Features

My Life & Cars – David Mountain, Founder, Mountune

From autocross Anglias to championship‑winning BTCC and WRC machines, David Mountain recalls the cars that have made the biggest impressions on his personal and professional lives

I was lucky enough to get interested in cars from a very early age. As kids we lived close to farmland, and we’d play around with cars there. I got involved in something called junior autocross, which from memory was for 12 to 16-year-olds, so we started racing things like the old 105E Anglias. That was way back, around ’72 or ’74 when I won the championship. So basically before I could drive on the road, I’d just be fiddling around with cars and motorbikes on fields and farmland, and that led to getting into motorsport, in this junior autocross category.

I was always doing something in the garage, too. Part of it was because of a friend, Kevin Taylor, whose father was a motor mechanic, a guy called Fred Taylor, and he helped me in the preparation of the 105E Anglia. That’s what really got my interest going, and I went from that to building my own cars, and ultimately building engines for friends is how I really got started.

I knew I wanted to be involved in messing around with engines, and I was lucky enough to get a job with Glyn Swift of Swiftune Engineering. I was doing a sort of basic motor vehicle apprenticeship at the time, which I hated really but I did see it through. Dad said I had to get qualified! I saw it through and the week after I qualified I left because I had the job lined up at Swiftune. Then I was doing my dream job of building racing Mini engines.

My first road car was a Mini. It was a pretty highly modified car, a typical tweaked Mini of the day. I think I built a 1380cc engine for it, which actually was one of the reasons I got to meet Glyn in the first place, because I was using Swiftune to do some of the machining and to supply the parts for the engine I was building. I always built my own cars and built my own engines. We were all roaring around in modified Minis in those days. It was a very early Mini too – I think I must have had that for a couple of years at least, first as a road car and then I converted it into an autocross car.

The car that I had after the Mini was a Consul Capri – the one with the sloping back. It was based on the Ford Classic with that cutback to the rear windscreen. The Classic wasn’t a pretty car, but the Consul Capri had a sort of American style to it. That was a great car, but ended up being stuffed into a telegraph pole when I ran out of talent on a rainy day!

One car I really did enjoy owning was quite a few years later: a Jaguar XJR, with the supercharged six-cylinder, and it went like a bloody rocket! I’ve got a MkII Jaguar at the moment, which is in very nice condition. I totally restored an E-type too, from the ground up, a 3.8 flat-floor. That was a lovely project.

The best car I’ve owned is probably a Ferrari F430. Coupe, F1 gearbox – I’ve still got it today in fact. I’ve had it quite a long time. I’m a bit of a Ferrari fan; I owned a couple of 360s, and then I got the 430, which I’d find difficult to sell because every time I drive it, it just makes me smile. It’s such a fabulous car to drive, even though you’re struggling to use a car like that these days. But when you do get a chance it’s just so exciting. It doesn’t need touching, it’s just a beautifully balanced car. I’ve done a couple of trackdays in it, where you realise that actually you’re gonna run out of brakes, and you could do something better with the suspension, but as a road car I just think they’re phenomenal.

I was one of the first people to buy the V10 M5 when it was new. I thought that naturally aspirated engine was absolutely fabulous, but there were a lot of things I didn’t like about that car. One was the gearbox, which was very clunky, so I didn’t like that at all. It had such a small fuel tank too, and I just got fed up with filling it up almost every time I went for a drive. I’ve had a couple of Porsche 911s, which are a fantastic everyday car, but compared to the Ferrari they don’t have the same sense of occasion.

My daily car is a bit boring I suppose, a Range Rover Sport, which I love. I’ve had four Range Rovers, and this one is just an Autobiography, with a 3-litre V6. I can tow my trailer with it, I can drive to Scotland in it and jump out at the other end and feel refreshed. It’s just a fabulous all-round vehicle.

I started Mountune back in 1980, when Glyn Swift retired from Swiftune. All we did initially was build A-series Mini engines for various forms of motorsport. That would’ve been up to about 1985. At the time, anyone racing a Mini was really doing it because that’s all they could afford to race. So there weren’t the sort of budgets that there are today; it’s crazy what people are spending on Mini racing and road cars now, but at the time we were doing things like Minicross, autocross, rallycross, all of that sort of stuff for private customers, and their budgets were really at the lower end of motorsport.

After a while, a chap called Terry Hoyle dropped in to see me at my little workshop. Terry was quite famous, as he’d built all the works rally engines for Ford, BDAs and stuff like that. He’s now a Ferrari man but back then he explained how much money he was charging to build these Ford engines, and I just fell off my chair and said to the guys, “Right, we’re gonna get into Fords!”

That’s how it started, and our big break really was the Sierra Cosworth. We realised that was a real game-changer, and teamed up with Robb Gravett. I built Robb’s engines from the production saloon car days, all the way through to him winning the BTCC in 1990 with the RS500, and that Cosworth YB engine absolutely launched the business.

They’d obviously done a very clever job in putting this car together with motorsport in mind, particularly the RS500, as it had all the necessary bits, like a huge turbo, eight injectors, massive intercooler, and all of a sudden you had this car… well, we used to get people popping in with their road cars, they’d drive them in, and then drive them up the road with 400 horsepower an hour later! It was just mind-blowing really.

With road cars, in some respects I suppose the tuning industry hasn’t massively changed over the years. We’ve still got people that buy their RSs and want them hugely modified, which is why our top-spec RS Focus has more than 500 horsepower. You’ve still got that, but I guess the volume is in the Fiesta STs and the Focus STs, where people have got a limited amount of money, and we can do much more cost-effective road car conversions these days.

The other big break for us was being approached by Ford Motorsport in Boreham and a guy called John Taylor. He had been following the fact we’d been building all the race-winning Sierras at the time and he said, ‘Do you think you guys could build a rally engine? We’ve got a young driver called Carlos Sainz doing the Spanish championship, and we’d quite like you to have a go at this.’ So we got into rally engines, after understanding what the requirement was and how different it was – it took a bit of time to sort it. Carlos went on to win the Spanish championship, then one thing led to another and next thing you know we got approached to build the works rally engines, which we did for more than ten years.

Looking back, we’ve won countless races, countless championships, but there are always ones that stand out. The big wins were fantastic. Winning the BTCC with Robb Gravett was unbelievable, and beating the likes of Andy Rouse, that was fabulous. Winning the Safari Rally with Colin McRae in the Ford Focus. Winning the Monte Carlo Rally with François Delecour in the Escort Cosworth. Before that, Ford hadn’t won the Monte Carlo Rally for something ridiculous like 40-odd years as a works team, but we won it in 1994. The year before we’d been leading it up until the last stage, and the rear suspension broke. I’ve gotta say, grown men were crying. The following year was just unbelievable.

There are some big victories, and you think, wow, that was really special. And of course we got to work with John Wheeler, who was the father of the RS200 and the Escort Cosworth and later worked on the Mk1 Focus RS. His son Scott Wheeler actually works in the business for us now! So working with people like that over the years has been fabulous.’

The article above was first featured in evo 284, to purchase a back order copy or the latest issue click here

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