"Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that
exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it"
-Sir Henry Royce-
Perfection would be good, wouldn't it?
That desires for a car that goes where you want and stops when you
want is present in all of us petrolheads, and if it leaves you with
nothing but an ear to ear grin and an empty wallet, then so be it.
But how often do we encounter perfection in a car? Every model ushured off production line by Enzo and Co has been pretty damn close, but despite how good modern manufacturing and materials are, they are limited by the cost of the final car, double the cost of that car and you are not going to see twice the return on the track. But we pay the price of admission into Ferrari ownership knowing that whilst most of us don't push our cars to the absolute limit, enough boxes are ticked for us to be happy with our chosen tipo.
But occasionally the universe belches up to a passionate enthusiast like Andy Hills, whose steadfast refusal to accept the concept of "standard is the best" pushes him down a path that is as rocky as is rewarding. I must admit, it seemed difficult to marry up the relaxed and immensely warm demanour of the chap with his single-minded pursiut of preformance, but when you have spent as many days in his passenger seatas I have, you get to realise that he is just a big kid who loves sharing his toys.
Having always had an appitite for preformance cars, Andy bought his first Ferrari, a Mondial, back in 1985. He didn't fell in love with the car, nor did his heart fall to any of the many Porsches that he worked his way through over the next 17 years. It wasen't until a chance encounter with a 348 outside the London Stock Exchange that Cupid's arrow found it's target and Andy thought to himself "Oh, yes! I gotta have one of those" And so it was November 2002 that heralded the arrival into the Hills' household of a near concourse 1991 Ferrari 348TS with 24K miles on the clock for the princely sum of a silver short of 38 grand.
The problem with a physical attraction is that there is a danger that the function may not live up to the form, and whilst there was undoubtely enjoyment to be had, driver and car were having problems bonding. It was not until Andy joined the FOC and decided to try pushing the car a bit harder at the FOC Trackday at Bedford Autodrome in April 2003 that the process of pilot/car harmony started. Initially , he couldn't throw the car around with the confidence that ha hoped; the dogleg 1st gear was difficult, there was inadequante grip, and his brakes were hot and stinking. Following the advice of experienced track driver Chris Gosling, he secured the services of one of the FOC instructors. The next fifteen munutes was probably the most significant quarter of an hour of his entire Ferrari ownership as his instruction fuelled epiphany formed the foundation of what would become a very strong bond between this man and his machine.
A few months later he met Manu at Scuderia Systems from whom he bought a Tubi exhaust.
Manu also introduced him to ferrarichat.com, and after reading and degesting the content, he purchased wheel spacers (15mm on the front and 25mm on the rear) and a set of drilled aluminium pedals from Phaul Hill of Hill Engineering.
The FOC Trackday at Brands Hatch in July of that year was an opportunity to build upon his experiences from Bedford. It was also the opportunity to drive the crap out of this newly installed Tubi.
The combination of a hot day, and hard driving on a new exhaust changet it's sound to a point where it's glorious roar is quite unlike any other Tubi equipped 348.
After much reserarch on ferrarichat, Andy realised that as the body panels were largely similar to those fitted to the F355, he could change the one thing on his 348 he felt didn't look right; the rear grill and tail light cluster. So he set to work on securing a Challenge grill and a set of round tail lights. A lot of research into all things Challenge convinced him that he needed to do more to make th ecar go, stop and look like the real thing, so in January 2004 he fitted the Challenge grill and lights, upgraded the brakes for AP Racing Brakes, and fitted a set of Speedline Corse magnesium wheels with Kumho tyres (ditched a month later as they were crap, in favour of some Avon ZZ Cut Slicks)
As a final touch, a carbon fibre Challenge wing was fitted.
April marked the first real outing for the car with its new brakes, wheels and wing as the FOC Trackday at Silverstone beckoned. The car was awsome, and delivering everything that Andy wanted in his car, well, nearly everything. Whilst it was clear that the handling and braking were utterly superb, there was a naging feeling that a bit more power would not go amiss and the only easy(ish) route to more power would be to have a nitrous oxide system installed. It was at this time that he decided that the CF wing was just too big and ugly, so it was removed and consigned to the back of the garage.
The NOS went on the following month as did a set of Sparo racing seats and four point harnesses, and it was all tested at the RMA Trackday at Brands Hatch the following month. The added acceleration afforded by the NOS was just what the doctor ordered, although carrying the extra speed was not without its problems around Paddock as the N/S front tyre caught the top of the lip on the wheelarch and bent the metal outwards to the point where it had to be manually reshaped with a hammer and chisel. He was also blackflagged for flying the flag of St.George during Euro 2004....how unpatriotoic!
It was at the Brands Hatch Day that he started to hear about the flames that were erupting from the exhaust when down shifting. It would appear that the fuel/air ratio had been enrichened to allow the NOS to do its thing, and the resultant depature of unburned fuel through the Tubi was showing its presence in a rather spectacular fashion. Little did he know then that this propensity for belching great gouts of fire was to become one of the defining characteristics of this car.
Further FOC Days at Brands Hatch and Snetterton did much to improve Andy's abilities behind his Mono wheel, and his greatly improved car control was particularly welcome when he had a puncture on the way up to Donnington for the See Red Festival, where he managed to wrestle the car from 140mph without compromising the safety of him, his passenger, or any of the rest of us who were travelling in fairly close proximity. Note: when you drop some pressure from your hot tyres on a Trackday, always be sure that you pump them up properly again.
Having ditched the rather shouty CF Challenge rear wing, Andy decided to make another based on the more discrete version adoring a Haman 360 that he saw in a magazine. With his dad being an accomplished carpenter, it was relatively simple to fashion one out from mahogany and paint it red, and once fitted it looked great, so just some cosmetic enchancements to the paintwork (color coded the roof, engine lid, sills and bumpers) where needed to finish it off. And, as a joke, a CS style stripe was added. Removal of the AC system saved a fair chink of weight too.
As an end of the year treat he decided to finish the season off with an Easytrack Trackday at Silverstone in November. The car was again preforming perfectly and producing yet more of its trademark flames. Towards the end of the afternoon it produced a pair of enormous dancing eight foot flames that signalled alarming damage in the engine. Limping back to the pit, it was making a very sorry growling and gnashing noise that sounded like half of its horses had been replaced with rottweilers.
Initial discussions suggested a number of problems it could be, but Dale Hart (Ferrari mechanic) was the one who suggested damaged exhaust valves which later it turned out to be. The RAC were so unimpressed at having to collect Andy and his car from a windswept Silverstone that they rewarded him with a bill for services of £461.
The car was in a proper sorry state, but with his lust for preformance viewing this as an opportunity, rather than a problem, suggestions were bandied around with Roger at KHPC about what improvements could be made during the cars exensive repair. A 360 engine and gearbox was suggested, but this would be particulary difficult because of the installation differences between the 348 and a 360.
Alastair at (KHPC) suggested that as Andy's existing 348 box was beginning to give problems, so why not replace it with a 6 speed F355 gearbox. The engine was out anyway, so the only requirements were a redesigned sandwich plate between the engine and gearbox, redesigned engine mounts and some re-engineering to the manifoilds. Given that the car was now a equivocal "keeper" whatever happend, a spare engine was purchased (from E-bay) for insurance.
The car was finished by February 2005 and handeled everything that was thrown at it over the course of the year. At the FOC Speed Trail at RAF Marham it was clocked at 167mph in the morning, only losing out in the speed stakes to a F430 and F575 that managed 172mph and 175mph respectively.
Sadly they were not measuring speed in the afternoon, but once we had emptied the car of all extraneous items (including myself) it hit the revlimiter in 6th at 7400rpm with approx 178mph on the speedometer. Its just a shame Andy could not get the NOS working on that day, as that would have certainly enabled the car to reach its potential sooner.
At the end of 2005 the car was in for sundry repairs (including a radiator holed at a North Weald Airfeild Day), paintwork and new tyres. Andy invested in some custom made adjustable dampers designed by Bernard at Quantum Racing, but still the thought of more power gnawed away at him.
Andy's NOS was installed by F1 Moto at Brands Hatch, and it was during a visit to recharge his gas bottles that he had a chat with another customer who suggested that he could replace his standard injection system with a throttle body fuel induction system. The logic sound as it should dramatically improve the engine's breathing and thus draw the fuel into the engine quicker, and this should bring about a corresponding improvement in acceleration. But before the throttle bodies could be investigated, a programmable ECU would be needed and Roger (KHPC) suggested that an Omex ECU would be the right tool for the job. When set up correctly it could run off of a throttle position sensor and the MAF sensors could be improved.
A call to Omex, who suggested using Jenvey bodies, and a plan was born. The redesign of the inlet manifold needed a new plate and thai was fabricated by Paul Hill.
The bits were all bolted together and in March 2006 the car was limped around to Omex to be mapped.
The day was spent tinkering and adjusting the setup whilst on a rolling road and though it was clear that there was an useful improvement in power, the increase in torque appeared massive.
Without going into any figures, Andy's words summed up his experiences very well; "When I first took the car out for a drive, and gave the throttle a hefty shove, I damn near crapped myself...!"
The added power and engine breathabillity had utterly transformed the preformance of the car to a point where the NOS now seemed a bit redudant (not that he is in any hurry to remove it; you never know when a further 100bhp may be handy)
Andy's exhaust sound had always been the stuff of legend, but now it had a younger brother to join it in the noise dept, induction roar. And with this came flames, the like of which you are more likely to find at the front end of a weapon of war, than the rear end of a sports car.
The first big outing was to be the FOC Trackday at Donnington in April, but torrential rain made Andy jittery about taking it out on track (at this point, a prudent decision was made to buy some new wheels with road tyres for wet days). Snetterton in May was far more like it, and the car exceeded all expectations despite getting blackflagged for racing with a F360 CS. The run up to Auto Italia at Brooklands saw the car again pitted against a F360 CS, but this time on the road, and it had absolutley no problems keeping up.
In June 2006 Donnington ran a Trackday thamselves and billed it as a "GT Day". With a prospect of a relatively emty circuit and good weather a place on the event was secured. As Andy's confidence with the new setup increased, he felt happier to push even nearer to the car's limit of handling. Indeed the screaming from the tyres suggested that that limit was a mere whisker away from where he was. Not knowing the circuit caused a few minor-brown-trouser moments, but the car gave precisely what was put in, but later yielded to over exuberance when a linkage throttle cable was broken. Thankfully a replacement was sourced from the cycle department at the local Halfords.
At the FOC Trackday at Silverstone in july, the car kept up or passed every other car on the circuit.
One particularly enjoyable tussle was with a F360 Spider driven by FIA GT class 2 Champion, Chris Niakos. Try as he might, he could not shake off the attention of Andy's car.
The year's second mechanical failure came in the shape of a failed alternator on the run up to Santa Pod for Auto Italia event in August, but a free Trackday at Snetterton the following week (courtesy of Shell) eased the pain somewhat. Tha last outing of the year was the FOC Trackday at Brands Hatch where the 348 did all that was expected of it despite breaking another cable (bought a spare this time)
This about brings us up to date, the car is currently sitting in his garage awaiting a full respray. Once completed there is a new windscreen waiting to be installed, and new rubbers all round,a redesigned oil catch tank, a new gearbox, new window motor modules, overhauled and powdercoated brakes, a new stripe, a new redesigned throttle mechanism......and, well, the list goes on and on and on and on.... after all, perfection is a journey, not a destination.
There is an old proverb that goes something along the lines of:
"A beautiful thing is never perfect." hmmmmm....I'm not sure; perfection may be a lofty goal, but Mr Hills is heading in the right direction and there can be little doubt that beauty is matching it step by step. And what developments are awaiting in the wings? Well, we can only speculate, but one thing is for sure, it'll be well thought out and well designed and well, expensive.
Text: Copyright to Stig Winslet
Pics: Copyright to Gemm