Michael Wood’s hit new heights bringing this Thames / Anglia 307E van back from the dead, and now complete with rare Piper twin-cam conversion, it goes and sounds as good as it looks.
I was born a petrolhead. From the age of five, I helped my Dad fix and service his car. I would instinctively hand him the correct parts and spanners when he needed them — without him having to ask. Afterwards, my go-kart would be up on a block of wood with me underneath it.
I was a proper old car anorak and could pretty much identify everything on the road. I could even sense whether they were front or rear-wheel-drive… But, I can’t remember ever noticing an Anglia van. Roll forward 20 years to the 1990s and I stumbled across a couple of them parked up together in the paddock at Santa Pod. They were both blue and riding low with wide wheels. One had a fettled Pinto, the other a Fiat twin-cam. I couldn’t believe how absolutely damn cool they looked. I was properly smitten. An Anglia van was firmly on my bucket list.
As die-hard classic Ford enthusiast, I’ve owned many Escorts, Capris, Anglias along with a Sierra XR4x4, Sapphire Cosworth and an early Escort XR3 which was probably the worst car I’ve ever owned, but I eventually bought my first Anglia van in 2001. It was ratty and satin black with a 1600 Crossflow and Lotus steels. It looked bit rough but was fairly solid. As is often the case, I didn’t really have the time to do something worthwhile with it and it was eventually sold on to a friend.
My itch still not properly scratched, I ended up buying this one in 2007. It had a 2-litre Pinto on 45s, and was sat on coil-overs and Minilites, so it was right up my street. In the advert, it looked to be in OK condition. However, while it was for sale, the seller managed to crash it into a fence, resulting in a bent front panel and driver’s side wing plus a broken wheel and damaged suspension. These vans are so rare, I ended up buying it anyway. It wore very fresh paint, but was clearly hiding many horrors. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have bought it. I didn’t want a massive project and therefore should have waited for a more honest example to turn up for sale.
Can of worms
Once it was home, the initial plan was to quickly sort the bent bits, fix a split bulkhead seam and chassis leg, add a bit of paint and smoke it around. But the can of worms quickly opened. I began chasing rot, which became never-ending. I would repair a section only to discover another big hole just beyond. Eventually, I was cutting out whole sections. Much of it was either rotted out, or 40 years’ worth of MoT patch over patch over patch. By this point I stopped to reassess my situation. Had it been a more common saloon model, it would have gone straight in the bin. However, because these 307E vans are so rare, I felt it deserved the chance to live again, but as something a bit more special. So the crusty and patched over bits were removed in their entirety, all to be replaced with original-spec panels and sections. These were spot-welded in place. All of the fabricated repairs were again spot-welded or butt-welded then linished back and made invisible. Eventually, the shell was all straight and pretty much back to original factory specification.
When I create a modified car, I always begin with a detailed vision from the outset, never making it up as I go along. I like cars to be understated and subtle but with a twist. With this in mind, I began by smoothing and deseaming the engine bay. Where possible, most ancillary items would be hidden away. To help achieve this, a brand-new loom was designed and manufactured to my own specification. It’s standard van spec from the dash back, and from the dash forward is all to my own spec. Firstly to run the Piper twin-cam Pinto and secondly so it could all be hidden out of sight.
The twin-cam Pinto is an incredibly rare bit of kit, being amongst the rarest of all period Ford tuning items. I remember them being available in the 1980s, and I still have all the original magazine articles along with many period pictures. I purchased this particular engine many years ago, along with a job lot of other stuff. It subsequently sat in the corner of the garage for many years. It was always destined for the van. It would be the focal point and was absolutely my inspiration to keep persevering — during the countless times I felt like giving up.
It’s not a straightforward job to fit a Pinto into the tiny engine bay of an Anglia. Either the engine has to sit back into a chopped-out bulkhead or the radiator has to sit forward inside a modified front panel. Neither of which I wanted. It had to look like it was there from the factory — not like an afterthought. Eventually, and with a lot of head-scratching and stubborn attention to detail, I made it all fit and work. It’s very tight though. Many of the features aren’t obvious unless you look very closely or they’re pointed out for you. Things like my home-fabricated inlet manifold which moves the carbs forward and upwards in order clear the bulkhead and distributor. The throttle linkage and cable are hidden, likewise the coil and home-made HT leads. The clutch/brake fluid reservoir is nowhere to be seen.
I was very determined to make this particular big stainless exhaust manifold fit. It’s meant for an Escort and took a lot of persuading to fit the confines of the Anglia bay. It leads into a one off stainless system with a couple of big silencers. I’d rather listen to the shouty Webers than a loud exhaust.
The front end is all Escort-based. A set-up which usually splits opinion amongst the purists. However, I’m not a purist and always think outside the box in order to make things work. The problem with Escort underpinnings in an Anglia is the resulting wider track width. Therefore, I modified mine, firstly to bring it to within standard Anglia dimensions. I was absolutely determined to fit those 7×13 inch rims with a -7 offset. And secondly to get the Pinto sat exactly where I wanted it. The brakes are 2.8i Capri vented discs up front with Hi-Spec four-pot callipers.
Working backwards, there’s a modified 2.8i Capri five-speed gearbox. This has bigger bearings and much better ratios than the more commonly-used 2-litre Sierra item. There’s an RS2000 alloy sump and bellhousing which is modified for hydraulic clutch actuation. The standard van axle remains and is fitted with a 3J plate-type LSD.
Nuts and bolts
Once back from the paintshop, the whole thing was reassembled using brand-new nuts and bolts with refurbished fixtures and fittings throughout. Including all new door seals, felts and rubbers, new headlights and indicators, new door handles — all using new seals and gaskets — and finally a set of brand-new stainless bumpers. The interior was all redone, with homemade doorcards and new custom carpet. I chose the silver-grey theme to co-ordinate with the similar colours in the engine bay.
Out on the road, it’s quite lairy. The engine and this particular pair of 45s make it quite loud and shouty. I’m told it sounds like a stage rally car coming up the road — only for a little blue van to appear. That makes it all worthwhile!
Words Michael Wood
Photos Adrian Brannan
See more photos and get the full spec on this Anglia 307E van in the May/June issue
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