Meteor V12-powered 1932 Rolls-Royce-based custom

Darren Smith's Rolls-Royce custom runs an all-alloy, 27-litre DOHC V12 donk from a Centurion tank

Photographers: Noah Thorley

You’ll see all sorts of engine configurations at Drag Challenge, from rotaries to bent-eights, but it’s pretty rare to see a 27-litre V12 hanging out in the pits! Darren Smith brought his incredible Meteor-powered Rolls-Royce custom to Heathcote Park Raceway on registration day for a look around.

First published in the March 2023 issue of Street Machine

So what exactly is this, Darren?

It’s a 1932 Rolls-Royce chassis with a ’47 or ’48 Meteor engine out of a Centurion tank. It’s equivalent to the Merlin [fitted to Spitfire fighters] without the supercharger.

One side’s a Packard Merlin; it’s had a blow-up in its day and somebody’s put a Packard side on it. Ford made them, too; everyone in America participated.

I love that eight-carb set-up!

They’re 94 Holley twin-barrels. The Meteors used to have carbies in the valley, Solexes or whatever, and this carb set-up was out of an old boat from the 60s.

What kind of power do these engines make?

The early ones were 600hp, and then they made them a bit better at 650. They were rated to something like 1400lb-ft at 1200 revs. You had to move a 70-tonne tank.

It’s not about speed or how much fuel you used; the taxpayers were paying for that!

They were a pretty advanced thing for their time, right?

Yeah, they’re dual-overhead-cam, bevel driven, dry-sump and all alloy. It’s got a header tank and radiator in the back.

Did you do it all yourself?

The whole lot, every square millimetre. What I couldn’t buy I made. I like land-speed cars out of the 20s and 30s.

I can’t afford to buy one for 500,000 or 600,000 pounds, so I built my own.

What’s the rest of the driveline?

It’s got a fully manualised Dodge 727 gearbox that I built and adapted to it, and it’s still a 1932 Rolls-Royce rear end with a 1.82 gear ratio and 36-inch-tall tyres.

Everyone puts a step-up gearbox in them, but then they run hot and the water pump doesn’t spin fast enough. So yeah, it’s the original 25hp diff. You just go slow; it’s fine!

How long has it been together for?

I finished it in October last year; this is the longest drive I’ve been on so far.

There’s a couple of guys I know who are racing here, so I thought I’d just drive out to have a look and give it a bit of a run. It seems to run all right!

What’s the plan now?

I reckon I’ll do Drag Challenge for real. It doesn’t have to do 10-second quarters; it’s just how much money I’ll have to pay to get it through! I think it used 30 litres [to drive the 45km] to here from Bendigo!