Owned today by Richard Rooks in the USA, he told me the car's story:
"It all began in 1976 when I was told an interesting car - just on the other side of the highway from where I lived - was for sale. Sleek was the first impression I got in viewing this car. I took a test drive only to find out that the transmission was in need of a rebuild. The 2nd and 3rd gears would pop out of gear as soon as I let up on the gas. That didn’t stop me from buying the 6943MM Speedwell. I bought the car with thoughts that this car had a racing history. I enjoyed the car for that summer (I just had to hold down on the stick shift to hold the gears in place!).
The next year I made a research trip to England to see David Jones (Speedwell engineer) and one other previous owner of the car (John Marks). David Jones remembered the name David Hurn was the original owner of 6943MM. He also mentioned that he believed that 6943MM was the only Speedwell with a Fiat 1500cc engine (later to find out another Speedwell was also fitted with a Fiat engine). The rest of the information I got from Jones was what he could remember in general on the Speedwell Company. He admitted that no records were ever kept on Speedwell Performance Conversion Limited (SPCL). He did give me two magazines dealing with the Speedwell’s speed records made in Antwerp, Belgian (April 1960) and one photo of 728H being tested for an anti-sway bar.
Over 20 years had passed before I made a major connection with Alistair Ross (Engineer at Cambridge, England; who also owns a Speedwell) who aided in finding David Hurn’s location in Wales. It was at this point that I got the complete lowdown on 6943MM. Mr. Hurn knew Len Adams, George Hulbert and Graham Hill (owners and operators of SPCL) when he ordered a Speedwell Sprite GT.
At first the 6943MM was setup with just the basics – GT top, Monza bonnet, Speedwell side windows (holding attachment fixed to the doors) and wire wheels. A few months later, Mr. Hurn was looking for more speed to make his appointments on time. Sitting at a café with Adams, Hulbert and Hill the idea for improving the cars performance was mentioned by Hurn. Having just become a Fiat dealership, Hill used a napkin to draw a picture of a Fiat engine fitting into the 6943MM. And the result was the installation of a Fiat 1500cc engine (engine type 115.000; Otto, four-stroke, four cylinder) in the 6943MM. With the stronger engine came many more racing features that Speedwell offered and installed in this 6943MM: custom gas tank (10 gal), larger gas cap, front disc brakes, Speedwell wooden steering wheel, door locks, Speedwell outside bullet door handles, cockpit air vents, anti-sway bar, Speedwell rev counter, domes on the bonnet for engine valve cover and carburetor, air vents in front and side of bonnet, Speedwell rally seats, and back quarter windows.
As far as racing was concerned, Graham Hill drove the Speedwell 6943MM, with Hurn on board, as a test run at Brands Hatch. It went well until the second lap when they popped a tire and ended up in the ditch. Hill thought it was running excellent for that class of car.
Apart from 6943MM is David Hurn’s work in photography. Hurn was hired to do photo stills during the first two James Bond movies. As a result, he gave Sean Connery a ride in the 6943MM as well as Ursula Andress. One other actress he mentioned to me was Claire Bloom who also road in this car. David Hurn also did portraits of Jane Fonda, Peter O’toole, Sophia Loren (during the movie “ El Cid”), Charleston Heston (during the movie “El Cid”), Michael Caine, Julie Christie and the Beatles (namely the movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and Help!). But to get back to the subject at hand:
I have never done a total restoration of the car. Work done to this car has been lengthy, but at all times with the intent to maintain the Speedwell 6943MM as it left the shop in 1961. The first major work was in 1980-1981, when I dealt with the undercarriage rust. The rocker panel was already replaced back in England with a fiberglass unit, which I replaced with new steel units. The inner panel also needed to be replaced. The flooring panel under the drivers side was well rusted and was also replaced. Tail end underside had lots of rust also (photos to show). I also added an oil temp gauge just to keep an eye on the engine temperature. I doubled up on two gauges (water temperature and oil pressure) so I wouldn’t add another hole in the dashboard. To help vision on the road, I installed fog lights behind the two intake grills along with headlight grills to protect the lights from stones.
As long as the transmission was out for repair, we also rebuild the engine. This took about nine months but it was well worth it. The engine went under an x-ray and a small crack was found in the block. That was repaired by an excellent diesel specialist. The newly ordered pistons had a 13:1 compression that was knocked down to 9.5:1. I was not planning to race this car nor spend time looking and pay for racing fuel.
In 2003, a total re-spray was made since the bondo was breaking down everywhere. The bonnet had a main support bar going across its width that was weakened when the two domes were cut into that bar. More breakdown developed below the rear window. The old bondo was absorbing water into the back storage area resulting in a little rust. When the GT top was attached by SPCL, more space was allotted to carry camera equipment for Mr. Hurn. They allowed about two inches of space between the GT top (just under the back window) to the Sprite steel body. The old bondo was replaced with new space age bondo that stops all moisture from entering the car.
By 2010, I became determined to remedy the engine over-heating. To drive American high speed highways, I installed a 1275 closed radiator along with a ten-row oil cooler. For better reliability I also reversed the polarity (to negative ground) and installed a PerTronix electronic distributer.
David Scothorn spotted the Speedwell GT in a two hour documentary on BBC 2 on Saturday, 11th August 2012, about London through the 20th century (see photos towards the top of the right-hand column). Richard says: "The car was, at that time, owned by David Hurn, a professional photographer, and the BBC film, directed by Ken Russell was entitled: 'Watch the Birdie'. It was about David's reasons for taking up photography and, for some reason, the car's registration no. 6943 MM was changed for the film to 6943 MH. I have a B + W copy of the 30 minute movie".
The cockpit and dashboard
Over head view of the Fiat 1500 engine
The car was given the chance to park in the paddock at Elkhart Lake track in 2010.
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Other Speedwell GTs:
Originally a strange colour
the car was used in a film
in London called
"Watch the Birdie"
6943MM in the late 60’s (then owned by David Henry Ball)
Richard Rooks bought
6943 MM in 1976.
The car had three colors in its first 15 years in England. The latest color is a brighter red since 2003.
This is the bottom of the tail end with lots of rust removed and the square hole for the gas line to gas tank. It now has a tight fit around the gas line.
This shows the large gas tank
Primer before the red coat.
Bare fiberglass and aluminum domes on the bonnet. The top area shows how the fiberglass is braking down on the bonnet.
The new cooling system