BILL STEVENS SCEPTER

Recently I received an e-mail requesting more information about the Scepter and the Mercury outboard installation.  Unfortunately my spam detector grabbed it before I could download the e-mail into my main computer.  If you would like to try again click HERE and I will be happy to chat with you.


Bill Stevens driving his Scepter - circa 1969
Photo taken at Westwood in Coquitlam, BC
Coquitlam is located a few miles East of Vancouver, BC
 

In 1968 I began to pull wrench on Bill Stevens Scepter D Sports race car.  While I worked with Bill Stevens we raced this car at Portland International Raceway, Seattle International Raceway, and Westwood in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

The Sceptor was built in Portland, Oregon sometime around 1963 and featured on a Sports Car Graphic cover page in 1964.  Bill Stevens purchased the car and body molds some time after the Sports Car Graphics coverage.

When the Scepter was originally built it was powered by a Mercury 6 cylinder, 2 stroke, outboard racing engine that Mercury would not admit they built.  The engine was installed laying down flat and coupled to a Fiat gearbox.  The exhaust (not shown here) consisted of three vertical megaphone stacks that were angled slightly towards the rear of the car.  To say it was loud would be an large understatement.  During a race you could stand in the pits and hear Bill as he traveled all around the race track.  Nobody ever wanted to pit near us because of the loud exhaust.  We carried good ear plugs, and teams unfortunate enough to be assigned a pit near us often sent someone to a drug store to get earplugs for their people.

After loosing a water pump belt and damaging the original engine Bill chose to install a Fiat engine rather than another Merc outboard, which after pulling a few strings we managed to find a Mercury outboard distributor willing to sell us an engine that did not officially exist.  The photo above shows the the Scepter with the Fiat engine.

There is an interesting side-note about the Merc engine.  After the Sports Car Graphic article was published a couple of engineers traveled from the Mercury factory to Portland to take a look at how their engine was being used in a race car.  The engine was apart at the time they arrived and they saw the main bearing carrier/reed blocks.  The blocks they saw were custom made at a Portland metal foundry and had 8 petal daisy pattern reeds rather than four long fingers as supplied in the stock Mercury reed blocks.  The engineers started talking in German and taking very close visual notes about these main bearing carrier/reed blocks.  The next model year Mercury announced a "new reed design" to improve engine reliability and efficiency.  Too bad the Scepter's designers did not patent their invention.  The original long finger reeds would fatigue and break off small pieces as they came apart.  This damage would break the reed valve seal when closed, disabling the one way flow of air required to draw fuel into the crankcase and then into the cylinders.  Repair required disassembly of the engine to replace the damaged reeds.  The new design was very reliable.  I only had to hand-make one replacement reed out of spring steel to repair a broken reed petal.  A process I remember to this day because of the difficulty I had shaping the very hard, brittle, and sharp spring steel using a power hand drill and basic hand tools. 

Another point of interest was the brakes.  The Scepter had 4-wheel disk brakes. The calipers were very light weight parts.  Nobody could tell us who manufactured them.  During a race they would heat up and leak brake fluid from the seam between the two halves of the caliper onto the brake rotor causing a total loss of brakes in the first lap or two of a race.  Bill sought out the source of these brakes without any luck until one day a couple of years after I stopped working on the car a friend stopped by to say hello.  The friend had another friend with him.  The second person asked where he managed to get those brake calipers.  He then opened his briefcase and produced a set of drawings showing these calipers.  The drawings were marked Top Secret and showed the calipers as the same as those used on the F4 Phantom jet.  Bill finally took the calipers apart and used fine emery cloth to completely flatten the mating surfaces.  Once that was done the calipers never leaked again.  

The stopping technique for the Scepter without brakes was to spin the car.  The jack in my 68 Datsun 2000 roadster made a very good tool for straightening the tube frame in the pits if there was any damage done during a spin. 

As far as I know Bill never lost a race when driving the Scepter if it did not break down during the race.  The only time I ever saw the Scepter break down was when the water pump pulley sheared off.