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Lee Saywell’s Ford Corsair spans the generations in several ways:  a 1960s car, freshly built for the 2020s in a 1980s Pro Street style. This makes perfect sense, as he’s sure taken his sweet time building it!

A wise man once said: “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.” We all have our own unique perspectives on time. 10 minutes waiting for a bus in the rain is way longer than 10 minutes in an exam hall. A month is nothing in your forties or fifties, but it’s forever when you’re five. The key thing to remember is that, while the timespan of your life is a finite resource, it mustn’t be hurried or wished away. In these unusual times of lockdown and pandemic-forced malaise, it’s become more apparent than ever that we needn’t rush things.

ford corsair

This line of thinking has long been appreciated by Lee Saywell, who’s spent quite a long time completing the rather forthright Consul Corsair we have here today. “I decided to do something with it 20 years or so ago,” he ponders. Clearly not a man to make unnecessary haste. And in fact, the relationship stretches back even further: “My Dad bought the car around 30 years ago as a completely standard 1500cc Deluxe,” he continues. “He stripped it to carry out some restoration work, but due to other commitments this was never completed, and he lost interest in it. Eventually the car passed to me and I stored it for a while until I decided what to do with it.”

The approach may have been relaxed, but plan was always clear: having owned countless modified Fords and classic Americans, the direction of this Corsair was destined toward the Pro Street vibe. Lee was determined to do everything himself, although he perhaps didn’t appreciate the scale of the task at the outset, hence the elongated time-frame; indeed, he nearly gave up on it more than once. But every time he bounced back harder, until the point five years ago when Lee decided to get it done right, once and for all.

ford corsair

Starting over

“I actually began by ripping out most of the work I’d already completed and starting again,” he says. “The first job was to remove the entire floor and chassis from the front legs back. Having braced the shell, I fabricated a chassis using 4×2 inch main rails and Hauser Racing kick-ups. A new steel bulkhead and transmission tunnel were fabricated, with a lamppost and telegraph pole coming in handy to form the bends!”

Lee then crafted a custom CDS rollcage (bent by good friend, Guy Davenport), tied into the front chassis legs and supporting the struts as well as providing structural rigidity, and the floor was fabricated from sheet aluminium. The body was as good as you’d expect of a 1960s Ford, so there was plenty of repairing and replacing to be done, including two rear quarter panels, rear valance, both sills and the driver’s door. Interestingly though, the front panel and wings were like new, having been replaced following an accident before his dad bought the car. The only visible body mods are the shortened Capri bonnet bulge and slightly altered rear arches, and after endless hours of filling and smoothing, aided by a friend, Jeff Hawksworth, it was smooth enough for paint — laid down in the garage by another good mate, Gary Barnett. 

“Although I had originally intended for the whole car to be Ford, the rear axle ended up being a 10-bolt Chevy item, as it popped up already narrowed to the right width and was the right price,” Lee explains. “I’ve since fitted new gears and an Eaton TrueTrac diff. All of the adjustable four-link suspension and sliding wishbone track locators were fabricated by me, as were the adjustable front struts.”

ford corsair

American gear

When it comes to the engine, we’re looking at an unexpected source. Originally hoiked from a Mercury Monarch Ghia — imagine a sort of American Granada — the V8 is a 302ci with a twist. Lee had bought a complete and running Monarch with the intention of dropping the engine and transmission straight in, although today all that remains are the block, crank and rods. “I got carried away,” he shrugs. “This ended up being the only real saga of the whole build. Having stripped the engine down to a bare block, it was sent off to a professional engine builder for a rebore. I also got him to fit the new pistons to the rods; I then built the engine myself and installed it into the car. Once running it immediately overheated and almost seized up! Convinced I’d done something wrong, the engine was removed, stripped and sent off to Vospower in Newark for inspection and rebuild.”

It turned out the pistons had been incorrectly fitted (some were the wrong way round!), and annoyingly the overheating had ruined a lot of parts; however, Simon at Vospower put it all right and it hasn’t missed a beat since. It helped that the block is a rare Mexican casting, which is stronger, and once Lee had it all fitted along with his own home-made exhaust manifolds and system and DIY wiring, he found himself with a Corsair that was a bit of a handful. With around 350 bhp, it certainly doesn’t hang about. It’s been cock of the walk at various local shows and meets, as well as scooping a trophy at last year’s NSRA Fun Run at Oakham, all the while building confidence in the solidity and reliability of Lee’s slow-cooked creation.

ford corsair

Delayed gratification

“This year was going to be the one where I took it to all the big shows and maybe even found out what it can do on the drag strip, but the coronavirus crisis put a stop to that,” he says. “Maybe next year! But the reactions to the car have been fantastic — everyone seems to love it, waving and taking photos… and the one thing I’ve learnt is that everyone’s Dad used to have one!”

That may well be the case, but we’d wager you can count on your fingers the number of people who’ve taken on their Dad’s old Corsair and revamped it like this over the passage of decades.

Oh, and that wise man who once told us that “Time is an illusion”? That was Ford Prefect, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You see, all of these cosmic trails tie together. We all have our own take on the concept of time. Ford time, doubly so. 

Words Daniel Bevis

Photos Adrian Brannan

See more photos and get the full spec on Lee’s Ford Corsair in the August issue

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