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!