasud and that got me thinking.”
Equipped with a pair of written-off Sciroccos, Kim set to work in 1984.
He took the engine, front bulkhead, suspension and transmission components from one car and transplanted them into the rear of the other.
To ensure that this arrangement worked, there were two throttle cables.
A racing-type gearchange rod ran to the rear to ensure synchronicity for what must have been the cheapest four-wheel-drive conversion yet seen.
Just to further ramp up the weirdness quota, it initially ran with an auto ’box up front and a manual out back.
Kim used the gearlever just for the rear drivetrain, while the three-speed slushbox was left to do its own thing with the front wheels.
There were drawbacks, though – not least the obvious power penalty with a torque-converter automatic.
“The theory as I saw it was that you could flick it around like an Escort but, when you came out of corners, you had four-wheel drive,” he says.
“It turned out that Volkswagen was working on the same auto/manual concept,” explains Kim.
“I phoned the works team when I was building the car, spoke to someone senior and told them what I was doing.
“Then it went very quiet. I thought I had been cut off, but then the voice on the other end asked me how I knew about their secret plans.
“It made sense to me, at least to begin with.”
“On the car’s first event [the 1985 Newtown Stages in mid-Wales], everyone laughed,” says Kim.
“Nobody took us seriously. Then we were second fastest on the opening stage without even trying.”
That debut run wasn’t without its issues, however: “Unfortunately, I had missed one big thing: the radiator system was all enclosed.
“Air came over the engine and into the radiator at the back. I forgot all about the intake, didn’t I?”
“The air filters filled up with dust really quickly,” he explains. “We carried on and finished using just the auto.
“I went home, fixed it, repositioned the rad, placed a scoop on the rear, put the pipes in and so on.
“We did another rally, a multi-stage event, running on road tyres and it was better.
“Then we did the Sylva Stages, by which time I had taken out the auto and ran two manuals.”
Both gearboxes were operated using a single gearlever, one that was modified with an extra output linkage to the rear transmission.
To avoid the chance of accidentally finding the wrong gear, both were solidly mounted, limiting their movement relative to the linkage.
Then there was the small matter of taming the handling: “I knew almost straight away that it had a future, but there was a lot of bump-steer at the back.”
“You would go into a corner and it would lean, then oversteer before it oversteered, if you know what I mean,” he continues. “It was always moving.
“I redesigned the suspension, dropped the pivots down for the control arms and put them on the wishbones. That made a big difference.”
Oh, and it also employed Sprintex S82 superchargers, just to keep things interesting: “We ran 9lb of boost at the front and 6lb at the back.”
“There was no technology in the car, it was off-the-shelf stuff with some practical engineering thrown in, but it worked,” he recalls.
“It ran to 120bhp at the rear wheels and 106bhp at the fronts. There was a 45:55 weight ratio front to back. You would turn in and it would understeer then, as it gripped, it would start oversteering.
“We used to call it ‘Little Hurri’, as in Hurricane, and won rallies without spending a fortune, which was the whole point.
“It reached the stage where it was as fast as a Clubman 6R4 on the asphalt.”
Kim claimed victory in the Warrington Motor Club series in 1985 before repeating the feat a year later, and again in ’87, with his wife Yvonne as co-driver.
He also bagged the Association of North-Western Car Clubs Stage Rally Championship in 1986, going on to successfully defend his title in ’87, winning 10 rounds from as many starts in the latter season.
In addition, he pocketed the Liverpool Echo Star of Merseyside award in 1987 while he was at it.
Five titles in three seasons made the car a magnet for the media, and for sponsorship: from Autoglass and United Footwear (the latter was run by fellow former Aurora alumnus Alo Lawler).
However, his success soon put Kim in the crosshairs of the rule-makers and the Scirocco was suddenly sidelined.
“Basically, a new rule came in at the end of 1987 which meant that rally cars needed logbooks,” he recalls.
“I applied for one and it never arrived. I wasn’t given a reason, I just didn’t get one. It was all very underhanded.”
“Then, for 1989, another change of regulations stated that you couldn’t have an engine where there hadn’t previously been one,” Kim explains. “That got rid of quite a few innovative cars.
“My final event was a sprint in 1988 at Wallasey. Even then, everyone complained.
“I was in the same class as these Hart-engined Škoda clones with glassfibre bodies and their drivers kicked off, especially when I beat them.”
And then this most visible of rally cars seemingly disappeared.
“It sat outside up against a wall for six years,” Kim tells us. “Then it started getting rusty so I brought it inside the workshop.
“I didn’t do anything with it, though, until I was asked to do a demo during the Promenade Stages Rally in 2000.
“I struggled to get it started, and then everyone took off like idiots, so obviously I did the same, and blew the rear engine.”
“I didn’t touch it again until 2019, after I’d been at a celebratory event in Aintree,” says Kim.
“Everyone at our table was old, ill or infirm, and that spurred me on to rebuild it. Then COVID-19 hit and suddenly I had more time.”
Dovetailing the restoration project with fettling his ex-John Weatherley Sunbeam-Lotus, targets came and went prior to the VW being seen in public for the first time in two decades: “It was straightforward because it was all there. It’s just the usual story: lack of money.”
“I have tried to keep it honest,” he says. “I wanted to maintain the integrity of the car but have made a few changes, including replacing the original twin anti-roll-bar bodge at the front with a single 22mm H&H item.
“It now runs Mercedes-Benz SLK superchargers with 32mm restrictors, which give 10lb of boost.
“I could get a safe 400bhp out of it because it’s running steel head gaskets, but it doesn’t need it.
“If I was building the car now, I would run a dual-clutch gearbox set-up, throttle bodies, management system etc, but I used what was available in the mid-’80s.”
It went like a champ during its outing in West Sussex, too, even if Kim ran into the thicket of officialdom. Again.
“They wouldn’t let me do a timed run,” he says ruefully. “Honestly, it was a waste of time talking to the scrutineers.
“It had in-date seats, in-date belts, an in-date rollcage, but they took one look at it and…”
Images: Will Williams
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