The History of Samuri Motor Company.
To capitalise on the promising performance of the Datsun 240Z and to make further inroads into the sports car market, Nissan unsurprisingly entered a small team of specially modified works cars into a number of International rallies, including the RAC Rally, the Monte Carlo Rally and most notably in 1973 when Shekhar Mehta and Lofty Drews took victory in the East African Safari Rally.
Inspired by these performances, a number of private individuals recognised the latent potential in the 240Z and started to explore how they might be further developed. Samuri Motor Company founded by Spike Anderson has a rich motor racing and performance tuning history dating back to the early 1970’s. The Samuri ethos was to take a standard 240Z Datsun and modify it to go faster, stop and handle better.
Among UK Datsun enthusiasts, particularly those with a fondness for the six-cylinder 'Z' series, there was no bigger name than that of Samuri and Spike Anderson, the man responsible for a succession of Z-based racers in the 1970 and 1980’s. Spike learned his trade at the legendary BMC tuning firm Broadspeed in the 1960s, working mainly on Minis and Big Healeys. When Spike left to set up his own company, Race Head Services, one of the first cars to benefit from his experience was a humble Datsun 1200A, where he managed to coax 105 BHP from the engine. This was the first car to carry the 'Samuri' name, which was a deliberate miss-pelling as the 'Samurai' trade name was owned by another company.
Samuri Motor Company was established as collaboration between Spike’s Race Head Services in Harbury, Warwickshire and Bob Gathercole’s Kingsley Garage, Kimpston, Bedfordshire set up as the Samuri racing team. Gathercole, was formerly a Marketing Manager for Shell, and Press Officer as well as a senior committee member of the Aston Martin Owners Club. He looked after Samuri's racing exploits while Spike concentrated on modified road conversions of 240/260/280Z’s through Samuri Conversions. Spike went on to build around 74 examples of the uprated road going Z’s called the Super Samuri, amongst many other Japanese cars he had built a reputation for making perform way beyond their standard factory performance curves.
The Samuri competition reputation was built on the foundation of two very successful 240Z Super Samuri’s, namely ‘FFA 196L’ and “Big Sam”. Very few cars are so famous that they are commonly referred to by their registration number but 'FFA 196L' is one, it was Spike’s own road car and the first Datsun 240Z to benefit from Spike's Super Samuri attentions before going on to become a motorsport legend.
In 1973, Spike purchased 'FFA l96L' for his personal transport, though the car did not remain standard for very long. What would turn out to be a lengthy and on-going programme of tuning commenced with gas-flowing the 2.4-litre overhead-camshaft six's cylinder head and raising the compression ratio, which was followed by ditching the standard carburettors in favour of triple Weber 4ODCOEs. Mangolesti (and later Janspeed and GDS Flame Spray) supplied special inlet and exhaust manifolds and in this specification maximum power increased from 150 to 190bhp. Suspension improvements consisted of lowering the car by 40mm and replacing the standard shock absorbers with KONI items, while harder brake pads were fitted to cope with the extra speed. Fitted with a deep front 'chin' spoiler and refinished in the distinctive Samuri colours of Flame red and Rootes Tango metallic with White outlining, Spike's 'Super Samuri' soon gained the attention of the motoring press. Various magazines tested 'FFA 196L' and gave it rave reviews, typically achieving performance figures of 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of over 140mph, impressive figures back then and still highly respectable today. Only the brakes came in for criticism and were considered inadequate for the greatly increased performance. Even though these enhancements added £645 to the 240Z's original purchase price of £2,690 (getting on for 25%), which put the Super Samuri coupe in direct competition with the Porsche 911S at a fraction of the cost, leading to a large number of Samuri Conversions on Customer’s 240Z’s and a lot of embarrassed 911 drivers on the road. Spike soon had orders for 15 Super Samuri conversions and his business was off to a flying start. The weak braking was later addressed by using vented discs and Lockheed four-pot brake callipers from a Range Rover, which necessitated fitting 14" Wolfrace alloy wheels to obtain sufficient clearance for the bigger discs. 'FFA 196L' was pressed into service as the Samuri demonstrator and also used in competition, contesting the 1973 British Hill Climb Championship. Despite competing against purpose-built lightweights, the Super Samuri finished 2nd in class at the season's end, hinting at the 240Z's potential.
Not satisfied with building modified road cars and entering them into Hill Climb championships, in 1974 Samuri Motor Company decided to develop a sports racing version of the Super Samuri, This led to Samuri’s pinnacle in Motorsport when Spike acquired an ex-works 240Z rally car, which he converted to full Group 4 race specification and christened “Big Sam”, which was then entered into the 1974 Blue Circle Modified Sports Car (Modsports) Championship with Win Percy at the wheel, putting the fledgling Motorsport Team up against the full might of Porsche.
Weymouth garage owner Win Percy was one of the country's best known Rallycross and autocross exponents before venturing briefly onto the tarmac circuits with his own Spridget. Percy proved to have as much form on tarmac as on the loose. His Samuri connections began when he read an article about the Super Samuri 240Z in Motoring News. As a result he became one of Spike's first customers to have a road going 240Z converted to Super Samuri specification.
The donor car they began with was a highly significant example in its own right being the ex-works 1970 RAC Rally car driven by Rauno Aaltonen. Samuri Motor Company acquired this example with less than three weeks to go before their first race entry and so had their work cut out to get it ready for action. The car’s racing design was typical of the era with flared front and rear wings to cover enlarged Minilites, a deep front air dam and a rear spoiler. It also featured extensive use of perspex for the windows and fiberglass, which was used for the bonnet, doors and tailgate. The car, which had by now acquired the nickname Big Sam, was finished in the distinctive Samuri livery of Flame red and Rootes Tango metallic with White outlining with promotional signwriting.
Because of the tight time frame before the first race the suspension and brakes received the majority of the mechanical work with the engine left largely in its original rally specification. In hindsight this was a mistake as the car blew a gasket in practice and the first race, at Silverstone in March, was actually run in Spike’s road going Super Samuri ‘FFA 196L’ acting as a credible substitute. In spite of this set-back the day turned out to be a success with the team’s driver, newcomer Win Percy, coming home first in class. At Croft, 24 hours later, Big Sam had a new head gasket fitted and was soon showing its pace, moving quickly up the field into second position but sadly it was not to last and the car retired a few laps later with a broken rear main engine bearing. This was a far from ideal start to the season but the team soldiered on, building a new engine from assorted spares. The new unit had a much modified rear bearing, modified big-valve head and triple weber twin choke carburettors and showed a significant increase in power over the old rally spec engine. It performed well lasting until mid-season when it too expired at Llandow. By this stage Big Sam was proving to be something of an irritation to the Porsche Carreras, in spite of the 400cc the Datsun was giving away, and a real fight was on for the Championship. Following Llandow, Gathercole was fortunate to acquire another competition engine from fellow racer Bob Grant, which was rebuilt to incorporate all the learning from the previous engine failures. This new unit had another big-valve head, triple 45DCOE webers, a one-off Gordon Allen crank, Carello Rods and 11:1 compression pistons from America. In this new form the engine produced 250 bhp and was good for 8000rpm, which was enough to take on the Porsches and the Championship points grew with almost every outing as Percy and Big Sam showed their true potential. Progress continued in this way until Brands Hatch on August 11th. Percy was pushing hard when he hit a patch of oil going into Bottom Bend. In the ensuing crash Big Sam’s shell was severely twisted and although Percy was relatively unharmed, the Datsun required a complete rebuild. With just over two weeks until the next race a fast fix was needed and the problem was duly solved with another ex-works shell that Gathercole managed to acquire through Datsun UK. Shekhar Mehta had rallied this car in 1973 and it was used as a high-speed recce and backup car on the Monte Carlo Rally as well as being loaned out by the works team to the Old Woking team for the Burmah Castrol Rally in Scotland where it suffered a minor accident. It is not known for certain whether this shell was the same one used by Mehta on the Safari Rally but it is certainly possible. In any event it was this unit that was used to rebuild Big Sam with the bare shell being taken straight to the Samuri workshops and straightened up as far as possible within the limited time available. The ex-Aaltonen mechanicals were re-fitted and Big Sam was up and running in 10 days, a remarkable feat by any standards. The car made it to Castle Combe, but with almost no testing hours and still largely in primer. In spite of the rush Percy managed to secure a hugely important third place and with just two further races to go Porsche were becoming extremely worried about their championship chances. After another strong showing by Percy and Big Sam at Mallory Park in late September, Porsche of Great Britain were so worried by the form of Percy and Big Sam that they brought over a full works Carrera from Germany for Nick Faure to fight him off and help him secure the Championship for Porsche in the last race. The final showdown was at Thruxton on October 27th and was in many ways an anti-climax. The works Porsche of Faure expired on lap three and Percy drove Big Sam to a comfortable 5th overall, which was enough to secure the Championship and make Big Sam the legend that it is today. Win Percy and Big Sam had won the championship by a single point, setting four lap records over the course of the season and becoming the first Z car to win any championship outside Japan and the USA.
Bob Gathercole and Spike Anderson had different plans for the 1975 season and so Big Sam was sold on, ending up with Wolverhampton Datsun dealer John Bradburn, who lightened the car and Hill Climbed it with some success during 1976. Despite building several more Super Samuri’s over the course of the next few years, by 1976 Samuri was in financial difficulties, reluctantly, Spike’s road car 'FFA 196L' was also sold to John Bradburn, who continued to enter the 240Z into Hill Climbs and Modports races, finishing 38 out of 39 events, an outstanding reliability record. In 1977 Spike persuaded John Bradburn to sell the car back to him as Spike now had ambitious plans for future developments, including a 2.6-litre cylinder block, with a target of 230bhp. The suspension was upgraded to near-race specification and 8"x14" Minilite wheels fitted. In this improved form 'FFA 196L' once again attracted much favourable press comment, helping to reinvigorate the Samuri business, which by this time had relocated to Silverstone Circuit, starting the Samuri Conversions Silverstone Circuit moniker. Always driven to and from the circuit, 'FFA 196L' competed in 14 Modsports races in 1978, finishing 2nd in class at the season's end, a feat repeated in 1979, '80 and '81. Spike appears to have had an off year in 1982 as the 240Z could only manage 3rd. with Samuri works driver at the time was Banbury’s Clive Parker who brought along Hella sponsorship with their distinctive yellow and blue “Rallye 2000” colour scheme. By now 'FFA 196L' had been driven more than 175,000 miles, competed in over 60 races and 20 hill climbs, and featured in 15 magazine articles making it arguably the best-known Japanese car in the UK. Unfortunately, Spike's business experienced another decline in the early 1980s and 'FFA 196L' was sold for a second time.
Big Sam once again came to the rescue for Samuri and was pressed into action again during 1981 under the banner “Racing for the Disabled” when hand controls were fitted for the car to be raced by Martin Sharpe, a former motorcycle racer, who had been disabled in an accident. Sharpe and Big Sam proved to be another successful pairing and at the end of the season they finished second in the BRSCC Championship behind the Marcos of Mark Hales.
In the early 80’s Kevin Irons (Kevin) and Ross Ferguson (Roscoe) met whilst working as Quality Control Technicians for Everest Double Glazing in Northampton. Roscoe had left his native Scotland in late 1979 and joined the engineering design department of the Shadow Formula One Racing team based in Northampton and at Silverstone circuit, before going on to work for Gerry Marshall Racing at Silverstone Circuit, where Roscoe met Spike Anderson and Clive Parker, who was driving the works Samuri racer at the time. Roscoe was quick to point out to Kevin that his personal road car a 260Z 2 seater CAB 139N, had far more performance potential than in its current standard form and that they should take a trip to see Spike at Silverstone, just down the road. A few weeks later CAB was at Spike’s workshop to be modified into a Samuri.
Roscoe had also bought a 2 seater 260Z and both had joined the UK Z club which was still in its early days. Unfortunately Roscoe had a very big accident in his 260Z when he managed to roll the car and take out a number of trees in the process. Walking away without a scratch, Roscoe’s claim to fame is that the only straight panel on the car was the fuel filler flap! Undeterred Roscoe went on to form the Z Shed with Kevin and the pair worked together buying and selling 240/260/280Z’s and selling used Z car parts for several years. Roscoe was influential in bringing Kevin and Spike together to work in partnership at Samuri Conversions Silverstone Circuit. By 1987 the Datsun 240Z had become eligible for historic racing and interest in the model picked up again. During this time Kevin and Spike, together with John Lloyd (ex Aston Martin and Tickford Engine Builder) and with continued financial support from Roscoe, built three HSCC championship winning Samuri racers. This was another golden era for Samuri with Championship winning cars driven by Kevin and as the cars were developed this led to other cars being built for customers, who also raced them successfully clocking up class and championship wins.
Kevin sold his Super Samuri CAB 139N to finance the building and running of his first racer, UGH 216M, which was entered in the 1987 HSCC Modified Road Sports Championship. The car was built and race prepared at the Samuri workshop at Silverstone circuit and picked up its first class win on Kevin’s third race at Brands Hatch, setting a new lap record in the process. The extra 1point awarded for the new class lap record became extremely important as Kevin went on to win the championship, which was run over ten meetings by just one point! The car was further developed over the winter of 1987 with new adjustable suspension and proved to be super competitive in the class, where Kevin beat three other competitive 240z’s and went on to win the 1988 Championship with 10 class wins from 10 starts with two outright victories as well as a new lap record at every track.
At the end of the season Kevin was advised by the championship committee that due to the competiveness of the car and driver combination that he should race the 240Z in the Classic Sports Car Championship, which he agreed to do but then due a change in the regulations found himself running in the same class as 26R Lotus Elans instead of the metal bodied Healy’s and E type Jaguars, with which the 240Z was competitive. A new car CBH 567K was acquired for the 1989 season and race prepared at the Samuri workshop at Silverstone circuit for entry into the Classic Sports Car Championship. Despite this Kevin drove CBH 567K to finish 3rd in class at the end of the Championship, after some very hard racing with the ex works Jaguar lightweight E types and Big Healy’s, which the 240Z regularly beat despite having less engine capacity and horse power. In 1990 Kevin went on to race CBH 567K in the GTO classic championship where he picked up two class wins and finished second in class in the Championship to a space framed C type Jaguar with a 4.2 litre engine, which also won the Championship outright.
In 1991 Kevin then took on the project of building a replica of a Ferrari 250 GTO to race in the GTO Classic Championship, which became the only Samuri 250 GTO built based on a works Super Samuri 240Z. While the Samuri 250 GTO was being built, Kevin competed in another Super Samuri race prepared 240Z YJH 142K in the 1991 HSCC Standard Road Sports Championship, with 10 class wins from 10 starts and winning the Championship overall, beating a very competitive Lotus Elan that had to be trailered to every circuit while Kevin in typical Samuri tradition drove his 240Z to and from the circuits.
With help from Roscoe, Kevin finally completed the Samuri 250 GTO UMG 209M and raced it in the 1996 Classic GTO Challenge series, where it raced against genuine and replica GTO cars such as AC Cobra’s, TVR Griffiths, Jaguar C, D and E Types, Ford GT40’s etc. and even a genuine Ferrari 250 GTO on one occasion, which struggled to keep pace with the Samuri 250 GTO! Despite running a detuned engine the car finished 2nd in class for the Championship but was never as quick or as reliable as the Super Samuri Classic CBH 567K. Revised bodywork on the Samuri 250 GTO gave problems with cooling the engine and getting enough airflow, which ultimately impacted its performance. At the end of the season the car was sold on. Kevin and Roscoe have been restoring the Super Samuri Classic CBH 567K over the last few years and should see the Samuri Motor Company works racer back out on the track again later this year.
Spike repurchased 'FFA 196L' in 1988 and after using the car for promotional and club events he retired to Spain, taking it with him. In 1996 the car returned to England and was bought the following year by a long-term 'Z' enthusiast, who had it restored to in-period, as-raced specification by Dave Jarman of marque specialists DJ Road & Race. When Spike retired from Samuri for sunnier climes, Kevin and Roscoe continued with the Samuri business on and off over the years, always with the intention of reviving the Company at an appropriate junction in time.
Over the years following 1981 Big Sam was little used and was actually stored by Kevin and Roscoe in the barn at the Old Mill, Hollowell, Northamptonshire, which was Kevin’s parents home at the time and also the home of the Zed Shed business, (in the Old Mill building itself) that Kevin and Roscoe operated. They also stored Spike’s Messerschmitt micro car alongside Big Sam.
Nick Howell acquired Big Sam in 1989 and commissioned Tim Riley’s engineering company to undertake a full rebuild. This process has been well documented in a number of magazine and UK Z Club articles, but it is important to stress that one of the key aims of the work was to preserve as much original material as possible. Consequently the original Mehta works shell was straightened and repaired and many fascinating original fittings were retained, such as the sump guard brackets on the chassis legs and the intercom mounts on the roll cage. A new engine was built, the last racing version having suffered yet another blow up in 1981, and the car was fully prepared for a return to competition. The first competitive outing for Big Sam was at Silverstone in 1990 when Riley drove it to 3rd place overall. Further development work continued over the next year or two, including different final drive ratios and an overhauled gearbox. In spite of the occasional appearances on the track Big Sam maintained a relatively low profile until 2005 when it took part in the Goodwood Festival of Speed, driven by its owner Howell. A further appearance at Goodwood took place in 2010 when it was road tested at the circuit by Mark Hales. This was to be the last outing during Howell’s ownership and the Datsun was sold in Autumn 2010 to JD Classics who undertook further sensitive restoration and race preparation including installation of a JD developed High Torque engine. Since that time Big Sam has ramped up its appearances, running in the Legends Historic Touring Car Series at Portimao in 2011, Donington in 2011, 2012 and 2016 and taking part in the Bernina Hill Climb in 2015 and 2016 where it achieved a 2nd in class.
Roscoe’s motoring tastes have been many and varied over the years, a firm advocate of “Variety is the Spice of Life” he has owned a number of iconic cars from Audi, BMW, Mercedes AMG, Porsche, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Datsun, Toyota, VW, Peugeot, Lamborghini and Ferrari, including 911 Carrera RS 2.7, 997 GT3 RS GEN II, Ferrari 355, 360, 430 Scuderia. 430 16M, 599 GTB, 260Z, Integrale, CL55 AMG, CL63 AMG, GT4 Carlos Sainz, VW and Peugeot 205 GTI’s, Audi RS5, BMW E9 CSi and CSL (including genuine Batmobile) BMW 840 Motorsport, Murcielago and Guilietta QV to name but a few. He has also held memberships with the Z Club GB, Porsche Club of Great Britain and currently the Ferrari Owners Club UK. Roscoe has also lived and worked in the Middle East for over a decade, which gave him access to numerous modern day supercars at affordable prices, this led to him importing these to the UK and selling on to a network of dealers in the UK. Roscoe’s knowledge of this market together with the extensive know-how Kevin and Roscoe have amassed on the Z family over the years has led Kevin and Roscoe to re-establish the Samuri Motor Company and the Samuri Conversions Silverstone Circuit monikers. The Company is still guided by the original Samuri philosophy of “exceptional performance at affordable prices”.
SAMURI MOTOR COMPANY
Kevin’s son Kristian, has grown up with the Z’s in his blood and now owns a 350Z. This new enthusiasm for Z’s from the younger generation means that Samuri now caters for the entire Z and Nissan performance car family. So if you have a 240Z, 260Z, 280Z, 350Z, 370Z, 280/300ZX, Silvia, Skyline or a GTR, we have a range of modifications to suit your personal budget, that will make your cars go faster, stop quicker and handle through the corners! We also have the enviable heritage and Motorsports history of the Samuri name behind us.
Watch this space soon for details of the new Samuri Showroom, where we hope to re-unite for the first time ever, some of the most significant Super Samuri 240Z’s in existence, namely: - Big Sam, FFA 196L, UGH 216M, CBH 567K and YJH 142K, which collectively account for the majority of class wins and championships achieved by Samuri Motor Company Super Samuri 240Z’s.
“exceptional performance at affordable prices”
SAMURI MOTOR COMPANY
Meantime, please contact Kevin at Samuri Motor Company on email@example.com or call +44 (0)7882 422855 to discuss your immediate needs. We will work on any 240/260/280Z’s, from standard up to our Super Samuri Evo latest Resto-Mod creations and we can import genuine rust free cars from various parts of the world in either LHD or RHD. If you have a 350/370Z 280/300ZX, Silvia, Skyline and GTR we can also re-map or supercharge or turbo-charge your car to various levels of tuning or replacement power train or performance re-engineering.
Please contact us to discuss your requirements and how best we can help you discover how to give your Nissan Supercar performance for a fraction of the cost of a modern Supercar, holding true to the original values of Samuri.