Blair Harberís 100 Targa Car AHX12

With only 3 weeks until the car had to be loaded for transportation to St Johnís there was still a lot to do. The plan was to complete everything and then try to put at least 500 miles of testing on the car before shipping.

It took about one week to install all the remaining equipment and start actually driving the car to check that everything worked. On the first test drive we were surprised at how stiff the rear suspension was. It was only after driving around with Jim watching the suspension through the battery cover that we discovered that the diagonal brace for the roll bar was installed too close to the park brake disc and this was causing the disc to contact the brace on compressions. We decided that the roll bar brace had to be moved and the park brake cable and caliper would need to be positioned on the opposite side of the diff to clear the brace. It is amazing how long such a simple sounding operation can take when the pressure is on. By the time we were ready for the next test run there were only 10 days left.

Out on our second drive and one of our custom rear axle assemblies let go.

The cause of the Failure is Obvious in Hindsight!!

It looks all very obvious after the failure, we had not allowed sufficient depth of engagement where the shaft was shrunk and welded into the flange. A bit of head scratching and it was determined that a new pair of shafts and flanges would be required.

I quickly drew up the revisions and sent a design to Marwyn Manufacturing who worked some very long hours to get a new set out us in 3 days, meanwhile I continued with tidying up some other items that needed attention.

The new axles were installed and we were able to start actually driving the car to check that everything was working. We then discovered that once we had the engine completely warmed up some rather significant tuning problems became evident. The 45 DCOE Webers installed on the engine were a mismatched set that I had overhauled for last years event. We tried for hours with different jets and emulsion tubes and air bleeds but could not solve a persistent cough back through the carbs when the engine was hot, despite advice from the best Weber experts around.

With time ticking by and the coughing problem seeming to get worse rather than better we made the decision to buy a new pair of 45 DCOEs pre jetted and ready to install.

We arranged for them to be delivered in time to be taken to St Johnís and fitted on the car there.

A complete fluid change and careful check of all the accessible fasteners and AHX12 was loaded onto the transporter on the morning of 6th September to start its big adventure.

We flew out to St Johnís on Friday the 12th and collected the car from the shipper the same day to take it back to our hotel to install the new carbs in the parking lot.

Carburettor Installation in the Holiday Inn Parking Lot, St Johnís

Then we headed off to the Mile One Stadium for registration, and all the other preparation.

AHX 12 undergoing final checks at Mile One

The red mini next to AHX12 is owned by Dick Paterson who was my navigator in Targa Newfoundland 2002. The engine is a 1430 c.c. with electronic fuel injection on a cross flow Arden head producing something like 140 BHP !!


We forgot to paint the tow eyes yellow. Blair solved this with emergency tape.

Blair was in charge of decal installation, quite a chore in itself, while I busied myself with scrutineering, entry paperwork, and checking out the competition, some of which was fairly daunting. 2003 had 62 entries.

1954 Studebaker Commander with Lincoln Power

1991 Porsche RUF RGT

Most of the entries can be seen at


The way these events are set up, with handicap times based on the performance of the individual groups the previous day, we still felt that we had a good chance of doing well even if our 200 odd horsepower was about 40% of that of many of the other entries!!

After various ceremonies and celebrations we were off to the "Demo Day" at the Newfoundland Legislature Buildings the next day.

The weather was very hot, record temperatures for this time of year in Newfoundland, and on the way to the Demo Day we encountered out first minor technical glitch. The thermo switch controlling the radiator cooling fan decided that it didnít want to do this any more and would not turn the fan on. Eugene, Ian and Jim, our faithful service crew, quickly had that fixed and we started some demo runs to prove to the organizers that we could actually drive.

Demo Day in St Johnís

The car had only done 120 miles when it arrived in Newfoundland and all of those were on public roads so this was my first opportunity to drive it at speed. The results were nothing short of awesome. The handling with the modified suspension was so superior to that of the 100S that we were quickly able to become very confident in the car. I had set the rev limiter way down at 5300 RPM but even at that the power and acceleration were awesome.

The next day was the Prologue. This consists of 2 stages and some "transits" and is used to determine the start order and handicapping for "Day I".

Blair and I quickly settled into a protocol for communicating and I have to give him huge credit for being cool and very brave. I could never be a navigator in this type of event. Being strapped into a car which is careening through neighbourhoods and country roads at ridiculous speeds almost unable to lift your head to see where you are going is far more than I could take. The navigator has to call the turns from the route book for a road that neither he nor the driver have ever seen in such a manner that the driver knows what is beyond that blind crest or curve. Left right dyslexia or a stutter are not recommended attributes.

We had decided that we were going to drive this event at a pace which would just allow us to make our minimum average speeds, thus conserving the car, and that is pretty well what we did. The highlight of the day was driving into Beachy Cove Elementary School where the 500 odd pupils were lined up cheering our arrival for lunch. Blair and I had writers cramp from all the autographs.

Blairís Coffee will have to Wait.

Next day was DAY 1. The big one.

In 2002 we ran into a crashed car 4 kilometres into the 1st stage of Day 1 so as you can imagine that this was one that I approached with some trepidation. Fortunately we made it through unscathed.

From here on things become something of a blur. 33 stages in 5 days all over the south and east of Newfoundland.

A total distance of over 2200 kilometres something like 450 of which were flat out racing. The route organizers threw everything at us that they could from 40 Ė 50 km undulating coast road stages to the subdivisions of Gander, twice, and some real horrors like Grand Bank and Placentia Arm.

You can view them all at

As a result of frost heave many of the road surfaces were pretty rough and there were times when Blair was very concerned for the wellbeing of AHX12, not without reason I might add, however other than the exhaust bumping on the ground once in a while the car took it all in stride and kept on trucking.

On a Special Stage

The first three days were not too hard and by the end of stage 21 eight cars, including AHX12 were still "clean" with no penalties. Then we hit stage 22, the first stage of Day 4. Frenchman's Bay to Garnish. The organizers decided that it was time to start sorting out the 8 leaders to avoid having too many finishing "clean". We started off really well and with the stage opening up in the later part we were above out required average speed for the first third indicating that we could easily "clean" the stage. This is when we encountered our second technical hitch of the event.

As we entered a sharp downhill right hand turn at an intersection, on a mixed gravel and paved surface, the clutch suddenly decided that it was not going to release. I was unable to grab second gear at the critical moment so we skidded to a halt having overshot the corner and the engine stalled when I had to lock up all four wheels to avoid going over a bank. At this stage I wasn't quite sure what had happened. My first suspicion was that the gearbox selectors had broken, but when I discovered I could select gears with the engine stopped all was revealed. Select 1st press the starter button and with a quick loop we were back on out way.

Changing gears without a clutch is something of an art at the best of times. When you are wearing a helmet so you can't hear the engine properly, have a cam doesn't come in until about 3000 RPM, an engine has such a light flywheel that it looses revs about as quickly as Michael Schumacherís Ferrari and Blair barking instructions into your intercom it gets a bit tricky.

In that stage where only 5 cars managed to come out clean we lost our first time, 7 seconds dropping us to 6th.

Fortunately the next transit and stage were easy ones and it gave me a brief opportunity to practice shifting gears with no clutch.

The starts of the stages became very interesting. We would wait about 30 meters behind the start line then at 10 seconds from our start time in 1st gear I would push the starter and idle up to the line trying to hit the gas, zero the average speed meter and cross the line all at the word GO.

The next two stages were diabolical, with only 7 cleaning the first of them and 9 the next. Fortunately we were among them in both cases.

At the end of day 4, after 2 more really tough stages in which everyone lost time we were down 40 seconds but up to 5th place.

As soon as we got to the overnight in Marystown Jim, Eugene, and Ian leapt into action. When the gearbox was out the problem was revealed. One of the clutch cover release lever eye bolts had snapped so that only 2 of the 3 release levers were pulling the pressure plate back. We could not figure out what had caused the failure but close examination of the eye bolt seemed to indicate that that it had been cracked during manufacturing. As there was no hope of getting such a part at night where we were Eugene made one out of a nut, a bolt and a piece of rod. The boys worked until 4.30 in the morning, pulling the gearbox out 3 times to adjust the clutch to eliminate shudder.

Back in the car for Day 5, the last day of competition, everything seemed to be working fine. We had been warned that this was to be the toughest day yet; we were ready. The day started with a 2 ½ hour transit to the first stage. Clutch working fine and all systems go. But the gods were not with us. About half way into the first stage the clutch went out again. Fortunately this time we knew immediately what was wrong and were able to recover and slip back into the clutchless shift mode of the previous day. 27 of the 37 cars still running in the Targa class lost time in the stage, some as much as six minutes, but we made it through clean again, I know not how.

By this time Blair was becoming an expert navigator and we had become a real team with instructions flowing easily at precisely the correct time. Navigating is actually quite a skill in itself because, on tight stages, when constantly looking down at the route book the only indication that the navigator has that an instruction has been completed is by way of the movement of the car or some murmured comment from the driver. Resistance to motion sickness is another good attribute for this job.

By this time we were really counting down the stages and my right hand, badly bruised from the heavy shifts, was starting to object profusely to any further abuse but there was to be no relief, next was the gruelling Placentia stage.

The Placentia Arm Stage. A bit of a Challenge without a Clutch

Starting at the top (ATC) this is a very hard stage and having no clutch didn't make it any easier. 41 turns at intersections 15 of them acute where only 4 cars made the base time took us for another 8 seconds. At the end of this Blair and I were both completely drained and rather relieved that there were only 4 more stages to go. Three of which were pretty easy.

The course setters weren't finished with us yet and threw in a final stage called Petty Harbour just to make sure that they had eliminated any possibility of a tie. With tight turns, an average speed of 62.9 KPH and some dramatic elevation changes this was another real test. We made 8th for

the stage with a loss of only 14 seconds and my hand starting to throb with pain!! This is for fun?

AHX12 & Dick Patersonís Mini at Cape Spear. (The finish)

So there it is; 33 stages in 5 days Total time penalty of 1:07 and a margin of 0:29 seconds behind the winner, a very quick and expertly driven 1972 BMW Bavaria.

Other than the clutch problem AHX12 came through completely unscathed and as we cleaned her up to be on display at the entrance to the Award Presentation Gala the only scratches we could find were those that we had put on ourselves during the hurried assembly process.

Safe and sound in St Johnís and all cleaned up for the Gala.

If you are looking for the event of a lifetime consider the Targa Newfoundland it is truly a memorable experience, see you there in 2004!!

To everyone who helped Blair and me get AHX12 to the end of the Targa Newfoundland 2003 a heart felt thanks.

Mike Salter