Buying a wrecked car in the hope that you can fix it is something of a bet with the devil. But if the price were right and you had a fine shop, friends who knew tube-frame construction inside out and a son who’s a first-rate racer and an engineering major, you might take that bet, and deny the devil his due when everything was said and done.
The Dexter family of Central City, Neb., is making that bet.
While the family was in South Florida doing some racing and hoping to buy another Spec Miata, they stopped in at Ginetta USA headquarters in Miami Gardens to get some parts for patriarch Zane Dexter’s G55. While they were there, they spotted a crashed G40 GT5 out back.
“The guy didn’t have any use for it. It was crashed fairly substantially, and I have always really liked that particular car, the little G40 that they race over in Europe,” Zane Dexter said. “I’m just a fan of the car. I think it looks great, and I’ve often wondered what it would be like if you threw a little bit more power underneath it. When I had a chance to get hold of the car, and the price was right, I couldn’t pass it up. I thought, ‘You know what? This will be fun project for us to do.’”
It’s not clear what they paid, if anything, but the price must have been right. When the deal on the Spec Miata fell through, they put the Ginetta in their trailer and took it home. The idea was to get the car in the shop, get in the air and look it over to see if there were any kinks farther back in the chassis. Most of the damage they could see right away was forward of the shock-mounting locations.
“It was borderline. It had been in a pretty serious front-end collision,” said son Warren Dexter. “It had some frame damage, like, the whole windshield was busted up. It was a little bit hard to tell because everything had been pulled out of it. Some of the tubes on the chassis had been cut to pull the motor out.”
When they got it home they called on their friends at Strobel Motorsports, a fabrication shop in Central City, Neb., that builds off-road racing trucks. The guys at Strobel have a high level of expertise when it comes to building tube-frame chassis, which is how the Ginetta G40 GT5 is put together.
Before the Dexters could repair the car, they had to build a flat table on which to repair it. By building the table, they could ensure a flat plane of reference for rebuilding the car and ensuring everything was where it was supposed to be. But this is no ordinary table. The top was constructed from a roughly 6-foot by 10-foot piece of three-quarter-inch cold-rolled steel, which was supported by horizontal I-beams mounted on vertical I-beams for legs. The table occupies a large portion of a corner of the Dexter’s shop. The whole thing weighs 3,500 pounds. The steel top alone weighs a ton. To say it’s a permanent fixture is a bit of an understatement.
“We used that to jig and fixture the car, so when we started cutting beams and stuff to replace bent parts that we would be able to perfectly relocate all of the suspension mounting parts,” Zane said. “The Strobels kind of took the lead on that. It turned out really well.
“It’s a big table built on an I-beam structure, so if we needed to do a little bending and tweaking to get stuff into place, it was able to handle it without any deflection,” Zane continued. “In fact, in the future, we’ll probably use that same table for some Miata builds that we plan on doing.”
Once they got the table built, they fitted the Ginetta and set to work. Fortunately for them, the layout of the Ginetta from side to side is symmetrical. The one side didn’t have any damage, so they were able to come in and create fixtures based on the good side and duplicate them for the other side and use that to mount all the new parts they made for the car.
As of now, the frame work is done. The plan is to begin serious work on the car when Zane comes home from classes at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Right now, Zane is amassing parts for the car.
“We’ve got most of the parts. We’re waiting on the gearbox right now,” Zane said. “As soon as summer break starts, we’re going to be working full time on the assembly. We’re trying to make sure we’ve got all of our parts ordered and here waiting.”
In stock form, the Ginetta G40 GT5 comes with a 1.8-liter Zetec Ford four-cylinder and a six-speed manual H-pattern gearbox. But all that was gone when they got it. The stock powertrain was fine for an 1,800-pound racer, but it was still a bit of a momentum car. If they were going to rebuild it, they thought, why not make it faster? Well, they are.
The motor, which they already had, came from an AP1 Honda S2000, which Warren used as a street car. The engine was sleeved and had its compression ratio bumped up to 12:1. It uses I-beam rods and dual valve springs with titanium retainers.
“It’s got all the things that make them rpm-proof. We could spin this motor, if we had the right cam for it, we could spin it to 10,000, 10,500 if we wanted to, without any issues,” Warren said. “It’s nothing too crazy. It’s a 2.0-liter, and on the dyno, on E85, we put down 237 at the wheels, so around 270 at the crank for a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter is pretty decent.”
The stock Ginetta differential, half-shafts and suspension came with the car, so they’ll use those. For a transmission, they’re going with a six-speed sequential from Elite Racing Transmissions, a boutique gearbox manufacturer in the United Kingdom. The company offers a bell housing that bolts right up to the S2000 engine.
“We don’t have any experience with sequential boxes,” Warren said. “We haven’t got it yet, so who knows how it’ll work, but in theory it should end up working pretty well for us.”
With an eye on competing in NASA’s Super Touring classes, the Dexters are fitting the car with a wing and changing the front end to incorporate a splitter. The idea, obviously, is to get more downforce. They’re also toying with the idea of lowering the floor or the whole car. Then once they get all the mechanical bits sorted, they’ll have to turn their attention to an engine-management system, wiring and all the other details that turn a project into a running racecar.
“When I think about revving something that high through a sequential box, you’re just going to be grabbing gears and gears and gears. Running through a close-ratio box, the thing is never going to see less than 7,000 rpm” Warren said. “To me, that just sounds like something I really want to get behind the wheel of. At least from the audio standpoint, it would be a lot of fun to drive.”
So far, it appears as though they are on the winning side of the Faustian bargain.