Now, using an engine designed for aviation to power a road car was not a new idea even in 1973, when this car was first constructed; cars such as the 1905 Darraq V8 Special or Napier-Railton of 1933 show that the concept has always been an attractive one. But John Dodd's example was different; as it was purely a home-built, road legal special not intended to break records or enter races.
The Beast MKI started life back in the late 1960's as the brainchild of engineer Paul Jameson, who took a 27-litre Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engine, alleged to have come from a Boulton Paul Balliol training aircraft and built a chassis from scratch to house it. In actual fact, the engine in the first Beast was the Rover-built Meteor, a similar engine to the Merlin but adapted for use in armoured vehicles such as the Centurion and Conqueror tanks.
After the engine, the rest of the running gear seemed more prosaic; the rear suspension was from a Jaguar 420, while the front end was from an Wolseley 6/99 of all things, with stronger springs. All was going well until it came time to source a suitable transmission for the low-revving (120RPM at idle!) Merlin, and after destroying various gearbox and clutch combinations Jameson contacted Epsom automatic transmission specialist John Dodd, who designed and built a step-up box to allow the low-revving Merlin to connect to an automatic gearbox.
After eight tries, he succeeded; a modified Rolls four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission was used with some modifications, such as increasing the fluid line pressures and fitting two massive oil coolers. Later, the car was fitted with a GM Turbo-Hydramatic 400 three-speed automatic with similar modifications.
Jameson did not get around to building a body; indeed he had lost interest in the project, so sold the car to Dodd for £500 in 1969.
Incidentally, Jameson designed a second Merlin-powered car in the mid-70's; this one had six wheels - two in front and four driven at the rear - and a mid-engined layout, with a Merlin equipped with it's original two-stage supercharger and nearly 1500bhp. That vehicle was featured by Motor magazine), and currently resides in a museum in Sweden.
|Clever jackshaft arrangement runs alternator, just visible behind steering column|
|The original incarnation of The Beast, before the fire|
It garnered a lot of publicity, being surrounded by the public whenever it was parked and was featured on TV and in newspapers at the time, including Hot Car magazine in 1973. It wasn't just for looks though; that Meteor still had 700bhp and 700lb/ft of torque even without a blower, and earned an RAC-certified speed record at Elvington airfield for the flying half-mile, along with inclusion in The Guinness Book of World Records as 'The most powerful road car in the world' at the time.
The car was gaining notoriety for its speed on public roads too; a newspaper headline proclaiming "Roll-Royce's 200mph supercar" probably helped bring the car to the attention of Rolls-Royce, who predictably weren't amused when an existing customer contacted them about ordering one after being outrun on the Autobahn by The Beast at over 150mph while driving his Porsche. RR threatened court action for breach of copyright for the use of the Greek temple grill on The Beast, but the action would never reach court; Dodd was driving the car back from a show in Sweden when the car bottomed out at high speed, splitting one of the transmission oil tanks and setting the car on fire. He tried frantically to extinguish the fire, but in vain; The Beast was reduced to a burnt wreck.
|Exceeding 200mph on continental roads? In the 70's? Yikes!|
And having talked with the Dodds on the day it's apparent this car is not only still cherished, but will probably live on for years yet, terrorizing small children, confusing hybrid-driving motorists and getting thumbs-up from every petrolhead that sees it. If you want a chance to see it for yourself, they're taking it to the Goodwood revival in September; I'm hoping my idea I pitched to them of contacting BMW GB in the hope that it can wear the Roller grill at the event stuck...
|Three generations of Dodd: Jason, Paul & John will probably mean The Beast will live on for years|