Workshop visit: Ian Caseley

Ian Caseley has been a familiar sight at Run What You Brungs and Doorslammer events with his pink Ford 100E named Roadzombie. His first encounter with a Jet Dragster, Colin Fallows' Vampire, at Shakespeare County Raceway a couple of years ago, prompted a phone call to Hauser Race Cars, an E-Mail to Jet FC pilot Roger Goring, and a trip to a marine salvage company - and the rest is history. Ian invited Eurodragster down to Clevedon in November 2003 to take a look at the Roadzombie II Jet Dragster which at that point was ready for its first engine tests.

"I saw Colin Fallows run Vampire and thought I've got to have one of those!" said Ian. "I bought a pair of jet engines for peanuts and I thought "This is alright - I will build a jet car for a few thousand!". Well I can assure you, it's been more than a few thousand, in fact I have stopped counting!".

The Roadzombie II project started with a visit to a marine salvage company in Southampton which was offering two Rolls Royce Viper 500 series engines from a Hawker Siddeley 125 civil aircraft, as well as a more powerful 600 series. "The five hundred series generates three thousand pounds of thrust, we estimate that with the afterburner it will make five thousand pounds of thrust", said Ian. "We have the other five hundred for spares, and the six hundred series has more thrust so when we have cut our teeth on the five hundred we may change up. Having the spare five hundred gives us something to fall back on if anything goes wrong."

Jon Webster started to build the Roadzombie II when he was working at Hauser Race Cars, and the dragster went with Jon when he started his own company Webster Race Engineering. The chassis design is based on Colin Fallows and Mark Newby's Split Second jet car but Roadzombie II has rear suspension and is some forty inches shorter. Ian took delivery of the car in July and has since been concentrating on plumbing the fuel system and installing wooden floor panel templates for aluminium panels to be fitted later. Ian also recently fitted the afterburner which was built by Roger Goring from blueprints provided by Australian Jet FC racer Paul MacRichie, who also supplied the afterburner pumps. "Roger Goring has been a lot of help", said Ian. "He took me seriously from the first time I contacted him". Ian also came up against a common problem with building an unorthodox race car. "It's not easy building one of these cars - you know what you need, but you can't buy it off-the-shelf", he said.

The dragster was in bare metal at the time of our visit but plans are well-advanced for a paintjob equally distinctive to that on Ian's 100E. "The car is going to be pink", said Ian. "The chassis is going to be pink, even my firesuit is going to be pink! This was the last weekend I could do these engine tests as I have to get the panels off and paint it."

I asked Ian's wife Sue what she thought of the prospect of her husband strapping himself into a Jet Dragster. "It's something he's always wanted to do - he wants the speed rush!", said Sue. "I'll be there at the track to make sure that everything is OK, as long as I get a nice colour co-ordinated jumper!"

For the engine tests Ian had the help of tractor puller Chris George who has three ex-helicopter turbines on his tractor. "Chris has commitments on the tractor pulling circuit next year but he will be crewing with me when he can", said Ian. "He has been very helpful indeed and his experience is invaluable. I knew nothing about jets before I started this project - I didn't even know where the fuel went in!"

The engine had been started twice previously; once on a test stand and once a couple of evening previous to our visit. "We ran it up briefly on Thursday", said Ian. "There was some air in the system but it went OK - except for the people in the call centre across the road, they had to stop work!"

The plan for the day was to fire up the engine, to try to light the flame show, and to open the afterburner but not light it. For the purposes of the test a remote control panel was wired into the jet which would allow Ian and Chris to stand alongside the car, which was on its trailer and very securely tied down. The jet was towed out of Ian's industrial unit and lined up in the car park. Supertwin Fuel racer Steve Clutterbuck - who spent his career working on jets such as those for Concorde - was present to help as was Wild Bunch racer Chris Hartnell, his partner Claire Meaddows and son Lee.

The engine was fired up for the first time, and sounded very strong. Chris throttled it up briefly just to check that everything was OK and then shut the engine down. "There was some air in the lines, which we expected", said Ian. "It's a great moment, I just wanted to get on and do this, I have had the engine for two years and it's good to see it in the car and working". The second run-up was a check of the afterburner, the jet tube obliged by producing vast amounts of smoke before the engine was again shut down. The fuel lines were checked as it was suspected that there was still some air in the fuel system.

The third start-up was another smokefest but after the engine was shut down there was some concern that it was not throttling up as it should. Chris George was however pleased with the way things were going and made a few adjustments before the engine was started up to try the flame show.

To say that the flame show 'worked' would be to understate things. The Viper didn't let us down, several times producing a massive sheet of flame in a spectacular display. The trailer was rocking back and forward before the engine was shut down to huge smiles from all present.

There were a few minor leaks to be attended to and loose seals to be tightened up, but these sorts of things are to be expected and Ian was very pleased indeed with the way things had gone. "This is looking very good!", he said. "The engine is running nicely. I think we're going to have a running car next year, it's an excellent result and it's good to know which direction we're going in."

The car is now to be painted and then Ian plans to put in many test runs as he can before the 2004 season starts. "We plan to start with the Webster Race Engineering Test Days so that we can have a play without people looking on", he said. "Then we will run wherever we can."

We took several more pictures during the day, which you can view by clicking here.

We would like to thank Ian Caseley for the invitation to attend the fire-up, Sue Caseley for fish and chips, several cups of tea, and doughnuts, and Chris George for his patience in the face of some elementary questions. Stay tuned to Eurodragster News for the latest developments in the Roadzombie II project.

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