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November 2005
Ben Morley - 1969 MkI Van
Classic Ford November 2005
Dressed to impress in a somewhat alternative Le Mans Green, this wacky and wonderful XE-powered MkI van delivers a tasty 200 bhp and comes courtesy of the boys at oldskoolford.
Words: Russell Martin, Photography: Simon Dodd
IF YOU'VE EVER TRAVELLED ON A MOTORWAY AT ANY TIME IN YOUR LIFE, you'll know that it's not sales reps or supercars that blast past in the outside lane - it's vans. Ben Morley is no delivery driver, but if he ever decided to give things up as a mechanic and choose being a nationwide courier for his next profession, his current set of wheels would certainly get the package there on time. Ben is the prime mover behind this bonkers MkI van, which is as eye-catching from the outside as it is jaw-dropping on the inside. We say prime mover rather than owner because Ben admits it's for his dad. Ben and his mates set up, a website and forum dedicated to all things wonderful, old and sporting a blue oval. After numerous projects of his own, he wanted to showcase his skills, plug the business and create something for his dad to enjoy. "It feels food to have it done, get loads of good feedback on the website and to make by old man proud of me. He can come to all the meets we do in something half-sensible now," he explains. You'll notice that he said 'half-sensible', as if a 200 bhp rollcaged van is somehow practical.

Ben's father Ian set up Morleys Auto Services in the late '60s, and having spent his formative years hanging around his dad's workshop, tinkering and getting his hands dirty, it's no surprise that he turned into a serial tweaker. His bubble-arched MkI featured in the first Group Thrash in the March 2005 issue of CF, and he confesses to have two other projects on the go already. The van began as 'something different, and something to advertise the business'. It certainly qualifies, as Ben explains it's the only five-linked van he's heard of.

Classic Ford November 2005 Starting with the one-owner donor van, the mechanicals were stripped and the inevitable repairs made. This included sorting the rotten sills and rear arches, as well as adding RS fibreglass arches at the front and cutting away some of the bulkhead to allow for turreted rear suspension. Ben points out that vans have higher chassis rails, allowing the axle to be mounted lower - just the way he likes it. The roll cage came next, based on an existing design but modified for the van's shape. The rear legs are modified to fit the turrets, and extra gussets secure it to the windscreen pillars. Bars in the sills give strength down the flanks without hampering access like traditional door bars.

Ben had already decided to fit the 2.0-litre Vauxhall XE engine, because it was sufficiently different from the more common engine conversions, and he knew what a good engine it was. "My plan is to have a fleet of XE-powered cars!" says Ben. The plan was to make it look as factory-fitted as possible (bearing in mind the engine is 31 years younger than the car). A seven degree tilt on the bellhousing means it can be mounted lower in the bay, and removing the dizzy mounting plate allowed Ben to shove it further back too - all the better for weight distribution. It went in otherwise standard for a while, but the desire to tweak it further was just too strong.

He packed the motor off to OAP Race Engines, and then sent the completed shell off for a respray. After discussing his plans with firm, they built a 'safe' bottom end, with a lightened and balanced crank, polished and radiused con rods, and lightened everything else. Although in a relatively mild state of tune at the moment, the SBD throttle body kit makes the most of the engine's current potential. A 25 thou' overbore brought it up to 2.1-litres, and the Accralite pistons are pocketed to allow lairy cams and solid followers to be fitted later on. Ben's reputation suggests that this will be happening quite soon.

Another problem was the fact that few firms make exhaust systems for vans, so Ben and his chums had to come up with something of their own. The eventual solution was a bizarre mix of a Simpson back box and a Peugeot 306 centre section. It works though, as a fruity rumble at low revs turns to a rasp as the revs rise. Fate played a hand in the paintwork too. "I drew the colour out of a hat," explains Ben. "We put Le Mans Green, Vauxhall Blue and Vista Orange in the draw. We all wanted Le Mans but weren't sure if it would work. I had a picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look with the black and green. I wanted black door handles too, so I sent some away to be powder coated and they came back melted".

Classic Ford November 2005 With this photoshoot just days away, many pairs of hands were involved in getting it finished. Ben's dad stepped in to sort the rear disc conversion, while at the rear, the link rods and the panhard rod needed fiddling to get the axle sitting in the right place. It clearly works, as the rear wheels look well planted for maximum traction, while the fronts have enough negative camber to deliver serious grip. "I'm not really interested in straight lines" says Ben. "I prefer corners. At least at the end of every straight there's a corner." After competing with some success in dirt oval racing in a MkII, you can see why he spent so much time getting it set up properly. A smart auto-electrician stepped in and produced a custom loom, hiding as much wiring as possible in the engine bay for a clean look, and incorporating the sweet push-button ignition and starter.

In actual fact, the car is so freshly finished that it had had no exercise until the day of the shoot. "It's the first time I've driven it today. It feels great," says Ben. A few hundred miles of restraint are needed before the engine is properly run in, but apart from a rolling road session to map the ECU, setting up the diff and having custom exhaust made up, it's all done.

The icing on the cake for the MkI's owner was for sure the signwriting: "I got a proper old boy to do it in paint. He was puffing on a pipe the whole time." Just like the rest of the van, it proves that old is gold - especially when it comes to classic Fords.

You XE Thing

As an alternative to a YB or Zetec, Vauxhall's 2.0-litre XE engine has a lot going for it. Enduring popularity and a good competition history means there's plenty of kit available, and a host of tuners who know how to get the best from it. Go for a throttle body kit like Ben and you can get an easy 180 bhp, while some extra headwork and modified internals will get you over 200 bhp.

Firms like SBD have been building race-spec engines for years, and one of their full-house motors pumping on 100 Octane fuel had produced 299bhp. The only difficult part will be finding a decent one. The earlier coscast versions don't suffer from the porous head problems of the latter Vauxhall-produced versions, thought this problem can be fixed.

Tech Spec

1969 MkI van, restored with rear arches, sills, rear panel, floor and fibreglass RS wings, front section of rear bulkhead removed to allow turreted suspension, Teflon-coated satin black quarter bumpers, carbon door mirrors.
2.1-litre Vauxhall C20XE, mildly-ported Coscast head, SBD TP208 tapered throttle bodies, MBE management, Accralite forged High intruder piston, lightened and balanced bottom end, SBD rod bolts, lightened flywheel, modified sump.
Quaife five-speed straight-cut professional gear set, quickshift, Helix paddle clutch, 3.7:1 LSD.
Front: 360 Biltein struts converted to coil-over, 200lb springs, adjustable TCAs, concentric top mounts, anti-dive kit. Rear: Five-link, turreted, Spax coil-overs, 160lb springs.
Front: Bias pedal box, four-pot callipers, 257mm vented front discs. Rear: Granada callipers, KA vented front discs
7 x 13inch Revolution wheels, powder coated satin black, 175/50R13 Continental ContiSportContact tyres.
Custom-made roll cage, pillar gussets, Sparco Rev seats, modified two-dial clocks with Smith classic gauges, custom centre console with push button starter and toggle switches, ignition barrel removed, snap-off steering wheel.

Ben's Van was also featured in Retro Ford, & has been reproduced by kind permission of Retro Ford with follow ups in later issues shown on Ben's SBD web page
2.0L Taper Throttle Kits
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