Words by Paul Creed.
Photos copyright © John L E Gaisford
copyright © Daniel delien
We have all seen the beautiful retro lines of Abbey’s Autech R31 (brought into this Country by Mark Robinson), and for some time, flaunted by our very own Claire Williams. But, back in 1987, the R31 was fresh out of the factory in GTS-R format and already rearing its head on track up against the formidable Sierra RS 500’s and BMW M3’s.
Continuing the boxy lines of the R30 series, the R31 retained much of its predecessors character, but touted a new turbocharged 24 valve straight six monster of a lump. In GTS, GTS-X and GTS-R formats (of which Abbeys is actually a modified GTS-X), the 210 BHP GTS-R was a powerplant that certainly gave its competitiors a run for their money.
The R31 GTS-R saw its first races at the end of 1987, admittedly without any success, but the ’88 season was to put it through its paces.
The ETCC (European Touring Car Championship) had by now been revised in its rules and the addition of the Nismo entered GTS-R in division 3 made for some spectacular nose to tail racing. The ’88 season was a one car entry for Nismo, and who better to drive the nuts off this machine than Win Percy and Allan Grice (later in the season with the addition of Anders Olofsson).
I have been in continual contact with Win Percy over the last few months, and hopefully will be able to relay to you the ups and downs of his experiences with the GTS-R R31 Skyline.
Win was born on the 28th September 1943 in Dorset, and at an early age, trained as a mechanic with one goal in mind….being a racing driver. Win achieved his ambition in 1974, when he became a professional racing driver, and still regarded by many today as the Worlds Number One Touring Car Champion. With two Spa 24 hrs victories under his belt, triple wins at the Donington 500K, most successful foreign driver in the history of Australia’s Bathurst 1000K events and twice winner of the BRDC Silver Star award, surely the Skyline was just another challenge and a notch on his amazing achievements.
The first race of the season in ’88 for Percy & Grice was the ETC Donington 500K on the 17th April. After a good 5th grid position from qualifying, Win recalls that the car was sensational (straight out of the box), and after three and a half hours and only a half hour to go, the car was over a lap of the GP circuit ahead of everyone else. Unfortunately, the brakes had started to fail on him and into the pits he came to complain about them. The car was jacked up and inspected and he was soon back out, only to find that they were failing still. Alas, the car was retired after 95 laps, and the first three places went to the German contingency of the BMW GMBH Motorsport Teams. Why were the brakes no better after returning to the track?, well it actually turns out that the team had forgotten to bring the tool required to change the brakes.
Next visit to the track was the Dijon 500K, 29th May. Another DNF for the team and a 1st & 2nd place for the Eggenberger boys in the RS 500’s, first place for Steve Soper. Win recalls, ”we were running near the front when the car spun while i was driving”. Somehow, quite unexpectantly, the fuel return to the tank had failed, the tank expanded, burst the support straps, lifted the rear of the car, and spun . Another early bath for the Nismo Team.
Next on the racing agenda was the Grosser Preis Der Tourenwagen at the Nürburgring, 10th July. Again, Steve Soper taking first place , but Percy & Grice managed a 19th place finish.
The Spa 24 hours at the end of July saw a much better effort. This time joined by Anders Olofsson as the third driver, a 15th grid qualifying position led them to a most competative race. Up against some of the biggest up-coming drivers of Formula One and Touring cars , (Thierry Boutsen, Nicola Larini, Jacques Laffite, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, etc) Percy,Grice & Olofsson put in a fantastic 6th place. Win said the car was running very well, even though they knew they would have problems with the front wheel bearings as they hadn’t been able to machine the struts to take the uprated ones they wanted. Finishing 27 laps behind the winner was no easy task when you consider that they changed the complete front assembly five times during the race due to their bearing problem. Surely had it not been for that, we would have won !
The Zolder 4hrs race on the 21st August saw Grice achieve fastest lap, but gearbox problems stopped the car from finishing. 1st place going to the BMW Evo.
Back to the UK for the Tourist Trophy, 4th September. Again, the car was running very well, up amongst the top ten but the gearbox had jammed in first gear. The Rally Team had already warned Percy and the team that the gearbox problem could happen, and that a long thin flat piece of metal slid into the selectors would release the gear, but sadly they didnt have it, and the car was retired.
Nogaro, France for the 500K race on the 11th September was divided into 2 parts, both being 250K. Grice had driven the first race with an unfortunate “off”, so Win, in the second race had to start at the very back, some thirty something places back on the grid. Having been told that they would not be participating in the Bathurst 100K with the R31, this effectively meant it being the last drive for Win & Grice, and drive he did. Win said, “Boy did i have fun. Starting from the back of the grid to a second place finish, only to be beaten by Steve Soper in the works Cosworth, i just wanted to show what the car could do, and i did”.
Apart from on the track, Win and Grice found the Skyline to be a most formidable car. Fun too.!!
Win recalls, “we had a Yokohama tyre Press day at Zolder, just before the Nagaro weekend”. The plan was to stop around Paris for the night and then onto Nogaro the following day. I had my “road” GTS-R, and Grice had convinced me to drive down during the night so that we could enjoy a days session of golf while the Team drove down during the day in the heat. So off we went, around Paris and onto the motorway heading South. Apart from swapping drivers seat and stopping for fuel, we were flat out all the way. At times for long stretches, 150mph easy.”
“Two problems arose for us doing these incredible speeds. At about 2.0am in the morning whilst Grice was driving , he spotted flashing lights of a speeding Police car up ahead, and we were gaining on them. Then he tells me, something he had always wanted to do was to howl past a cop in flight, and so we did.!! We pulled such a lead that we had time to stop, refuel, swap drivers and get back out to just see a glimpse of the blues flashing behind us. Again we were off, and that was the last we saw of him….”
“Our final problem came when we came to rest at the toll pay box. The man at the toll was frantically putting the ticket through, in and out, mumbling “imposseeb”. We exited the toll leaving the man with the thought that the time was wrong on the ticket, but we knew what we had achieved in the GTS-R and what a hoot it was. The next day, most of the Team were booked for small speeding offences, whilst we enjoyed a few rounds of golf…hehe. It really was a fantastic car!”
According to Win, the car was in its development year, and had much more potential that they had the chance to prove. The last race of the year, the Fuji Inter-tec 500 saw a full on Japanese contingency with no less than 5 R31’s. The likes of Masahiro Hasemi, Aguri Suzuki & Kenji Tohiro all failed in their attempts to finish the race, in fact including the DR30 GTS-R that didnt even start, all the others DNF.
A worthy excersice in the end, considering the Skyline’s dominance -to be in the following years. The R31 continued to race in the hands of Mark Blundell for the new GP C season, and had by now in the skillful hands of Win Percy and Allan Grice, attained some worthy prescence on & “off” the track. Today, with some creditable racing history behind it, the R31 is still considered a glorious car by many. Its retro looks still craving attention, and a pedigree that some manufacturers have yet to equal.
I would like to thank Win for his time and patience with me, and his accounts of this wonderful car. An incredible man considering the ups and downs of his personal life, and an amazing list of achievements barely equalled by any.I would also like to thank and credit John L E Gaisford & Daniel Delien for allowing me to use their photos.