Ferrari P4 Replica the Ultimate Build
Writing articles about classic cars and historic events is where all my attention has been focussed in my journalistic travels and up front I must confess to knowing very little about the kit car scene apart from a brief flirtation with a Dutton B plus many years ago. Firstly I prefer the term ‘replica’ because it seems to be a more precise description of a car I first heard about last year. I was asked to cover the Jersey International Festival of Motoring, an unusual event including classic cars and bikes with hill climbs and sprints on the roads around St Helier. An email from the organisers of the event came my way offering a chance to view a Ferrari P4 replica of the highest quality that had taken local man Rob Romeril 7 years to complete. Friends on the island confirmed the details and one had seen the car go for its DVS road worthy check but I was a bit sceptical about how good it really was. The Ferrari P4 V12 has huge historic status with originally just four of the 330 type built for endurance racing in 1967, the car had a great deal of success in distance events including Monza 1000klm and Le Mans 24 hours. Later the cars were altered to compete in the Can Am series and the model was enjoyed by great drivers such as Jackie Stewart. Up to the present day the P4 still courts controversy with replica machines being built at huge costs using original parts, also chassis 0858 is in the process of being fitted with an all new aluminium body, the question being asked is can they be called an original P4? This would not be an issue for Rob, with a Foreman Mark 4 chassis number 51 he knew what he wanted to achieve and why he was doing it. I on the other hand would take some convincing, so my first question to Rob was why? The story goes back to the millennium year and at the time Rob was the quickest driver in the Channel Isles. With no circuits available these small islands in the English Channel have enjoyed hill climbs and sprints on closed off roads for many years and the events are extremely competitive. Running a Pilbeam MP58 with a 600hp F1 Cosworth DFZ still did not guarantee success but after years of competition Rob was just about to hold every record these Islands offered. So in 2001 the mainland became the target for Rob and it was at Gurston Down when things took a dramatic turn for the worse, 3 weeks on a spinal board in Salisbury Hospital and 6 months off work after losing control crossing the crest at the finish line. After recovering and putting the car back together Rob returned to the fray but for the next 3 seasons he admits ‘the speed just wasn’t there anymore’. The Pilbeam was sold and in November 2005 and a month later a new challenge was needed and the story of the P4 began. The CD and manual arrived in time for some light reading over the festive break, a quote requested in January and order confirmed the following month for a Foreman Mk4 kit from Neil and Matt Foreman at NF Auto’s in Kent. Why that kit? ‘Well originally Noble made the kit and it looked right’. So was extensive research undertaken? I asked ‘No not really’ came the reply. Still having the magazines he looked through all those years ago Rob showed me other peoples completed machines some going back to the mid-1990s. I started to understand what had drawn him to this kit, Rob had his own ideas how it would be achieved and the changes required to give the result he would insist on. The original Ferrari V12 set up would make the car uneconomic but for the kit to wear the prancing horse it would have to be Ferrari in every detail possible. By chance whilst trawling the adverts looking for the right motor Rob purchased a low mileage Ferrari 360 engine and F1 gearbox from of all places EBay on 8th March 2006, now I realised this man has no fear at all. The choice was not made at random in-fact various options had been considered including a BMW V12 coupled with an Audi A6 gearbox but the Ferrari option always came out on top. This decision lead to the chassis mounts being made up before powder coating so NF Auto’s returned the chassis with engine and gearbox installed. Rob told me ‘that’s when the fun began! The complexity of the project with its 2 engine ECU’s fly by wire Throttle,F1 gearbox & controller & ECU, ABS & traction, which is CAN networked really hit home’. The V8 360 motor runs as two banks of four with separate ECUs, add to that the paddle shift, the electronics alone were too much for a ‘mere mortal’ to take in let alone make it all work. The location for the electronic shifter control unit would be the right hand side pod if one had come with the gearbox; unfortunately it took several months to source one, by now we are heading into 2007. During this time a relationship had built up between Rob and the Workshop manual, spending endless hours together in a bid to understand the wiring and systems and how to make them compatible and fully functioning. More shopping required, the list was making me nervous and it wasn’t even my money; a new loom, dash, throttle pedal assembly, master cylinder and ABS unit. The exhaust had also caused some head scratching so Rob made his own using the original catalytic convertors, two four into one units were fabricated with the help of JP Exhausts. When I look at any classic car the alterations and modifications made by any owner should be sympathetic to the design and carried out with the correct materials with a preference towards original parts. Therefore looking around the Mk4 at the details and the way every part has been fitted, the total attention to detail during the build whilst Rob explained how he made it happen, you just cannot help but admire what he has achieved and any preconceptions I had about Kit Cars have now diminished. In order to make the systems and electronics work the F1 gearbox, ECUs and control units all depend on information from the wheel speed sensors, nothing works without them and so another rather large stumbling block reared its head. The kit was designed to incorporate Ford Scorpio hubs with unique uprights and the speed sensors were not compatible with the Ferrari system, ‘this was a bit of a set-back’ Rob explained. The shopping trolley icon on the laptop was again going to get some use as the net was searched for a set of used Ferrari 355 uprights. These in turn had to be modified to accommodate the 360 wheel bearings and speed sensors on which the whole project now revolved. With most of the original kit redesigned very few parts that normally fit together existed and thus more specialist and bespoke parts were needed. Hand-made wish bones, custom built ‘Quick’ steering rack and the chassis modifications required to make everything fit. The geometry and set up for the cars steering and suspension was now a complete unknown, any help the manual could offer was pointless as most of the parts supplied were now just an ever growing pile of scrap. My question was obvious ‘how did you get it all to fit and work then’? Simple answer ‘a chassis genius called Paul James and a computer programme that with expert input offers the optimum chassis set up, mount points and steering geometry’, that didn’t sound very simple to me. Rob is happy to admit that without the help and time Paul put into the project a happy ending may never have occurred. By late 2007 the Mk4 was virtually a rolling chassis but it had taken its toll. The modifications on the chassis itself meant that it would benefit from a repaint and the time was right for a break, so the chassis went away to be made perfect. Rob shut the garage door and it would remain shut for quite a while.
Time for a Break
December 2009 in the garage again and the first issue was the rather large workspace looked tiny with the repainted chassis ready to accept the endless parts and panels that were by this time scattered around randomly. One part that the Mk4 would not run without was the Ferrari instrument panel or binnacle. Inside this rather subtle looking part was a host of electronics that one way or another connected to just about every sensor or control unit on the Mk4 and it didn’t fit. The dash cross member had to be cut and reshaped with location mounts moved so the panel not only fitted correctly it also sat angled towards the driver. The MR2 steering column was modified at this time so it sat correctly, had adjustment and was able to accept the 360 ignition switch, paddle shift levers and column switches. Next came the fly-by-wire throttle pedal and air con unit installation. With all the electronics situated it was time for the dreaded wiring loom to be tackled; when a 360 loom is installed in its natural environment it runs straight down the centre of the car, this was not going to be possible so Rob devised a way of using the right hand side pod and the only loom extension required would be to the dual fuel pumps (one for each bank of the engine). With the fuel tank not able to accommodate the height of the pair of Ferrari pumps the tank had to be cut and a six inch box section gave the extra space needed. Locating a 360 oil cooler above the gearbox allowed for the original hoses to be used and an electric fan was fitted, 355 air filter boxes and pipes needed modification but with that all finalised was there a light at the end of the tunnel? Time had moved on, it was now September 2011 and after years of toil and some times of uncertainty the time had come to bring the Mk4 to life and start the 400bhp motor and enjoy the moment. The magnificent engine wasn’t having any of it! Rob found that by ‘hot wiring’ the ignition the Ferrari motor burst into life but this was going to be a problem and a main dealer diagnostic machine would be needed to find the source of the fault. When the machine was unable to communicate with the car months of wire testing followed, then a new loom was fitted with a new ignition switch and everything worked first time and every time. Even 18 months later whilst retelling the story I could sense the relief in Robs voice when the Mk4 lived and he was on the home straight, or so it should have been. For it was whilst contemplating the wiring/non start problem that Rob realised he was unhappy with the shape of the rear body section. The Foreman kit is designed to accommodate owners of all shapes and sizes and thus the roof was shaped to allow a six footer to fit in to the cabin. The original car was made with aerodynamics a priority and the sweeping shape culminated in a lower more rounded roof line and that’s what Rob wanted. So out came the grinder! To keep the flow of the body just cutting 50mm off the roof was not going to be an option, the whole rear section needed to be re worked back to the side pods and a revised frame installed. The doors and rear quarter section also met with some dramatic alterations, Rob found this an easy decision as he would never have been happy with the shape of the roof so for him there was only one option, change it. This massive alteration would allow fitment of a rear section hinge system that enables the rear body section to not only lift and tilt forwards but also remove two bolts and it tilts backwards, very clever and allows easy access to all parts of the engine bay. I looked for any tell-tale signs of the re shaping of this huge section of the body, there are none. Perfectly cut, reshaped and finished, as I now expected on this car the attention to detail and the craftsmanship that began in 2005 was still apparent as another Christmas approached and the completed Mk4 went to Bel Royal Motors for its colour. Rather ambitiously Rob had booked a DVS test (Jerseys version of DVLA SVA/IVA test) for Christmas Eve but the car was to spend the holidays in the body shop and was not completed well into January but was worth the wait. Looking splendid in the appropriate red (what else!) the DVS test was completed in April 2013 and news spread fast, across to the mainland and my inbox, for that I am very grateful. The Rubis International Festival of Motoring was in June and after seeing the car there I only took a month to organise a return and find out the whole story. Rob eased the car out of his drive, the roof section removed we headed to Five Mile Road. The Islands speed limits are strictly enforced and with a maximum of 40mph the Mk4 has been promised a trip to Le Mans in the near future to enjoy the V8 at higher revs. Conscious of the rules we made steady progress, the suspension is firm but not harsh and the car is creak and rattle free. Steering is as expected direct and precise. I can confirm on one occasion Rob allowed the Mk4 to stretch its legs (at all times observing the Islands speed limit) and it was savage, head slammed back against the partition the Italian motor howled with delight as the incredibly quick paddle shift clicked up 2nd 2 seconds, 3rd 3 seconds, 4th and we were running out of Island let alone the road. Wow and that wasn’t even in ‘Sport Mode’, Rob is waiting for a circuit to try that out. I have been lucky enough to enjoy some fast, powerful cars and motorbikes in the past but this was the best 5 seconds I have had sitting down. So with all my preconceived opinions and prior prejudice now completely erased the next chance of a Kit car (replica) article to come my way will see me approach it with a lot more respect and understanding of what it takes to actually build your own car, especially a supercar. My thanks To Rob Romeril for his time and hospitality, not only a very clever engineer but a ‘really nice bloke’, and the Foreman Mk4/Ferrari P4 it was a privilege to spend time with you.