You may have heard many a story about car modifications and developments, but this one has a truly remarkable history. Austrian-born Wally Vorlaufer is responsible for creating the beautiful Ventury Tornado – a record breaking concoction of GMC pistons, a Jaguar gearbox and raw unadulterated passion. Capable of travelling 180mph and accelerating from 0-100mph in 12.5secs, this motor-mad genius stopped at nothing to craft a car that would be remembered for years to come.
Wally’s interest in motor cars surfaced very early on. Having immigrated to South Africa in 1954, where his family established a jewellery manufacturing concern, it didn’t take long before Wally’s childhood interest in motor cars emerged. And at the tender age of 17, Wally had built his first special – an Opel-powered ‘Tornado 1700’.
Three years later, a young Wally opened a speed shop in Johannesburg, specialising in the manufacture of speed equipment for British and continental cars, equipping him with valuable experience in supercharging and early fuel injection.
But Wally wanted more. Hungry for a new challenge, in 1963 he purchased a 10-year old Riley RMF 2½ litre with the view to creating something rather special. Little was he to know it would become a homemade record breaker.
Choosing the car for the quality of materials used in its manufacture, he was convinced the Riley motor had the potential to be substantially modified. The Riley body, however, was too heavy and boxy, and so a racing-style tubular space frame and aluminium body was duly designed in 1964.
Breathing through a pair of H4 SU carburettors, the 1947 Riley 2443cc ‘big four’ developed 106bhp at 4,500rpm in standard trim and gave the 1,473kg RMF model a top speed of just 95mph.
So Wally went to work on the block, boring it out to 2860cc and fitting it with special Chromard liners and GMC pistons. A GMC supercharger, driven by three V-belts, was fitted directly in front of the motor, blowing through a set of highly modified 45 DCOE Weber side-draught carbs. The conrods were of the loose shell type with roller bearing small ends and lead-bronze big end shells. The three main bearing crank was secured with high tensile bolts, but was otherwise standard. The oil pump was of 80 percent higher capacity to maintain a reasonable 60lbs pressure and a large full flow oil cooler was fitted in line with the original Purolator oil filter. In addition to this, the flywheel was substantially lightened and a bronze friction plate fitted, while the clutch and pressure plate were the Borg & Beck lightweight racing type.
A 50-hour bench test followed, and with the teething niggles sorted, the motor ran smoothly up to 8,000rpm. But Wally felt the engine had more to give. Further dyno testing surprised the whole team by producing a massive 306bhp at 7,400rpm, but with the magneto set to cut at 8,000rpm, the question was, would it hold together?
With the engine mated to a Jaguar gearbox, a two-speed Columbus final drive unit was installed, the two ratios being manually operated from the dashboard, giving eight forward and two reverse gears. The cooling problem was resolved by fitting three water inlets next to the exhaust on the left side of the head with the outlets on the front and the rear of the block. Two copper-tubed, aluminium-finned radiator cores were sandwiched into the engine bay, together with twin-electric fans. And of course water circulation was via a converted aviation fuel pump.
The rear independent suspension turned out to be extremely complex to install, but together with the front torsion bar set up, the car proved to be incredibly stable even at speeds in excess of 150mph.
The Ventury Tornado was road registered in September 1967. Weighing in at 1,180kg, it was capable of 180mph with acceleration figures of 0-100mph in 12.5secs. Even more impressive was that it could cruise comfortably at 150mph. The homemade record breaker was shod with Dunlop SP73 15-inch radial-ply tyres and Dunlop SA seized the opportunity to use the car in an advertising campaign during 1967/68.
The speed trial
All development work done, it was finally time to test the car’s speed. So in April 1968, Pat van Niekerk, a reporter with The Star newspaper in Johannesburg, organised a speed run just outside Bloemfontein – an area known for its very flat terrain. As this was arranged ‘unofficially’, the Traffic Dept. was not present in force, providing just two traffic marshals and two speed officials for the attempt.
On the first run at 06:30am, Wally found icicles forming very quickly on the windscreen, eventually causing the entire windscreen to freeze over. The crew was forced to delay further attempts until 09:30am, once it had warmed up a bit. But as the traffic began to increase, the team had a problem, as the Traffic Dept. had not sealed off the road.
But safety concerns aside, they decided to continue. The two traffic marshals would simply give the thumbs-up for the next run when the road became clear. As a result, they were only able to complete four runs before it became too dangerous to continue, but the wait had been worth it as Wally was clocked at 183.75mph!
After the speed trial, the Ventury Tornado was put into regular daily use but at 56,250miles the engine encountered a loss of compression. Due to the long stroke of the motor, the thin cylinder walls had become barrel-shaped and so the Riley motor was removed. A modified Chev V8 motor was duly fitted, but sadly it was no comparison power-wise with the supercharged Riley motor.
In 1980, with 115,000miles on the clock, the prototype was retired from active service. Looking back, Wally says given the choice, he would do it all over again. But with a little less over tuning. “It would take a lot to beat that Riley feeling,” he says with a smile.
The Ventury Tornado was last seen on a farm south of Johannesburg in the mid-90s looking rather sad, but its current owner fully intends to restore this important relic. It would after all be fantastic to see it back on the road again, and no doubt it would be more than a match for some more modern machinery.
Capable of raising a few eyebrows in a dice away from the traffic lights back in its heyday, the Riley Ventury Tornado was truly one of a kind. Oh what you can do with a just a little bit of determination, ingenuity and passion!
Written by: Glen Smale
Pim van der Veer says
A unique story, joy for every car enthusiast.