KIWI drag racer Alex Hogg is the custodian of a very special engine – an awesome Hilborn-injected Ford SOHC 427 that has an Antipodean competition history going back almost 50 years.
This article was first published in Street Machine's Hot Rod magazine #13, 2014
The rear rims are genuine Berry & Chung items, cast in the early 70s. “I described the kind of wheel I wanted to run and Grahame wandered off to a corner of a workshop, came back with one of his old wheels and asked ‘Something like this?’”
“I always felt an engine like this shouldn’t be hidden away in a museum, but out for all to hear and see,” Alex says of the exotic mill that now resides in his front engine dragster, which was part of the New Zealand contingent at last year’s Trans-Tasman Nostalgia Challenge in Queensland.
This was the first time the rare racing engine had been out of New Zealand since the mid-1960s and Alex – who lives at Levin in the lower North Island with his wife Jocelyn – was proud to represent his country alongside four other Kiwi cars in the Australia versus New Zealand events at Warwick and Willowbank raceways in August.
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Powering the dragster is probably the most desirable Ford engine of all time, the SOHC 427. It was introduced in 1964 to take on Chrysler’s 426 Hemi, but was swiftly outlawed before the showdown could occur. The Cammer instead became a highly successful drag racing mill, powering A/FX Mustangs, nitro funny cars and Top Fuelers
“We were shocked and daunted to receive the email invite from Deano Anderson of Bay Rodders Tauranga because we wanted to represent our country well and we felt it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Alex said. Although the event resulted in a narrow victory for the Aussies, Alex said they really enjoyed the Australian hospitality and also getting to know the other Kiwi race teams some more.
As much as front engine dragsters have their own history, with nostalgia racing raging like wildfire across the globe, Alex’s car is particularly special for a couple of reasons – the engine and the chassis.
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The Ford SOHC 427 Cammer engine was originally imported into New Zealand in 1966 by speedboat and car racers Peter and Glen Urquhart, who owned Coventry Motors, an Auckland car dealership. The engine powered their fourth and final Miss Coventry superboat to a few New Zealand speed records at around 100mph. The engine then went to speedway racer Trevor Gray, who fitted it into his Mustang-bodied saloon.
In 1974, Alex came across a classified advertisement for the engine in New Zealand Hot Rod magazine. “I called the guy and said I’ll take it, without viewing the engine or even asking for the condition or any further details,” he recalls. He then scraped up just enough money to make the purchase and collected the engine from Gray in Tauranga, 500km north of Levin.
The engine was in pretty sad shape, with bent valves, broken rocker gear and a snapped cam timing chain. Alex stripped the engine and found rod caps on the wrong way. He started to make a list of the required parts, and began the lengthy process of sourcing them. Remember, this was before the internet and Alex spent a few years writing to businesses he found in American rodding magazines trying to source parts. “Businesses were great to deal with, but private parties were always wanting to trade parts,” he recalls. “It was a hell of a time to locate it all, really.”
The engine finally fired into life again in the late 70s on the workshop floor, but it wasn’t until the mid-80s that the SOHC found its way between the rails of a rear-engine dragster Alex had been putting together.
Initially, it wouldn’t rev past 5500rpm due to the points ignition breaking down, but the dragster became a regular competitor at the now extinct Thunderpark Dragway in Hastings until the late 80s, when priority went to other commitments like marriage, work and family.
But Alex held onto the engine with the intent of ‘one day’ running it again. That day came about 10 years ago when he was bitten by the nostalgia drag racing bug. Alex and Jocelyn started to get the wheels in motion to do something good with that increasingly rare and exotic Cammer engine.
After looking at a few FED chassis for sale, they decided to get something built and were inspired by the restored Beebe & Mulligan ‘Fighting Irish’ Top Fuel dragster in the US with its Woody Gilmore chassis and Tom Hanna body.
So in 2004 they went to see noted NZ car builder Grahame Berry, who had made his name through Berry & Chung and Grahame Berry Race Cars (now Kiwi Race Cars) in Wellington. Although semi-retired and not looking to do any more major builds, when Berry learnt that the dragster was to be like the Beebe & Mulligan car, he said yes because that was one of his favourite cars of yesteryear. As a result, this is the last car that Grahame Berry built, and Alex describes it as magic to drive.
Berry completed the car to the rolling stage, with the steering and drivetrain mounted, and Alex did the final assembly with the help of Jocelyn and friend Ross Windley. He and Ross also did all the alloy bodywork, the fuel tank, plumbing and wiring.
It was now that the Hilborn injection arrived for the rebuilt engine. Despite having to wait 12 months for it, Alex says the wait was well worth it in terms of looks and performance.
“Hilborn were great to deal with,” he says. “I’d missed out on a second-hand unit elsewhere, so I tried Hilborn and they actually had an unmachined casting on their shelf, so they put it together and flowed it and assured me it was ready to run, which it was. We haven’t touched it since.”
A Mallory electronic ignition was fitted and the first outing in 2008 at nearby Masterton Motorplex resulted in a mid-nine-second pass. “The fuel shutoff kept closing, so Andrew Smith suggested we tie the shut-off open and we ran an 8.75.”
Track officials advised Alex that the five-point cage needed to be upgraded to a six-point, which was done by Colin Welsh at Kiwi Race Cars. The only other problem he’s had is that it’s a big job to freshen the engine with a six-foot-long 192-link timing chain!
The dragster has since run a best of 8.52 at 157mph and Alex is happy with that. “I want to keep it stock and run these numbers as I don’t want to risk blowing it up,” he says.
Every time he takes the Cammer-engined machine onto the track, someone always says, “I never thought I would see one of these engines running”. He reckons that makes it all so much more worthwhile.
The team at Willowbank Raceway in 2013: Jason Millington, Ross Windley, Barbara Taylor, Sandra & Ross McDonald, Jocelyn & Alex Hogg
THE donk in Alex’s car was originally imported into NZ by car and boat racers Peter and Glen Urquhart in 1966 from Vic Hubbard Speed & Marine of Haywood, California.
Glen recalls: “We’d been buying from Hubbard’s for four years and owner Jerry Light sent me a letter with a photograph of six brand new dual quad 427 SOHC engines he had available for $US650 each. I replied immediately that I’d take one.”
As luck would have it, their mother was travelling back from the US on the cruise ship Ordova and the crated engine came into New Zealand freight-free as personal carry-on baggage!
“It had 715hp at 6500rpm but we would run it up to only 6000 as we knew parts would be hard to import,” Glen said. “Mind you, we did over-rev it one day when we put the boat gearbox in round the wrong way.”
After a couple of years, the Cammer was sold and replaced by a BOSS 429 engine the Urquharts bought from the legendary Holman & Moody in the US. Glen remembers walking around the North Carolina facility with John Holman himself and seeing numerous Ford GT40s and Daytona Coupes. That BOSS 429 engine went on to gain fame in Roger Murray’s wheel-standing drag racing T-bucket.
Colour: XR6 Falcon dark and light blue
Type: 1967 Ford 427 SOHC
Block: OEM cross-bolted side-oiler block
Rods: Le Mans
Pistons: Forged, 12.5:1
Valves: 2.25in in, 1.95in ex
Gearbox: Powerglide, A1 internals
Diff: Ford 9in housing, Romac spool, 35-spline axles, 3.90:1
Frame: Chromoly 204in
Steering: Billet SPS box
Brakes: Wilwood calipers, Romac discs
Wheels: 17x1.5 spokes(f), 15x10.5 Berry(r)
Tyres: 17x2.25(f), 15x12.5(r)