Steve’s built more Crossflow engines than he’d care to admit, but the head honcho at Vulcan Engineering reckons there’s life in the old Kent yet.
How did you get into cars?
To be honest, I wasn’t really into cars, they found me! I was more into football — playing it and supporting Queens Park Rangers, which was our local side as I’m from Hayes in Middlesex. It was the natural thing to do, but then I got a Saturday job at the age of 13 at Vulcan and at 16 when I left school, I started there full-time — you could say, I’ve only ever had one job because in 2001 I bought the company from founder, Paul Blanchot! In 2007 we moved to Brands Hatch, where we are now.
My first Ford was my first car. When I passed my test, my Nan bought me a Mk1 Escort 1300 Estate, which cost her the princely sum of £195. I really wanted a saloon but even back then, they were out of reach, so I bought the next best thing and bought an Estate.
What happened to it?
I took the engine out and fitted that into my second car, a Mk2 two-door Escort, and scrapped the rest.
How did you get into building engines?
Working for Vulcan, I built my first full engine for my Escort — a 1300 Crossflow with a twin-choke. I was 17 and built it under the guidance of Paul Blanchot, which I suppose stood me in good stead — at least it shows you’re keen! There’s a sign I saw years ago that sums it all up for me: Our best work will be done tomorrow. It’s not just a job but a passion.
You’ve built a fair few Crossflows over the years — is there one that stands out?
Quite a few in terms of performance, but there are several that have funny stories attached to them. The most bizarre was a bloke that wanted the full Monty, all-steel race Crossflow, which at the time would have come to around £7500-£8000. That was fine and he gave me a deposit. The problem came when he arrived to pick it up, and told me, ”Don’t let me Dad know how much it cost!” They duly turned up and he asked to use the toilet, which was round the back. What he did was leave £6000 in cash in the loo, then came back with a nudge, where I gave him an invoice, folded so his Dad couldn’t see it, and he handed over the balance! His Dad said, “Blimey, that’s cheap — think I’ll have one of those next year!”
How does a typical Crossflow build today compare with 15 years ago?
Way different! Back then we’d be building engines with around 110-130 bhp. Now, the average is around 155 bhp, or it’ll be a standard-ish rebuild because there’s now really only two situations where someone wants an engine. Either it’s going in a restored or near-standard car, or it’s being built for track day use or drag racing. We used to use Kent 234 and 244 cams all the time, now it’s a 254 with mostly steel components. It’s either all-out or resto.
Are you finding it harder to source parts?
Pistons aren’t a problem — I tend to shy away from OE cast stuff because they’re either unreliable or you can’t get the compression ratio you want, so you need to use custom bowls. I’ve used custom Wössner pistons for a while now so that isn’t an issue. Blocks and heads? Yes, they are getting much harder now — I still have a stock but it’s drying up, while buying complete engines is difficult because they command so much money — gone are the days where you’d get them for £100. Increasingly, we’ll be using new Formula Ford blocks, while alloy heads have been available for a while. I’m just quoting on an engine that will be all-new — a brand-new, all-steel Crossflow!
Has the Crossflow reached its full potential?
Definitely. There’s probably stuff you can do with throttle bodies and a few tricks here and there, but that’s really only refinement. We’re building track-day engines with 155 bhp on a regular basis and full-race 1800cc engines with close on 180 bhp, but with Historics, the limiting factor is the transmission .
Any embarrassing engine-related moments you’d care to admit to?
Anyone who says they don’t mess up from time to time is lying, but it’s knowing how to get out of it and put it right that counts. I remember we were running an engine on the dyno for a German customer, and he called to say he’d just got off the boat to pick it up. As I put the phone down, the engine picked up a valve on the dyno. So two of us whipped the head off quick and re-honed the guide and put it back together — he walked through the door just as we were resetting the tappets! He’s ordered three more engines since so I’ll admit to that one!
Words and Photo Jon Hill
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