As the story of this car is highly Autoshite-centric, I have decided for your delectation to copypasta my existing thread on it from Pistonheads - with references and names updated appropriately where needed and some minor edits for this audience. Please do enjoy this rather sporadic tale of trackday-based silliness aboard one of GM's finest barges:
(This part originally posted 10-Nov-18)
So, the background....
A long time ago, in discussion with friend, fellow PHer and tame racing driver Synchromesh, we pondered: what about a trackday car that was 6 cylinder, RWD, manual..... but not another bloody BMW 3-Series? For the sheddy 328i "track slag innit" is somewhat like a clitoris these days.....
Initial thoughts centered on a Jaguar S-type for ultimate incongruous hilarity. However, this was swiftly put paid to by a total lack of affordable off-the-shelf performance upgrades such as suspension and brakes.
At the same time, chatting to good friend @horriblemercedes and mentioning the idea brought up another proposition - an Omega. Now, here was a cheap, relatively plentiful and very well-made car with a lot of potential. Due to their popularity as a drift barge and some mild parts sharing with the Holden Commodore, there was also a decent supply of brakes, coilovers etc available from performance suppliers.
Fast forward several months, and with Synchromesh having been distracted by his own track car projects, myself and merc firmed up on the idea and started seriously looking for a V6 manual Omega. We quickly discovered that the fabled 3.0 MV6 model was now virtually unobtainable - at least, unless one wanted to spend several thousand pounds on one of the few remaining uncrashed or rust-free examples. Thoughts turned instead to the 2.5 V6 in standard trim, but the majority of these turned out to be comfortably specced automatic cruisers. Later on, we found out that the auto was standard on all V6s - manual was an option you had to deliberately tick, and what kind of idiot would do that on a motorway barge?*
At this point, it was May 2017. I was studying for my final year exams at uni, and merc was busy with work commitments. With a lack of suitable cars forthcoming, and both of us rather skint, we put the idea on hold for the time being.
*It turned out that back in 1999, one slightly strange buyer decided to spec a 2.5V6 CDX estate in Jewish Racing Gold, with a towbar.... and a manual gearbox!
Fast forward to April 2018 and said JRG car was listed on Gumtree, with 66,000 miles, for the princely sum of £650. The original owner had turned out to be an elderly gentleman who didn't drive very much. He had sold it to the vendor - a chap who also didn't drive very much and was thus getting rid.
The car had an excellent MOT history with nothing to note until the 2018 MOT. Merc spoke to the seller in Felixstowe on the phone and found out it was a manual (as the ad wasnt clear), and immediately left a deposit via bank transfer. That was that!
The following weekend I went to stay at merc's house in Birmingham to make the trip to collect it together in my Jeep. We arrived in Felixstowe at around 10am on the Sunday morning to find a car that was great, barring some iffy colour matching on the offside wing and some minor trim defects. The V6 sounded great revving out and the underside was almost spotless. Merc insured and drove the Omega behind my Jeep the 260 miles back to my unit and we parked it up, to get back to our normal lives for the time being.
For the next few months of the car's existence merc kept a diary, and this is how it goes:
Driving back from Felixstowe to Cheshire, the brakes were clearly atrocious with a massive amount of slack travel before the pedal bit at all. The main piece of maintenance for today was to bleed them. The fluid that came out was awful. I got the nice job of sitting in the car and pumping the pedal while Matt released the bleed valves in turn until the fluid leaving the system looked fresh.
In addition to this we also replaced the boot lift struts as they were totally flaccid (although a handy broom handle had been included in the sale!), the wipers and checked the scuttle for debris as that’s a weak point on the Omega for rust. We also added a solar battery charger.
We came to the car to find the battery completely dead. Our main ambition for today had been to solve a central locking fault involving the driver’s door not locking/unlocking, which we originally believed to be a lubrication issue. We jump started the Omega from my Astra and set about dismantling the driver’s door card. After circa 15 minutes running, the Omega shut off suddenly and we found that there were no flickering dashboard lights. The car wouldn’t start from a known-good forklift battery so it was jump started from Matt’s Jeep, running sweetly. Feeling that the battery could have died, we decided to buy a brand new battery and unexpectedly this completely solved the central locking problem. We therefore fitted the single bonnet strut I had bought, assembled the driver’s door card, topped up the coolant, adjusted the throttle cable, fitted one of the two replacement exhaust rubber hangers I had bought, and unblocked a windscreen washer jet (using a straightened paper clip).
The other main event of the day was trying the new 18” alloys Matt had collected for the car from a breaker’s yard, from an Astra H Twintop. They came with an odd mix of three Chinese ditchfinder tyres and one Michelin winter tyre. All were flat but have seemed to hold air since inflation. We also removed the solar charger we had attached on the previous maintenance session in case that had somehow killed our battery.
I went to Evesham to collect a set of wheels Matt had found on eBay. Light, Lenso wheels (in the correct fitment!) with BTCC Dunlop slick tyres. The seller had had them on his tuned (538bhp!!!) Astra H VXR and turned out to be a really helpful guy, helping me diagnose a little stutter with my Astra H SRi Turbo 200 (turned out to be MAF sensor - I had to kick myself for not working that out myself!). He had enough components in the garage to build about half a dozen engines - he kept handing me all sorts of bits to look at - everything from forged rods and pistons to coilpacks.
Weightwatchers. We stripped out trim and the rear seats, but didn't get time to go much further. We also got chance to try the Lenso wheels and slick tyres we had bought, but unfortunately the bulbous sidewall on these tyres met the suspension strut on the front so we sold them and bought a set of Nankang NS-2Rs [entry-level track tyre] that Synchromesh happened to have spare. We kept these for future use with better suspension, and emergency spares in case the ditchfinders turned out to be unusable on track.
At the end of the day we loaded the car onto the trailer and moved it home from the unit, ready for the upcoming track day.
[When this picture was uploaded to PH, user McSam (another tame racing driver friend of ours), commented:
"This in particular is offensively brilliant. Please get some spacers so you can run it like that, but be careful, as I expect few components on the car were designed for that kind of lateral acceleration 😆" ]
Pictured here in the Hemi Jeep's natural habitat....
Now, to November 2018.... the first track outing was here, whether the car (and drivers!!!) were ready or not. As novices, we invited our friend Synchromesh along for support and a little guidance, which he did in exchange for the opportunity to check out the old girl for himself. It was a busy day at Oulton Park, with over 80 extremely varied cars being put through their paces. The Omega wasn't among the fastest but didn't embarrass itself immediately, either.
Luckily the trackday was well-served with photographers! Pictured here is merc getting a bit of a slide on at a damp Lodge Corner, with a well-timed burst shot from the track snapper:
Track virgin merc improved massively throughout the day, and towards the end was approaching the speed and commitment of myself (a 5 time track "veteran") and race driver Synchromesh.
All three of us were very pleasantly surprised with several aspects of the car:
- With a lot of weight stripped out of the interior, it wasnt as slow as we feared
- The random ditchfinder combo gripped predictably enough and lasted all day without melting or falling apart - meaning we hadn't had to punish the still-standard suspension with sticky tyres
- Although floaty, the handling was pleasingly viceless and encouraged you to push harder and harder. Then again, at launch in 1994 the Omega was praised for its ability to (and I quote directly from Autocar's Steve Sutcliffe) "run rings around the E34 525i"!
Come 3.30pm, we were beginning to congratulate ourselves on a fault-free day with our untried elderly barge. No oil or water used, brakes (just about) holding up with regular cooling-off sessions, and no untoward rumbles or clonks.
I went out for one final session with merc as a passenger....... and downchanging from 3rd to 2nd for Foulston's chicance, the car wouldn't go into gear. Thinking I'd missed a gear, I tried again - only to realise the the clutch pedal was firmly stuck to the floor. It dawned in my mind that something had gone drastically wrong, confirmed by a horrible grinding noise as the car finally slotted into gear. As we coasted to a halt in the runoff road and waited for the tow truck, further investigation and experimentation revealed that the car was fine when out of gear with the engine running, and went into gear fine with the engine turned off.
So, all logic currently points to a disintegrated clutch or clutch release bearing. A sad end to an otherwise fantastic day, and as I write the car is currently sat at my local motorsport garage awaiting their assessment come Monday morning.
Predictably (and understandably) I have spent all night weathering a variety of clutch-related banter from the others, but every cloud has a silver lining. If the original, 20 year old clutch had not disintegrated at the end of today and lost us the last 45 minutes of track time, it would probably have let go at the start of the next event. That would have been significantly more irritating! Additionally, today is probably the hardest the car has ever been driven in its life, and the clutch copped some serious abuse!
Anyway, we've all come away having had a fantastic time today, and a long list of planned upgrades to slowly evolve the car into a full-fledged track machine. Roll on the next event!