- Currently up for auction at Cars & Classic in the U.K., “The Beast” is a one-off custom car with a 27-liter V-12 engine. Yes, twenty-seven. Not a typo.
- The Beast’s owner, the late John Dodd, was legendary for his legal battles with Rolls-Royce.
- At one time, this was officially certified with a Guinness world record as the fastest production car in the world, clocked at 183 mph.
In 1972, the most popular car in the U.K. was the Ford Cortina. If Sir or Madam had more sporting intentions, the related Capri offered Mustang-like coupe styling, and an available 2.0-liter engine good for 86 horsepower. Imagine zipping down the M1 motorway in your new Capri, thinking you were cracking on a bit, when this 19-foot-long monstrosity hurtled past in a roar of V-12 thunder. It would be like being back in the Battle of Britain again.
In fact, it would be exactly like the soundtrack of the Battle of Britain, because the 1972 Beast is powered by the same Rolls-Royce engine found in the nose of a Spitfire. Its creator, the late John Dodd, died last year at the age of 90. Now his vehicle is being offered for auction on the U.K.-based website Car & Classic.
The Spitfire is still considered one of the most elegant piston-engine fighter aircraft to have taken to the air. The Beast is rather a more homely affair, with a hood long enough that you could probably land a Spitfire on it. Or land a 747 on it. Seriously, this thing has a nose bigger than Cyrano de Bergerac’s.
Under that long bonnet is a Rolls-Royce–built Merlin V-12, a naturally aspirated version of the engine found in the Spitfire. The first engine in this car was sourced from a Centurion tank, and the second from a training aircraft. It displaces a jaw-dropping 27 liters and produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 to 800 horsepower at just 2500 rpm.
If you think that’s insane, strap in. The Beast first emerged with box-frame construction built by that most dangerous of creatures, a British man with a shed. Paul Jameson built several one-off cars—he once created another Merlin-engined car, this one a convertible with six wheels—and he created the Beast around a war surplus engine he got for basically scrap value. We
Dodd was an automatic transmission specialist, and supplied a three-speed auto with some Jaguar parts. Later, he was surprised to receive a call from Jameson: would Dodd like to buy the rolling chassis? Dodd would, and he set about getting it bodied in fiberglass.
The completed Beast was said to have a 55:45 front-to-rear weight balance and excellent handling. This can’t possibly be fully true, as the car is as long as an aircraft carrier, and an undressed Merlin V-12 weighs more than two Chevrolet LS V-8s. A lot of the information about the Beast is more speculation than specification.
However, it did receive a Guinness World Record, and it was certified by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in 1973 as capable of hitting 183 mph. A Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona of the period was 10 mph slower. Take that, Enzo.
While it vaguely resembled a Capri that had been involved in some unfortunate Willy Wonka taffy-puller accident, the Beast was a hodgepodge of parts, and one of them caused a great deal of fuss. It wasn’t the Interceptor windshield or the Reilant Scimitar rear glass; it was Dodd’s insistence on using a Rolls-Royce grille, topped with the Spirit of Ecstasy. His reasoning was: after all, Rolls-Royce built the Merlin V-12. Rolls-Royce executives were Not Amused. Spirit of Ecstasy? More like Spirit of Bad Acid Trip.
Things were not improved by Dodd’s impish provocation. He delighted in ringing up Rolls HQ, pretending to be some well-heeled sort who was interested in purchasing an example of the long-nosed coupe that had just passed at a high rate of speed. Rolls-Royce deployed the lawyers.
Dodd drove the Beast to every day of the trial, except for once when he showed up with his entire family on horseback. He lost, and the court moved to enact punitive damages. Dodd hopped in the Beast and ran away to Malaga, Spain, where he rebuilt his automatic-transmission business and seemed to have generally had a lovely time in a sunny climate.
The Beast lost its Rolls-Royce grille for one with John Dodd’s initials, though it is still titled as a Rolls-Royce (doubtless this would please Dodd immensely). It has just over 10,000 miles on it, which is hardly surprising for a car that would struggle to hit 2 mpg.
For one lucky bidder, the Beast represents the peak of British automotive eccentricity. It is just a completely preposterous car, too big, too thirst, and too silly. And yet, it is also extremely funny and built to ridicule the rules by a man who lived to a ripe old age while thumbing his nose at the authorities. John Dodd could have bought himself a Capri. Thank goodness he didn’t.
The auction takes place March 9 and will be streamed on the Car & Classic website.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.