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Deep in the Norfolk countryside, hidden in a sprawling set of barns behind an innocuous bungalow, lurks a monster.
A 27-litre Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, originally from a 1980s Centurion tank deployed in the first Gulf War, sits among an eclectic collection of classic cars, vans and motoring paraphernalia.
It’s all owned by brothers Nigel and Neal Davies, who bought the V12 Meteor more than 20 years ago and put it to work in the niche motorsport of tractor-pulling.
(For the uninitiated, this involves dragging a sledge as far as possible along a 100m clay track; the furthest distance travelled is the winner.)
“The farther you go, the heavier the sledge gets,” says Nigel. “It’s a battle between the immovable object and the irresistible force.”
The pair got into the sport in the early 1990s after seeing it at a show and thinking they’d give it a go.
They went on to win multiple British championships, at one point running three tractors of different sizes with various engines.
“We put a Jaguar V12 in a little tractor in the smallest class you can do and from there it grew,” says Nigel.
“We blew up the Jag and decided to use a bigger engine. Neal was in the RAF and persuaded his employers to part with a scrap jet-turbine sitting under a desk in the workshop.
“We cobbled it on to a chassis and got it running, but didn’t know how to turn it off. We spent a few years getting all the bugs out of it and building a transmission that didn’t explode every time we gave it some.”
The Meteor, a derated version of the Spitfire’s Merlin aero engine, was first used in the Cromwell tank in the Second World War, finally giving British tanks strong, reliable power.
The engine originally produced about 550bhp to haul tanks weighing between 25 and 50 tons, but Nigel and Neal, both accomplished engineers, nonetheless set about extracting even more horsepower – to pull far less weight.
“We ran it in the 950kg ‘mini puller’ class in a tractor called Devil’s Symphony for several years,” says Nigel.
“We estimate it was making towards 2000bhp. It would use four gallons of premium fuel in the 100m run, and we had to get a lightweight driver because the engine was so heavy. But it was generally a success, and one year it was British champion in its class.”
The tractor pulling might be in the past – the brothers quit when it became too expensive to carry on – but the engine remains as part of a collection that numbers at least 20 vehicles, some of them incredibly rare.
Many of the cars are there for a reason: the Austin Gypsy bought from a scrapyard is similar to the one in which Nigel learnt to drive; the 1959 NSU Prinz 2 was bought three years ago in honour of the first car he owned after passing his test; and a barn-find Singer Chamois reminds him of owning several Hillman Imps in hisyouth.
There’s also an Ashley 750, a tiny glassfibre-bodied roadster based on an Austin Seven chassis (a gift from Nigel’s father when he was 15), and an ultra-rare, Harris Mann-styled Strada, one of only three made in Saxmundham, Suffolk.
The car that means the most, however, is a 1966 Sunbeam Tiger, bought as an accident-damaged wreck in 1979 and since fitted with a fuel-injected 302cu in roller-cam V8 sourced from a 1980s Ford Bronco.
“The Tiger is part of me,” Nigel says. “I will never sell it for as long as I can still get in it. It’s my toy. The others are just classic cars.”
Words: Matt Ware
Images: Simon Finlay/Matt Ware